You could say that Darce Laws has a love for the automobile, and you’d be correct. But it’s not just any automobile; specifically, he has a great appreciation for old GM A-body cars like the ’65 Oldsmobile 442 seen here. I met Darce and his wife, Andrea, several years ago while he was competing at the Street Car Super Nationals in Las Vegas. In conversation, I discovered that this particular car was built for more than just competition on the strip. Darce also drives it a fair amount; in fact, he owns one of the few feature cars I’ve photographed over my career that didn’t need to be pushed to the shoot location with a golf cart. He and Andrea hopped right into the 442 and followed me around the grounds of The Strip at Las Vegas Motor Speedway while I searched for an appropriate location.
Darce, a car guy through and through, has a two-decade-long career in the body and paint field to his credit. But today, he is in a much different situation as the CEO of Moser Energy Systems in Wyoming. The company, which was founded in the 1970s by the father of a high school friend, manufactures and leases natural gas generators to oilfield companies.
How do you go from one to the other? Darce, who has been with the company for the last six years, never planned to be tied to the oil industry. In 2014, Moser’s technology was being adopted quickly by drilling companies, and there was a need for more staff.
“My buddy from high school called me and asked me to come over here and help him run this place as their business was blowing up. Two months ago, he stepped down as CEO and promoted me,” he says.
The company’s generators run on wellhead gas, which is typically just flared off into the atmosphere as part of the drilling process.
“They go out and drill a hole out in the middle of nowhere, and when they get done with that, they put a pump in the ground that needs electricity. They’re far away from commercial power, but they have natural gas as a byproduct of drilling,” Darce explains.
“The gas is just shooting out of the ground, and they can’t stop it, or the oil flow stops. You see some wells where they flare it; the EPA hates that because the emissions are high. Well, we came out with this deal like 15 years ago that takes a gas engine and runs it on that gas. You don’t know the quality of gas because it differs for different plays, but we’ve got it figured out where the ECU can compensate for all of that, and it burns that flare gas. The EPA loves us because they’re not flaring it, and the emissions are significantly cleaner than they are with regular flaring. We help the guy who needs power, and we help the EPA by lowering emissions.”
There’s more to Darce Laws than the time he spends at work, though. He doesn’t just have a great appreciation for these cars… you could safely say that he loves them. The A-body platform, GM’s intermediate chassis from 1964 through 1981, offered some of its most desirable muscle cars up to the public: the ’64–’72 Oldsmobile Cutlass 442, Chevrolet Chevelle, Pontiac GTO, and Pontiac LeMans. There are 24 Cutlass 442 cars currently in Darce’s possession, ranging from parts cars to drivers, mostly stuffed in a couple of outbuildings at his house.
“There are some that are outside, but I think I have 12 or 13 that are done drivers,” he explains.
“I drive them all—13 of them are plated and insured, and I try to run gas through them throughout the summer. I love Chevelles; I grew up around them and had quite a few, and I started to see so many of them and thought about how I liked the Buick and Olds. I came across a ’64 Olds and bought that car, and when I showed up to buy the car, the guy showed me his whole collection. He has 50-some Oldsmobiles, and they’re all real high-dollar stuff. As I went through his collection, I didn’t realize how much I liked every year of the Oldsmobiles. I’ve bought seven cars from the same guy; every time I’d go to Colorado and see him, he’d have something for sale, and I’d end up buying it. Then I decided I’d have every year from ’64 to ’72.”
In fact, at the big local car show every Memorial Day Weekend, Darce employs several drivers to help corral his stable of A-bodies over to the show so he can line ‘em up for everyone to enjoy. You could call him the crazy Olds guy of Casper.
Now that we know why he loves these big-hipped cars, let’s talk about why this example is so impressive.
“I found the car on eBay, and it was exactly what I was looking for—a silver 1965 442. Buy It Now was $15,000, and I didn’t have the cash at the time, so I reached out to my buddy Gary Petley and borrowed the money so I could get it before anyone else,” he explains.
“It was a racecar with one seat, no lights, and Lexan windows, and I turned it back into a street car. I brought it home and instantly went to work, tearing out the Lexan, race seat, and the aluminum dash. I installed headlights and taillamps and went for a cruise. It’s been evolving for the last ten years. We all know you’re never done with a racecar.”
Following that theme, I discovered that everything except the 25.5 chassis upgrade was performed by Darce and his enthusiastic group of friends in his garage. When the car was initially purchased, it had a nitrous-injected big-block Chevrolet engine in it, which he kept for the first two years of its life. Then, in late 2012, he revamped the car to use a turbocharged traditional small-block Chevrolet, which it retains today.
He runs the car in Rocky Mountain Race Week each year and has also campaigned it in Drag Week, which he says have given him some of his most memorable experiences with the car. It’s been raced across several different classes over the last decade: Limited Street, Wild Street, Outlaw 8.5, and Xtreme Drag Radial. He’s seen the most success at Rocky Mountain Race Week, where he captured the runner-up finish in the Limited Street class in 2015 and an overall class win in Outlaw Street in 2018. Last fall at SCSN, he finally achieved his goal of breaking the 4-second barrier with this big beast. Oh, and I’d be doing Darce a disservice if I didn’t mention the fact that it went into the 4s at 3,700 pounds. This thing is almost two tons of fun!
“It’s been a long road, but I don’t have professional tuners or chassis guys helping me, just friends that lend advice, and I run with it from there,” he sums up.
The 442 is a solid, all-‘round car owned by a solid, all-‘round car guy, who uses it to its fullest in a way that most of us could only dream of doing. Every fall, I look forward to seeing it hustle down the track at SCSN, a testament to one man’s obsession with big-bodied muscle cars of yesteryear. What a fun ride!
Darce Laws’ Xtreme Drag Radial 1965 Oldsmobile 442
|Engine:||406 cubic-inch small-block Chevrolet. Dart Rocket block, 3.750-inch Callies crankshaft, Oliver connecting rods, Diamond Pistons, Brodix aluminum heads, Manley valves and springs, LJMS camshaft, Crower stainless steel shaft rocker arms, Firecore wires, machined by Ace Automotive Machine, built by Darce Laws|
|Electronics:||Holley Dominator EFI system with smart coils, Leash relay board and Boost Leash boost controller|
|Chassis:||25.5 chromoly chassis built by Keith Dickehage and Chad Ahnstedt, TRZ A-arms, TRZ rear suspension, Menscer Motorsports adjustable shocks|
|Transmission:||Transmission Specialties Powerglide, PTC torque converter, and Mark Williams driveshaft|
|Rearend:||TRZ Fab 9 housing, spool, 40-spline Strange Engineering axles, 3.50:1 ring-and-pinion|
|Brakes:||The Brake Man drag race brakes|
|Power-Adder:||102mm GTX5544R Gen II Garrett turbocharger built by Jose at Forced Inductions|
|Exterior:||VFN Fiberglass hood and bumpers, Glasstek fiberglass grille, DuPont Millenium Silver paint|
|Interior:||Installed by Darce’s BFF and Drag Week co-pilot Tony Ferguson|
|Wheels & Tires:||(F) Billet Specialties Street Lite (F) 15 x 3.50-inch, 26x6.0 Mickey Thompson Sportsman S/R Tires|
(R) Billet Specialties Comp 5 15x10-inch, 275/60-15 Mickey Thompson ET Street Radial Pro Tires