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Filling A Void: Matt Dadas Surprises Father with Replica of Family’s Original Race Car

In the world of drag racing, many can relate when they hear that a parent’s love for the sport is passed onto the next generation. For the Dadas family, that realization came full circle when a 1967 Camaro appeared on the front lawn at their home one Sunday afternoon. It was Matt Dadas, a standout competitor in the world of big-money bracket racing and DI 30 Under 30 Class of 2019 honoree, who put a plan together to bring a piece of his family’s history back to life for his father, Jim. 

During the golden era of IHRA racing in the ‘80s and ‘90s, Jim Dadas’ career was in full swing, traveling to racetracks along the East Coast. Armed with a beautifully painted 1967 Camaro, Jim had himself a deadly consistent combination of car and driver in the Hot Rod class. Running on a 10.90 index, many winning time slips were printed as he raced his way to 13 IHRA national event wins. With nearly half of his event wins taking place at Bristol Dragway, Jim was properly nicknamed, “Mr. Bristol.” 

However, a facility that both Jim and Matt have a longstanding history with is their home track, Summit Motorsports Park in Norwalk, Ohio, where Jim was awarded the prestigious Bill Bader Sr. Sportsman of the Year Award in 2000. Each year for the past 51 years, the Halloween Classic held in October puts over $100,000 up for grabs and brings in well over 1,000 entries. Over 20 years ago, Jim won the race on two separate occasions and became a grand champion. In 2020, Matt identically repeated his father’s achievements in winning two races and becoming a grand champion, attesting to the father-son duo’s sentiment for winning drag races and continuing their family’s history. 

Prior to Matt being born, an unfortunate tragedy struck the Dadas family in 1994 when a house fire engulfed their Ohio home in flames, ultimately destroying Jim’s beloved race car sitting in the garage. While the race car turned out to be a total loss and was eventually crushed and replaced with a 1982 Camaro, the idea of continuing the legacy of his father’s original race car always stuck with Matt. 

“Since I began racing big cars, it was a dream of mine to replicate my dad’s race car,” Dadas said. “If the house fire never happened, I feel I’d be in the seat of the original ‘67 Camaro.”

In 2019, Matt set a plan into motion to recreate his dad’s race car when he stumbled upon a Craiglist ad for a white 1967 Camaro. After racing the car for two seasons, it was dropped off at R&R Auto Body in Cleveland, Ohio, to be painted black, as far as Jim Dadas knew. 

However, the team at R&R Auto Body knew the real plan: to bring the history and legacy of the Dadas’ race car back to life. For the family-owned body shop, this project hit much closer to home than other projects, as it was R&R Auto Body who had originally painted Jim’s car back in 1987. Owners Dave and Mary Roemer, who have since become close family friends with the Dadases, even located the original color codes from their archives that were used to paint the car over 30 years ago.

When the phone call came to pick up the car, Matt was giddy with excitement and then instantly greeted with complete satisfaction once he laid eyes on it. The car was a perfect replica of his father’s original light and metallic blue, red, and white paint scheme.

“It’s literally perfect,” Dada said. “The Roemers and every one of their guys made this thing a dream come true for me and my family.”

When the day finally came to pull off the surprise, Matt was able to keep Jim away from the house for a few hours while his mother, Lisa, sister, Lauren, and girlfriend, Carly, placed a big red bow on the windshield and surrounded the car with old racing photos from Jim’s career.

 As Matt and Jim pulled into the driveway, confusion from seeing his friends and family members standing in the middle of his front lawn began to set in. However, it quickly turned into a combination of shock and joy when Matt gave the queue to step away from what they were hiding behind them – Jim’s race car. 

While Jim is not an easy guy to surprise and is typically a man of few words, Matt admits that tears were shed and emotions were flowing when his father realized what Matt, his family, and his friends had done for him. Jim was absolutely caught off guard not having known what Matt had in store for the car when it was dropped off for paint. While a few people questioned why Matt didn’t get the car completely up and running, he confirmed it was his very intention to surprise Jim with the car as a roller. 

“We will put the motor in and get it running together, Matt said. “My dad is my best friend, and I wouldn’t want to put it together without him.” 

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On the surface, Matt’s actions can be seen as a genuinely thoughtful gesture from son to father, but as most drag racers know, it goes far beyond that. The sport of drag racing has a rich history, and racers like the Dadas family cherish that history. Matt can now live out his dream of racing alongside his dad in a car that represents so much to both his father and his family. 

Together, the Dadas family can create new memories and write new history with this race car. While it is easy to get caught up in the modern world of shiny new things, this beautiful 1967 Camaro serves as a reminder for all to remember where they once came from to appreciate where they are going next.

This story was originally published on May 1, 2024. Drag Illustrated

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