From stem to stern, there is no denying that this Chevelle has led one hell of a hard life. Virtually every last body panel shows some kind of wear and tear. The old paint flakes, as does some of the older hasty repairs that were made in the past. The lettering has been retouched here and there but make no mistake, that’s how it looked back when this car was the one to fear on the short ovals. The rollcage has it’s rust, as do the doors, the back quarters and underneath the hood on the chassis components. The wheels and tires are fresh, but they probably should be, considering there are two headlights, two taillights, and a license plate on the rear bumper. Decades ago, “The Bus”, the nickname of this 1964 Chevrolet Chevelle Malibu SS, was one of the more infamous race cars in the Tennessee/Kentucky area. It’s now a street car. And that’s no joke. We first saw it at the 2017 Car Craft Summer Nationals at Beech Bend and it was fitting that’s where we first got to see it…the circle track behind the drag strip was it’s Coliseum, where it did battle for decades.
The Chevelle was turned into a sportsman stock car in 1973 by Willard “Short Daddy” Stamper, and yes, it’s a real-deal Super Sport car. Remember, back then it was just a car…cutting one up to go play on the tracks with wasn’t out of question by a wide margin. Stamper ran a few drivers before coming across Ruben Lancaster. Together with Wayne Miller acting as the crew chief and team manager. Hell-bent on winning races, The Bus did just that, including a 21 out of 23 streak in one season. The Chevelle even ran unlimited horsepower figure-8 (it paid very handsomely) and Sportsman Stock Car at Beech Bend, where it’s legend was built.
But as they do, race cars get replaced as the wear and tear takes a toll, and the Chevelle wasn’t going to be any different. Upon it’s retirement the running gear and suspension were pulled for use in the next car and the Chevelle was put out behind a race shop…where it disappeared. Nobody was sure what had happened to the car, and for a couple of decades Ruben was left to believe that The Bus had been shredded up and turned into soup cans, until twenty years later, when he got a phone call from a salvage yard that somehow had an old stock car turn up. By the time the Chevelle had been returned, Ruben had retired from racing and was busy running a business, and there was no time to piece the old warrior back together, so the Chevelle was relocated to the field and that’s where it sat.
That’s where Chris DeWeese comes in…he’s built some absolutely wicked machines over the years, the kinds of which would be in the ranks of America’s Most Beautiful Roadster quality, but he was hunting for a real-deal stock car and had posted onto Facebook his desire for one that had legitimate history. He received a message that there was an old stocker in Kentucky that he’d never get to own, but that he probably should go set his eyes on, so he made the trip and the second his eyes graced it’s presence, he knew he had to own it. That began the work of actually trying to gain ownership of the Chevelle, which was no small feat, but after some of his family researched DeWeese’s background, Lancaster gave him the car…with the promise that the Chevelle would be brought back to life. Not a small feat considering how battered and beat the Chevelle had been. But we wouldn’t be here if DeWeese wasn’t a man of his word, and a little over a year after he had taken ownership, The Bus was able to be put on static display at Beech Bend with Mr. Lancaster present. According to DeWeese, “…he was nervous…was afraid that nobody would remember him. But you would’ve thought he was Richard Petty! So many people gathered ’round, remembered him racing…even remembered the name of the car!”
Even with a mild small-block under the hood (“300-ish horsepower is pretty good in such a light car”), the Chevelle’s presence in person is unreal. I met up with DeWeese at a gas station in Portland, Tennessee and the looks that everybody else was giving the low-slung Chevy was riotous. As we were wrapping up the photo shoot in a nearby park, a patrol car rolled in, slowly rolled past and parked far enough away to not be a bother but close enough to remind us that they were a bit concerned. Maybe it was because the Chevelle had been parked on the grass, or maybe they were concerned that we might break the quiet of the Sunday afternoon with an ear-splitting, smoky burnout. (Not even going to lie, that was on the table until the cop rolled in. Ah, well…another time!) The Bus lives a relatively quiet life now, gaining about 600 miles on the clock each summer as it’s driven to shows and events and work. But it’s not completely relaxed…during an event at Highland Rim Speedway, the track officials put eight vintage stockers out on the track and warned the drivers to not act up and most certainly not race.
Care to guess how quickly that got thrown out of the window? Lancaster was in the stands for that event and was going nuts with everyone else…signing autographs and screaming out directions for bumping another car into the grass and to move up in rank! We all know the sickness…once you get a taste of racing, it never leaves your system. And DeWeese has the same sickness…he’s loving every minute of it, from the folks who remember the car from the past to the people who get the shock of their life as they look in their rear-view mirror.
There are many people that DeWeese would like to thank in the journey that has brought him the car and the car back to the street. First and foremost is the Lancaster family and Ruben specifically, as well his girlfriend Lexie Davis, Joey Collins at Collins Custom Auto Shop, Mark Brigance (who was the man who suggested that DeWeese go check out the car in the first place) and Scotty Shehan, Sr., who was the man behind Scotty’s Speed and Custom, the main sponsor still on the car. It’s been a journey to bring The Bus back to life, but it’s amazing to see the car in any shape…much less hunkered down behind some random crossover in a small town in Tennessee like it’s a big cat, about to pounce on a really fat and awkward-shaped meal.
And in case you were wondering how it got the nickname of “The Bus”, all you’d have to do is ask anyone who got tapped by the Chevelle in the middle of a race. It was like a city bus had tried to merge through you!