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posted: 3/6/2017 6:00 AM

Diminutive drag racer produces enormously fun drive

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  • Video: Classic Recollections


  • Photos Courtesy of Matt Avery Media

  • The wheelie bar behind Nu Big Thing gets a workout at the racetrack.

    The wheelie bar behind Nu Big Thing gets a workout at the racetrack.

  • The Smart car no longer is powered by an electric motor, but now has a 555-cubic-inch engine under hood.

    The Smart car no longer is powered by an electric motor, but now has a 555-cubic-inch engine under hood.

  • The Smart car body rests on a custom-built tube chassis and roll cage.

    The Smart car body rests on a custom-built tube chassis and roll cage.



 
 

Small things can leave a big impression, just like "No Big Thing." It's a tiny blue Vespa 400 that was turned into a serious drag machine in the 1970s.

Mark Cryer frequented the old U.S. 30 Drag Strip in Merrillville, Indiana, as a kid and always loved to see the big-block-powered microcar rumble up.

"It was the fan favorite every single time," says Cryer, who now lives in New Lenox. "It's what got me into drag racing."

It wasn't just the Vespa's diminutive size or egg shape that stood out, but how it ran. "It always wheelied -- you never knew which way it was going down the track," Cryer says.

Cryer tried to buy the racer in recent years but to avail. So he decided to do the next best thing: make his own tribute.

Drawing inspiration from the original, he set out to find the smallest vehicle on the market: a Smart car. He and his son, Nick, located one that had been involved in a front-end collision and was two weeks away from a date with the crusher. They towed it home and began an intense six-month build.

Nick and Mark Cryer of New Lenox displayed their dragster at the 2017 Race & Performance Expo last weekend in Schaumburg.
Nick and Mark Cryer of New Lenox displayed their dragster at the 2017 Race & Performance Expo last weekend in Schaumburg. -

Cryer had a focused criteria with three nonnegotiable goals: 1) It had to look like No Big Thing. 2) It had to run in the 9s going down the quarter-mile track, and 3) (and perhaps most importantly) it had to pull wheelies.

They gutted the Smart car and a formed a custom tube chassis for it. A gasser-styled front end was crafted and installed and the rear was widened. "When you're building a drag car, most owners have to narrow the rear end," Nick laughs.

At first, a 462-cubic-inch Chevy big-block V-8 was shoehorned in. "We wanted to see if the car could handle the power -- and it did," Mark says. The next step was going bigger.

The father-son team upped the ante and installed a monster 555-c.i. dragster big-block engine. Everything was buttoned up and the car was completed in spring of 2014.

The Smart car, dubbed Nu Big Thing, is a tribute to a racing Vespa 400 called No Big Thing that Cryer watched drag race when he was a child.
The Smart car, dubbed Nu Big Thing, is a tribute to a racing Vespa 400 called No Big Thing that Cryer watched drag race when he was a child. -

Dubbed "Nu Big Thing," the car made its first track pass at the US 41 Motorplex in Morocco, Indiana. Mark pulled up to the starting line to be greeted by son Nick, who serves as his crew chief. Mark, rightfully so, was a little leery and hesitant to go all out with the petite but soul-rumbling beast. Nick was of another mentality and convinced his dad to hit the gas.

"He told me I was overreacting," recalls Mark.

But when the light turned green and the elder Cryer dumped the clutch, all four of the tiny Smart's four wheels went into the air, changing his mind and causing him to back off the accelerator.

A YouTube video of the Smart car running down the track has more than 3 million views.
A YouTube video of the Smart car running down the track has more than 3 million views. -

"I was riding on just the traction bars -- it was one wild ride!," says Mark. "I came close to getting a new chief, though," he adds with a grin.

And smiling is something they, and everyone else, do when they get the car out. The pair have blasted down tracks around the Midwest and are always greeted by interested and grinning spectators.

"We built it to have fun" Mark says. "I'm as happy as can be."

• Share your car's story with Matt at auto@dailyherald.com.

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