With all of the exotics cluttering up the South Hall of the Las Vegas Convention Center, you could be fooled into thinking that the quickest cars at SEMA would be found with rivet-on body kits and all-wheel drive—but drag racers know a fast car when they see one. That’s why the Gear Vendors booth had a steady stream of bench racers and engine oglers packed around Tom Bailey’s Drag Week-winning 1969 Pro Mod Camaro.
For anyone who’s not familiar with Hot Rod magazine’s Drag Week, it’s five days of drag racing at four different tracks with a street drive each day. The odyssey has drivers putting their street-driven cars to the ultimate test of high-horsepower endurance just for bragging rights. Drivers can bring a co-pilot and haul spare parts in a small trailer, but they can’t bring a spare engine and they have to race with the same power plant that shuttles them between tracks, which are often more than 200 miles apart.
Bailey’s history in Drag Week’s Unlimited class, the event’s fastest, began with a car built by Denny Terzich. Terzich won Drag Week in 2007 and built a ’69 Camaro to head back and challenge again in 2010. The car was dubbed Sick Seconds, as Terzich wanted to be the first Drag Week competitor to record a pass in the six-second range, which would be, you know, sick. He never met that goal, as engine trouble kept him from finishing Drag Week that year, and he eventually sold the car to Bailey, who began campaigning it in 2011. Incidentally, it was Larry Larson, a five-time Drag Week winner, who made the first six-second Drag Week pass in 2010, at 6.95 seconds.
We asked Bailey what motivated the switch from the Modified Power Adder class to go at it with the fastest cars in the country. For him it was simple. “I just wanted to go fast and see how far I could push it. That was probably the biggest thing.” Bailey had already built an engine that he knew was too much for his previous Drag Week car, which was also a ’69 Camaro, as its chassis was only certified for 7.50-second E.T.s, so with a new, capable car, he was suddenly months ahead of where he thought he would be.
With his new, twin-turbo big-block Chevy V-8 in the car and some teething issues sorted out, Bailey piloted Sick Seconds to the overall Drag Week win in 2013, as the first driver to record six-second passes on all five days. With the urge to run even faster, Bailey built this car, Sick Seconds 2.0, a street-going Pro Mod that ditches factory OEM proportions for a longer, lower, narrower body that is far more aerodynamic.
Using this car, Bailey won the overall top spot in Drag Week in 2015. In 2018, Bailey brought back the original Sick Seconds and Won Drag Week for the third time, and in 2019, he switched back into the Pro Mod and dominated the competition, making the first-ever five-second pass in Drag Week history at 5.99 seconds at 250 mph.
Helping Bailey run the Camaro on the ragged edge is engine builder Steve Morris, who assembled the 519-cubic-inch big-block Chevy using a billet aluminum block and cylinder heads with water jackets. Boost is provided by a pair of 98mm turbos from Precision Turbochargers.
The engine produces upwards of 4000 horsepower routed through a Rossler Turbo-400-style transmission and Gear Vendors overdrive. On the street, it produces a max of seven pounds of boost and runs on pump gas through a single fuel injector per cylinder. When it’s time to race, Bailey and Morris lower the front suspension, take the air out of the air shock that helps carry the load of their race trailer, and switch the fuel system. The gasoline system is disconnected and the alcohol system is plumbed up. Fed by a mechanical pump, alcohol is sent to three injectors per cylinder, two on top of the billet runner, and one in the valley. The boost controller is dialed in to add air and fuel as the speeds climb and the Holley ECU has a street and a race tune programmed in; a flip of a switch makes the change.
Even with a five-second Drag Week pass under his belt, Bailey is still pushing his car to see how much more it has. The only question is, who will step up to challenge the fastest street car in America? We just know it’s not gonna be a Lamborghini.