Ten-Second Tradesman: All-in-one race car, tow rig, and camper van

Cam VanDerHorst

Old habits die hard. Just ask Wayne Louis II of Broadview Heights, Ohio. He’s 44 years old now, married, with four boys. He spent much of his own youth with his parents, at the dragstrip and at van-ins, growing up around race cars and custom vans during their ‘70s heyday. While the van craze dimmed as the 1980s marched on, Wayne never let his enthusiasm dwindle. His big, beautiful, burgundy 1976 Dodge Tradesman is evidence of a flame still burning, as it tows, drag races, and camps its way around the Midwest.

The van roots run deep in Wayne. His parents divorced when he was 8, which is when the family van-ins stopped. However, you can take the kid out of the van, but you can’t take the van out of the kid. Once he got a driver’s license of his own, Wayne was back on the scene in full force. He even skipped his senior prom to go to a van-in—now that’s dedication. A few years later, the Louis family van tradition came full circle, and Wayne reintroduced his father to van culture. Years later, it’s an activity that they still enjoy together.
For a time, Wayne balanced his two loves—race cars and custom vans—by owning one of each. It wasn’t long before he realized that one of these vehicles was getting way more attention while the other was gathering dust. “I can take a van to a car show but cars can’t come to van-ins,” he explains. “I spent way more time in the van and only liked the car because it was fast, so I just combined them.” The man is nothing if not pragmatic.

That’s how he ended up with a short-wheelbase ’76 Tradesman that can run in the 10s at the drag strip. It’s powered by a massive Blueprint 540 big-block pumping out 700 horsepower, augmented by an Induction Solutions 250-shot nitrous plate system nestled between the carburetor and intake manifold. That prodigious power is sent through a built TH400 transmission, then to a beefy Dana 60 rear end with Moser axles, a spool, fat rear tires, and 3.73 gears “so I can still drive it on the freeway,” Louis explains. The result is an all-motor best pass of 10.98 in the quarter-mile.

“Now that everything is dialed in, we can start putting the spray to it,” says Louis. It won’t be long before he’s hunting venomous snakes and exorcizing demons in his do-it-all Dodge. “I drive it with the exact same setup as I race it. I wanted the van to ‘check all the boxes,’ so it has a full shaggin’ wagon interior and custom paint; I didn’t want to leave any ‘yeah, buts’ on the table.”

This genius Dodge may be the perfect one-car solution. Racing is expensive enough as it is, right? Who wants to deal with and fuel up up a tow rig, let alone find parking? His solution makes a bizarre kind of sense: just drive your race car to the track. “I can’t drive on slicks,” you might say. Throw ‘em in the back of the van. “But I need a place to put my tools!” Throw ‘em in the back of the van. “Where am I gonna sleep?” Throw yourself in the back of the van. Most people have to climb a mountain and sit cross-legged for a few years to achieve Wayne’s level of kind of enlightenment.

Ten Second Tradesman drag race van underside
Cam VanDerHorst

It’s taken three years to get the Tradesman to its current, spectacular state. Most recently, he and his father stripped, painted, and detailed the entire undercarriage. “It’s as much show as go,” he says, as if the shag carpet and kitchenette nestled in between roll cage bars didn’t make that clear enough.

The father-son duo’s goal for this season just enjoy the beautiful thing they’ve built, as well as the culture around it. “Vanners are extremely positive and supportive; you can go to a car show with a quarter-million dollar build and someone will point out the blemish. You can go to a van-in with a rust bucket and everyone will tell you how cool your custom steering wheel is.” The latter is the kind of show most of us would rather attend.

Ten Second Tradesman drag race van white smoke
Courtesy Wayne Louis II

As far as the “go” half of the equation is concerned, Wayne and his father have become pretty involved in the no-prep drag racing scene, where the fast Tradesman has been a hit. “Everyone in the no-prep world has been very supportive,” Louis says, giving special credit to popular no-prep personalities Limpy, JJ, and Chris Lane.

As you can imagine, a vehicle like this is responsible for making great memories. So far, Wayne’s favorite has been getting a thumbs-up from Limpy while the van was pulling up to the starting line. Every step of the process has been special, Wayne says, as it’s all been part of the unforgettable experience he’s shared with his dad.

Wayne is one of those eminently quotable individuals that people are lucky enough to come across every now and again. Like Oscar Wilde, the Dalai Lama, or your old college roommate who could drink Bud Light through his nose. His sage advice for those who might want to get into vanning? “Van shows are meant to inspire you, not to intimidate you,” he says. “Find a local event and just show up, I guarantee you’ll leave with at least a half-dozen genuine friends.”

Sounds like a party. And there ain’t no party like a drag-racin’, shaggin’ wagon van party.

Cam VanDerHorst is a stand-up comedian and lifelong car enthusiast from Cuyahoga Falls, Ohio.

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