Hot Rides at the SEMA Car Show

Friday, 4 November 2011

NASCAR's David Ragan Picks Top at SEMA

We figure that by now, you're probably pretty sick and tired of hearing our choices for the 10 best cars at every auto show we cover. So for this year's Specialty Equipment Market Association show, we decided it was time to do something special and turned to up-and-coming NASCAR driver David Ragan for his best-of-show picks. More than just a successful young racer, Ragan is a certifiable car geek, with a stout collection of his own and an impressive understanding of the technical as well as the historical, which makes for some interesting choices. As you'll see, he's really into American metal specifically, old American metal, as in from the 1930s and '40s. But that doesn't stop him from appreciating good craftsmanship where it exists.

Twin-Engine 1927 Ford Model T Roadster

Appropriately dubbed the "Double Trouble Hot Rod," this 1927 Ford is far from stock, but as Ragan notes, "You just can't deny the ingenuity here." It's nothing like Ragan's more straight-from-the-factory 1931 Model A, but the inventiveness and the craftsmanship put into this vehicle catches the eye. Ragan isn't focused on the kitchen blender mounted atop the engine he's focused on the two supercharged 4.6-liter Ford V8 engines. Joined by chain, they drive about 1,000 horsepower to the rear wheels. The owner, Gordon Tronson of Las Vegas, built the car from scratch with no drawings whatsoever. Worth noting is that the 15-inch rear wheels are 14 inches wide.

2011 Jeep Lower Forty

Ragan is attracted to this big chop-topped Jeep because of its factory appearance. "It's been done clean," he says. He's right, of course. The reason: The guys from Mopar built it themselves. A 5.7-liter V8 engine with 380 horsepower and 404 lb-ft of torque sends power through a Getrag 6-speed manual transmission. Handling the delivery of the aforementioned power are a Dana 44 front axle and a Dana 60 rear axle. Three inches have been chopped off the windshield, which slopes about 10 degrees more aggressively than stock.

Factory Five ’33 Ford

If you're going to build a replica hot rod, the people you should probably be in touch with are at Factory Five. Their expertise in building racing chassis seems to translate suspiciously well into the hot-rod scene, and this flat-black example is certainly no exception. Ragan digs the car's stealth appearance, as well as the fabrication work and the stainless-steel brightwork in the engine bay.

Ken Block’s 2011 Ford Fiesta

You wouldn't expect a NASCAR driver to have an eye for something as wild as Ken Block's WRC Ford Fiesta. But Ragan says that good driving is good driving, no matter the specialization, and that he hopes to see World Rally Championship rallying gain more traction in the U.S. As a shop owner, Ragan is impressed with the technical aspects of the car anti-lag turbocharger tech and the like as much as he is by the driver inside. Block's car makes no less than 650 horsepower, though it's said to be capable of 850 horses, and you can watch him.


You do know what Bigfoot is, right? Over the years, something like 18 versions have been built, but the name is nothing short of legendary to gearheads the world over. Why does a NASCAR driver like it, though? He appreciates the engineering, of course. He crawls inside the truck and shows us details such as driveshaft brakes, and on his way out explains that the tires have to be cut by hand, from blanks. It's a time-consuming thing, operating a monster truck. Ragan used to hang out with the Carolina Crusher team, and it apparently left an impression. These days, Bigfoot trucks sport 565 to 572 cubic-inch engines and weigh around 10,000 pounds.

2011 California Custom Coach Model 876

Let's say you don't have the coin to get your hands on one of the 500 original cars manufactured by Auburn in 1935 and 1936, or that you simply aren't up for maintaining the 150-horsepower supercharged 8-cylinder side-valve Lycoming engine. Well, no problem. You can have a brand-spanking-new replica with a 5.3-liter 295-horsepower V8 engine, 4-wheel disc brakes and a claimed 4.7-second zero-to-60-mph time. You'll get a 36,000-mile warranty and no less than five leather hides in your interior, along with climate control, too. Ditching the purist mentality has never been so tempting.

1969 Chevrolet Camaro

If there's a classic Camaro shape, this is it. Ragan's attraction to this relatively unmolested variant has more to do with his childhood than anything else. "My family had one while I was growing up," he says. The paint color seems original, and Ragan cracks a grin as he pokes his head through the open driver's side window, saying, "There's nothing like that old car smell." He's right there's nothing like a well-kept vintage car to get the blood flowing.

1940 Ford V8 Deluxe Convertible

Though in a perfect world Ragan would have a hardtop with windshield wipers atop the windscreen, he finds no complaint with this convertible, which features a fully modern drivetrain with bits such as a Chevrolet LS7 engine, as well as stealthily hidden modern components, such as navigation, Bluetooth and voice control. A modern automatic transmission rounds out its everyday drivability, while stainless-steel gear abounds underneath. Owner Nick Ellis builds and sells these cars for a living; he says this one was owned by Sen. Strom Thurmond, R-S.C.

Bill Elliott’s No. 9 Ford Thunderbird NASCAR

"You can't be a stock-car fan and not appreciate this car," Ragan says excitedly. Even as a driver, Ragan still stands in awe of Bill Elliott's No. 9 Thunderbird, poised atop a crate in the middle of the Ford booth. This is the car that went 212 mph the fastest recorded time in a stock car at Daytona in 1987. Elliott is arguably the most popular driver that NASCAR has ever seen, having won 44 checkered flags throughout his career. We understand why you appreciate the man, David.

David Ragan’s No. 6 Ford Fusion NASCAR

Believe it or not, Ragan is a modest, easygoing guy. Fact is, adding his own car to the list was our idea. He's been no slouch, after all. At 22, Ragan has already had 45 top-10 finishes, with two wins and two poles. He started racing competitively at 11, and was racing NASCAR trucks by 18. As for the car itself, it pounds out 850 horsepower from its 358 cubic-inch V8 engine and tips the scales at 3,500 pounds. No, it's not the Fusion you can buy from the dealer.
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