The majority of heads-up racecars that run in the small-tire world shed their street car roots long ago in the pursuit of lighting the boards with mind-boggling elapsed times on race day. Tennessee native Billy Gruwell doesn’t subscribe to the idea that a high-powered heads-up car can’t still see street duty. Billy’s twin-turbo 1969 Chevrolet Corvette has a lot of history for him, and he wanted to be sure it could still live up to its street car past while running in a drag radial world.
Billy lives a life of performance, and that includes running his own shop, Titan Motorsports, in his home state of Tennessee. At the age of eight, Billy began racing motorcycles, switched to BMX, and then jumped back to motorcycles before he finally settled on the dafe confines of four wheels. It was those years in the motorcycle industry that really pushed him to the performance path as a career for life.
Spending time in the two-wheel world growing up was to be expected for Billy since that is what his father did for a living, and cars were just a way to get around when it rained. “I didn’t have much knowledge about cars starting out; my dad was more of a motorcycle guy, so he couldn’t teach me much. Over my career, I still participated in the motorcycle world. I have raced as a Pro in the American Motorcycle Association and been a mechanic for several amateur, pro, and expert flat track racing teams within the AMA,” Billy explains.
Growing up, Billy had a choice — he could work with his family in the motorcycle shop, playing with anything mechanical and racing, or go the more traditional sports route. “I actually had a professional baseball scout come watch me play and showed interest, but my dad said it was either race motorcycles on the weekends or play baseball. I made the choice to race bikes,” Billy says.
I can never leave well enough alone; there is always something to be changed or made better, and making it faster is a must! -Billy Gruwell
Wrenching for top level flat track teams did have a plus side for Billy, as it’s how he met his wife, Gretchen, since her kids also raced. Billy and Gretchen ended up opening a shop and racing with their kids until they lost interest. The grind of the motorcycle racing life lost its fun and also played a part in him making the choice to leave for the automotive world. “The travel for dirt track motorcycle racing was just becoming too much, so switching to spending more time in drag racing was easy. It was just too hectic with flat track racing and being away from the shop so much,” Billy says.
Over the years, Billy has owned a plethora of GM cars, from a 1970 GTO to Camaro’s and even several different high-performance trucks. Billy shares that, like most gearheads, he isn’t capable of leaving anything stock, and he must put his own touches on it. “Just about every car I’ve owned, I’ve built. I can never leave well enough alone; there is always something to be changed or made better, and making it faster is a must.”
The mantra of modifying anything he owns carried over to his current Corvette, but it goes beyond just going fast — it must have the ability to still see street duty for Billy. “Everything I’ve owned, or will ever own when it comes to cars, has been a street car; I don’t want something that’s just for the track only. I love to be able to jump into my car on a Friday night and drive to the ice cream shop and not have any issues. My goal for this car is to qualify in the middle of the pack for Limited Drag Radial and then win a street car class on the same weekend.”
That might seem like a tall order for any car, but Billy is highly motivated to reach his goals with the Corvette because of his deep personal history with this car. He could have very easily accomplished building a killer street and strip car on a different platform, but that just wasn’t in the cards for him.
“I have been around this car since I was 16 years old when my friend, Chris Morris, owned it. We cruised around in it and had some really good times in the car. I actually lived with his family off and on when we moved to Tennessee the first time when I was a kid. He was killed in a car accident at the age of 25, so I stored the car for his mom and dad for a while during those hard times. When I moved back to Tennessee, a friend wanted to purchase the car from his parents, and I lost track of the car, thinking my friend Vince still owned it,” Billy explains.
Fate stepped in and give him the opportunity to purchase the car back. He was surfing on Facebook and happened to find the Corvette for sale and jumped at the chance to acquire it. “I made the trip to St. Louis to look at it the night I saw the ad. When I got there, I made an offer on the car that he refused at first. I explained to him just how much the car meant to me and that the offer was all I could afford. He then accepted the $500, and I picked the car up the next day,” Billy says of how he was reunited with the Corvette.
After taking possession, Billy began the long process of modifying it to be exactly what he wanted: a radical street/strip car that would be a blast to drive. Due to the car’s condition, it was a long process, but for Billy, that was part of fun. “I’ve been around cars my whole life and wrenching on them is just something I enjoy. What I really love is taking a car that looks worn out or that has seen better days, and turning it into something really special that turns heads,” he explains.
Restoring the Corvette was a process Billy thoroughly enjoyed because of his deep personal ties to the car, and being able to bring it back to life has been a real treat for him.
“I still have a lot of memories with this car and think of Chris every time I’m in it at the track. I swear to this day, the car is haunted. I was working on it one day and saw a shadow move by, even though I was the only person in the shop,” Billy says.
To meet his horsepower needs, Billy used a Dart Little M block that measures 408 cubic-inches. Inside the engine is a Callies crankshaft that rotates a set of Oliver connecting rods and Ross pistons. A VRE solid roller cam works with a valvetrain that uses T&D shaft rocker arms and AFR stainless steel valves. AFR also got the nod for the cylinder heads, with their 245NP aluminum units finishing things off.
Bringing the air into the small-block Chevy is a Super Victor 2 intake from Edelbrock along with a 90mm Accufab throttle body. Fuel comes from a set of 225-pound Precision fuel injectors and a Weldon 2348A fuel pump. Spark is added in by an MSD Grid box, Pro Billet distributor and coil. Billy’s son, Bryce Hazen, tunes the MS3 Pro computer that controls all the engine’s functions.
I still have a lot of memories with this car and think of Chris every time I’m in it at the track.- Billy Gruwell
Boost for the Corvette comes from a pair of Forced Inductions S488 turbos. The rest of the turbo system consists of a Vortech blow-off valve, Precision PW46 wastegate, and a maze of three-inch hot and cold side piping. This combination has produced 1,390 horsepower and propelled Billy to a best quarter-mile time of 8.06 at over 167 mph.
Behind the engine is a Chris Gootee-built Powerglide that uses a torque converter from R&R Racing Torque Converters. A flexplate from TCI helps to begin the power transfer process, and Billy shifts gears on the track or street with a B&M shifter. Bringing the car to a stop after each pass is a full set of Wilwood brakes at each corner of the car.
A simple trip to his first heads-up race is what ultimately hooked Billy on wanting to make the Corvette into a real monster.
“I went to Radial Fest, and that’s all it took to get me hooked on small-tire racing. It showed me we could go to big races and not have to spend a ton of time away from the shop like we did racing bikes. The adrenaline high is what keeps me going when it comes to drag racing. It’s also great being around people with similar interests who actually become your extended family,” Billy says.
That newfound family aspect of the sport has made things very enjoyable for Billy at the track.
“I enjoy drag racing because it’s a family deal with how we help each other. Just about anybody at the track will bend over backwards to help a fellow racer, and that’s great to me. It’s that kind of attitude that’s attracted me to the sport and kept me in it over the years, for sure. If we weren’t having fun doing it, we would not be at the track, period,” Billy explains.
Billy Gruwell has been able to fuse his love for street cars and drag racing into his 1969 Corvette that is full of fond memories. When you combine all of this and the family time he has gained by going to the drag strip, you have a combination for fun that can’t be beat. And don’t be surprised if you see this yellow Corvette laying down low four-second passes at the track right before Billy drives it to get ice cream with his wife.