One of the titans of hot rodding, Nick Arias Jr., has died. Arias is synonymous with racing—especially drag racing. His 498ci Arias Hemi, based on the Chevy big block design with his own Hemi head, was and still is a staple of drag racing.
First appearing as a 10-liter, it was the dominant engine used in boat racing and also tractor pulling. His Hemi head conversion business covered many engine families including the Chevy LS, while he also helped develop the New Century Aluminum racing engine.
Growing up in California, just blocks from downtown Los Angeles, his was the prototypical California hot rodder life, racing in the mid-1940s at the dry lakes and even being a witness to the first drag race in Goleta, California, in 1949.
After getting drafted for the Korean conflict in the early 1950s, he worked first for Wayne Manufacturing, known for their Chevy and GMC 12-port straight-six racing heads. His time at Wayne taught him about piston and combustion chamber design, and also nitromethane, which he’d apply many times over the next 50 years.
Then came a stint at Al Sharp’s Sharp Speed and Power, known for their flathead Ford speed equipment. In 1953 he and Bob Toros started Venolia Piston Company, using Frank Venolia’s name because as Arias said, “Everyone knew Frank Venolia,” who had been making pistons for years right next door to Wayne. Throughout this time he also raced successfully at the dry lakes.
Conflicts with Toros and third partner Joe Pisano led to a split, with Arias selling his third to them. This opened the door for him to start Arias Pistons in 1969. Said Arias, “I ran some ads in HOT ROD and National Dragster, and all of my old customers I’d dealt with at Venolia started coming to me.”
In 1972 his “Hemi-Chevy” was ready, followed by the 10-liter in 1975 and 8.3 498ci Top Fuel and alcohol engines shortly thereafter.
Since that time, Arias developed new engines including the Arias 4-cylinder for USAC and Midgets, the Arias V6 Hemi, Arias Racing Boss 429, Howard 12-Port GMC head, New Century block, and his current LS and small block Ford Hemi heads.
Arias received the NHRA Lifetime Achievement Award in 2000, inducted into the Drag Racing Hall of Fame in 2005, and the SEMA Hall of Fame in 2012.
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