A pair of un-identical twin 1934 Ford hot rods, both built for the Salt Flats of Bonneville, were getting some attention at the 2022 SEMA Show in Las Vegas. Aaron Brown’s black-and-red roadster was drawing crowds at the Performance Plus booth, as a few aisles away, Vance Kershner’s dark green car was doing the same at the Penske Racing Shocks booth.
The similarities between the two cars is no coincidence. Both were built at The Garage Shop in Catawba, North Carolina, where Aaron and his team build race cars. These two roadsters have been built to be mechanically identical but technologically different, all in order to learn more about building a land speed car, and to set some records.
Stock Cars on the Salt
Aaron’s early racing experience was with NASCAR racing, and his later involvement at Bonneville began with stock cars. NASCAR racer Bobby Isaac had done the same back in 1971 when he set 28 records on the Utah salt, driving the winged K&K Dodge Daytona. Isaac, a Catawba resident, passed away in 1977, but Aaron was close friends with the family and had promised Isaac’s sister that if the records ever fell, he would go to Bonneville to get them back. Isaac’s flying mile record was broken in 2006. True to his word, Aaron and The Garage Shop, with collaboration from Vance Kershner, built a 2007 Dodge that went to Bonneville and broke the record from the previous year by 20 miles per hour.
Aaron liked the taste of salt as much as he liked NASCAR and built a few more cars, but told us that he sensed that there was “always a bit of drama because some of the Bonneville guys don’t like stock cars.” In 2021, Bonneville tech inspector “Kiwi Paul” Gilbert encouraged him to build a car for the C/Street Roadster class (C/STR). He built two.
“I told Vance that I wanted to prove to the racers at Bonneville that I could build and run a car in a class. Vance said he wanted to do it too. Vance’s motivation was that we’re building him a blown gas streamliner to run on the bottom side of 400 mph using modern technology—MoTeC engine management, data acquisition, and all that.He wanted a roadster built with the same technology.I said I was going to build my car to drive by the seat of my pants. And that’s what we’ve got. Technology versus grit.”
What Is Street Roadster?
David Freiburger calls the Roadster classes the most bloodthirsty at Bonneville. Within the Roadster classes, the Street Roadster cars are, believe it or not, the closest to the hot rods you’d see driving on the street. Street Roadster rules are strict, requiring American production or exact reproduction bodies from between 1923 and 1938 equipped with headlights, a taillight, a brake light, a horn, and rear fenders, among other things. No dimensional or aerodynamic body mods are allowed. C/Street Roadster designates V-8 engines between 306 and 372.99 cubic inches.
The Same, Only Different
“Mechanically, the cars are identical,” Aaron explained. “Even the engines. We worked closely with Doug Yates and Jeff Clark from Roush Yates Engines. They built us some massive horsepower. Both cars run Roush Yates Ford NASCAR 358 engines, making about 950 horsepower at the crank, turning 9400 rpm.”
Both engines are backed by a C&R CR2C center-shift NASCAR transmission. “When C&R got out of the transmission business, I bought 40 of them,” Aaron told us. Dynotech Engineering driveshafts deliver torque to Speedway Engineering rearends. The Earnhardt Technologies Group-modified Dirt Late Model rear suspensions feature torque arms, birdcage four-link setups, and Penske racing shocks. Both chassis were built in the same fixture in order to ensure that they are identical.
Reproduction fiberglass 1934 Ford bodies (with 1932 grille shells) were chosen for aerodynamics, since the Street Roadster class rules don’t allow aerodynamic body modifications. The steel hoods, aluminum side panels, and aluminum tonneaus were fabricated at The Garage Shop.
The big difference between the two mechanically identical roadsters is the data acquisition technology used in the number 88 car. “The MoTeC system collects around 75 channels of information between the engine, suspension, and more,” Aaron said. By keeping components the same between the cars, they can reasonably apply the data collected from Vance’s high-tech roadster to Aaron’s “seat-of-the-pants” car.
As you’d expect, safety is a huge consideration at The Garage Shop. The roadsters were built around a driver pod and a front-to-rear center firewall that provides a barrier between the driver and oil tanks, batteries, and other fluids and hot elements. The engine in each car is mounted in six places and is tethered to move to the right in the event of an accident.
The Garage Shop built the roadsters in 6 months. Prior to the trip to Bonneville in 2022, Vance and Aaron and their respective teams tested the cars with numerous passes on dirt courses near home.
“These two cars are a coin-toss speedwise,” Aaron said. “Mine was running in the 200s on the mile-and-a-third course we had set up. Vance was deep in the 190s.” The rain at Bonneville prevented any racing, but the trip was still successful. “We went through tech with two cars different from anything we’d ever built before and passed tech with no boxes checked.
“We’re rookies with these roadsters, but we’ve learned so much and will keep learning as we move forward.” In addition to learning, proving a point, and maybe breaking some records on the salt, Aaron’s goal is to keep alive the memory of Bobby Isaac and other racers like him—as Aaron puts it, “all those drivers before us, who rode around the country in station wagons, eating baloney sandwiches and going racing.”
Watch the Full Episode! Winter Road Trip in a Topless Deuce Roadster
On season 3, episode 2 of HOT ROD Unlimited, Thom Taylor drives a channeled, topless Deuce roadster in the dead of winter from Nashville to Los Angeles, encountering what you would expect in the middle of winter: ice, rain, cold, frost—did we mention cold?? Watch the roadster slip, slide and spin 2,000 miles as Thom takes Interstate 40 through eight states and 70 degrees of temperature change, taking breaks for burnouts, breakdowns, bad weather and junkyards. Sign up for a free trial on MotorTrend+ and start streaming every episode of HOT ROD Unlimited today!