UDPATE, 2 October 2022
In Drag Challenge testing at Heathcote Park Raceway today, Keith’s Camaro set a new personal best of 8.49-seconds at 160 mph! That puts the Chevy in exactly the same kind of territory that Alvin Vella drives in his all-conquering Ford Capri, and that means it’ll be an interesting sight to see at the Pacemaker Radial Aspirated Class Drag Challenge ’22, October 25-29. is going to happen
The story so far
Keith Hards and his son Jack have been part of the Drag Challenge family for many years. But for 2022, they’ve stepped it up with an eight-second all-motor combo for Keith’s 1969 Camaro aiming for the straight Pacemaker radial-inspired class crown. Keith has owned first-gen Camaros for more than 30 years, and our 2018 DC is what initially brought him out of racing retirement. “He was never meant to go back to the strip – until Drag Challenge came along!” He laughs.
First published in the August 2022 issue. Street Machine
For the 2018 event, Keith threw together a 570 cubic inch big block from spare parts and threw it into the Camaro. “The pistons on one side were ceramic and not on the other. It was an engagement of a motor, but it ran,” he says. The combo might have been basic, but the big white beast was capable of high nine-second time slips. Tha, who successfully completed DC in both 2018 and 2019.
That success actually sold off the big block to make way for a new monster. “A block from Darwin was following how the Camaro went to the event, and because of the coverage Street Machine Granted, he wanted to buy the engine from us.
This gave Keith and good mate Frank Marchese of Dandy Engines the perfect excuse to dial the Camaro up to 11. They decided to stick with the aspirated big-block Chev concept, but with an all-new mill that would have the capacity. Running in the mid-eights and still doing the street mail needed to tackle DC. “I’m an old-school guy, so I like my aspirated, carby stuff rather than turbos and nitrous,” says Keith. “For me, it’s more of a challenge when you’re ambitious because there’s no ‘boost-up’ switch to play with. What you go to the track with is what you have.”
Frank designed a brand new package for the Camaro with a bunch of dandy engine fruit. A 634ci Dart big-block sheave copied a Byront crank, Oliver rods and diamond pistons, sealed with a pair of massive Brodex Big Duke 14.5-degree heads. The rod is a Dandy Engines custom grind roller unit, while sitting atop the Edelbrock intake manifold is a throttle body that’s part of a FuelTech EFI system. “Like I said, I’m a carby guy, but starting to think about what FuelTech can do, and it blows me away!” says Keith. “It still has challenges to be ambitious, but what we can play with now is very different from what I’ve done before.”
Never seen 1100rwhp so easy. No nitrous, turbos or blowers are used to help the Dart Shave built 634ci dandy engines – just some MS109 race fuel and fine-tuning on a laptop with FuelTech EFI.
Frank took care of the engine build and tuning, while Keith, his son Jack and long-time friend Tony Van Genneken assembled the rest of the Camaro in Keith’s shed in Warrnambool, Victoria. “I work on the car, but I can’t weld for shit, so Tony takes care of the fabrication,” says Keith.
To cope with the new Donk, the guys swapped out the old gearbox for a redcase Powerglide, while the rear end got an upgrade to a full-floater nine-inch differential. Those changes were well and truly justified when Frank spun the Camaro on the dyno, as it easily punched out 1109rwhp on MS109 race fuel. “Once you go above that 1000hp, the game changes,” Keith says. “That’s when you need really good parts and really good people to make it all work.”
Drag Challenge Weekend Victoria resumed at Heathcote Park Raceway in March this year, and Keith looked in good shape to frighten reigning Pacemaker Radial-inspired champion Alvin Vella and his Mk1 Capri, on the day. A 8.87 @ 154mph at the end. Unfortunately, the first set of road miles on the punishing 400km journey to Mildura found a weak spot in the Camaro which ended Keith and Jack’s weekend prematurely. “We were using alloy Jessel rockers, because that’s all we could do at the time, and we broke all our spares along the way,” says Keith. “It was a real shame to throw in the towel at the end of the first day, but the greatest thing about the drag challenge was everyone who stopped by to make sure we were OK and if they could Offer a hand.”
After the rocker drama, the guys pulled the engine and sent it back to Dandy for a few more changes, so they could get the car ready for our five-day DC event in October. “We’ll obviously be putting a set of steel rockers on it, which are on the order of what we’re talking about,” Frank says. “We’ll also be changing the throttle body, maybe adding a new camshaft and tweaking the compression ratio.
As a Pacemaker Radial Aspirated competitor, the Camaro only has 275 radials to pick up 1100rwhp, but because of the standard tubs, Keith says the car can’t take much of a tire anyway.
“The challenge with an engine like this is making it work on the road as well as on the track, which a lot of people don’t understand,” continues Frank. “You can’t just promote on the street for a package like that.”
While the engine is finished, Keith, Tony and Jack will make some minor chassis and driveline improvements to the Camaro. “We’re looking to get around 8.60 out of it with some development, so hopefully the parts shortage won’t delay us too much and we can get the car back together soon – not two weeks out from the event. !” Keith laughs.
Keith ran an 8.87 @ 154mph on the first day of Drag Challenge Weekend 2022, and with the mid-8s as his new target, the Camaro should be a real challenger at the big five-day event later this year. .
We can’t wait to see the Camaro back in the lane at Drag Challenge ’22, October 24-29, where Keith will hopefully make it to the mid-eights.
1969 Chevrolet Camaro
|the class:||Pacemaker radially aspirated|
|engine:||634ci Dart Big Block Sheave|
|Heads:||Brodix Big Duke 14.5 degrees|
|Spark:||Fuel Tech Smart Coils|
|Fuel System:||Magna Fuel 750 Pump|
|transfer:||Red Case Powerglide|
|Difference:||9in, odd centre, 3.89:1 gears|
Tony Van Jenken; Frank Marchese and the Dandy Engine; Nads at FuelTech; Speed Pro; Ekman Engineering; Scott Cortina at The Gazzard Brothers; Matt Lampard at Lumper Motorsport; mountains; Paul Rogers; Chris Ford 9-inch Duffs/Performance Duff Center; Sam van den Broek; Jon Downing; My wife Andrea, my son Jake and my daughters Paige and Ashley