You could say heads-up racer Eric Gustafson came from nowhere when he entered his supercharged ’69 Camaro in the Street Car Super Nationals VII in Las Vegas for the first time last year. Despite being untested on the Outlaw 8.5 class-mandated 26x8.5 slicks, Eric proceeded to qualify Second in this eighth-mile category with a 5.41 (mid 8s in the quarter-mile), get to the final round with some admitted luck, and take down the number-one qualifier with a superb 0.023 reaction. No one saw it coming, and since it’s not too often a heads-up rookie drops jaws like that, many fans thought it to be a fluke. “We had only tested the car on 28x10.5 slicks before,” Eric says, “so we didn’t know what to expect in Vegas. We wanted to win, of course; we just didn’t think we would with our limited data.”
Over the following months, the rush of driving a stock suspension car that could accelerate to 135 mph in 5 seconds and the rush of winning a National event fueled Eric’s competitive spirit and he craved getting back into competition. At his third event, the West Coast Hot Rod Association’s second meet of 2012, the Hermosa Beach, California, resident was on track to the finals again, taking out the number-one qualifier and getting past two rounds before bowing out due to a heart-shattering red light reaction. His passion for competition made Eric stew about his self-inflicted loss for the weeks leading up to the National Muscle Car Association’s first event, where he’d get a chance to redeem his early leave. “I felt like I let down my crew, so I really wanted to win the first NMCA West race to make it up to them, as well as myself.”
We caught up with the Camaro driver during said event in Bakersfield right after he qualified Third for Outlaw 8.5, just a day before he set the e.t. and mph records (5.39 at 135 mph) and won all the marbles. Judging by this ride’s performances in less than a year, we’d speculate the naysayers from his Vegas win are singing a different tune by now, as he currently sits in the points lead for the NMCA’s Outlaw 8.5 class. However, don’t get used to seeing Eric’s ’69 in the Outlaw 8.5 ranks after this year; Eric explains, “I am floored by how well the car has done thanks to my great crew, Theo Dec at Wizard Racing, and supportive family. But, this was primarily a street build, so I plan to retire it back to the street by next year.” The LS-powered ’69 may not be racing in heads-up classes in the future, but after picking up on the hints of another race car in the works from the Eric camp, we’d say you haven’t seen the last of them; just consider yourself warned. “I’m not going to reveal much, let’s just say we do plan on stepping up,” Eric says.
Eric’s drive for horsepower is in his blood. His grandfather was a founding member of the SCTA. His father, Ron, campaigned an alky dragster with NHRA in the ’60s and still has an active role in Eric’s racing program today. “He’s the mechanical one, I’ve always just been fascinated with horsepower and driving fast vehicles, whether it’s cars or whatever represents power. He’s a great racing partner and my best friend, I couldn’t do this without him,” Eric says. Eric also thanked his wife, Courtney, his employees at Coast Packing in Vernon, Theo Dec at Wizard Racing for building and tuning the car, Chris Alston Jr. at Chris Alston’s Chassisworks, Dave Werremeyer at ProCharger, his engine builder Kurt Urban, and his crew Bobby Canova, Eric “Big E” Broward, and “Lil” Jon McGovern.
We asked Eric if he had any tips for future generations of heads-up racers or for those who are about to start heads-up racing; his advice was pretty insightful. He said, “You can’t let yourself get discouraged if the race doesn’t go your way. It’s hard to pick yourself back up sometimes, but if you want to be competitive, you must. Also, we like to always leave the track, win or lose, with ideas to improve the car in testing between races. Another one is, if the car gets out of shape, don’t be a cowboy and try to manhandle it; a round win is not worth wrecking the car.” We tend to agree; wise words to drag race by.
Eric relies on a blown 412ci LS engine against a sea of nitrous-assisted rides. LS engine master Kurt Urban designed an RHS block-based powerplant that features some of the strongest components in the LS world. With a CDS-geardriven F-1R ProCharger forcing nearly 40 pounds of boost through All Pro 15-degree cylinder heads, this engine is capable of accelerating this 3,450-pound muscle car close to 140 mph in the eighth-mile on very small tires. For the internals, Urban chose a Callies crankshaft with a 3.9-inch stroke, Howard’s billet connecting rods, and custom forged pistons from Wiseco for a rotating assembly, while the valvetrain consists of Jesel shaft rockers, Manton custom pushrods, and a custom mechanical roller from COMP Cams. Other brands used include Total Seal piston rings, Urban-spec PAC valvesprings, RacePak data logger, and FAST’s XFI fuel injection system. The ignition, which is manipulated through the FAST system, utilizes a coil-on-plug setup, and a dry-sump oiling system maximizes power output by eliminating windage. Oh, and that block of aluminum sitting in front of the engine? That’s a PT3000 air-to-water intercooler from Precision Turbo. Alex Gutierrez of Big Head Motorsports fabricated custom stainless headers to direct the spent gases from the LS bullet, and Flowmaster 4-inch collector mufflers do their best to quiet the beast. For shifts, Eric turned to Steve Casner for a bulletproof TH400 transmission, and a Continental converter joins the whole mess together. A Chris Alston–fabricated 9-inch rearend with a full spool and 3.89 gears sits under the tail end of Eric’s ’69. This combo has been as quick as 5.38 at 136 mph, with a best 60-foot time of 1.31 on 26x8.5 slicks.
Chassis & Suspension
A 25.3-spec chrome-moly rollcage by Theo Dec at Wizard Racing surrounds Eric during his 5-second blasts. For those who don’t know what 25.3 means, this car is certified to run 6.50, weighing up to 3,600 pounds in the quarter-mile. A Funny Car–style ’cage envelops the driver, and the whole chassis is tied together at multiple points with various gussets and crossbraces—all in an effort to limit the car from twisting upon launch, as well as to keep the driver safe in case of a wreck. The entire suspension comes from Chris Alston’s Chassisworks’ catalog, including the front and rear tubular control arms, the front clip, and VariShock double-adjustable shocks. A pair of Split Mono-Leaf Springs from Calvert Racing are bolted up out back, and Smith Racecraft’s widely adjustable Maxx Trax bars help transfer the weight to the tires. Yes, that’s right, low 5s in the eighth-mile on stock suspension and 8.5 tires. Impressive, no?
The interior of Eric’s Camaro is simple and largely stock. The dashpad, analog gauges, carpet, and factory pedals are all there, and after sitting in it to shoot photos, we quickly realized how much of a street car this ’69 really is. With a milder engine we could totally picture it being a cruiser, seeing around the Funny Car ’cage would be a problem though. You’ll notice Eric’s passenger seat is still there too; usually the air-to-water intercooler gets bolted there, but Eric opted to mount it underhood instead.
Wheel & Brakes
A combination of a Stroud parachute and Wilwood’s disc brakes at all four corners bring this car to a halt after dragstrip blasts, while Mickey Thompson Sportsman Pro tires roll up front and Hoosier’s Outlaw 8.5-spec, 26x8.5 tires are abused in the rear. The tires, although only a true 9 inches when measured, are phenomenal for their size—racers have gone sub 1.2 60-foot times in the past. While this Camaro is currently competing in Outlaw 8.5, the wheeltubs can also accommodate 28x10.5 slicks. The wheels are Weld’s Aluma Stars all around, except Eric runs a beadlock setup in the rear to keep the rubber from rotating during those brutal dragstrip launches. Chp