From Junkyard to Record-Holder: Jeff Yost’s 1968 Pontiac Wagon
At a young age, Jeff Yost would run to the fence every time a specific wagon would make a pass, wheels hanging in the air and “Nemesis Two” tattooed on the side. The history of this 1968 Pontiac Tempest Safari Wagon is an interesting one, dating back to the year 1972. But in order to understand the beginnings of this wagon, one must take a step back to before the wagon’s existence.
Jerry Stealy, a name known to Iowa drag racers, raced a 1969 GTO Judge. But on one fateful day in 1972 a drunk driver crossed the centerline as Stealy was trailering the Judge to a race. The impact caused the trailer hitch to break, sending the trailer and the Judge tumbling down a ravine. This horrible accident comes with good news. On the way home, Stealy noticed a wagon sitting in a junkyard and knew that what was left of the Judge would fit the wagon. The Nemesis Two was born. Jerry Stealy would continue to race this wagon until 1978.
In 1978, Stealy sold the wagon to his crew chief, Jerry Heiser. Heiser removed the name from the side and backhalfed the wagon. Heiser campaigned the wagon from 1978 to 1992, at which point he pulled both the engine and transmission and sold it. The wagon went through various owners but wouldn’t hit the track again until Jeff Yost got his hands on it.
Yost recalls looking for this exact wagon for 10 years, getting lead after lead without any success. In the meantime, he’d built a 1971 Grand Safari Wagon. A week after selling the ’71 Wagon, a lead came to him regarding the ‘Nemesis Two’. Thirty miles from his home, Yost found himself in a rundown-looking area. The owner, at the time, was wary but when Yost explained what he was there for, the man led him to an enclosed trailer. “He dropped the door and there it was,” Yost remarked, “I knew it was the one as soon as I saw it. White with the wood grain.”
Though the car wasn’t for sale, Yost convinced the owner to sell. Using the money from selling his ’71 wagon, Yost bought the wagon he’d been searching for and returned the next day to bring it home. This was in 2010.
It was, for the most part, intact. Yet, it still needed a lot of work. Yost did a full restoration, doing everything in his garage. Doing everything himself, he built a 461 cubic-inch pump gas stroker Pontiac engine and a Pontiac 400TH transmission with full Hughes race internals and a transbrake. He also did the rearend, the bodywork, paint, interior, and assembly. The entire process would take five years to complete. “I love how it turned out,” Yost said. “However, the car has turned out too nice to be a bracket car.”
For the most part, Jeff Yost takes the wagon cruising and to car shows, enjoying the stories that come when people recognize the car. But he has had it out on the quarter-mile. The quickest it’s gone has been 10.97 at 121 miles per hour, though Yost knows it has more to give. Adjustments still need to be made to the 4-link and the 12-bolt Chevy rearend needs beefed up, having cracked and bent the right axle tube on the last pass. Yost intends to have it out making faster passes next year.
In the years that it’s been on the strip, this Tempest Wagon has become a legend around the Midwest and been a multi-national record holder; four to be exact. Though the mystery of why a four year old car with relatively no damage was living in a junkyard is yet to be uncovered. What is known is that on that day in 1972, Jerry Stealy set in motion the history of this 1968 Pontiac Wagon.
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written by Kasey Duncan, originally published on dragzine.com