This Camaro body hides a powerful stock car chassis

J.A.
By J.A. Ackley
Aug 6, 2023 | NASA, camaro, nascar, stock car, ASA Stock Car, NASA ST1 | Posted in Features | From the April 2023 issue | Never miss an article

Photography Credit: Ken Neher

After many years behind the wheel of a Porsche 944, he simply yearned to go faster. However, with more speed comes more expense, right? 

Not necessarily. 

Jack Higginbotham analyzed his options and came across a running stock car. The deal also included an extra rolling chassis. After he sold the spare chassis, he reskinned the car more to his liking. 

I’m probably, all in, net, $16,000 in the car,” he says. “That’s Miata money.”

Keep in mind that about $5000 of that total went toward the new body alone. And for that money, Jack races it in one of NASA’s fastest classes, ST1.

Looking for a Challenge

“We were successful in 944 Porsches–we hold a couple of track records–but it was old hat,” Jack explains. “A friend of mind, Bill Smith, aka HalfFast on the GRM forum, said, ‘There’s a car that ran ASA back in the day. The owner of the car suddenly passed away.’”

ASA, aka the American Speed Association, ran late models on paved ovals throughout the center of the U.S. Some of NASCAR’s biggest stars made their mark in ASA–most notably Mark Martin and Rusty Wallace. Others who had significant time in the series include NASCAR Cup Series champions Alan Kulwicki and Jimmie Johnson.

“The way he described the car, it sounded like what I was looking for,” Jack says. “It had a lot more horsepower than I’m used to, but Bill described it as ‘driving a big go-kart.’”

 

The Car’s History

Howe Racing Enterprises–the same company that currently builds TA2 cars in the Trans Am Series–constructed Jack’s car in 2001. It’s a perimeter chassis, which derives its name from the frame rails following the exterior of the body. Perimeter chassis are built to be symmetrical, which makes them well suited for road racing.

Fortunately for Jack, Bryan Dobyns, a driver with time in the Grand-Am series, started converting that chassis in 2006. Then Deren Ardinger further developed it for road racing. “Deren knows this car inside out and is a pro mechanic to boot,” Jack adds. “That made quite a few speed bumps smoother than they might have been otherwise.”“It was ready to go,” says Jack. “It was a successful car. It still holds a track record in a now obsolete class. I had it easy. I could have run it as a late model-looking thing, but I wasn’t interested in that.”

Signal the Pony

The early 2000s Chevrolet Monte Carlo body that came with the chassis didn’t float Jack’s boat. He wanted something different. Enter the first-gen Chevrolet Camaro skin, circa 1967-’68, from VFN Fiberglass. The body fits a Camaro frame of that era perfectly. But would it accommodate a modern late model?

Photography Credit: Jack Higginbotham

“It was a little risky because I wasn’t sure if it was going to work,” Jack recalls. “I measured the wheelbase. It would work at 108 inches. Everything else was an unknown.”

The body did not fit in two areas: at the front and from side to side. Luckily, at the nose, all Jack had to do was cut out most of the front bumper support as well as the robust radiator ducting commonly found in late model racing. This allowed Jack to maintain the geometry of his front-end setup yet fit the smaller body. 

Photography Credit: Jack Higginbotham

Changing the width required more extensive work. Jack cut out the cage’s side bars and moved them closer to the center of the car. He didn’t need to modify the frame, though. He also replaced the A-pillars with ones that were more upright to better follow the contours of the Camaro body. “There’s still more room inside than I had with any car I’ve raced,” Jack notes.

He also added fiberglass to the seams of the body to strengthen it. Finally, 5-inch flares were added to better cover the wheels and tires. 

Other Quirks

The setup uses tubular A-frames in the front, with a Watts linkage setup in the rear. Bilstein coil-over shocks are found at all four corners.

“The coil-overs are radically different than the torsion bars I’ve played with on Porsches–and highly adjustable,” Jack explains. “It’s much easier to corner balance the car and, ultimately, will be easier to optimize for track and weather conditions.”

Photography Credit: Chris Tropea

Most oval track cars run on bias-ply tires. Jack went with radials instead–a Hoosier Racing Tire 27.5 x 11.5R15. His tire source, Phil Phillips of Phil’s Tire Service, recommended them.

“Phil said the bias-ply is a cheaper tire but they don’t last as long,” Jack notes. “The radials are much faster, handle better, last longer and, of course, are way more expensive.”

Despite the radial construction, the tires have similar dimensions to typical oval track tires. “It’s a much taller sidewall than a contemporary road race tire would be, but it suits the geometry of the car,” Jack says. “It’s very compliant, very controllable. Those sidewalls make them less twitchy.”

Photography Credit: Chris Tropea

The Camaro also features a Tex Racing T-10 four-speed transmission, a common sight in stock cars. “Clutchless shifting was new to me. I was terrified,” Jack admits. “I was amazed at how easy it is to shift once I did it.”

The car has a quick-change rear end from Tiger Rear Ends that allows him to adjust his final gear ratio. “Currently I have three quick-change gear sets,” Jack says. “I like the concept of the ease of changing the final drive. With the Porsche, that was an expensive and complicated variable to play with.”

Photography Credit: Chris Tropea

Lastly, Jack sits in the car differently than in other rides more common in road racing. “It took a little getting used to, but now that I’m used to it, the driver’s position is excellent,” he says. “That wheel in your chest is great for car control.”

The car weighs 2600 pounds without the driver as it lacks any ballast, usually found in the form of lead or, less commonly, tungsten, in oval track racers. Jack has yet to significantly play with that aspect of the setup.

Behind the Wheel

Jack hopes to compete with Chevrolet Camaro in the ST1 class of NASA. “In NASA, we hold VIR and Summit Point track records with our ST6 Porsche 944,” he explains, adding that ST6 is NASA’s slowest class. “My ultimate goal is to take a track record or two at the opposite end of the road with an ST1 car.”

At Summit Point, Jack turned a 1:27 in the 944. With the Camaro, he ran a 1:22 before breaking a driveshaft. His goal is a 1:18 lap. Jack stresses that he’s still very much in the developmental stage of the project.

Inside the Camaro you’ll find traditional oval track hardware, including lots of chassis adjustability, a quick-change rear and that classic three-spoke wheel. Photography Credit: Chris Tropea

“Right now, we have a car that looks pretty good,” he says. “We’re working on making it go fast.”

Perhaps the most difficult part of steering the car is unrelated to the car itself. “Coming from momentum cars, I’ve been told the way I drive, I’m not patient,” he explains. “With the 944, you trail-brake a bit going in and then just stand on the gas. This car requires a more judicious use of the right foot–it’s a learning process, but we are getting there.”

However, Jack says, that makes corner exit an issue. “This thing just wants to push. What I’m wanting to do is to make the adjustments to come out of the turn like how I do in a momentum car. I want to drive it hard out of the corner.”

The Goal

While Jack certainly wants to win, he also hopes to inspire others to follow his path. “I’d like to encourage other people to get creative with these tube-frame chassis and see if we can make them popular,” he says. “For the power-to-weight ratio you can get and the safety, adjustability, the engineering, it’s the best bang for the buck in the racing world.”

He already has somebody following his lead. Grassroots Motorsports will be building a car based on the spare late model chassis that Jack sold. Stay tuned.

Photography Credit: Chris Tropea

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Comments
Colin Wood
Colin Wood Associate Editor
2/21/23 2:31 p.m.

Love the idea of recycling old race cars and giving them new life.

The cool noises they make is also a plus. wink

V8 Road Racing West
V8 Road Racing West New Reader
4/24/23 10:25 p.m.

GREAT ARTICLE!   I always wanted to put a more identifiable body on my stock car.   These are indeed the best bang for the buck when it comes to performance and achieving the highest smiles & thrills per dollar ratio.

I have mine for sale now on eBay as a No Reserve Auction.   Hoping it go to to a good home that will get her back out on the track and enjoyed like she deserves to.

https://tinyurl.com/NO-RESERVE-Road-Race-Stock-Car

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