A STRENGTH WITHIN – 1972 Chevy Nova

Denise McKenna is a strong and courageous woman, but if you asked her, the strongest and bravest person she knew was her husband, Peter. The two met in 2007 and were then married in 2010. Sadly, a year later, Peter was diagnosed with Mesothelioma – a rare, aggressive form of cancer that primarily develops in the lining of the lungs and is caused by asbestos.

The truly unfortunate thing, Peter had never really been in contact with asbestos at all. The prognosis was not good, and with just a life expectancy of 12-21 months, Peter and Denise decided to make the most out of the situation.


They travelled all over the world, experiencing so much together and building a multitude of great memories. Peter didn’t want to give up and stayed positive and did as much as he could. One of his passions was drag racing, and he wanted Denise to share in that too.


“Peter had drag raced for several years. Firstly in a rotary powered RX7 and then in an HQ ute. He loved being involved in those circles, and it was hard for him to give it up after he was diagnosed. He sold the ute in 2012 but the passion for the sport never really went away. One night he was online, googling Racingjunk and he asked me to come and have a look at a car. It was a really tough looking ’72 Nova. He said, what do you think? I said, let’s get it! So we bought the car and had it shipped over from the States in 2013,” explained Denise.


In preparation for racing the car, Denise & Peter decided to take her streetcar, a V8 VZ ute, down to the Perth Motorplex to run a few numbers at a street meet and she was instantly hooked.



“The car might not have been that fast, only running 14s but it helped me to learn the technique of staging and the tree as well as the etiquette of racing. Sometimes Peter was too sick to come down so I would just leave work and head to the track to get some practice in – he was happy that I was excited to race. After the Nova arrived, Peter schooled me on the burnout and how to drive the Nova, it was a big step to go from 14s down into the 10s.


“Peter was a patient teacher with a calming influence, but he also pushed me to step up to the challenge, and he enjoyed seeing me gain confidence behind the wheel,” said Denise. “He also began to teach me some of the mechanical side of things.”


The pair shared the driving through 2013-2014 with Fast Fridays being the most fun. When it came time to race at their first national meet in November 2014, Peter left the driving up to Denise. Little did they know, Peter would pass away a week later. “We knew it was inevitable and Pete fought bravely for 3 years, but when it happened, it was still all too soon. I knew that Peter wouldn’t have wanted me to give up on the car and cease racing, but I didn’t know how I would be able to do it by myself. At the time, I was unaware that he had asked a few mates before he passed, to help me keep racing the car. Their support has been incredible, but at the same time, I was adamant that I needed to learn to do as much as I could of the behind-the-scenes stuff myself.” Pete used to say, ‘you can google just about anything these days!’ But that certainly can never replace experience and whenever anyone offers me advice I am all ears!”


Denise had a few issues in the months to come, “At a meet in 2015, one of the rockers came off and smashed the valve spring. The Nova was parked up; the engine was dismantled and sent off to SPE.” The engine compression was lowered, and the donk is better than ever now. Measuring a healthy 540 cubes, the Dart block has been filled with a steel crank, SCAT H-beam rods and SRP pistons. The Brodix heads make the big block breathe easier, and Nick from the Exhaust Centre completed a custom 4-inch exhaust from the headers back. A 1050cfm Dominator carby is fed ULP from a single Magnaflow pump. Denise tells me the car is good for around 670hp which has seen the car run 10.70 @ 120mph.


Slotted in behind the motor is a Powerglide box with a 4,800 high stall converter and out back is a 9-inch with Mark Williams components. Wilwood brakes pull the dark blue beast up while Moroso suspension components make sure the ride is nice and smooth. Weld wheels on M/T rubber play their part.


“Since last season, I have made a few alterations, and I am keen to see what they will do. The converter has been changed, the diff ratio altered to help drop the revs over the line and of course, the lowered compression to run the pump fuel. It would be nice to see the car drop lower into the tens for sure. The plan is to run as many meets as possible. Peter fought his condition bravely and was so inspirational throughout our time together. I like to think this car is his legacy and I want to continue racing and having fun with the Nova while I can, as we are so often reminded that life is too short.”



Scott at SPE

Jason at Autoflite Engineering

Phil at Final Drive

Nick at The Exhaust Centre Midvale

Marty and Adam at Cronic Customs

Damien and Ryan at Emerald Tyres

Rob at Integrity Tyres

Dave @ Elite Autoglass

Leon and Sue at A1 High Performance

Brett at Connelly Images

Scott at Wanneroo Caravans

The Staff and volunteers at Perth Motorplex for their advice and guidance and the many other racers I have had the privilege to meet for their encouragement.

Last but not least, a bunch of awesome people for their friendship and support, Paul, Ian & Fay, Lee & Fiona, Mick & Terry D, Peter & Zac G, Paul & Tony M, Jay, Steve, Yvette, Aaron, Neil and my family.


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