Steve Spiess - The Future of Drag Racing
By Jim Luikens
Although Steve passed on the Cobra he never forgot about it. Kenny Hoger, a Chicago area race car chassis builder, also had a Cobra at that time which he used for his personal car. Kenny's was a kit car and Steve eventually purchased it when he couldn't get the thought of the real Cobra out of his mind. The kit Cobra was powered by a big block Chevrolet engine hooked to a Turbo 400 transmission and turned times in the mid-10 second range thanks to a pair of Pro Stock style heads that were prepared by Virginia's "General" Lee Edwards. In fact, this was the very car that introduced Steve to the world of drag racing. All told, he owned and raced the Cobra for about ten years.
After his Cobra, Steve was ready to move up to his first purpose-built drag car so he purchased a 1984 Camaro from a used car lot. Lee Edwards again provided the power, this time a 557 cid big block Chevy engine on nitrous. Steve had the Camaro back-halved and tubbed in order to handle the General's power and was rewarded with elapsed times in the 7.70 range. The Camaro's elapsed times were pretty impressive for that era and Steve still has that car in his collection today after racing it from 1990 to 1993.
In 1994 he purchased his first Pro Stocker, a new Camaro, from Jerry Haas. The General was called upon once more, this time for an 804 cubic inch Chevrolet mountain motor. Steve sorted his new car out at Frank Hawley's driving school in Gainesville, Florida with Jerry Haas and Robbie Vandergriff assisting him. Steve eventually recorded a best elapsed time of 7.02 seconds while at Hawley's school.
Bouncing back quickly, he ordered another Camaro the very next day. This one stayed around quite a bit longer, lasting three full seasons instead of just three months. Its most noteworthy accomplishment was recording a 200 mile-per-hour pass in time to join the 200 mph club. Unfortunately, Steve was disqualified because he didn't have the required decal on the car.
Another Haas car, this time a 1998 Monte Carlo followed Camaro number two. Now using Ron Miller engines, Steve's Monte Carlo set the IHRA elapsed time record at 6.62 seconds in Shreveport, Louisiana. At the IHRA national event in Bradenton, Florida, Steve had his second accident when the car got loose on sand that was blowing across the drag strip from the adjacent dirt oval track. Luckily, Steve never hurt his arm or received any serious injuries from the crash even though the car's window net broke when it rolled.
Once again Steve quickly ordered a replacement race car and used the Pro Stock Oldsmobile Cutlass of Indiana's Greg Moser to finish the season. Monte Carlo number two's debut was a rousing success when it won the Darlington national event. The joy of Steve's first ever professional win was short lived, however. At the very next event in Rockingham, North Carolina the car's parachutes became tangled at the end of its run and the car made a hard left into the wall.
Steve raced the Grand Am for three seasons with middling results, sometimes qualifying and sometimes not. He primarily raced in the IHRA series but dabbled in an occasional NHRA event that was near his home, particularly Joliet's Route 66 Raceway, a track that he was involved in building. He still has a financial interest in Route 66 as member of the ownership group.
The Cobalt too has already seen final round action. It was one half of an all RJ Cobalt final at the ACDelco Virginia Nationals in May when Rick Jones was victorious over Steve. Despite the loss, Steve left Dinwiddie with the P/S points lead. After the subsequent events at Grand Bend and Edmonton Steve now finds himself solidly in second place just 32 points out of first and 64 ahead of third place man Tony Gillig.
Remember that 427 Cobra that got away from Steve so long ago? He is not about to let that happen twice. On Christmas Day last year he won an auction on eBay for a new Ford GT from a Ford dealer in South Carolina. The scheduled delivery date is now drawing near and he is looking forward to flying down there and driving it home. What color is it? Dark Blue, of course.