BHS Camaro becomes instant success at first drag race

Jack C. Evans

The maroon 1968 Chevrolet Camaro with the “Go’n Bananas for Anna” sticker on it was ready for its first drag race: a loud, adrenaline-filled sprint down a runway that can be over in less than six seconds. “First was the staging, where the driver does the burnout to get heat into the tires,” Bearden’s transportation core teacher Mr. Robert McClure said. “Then he set up at the light, and when the green went on he was off.” But this wasn’t just any race to Mr. McClure or the trans core students with him. This was the first time they got to see the drag car that they built in action. Two years ago, Mr. McClure, using money supplied by the Knox County Career and Technical Education program, bought the school a Camaro. It didn’t even have an engine or a transmission at the time, but over 500 hours of work later, the machine was ready to race. That meant it had a new body, a new roll cage, new seats, new tires, and of course, a new engine and transmission. Almost everything had been changed, made better, lighter, and faster. And McClure’s students had done it all, with help from their teacher, the CTE program, and a few outside sources. “Not all high schools have both Auto Shop and Auto Body classes,” Mr. McClure explained. “We’re one of those, so South Doyle’s Auto Body students helped us with the exterior of our car while they work on their own for next year.” The result was a sleek, light, and aerodynamic body with room for big wheels in the back and a fresh coat of maroon paint. By the start of their debut race, the Top Wrench Competition at Knoxville Dragway on Saturday, Bearden’s team was as well prepared as they could be. They would be running in the Big-Block engine class against the Halls High School car and a two-car effort from Central High School. At stake was a mere $150, but also coveted bragging rights and the valuable experience of a first race win. In a sport where fractions of a second count and reaction time is everything, an experienced driver is vital. Fortunately, that’s what the team has found in Greg Hopkins. “I started racing when I was a kid,” Hopkins said, “30 years ago.” A manager at Home Depot by day, Hopkins was told by a friend that Bearden needed a non-student driver, and instantly volunteered. “This was my first race in about 10 years,” he said. “But it’s great to be back into it now.” Hopkins’s 10 years off didn’t show in the first run against Central; he reached the end of the 1/8 th mile strip in 5.96 seconds, his fastest of the day. “As much as we work on the car, you still gain the most time from your driver’s skill,” team member and Bearden senior Alex Williams said. But in the following, closer races, Williams and his fellow students’ work made the difference. While other cars were lifting their front tires up as much as 40 inches at the start, the maroon Camaro lifted three, allowing more torque to be used for forward momentum. Hopkins insists this is because of the well-balanced set-up; perfected during the car’s building. “I’ve built a few drag cars myself,” he said. “But this one is very consistent, very well prepped, and very exciting.” Bearden dispatched Central’s second car as well, and soon Mr. McClure and his students found themselves in the final. First came the staging. Hopkins did the burnout perfectly, heating up the massive rear tires to peak temperature and grip. Then he set up at the light, and when the green went on he was off. Bearden’s race ended in 5.98 seconds; soon enough to seal the win. Now, with $150 dollars and a new reputation as the best in Big-Block, they’re looking ahead to more upgrades, more development, and more sponsors. But they already have one important sticker on their car; two dancing bananas that read “Go’n Bananas for Anna.” “We’re sponsoring a little girl with leukemia,” Mr. McClure said. “Her name’s Anna and Anna really loves bananas. “It’s not a lot, but we want to help keep her motivation up.” The next race, in May, will be just as important as the first, as it will serve as a benchmark for every team’s offseason work. Starting June 2012, high school drag races will be run regularly, almost every week. And the maroon Camaro with the “Go’n Bananas for Anna” sticker will be there, too – for the staging, the burnout, the set up, and the green light.