1985 Pontiac Firebird "Pinks" Car - Bad Karma
This "pinks" car got the easy win on TV, but its life since then hasn't been a bowl of cherries
From the January, 2007 issue of Popular Hot Rodding
By Johnny Hunkins
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.
What It's Like Being On "Pinks" We asked Gary Penn, vice president of Hardcore Racing, what being on "Pinks" was all about. Here's his take on the experience: "We thought "Pinks" was something we ought to do. They had contact information on their Web site for Nate Pritchett, their casting director. I called and left a message, then followed up with an e-mail. He called me back and said we were in. A couple of weeks prior to the taping, they called to let us know when and where. It was April in Phoenix.
"At that point, the car was a gutted body shell, so we scrambled through the warehouse and the shop and scrounged enough parts to put a race car together. The engine, we already had. Mark Fryfogle, who's a member of our race team, had built the engine for his '67 Camaro-your basic 1,000hp street car. It was sitting on an engine stand in plastic, waiting for the car, and we hijacked it. It was the only one we could come up with it on such short notice. We told him, 'Guess what, Mark? Your engine's going to be on 'Pinks!''
"Once they let us know we were going on the show, they mailed us agreements for stuff, like who could come into the track and signing the car over to the production company. You actually sign the car over to them before the show. For all practical purposes, they own both cars before you compete, then they award both cars to the winner. "We scrambled for two weeks, and we wanted to test it, but of course it's springtime in Michigan, which means clouds and rain. We actually ran it down US 131 Dragway in the rain with the slicks. [The video of this on Hardcore's Web site is worth watching.-ed.] Then we put it on the trailer and headed for Arizona.
"We taped the show from about 8 p.m. to 10 p.m. on April 22, and at the end of it we were taking a Mustang home. It was intense. They tape it in two hours with nine cameras, so they had 18 hours of tape to edit down to 22 minutes. They can make that show look like anything they want. We were a little nervous-they could make us look good, or they could make us look bad.
"We wanted to run the first round heads-up, on the motor, no nitrous, but they wouldn't go for it, so we ended up going heads-up on bottle. We negotiated for lane choice earlier, and we picked the right lane. AMP also wanted the right lane, and we only picked it to tick them off. First round, they beat us by several car lengths. Second round, we negotiated two car lengths, and they beat us again. So we then negotiated for six car lengths, and we won that by two car lengths. [The first two races can be seen on AMP's Web site, ampperformance.com, but the third and fourth runs are missing.-ed.] "They claimed they hurt their engine, but we weren't buyin' it. Why would we believe anything they said? They had beat up their bearings on the third run, and they didn't have any oil pressure. So we taunted them, 'Hey you can't run that car, it's unsafe.' [Hint: Taunting isn't good for karma.-ed.]
"For the fourth round, we negotiated four car lengths, which should've been neck-and-neck at the finish line. A hundred feet off the starting line, they split their block in two because they were spraying a single shot at 500 hp, and everybody knows you can't do that with a Ford. It was a spectacular oil fire. Big ball of flame-very exciting. [Can you feel the bad karma building yet?-ed.]
"Then in Joliet for the PHR shoot, the rear end kicked some gear lube out of the vent, which oiled the right slick and put the car into the wall. It happened in front of a lot of people, which is good. Our motto is, 'Win or crash, but always put on a show.' If people go to our Web site, www.weracehardcore.com, they can see the in-car video of Brett trying to save it. It's real fun."
|A CLOSER LOOK |
| Model: || Danielle Bowers |
| Hometown: || Davison, MI |
| Birthday: || 1-May-81 |
| Occupation: || marketing manager, Hardcore Racing |
| Marital Status: || single |
| Children: || Alexis, 8; Gabriel, 17 months |
| Height: || 5'3" |
| Weight: || 108 lbs. |
| Hair: || blonde |
| Eyes: || green |
| Favorite cars: || LS1 Trans Am, Shelby Mustang |
| Likes: || dancing, drag racing, shopping, working out |
The Other Side Of The Story:
AMP Performance '89 Mustang
We called Chris Ciolek of AMP Performance in Phoenix, Arizona, to get his side of the story. They built and raced the '89 Mustang that Hardcore Racing won in its "Pinks" match up: "We flat-out over-powered the block and the car. That car went 9.0s at 153 in testing, and it's a factory 351 block, which doesn't hold up well to 1,000-plus horsepower. It's a pretty stealthy car as far as the engine compartment goes. We were banking on it being judged by that, and it worked.
"It was a stock 351 block with forged internals, it had a main-cap girdle, Roush iron heads-which are the old SVO N351 heads-an Edelbrock Victor Jr. intake, a Braswell 950 carb, and 12.5:1 compression. For the driveline, we had a Performance Automatic C4 trans with a PTC 10-inch nitrous converter, and an 8.8-inch rear with 33-spline Moser axles and 4.10 gears. We were using an NX nitrous plate, and we were only putting 250 on it. We didn't have 500 on it like Hardcore says. [We aren't in a position to verify either claim. You decide.-ed.] At AMP Performance, we had a lot of cars running 9.30s at that power level on a production block with no problems. On that night though, the car was running really well, probably better than in testing. It was really cool that night and the air was better. The tune was right on the money, but it was flat-out too much power. We knew we were on borrowed time, and we just ran out of luck. [AMP split the block in half, a well-known weak point in production Windsor blocks.-ed]
"After the taping, we bought the car back from Hardcore for five grand. It was a fair price. We're building a 383-inch [351-Windsor based] single turbo for it now. I would definitely do the show again, even with Hardcore."
BY THE NUMBERS
Hardcore Racing * Flint, MI
'85 Pontiac Firebird * Total cost to build: approx. $25,000
Best quarter-mile ET: 9.30 at 142 mph
| Engine || |
| Type: || 350 Chevy small-block bored and stroked to 383 ci (4.04 bore x 3.75 stroke) |
| Block: || Chevrolet truck block |
| Compression Ratio: || 13.8:1 |
| Oiling: || Stock wet sump with Moroso oil pan |
| Rotating Assembly: || Eagle 4340 forged crank and rods, JE forged flat-top pistons |
| Cylinder Heads: || World Products Motown 024150 |
| Camshaft: || COMP solid roller (270/279 @ .050,.696/.660" lift) |
| Valvetrain: || Dart valves (2.08/1.60), Jesel 1.5:1 int./1.6 ex. rockers & Trend pushrods |
| Induction: || World Products Motown intake, Holley 1050 Dominator |
| Power Adder: || Wilson Pro-Flow two-stage nitrous plate (150 hp & 200 hp) |
| Ignition: || MSD 7AL-2 Plus |
| Built By: || Hardcore Racing |
| Drivetrain || |
| Transmission: || Hughes Turbo 400, 8" 5,000-stall, Hughes converter, B&M shifter |
| Rear Axle: || Ford 9" rear, 4.56:1 gears w/Strange spool |
| Chassis || |
| Front Suspension: || coil-over conversion, ("it came with the car!" -Gary Penn) QA1 shocks |
| Rear Suspension: || Hardcore Racing torque arm |
| Brakes: || Wilwood discs, front; stock drums, rear |
| Wheels & Tires || |
| Wheels: || Weld Draglite 4.5 x 15, front; Weld Draglite 10 x15, rear |
| Tires: || Mickey Thompson 26 x 4.50-15 ET Front; Mickey Thompson ET Drag 28 x 10.00-15, rear |