Spring is in the air, and rubber got put down on the track last weekend at the season opening Southern Outlaw Tour in Montgomery, AL. I had plenty on my mind as we pulled up anchor in Chattanooga and headed south for the weekend. During the off season, my bride and I decided to step it up a bit and acquired a ’94 Holiday Rambler motor home (affectionately known from this point forward as the “Mayflower”), so it was with some apprehension that I hooked my trailer, race car and most of what we own onto it for the very first time and sat out on a 6 hr road trip.
I swear I had more arm pump after that first hour of driving than a professional motocross racer does after a 40 minute moto. Our RV/trailer combo is 65’ + and is susceptible to semi’s, crosswinds, strange noises, etc.…but a couple of hours into the trip everything seemed to ease up a bit. At one point, I glanced back over my shoulder and saw Amber sitting in the captains chair with her feet up, book on a desk, cheese-its, and drink in hand…”I love it” were her exact words. So I guess that’s the official verdict…we’re now RV people.
Upon getting to the track Friday evening we decided that it would be best to sit out the first round of qualifying until we had a chance to test the new combination in some slightly better conditions Saturday afternoon. After an initial shake down pass that was a little on the sketchy side, my good buddy Paul Baxter and I made a couple of adjustments and went up for qualifying. At this point in the day, I must admit I was tired and distracted with everything that it took to get to the track; sponsorship obligations, customer obligations and a race car that wasn’t too friendly on my first pass of the season. Add it all up and what does it mean??? Apparently a knucklehead driving job as I rolled the beams when staging the car and didn’t get an official time for qualifying. Although I felt like a donkey…I took solace in the fact that the car went straight as a string and in two quick passes Paul and I sorted out what took us 10 races to do last season.
Before the next round of qualifying my sweet wife kept my spirits up and Paul calmed my nerves by praying with me in the staging lanes. This time we laid the smack down with a 4.92 at 147 mph, which was a great pass, but unfortunately a little too quick and put us at the bottom end of the qualifying ladder for eliminations.
In the first round, without lane choice, I had a decent (not great) light, and was out on my opponent at half track when the car started a move towards the left wall that I couldn’t pull out of. So I decided to live to fight another day, and clicked the car off coasting through the traps…oh well, there were a lot of firsts this weekend, and after digesting it all for a couple of days, I’m pretty excited about our prospects for the rest of the season. I expect great things this year and feel confident that a solid foundation is in place for some strong results.
April will be a very busy month, as I have the Chattanooga Cruise In (at Coker Tire) on April 6th, Headhunters South in Steele, AL on April 13th, Southern Outlaw Tour in Montgomery, AL on April 20th, and if all goes well…we’re going to try to make it up to the great state of Kentucky for the NOP race on April 27th.
Thanks again to everybody who makes everything possible to race; Coker Tire, M&H, Dart, Comp, TCI, Zex, Lunati, K&N, Amsoil, Holeshot, Hedman Hedders, Texas Jungle Racing and REV Ministries. Thanks again to the almighty God who makes all things possible, period.
In the song “Bad Luck” by the iconic Southern California punk rock band, Social Distortion, a couple of the lyrics are – “Thirteen’s my lucky number…to you it means stay inside.” Well, I believe that “13” is my lucky number too and I aint staying inside. After all, I was born on the 13th, my racing number has always been “13”, and I truly believe that 2013 is shaping up to be a great year.
After everything that’s gone down in the past couple of weeks, it’s been difficult for me to get my mind around the words to put this blog in motion. The 2012 season of racing and season of life have been a journey that I wouldn’t particularly care to travel again anytime soon. Whether it’s been perception or reality, I’ve felt a lot of pressure to repeat the successes of my 2010 and 2011 seasons…after all, I started out the year with a newly refurbished race car, loyal sponsors, and a loving spouse. So what could go wrong??? Pretty much anything race related that you could think of and it seemed like the harder I tried, the worse it got. A late start to the season, freak parts failures, bad weather, bad luck, bad timing, bad circumstances…just bad, bad, bad. Everything hit critical mass a couple of weeks ago in Huntsville, AL when on a very chilly 40 degree morning the engine kicked backed, shot flames through the carburetor, and destroyed the clutch in my starter…sending me on a 4 hr search for a spare. Ultimately nothing I borrowed worked, and we pushed the car on the trailer defeated, embarrassed, and headed back to Tennessee.
Last weekend I got a chance to blow off a little bit of the figurative ring rust from my 1 month August hiatus and headed down to Holiday Beach Raceway located near “roll tide” country in Tuscaloosa, AL. So what did I do with my late summer vacation from racing? Prepare for more racing, of course….the entire car was nut & bolted front to back, a new vacuum pump, belt/pulley combination was installed, valves adjusted, oil and transmission fluids were changed, carb, filters, lines cleaned from the corrosive Methanol fuel residue…and the on board race computer data reviewed in an effort to establish effective nitrous tune ups for the rest of the season. I also experimented a little further with wing angles and suspension in an effort to create a little more down-force for added down-track stability.
Last weekend I got reacquainted with the Camaro at Steele, AL for a test and tune session. After evaluating the finished product and my goals for the season, it became apparent that a shift in racing focus was in order if we were going to have a successful season. Without going into a ton of technical detail, my car is now best set up to run on a 10.5W tire with the Southern Outlaw Tour’s “Extreme 10.5” class which is based around a 5.00 index, and the National Outlaw Professionals series up in KY and OH. So with that in mind, we went to Steele to sort out the best combination for this type of racing.
The Camaro is 95% complete, and with a few minor adjustments we should be ready to test it for the first time on April 15th. For those of you that have been following along since last September when the insanity of this project started, you’ll recognize that not only has the car been turned “Inside Out”, but so have I. There have been so many; people, personalities, deadlines, companies, parts and places involved with putting all this together that at times it was difficult to imagine that it would ever be completed…and I can’t honestly say that I want to do it again anytime soon. BUT (and it’s a big BUTT), I think it will all be worth it when the first little kid comes up at the track and smears cherry slurpee and corn dog grease all down the side of my white paint, gives me a hug, and tells me that he’ll be cheering for me…or the old guy that walks right past all the exotic rigs, trailers, race cars, in the pits and says “Son, I hope you skin ‘em up today”…it’s been a while since I’ve heard these kinds of things, but that’s what I “Hold Fast” – for me it’s not about a bigger and badder race car…it’s about all the people that touch you along the journey.
The racing season starts full swing in a couple of weeks, and I couldn’t be happier about it. Project 4.70 has been about like herding a pack of alley cats. Writing proposals, gaining sponsor support, juggling schedules, getting help from talented people to make it all come together, scraping nickels to make dimes….oh yeah there’s the labor part of it too! It’s an awful lot of work and sacrifice if you don’t love it…fortunately the Mrs. and I do and we’ve been blessed to have the support of others who share in the vision. Somebody wise once told me; build a project to your vision – not your resources. Put differently, don’t let your vision become compromised by what you don’t immediately have…stick with your vision while gathering your resources, regardless of how long it takes. That’s advice that I’ve taken to heart, because this has taken a long time and there’s no reason to cut corners now.
As of today the long block, transmission, rear end, and suspension are all in the car and now it’s down to mounting the fuel cells, radiators, plumbing, wiring, and final fit/finish…which hopefully will be complete in the next week or two.
A couple weekends ago I applied the amazing lizard skin product to my interior, floor pans, and racing seat. I’m very pleased with the results; it gives the car a nice finished appearance and will reduce the amount of heat soak by as much as 20-30%…which will be a very welcomed barrier to the southern heat we race in.
I’m also very pleased to welcome on board K&N Race Filters for the 2012 season! I’ve long been a K&N customer and I’d like to thank Ryan Fellman for offering a helping hand with project 4.70. Often times we race in less than ideal environments; dusty, dirty conditions and I’m really looking forward to the peace of mind and performance gains that come with running K&N air, oil, and fuel filters. Look for a little more tech information on the custom pieces that they put together for my air scoop to be featured in the final RPM Magazine article.
Speaking of RPM Magazine, if you get a chance, pick up a copy of the Feb 2012 issue, where you’ll see my little old Camaro with the wheels up on the cover next to some nitro guy named Cruz Pedregon (whoever that is, LOL!!). OK, so it’s a tiny cover shot, but inside there’s a killer 5 page tech article written by Tommy Lee Byrd describing what goes into converting a high-ridin’ 5.30 Camaro into a low slung 4.70 land missile.
BIG TIRES, BIG NEWS- We’ve got a new addition to the Phoenix family in the form of freshly logo’d PH455 race tires!
The 17.0/33.0-15’s have been awful good to me over the past couple of seasons, and what better way to pay respect than with a little cosmetic make over? Brand new for 2012 is our “F/X” appliquéd logo which is sure to turn some heads at the track! Special thanks to Corky and the product development team at Coker Tire for their enthusiasm towards the brand and continued support with getting Phoenix and project 4.70 on the track!!!
Finally I’d like to throw a shout out to my loyal sponsors old and new – Phoenix Race Tires, Dart blocks, heads and intakes, Comp Cams, TCI transmissions, ZEX nitrous, Lunati cranks, Holeshot wheels, Joe Gibbs oil, K&N Filters, Lizard Skins and Farrow Motorsports. Thanks for believing and making project 4.70 a reality.
“Prove all things – hold fast that which is good” 1 Thessalonians Ch. 5 Vs. 21
I called my buddy Chad Carothers back in August with my idea to turn the Camaro, inside out. The good thing about a good friend is that you don’t have to go overboard explaining yourself. I wanted to reverse the previous black/white theme of the car, and put into art form everything that I “Hold Fast” too. Namely; God, Amber, Family, America, my pets…and maybe a little old skool nautical theme thrown in for good measure.
Chad got here last Thursday night…put in 12 hrs Friday, then worked straight through from Saturday morning through Sunday afternoon…putting in 30+ hours with no sleep, while pushing his flight back in order to get everything done. I’m not going to put in a bunch of words here to take away from his masterpiece…but I will tell you that when we were standing there, completely exhausted and staring at the last little area of open space up near the front fender, he looked at me and said we’re out of time…and that he was out of ideas. I looked back at him and said, write the word JESUS on there as big as you can, and be done with it….since that was who I’d been praying to all night and morning that it would get finished in time and we’d make his next flight!!!
PS- Chad’s going to paint the hood scoop in Cali…I’ll get a pick of that up next time.
So far, January has been a long month, and it’s not even half way over yet. In Tennessee, the days have been gray and damp…and the nights have been spent under the fluorescent lights thrashing away on my trusty old battle horse ’69 Camaro. If you’ll recall, the only thing we’ve changed is everything in an effort to step up to the much faster outlaw 4.70 class. I cut my season short back in September and got the car over to my buddy Steven Farrow of Farrow Motorsports, where we’ve been dissecting, lightening, and adding extra juice ever since. The list of improvements is long, with regard to the chassis; new round tube back-half, 4-link, narrowed/reinforced rear differential with 4.56 pro gear, sfi 25.5 roll cage, and carbon fiber wheel tubs. As for the engine, it’s been completely freshened with Comp Cams valve train components, new bearings, rings, and hopped up with a Lunati 4.500 crank and “I” beam rods to make an all aluminum 598 CID thumper. As impressive as this may sound, we’re still going to be outgunned relative to other cars/engines in the class where dual carb, 632 CID and larger displacement is the norm. Therefore added motivation in the form of an additional ZEX nitrous kit will have to get the job done. TCI has also freshened my pro-x transmission/convertor with the right combination to get the most out of the new engine/chassis combination.
Last Fri night/Sat morning, the engine short block was finished and we breathed a very short sigh of relief….
….then gulped more air before going below the surface of the Camaro to mate the short block engine to the trans/driveshaft/rear-end. The reason we were holding our breath, was that I had a dead line to deliver the car to the body shop on Monday, and we could ill-afford any complications at this point. Luckily, and I mean very luckily, we were able to keep the existing OEM trans tunnel location as the driveshaft cleared without any problem….this was a big deal because it saved fabrication time, and now we would be able to concentrate on setting the new ride height and new front clip.
Saturday night, the new clip was mocked up on the front of the car and I couldn’t believe my eyes as the clip, doors and hood all fit very well, requiring only minimal cutting, adjusting, shimming, etc….I would much rather be lucky than good…or in my particular case; better to be blessed than not. I left the shop Saturday night with a feeling of confidence that we’d meet our deadline, and now it was time to focus on Sunday morning’s worship service at my church, Oakwood Baptist.
Pastor Ken was preaching a sermon about how God can change a heart, and asked me to give my Christian testimony, which I was honored to do….but I was about as nervous and stressed out as a scarred, tattoo’d guy can be standing up in front of a congregation, lol! It’s not a natural thing for me to do…I’m not a polished public speaker, and I’m not proud of a lot of things in my past….however I KNOW that God will fight the battles, all I have to do is show up and let Him. All said and done, it was a wonderful experience, and one that definitely helped strengthen my walk, and hopefully blessed a few others along the way.
After the Church service, my wife and I enjoyed a quick plate of leftovers, and then it was back to the shop for final fit-fabrication. New front mounting brackets would have to be built to accommodate the fuel cells, radiator, and longer, lower front end…so Sunday evening rolled into Monday evening, and at about 8 p.m., we rolled Project 4.70 out the door and onto the trailer. Tuesday morning I delivered the car to Troy Byrd’s body shop in Dayton, TN where it will remain for the next couple of weeks, getting a thorough body message, and fresh coat of paint. My old buddy Chad Carothers is going to fly in from So. Cal on the 26th of this month and then it’s time to get serious with our new “Hold-Fast” graphics/paint scheme…
We still have a ways to go with plumbing, wiring, etc., but if everything stays on course, I figure we stand a strong chance of testing the new ride towards the end of February or first of March…for now it’s time to take a breather and concentrate on all the other little things that go into making sure we’re set up for a successful season; scheduling, budgeting, updating safety equipment, etc.
I also want to pause and give credit to everybody who continues to make racing a reality; namely my employer Coker Tire, Dart Machinery, Comp Cams, Lunati, TCI, Zex, Joe Gibbs Racing Oil, Holeshot Wheels, Lizard Skin, Andy McCoy Race Cars, Dupont Performance Coatings, Farrow Racing Engines, and above all, God, who is the ultimate sponsor of everything I do!
Ps- look for the first of a three-part article written by Tommy Lee Byrd on project 4.70 in next month’s issue of RPM Magazine!!!
Besides Christmas….PRI, or the Performance Racing Industry Trade Show has to be the second most wonderful time of the year. It’s the annual gathering of companies, dealers, racers, and media in sunny south Florida where everybody shows off new products and race plans for 2012. For me it’s a mixed bag of representing Coker Tire Performance Division drag racing tires; M&H and Phoenix to customers old and new, and an opportunity to make connections with the companies and people that have helped me so much along the way in my own racing.