By STEVE DYE
Though most Ponca City sports fans would naturally enough think of Po-Hi standout and former major league pitcher Clint Sodowsky as more of a stick and ball guy, it’s not such a big secret among those that know him well that his first love was and still is motorsports.
“I had that 1972 Monte Carlo when I was still in school, and I loved that car —heck, I still have it! I just drove it home last night after it had sat in a barn for 20 years.”
Sodowsky always loved motocross racing too, and competed at an early age. The problem with that was, he was just damn good at throwing a baseball. And has he began signing professional contracts in that sport those contracts often included pesky language that stated he was by no means allowed to ride dirt bikes, nuh-uh, no how, not even in the off season.
Now, the words of those contracts may have been bent a few times, but Sodowsky never broke a bone nor ever got his rear in a sling with a little surreptitious desert riding here and there.
(One would assume the stature of limitations has expired on these minor transgressions…)
What he could do, though, is go back to playing with hot rods, like the classic 1969 Camaro he purchased with some of that major league money, or the even more rare 1957 Chevy he parked alongside it.
He also built a trick enough show truck that it was featured in Trucking magazine, the premier modified pickup truck publication and also shown at the SEMA show in Las Vegas, the largest automotive accessory show in the world.
After retiring from baseball and returning to Ponca City, Sodowsky naturally went right back to motocross — and scratched a lot of that itch when he won a championship at the Ponca City Motocross Nationals a couple of years back.
But then, speaking of the word “back,” Sodowsky finally started feeling his years catching up to his athleticism. And it was time to shift gears once again.
“Well, as you know, I started having some back issues — and just like you I’m addicted to dirt bikes and we always also feel that kind of need for speed — but I felt like at least until my back started to feel better…. Well, I just kind of thought this would be a better way to go for a while.”
Enter a big drag racing event held each year by HOT ROD magazine, wherein street and strip racers compete while driving 1,000-plus miles on public roads during a trip that includes four dragstrips and five races in five days.
The race had been on the periphery of Sodowsky, but when the event literally came right through his life by rolling through Ponca City in 2014, a way station between raceways in Noble and Great Bend, Kansas, it was time to find a car.
Sodowsky located his rolling chassis, a 1968 Chevrolet Camaro, in Austin, Texas. He bought it as a roller because he had no need for the original engine or transmission.
He had other plans. Like, 1000 horsepower plans.
A Chevrolet LS truck motor was dropped in, electronic fuel injection was added, turbochargers were spooled into place, all backed by an electronic tuning package that can be adjusted trackside with a laptop.
He’s been building the car for just over a year now, and just over a week ago took it to Thunder Valley Raceway in Norman to give it its first shakedown — a test and tune session that also served as a way for Sodowsky to obtain the required National Hot Rot Association racing license he would need to enter this year’s HOT ROD Drag Week.
Both missions were successful. Dyno runs with a conservativetune had produced a horsepower number of 1009 —probably about four times what the car would have come with new, depending on engine package, and roughly double that of the $60,000 range newest version of the Camaro being sold today.
The NHRA requires two sub-10 second 9.99 times to qualify for a racing license.
Right off the trailer, the car was lifting its front tires from the tarmac while rocketing to an 8.80 second pass breaking the timing lights at the end of the quarter mile at 157 miles per hour.
“And that was only on about four pounds of boost. We think we can dial it up much higher than that and go a lot faster, Still got some tuning to do, but it’s there.”
Which of course begged the question: Just how much money have you put into this thing anyway?
“Well, I’ll put it this way… as you know, I’ve got the lawn maintenance business that I kind of do on the side now. I ran the math that way and figured I’d mowed 1147 yards to build this thing so far.”
And so, with the license obtained, and all those yards mowed, Sodowsky is finally on his way to an event he’s been thinking about for the last four years.
Sodowsky and the other drivers competing in the five-day long event will first pair off at Atlanta Dragway in Georgia on Monday, Sept. 9.
Then they will drive on public roads to Darlington, South Carolina to line up at Darlington Dragway.
Wednesday takes the to the legendary four-lane zMax Dragway in Concord, North Carolina, an immense state of the art drag racing facility built adjacent to giant Charlotte Motor Speedway track used by NASCAR.
Then it’s on to Bristol Motor Speedway on Thursday before returning to the tour’s starting point in Atlanta for the final day of racing.
But the Hot Rod Drag Week is more than just clocking the fastest time on the strip; it puts competitors to a grueling test over the five days of drag racing, requiring racers to drive their vehicles on a specified route from city to city, upward of 1,000 miles. During the competition, drivers provide photographic evidence to prove they have adhered to the prescribed route.
“HOT ROD Drag Week is a bucket list event for drag racers,” says Jonathan Mill, GM of the HOT ROD Network in a story published on the hotrod.com website describing the event. “These drivers test their drag cars for reliability throughout 1,000-plus miles on the road and for sheer performance on a new track every day. Not all the teams will make it and not every vehicle survives, but it’s a risk everyone is willing to take for supreme bragging rights and the journey of a lifetime.”
Sodowsky says it’s bucket list item for him to do the event, but also says he isn’t taking it too seriously.
“Well, I’m just going to have fun, I know I’m not going to win. But the guys that been helping and did quite a lot of work on the car are in fact former winners of the event…”
“So this year we’re just going to get the feel of it, how it flows, and then next year, I’m hoping I can maybe get some backing from some local sponsors and business owners and go even bigger and faster.”
“I’ve already had a lot of help with this project too. If I can, I really want to thank Charlie and Thomas Hendrickson, Tom and Craig Sattre, Scott Ferguson, Ray Chodrick, Tyler Prado, Anything Automotive in Denton, Texas, and especially my wife Jennifer Sodowsky for all of their help. I’m really excited about heading out this week and getting to tech and seeing what’s up, and I couldn’t have done it without all of their support.”