In the rodeo world of bull riding, 8 seconds is an eternity. Strap one hand to the back of a 1-ton-plus bull, let it rip, and hope to hold on long enough to not get stomped. In the drag racer's quarter-mile arena, it's exactly the opposite-the quicker the ride, the greater the thrill. By the time you pare it down to 8 seconds, it's about the same as strapping on that bull. But for those guys who've done it, all they want to do is go quicker.
That hasn't taken anything away from the car's brutal nature. It has run a 9.68 at 134 mph on just the engine, but the quick times are assisted by a 300 shot about 60 feet off the line. The Camaro's best so far is a stout 5.60 in the eighth-mile and an 8.84 at 153 mph on a single stage with the big Rat feeding on a high-octane cocktail of methanol through the carburetor chased with a shot of nitrous and gasoline. "We run it on methanol so the engine runs a lot cooler and doesn't overheat." The Rat combo is as simple as it is elegant. Take a 4.500-bore Bow Tie block, stuff it with an Eagle crank and rods and 13:1-compression pistons, drop in a little mechanical mayhem with a Comp roller cam, bolt a set of off-the-shelf Brodix -2X heads ("We just took 'em out of the box and bolted 'em on"), and then top it all off with a Dominator carburetor, a plate, and a Fogger.
The downside to 8-second times is the ton of safety equipment that tends to strip away the image of a street car. This means the definition has changed over the years. In the beginning, if your machine sported a rollbar, that was like announcing to the world that you had a fast car. In Richard Terry's world of Midwest Outlaw street car racing and King of the Hill competitions, it takes a full 'cage and an NHRA certification just to get in the door. But that's because they're running 150-plus mph. So the definition of a street car has become a little fuzzier. Or maybe it's just the e.t. and speeds that have changed.
Of course, cars like these are never really finished. Richard is already talking about exchanging the nitrous for a blower. "I've got a ProCharger that my wife bought me, but it won't fit in the car, so I might try a reverse-rotation F2R that can sit in front of the motor." Why? Because 8 seconds is clearly not quick enough.
But there's no confusion when it comes to Richard's intentions for this '99 Camaro. The plan was always to go racing and have fun, which also includes occasional forays out on the street. As immaculate as the car is topside, when we crawled behind the massive rear tires to shoot the suspension, Richard offered apologies for not cleaning the undercarriage. Two things became immediately apparent. First, Richard obviously drives this beast, regardless of the message the 'cage sends. Part of the road grime is because, as Richard puts it, "I live on a dirt road, so it gets a little dusty." Second, we were more surprised by the absence of the typical four-link rear suspension. Instead, we found ourselves looking at a mostly stock, fourth-generation Camaro rear suspension enhanced with a BMR-built torque arm bolted to a 9-inch Ford. The fat rear sway bar isn't there to help in the corners, though. Instead, it helps control all that massive Rat and nitrous-induced torque to keep the front end level when it launches. How cool is that?
But it gets even better. Up front is no different. While the Camaro is capable of 1.28-second 60-foot times on drag radials, it does this with a virtually stock front suspension. It has travel limiters, but that's about the extent of the modifications. When Richard bought the car about two years ago, "it was already a race car, but we completely redid it. The only thing left of the original 'cage is the main hoop. We cut everything else out of it and started over." Richard and his father, Dwight, have a small business on the side called TNT Racecraft doing 'cage work for the ever-growing legion of race cars that infest the local tracks around St. Louis and Gateway dragstrip, including several eighth-mile tracks where Richard usually runs the Camaro.
"This car actually drives better on the track than my old four-link car," Richard says. His previous car was a '66 Chevy II that weighed 3,300 with a driver that also included the same engine that's now in the Camaro. The 509 was originally built by his uncle Richard Furgeson, who also built the TH400 trans. "My uncle was more like a cool older brother to me. He was an extremely talented builder. He built the engine and the trans for my car in his spare time when he wasn't working as a regular mechanic." His uncle was killed in a car accident in 2008, and Richard says that since the tragedy, it's been tough to have as much fun with the car. "Now I race it as much as I can afford."