In case you haven't noticed, there's a war going on at dragstrips across the country, and vintage VW drag racers are embedded firmly in the trenches. Not that VW drag racing has ever gone away, but compact car racing--billed under the catch phrase "import drag racing"--has become a huge sport all across America, and it's breathed new life into the sport of building and racing vintage aircooled VW racers.
Initially established and nurtured by Asian import enthusiasts, the new drag racing fervor has recently culminated and is easily recognized in four new nationally sanctioned compact drag racing series: the IDRC, the NHRA import series, "The Battle of the Imports" and the NDRA. Driven by the wildfire popularity of fuel-injected, watercooled import compacts like the Honda Civic and Acura Integra, these new racing series offer incredibly fat purses, not to mention corporate sponsorship opportunities and nationwide recognition. And for the past three years, the aircooled VW ranks have begun to infiltrate this gleaming new arena--and have been successful beyond any sort of premonition or prediction.
Jack Sacchette, proprietor of Jay Cee Enterprises in Huntington Beach, Calif., is on the frontlines of the conflict. He's been involved in building fast VWs for at least 23 years, since he was a young kid racing around the Southern California streets. He's had his share of magazine appearances, and he's owned more than one purpose-built VW drag car. This month's cover car represents his latest stab at the import drag movement, and in the two years or so he's campaigned the car he's become a force to be feared in the race series. In fact, the day before our cover shoot Sacchette was racing the car at the most recent NDRA event at California Speedway in Fontana, Calif. At the event he shook them up like he always does, qualifying in first place on Saturday in his class, Pro Stock [a.k.a. All Motor], and making it all the way to the semi-finals on race day before a bum distributor rotor forced him to the sidelines. If that isn't impressive in itself, Sacchette related that out of an eight-car field of Pro Stock qualifiers, four of them were VWs.
This brings us to the war. What originally began as a drag field made up of Japan-built imports--Acuras, Hondas, Toyotas and so on--has been taken by storm by the aircooled ranks. Guys like Sacchette and Scott Kelley have basically turned the import series on their respective ears; they're just too competitive, too fast and too light for the field, prompting the series moderators to impart weight penalties to the Vee Dubs just to give the high-tech Asian imports a much needed break.
Despite his success campaigning a nearly forty-year-old car against today's cutting edge automotive technology--a feat that can be considered nothing less than impressive--Sacchette related that he's met with some resistance within his own VW community. Some hardcore Volkswagen devotees feel he's abandoning his roots and neglecting his true fan base. Sacchette merely feels he's taking the next logical step in helping the VW drag racing sport grow. Not only that, but campaigning the new import series makes a lot of sense financially. A hot import enthusiast base and aftermarket has turned out four big racing series that offer what the VW drag scene on its own has been losing for some years: big prize purses, a chance at corporate sponsorship, and national popular exposure and recognition that transcends the mere automotive arena in many ways. Consider the popularity of the movie "The Fast and The Furious" and you'll know exactly what I mean.
Sacchette himself said it best. "This year the car has more than paid for itself," he related. "I can make more money losing an IDRC or NDRA event than I ever could winning a [VW specific] event." His perspective makes sense, no matter what your position on staying true to one's roots.
Sacchette formula for success is nothing new. It incorporates the same knowledge and application of that knowledge that have helped him win races for twenty-odd years. He originally campaigned this particular car as a joint venture with Shawn Gears; the first year the pair took home upwards of $20,000 in winnings--a pretty nice windfall by anyone's estimation. At the end of the season Sacchette bought his partner out, and continues to pilot the car himself to this day.
When Sacchette and Gears bought it, the Beetle was already a PRA Super Street car that had already been prepped for competition.This meant they didn't have to waste time restoring the car to running condition, all they needed to do was make a few adjustments, drop in a new motor, and go race. The suspension is fully JCL modified to effect its track stance and incorporates JCL and Jay Cee modified disc brakes front and rear, respectively, Rancho axles and Ron Lummus wheelie bars.
The engine is based on a stock case that has, believe it or not, been modified to pump a full 2500cc of displacement using an 86mm stroke and 96mm bore. Sacchette and colleague Danny Cerny completed all machine and assembly work. The crankshaft is a Scat unit that's been linked to Scat H-Beam rods and JE forged pistons that were made to Jay Cee's specifications and effect a screaming 16:1 compression ratio. Lubrication is drawn from a five-quart Berg sump by a Berg pump. A pair of Autocraft heads were race ported by another of Sacchette's friends, Shawn McCarthy, and they now incorporate titanium valves, 54mm intake and 40mm exhaust, K-800 springs, Pauter rockers and titanium retainers. Aspiration is provided by dual 62mm Terminator carbs hooked up with a Jay Cee linkage and stacked on a pair of beautiful, fully welded Autocraft manifolds, two pieces of hardware that may as well be sitting in a museum somewhere as under Sacchette's aluminum decklid. The exhaust is a unit custom bent by Jay Cee, features a menacing Stinger-type cone outlet that makes louder noises than some airplanes.
Sacchette estimates the powerplant produces somewhere in the neighborhood of 300hp, though official numbers were not available at press time. The car's best time was actually clocked at its very first event, an IDRC race in Palmdale, Calif., last year, where Shawn Gears propelled the Bug to a 10.08-second e.t. at 132 mph. Since then, it's accomplished other impressive feats, including going on to compete in the 2003 NHRA finals, as well as winning the IDRC's Central Division and the IDRC Western Division's runner up slot.
For help campaigning this machine, Sacchette needs to thank his sponsors, VW Parts Unlimited, JE Pistons, TOA International, the Recycler and Auto-Buy for support throughout the 2003 season, as well as those who collaborated on the project effort: Danny Cerny, Shawn Gears, their families, and Sacchette's own family--wife and five kids--for their continued support.
Last, we at VWTrends would like to request your assistance, on behalf of Jack Sacchette and all the other dedicated VW racers competing in the import drag series. We need your assistance as a fan and supporter. By the time you read this a new season will be upon us, rules will have changed yet again, and odds are the aircooled VWs will be getting the short end of the stick. If the last forty years has taught the VW community anything, it's that persistence and ingenuity pay off in the long term, and there's nothing we can't overcome. We'll win this war yet.
At a Glance Engine Builder: Jay Cee Enterprises (Huntington Beach, Calif.) Case: VW Type 1 Displacement: 2500cc (86mm counterweighted Scat crankshaft x 96mm JE forged pistons) Horsepower: Approximately 300 Rods: Scat H-Beam Cam: Special grind (0.65 lift, 292 degree duration) Heads: Jay Cee/Autocraft, ported and polished by Shawn McCarthy; titanium valves and retainers, Pauter rockers, K-800 springs Valve Sizes: 54x40 Compression Ratio: 16:1 Ignition: MSD Carburetion: Dual 62mm Terminators on fully welded Autocraft manifolds Exhaust: Custom by Jay Cee Ent. Oil System: Gene Berg oil pump and 5-quart sump Other Modifications: Raceware stud kits, Geers engine vacuum pump Transmission: Full race tranny by Rancho Performance Transaxle (Anaheim, Calif.), Rancho custom axles and final drive, JayCee "Floater" clutch assembly, Gene Berg shifter
Special Thanks: VW Parts Unlimited, JE Pistons, Recycler, Auto-Buy, TOA International, Danny Cerny, Shawn Geers; my wife, Helen, and children Zach, Jaylyn, Mariah, Ashlyn, Shelby.