Jeff Solyan - Picture Perfect
By Jim Luikens
| At the tender age of just 16 Jeff Solyan bought a 1971 Pontiac Firebird for a street car. Never content to leave things well enough alone, he built a Chevrolet 327 engine for it and bracket raced it occasionally turning times in the 13-second range. Desiring to go ever quicker he upgraded to a blown 350 engine and his times dropped into the low 12-second bracket. This is the story of Jeff Solyan and his progression from that street driven bracket car to all out IHRA Top Sportsman racing.
As a youngster Jeffs father Ron had actually introduced Jeff to racing by allowing Jeff to tag along when he worked on a friends 1968 Chevy Nova race car. Eventually, Ron Solyan bought the Nova for himself and competed on the Midwest Pro Gas Circuit. Known as The Animal, the Nova weighed 3200 pounds and turned 9.90s using the unlikely combination of blown small block power.
The Animal had to be stored for a while because the family ventured into the custom picture framing business and the family garage was needed as a place of operation. Luckily, the business grew fast and in four years it moved into its own building. When the Nova returned to competition in 1988 it was outfitted for NHRAs new Super Street class and made its debut with a newly installed 454 engine. The car did impressive wheelstands and ran 10.70s with ease despite still weighing 3200 pounds.
Due to young Jeffs success with his street-driven and bracket-raced Firebird he was picked as The Animals new driver. Jeff and the car made their Super Street debut at the NHRA Division 3 points meet in Salem, Ohio. Both father and son were hooked and plans were made to upgrade The Animal over the upcoming off-season. That winter the Nova went on a diet and the original sub frame and Dana rear end were removed.
In their place a new mild steel tube chassis with strut suspension was installed. Now lighter by 600 pounds, The Animal easily dipped into the 9.70 range and advanced to Super Gas eliminator. The competition was tough at both the national and divisional levels and the 1989 and 1990 seasons were learning years for the Solyans. In 1991 the familys trusty 454 was bored out to 509 cubic inches and The Animal advanced again, this time to Super Comp eliminator.
The Solyans continued their lessons and in 1992 Jeff reached his first final round at a NHRA Division 3 points meet in Michigan. Their years of hard work and expense had borne it first fruit. In fact, Jeff finished in the top 50 of NHRA Super Comp points out of more than 5000 competitors nationwide. The fact that he had done it with a home-built door car in an eliminator that is primarily dragster dominated made it all that more special.
Towards the end of the 1992 season Jeff bought his father a nitrous kit for his birthday. Since Ron had sworn never to use nitrous he could only ask who the present was really for. In reality, Jeff had purchased the nitrous kit because he had a plan. He wanted to run the Halloween Classic at Norwalk and nitrous was the ticket to get in. Using the smallest jets possible The Animal picked up from its normal 8.90 Super Comp pace to 8.50. There were smiles all around The Animals pit area but the biggest smile could be found on Ron Solyans face.
After some adjustments and more nitrous the pace quickened again, this time into the 8.00 range. Since going fast was more fun the team decided to join IHRA and participate in its Top Sportsman eliminator. The engine was enlarged once again to 522 cubic inches and seven-second elapsed times at 170 miles per hour became the norm. Jeff scored his first national event win at the 1993 Presidents Cup race in Budds Creek, Maryland.
In that final Jeff recorded a perfect .500 reaction time and ran 7.663 on his 7.66 dial for a combined package of just .003, which should win almost any drag race. The 7.663-second run was also the teams quickest run to that point in time. The rest of the year was good overall and the team finished a remarkable 12th place in its first season of Top Sportsman competition.
The following season Jeff won the 30th annual Spring Nationals in Bristol, Tennessee and he finished in the top ten in points for the first time. Rule changes outlawed the teams mild steel chassis so the team bought another Nova. They had Rick Jones from RJ Race Cars construct a chrome-moly chassis for it and they moved up to a 632 cubic inch engine. Equipped with two 1200 cfm Holleys and an NOS fogger kit the new Nova was running in the low seven-second range at 190 miles-per hour.
After winning a divisional event in Kentucky and several late round showings at national events the team finished in the top ten for the second straight year. The next year Jeff took some time off from the tour to construct a new home with his wife Sheila. Running only a limited schedule Jeff won the Summer Nationals in Illinois and finished 16th in points.
In 1998 Jeff and the team returned to the tour with a vengeance, running 90% of the races and winning a WCS race in Ohio. That win, and several national event semi-final showings, catapulted the team back into the top ten and all the way up to fourth in the final points standings. After running as part of the family team for his entire career Jeff made the decision to branch out on his own.
He built a new style Firebird Trans Am using a chassis kit he had purchased from Tim McAmis. Despite running a limited schedule in the 2001 season he was runner-up at the Presidents Cup event and recorded yet another top ten by finishing ninth in the final points standings.
As good as the 2001 season had ended it was just the opposite to start the next year. Jeff experienced a very hard crash during the 2nd round of the Holley Shootout. The Trans Am was severely damaged but Jeff was unhurt. He finished the season by returning to the drivers seat of the family Nova while he repaired his Firebird. Kenny Farrell of CFM along with Holley Carburetor and TurboStart batteries were very supportive in supplying parts to get Jeffs own car back on the track.
Sporting a new, more prominent Quaker Steak and Lube paint scheme the Pontiac returned to the track in 2003. A Divisional race win, and strong national event showings, pushed Jeff right back into the top ten and a great 6th place finish. For the 2004 season Jeff and his father will be campaigning two cars out of a beautiful Pace Stacker Trailer and 38-foot Freightliner Motor Home. Jim Kolbrick of Hubbard, Ohio will drive the Nova while Jeff will be behind the wheel of his flamed Firebird.
Advanced Auto Body will be back to sponsor the Firebird for another season in 2004 in addition to Quaker Steak and Lube. Jeff is proud of his accomplishments and is grateful for the support he receives from his wife Sheila and daughter Lainey. Jeff would like to be known as someone that builds most of his own stuff and has overcome adversity along the way. Considering his fine event win record and consistent top ten points showings it is recognition that is well earned.