There’s an old joke: If God didn’t like drag racing, then the Bible wouldn’t say we should follow the straight and narrow. We’re not certain that’s necessarily true, but it sure hasn’t prevented the Robinson family team from finding success with two IHRA divisional championships along the way.
“After aging out of junior dragsters, I needed a car, and my dad had this 1955 Chevy that had been sitting since before I was born,” Matt Robinson told us about the car’s background. “He traded for it when he was 16 and drove it on the street until he went into the army. In 1975, he and my mom were married and drove away from the church in the same car. A year later, he decided to make the ’55 into his dream race car, and he raced it until 1984.
“Dad gave me the car when I turned 16, and we both worked to tear it down completely and update it,” Matt continued. “I raced it at Farmington Dragway while I was studying mechanical engineering at North Carolina State and actually won a bracket race just a few months after debuting the car.”
Matt and his father, Steve, relied on their hot-rodding skills to put together the 468-ci engine. Starting with a 1970 tall deck truck block, they used a GM forged crank with Eagle steel rods and Venolia 13:1 pistons with a 9-quart Milodon oil pan. The desirable factory GM 6272990 iron cylinder heads with rectangular ports, 119cc open combustion chambers and 2.19/1.88 intake/exhaust valves were bolted down with ARP hardware and then topped by a Weiand Team G single- plane aluminum intake.
A Crane flat tappet 134771 cam with 1.7 ratio rocker arms orchestrates the valvetrain, while fuel delivery is handled by a single Holley 1,050- cfm carb fed by an Aeromotive electric pump. Matt’s father, Steve, fabricated both the custom cowlinduction- fed air cleaner and the stepped Jet-Hot-coated headers to finish the job. Behind the engine is a Powerglide with a Hughes 5800 stall converter and an ATI transbrake.
Steve had already replaced the stock frame with one from a 1957 Chevy station wagon, which was a one-piece extruded California unit that was lighter and stronger than the original 1955 version. The car uses the original upper A-arms, while Jim Meyer Racing Products provided the lower tubular control arms along with a rack-and-pinion kit. Modified six-cylinder Nova springs, double-adjustable QA1 shocks and Wilwood disc brakes with 10-inch rotors were added to complete the front end.
S&W Race Cars supplied a rear back-half kit that Matt and Steve set up with Strange doubleadjustable shocks and Wilwood brakes. The Ford 9-inch rear houses 4.56 gears with a spool and Strange 35-spline axles. Hole Shot wheels were mounted on the front with Weld Pro Stars out back that mount 32.0×14-15 Goodyear Eagle D-1984 slicks.
Joe Shuller painted the car in Victory Red basecoat/clearcoat. Darryl Slaughter and Matt did the bodywork, while VFN Fiberglass provided the front end. Sam Presnell did the painted trim and graphics. Steve did the custom steel and aluminum interior and all of the original glass was replaced with Lexan.
“After a few years, we decided to try IHRA Hot Rod, which is a headsup 7.00 index class on the eighth-mile,” Matt said. “I was able to win the IHRA Division 9 championship in 2010, and then again the following year. In 2012, we had another win and a runner-up finish in Division 9.
“That winter, we added a Computech DataMaxx data-logger with an LCD dash display,” Matt continued. “It has been invaluable in chasing down issues. We were just getting things sorted out this year when the engine blew, and I flipped the car during the President’s Cup at Maryland International Raceway. I thank God that I wasn’t hurt, and we were left with a race car that we could fix. I will never drive another race car without a diaper. Now we have the opportunity to rebuild, modify and improve so we have an even better race car than before.”
While Matt and his father have tasted both success and adversity with their car, the story of this racer tells of a family history that really couldn’t be replaced by anything else. Matt intends to complete a seminary degree, and Steve continues to build hot rods near Asheville, North Carolina. For both, there’s little doubt that there are still many good chapters yet to be written.
Editor’s Note: A version of this article first appeared in the June 2017 print issue of the Drive Magazine.