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Chad Henderson is one of those fellows who can't sit still; at the end of a long day out in the fields at his family farm, he doesn't want to come into the house and collapse on the couch. Instead, he goes out into the garage and works on one of the Limited Drag Radial class's most recognizable cars — his 1987 Buick Grand National. Henderson has always been a go-getter from the beginning of his racing career, which stems from his day job.
The work he does at Henderson Farms is the day-to-day gig that pays for the racing exploits. Along with his partners — dad Mike, son Jackson, and cousin Stuart — they collectively farm around 8,000 acres across Alabama and Georgia. The company grows soybeans, wheat, and corn depending upon the season. Farming is a grueling occupation that rewards the most persistent and relentless efforts and often throws unexpected curveballs in the form of rough weather, dry growing seasons, or any number of other challenges that force the farmer to re-evaluate the methods used to achieve the result. In that way, it is similar to motorsports and especially drag racing, which tosses plenty of "what just happened and how do we fix it" moments before the competitor. Henderson Farms is well-known in the corn farming community, as Chad and his team have won a state competition for corn production.
Additionally, Henderson is also one of six farmers starring in a documentary-style TV show called Corn Warriors, which features a competition to develop world-record yields under a given set of rules and regulations. Sound familiar? His drive to be a winner extends to all facets of his life.
Around the early 2000s, he had built a Nova that he had originally intended to race on the street. Then he and his wife Marie started a family, which quickly changed his mind on the subject.
"I started seeing where we were going to get in some trouble and just decided to go to the track. I had no interest at all in doing any bracket racing — it was 'run what you brung, but we're not racing any bracket races,'" Henderson recalls.
Huntsville Dragway had started running 7.0 and 6.20 Index classes, so he plopped the Nova in there and ran those classes for several years before taking the plunge into a 600 cubic-inch engine from a local guy. Right around that time, ORSCA EZ Street became a thing, and the Nova fit right in with the new powerplant, and an unexpected friendship blossomed.
"That's how we met Stevie Jackson in EZ Street in 2008–'09. About that time, Monte [Smith] had started helping me. He built a motor. We went one year that it was almost back-to-back, me or Stevie qualifying one or two and in the finals racing. We got to be good friends then, and it just kept going from there," he says.
You could say that he and Jackson grew up together at the track, regularly battling to see who would be "the man" on any given weekend.
"One time we showed up to the track and raced against him in the finals with a nitrous motor, and the next event we showed up to, I raced against him with a ProCharger motor. You never knew what he was coming with. I went by his pit one time on the way to the starting line — had him in the finals. I pushed by his pit, and he held up the rocker arm stands and the rocker arm and just said, 'I'm on my way. I'll be right there.' I've got buckets of stories," says Henderson.
Today, that mutual respect and friendship continue, as Jackson is the tuning mastermind behind the Holley Dominator-controlled, nitrous-injected big-block Chevy powerplant in Henderson's Grand National, which is a real Grand National that has ties to another well-known racer, Shane Stack.
Funny story, that. Henderson was racing in ORSCA with the leaf-spring Nova and knew he needed a car with a four-bar rear suspension but hadn't made any moves yet.
He just so happens to live in the same town as Stack. One day while Shane was in the process of changing his well-known Monte Carlo over to twin-turbos, the racer who owned this GN was there to purchase Stack's old nitrous equipment to put onto the SB2 engine that was in the GN at the time. Stack got paid to install the nitrous equipment, stayed in touch with the racer, and about six months later, Henderson owned the Grand National — which had the four-bar suspension he needed.
The engine and transmission were pulled out of the Nova, put into this car, and here we are. Since those days, the car has seen many upgrades to keep it at the head of the pack. Chris Terry at CTR Race Cars has handled most of the upgrades, with a CTR chassis, CTR four-link, and CTR strut-type front suspension all underneath the Buick's body, with a Mark Williams floater-style rear out back. Menscer Motorsports dampers control suspension motion, and the car rides on 15-inch Mickey Thompson front wheels and beadlocked Sanders rear wheels. Class-legal 295/65-15 Mickey Thompson Mickey Thompson drag radials are under the quarter panels.
Understandably, Henderson is quite tight-lipped about the engine combination, as it has taken him, previous crew chief Monte Smith and Stevie Fast many years to get this car to its current performance level. What we do know is that underhood is a Reher-Morrison 872 cubic-inch powerplant toped with a Switzer Dynamics intake manifold, Holley Dominator electronic fuel injection, MSD Pro 600 ignition components, and Switzer Dynamics nitrous oxide system. The Turbo400 transmission and torque converter are from PTC.
"The folks at Holley have been really good to me. Doug Flynn and Robin Lawrence and Ryan Witte, all those guys there. All these people have been instrumental in what this car is," says Henderson.
The team never rests, always looking for that edge they can find to pick up a hundredth here and a hundredth there.
"Since we've made some changes on the car, we won one race and runnered-up the second race, and we've qualified number one in two races. So, we qualified one, qualified two. We're running at the front right now. You got it till you don't got it. You know how that goes," says Henderson.
Today, Henderson and his wife Marie handle most of the tuning on the car when they are at an event, unless they have an issue — then it's right to speed dial, where Jackson is at the other end of the call. If they are trying something new, Jackson is intimately involved with the tune-up until it's sorted out.
Henderson doesn’t get to this point without the unending support of many companies: Henderson Farms, Holley EFI, VP Racing Fuels, PTC, CTR Race Cars, MAC FAB Beadlocks, Eagle Collision Center, Mickey Thompson Tires, and TRZ Motorsports. Each of these businesses has worked with his program to get it to this point, and he is eternally grateful for their support.
And of course we asked the most important question you can ask any nitrous racer: "How much are you spraying?"
"It's enough when we win. It ain't enough when we don't win," says Henderson.
He’s got a pretty good track record so far.