It’s unbearably hot at the aptly named Meltdown Drags in Byron, Illinois. It’s mid-summer and the July air feels like you’re wearing a backpack blast furnace aimed to discharge right down the nape of your neck. Luckily for all here at the show, cool rides are more than plentiful, and just that fact alone makes this “Meltdown” very bearable.
There are race cars of every denomination and brand here at Byron Dragway; many of them are jacked up, big power, straight-axle dragstrip freaks, ready to take on the nationwide competition. But there’s one in particular that immediately catches our eyes, and our ears.
Backing out of its rolling metal cell comes the Night Stalker, a gassed-up ’55 Chevy, complete with straight-axle, piloted by South Carolinian Greg Porter. You can tell this Bel Air is no newbie on the block; it’s got battle scars and enough rough edges to prove that it’s been around the tree, and down the pipe quite often. Those “beauty marks” are there from years on the road, doing what it was built to do; and doing it one dragstrip at a time.
Greg’s gasser is seeing a lot of action now, but there have been plenty of ups and downs in the life of this ’55 Chevy. Greg is just the third owner of this bare-bones Tri-Five, and personally knows the past owner and the history made by this well-used Chevy hardtop; a ride that never strayed far from its original home base in South Carolina.
Tales from the Strip
A guy named John Lollis bought the Bel Air-trimmed Chevy hardtop new in 1955, and while the car still possessed its new car smell, it was turned into a race car. He ran it in the Southeast as a Stocker, with local legend Dude Moore of Piedmont, South Carolina, handling the driving duties. The car did well, and John continued to campaign it as a Stocker for the first eight years of its life. In 1963, John decided to sell the ’55, and Dude stepped up and purchased the car for himself. He then decided to do something a little bit different with the ride. He turned the hardtop into a gasser, running B/Gas and C/Gas up until 1970. The Tri-Five was never lettered up, and ran inconspicuously in the southern states under Dude’s command. “The car won everywhere we took it to as long as it didn’t break down,” states Dude. Tracks like Greer, Spartanburg, Ware Shoals, and Fort Shoals dragways were this Chevy’s favorite stomping grounds.
After Dude’s tenure with the Chevy, the car was decommissioned and put out to pasture. It sat from 1970 to 2005, and then was sold, shopped, and swapped around until it was bought by Dude’s son, who parked it out in the woods by his father’s house. There the hardtop would wait for the next chapter in the book of its life. Enter southern hot rodder Greg Porter.
Stalked and Found
Greg was just 14 when he first met Dude, while the youngster was working at the Robins Tire Store in his hometown. Dude took care of the boss’ racer and was often seen in and around the store. The guys ran into each other once again many years later one night at a local car cruise-in. Their conversation soon turned to the old ’55 hardtop. Greg had seen it sitting in the woods and was interested in buying it. Luckily for him, Dude was interested in selling it ... well, as long as it went to the right person. Greg had just started on a gasser project, but thought resurrecting Dude’s old ride was a better idea so he made an offer for the Chevy. Dude accepted it with one stipulation; Greg couldn’t sell it off. “I paid Dude $3,000 for that rusty thing; no engine or trans either. No one wanted to pull that thing out of the woods, not even for free,” laughs Greg. A week later the much-maligned ’55 was brought to Greg’s body shop in Greenville, South Carolina. Greg promised Dude the car would be returned to all its former glory, and Dude knew that Greg was just the guy to pull it off.
The car came with both a complete steel and fiberglass front clip. Another plus were two vintage magnesium 15x10 rims sitting in the trunk. Some of its ’60’s race era modifications were still present on the car, and Greg was going to make sure that they stayed as a permanent part of the reclaimed racer. The motor mounts, fiberglass buckets, ’30 Model A straight-axle, 2x3 tubing trailing arms, and sheetmetal modifications were all there, and Greg’s goal was to get it roadworthy and preserve its original dragstrip pedigree as much as possible.
Since there was no powertrain with the car when Greg got it, new running gear had to be built. For the Night Stalker’s motorvation, Greg whipped up a rodder’s recipe of goodies. It starts with a small-block punched out to 434 cubes from Fulton Competition Race Engines in Spartanburg, South Carolina. The rotating assembly consists of a Scat forged crank, Oliver rods, and JR pistons. The cylinders are topped with Fulton 18-degree heads and the combo produces a hefty 14:1 compression. An Edelbrock tunnel-ram intake sits high on the block and is topped with a pair of 660-cfm Holleys. A custom-grind Isky cam gets the valves jumping in sync. Greg used a set of Toby Porter-built headers for that period-correct coolness; the pipes basted in hot orange heat resistant paint for added affect. An MSD ignition with a built-in rev limiter supplies the spark.
An original Moon tank supplies the go juice for this ’60’s time machine and a Griffin radiator keeps it all nice and cool; even in during those Southeast heatwaves. To top it all off, the engine was set back 16 inches for better weight distribution. This potent small-block combo is good for 900 hp at the rear wheels. A Hightower Racing Transmissions-built four-speed tranny with a Boninfante clutch gets this ride through the gears. A ’60 Ford 9-inch rear with a Moser chunk and axles sends the power out to the rear corners.
Dude’s original 15x10 American Racing magnesium wheels, shod in Mickey Thompson slicks, were reinstalled and put the power to the pavement. Up front, a pair of 15x3.5 magnesium wheels, covered in Mickey Thompson skinnies, help keep this ride pointed in the right direction. Wilwood brakes up front and Ford drum brakes out back help bring this 2,800-pound monster to a halt. For the straight-axle, Greg reused that ’30 Ford Model A front axle and wishbones the Chevy was wearing when he purchased it.
Period touches include Dude’s original pedal assembly in the cockpit, along with much of the custom sheetmetal. The yellow-tinted side glass was with the car when Greg got it and he added yellow-tinted plexi windows as well. The fiberglass buckets were also part of Dude’s racer, as were the 2x3-inch tube trailing arms. On the dash there is a permanent reminder of a bad day at the track in 1965, when the flywheel let loose and came through the dash. That must have been fairly exciting.
The final touch was working on the exterior. The car was already green when he bought it, which was much to Greg’s liking. So he kept it, just cleaning up the body and touching up the crude green paint at his own body shop in Greenville. “Dude really wanted it painted nice and slick, but I liked the old green paint,” says Greg. Then local graphic artist Charles Tyre hand painted the lettering and Night Stalker graphics on the car. Many of the stickers are vintage items, and have been on the car since it was raced. It was Greg who came up with the Night Stalker moniker. “I always loved Frankenstein when I was a kid growing up and wanted to have that reference on the car. It helped that that car was green,” says Greg.
Once the car was finished 10 weeks later, it was time for testing. “First outing I played with it on the street in front of the shop. It was kinda’ spooky on the road so I figured I better take it to the dragstrip,” says Greg. He also remembers that there wasn’t even another gasser around, and most people in the area didn’t even know what one was. “It really started a spark around here after a while. I always had a passion for the straight-axle,” he says.
Greg managed to get the gasser out to the Goodguys show in Charlotte a few weeks later where it scored two awards. “I called Dude from the show and told him I won the awards, and he drove down and picked them up,” says Greg. Actually, Dude is pretty proud of Greg and his Night Stalker. Even at 82 he’s very spry and goes to Greg’s shop regularly. He even coached Greg through the rebuild process so he got the “restoration” right. Then the Night Stalker hit the track. The first stop was Ware Shoals Dragway, formerly known as Starlight Dragway; one of the strips that Dude used to bring the ’55. “We grudge raced it at first,” says Greg. And now, he just can’t believe the outpouring of support for the Night Stalker. “No one knew the fan base it would have. I didn’t have a clue how the car was going to take off,” he continues.
Today, the Night Stalker hits the major events across the country. The Meltdown Drags in Byron, Illinois, is a major stop each year. And the car rarely fails to deliver the goods. His best time in the eighth-mile is 5.60 at 124 mph, which is nearly 2 seconds faster than Dude’s best time back in the day. “It’s funny, but when I bought the car Dude asked me what I was going to do with it. I said I was going to race it. He just laughed. But he ain’t laughing now,” says Greg. Yeah, no one is; and especially the guy in the other lane.
Photography by Scott Lachenauer