Taneytown driver enjoys muscling up to the line


Like many Carroll County racers, Sam Battaglia started driving in the late '60s. It was a time that organized drag racing was becoming popular.

It was an exciting period, when the average American car buyer could walk into a dealership, write a check that didn't require selling his first three children and house, and drive away with a bona-fide racing car.

This car opened a door into a new world, where a car could power its way down a quarter-mile strip in under 15 seconds, hitting more than 100 mph. The cars produced during this golden age, from 1964 to 1972, are called muscle cars. Today they continue to glow fiercely in the hearts of the present and would-be owners, whose passion for them remains unabated.

Battaglia loves his muscle car, a 1967 Chevrolet Biscayne. It is the same car that he started drag racing with nearly 30 years ago, even though he sold the car in 1974.

Battaglia started racing with friends at the Capitol Raceway in Crofton before the days of bracket racing. Drag racing was his life. Cars were divided into different classes, but it was the fastest car that won.

Battaglia raced in the Class D stock class. He purchased his Chevy Biscayne with a factory stock 427-cubic-inch engine and a four-speed transmission. The car was one of a kind, but in the '60s, you could order the car with the options you wanted.

After a few years Battaglia lost interest in drag racing and sold his car, after replacing his power plant with a smaller motor and automatic transmission.

While Battaglia did not miss drag racing much, he did miss his muscle car.

In the early '80s, Battaglia's wife found the car's original papers with the vehicle identification number. He later found the car was still titled and tracked down the owner in Baltimore, where the car was sitting idle.

The owner was ready to sell the car, but noticing that the interested buyer was desperate for the car, he raised the price. Still, Battaglia didn't hesitate to buy back his car for $500.

The car needed a lot of work after sitting for several years. Battaglia worked on it when he could. At the time, he wasn't interested in returning to racing.

But, five years ago Battaglia ran into friends, the Eyring family of Glen Burnie, who he raced with when he began. They were still involved and it wasn't long before they had the Taneytown resident back on the track.

In April 1991, Battaglia returned to racing, competing every weekend at either Capitol, 75-80 or Mason-Dixon dragways. Wherever there was a race the 47-year-old driver was there.

Last year, he decided to race for points at Mason-Dixon. It turned out to be a year he would like to forget.

"I broke a lot of parts, from front to back," said Battaglia. "If it moved, I broke it, every little part. I couldn't anticipate any of the breaks. The weight of the car was hard on the stock suspension."

While the big Biscayne weighs in at 3,800 pounds, the car was still fast with an elapsed time of 10.80 seconds for the quarter-mile.

"My engine is built by Charlie Spealman," said Battaglia. "Spealman can make a Ford go faster for less than anyone else."

Battaglia's plans for this season are up in the air. After last year, he wasn't sure he would race again, after he blew the car's head gasket the last race of the season.

He was thinking about taking his Biscayne and doing a complete off-the-frame restoration.

But during the blizzard, Battaglia, who works for Taneytown Farm Equipment during the week, spent his time working on the car and getting it ready for opening day in March.

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