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.
Troy believes in building his own bullets under the "Cooter Racing Engines" subterfuge, a place that exists only in his mind. His all-alloy 632s are Brodix-based, and machine work is performed by Amtex Machine (Tampa). Top-drawer products festoon the block, and if a little compression is good, then a whole bag of it is even better, especially for a nitrous application. Troy lays the foundation with a Crower crankshaft and Oliver steel connecting rods. He partners Diamond Racing pistons with 12-degree Brodix PB 1200 CNC cylinder heads to make a mountainous 15.0:1 ratio. The 0.975-inch lift Comp cam works equally mammoth 2.45- and 1.90-inch titanium valves and is hooked to the crank via a Jesel beltdrive. T&D shaft rockers (1.8:1) are urged by Smith Brothers pushrods and PSI valve springs. Ignition is tried and true MSD stuff set at 28 degrees total. Dan Neuman Race Cars (Ocala, Florida) built the 2 1/4- to 2 1/2-inch step headers that sweep past a humungous Stef's Fabrication aluminum sump. A Carburetor Solutions Unlimited-prepped 1,150-cfm Holley is on the Brodix intake manifold as matched to the cylinder heads. These items provide the basis for the platform for the three-stage nitrous system (200, 250, and 250 hits) built by Steve Johnson at Induction Solutions (Spring Hill, Florida). The engine has never been on a dyno, but Cooter estimates 1,900-2,000 hp with the juice at full tilt. He pulls the engine and transmission down every 50 runs. Once in a while he hurts a piston, but otherwise the car is a sweetheart on parts. He's completely sold on his Performance Torque Converters-built (Muscle Shoals, Alabama) Powerglide and torque converter. "We've never hurt either of them. The converter's been in there four years now." The 10-inch converter has a 4,000-stall speed and passes twist through a Mike's Driveline (Tampa, Florida) prop shaft to the Moser Engineering 9-inch that carries a 3.70:1 ring-and-pinion. Best performance to date is a 7.53/186 quarter-mile and a 4.80/152 eighth.
Brakes & Wheels
Troy's biggest concern is not being able to stop, especially on the long track. He feels that the rules have too much weight tied to them to be running so fast and so quick. A parachute is required by rules, and the brakes are four-piston Wilwood 11-inchers all around. Since the Cootermobile is only legal on a race track, the point wheel combo is 28.0/4.5 Mickey Thompson ET Streets on 15x4 Weld AlumaStar 2.0 forged hoops. In back, Pirez uses the largest street radial tire available: 30-inch-tall 315/60 Mickey Thompsons on 10-inch-wide Holeshot Engineering wheels (Cocoa Beach, Florida).
Yup, looks like somebody threw a grenade in the car and ducked. "It's where I am, so I don't much care how it looks," says Troy. "As long as the car shines and looks tight from the fans' viewpoint, I'm happy." Truly a minimalist ensemble, the Camaro cups the driver in a Kirkey Racing seat and holds him down with Kirkey belts. A master switchboard overhead, a couple jugs of juice, and the most important Auto Meter gauges are all he needs.
The Pirez boys and Stephens are bound by rules. Any aftermarket equipment is legal so long as it will bolt into the original mounting locations--so no four-links are allowed. At the rear, they installed BMR lower control arms, an antisway bar, a Panhard bar, and a custom BMR torque arm. "It is the best traction device," says Greg. "The stock torque arm would bend or tear on every pass, thus screwing up the pinion angle." Afco springs on VariShock/Chris Alston dampers help plant the tires, too. BMR components (Koni strut conversion, K-frame, springs, and lower control arms fortify the front of the Camaro and are lighter than the factory pieces. The stock steering column is connected to a Flaming River rack steering assembly. A 12-point cage provides a very solid foundation and offers supreme resistance to the twisting and bending power of that wacko 632. The car runs the 60-foot time in the low 1-teens.
A while back, Junior bumped the wall at Sunshine Dragstrip. Lucky for him his pop owns Pirez Auto Body (Dover, Florida) to put the hurt on the minor scrapes and lacerations. When we commented on the beautiful job, Troy said it wasn't a bad 10-foot car but he wasn't gushing about its appearance. He used Chevrolet Code 16 White with custom orange and gold pearl stripes in a parody of the Fourth-Gen Anniversary model.