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LAUNDRY DAY—Adding a Parachute to project Boulevard Boost with Stroud Safety and Rhodes Race Cars

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Written by Derek Putnam

Photography by Michael Fair, the Author, and the manufacturers

It’s easy to get caught up in the amount of power readily available in today’s automotive world. You’d have limited choices three decades ago to find a vehicle sporting 300 horsepower or more in as-delivered condition, whereas today’s 2020 models will boast that power rating in some four- and six-cylinder models. But all too often, the focus on power and creating more of it can cause enthusiasts to skip over the safety aspect of both street and track driving. Modern cars have better brakes, suspension, and air bags that as crash tests have proven, put them miles ahead of the muscle cars that spearheaded the movement over half a century ago.

Both NHRA and IHRA sanctioning body rules state that vehicles that clock speeds of 150 miles-per-hour or more must have a parachute. Project Boulevard Boost has pushed us to a best trap speed of 155 mph, qualifying this 1970 Chevrolet Nova for a parachute.

In the drag racing world, the NHRA and IHRA sanctioning bodies take safety to the next level by combining their resources with the SFI Foundation, examining elapsed times and speeds with car designs, and determining when safety items like battery cutoff switches, roll cages, protective clothing, and advanced driver licenses must be required. As speed increases, so does the required list of safety equipment, and both the NHRA and IHRA require a single parachute at 150 miles-per-hour speeds on the quarter-mile distance. Even though the eighth-mile standard is becoming more popular, having upgraded safety equipment is never a bad idea.

When Boulevard Boost, our supercharged big-block Chevrolet engine project, got an upgrade to Procharger’s then-new D-1X unit in 2017, we made the jump from 140mph trap speeds to the speeds that get you a stern look from the track’s tech department, along with the ”you know you should have a parachute” reminder. With multiple options for parachutes, as well as the required mounts and accessories to control it from the driver’s seat, we did some homework on what would work best. After a few days of work, we decided to contact Stroud Safety to acquire one of the company’s parachutes.

Created from the ground up as a specific drag racing parachute, the Stroud Safety chute design allows the chute to open with a softer hit, as well as do so more reliably from pass to pass. Combined with a new rip-stop fabric that combats tearing and abrasions, and a bag that makes packing the parachute easier, it should last us for many seasons of racing. Since the ’70 Chevrolet Nova we are installing the parachute on doesn’t have a compressed air or CO2 system, we opted for a spring launcher design.

To get the parachute in the right spot, we turned to Rhodes Race Cars for one of the company’s single parachute mounting kits, plus a cable and handle kit. With goodies in hand, we made the short trip to Rollins Automotive Speed and Custom, where Jason Rollins got our parachute done in short order. Follow along for all the photos and details, including some high-speed testing shots from Gainesville Raceway.

Although some modern muscle and sports cars have the advantage of purchasing a bolt-in parachute mount, most rides will still require a custom-built set-up. We opted for Rhodes Race Cars single parachute mount set-up in mild steel (part number 23-0200), but since our ’70 Nova still sports the factory fuel tank in the stock location, we were concerned about having enough length on the crossbar. The bar in the Rhodes kit measures 36 inches in length, and when Jason Rollins measured between the frame rails, he found the space was a tick above 43 inches. Knowing we’d also have to put a bend in the crossbar to clear the tank’s filler neck, we requested a 60-inch length of tubing from Rhodes to complete the install.

To prepare the frame rails for welding, a clean surface is important. Jason Rollins uses an air-assisted grinding wheel to remove the existing paint, and then cleans the surface with a wax and grease remover.
To clear the stock gas tank filler neck, Rollins uses his exhaust tubing bender to get the bar enough clearance. Once it’s verified to clear the tank, he trims the ends until the bar is a snug fit against the frame rails.
With the cross bar ready to slip in place, Rollins starts work on the bar that will go rearward to hold the parachute pack bar, as well as the bracket that will anchor the parachute line. The tubing is cut to the proper length, then cut with a “C” shape to provide a clean fit to the cross bar. Rollins then welds everything in place
Next up for installation are the smaller support bars. Rollins starts by cutting one to within a quarter-inch of projected length, then uses a belt sander to get a flush fit. A duplicate is made for the opposite side, and then Rollins completely welds the pair in place. The cross bar gets a coat of weld through primer before getting hoisted into place between the frame rails, where Rollins permanently welds it in.
With the crossbar welded in completely, Rollins turns his attention to the bar that will hold the parachute pack. The new bar uses a stub in the Rhodes kit to locate it to the cross bar assembly, but makes it removable so the fuel tank filler neck can be accessed.
After Rollins gets the bar bent at the right angle, the pack bracket gets tacked in place to verify fitment, and then Rollins finish welds the bracket completely in place.
After getting the parachute pack bar completed, the next step is making an aluminum plate to secure the parachute pack to the bracket. Rollins uses the pack bracket to trace the necessary size and mark the holes.
Rollins unpacks the parachute to access the bottom of the chute bag, where the aluminum plate will live. Rollins uses a dab of grease to mark where the holes in the bag need to go, and then bolts the plate and bag to the bracket with grade 8 hardware and lock nuts.
Choosing the right part for the job can help ensure the best results. Stroud’s experience in the market has enabled them to create a chart to aid the end user in selecting the right parachute. “The Stroud parachute is the only design done from the ground up as a drag chute,” said Bob Stroud, adding that the company’s testing has lent a hand in creating the chart to make choosing the right parachute easier. “Certain applications, including land-speed vehicles, snowmobiles, and drag bikes can have their own unique considerations,” Bob continued. “However, with vehicle weight, type, and top speed, we can design a chute and launching system to meet the customer’s requirements.” At 150 miles-per-hour, most vehicles above 3,000 pounds would qualify for a 430 std. 32 parachute. The Project Boulevard Boost Nova’s weight checks in at 3,800 pounds, and Bob confirmed the 430 std. 32 parachute would be the correct choice for our application.
Packing a parachute can seem a bit daunting if you’ve never done it, but Stroud has an easy to understand, step-by-step video to ensure you do it properly. Rollins repacked the chute by inserting Stroud’s pack bag, then the launcher spring, before pulling the flaps into place.
The completed parachute pack and bar is slid onto the cross bar stub, and once everything is lined up, Rollins drills the bar and stub. This allows a 3/8-inch quick-release pin to be used to quickly remove the bar for fueling of the car.
Picking a location for a parachute release handle should be well thought out. When you’re traveling at over 150 mph, the last thing you should worry about is being able to reach the handle or being able to fully move it to activate the parachute. Similar attention should be applied to the cable, as avoiding sharp turns and having adequate length will get you the best results. Since this ’70 Nova sees the street as much as the drag strip, we opted to put the handle next to the shifter instead of the popular roll cage mount. But when we went to run the supplied cable, we found ourselves about 10 inches short. A few phone calls confirmed our twelve-foot length is not an uncommon size for a cable, especially in a race car, but there are longer fifteen and sixteen feet length options available, and Florida-based Chassis Engineering was able to get us a longer cable in one day to make our track outing happen.
To control the parachute release, Rhodes Race Cars shipped us its single parachute cable and handle kit, part number 23-0204. Although some choose to mount the release handle on a roll cage bar, we decided to mount it on the floorboard next to the shifter instead.
When deploying the parachute, the correct way to do it is driving into the parachute release under power. In this photo, the Nova is a couple hundred feet past the quarter-mile mark, and the front end is still up, signifying the chute is deploying while the car is still accelerating.
Once the parachute has completely blossomed, the driver can get off the throttle and start applying the brakes. Since Stroud offers nine different colors, as well as any combination of those choices at no additional charge, we ordered our chute in the Lime Green and Black color combination to accent the car’s green hue.
It might just be this author’s opinion, but seeing a car or truck that requires a parachute hanging off the back is a cool deal. But it’s almost too easy to get caught up in the “pack it and forget it” way of thinking with a parachute, as many tracks have enough shutdown space to where deploying the parachute isn’t necessary. That means the parachute stays in its pack, something Stroud advises against. “Chutes must be deployed when not racing and during the offseason so they can ‘breathe’ and prevent mold and mildew,” Bob Stroud admits. The longer the chute stays packed up, the harder it could be for it to deploy properly the next time it’s used. “It’s not an accessory,” Bob continued. “Unpacking the chute helps extend its lifespan. Combined with our step-by-step video on our website showing the correct way to pack a chute, there’s no reason to hesitate to unpack your chute when not in use.”

SOURCES

Chassis Engineering

561-863-2188

www.chassisengineering.com

 

Gainesville Raceway

352-377-0046

www.rhodesracecars.com

 

Rhodes Race Cars

219-525-4910

www.rhodesracecars.com

 

Rollins Automotive Speed and Custom

352-335-7223

www.rollinsspeedandcustom.com

 

Stroud Safety

405-632-2022

www.stroudsafety.com

 


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