By Mary Lendzion
Photos by Kevin DiOssi
When Steven Griswold was a child, he would climb into the passenger’s seat of his uncle’s Falcon and crack up as they cruised and collected memories. When he wasn’t doing that, he was asking his grandfather if he could help pump gas at the station he owned, or asking his stepfather if he could help wash cars at the car wash he owned.
By the time he was 14, he was a bona fide car-lover, and he used the money he had saved to purchase a 1964 Impala. Before long, he was rolling up his sleeves, pulling the car’s 283 cubic-inch engine from its engine bay and freshening it with guidance from his stepfather.
He also replaced its chrome and installed a new convertible top, and drove it around town while accompanied by an adult as he only had his learner’s permit at the time.
“My stepfather would show me how to do something, and then I would do it,” Griswold explained. “I learned a lot from him.”
When he was 16, Griswold traded the car for a 1972 Kawasaki 500, followed a month later by a 1972 Gremlin X with a six-cylinder engine. It was around that time that he first experienced the delights of drag racing, as he and his friend would take turns racing his friend’s 1954 Mercury glass-top at the racetrack near their homes in Iowa.
“I ended up selling the motorcycle right after I turned seventeen and joined the Navy in May of 1973,” Griswold said. “I went to boot camp in Orlando, Florida, and went to school in Jacksonville, Florida, to learn how to load bombs onto planes. Then, I was a crew member on a P-3 Orion submarine hunter, and we would go fly over the Bermuda Triangle and hunt submarines. While I was in the Navy, I sold the Gremlin X and bought a 1972 Plymouth Duster with an eight-cylinder engine. I went on to be in the Navy for four years, and I logged 1,200 hours in the air. When I returned home to Iowa, I went to work for a petroleum company, and I was in my early 20s. I kept the Duster for three years after that.”
Turning his focus to starting a family, Griswold accepted an apprenticeship at the Rock Island Arsenal in Illinois in 1981, and when it wrapped up in 1984, he went to work in weapons manufacturing, and later wrote programs for CNC machines, at the Rock Island Arsenal. He was there for nine years before accepting a position in sales for Clairco Tool Company in Iowa in 1989, and ready to hop back into another hot rod not long after, he purchased a 1989 Corvette.
Griswold also purchased Clairco Tool Company in the early 2000s, and when the new 2005 Corvette C6s caught his eye, he had to have one.
“It was a cool-looking car, and I loved its styling, so I bought a brand-new one from Lujack Chevrolet in Davenport, Iowa,” Griswold recalled.
The black car was powered by a 400-horsepower LS2 engine and an automatic transmission.
“In addition to my grandfather having a gas station, my stepfather leased a gas station, and one of the things I liked about working at my stepfather’s gas station back in the 1970s was seeing all of the Camaros, Chevelles and other cool cars, and as I would fill their tanks with gas and wash their windshields, I would dream of having a cool car, too,” Griswold said. “With my job at Clairco, I was finally able to have the 1989 Corvette and ultimately the 2005 Corvette.”
While Griswold also had a company car and didn’t drive his new Corvette to and from work, he did drive it to Cordova International Raceway in Illinois to — in his words — “see what it would run,” and he got his answer in the form of a 13.20.
“I had friends and family who had Mustangs and other muscle cars, and we would go to the track to race in the trophy class,” said Griswold. “Then, I decided I wanted to go faster, so in around 2007, I got in touch with the owner of the Car Shop, Inc., in Moline, Illinois, told him I had a 2005 Corvette and asked him to send me in the right direction, and he sent me to Richard Brannen at Brannen’s Auto Works in Moline, Illinois.”
That day, Griswold drove to Brannen’s Auto Works, introduced himself to Brannen, and in the process, discovered that Brannen, too, liked Corvettes.
“I told him I had become an adrenaline junkie, and while we were talking, I could tell he was really sharp,” Griswold confessed. “Richard started out by installing a MagnaFlow exhaust under the Corvette, and a ProCharger in front of the LS2 engine, and that added about 150 horsepower right away. The ProCharger was an easy way to make the car go faster with relatively little labor, and it was also a way for us to see how far we wanted to take things.”
Upon picking the car up from Brannen’s Auto Works a few days later, Griswold headed right to a secluded road where he relished the whirl of the supercharger before getting on the gas pedal.
“I was curious what she had in her, and I could tell that there was going to be quite an improvement when I went to the track,” Griswold said.
Indeed, he stepped up from 13s to 12s while testing and running trophy classes at the track in the months that followed.
“All that did was make me want to go faster, and that’s when we really got crazy,” he said with a laugh. “Richard (Brannen) tore the engine apart and put a new cam in it and ported and tricked-out the stock heads, and that took me to 10s. Then, in 2011, we heard about the Chevrolet Performance Challenge Series, (at that time called the LSX Challenge Series) and because we love Corvettes and LS engines, we went to the one at Lucas Oil Raceway. I was driving a Suburban and pulling a trailer with the Corvette in it, and I entered the Rumble class. Because of weather and some other delays during the race, we ran first round at midnight, and I won the round. But the next morning, while foot-braking the car at 1,800 rpm, it went through the beam and I fouled out.”
Having enjoyed the Proform Rumble category and the Chevrolet Performance Challenge Series, which joins the NMCA series at several events each year, Griswold committed to competing in it, but wanted to make some changes to his Corvette before the next event.
“In 2012, we called RPM Transmissions and purchased a Powerglide to replace our stock transmission,” Griswold explained. “We also purchased an aluminum driveshaft and a beefed-up differential, and when they sent the parts, Richard (Brannen) installed them. We also went with a bigger ProCharger supercharger, and while we were at it, we removed the speakers, extra wiring, stock seats and air-conditioning from the Corvette, and we were well on our way to making the car badass.”
Just as he hoped he would, Griswold broke into the 9-second zone during qualifying and went on to win in Proform Rumble at the Chevrolet Performance LSX Shootout at Lucas Oil Dragway in 2013.
“With that, we had won an LSX block, and that winter, we built a new 388 cubic-inch engine with LME All Pro LS7 heads and an LME aluminum billet intake,” Griswold said. “We also replaced our other ProCharger with a bigger ProCharger.”
Griswold focused on bracket racing at Cordova International Raceway in Illinois in 2014, and then made the move from Proform Rumble to LME Street King in the Chevrolet Performance Challenge Series in 2015, where he was powering to mid-8-second passes.
“With the car being so much faster, we started having some traction issues, so we started adjusting things like the camber, coilovers, and rear shocks,” Griswold said. “We had a faster car that we couldn’t hook up for a while.”
Griswold kept going, and eventually reached out to TRZ Motorsports for advice and new front suspension, which he and Brannen installed during the winter months in 2017.
“It bolted on nicely,” Griswold said. “Then, we went to the race at Atlanta Dragway in 2018 and the car was running well. In fact, we ran 8.34, but we slowed it down to 8.50 for competition.”
Later in the year, Griswold, who also retired from his job in 2018, raced to a runner-up finish against Al Corda in LME Street King when, for the first time ever, Chevrolet Performance Challenge Series drivers joined NMCA and NMRA drivers competing as part of the Nitto Tire NMRA/NMCA Super Bowl of Street Legal Drag Racing presented by Fuel Systems Technology last summer at Route 66 Raceway in Illinois.
Recently, Griswold and Brannen replaced the car’s stock rear springs with Menscer Motorsports-massaged springs, and swapped the car’s stock steering column with a new lightweight steering column.
Now, Griswold, who also gave NMCA MagnaFuel Open Comp a go at the NMCA World Street Finals last fall at Lucas Oil Raceway in Indiana, is focused on flying to his first win and a championship in LME Street King.
“The car will be running well,” added Griswold, who’s married to Dawn, and has three children: Matt, Shannon and Amber, two grandchildren: Sydney and Owen, three dogs and two cats. “I’d really like to earn my first win and earn a championship in Street King. I know that will take a lot as the competition in the class is tough, but I’m having fun while I try.”
Owner and driver: Steven Griswold
Hometown: Milan, Illinois
Class: Chevrolet Performance Challenge Series LME Street King and NMCA MagnaFuel Open Comp
Crew: Crew chief Richard Brannen
Engine builder: Richard Brannen, Brannen’s Auto Works
Displacement: 388 cubic inches
Crank: Callie’s DragonSlayer
Pistons: LME All Pro LS7
Cylinder heads: Dart 14-degree
Valvetrain: Crower shaft rockers, Isky roller lifters
Camshaft: Bullet solid-roller
EFI system: Holley EFI Dominator
Power-adder: ProCharger F2
Fuel brand and type: VP Racing Fuels’ C16
Headers and exhaust: Kooks
Transmission builder: RPM Transmissions
Clutch/shifter/torque converter: Neal Chance converter
Differential: Z06 by RPM Transmissions
Front suspension: TRZ Motorsports and AFCO coilovers massaged by Menscer Motorsports
Rear suspension: Stock with AFCO coilovers massaged by Menscer Motorsports
Front brakes: Strange Engineering disc
Rear brakes: Stock disc
Front wheels: Weld
Rear wheels: Weld
Front tires: Mickey Thompson
Rear tires: Mickey Thompson slicks
Body modifications: Z06 rear fenders
Vehicle weight: 3,150 pounds
Quickest ET: 8.34
Best 60-foot: 1.31
Fastest mph: 165 mph