Car - 1957 Chevrolet
Nickname - White Lightning
Body & Paint - Stock 57 White re-paint. Removable fiberglass hood, doors, and deck lid.
Engine - 598 CI Dart Block with Brodix Heads, MBE Sniper Intake, Callies Crank, Callies Rods, J&E Pistons, Jesel valvetrain, 11.0:1 Compression
Transmission & Driveline - Select Performance Turbo 400 with a Reid super case. Select Performance 10” nitrous converter with a 3500 stall. Nassau built custom driveshaft.
Rear - Fab 9- Ford 9" Strange 40 spline axles. 4:10 gears
Tires & Wheels - FRONT – Sander Engineering 15x4.5 with Hoosier skinnys REAR – Sander Engineering 15x10 with Mickey Thompson 32x16.
Best Pass To Date - 8.30 @162mph
Years Owned - 13 years
The 57 Chevy is perhaps one of the most iconic cars ever built. It is a symbol of freedom. From its post-war styling cues, to its overwhelming popularity, people went crazy over this piece of american muscle. The overall look of the 57 Chevy was actually inspired by jet fighters. The quarter panels were shaped like the tail of an F-86 Sabre fighter, while the lower edge of the rear bumper caps had a blacked-out area that emulated the exhaust ports on the jet, and the headlamp bezels were designed to look like jet engine intakes. The designers didn’t stop with the body style, though, they even installed a jet-age (for 1957) instrument panel which included a trio of circular pods for the gauges. Directly in front of the driver sat a large circular speedometer with white numbers on a black background, and a red indicator needle that completed the styling cues from the cockpit of the Sabre Jet. Chevrolet wanted its customers to know they were sitting behind something almost supersonic.
For Massapequa, Long Island resident Tom Reeks, the 57 Chevy represents much more than an iconic muscle car, though. Tom’s particular 57 is a symbol of liberty and freedom from the many hardships he has faced in life. It represents overcoming adversity and rising from it like the proverbial phoenix. It represents dedication and hard work. And last, but certainly not least, it represents his passion for cars.
Tom first laid eyes on the white 57 Chevy in 2005, just one month after purchasing a stock blue one. It was love at first sight, and he knew he couldn’t live without her, so he made a deal to trade the blue Bel Air for the already modified mid 10 second white 57. Tom raced the car, as is, until he blew the engine, transmission, rear, and in his own words, “everything in between.”
The 57, better known as White Lightning, got its first major upgrade in the form of a 496 nitrous engine, a new Turbo 400, and a Moser 9 inch rear with 3:90 gears. This upgrade took White Lightning from the 10 second class and put her deep into the 9s. Tommy ran the car with that combo for 10 years while he satisfied his need for speed and addiction to horsepower.
The 57 saw its next upgrade with a new 598 cubic inch engine and a 4:56 gear to try and get more wheel speed. This combo made significant improvements bringing White Lightning into the high 8s, which only furthered Tom’s need for more speed and backing up the 57s “supersonic” legacy.
In his own words Tom explains, “I was making a great pass. Wheels up in first gear and staying up into 2nd. As soon as it goes down, I shift into 3rd and wheels up once again! Then all at once the motor grenades itself, and me being the guy I am, keep my foot into it until the end of the quarter mile. That was the end of that chapter and it was time to get serious!” For most of us a high 8 second wheel standing pass is serious enough, but not for Tom and his 57. He had big plans in mind and just needed to find the right shop to turn his vision into a reality.
The first step was to contract Scott Shafiroff Racing Engines and have them build the new heartbeat of this piece of American muscle. Shafiroff started this task with a solid foundation that includes a 598 cubic inch Dart Block. A Callies crankshaft and rods got connected to a set of J&E Pistons that push a pump gas friendly 11:1 compression ratio. Helping this beastly big block breath is a Competition cam and lifters, Brodix heads, Brodix valves, and Jesel rockers.
Fuel is fed into this thirsty 57 with an Aeromotive fuel pump and regulator, and then sends it to a custom built Williams 1250 Dominator that that sits on top of an aluminum MBE Sniper intake manifold. This combo was dyno’d to almost 1000 horsepower. And with the addition of an extra 800 horsepower from the x275 nitrous system, White Lightning is closing in on 1800 ponies. Keeping this supersonic 57 cool during flight is a Griffin radiator/shroud/fan combo and a Meziere electric water pump.
White Lightning for the most part has its factory dash in tact. Tommy uses a Race Pak digital dash to monitor all of the vitals during take off. Aluminum racing seats, A CO2 assisted M&M Shifter, 12 point rollcage, and the Edelbrock nitrous controller complete the racing look of the interior, and remind everyone this is not your Grandpa’s 57.
Tom decided to trust the fate of his 57 in the hands of two Connecticut natives, Mark from MRC Race Cars and Paul from Total Induction. Mark immediately went to work and rebuilt the chassis into its current 7.50 certified state. A Chromoly 12-point roll cage complete with a funny-car style driver’s cage, showcase Mark’s attention to detail. Mark also back halved the car and installed a set of custom built Santhuff rear shocks and AFCO double adjustables in the front. A Fab 9, Ford 9 inch was next to be upgraded and made home to a set of Strange axles and 4:10 gears. A custom Nassau driveshaft connects the Fab 9 to a Select Performance built Reid Case Turbo 400. Select Performance also custom built a 10” nitrous torque converter that is responsible for bringing all of that power to the wheels. Completing the chassis work and stopping flight 57 from actually taking off is a Strange master cylinder that is connected to a set of Wilwood disc brakes out front and Strange disc brakes in the rear. The Simpson parachute helps to quickly slow this beast down in the event things get out of hand. Keeping White Lightning connected to the pavement is a set of Sander Engineering wheels with a pair of Hoosier 15x4.5 skinnies up front, and Mickey Thompson 32x16x15” ET Drag slicks out back.
Paul from Total Induction got the 57 from the chassis shop and did all of the wiring, including installing and setting up the Race Pak data logger and the MSD Power Grid. Paul then made sure all of the sensors were working properly and personally coached Tommy’s crew chief, “Fortune,” on the entire system and how it works. Paul also installed and set up the Edelbrock progressive nitrous controller to work with the Induction Solutions X275 Nitrous system.
Tommy can’t say enough about how professional these guys are. “Let me tell you, these guys put this car together in 3 months! To top it off, they came to the track with me and made all of the necessary adjustments and decisions, coaching my crew chief all the way.”
White Lightning is an old Islip Speedway car and an old Hamptons Track car. Tommy proudly supports Long Island Needs A Dragstrip, and is counting the days until it has one. Until then, you can find White Lightning and Tommy’s awesome group of friends, tearing up dragstrips all over the east coast pushing the limits of their incredible machines. These guys are a great group of people who love to have fun at the track. They opened up their pits to me and made me feel right at home while I was taking notes and gathering the details for this story. It warmed my heart to see such a close-knit group of friends helping each other out at the track and doing what they love. Do yourself a favor and be sure to visit them in the pits if you ever have the opportunity.
I was very happy to find out that White Lightning is a registered and insured vehicle that can be found frequently terrorizing the streets of Long Island. Before her most recent list of upgrades, the 57 had a best time of 8:30 at 162 mph. Tommy hopes to get into the high 7s and continue his quest to push the envelope, proudly representing Long Island, NY and honoring the legacy of the 57 Chevy for years to come. The way I see it, Flight 57 is officially ready for take off!