Photos Courtesy of Artis Houston
When NMCA WEST ProCharger Street Outlaw racer Artis Houston popped his engine in early 2015, he wasn’t expecting the rebuild process to take as long as it did. Fortunately, the California-based Snap-on Tools franchisee is now back on track and no worse for the wear.
It was February, 2015, at South Georgia Motorsports Park when Houston ran his personal best of 4.69 at 153 mph and also when the damage was done. Houston was racing his beautiful blue ’71 Chevy Nova. “There was an issue and instead of fixing it up, I made a pass and wound up nipping a ring,” recalled Houston of the fateful run. He finished out the race, went home, honed the cylinder and put in a new slug. “I tried to get it back together to make a race but wound up putting some faulty parts in there trying to rush and tore up the motor pretty bad.”
He sent the engine off to his builder, but for some reason, it just sat. Discouraged, Houston searched out other options and ultimately found Tony Bischoff and BES Racing Engines. “Me and Nick Bacalis and the other guys there wound up getting close, and they redid the whole engine. They got it in October, 2017, and I got it back from them in April of 2018,” Houston stated of the timely turnaround that finally enabled him to return to racing.
The BES team put their expertise to work constructing a new, Dart-block based 582 ci big block Chevy engine topped with Brodix Head Hunter heads and a CFM Performance carburetor. Inside, a Callies crank was fitted to rotate Ross Pistons sitting atop GRP connecting rods, while a Williams Performance oil pan and external oil pump were installed to ensure everything would operate smoothly.
“Unfortunately, the parts failure broke a lot more than what we initially thought. It wound up needing a new cam, all the lifters had to get sent back to Jesel to be rebuild, we had to put in new valve springs, new push rods, and even a new block,” lamented Houston, who was only able to salvage his intake, carb, and heads from the previous iteration.
Mike’s Transmission was selected to assemble the Monsterglide transmission for the BES masterpiece, and the automatic gearbox was then fitted to a ProTorque EV1 billet torque converter.
A Smith Racecraft front end was installed as an upgrade for the chassis’s suspension componentry, and Unlimited Products was responsible for outfitting the Nova’s body by supplying the one-piece fiberglass front end, carbon fiber hood, carbon fiber deck lid, and fiberglass doors.
The next step was the fun part – taking the Calvert Caltracs-equipped Nova out for a few hits. Running on tried and true Mickey Thompson radial rubber and with VP Racing fuel in the tank, Houston was finally able to hit up Auto Club Dragway in nearby Fontana, California in April. There, while running in the FZ Racing King of Kash grudge event, he took a first-round elimination win and made some progress getting things sorted.
“This new combo is completely different from what I ran before, so it’s like throwing out all the data and starting over. It’s making a bunch of power, but I’m knocking the tire off constantly,” laughed Houston, who plans to soon hit up an undisclosed source for a little tuning assistance. “I’ve been to three races with it now, and even with the struggles I’ve made headway and have gone a few rounds but definitely haven’t tapped its full potential.”
The initial downtime, while frustrating at first, actually worked out well for Houston as it allowed him time to focus on his growing Snap-on career and to spend time with his family after his beloved mother, Carrie Houston, passed away. Now, as the chaos settles down, Houston can’t wait to get into a regular rhythm with the small tire grudge race circuit, and possibly some more heads-up class racing as his schedule permits.