Ron Rhodes Moves from Carbs to Holley EFI, Resets X275 Small-block Nitrous Record

Author: Bradley Iger | 11/05/2020 < Back to Motor Life Home

In the world of radial drag racing, Ron Rhodes is a force to be reckoned with. For the past decade, the Delaware native and owner of Rhodes Custom Auto has been bringing the heat to X275 with his nitrous-fed small-block combinations, and this season was no exception to the rule.

But the 2020 season also marks a significant change in Rhodes’ program. That’s particularly notable because, if his roster of race cars through the years is any evidence, he doesn’t seem to be the type that’s quick to ditch proven setups.

Ron Rhodes Engine Bay

Under the hood is a stock-bore-space 500 cubic-inch Chuck Newton billet small-block outfitted with a billet Bryant Racing crank, GRP rods, Ross pistons, a Bullet camshaft, Brodix cylinder heads, and a custom, billet Visner intake manifold. A Holley Dominator system commands the engine from the burnout box to the finish line.

“I started mowing lawns at 11 years old to save money to buy a car,” he explains. “By 14 I had enough money to get a ’68 Camaro, and it’s the same car that I campaign today.” Originally purchased in 1984, Rhodes drove the F-body throughout high school, racing the car whenever he had a chance. “Back when I was 16 it was a 13-second car, and each year it got faster. Over time it became less and less of a street car and more of a race car, and eventually that led me to start running with the NMCA.”

Rhodes' performance at the No Mercy race netted him the fastest X275 nitrous pass in class history.

A self-professed mid-pack runner in that series, Rhodes eventually turned his attention to local bracket racing and heads up events at Cecil County Dragway. “I’d been running the car naturally aspirated for all those years, and eventually I got to a point where I felt the need for a change. X275 just started take off around that same time, so I decided to take the plunge and bring in nitrous.”

It wasn’t long before Rhodes began racking up podiums, and for the next ten years, he continued to refine his carbureted nitrous small-block combination before reaching another significant crossroad. “I was already planning to build a whole new engine for this season – I’d been talking about doing it for the past four or five years,” he recalls. “I was scared to make the switch to EFI, but talking with [Holley EFI engineer] Ryan Witte and Mike Thompson got me comfortable with making the change. The support that I got from both of them was awesome – it’s something that I wish I would have done a long time ago.”

Although the Camaro still rides on leaf springs, it is a very different animal from the Chevy that Rhodes was rolling around in as a teenager. Under the hood is a stock-bore-space 500 cubic-inch Chuck Newton billet small-block outfitted with a billet Bryant Racing crank, GRP rods, Ross pistons, a Bullet camshaft, Brodix cylinder heads, and a custom, billet Visner intake manifold. Spray is dispatched via a single fogger system with an AMS-2000 controller.

With a Holley Dominator EFI system overseeing the proceedings, the combination’s worth over 1,700hp by his estimate, and Rhodes notes that corralling those ponies has been a whole lot easier ever since fuel injection entered the mix.

“After running carburetors forever, switching to EFI has really been a game changer. The Dominator system allows me to control every aspect of the run down the track, every cylinder at every engine RPM. And the engine’s happier, too – it has definitely reduced the amount of maintenance I need to do. With a carburetor you’re always sacrificing something; there’s only so much you can do when you don’t have electronic control over it. And the ease of use of this system is just incredible.”

Rhodes came out swinging this year, taking the X275 championship in the Strange Engineering Outlaw Street Car Shootout at Cecil County Dragway for the second year in a row with a series of eighth mile passes in 4.3-second territory before setting his sights on the Sweet 16 and No Mercy events. “We ended up qualifying third at Sweet 16, but lost in the second round because I red-lighted,” he tells us. “But we managed to go 4.25 there, which was a personal best and the small-block nitrous record at the time.”

Looking to step things up further from there, Rhodes turned his attention to No Mercy, which was also held at South Georgia Motorsports Park the following weekend. “We line up for Q1, and I end going 4.24 on the first pass. We ended up number one, and later on I found that it wasn’t just the small-block nitrous record, it was actually the overall nitrous record in X275.”

But Rhodes wasn’t done there. “I go up for Q2 and ended up with a 4.21. I just couldn’t believe it.” Although he spun the tires in the third qualifying round while searching for the limit, he stayed at the top of the leaderboard and worked his way through the rounds, eventually landing in the finals. “We had a small glitch in the final and it cost us,” he says. “But that’s racing in a nutshell.”

Not one to rest on his laurels, Rhodes is already getting the game plan together for next year. “We’re shooting for the teens – that’s the goal,” he says. “We’re going to make some tweaks over the winter, looking at every aspect of the car from top to bottom, just like everybody else does. And the plan is to pick up right where we left off.”

With his 2020 season now in the rear view, he also takes a moment to reflect on how things have gone since ditching carburetion. “Considering the fact that we just made the switch to EFI, I think it was a pretty good year,” he jests. “But when you surround yourself with good people, you can’t help but succeed.”

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