Interview with John Holt
Saturday, 24 September 2011 08:24

An Interview with John Holt, Reknowned Chassis Builder for the SS/AH class.

John Holt of John Holt Race Cars is not only the primary sponsor of this weekend’s Hemi Shoot Out event at the JEG’s Northern SPORTSnationals, but he has become one of the go-to chassis builders for the SS/AH race cars. Like so many, Holt spent the mid sixties going to the races as a teenager and after two years in the Army he took a job at the Rod Shop speed shop doing a little bit of everything from manning the front counter to whatever needed to be done in the machine shop in the back. Of course the Rod Shop was known for running a number of Super Stock Dodges and on the weekends Holt was running his own AHRA Modified Production entry. In 1978 Holt open the doors to his own shop. He chose to do it with a tubing bender rather than building chassis kits from companies like Alston or Zeeker. His “out-of-the-box” thinking style has credited him a number of firsts; such as building the first Super Stock S-10 Chevy pickup ever (1998), which held the NHRA national record for six months; the first to incorporate a legal SFI 25.4 spec roll cage into an NHRA SS/AH car (Jim Pancake Dart), which was once thought impossible. Also on the list of accomplishments are two in the NHRA professional categories: a pair of Best Engineering awards. One for building the Jim Head "Smokin Joe" Top Fueler in 1993 and one in Pro Stock for the Larry Morgan Dodge Neon in 2002. The Dodge Neon was created on very short notice when Holt, and his two sons Andy and Ben, worked almost non-stop for a month with a Don Ness chassis (originally intended for a Chevy Cavalier) to fit a Neon body in accordance with NHRA supplied body templates, then locate the motor and front suspension in the car, build the aluminum and carbon fiber interior, and finish the car in time for the Mopar sponsored Mile-High Nationals near Denver, Colorado. Recently we had the time to catch John Holt at his shop in Columbus, Ohio and talk a bit about the current status of SS/AH Darts and Barracudas.

HSO:  What was the first SS/AH car you worked with?

Holt:  Jim Pancake knew me from the local racing scene and he asked me to work with him to update his car.  That was ten years ago or so.  Back then there was an attitude amongst the SS/AH car owners that this was how we’ve always done it, so why change.  The rest of the racing world had moved on though.  So we did a little outside-of-the-box thinking and started to make some changes to the cars.

HSO: Engines have gotten bigger, the cars are going faster….

Holt: Well the technology has been there.  Technology starts in F1, IndyCar and NASCAR and then finds its way to the Pro Stock engine shops.  The Hemi cars have been the last to really take advantage of that – which is a matter of economics.  It’s much easier to embrace technology when you have more cars to make it for.  There are 30 AH cars for a handful of engine builders to apply the technology.  As for the cars themselves, you use to have to use an original car or create a clone – with the light weight glass, and fiberglass fenders and frankly, there just weren’t a lot of parts out there.  Now we have parts – for the engines and for the cars.  So that makes it better.

HSO:  We’ve seen a lot of guys go to Sticks recently; does the 40lb weight advantage play into that decision?

Holt:  Sticks run faster.  But just to clarify, NHRA didn’t give them the advantage.  Remember they use to run the stick and automatics as separate classes.  It was the automatic cars that triggered the index shift, so when they put the classes together, that’s just where it ended up.  I don’t think that it’s a factor though.  Sure the stick is quicker and gives you 2 to 3 more horsepower, but it’s hard to drive.  There is a lot going on for the driver, not only at the line but three times down the track.  As for the automatics they have an advantage of 5 to 6 hundredths, because they can use the radial tires.  Sticks can’t use the radials. It’s has to do with the way the tire is designed and the way the stick cars launch.  So each has their advantages and in reality most people can’t get their cars that light anyway.  So the decision is in what’s best for the driver.

HSO:  So as the cars get quicker, are owners progressing in other areas like the brake package?

Holt:  Anybody that’s building these cars or working with one is making the upgrades as needed.  Remember that at 150mph you’re supposed to be pulling a parachute, but we have brakes on these cars that carry over from pro-stock that can stop us up at 160 to 200mph.  So even at 3200 lbs. the brake package is good enough.

HSO:  A while back there was discussion around fender modification.  What’s the latest there?

Holt:  At that time everybody was putting the bubble in, but I didn’t think it was really necessary.  And then NHRA stepped in and just stopped it.  It’s important to try and keep the cars from becoming funny cars.  While we may run for $10,000 dollars at the US Nationals, we need to remember that we have to adhere to a strict set of super stock rules.  We are just one of the classes.

HSO:  Can you talk a little bit about the current thinking on chassis set up?

Holt:  Well we’re working with the shocks and certainly weight distribution to efficiently use the energy of the car - keep it moving forward.  Smaller wheel stands, because when all the weight is resting on the back bumper is slows you down.  You still have to get weight on the back tires, and fortunately we run on pretty good tracks that have lots of traction.  That helps.  But it’s important to keep the car moving forward.

This is a special class of cars.  They are running fast and they are expensive to run.  It’s just not a class that everybody can jump in to.  But the fans love them and we certainly enjoy working on them.

Our thanks to John Holt for taking the time to visit with us here at HSO.  It is always great fun to watch John and his sons Ben and Andy “do their thing” at the race track.  It is often said that the SS/AH paddock is filled with some of the nicest folks – and the Holt family certainly contributes in a big way to the class of the field and to the caliber of the car class. 






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