Manassas Automotive Instructor Gary Phares began his drag-racing obsession in 1982 when he took a street legal 1970 Chevy Camaro to Old Dominion Speedway in Manassas, Virginia. There was an issue with the shift linkage and he had to borrow a floor jack and tools from another racer so the car could be driven back home.
In 1983, someone gave him a 1968 Pontiac Firebird body. Fred Little, a NOVA auto body instructor at the time, helped him install the rear frame rails and a 10-point roll cage and was asked if the car could be built in time to exhibit at Tyson’s Corner mall with other NOVA exhibits for recruitment. So, with the guidance of Little, some of the students and Phares transformed a piece of junk car into a beautiful race car, a 1968 Chevy Camaro. They finished all of the framework, roll cage, built an engine, transmission and painted the car in less than a month and was a big hit at Tyson’s Corner.
Phares racing career started at Old Dominion Speedway and Sumerduck Dragway where he won the track championship in super-pro class in 1989, 1990 and 1994 at Sumerduck Dragway. In the winter of 1994, he bought a rear engine dragster and built an engine, rewired the car, cut the roll cage off and thanks to Bob Worden (NOVA welding instructor at the time), welded on a new roll cage that fit better. Phares and his team then repainted the car in red, white and blue colors, which has NOVA on both sides of the car. He won the first time out with the dragster, which was a good omen, and tied for the track championship in 2007 at Old Dominion Speedway.
In the winter of 2007, he bought a kit to install a rear suspension on the rear of the dragster. With Worden’s assistance, he cut the frame off behind the engine, heated it with a torch and bent it to fit the new suspension and rear end. After all of the welding was done, the frame was painted and the parts were installed, it was ready to race. Sadly, Worden passed away the next night in a house fire, and the car has decals in memory of him. Phares won first time out with the modified dragster.
Phares takes the dragster around to local high schools recruiting for NOVA to show students what they can do if they work hard and apply themselves. NOVA is where he earned two A.A.S. degrees in automotive technology, a certificate in auto body repair and a certificate in automotive machine shop. He also has taken welding and engineering courses as well.
Since August 2016, Phares has experienced back problems but was able to race at the Sumerduck Dragway and won on July 1, after six rounds of competition. Prior to this race, he had not been out for about 10 months.