You may think they're crazy but Bob Norwood and Christian Rado are planning to push the limits of FWD drag racing in 2004. In a Turbo exclusive series, we go behind the scenes and follow the construction of the radical NORAD Toyota Celica from the brainstorming through to the first race. No secrets. no restrictions. just the facts.
It all started when Bob Norwood, famed supercar builder and tuner of Kenny Tran's Honda hot rod decided to try the Pro FWD Class in 2004. "I had a little success with Kenny's Honda. He was going faster than ever but I hate the restrictions that the rules dictate in the Hot Rod Class. I needed to step up to the Pro FWD Class to do the kind of things that I wanted to do. I had been looking at what the current Pro FWD cars had been doing and my evil little mind started hatching a plan." The plan was to turn the class on its head in 2004 with a car that would blow minds and set new standards of performance for Pro FWD.
Around this time, Norwood, never shy about telling anyone who wants to listen to his ideas, talked to Christian Rado, driver of the WORLD Racing Toyota Celica Pro FWD car. Rado liked what Norwood had to say and in typical Rado fashion he plunged in headfirst. "Norwood is an amazing character," Rado explains. "His ideas about building a competitive car were pretty wild, but when I thought about what he was saying it all made sense. We ended up trading ideas and finally I asked him to build me a new car for 2004."
This was the beginning of what some see as a match made in heaven. Norwood, the maverick car builder and tuner, teamed up with the hard-driving Rado. Both are known for a balls-to-the-wall style and no-compromise approach to racing and, to be honest, both are a little unconventional at the best of times...
"I had to team up with a driver who had the nuts to really attack the class," says Norwood. "Driving talent and a deep knowledge of the dynamics of front-wheel-drive racecars are very important, as well as the financial backing to develop something that is completely new. Chris Rado has all of these, and at the end of the day he is a really nice guy to work with. That's important, too."
Norwood and Rado formed a new company, NORAD, to handle the development of the car, and the project was given the green light in June of 2003.
Norwood's team had already been closely looking at the class with an eye on raising the bar. After a few brainstorming sessions with Rado and his highly experienced crew, the car began to take shape on paper.
Norwood's right-hand man and physics expert, Shawn Fischer, explained the development of the original concept: "We had a few ideas we thought were essential to get the performance where it needed to be. The tire size was key, but to make a large tire work we had to rethink the entire car. The chassis had to be designed to allow a 16-inch tire to work and in turn we had to come up with a transaxle that could handle the loads of a hard launch. There is nothing on the new design that is not completely new. The only similarities are the body and the front suspension design. As I said, the tires are the key."
Norwood had already been working on a Lenco-based transmission intended for the Hot Rod Class (rule changes for 2004 allow aftermarket transmissions) and he had the plans for a Lenco transmission that could be used in the Pro FWD Class.
Norwood is blunt about the failings of the current crop of cars and their transmission woes. They are all useless, in his opinion. "They are designed for off-road racing, not for the rigors of drag racing. They shift slowly and the shifting mechanisms are a nightmare. Watch any Pro FWD car run and you will see that it's mostly hit-or-miss. Fifty percent of the time they either break or the transmission fails to shift properly." These are harsh words, but it's all probably true.