Karma is the concept that the universe has a way of evening the score. Scoff if you want, but trifle with Mother Nature's status quo at your own peril. Think of it as the golden rule with a shot of nitrous: just when you think you've gotten away with something, karma will seek you out in a time and a place of its choosing, and have its way with you. Such was the case for Hardcore Racing (Flint, Michigan) at a hot August Super Chevy Show in Joliet, Illinois. In a cruel twist of irony and with thousands watching, Hardcore's '85 Firebird smacked the wall before we had a chance to complete our feature photo shoot. Did we capture the moment of impact? Nope. In yet another twist of karma, while gloating about getting the killer wheels-up shot, we totally missed the horrific ballet unfolding down track. (Why is everybody saying "Ooooh!" in unison?)
Now that you understand the reason for the smashed bodywork in the photos, some background: Months prior, we had seen Hardcore's Firebird on display at the Super Chevy Show in Norwalk, Ohio. Around that time, an episode of "Pinks" (Speed Channel's pseudo street-racing prime-time hit) had aired, and it featured Hardcore's Firebird against AMP Performance's '89 Mustang. We watched Hardcore walk away with a handy win, and the keys to an '89 Mustang. We were impressed and arranged with Hardcore Racing VP Gary Penn to do a photo shoot on the surviving Firebird at our next stop in Joliet. Frankly, Harcore's 'Bird (even in its pre-wrecked form) isn't up to ultra-natty magazine visual standards, but we like the average Joe, street-racer vibe of "Pinks," so we wanted to see all the seemly details that don't get shown on TV. Face it, you'll never hear "Pinks" host Rich Christensen (an admitted non-car guy) spout cam lift specs or compare the merits of one car's chassis with another. That kind of gig is magazine territory, and we were biting on the bait.
Fast forward to our shoot at Joliet. The Firebird's crew consisted of Hardcore's Brett Templeton, his wife, Danielle, and Hardcore Racing marketing manager, Danielle Bowers, who would double as our model for the photo shoot. The idea was for Templeton to get some quarter-mile passes in while we got some launch photos, then shoot the rest of the car at sunset. (Side note: Jason McNeil was the original hotshoe on "Pinks"-Templeton is primarily a fabricator at Hardcore.) Karma struck almost instantly, when the Templetons got a call from home that their son had been in an accident and needed to go to the hospital. Forewarned by fate, we soldiered on. Hardcore Racing's '85 Firebird is nothing spectacular in terms of car-building artistry, but it is a great example of the breed found on "Pinks." Forged in the crucible of a two-week deadline, a "Pinks" racecar is typically thrown together only after a TV commitment is secure, and it is equipped with the bare essentials to keep cost and build complexity down. (You try and build a 9-second car in two weeks and see what you get.) In its essence, it's a throw-away car with a bonzai engine. Car builders on "Pinks" walk a fine line: your ride needs to be fast enough and safe enough to win, but not so valuable that you lose a fortune if you never see it again. With this recipe in mind, Hardcore's 13.8:1 383 Chevy small-block is stuffed with competent street pieces like a production truck block, World Products Motown heads and intake, a COMP solid roller cam, a Holley 1050 Dominator carb, and a two-stage plate nitrous system from Wilson. Roughly 1,000 hp is fed through a Hughes Turbo 400, a 5,000-stall 8-inch nitrous converter, and on to a Ford 9-inch rear with a Strange spool and 4.56 cogs.
Under the heading of special interior features, the tech sheet elegantly states: "gutted by Hardcore Racing." Rows of switches, blocks of relays, solenoids, nitrous bottles, ignition components, yards of plumbing, gauges, and various safety bits haphazardly dot the interior. The interior is functional and safe, but beyond that it generally says, "If you're not driving me, get the heck out of here."
As for the bad karma, let's just say on that cool crisp April evening in Phoenix, all involved agree that the AMP Performance Mustang had Hardcore Racing's Firebird covered. "Pinks" is basically a best three-out-of-five match race, and AMP had the first two in the bag. But as any street racer will tell you, anything can happen, and it did. The Ford's Achilles' heel-a weakness down the center of the block-came to light, and spilled entrails on asphalt. Hardcore snatched victory from the jaws of fate, kept the Firebird, and loaded up the new Mustang. Celebration, however, was premature. Four months later, on a smoking hot August afternoon near Chicago, karma would come knocking, and it wanted its Firebird back.