Words/Photos Phil Hutchison
Super Stock racer, Steve Comella, checked one thing of his bucket list with his win at the recent LODRS event at Cecil Country driving the Comella family 1968 Hemi SS/AH Dodge Dart. Racing out of Webster NY, Comella had been to the finals before but never a winner. Now with that task completed, Comella and his racing partner and father Chuck, turned their attentions to the upcoming Hemi Challenge at the U.S. Nationals. They’ll be parking the winning Dodge Dart and racing at Indy with the team's 1968 Plymouth Barracuda. But more on that later, lets revisit Comella’s Cecil win.
“At Cecil we had to do it the hard way. No bye runs and we raced some of the best in the class. Bryan Worner, Shane Oakes, guys I have looked up to and we also had a heads-up race against Al Smyth,” Comella said. “We were running the car with an 8.76 in the window for most of the race, but for the semis there was a huge headwind and I moved the dial to an 8.79 for the last two rounds. Usually we don’t fool around with the dial during a race, we try to keep it honest. My ace in the hole is the speed the car runs. Most racers know I’m gonna be coming up on them real fast.”
In the finals Comella had the SS/EM Camaro of George Taylor in the other lane and it was Comella’s reaction time that put him in the winner’s circle. Taylor ran right on his 9.36 dial with a 9.366 as Comella went a 8.81 on a 8.79 but it was Comella’s better 0.034 light to Taylor’s later 0.082 that made the difference.
“When I got my time slip after the finals I didn’t look at George’s numbers. It wasn’t until the next day someone told me I won on a hole shot.
“At the beginning of the year we weren’t really thinking about the points and even as the year progressed going into May and June, we were doing pretty well but let’s just keep doing what we are doing,” Comella said. “But after the Cecil win and our leading in points, we have decided to go after it. We have run five divisionals and at the Gainesville race in March we went out in the first round but I can replace that race with another, as total points are best five of a possible eight races. So I can run three more divisionals.”
The winning Dodge Dart is one of the original group built by a combined effort of the Chrysler and Hurst Corporation in 1968 and not a clone as most of the Hemi cars competing in the NHRA. “Dad bought the Dart brand new in November of 1968,” Comella added. “It’s a one-owner car. The car was fully updated by John Holt in Columbus, Ohio about seven years ago. Dad drove the car up until Indy of 2011. I started driving the car the next year. “
But now comes the U.S. Nationals and the Hemi Challenge. “The Barracuda is our shootout car and is built to run as quick as it can and we only run it a few times a year at special events like the Indy race,” he says.
The Barracuda is no stranger to the winner’s circle having won the 2017 Dutch Classic. “I have run good at Indy but haven’t taken the trophy,” Comella continued. “One of the worse days of my life in racing was in 2017 when we got to the semis and got beat on a hole shot by Jimmy Daniels’ Dart. Then last year we were No. 1 qualifier during the early sessions and then Jimmy knocked me back to No. 2 in the last session. Later we dropped to No. 3 after Gary Wolkwitz grabbed No. 1 spot.
“In the first round, due to no one’s fault other than my own, I lost. I didn’t set the air gap properly in the clutch and rolled the beams red-lighting my chances away.”
The Cuda is a former Division 7 car owned by Jim DeFrank, driven by Rick Houser and built by chassis wizard Gary Hansen. “After we bought the car Gary and Rick worked with me in getting used to driving the car. I had never driven a clutch car and they were great getting me comfortable.”
In preparation for the Hemi Challenge, the Comella team has been making laps at their local track, Empire Dragway, in upstate NY.
In addition to thanking his dad Chuck, Comella would like to thank Charlie Westcott for building the potent Hemi motors. “We use and always have used Westcott motors in our cars,” Comella said. “We have two motors we use in the Dart and another we use in the Barracuda.”
Comella would also like to thank his fiancé Krystal Waters for being his support and taking care of things when the team is on the road.