Poetry in Motion: Offy Sprint Car Kits from Don Nowell Design

By Paul Garson
Forty years ago AJ, Mario, Big Al, and Bobby flicked these sprinters sideways, backed them into the turns, rode the dirt track cushions from Ascot to Langhorn and charged around bullrings across the USA, thrilling the fans with their driving skills. In homage to the sport, master craftsman Don Nowell of Don Nowell Design has created a new line of fire-breathing ‘60’s era Sprint cars in 1/16th scale kit form. Now you can build your own Sprinter in your own garage or on your kitchen table for that matter.

Don’s depth of experience stretches back more than 40 years and includes restoring Dusenbergs, creating scratch-built motorcycles, building racing engines and designing a wide range of products including dental equipment and testing devices. Don has quite a varied background working with castings, stampings, metal spinnings, CNC machining and precision sheet metal work. You could also say he has an eye for details.

He’s also been behind the wheel himself campaigning his B/Gas ’37 Chevy coupe beginning in 1964, taking home some trophies as well as setting a record of 121.850 mph at the Irwindale drag strip. In 1967 he began building engines for Cam-AM cars, two years later opening his own shop building big bad motors for stock cars and racing boats. Taking a hiatus from racing, Don began restoring cars for the J.B. Nethercut collection including a 1924 McFarlan that garnered first place in its class at the 1975 Pebble Beach Concourse.

In 1980 he went into full time design work for a variety of clients. His work includes designing a number of scale models including toy trucks for Fred Thompson of Smith-Miller fame. In 1994 he began a labor-intensive two-year effort designing and building ?-scale custom motorcycles in six different styles examples of which have been acquired by the new Harley-Davidson museum.

In the case of his new Sprint Car Kits, Don took a clean sheet of paper, taped it to his drawing board, sharpened his drafting pencils and designed a whole new look for his sprinters. His new “Offy Sprinter Kit” features one-piece solid resin bodies that capture the essence of the legendary ‘60’s racer including the drop dead cool stance, literally poetry in motion. Each race car when completed weighs 2 lbs. while the bare body itself is 1 ? lbs. of solid resin. Dimensions are 9 ? long x 5-inches wide with a 6-inch wheelbase. The kit is pre-drilled and a quick and easy build and is literally greater than the sum of its parts.

They say greatness is in the details and one look at the Don’s dirt track tires and cast wheels complete with real 3-bladed knock-offs tells you Don has lived and breathed these cars.

To accomplish his goal of designing wheels inspired by the famous Halibrands of the day, Don turned a pair of aluminum billet wheels on his shop lathe and then had the windows cut on a CNC mill which in turn also cut the bladed shape on the knock-offs. He also copies that shape in reverse when he fashioned a ?-inch spud for a wheel tightening wrench, another example of thinking big to create small. After the billet parts were machined he then bead blasted the surfaces to bring out that cast magnesium look. From these original pieces, a foundry made molds for use in his kits that also include vacuum plated metal parts. Also included are four 5/8-inch long brass studs that you glue into the threaded axle ends. After the glue has dried, your slide on the rotors, wheels and then screw on the knock-offs, finally tightening them with the supplied wrench.

There was still one further step involved for authenticity’s sake, matching the correct light bronze color of the original Halibrands. As luck would have it, a friend who happened to be a model builder himself appeared one day with just the right pigment, a “Burnt pale metal” produced by Allclad II that sprays right out of the bottle with an airbrush (www.allclad2.com). It was one of those “Eureka!” moments that tied everything together.

Don also wanted to offer something special to the model builder with a penchant for outstanding paintwork by designing his kit with a plain, smooth body that lends itself perfectly for paying down some fancy tape work such as flames, scallops or whatever strikes your fancy. That means no body seams or bumps to contend with, in other words a good deal more “painter friendly.” In order to further facilitate “custom paint jobs” down the road, Don’s kits do not have to be permanently glued together as the parts when assembled will remain in place allowing you to create a new look simply by adding a fresh coat of paint and Don’s nifty decals which are “turned” gold leaf-style. (Don also offers pre-painted versions in a tasty spectrum of yellow, red, pearl white and candy blue.)

As a final touch Don came up with a gold foil label “certificate of Authenticity” that includes a blank space on which the builder can inscribe his name and date to record the fact that he has an authentic Don Nowell Design Kit, the label itself affixed to the flat area on the bottom of the Sprinter. Price for the Sprint Car Kit is $198, available through eBay by request. Please contact Don Nowell Design at 818-363-8564.