What's inside Troy Pirez's head? Maybe you'd be better off asking Greg "Big Boy" Stephens or Troy Jr. (aka Junior) what's zinging around in the 40-year-old paint and body shop owner's brainpan. You could call him an enigma. You could also call him the quickest and fastest human in a stock-suspension drag radial car enhanced by nitrous oxide, because, as of this writing, that's true. Above all, this crew coalesces in a laidback atmosphere, one that occurs when all concerned are battle-savvy veterans, each imbued with intimate knowledge of the car, what it's like behind the wheel, what the car hankers for, and what it will not tolerate.
At any moment, Junior might take his father's place behind the '88 Camaro. He's putting a big-inch motor in the '70 Nova Troy used as "the instigator of stock suspension," as Editor Henry D likes to say. Troy and his son bonded a long time ago, way before the kid could even drive.
Greg Stephens grew from boyhood with Troy. He's a radial tire racer from the old school. Had several successful speed shops before the big mail-order guys took over the act. Financially secure now, he is able to absorb the fiscal responsibility. He loves Troy, would do anything for him, and loves the racing...but hates his cell phone.
If you're a radial tire fan, you already know the stipulation and the rules. A large-displacement engine, forced induction, or nitrous oxide are allowed so long as the car retains the original suspension mounting points, has aftermarket facsimiles of the original components, and turns DOT-approved radial tires on the drive wheels.
Right now, a turbo car probably has a little bit more of an advantage than the other possibilities, but at the same time we're thinking that drag racers, being the crafty lot they are, aren't putting out everything they got. That used to be called sandbagging. It's also known as too little track surface tension and/or poor atmospheric conditions. Regardless, the prediction is high-6s within the next 12 months, which means the wick on this year's combination is turned down most of the time.
The bald truth is that these cars are porky pigs (about 3,340 pounds with driver) so they don't stop 1,900 hp real well. This is an illusion to the eighth-mile. Things can get a lot more complicated when it's quarter-mile time. "Yeah," Troy said, "they don't want to stop in the space allotted for the eighth. They just bounce off everything they hit, and when you lock up the brakes they go even faster!"
So what's the back story? Troy: "I like the challenge of the radial tire, you know, but the thing I don't like about it is how good the tires have become. They've taken a lot of strategizing out of the racing, and I thrive on that kind of stuff. When the class first started, we were all running on BFGs. It took a lot of work and they were very unpredictable. You had to strategize with that tire, but you didn't have to spend a ton on all-aluminum big-inch motors with three and four stages of nitrous or forced induction because you could only do so much with [the BFGs].
"The Camaro's front end is limited to about 1 inch of travel, and the struts are as tight as they'll go, so there's really nothing... We don't rely on the front end too much. The tubular arms are in there for the weight issue. We just try to get [the car] as light as possible and put the ballast in front of the rear wheels."
Cut to: Big Boy ambling down Sunshine Dragstrip (Clearwater, Florida) at the end of the photo session. The sun is sinking...the cell phone is stuck to the side of his head.