Rick DiStefano - How You Dooooin?

By Jim Luikens

Rick DiStefano’s beautiful 1953 Chevrolet Corvette Pro Modified is sponsored by Shaganappi Chevrolet of Calgary, Alberta Canada. For those of you that have your hand up already, Shaganappi is the name of an Indian tribe that is found in the Calgary area. This is the story of Rick DiStefano, who begins every conversation with “How You Dooooin?”

Rick began competing in organized drag racing even before he had a driver’s license. At age 15 he was bracket racing a 1969 Chevrolet Chevelle. Getting his learner’s permit the following year meant that he could move his, um … let’s just call them “contests of skill “, to the street in addition to his on-track activities. For his street endeavors Rick borrowed his brother’s 1979 Camaro that was big block powered.

In 1983 his mother made him a very generous offer. Eager to see him dispense with his “contests of skill” she offered to buy him a brand new Camaro Z/28 if he would forego racing. “Thanks, but no thanks,” was his quick response as he took over her garage to back half his Chevelle and add wheel tubs, nitrous oxide and a roll bar.

One year later, at the Super Chevy Event in Seattle, he recorded a 9.40 second elapsed time through the mufflers that earned him the Fastest Street Car title of the event. And it truly was a street car, right down to its wheelie bars and HANG ON license plate. One of Calgary’s finest even pulled Rick over one day just to ask for a ride.

Through his street exploits he came to know Gary Sartorio, who today is a fourth generation General Motors dealer and owner of Shaganappi Chevrolet. At that time Rick and Gary could lay claim to owning the quickest cars at the St. Francis and Sir Winston Churchill high schools respectively. Sharing a distinction like that made them fast friends then and they remain that way to this day.

Because the closest operating drag strip was more than five hours away, the street activities flourished. Racing on remote two lane roads they used code words to say where they were actually going to keep spectators to a minimum. Spotters were utilized to keep things as safe as possible and the guys even had a real “christmas tree” for starting the races.

Eventually Rick sold his Chevelle and began building an all fiberglass Chevrolet Beretta. He did everything on the car, except the actual welding, and was rewarded with 8.70 second times that were achieved without nitrous. These times compared very favorably to the 9.40 second runs that his Chevelle had previously produced while using nitrous.

By continuously working on the Beretta he eventually got it into the seven-second zone. When the local strip booked in a touring Pro Mod series Rick paid his own way in to run with them. His best time that day was 7.79 seconds. He was the only car in the seven-second zone and he out shown the touring pros. After his impressive debut he was invited to race with the Northwest Door Slammers Association for the rest of the year.

In 1990 he upgraded his engine to a supercharged 510 cubic inch Chevrolet and was rewarded with time slip numbers that began with a six. In fact, he was the first to the sixes at Mission Raceway in Mission, British Columbia when he recorded a 6.97 at 201 miles-per-hour. Although his choice of racing locales was limited he also went to several Super Chevy events and his Beretta proved hard to beat.

A Tim McAmis-built Camaro followed in 1992 that consistently ran in the 6.80s with occasional dips into the 6.70-second range. Changing to a 526 cid Pontiac Big Chief engine the following year saw a new personal best elapsed time of 6.60 seconds that was also recorded at Mission. Although there were few national events within a reasonable towing distance Rick did travel to the IHRA National Event at Scribner, Nebraska.

At Scribner he qualified 14th, torching a head in the process. After working all night to repair the head he lost a very close first round race to Shannon Jenkins. Shannon’s 6.712-second run just did beat Rick’s 6.719 elapsed time. Rick continued to race this car until 1994 before temporarily stepping away from drag racing for a while to devote time to his concrete pumping business. The business employs 90 people and, as Rick likes to say, “is the perfect job for an Italian.”

When NHRA announced the formation of the Pro Stock Truck class Rick jumped back into drag racing with both feet. He promptly ordered a Rick Jones truck that he ended up waiting two years to receive. After running the truck for a couple of seasons he decided that the class just wasn’t for him and he decided to sell everything. His timing couldn’t have been better as he completed the sale just one month before the class was disbanded by the NHRA.

After taking a couple of more years off, Rick ordered a new 1953 Corvette from Tim McAmis in late 2002. Taking delivery of that car in April 2003 he achieved several milestones, the best of which was being the runner-up at last year's inaugural Edmonton event in his home province of Alberta. Now thoroughly back and hooked on drag racing he ordered a second 1953 Corvette from McAmis near the end of last season. Both Corvettes are painted the same gorgeous shade of metallic green, a refreshing change from the usual sea of red race cars, but they have different graphic packages.

The second Corvette is easier to work on than the first and incorporates several changes and improvements that were learned from his original Corvette. The newest Corvette was picked up at Tim’s shop on the way to the Rockingham event this spring. After racing the original Corvette in eliminations and going two rounds the team stayed over for two days to test the new car. Transferring the previous Corvette’s drive line into the new car produced an immediate improvement in elapsed times.

One of the more unusual aspects of the Shaganappi team is its Toyota Scion tow car. Rick originally spotted a Scion when he was in Phoenix earlier this year for winter testing. He liked the unique looks, the fact that the entire crew fit in easily and that it holds all of their starting line accessories. The clincher was that it fit his transporter. Since Scions were not sold nationwide at that time he had to have a California-based friend locate one for him. The team has used the Scion this entire season and it never fails to get attention wherever they go even if the fans don’t know exactly what it is.

The 2004 season has been a story of ups and downs for the Shaganappi team. They made it to the final four in San Antonio but were unable to answer the call. A second round finish at Rockingham preceded major problems at Virginia where the team ended up with a DNQ to show for the weekend. Bouncing back strongly and qualifying fifth at Grand Bend, the team was shown the door in the first round by Billy Harper.

Returning to Edmonton, Rick showed he hadn’t lost anything in the past 12 months. He qualified number 1 during Friday’s first session with a 6.293 second run and improved to an even quicker 6.266 seconds in the second session. Of the 21 cars that attempted to qualify for the 16 car field, no other car even ran in the 6.20s with Harold Martin’s 6.332 the second best elapsed time of qualifying.

On race day Rick and the Shaganappi Team were nearly a model of perfection. Successive runs, and wins, of 6.244 seconds, 6.271 seconds and 6.262 seconds advanced them to the final round for the second straight year. In the finals they met the only other driver to have broken into the 6.2 second range on race day, Harold Martin. After a flawless weekend both cars shook with Rick losing his blower belt and Harold speeding away to a 6.818 second win, well off the 6.2 second pace that both had used to reach the final round.

The Edmonton runner-up finish moved Rick into second place in the Pro Modified points, just 60 behind Harold. Unfortunately, Rick had always expected to miss the Milan event because of a conflicting business commitment. Being forced to miss it while flying so high in the points only served to rub salt in the wound. The reality of missing the event meant that he fell from 2nd place in the points to a tie for fifth position after Milan was completed.

The good news for him, but not so good for the rest of the Pro Mod competitors, is that he is “good to go” for the rest of the season with no more date conflicts. Rick plans to begin working his way back up the points ladder at next week’s event near Toronto, the final Canadian stop on the 2004 tour, as he strives for a career-best points finish. There has never been a Canadian World Champion and Rick would like to be the first.