Ever since he started drag racing 10 years ago, Dave Buete of Mount Airy has looked for ways to go faster.
He drives a 1973 Dodge Dart Sport that ran in the Class II bracket when he first purchased the car in 1984. Now he races the car in the Super Gas division.
This year Buete installed a new 400-cubic-inch big-block Chrysler engine in the Dart that he specially designed with Craig Steilher of S & S Racing Machines in Prince George's County. Now the car is doing the quarter-mile in the 9.90-second range. That translates into more than 130 mph.
"The engine is a little smaller than the 440-cubic-inch one that was in it," said Buete. "But it revs up a little faster and is specially designed.
"We get together and think about different engine combinations. I may come up with an idea, and Craig gives me advice along the way.
"He does the heavy machine work, and I do all the assembly. I do the work on the cylinder heads, porting them and things like that."
By the time Buete was finished with the motor, just about all of it had been modified. The pistons, roller cam and crankshaft were replaced with lighter custom parts.
Buete says he learns from each motor he builds. Buete is always trying to find what combination works and which ones don't.
"Most of the engines I do, I find sitting in junkyards," said Buete. "I also get a lot of my parts there. Some of the parts I get from speed shops or mail-order places."
When Buete isn't working on his own car, he's working on cars for other drivers.
He often makes them go faster, too. A motor he recently completed for a driver in Frederick cut the driver's elapsed time for the quarter-mile from 13.40 seconds to 11.60 seconds.
Buete's new motor is beginning to pay dividends. Not only is the car going faster, but it has been consistent, too.
"I am doing pretty good," said Buete. "This is one of my better years. I am winning some money, and I am not going out out in the sixth or seventh round and leaving early."
Now he is consistently making it to the third and fourth rounds and higher.
"So far everything has stayed together, and the car has run decent," he added. "Hopefully it will be my week soon. You keep winning a little money here and there, it makes it even more fun."
Naturally, Buete has been pleased with how fast he has been able to dial the car in.
"You are always going to have some bugs with a new engine, no matter how careful you are," said the 27-year-old. "I also had to get used to the faster speeds."
Because of the increased speed, Buete does not overlook safety and always installs the latest equipment. He redesigned and installed a new stronger roll cage and replaced suspension parts with ones that would handle faster speeds. To get more speed, he replaced many of the steel body panels with fiberglass.
Buete races each weekend at 75-80 Dragway in Monrovia and Mason-Dixon Dragway in Hagerstown. His wife Karen went with him regularly until eight months ago when they had their first child, Amanda. He expects them to start joining him later this summer.
Buete works as a mechanic at Beltsville Shell in Prince George's County. He started drag racing to go fast and has been achieving that goal.
He hopes to move up to the super comp class one day, but he knows the faster you go, the more expensive it becomes. With his mechanical skills and technical knowledge, Buete should continue to go faster.