From a plastic model kit to traveling at less than seven seconds in a quarter mile, the love for race cars is a passion for Tony Billet of Boardman.
Billet grew up in Boardman, where his father Andy Billet ran a landscape company that opened in 1947. At an early age, Tony became interested in building model cars as he progressed through the Boardman school system. He started out at Stadium Drive Elementary and graduated from Boardman High School in 1965. From there he went on to Akron Barber College and became a master stylist.
Cutting hair didn’t offer Tony enough turf though and in 1969 he followed in his father’s footsteps and went into the landscape business. This year, Billet Landscaping turns 41 and is Boardman’s oldest surviving landscape company.
Building a successful business and keeping it going takes a lot of hard work, and for Tony there was a need to unwind. That need was realized in 1986 when he purchased a 1972 Chevy Nova that he could take to the dragstrip. In a short time he improved the old Chevy, known as Sod Man I, considerably.
“When I bought the Nova, it was turning 15 seconds in the quarter mile,” Tony said. “After two years and a lot of money, we got it down close to nine seconds.”
The rush of racing was now in Tony’s blood and he put together his second car named Sod Man II. This machine was a 1927 Chevy Roadster set up for racing. It ran close to eight seconds in the quarter and Tony drove it into the seventh spot in the IHRA (International Hot Rod Association) Division I Super Rod class. In 2005, he was asked to bring his roadster to Las Vegas for a 100th Anniversary celebration. While parked on display in the city, someone highjacked the pick up truck trailer and the roadster. The truck and trailer were found abandoned in the desert with no roadster to be found. Not giving up, Billet finished the IHRA season using his Nova.
For 2006, Tony went all out and with his crew chief and fellow Boardman graduate Ernie Malamasura, built a top dragster. Of course, it wore the name Sod Man III. After running the dragster down the quarter mile race track, Tony knew it was what he wanted to do.
“I don’t win a lot, but I really have a lot of fun,” he said.
Racing an IHRA Top Dragster is not cheap. Tony estimates it costs around $1,500 to race after the fuel, pit passes, registration and traveling are accounted for.
“I would love to just race,” Tony said. “But I have to work to pay the bills.”
Sod Man III is 263” long and is powered by a 632 cubic inch Chevy power plant with two-stage NOS (Nitrous Oxide System). The fuel for the dragster costs $16.50 per gallon.
“It takes two gallows to travel the quarter mile,” Tony said.
Combined with the NOS, one pass down the drag stripe costs between $40 and $45.
The two-stage NOS system is controlled by an on-board computer. NOS is a system that injects nitrous oxide into the fuel mix, giving a vehicle a lot of instant power. Tony said the computer kicks in the first stage .003 of a second after launch. Then two seconds after launch the second stage kicks in and the driver is pressed into the racing seat as the top dragster makes the run in under seven seconds.
On the other end of the track, Tony deploys two parachutes that assist the braking system in stopping the dragster. The chutes are specially designed to be fire retardant and can take the extreme force. Tony did say the chutes have to be packed just right, but can be done in ten minutes.
“I use baby powder to help dry the chutes and make them slippery,” he said.
With a newly-built engine for 2010, Tony and his crew headed to Las Vegas at the beginning of April to get in a few practice runs to open his season in IHRA Division I Top Dragster. It gives one of his sponsors, Las Vegas Hot Rod Girls.com a chance to see the car run.
Tony also enjoys cruising a little slower with his 1968 Cadillac convertible. This year his landscape company (Billet Landscaping Inc.) is a sponsor of the Mahoning Valley Olde Car Club’s Boardman Park car show later this summer.
As for his 72 Nova that started it all, Tony said he sold it earlier this year.
“It was sad to see it go,” Tony said. “This year that car is on the tracks in Tennessee with a 598 cubic inch Chevy with two-stage NOS. It runs .805 seconds.
More photos: http://cu.towncrieronline.com/galleries/index.php?id=313253