Rise Of A Champion: Spending Time With The Little Vega That Could
Kenny Snow may reside in La Habra, California, but his real home is at the drag strip strapped into the driver seat of his 1972 Vega GT wagon. Kenny is no stranger to drag racing success, or to the benefits of using the lightweight Vega platform as a foundation for a successful racing program.
Fans of west coast drag racing may recall that Kenny was well on his way to a class championship before an unfortunate turn of events resulted in Kenny crashing his beautiful blue 1971 Vega at the 2013 NCMA West race at Las Vegas Motor Speedway. This crash not only damaged the car beyond repair, but would also prove to take Kenny out of contention for the class championship with only one race left in the series.
Sometimes drag racing is a lot like trying to ride a wild stallion; there’s lots of horsepower involved, and sooner or later you might get bucked off. Thankfully Kenny wasn’t hurt when he was forced to leave the saddle unexpectedly, nor was he about to stay down. Kenny immediately began searching for an acceptable rolling chassis that would easily accommodate his engine and transmission combination from the decommissioned ’71 Vega.
Enter friend Rod McGregor with a lead on a 1972 Vega GT wagon that had been sitting in storage for 12 years. Research into the history of the car quickly revealed that it was originally built in 1999 by Mike Aikin for then-owner Mark Kraft. When Kenny and his wife Brooke went to look at the car, they were blown away – the wagon looked like it had just been built and never driven. Making the package even sweeter was the fact that it was a running, driving car equipped with a 377 cubic inch small block Chevrolet powerplant with a Powerglide transmission and Dana 60 rear axle.
Kenny and his wife quickly decided to pull the trigger on this turn-key race car and get back into action. Once back at the shop with his new steed, Kenny enlisted the help of friends to quickly begin the transformation of the yellow GT wagon into a race-ready machine. While the ’72 Vega was complete and had racked up somewhere around 50 drag strip passes under prior ownership, Kenny figured the quickest path to success would be to infuse his already proven combination from the wrecked ’71 Vega into the new wagon rather than starting over with what was essentially an unknown combination.
The team quickly stripped the ’71 of all usable components including the stout 406 small block Chevy, Powerglide transmission, fuel system, and electrical system. In five short weeks they managed to transform the ’72 into a race-ready machine, although it came with some challenges.
While the wagon had been constructed with a well-built tube chassis from the firewall to the rear of the car, the original General Motors front clip and suspension remained in place. As such, the custom oil pan equipped on Kenny’s 406 interfered with the OE-design front suspension, thus requiring a compromise and change to a less-than-ideal oil pan design in order to allow proper fitment of the engine to the chassis. Quickly overcoming this obstacle, they managed to get the car ready and running just in time for the final NMCA West race of the 2013 season.
Thanks to the help of great friends and an understanding wife, Kenny overcame major adversity and set-backs to the 2013 racing season. Sadly, his triumphant return to the dragstrip came to an unexpected and untimely end. Kenny’s previously reliable 406 engine sang it’s swan song a bit too soon, ultimately robbing Kenny of the season championship: the oil pan swap proved to create an oiling system issue. Consequently the 406 kicked a connecting rod out of the oil pan during Kenny’s third pass in the new car at the NMCA West final.
Deflated but not defeated, Kenny decided the wagon was to undergo an off-season transformation into a fully capable machine equipped with the best components to help insure he could go rounds during the 2014 racing season. After making a careful evaluation of his goals for the upcoming race season, deconstruction of the Vega wagon began.
The drivetrain was removed, and the rolling chassis was delivered to Robbie Miller Race Cars. Robbie gave the entire car a thorough once-over, rebuilding or replacing virtually every component in the chassis.
Robbie ditched the OEM front clip and front-halved the car using 4130 chromoly steel upper and lower control arms fabricated by Justin Kill at Overkill Race Cars. AFCO coil-over shocks, a Mustang II rack and pinion, and premium Lamb disc brakes round out the front suspension. Robbie then turned his attention to the rear of the car where he removed the cumbersome Dana 60 rear axle in favor of a Ford 9-inch assembly prepared by Lamb Components.
Derek Lamb built the 9-inch by utilizing a Mark Williams Enterprises third member equipped with a 4.30 gear set, light weight gun-drilled axles – also courtesy of Mark Williams – and, of course, Lamb disc brakes to round out the package. The rear axle assembly was then hung under the car with a set of Art Morrison ladder bars. Rolling stock consists of a set of Weld Racing Alumastar 2.0 wheels wrapped in Hoosier 31 x 14-inch drag slicks.
With a wounded powerplant hanging its tongue out thanks to a broken connecting rod and a ventilated oil pan, the decision was easy to make some improvements in the horsepower department. Kenny enlisted engine builder Jun Nakawatase to machine and assemble a wicked 427 cubic inch small block Chevrolet.
427 Engine Details:
- 4.125″ bore x 4.000″ stroke
- Dart Little M engine block with splayed main caps
- Scat 4340 forged steel crankshaft
- Scat 4340 forged steel connecting rods
- RaceTec forged flat-top pistons, 11.0:1 compression ratio
- Air Flow Research 245cc CNC-ported 23-degree aluminum cylinder heads
- T&D Machine shaft-mount rocker arms, 1.75 intake ratio, 1.65 exhaust ratio
- Isky solid roller camshaft, 272/278 duration @.050″, .758″/.736″ valve lift
- Edelbrock Super Victor intake manifold
- HVH “Super Sucker” carburetor spacer
- Pro Systems 1000 CFM 4150 carburetor
- Star Machine vacuum pump and air/oil separator tank
- Custom stepped headers built by Jake and Lee at The Muffler Man
Clearly Jun knows a thing or two about building powerful engines because Kenny’s fuel of choice is none other than 91-octane swill out of the local gas pump, and this 427 still manages to propel the Vega into the 9.40’s at over 136 MPH in the quarter mile.
Leo Glasbrenner, proprietor of Remac Transmissions, got the nod to prepare the 2-speed Powerglide transmission for the wagon. Leo built the bullet-proof ‘glide using premium components from ATI Performance Products. An ATI 8-inch torque converter helps transfer the grunt to the rear tires, insuring deadly consistent performance every time Kenny runs the Vega down the 1320.
If it will turn on my win light, I’ll race it. – Kenny Snow
Class Wins for Snow
- NMCA West 3rd Annual Nitto Street Car Nationals Bracket 2 class winner
- Fontana Summit Series Race 1 Super Pro class winner
- Fontana Summit Series Race 4 Super Pro class winner
- SCEDA Race 2 Electronics class winner
Kenny also had a strong runner-up finish in the No-Electronics class at the very same SCEDA Race 2 event.
We asked Kenny what he likes best about his 1972 Vega GT wagon, to which he replied, “The way it leaves the starting line. It just carries the front wheels and it is just an awesome feeling.”
He’s also quite fond of the custom Kevlar dash bezel made specifically for the Vega by his good friend Chris Wheaton. While Kenny is not too wild about the yellow color (as he prefers blue), he says that the yellow paint is starting to grow on him. Kenny considers the Vega wagon a finished product at this point, but would like to eventually repaint the car at some point in the future. For now, he’s having fun racing this little yellow rocket every chance he can get.
So what does one do after recovering from such a whirlwind of race car issues and finally getting back into that sweet spot on victory lane? Go out and buy another race car, of course.
When Kenny isn’t going wheels up on his way to the winner’s circle in his Vega wagon you can find him pulling similar stunts in his recently-acquired 1969 Chevelle that he campaigns in the NHRA Stock Eliminator G/SA class. Oh, and did we mention that it’s his favorite color, blue? With all these Chevy’s in his stable one might think that Kenny is biased towards the Bowtie camp, but he really doesn’t care if he’s piloting a Chevy, Ford, or Mopar. As Kenny says, “If it will turn on my win light, I’ll race it.”
Kenny wishes to thank his wife Brooke, “Because without her, none of this would have been possible,” he said.
He would also like to thank a great group of sponsors, shops, and friends, including Robbie Miller at Robbie Miller Race Cars, Leo Glasbrenner at Remac Transmissions, Justin Kill at Overkill Race Cars, Derek Lamb at Lamb Components, Jake and Lee at The Muffler Man, Eric at Westech Performance Group, Rod McGregor, Mike Aikin, Kenny Camden, Jun Nakawatase, Branko Sindicich, Chris Wheaton, and Moe Wilson. According to Kenny, “These are all the people that made this Vega one awesome race car.”
Spoken like a true champion! See more of Kenny Snow’s 1972 Vega in the gallery below.