Ever since I was a little kid I had always envisioned my own racecar; it would be fast, reliable and of course it would be the winningest car anybody had ever seen. Then reality set in; I realized I couldn't just wish it to happen. I was going to have to work for it. So here is my story about how my racecar came to be. Bear with me as it may get confusing.
In 1970, my dad, Gene Berg, was building motors for Gene Wright's 100 yard sand buggy. The motors my dad built for the buggy were way beyond what tires of that era could hold and Gene Wright, being the sharp guy that he was, and having the convenience of owning a welding and fabrication shop, came up with a brilliant idea. He decided to take the conveyor belt that he used in his shop to distribute parts down an assembly line and have one made to fit the dirt tires on his buggy. So he let the air out of the dirt tires, slipped the conveyor belt (still with the scoops that moved the parts down the assembly line) around the tire, and refilled the air. Presto, the world's first sand tire.
With the two Genes working together, one making the power and the other one coming up with how to get the power to the ground, a new era of sand racing was born. They also developed a variety of products that are used by many companies today. Needless to say, both families have been lifelong friends since this union of talent.
In 1984, my brother, Doug, decided to help one of Gene Wright's sons, Greg Wright, with a project. Greg had caught the family bug, and was building a racecar like his father's. Doug spent many nights at Greg's house and at the local college putting the car together. The roll cage came out of the family's Black '67, which they had upgraded in the late seventies. Originally I had installed it in my Baja Bug that I sold to Greg, but when Greg and Doug needed a cage for the racecar, they ripped the one out of the Baja.
Doug then took the cage and reworked its frame. Then he ran bars from the main loop down to a cross bar (that was running from fender well to fender well), and from there he ran supports to the frame horn. Unfortunately, it tweaked the frame horns to the point where you had to use a pry bar to install the frame horn bolts. So after a couple of times, I started leaving the mount on the car and lifting the tranny over the mount. I learned the hard way that you had to be careful because the mount could rip the axle boots.
I remember going out to Greg's one night to help him set up the torsion bars. Doug re-did the torsions five or six times before he was happy. Doug is amazingly talented at taking a shell of a car and turning it into a smoothly running machine. I know that ever since I have owned the car, it has always hooked better and harder than any other car at the track on any given day.
After one or two times to the track, Greg decided that he wanted to go faster. Doug sold him his Buggy that he had driven for many years prior, and I traded Greg three sets of cylinder heads for the car (minus motor and trans). These weren't just any cylinder heads; one pair was Gene Berg square ports built in the early '70s for Don Ruckman who owned the Sonic Muffin, one set were Lonnie Reed wedge ports and one set were my stock valve port and polish. In 1986 I decided it was time to build a motor.
Being the son of Gene Berg, I felt the pressure of following in my father's footsteps and building a car that lived up to the name of Gene Berg. My father had already proven that he could make a car that symbolized his quest for perfection in a racecar. He had a car that was winning races,showing reliability and utilizing the best driver in the industry-my brother Gary.
So where did that leave me? I didn't have the support of any free parts from daddy, and I wasn't allowed to use the shop to do anything related to my new endeavor. At that time I was working for Vee Dub Parts Unlimited, so I developed the attitude of what I called, "used, abused and worn out." This was the way I went about gathering parts to put a motor together for my first real racecar. It's kind of a sad way to go about things, but I didn't have a lot of options.
About this time, my ex-wife's motor ran out of oil and seized a rod bearing, which basically thrashed the motor. I built her a stocker to replace the old motor, and purchased the bottom end (of the first, and thoroughly destroyed, motor) from her for $600, and sold the rest of the motor as a favor to her.
This was a choice vintage piece built for Bill DeMoss (who at the time was a member of DKP) by Bob Matsiama (who was my 10th grade auto shop teacher). The motor was a 78 x 90.5 Berg welded stroker with a K-10 cam, Sig Erson 1.5 Rockers, Ron Fleming (of FAT Performance) 40 x 37.5 welded heads, Berg stroker rods, Skat Trac manifolds, 48 Ida's and a Fortuned 15/8 merged header. Since I had a good bottom end, I needed a set of cylinder heads.
You would think that since I am the guy who builds all the heads for Gary's car, that I would be able to build an incredible set of heads.Once again, this was not how it worked out. I talked to Mark Voegtly, who lent me a set of heads that had been originally built by Art Safel for Larry VanWilgen (who owned the Snooze ya Lose Dragster), then re-worked by me before Mark bought the motor. After Larry Van Wilgen received the motor from Art, he lent the motor to Dan Wolfe, who put it in his D/ED. Subsequently, Dan threw a rod through the top of the case and destroyed the motor. Whew! The motor that contained these heads has a long history of owners! Because of my involvement, I knew Mark had a set of heads that weren't being used. Mark told me that if I could fix them, I could use them as long as I wanted.
I took the bottom end that had 65,000 street miles on it, rebuilt it (the crank cleaned up at .020 under), bought a set of standard 90.5s, fixed the heads, traded a guy the complete labor on a set of 40 x 37.5 welded heads for a set of 48s and proceeded to put the motor together.
When it came time for a transmission , Harold Carter, who used to work for PCH Imports, helped me put a box together that was just incredible. I have used his trannies ever since that first one; they are that good. As testimony for the quality work that Harold does, all you have to do is watch as his car launches. That car gets speeds that are incredible and if a tranny can hang with that kind of abuse, you know the guy building them must know what he's doing.
In 15 years of racing I have only broken one tranny. It actually broke the ring and pinion, and that was sort of my fault anyway. I would always have Harold put a new R&P in it about every 35-40 runs, and he would always say that it was cracked but it "looked like it would make one more race." I tried to pull it through one more, and it sure didn't make it. Needless to say, after that, I went back to a new R&P every 35-40 runs and never broke a transmission again.
Although I must confess, at the last race I ran (Las Vegas 2000) with the car before sending it overseas to its new owners, I sheered off part of three teeth on the last pass I made, but no other damage occurred.