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7s The Hard Way

HardCore's Blown F-Body Makes Gen III History

Brian Wood Jun 8, 2005

It was not long ago when 9 seconds, and even 10 seconds were seemingly impossible barriers for a production-based block. No matter how much you bore, stroke, spray or boost it, you can only get but so far. So when Michigan speedshop Hardcore Motorsports began walking down that lonely road to become the first LS1 in the country to break into the sevens, it would also be carrying the hopes and dreams of the entire F-body community on its back. At a crucial time in GM EFI history where fans have few role models in the NHRA or NSCA and no F-body replacement is in sight, it is important for someone to keep the torch lit.

January 19th, 2005
8:00 a.m.: The Hardcore Motorsports crew arrives at Bradenton, Florida's Motorsports Park and begin prepping (Hardcore co-owner) Ronnie Duke's '02 Trans Am. Many months of building, tweaking, and testing have lead up to this point, so extra precaution is paid to make sure the race car is safe as is its driver, Jason McNeil. Originally coming into existence as Duke's street car, it has since undergone many incarnations up until this point. Dubbed "The Mule" because it became a home to cast-off parts from Duke's mid 8-second T/A convertible (see GMHTP Jul. '04), The Mule has proved to be the fastest of the bunch despite its second-hand cache of parts. The latest recipe for Hardcore's formula for speed employs a Procharger F-2R blowing water-cooled air into a highly modified C5R block and heads.

Perhaps the biggest challenge with this project is maintaining durability. "We are pushing the block way beyond its intended capacity," says Hardcore Motorsports Marketing Director Gary Penn. "You are talking about crank journals that are designed for 700 horsepower and we are around 1500." While he wouldn't elaborate on all of the engine specs, Gary did say that Hardcore has its own dry-sleeving technology used purely for increasing strength in the C5R's Siamese-bore cylinder walls. In addition, the crew fabricated a girdle to keep the billet main caps from walking. Gary also said the T/A receives only 30- to 50-weight Royal Purple motor oil to help preserve the bearings and crank as much as possible, which gets changed after every event.

As the output of the blown Gen III motor has grown, so too have the demands on the appropriately named Hardcore crew. Putting 36 straight hours into the T/A before test day is not at all uncommon for the skilled group of technicians, machinists, and fabricators. Now that test day had arrived on this cool January morning, they would have another hard day of work ahead of them. As the track was being prepped and that sweet, bubble-gum smell of VHT wafted through the air, down in the pits the crew got started on changing the spark plugs, and then filling the 3-gallon fuel cell to the top with Torco leaded racing fuel. Next, a thorough visual inspection began on the motor and chassis. Of particular concern in high-horsepower blower cars (such as this one) is the condition of the supercharger belt. If crank speed drops off dramatically from tire shake or bouncing off the rev limiter, teeth can get torn off the belt. The high-end Kevlar piece that Hardcore uses gets changed about every 8 to 10 passes. The tire pressure was checked and a few psi is added to make an even 14 psi on both 29.5x10.5 Mickey Thompson drag slicks. Lastly, the intercooler reservoir was filled with four bags of ice and several gallons of water.

The track has promised a 10 a.m. start, so as that time rapidly approaches and passes, the crew continue prepping the car. The electric oil heater in the dry sump tank is kicked on and the oil is brought up to temperature, which in this case is around 160 degrees. With the chassis on jackstands, one of the crew members hopped in, started up the car, and spun the tires for a little bit to warm up the differential fluid. A close eye was kept on the water temperature gauge to make sure it did not exceed 230 degrees. Meanwhile, a failed baffle on the crankcase vent caused oil to spray out of the breather and onto the top of the engine. Luckily, Hardcore carried a TIG welder on the trailer, which quickly amended the problem. The process of warming up the car then began again before it was ready to head to the staging lanes.

11:00 a.m.: Tuner and driver Jason McNeil headed out of the pits and up to the burnout box. After giving the meats a quick spin through the water, Jason cleaned off the tires until a healthy plume of white smoke was generated, obscuring some of the track workers behind him. After letting off the line lock and trailing the smoke up to the starting line, the T/A was staged and stalled to the 5500-rpm first step of the rev limiter. When the Christmas tree went green the trans brake was let out, the front wheels went up, and it was hello blue sky.

For the initial hits, it was decided that Jason would only be going half-track until the suspension was dialed in. Initially, the shocks had been set too loose and required stiffening by a few clicks to slow down the rear suspension. The tire pressure also needed to be tweaked; it was originally set at 14 psi for the baseline. On each of the three partial runs following, a pound or two was taken out until it reached 9 psi, which appeared to be a bit too much because the tires began cupping and wanted to shake. It was then decided that 10 psi was ideal, and after lunch it would be time to make a full run. In the days and weeks prior, Hardcore managed to dial in the suspension pretty well by making adjustments to the rear sway bar to keep the T/A launching straight and by pulling timing in the lower rpm to keep the 29.5x10.5 tires from breaking loose. The final pieces to the puzzle were the tire pressure and shocks, which would be dictated by the track conditions, as well as a set of stock V-6 Firebird springs installed the night before. The softer springs added more compliance and kinetic energy so that the custom-fabricated torque arm and control arms could do their jobs.

1:00 p.m.: Lunch time. Master welder and fabricator Mike Litwaitis threw some slabs of meat on the grill in preparation for the hungry masses. The former Indy team member is a top-notch machinist, but on track day, he is usually more inclined to be utilizing his culinary skills and taking care of the rig. While the feeding frenzy ensued there was little talk of breaking into the 7s.

2:30 p.m.: With full stomachs, the crew got to work on prepping the car for its first full pass. For consistency, the same procedure was followed in between each of the runs as at the start of the day. With the fuel cell topped off, the intercooler filled with icy water, and the tire pressure set at 10 psi, Jason headed for the burnout box. By this point, the track temperature was up and the air was a calm 70 degrees--perfect track weather. In addition, the track only got stickier as the day wore on with Pro Mod and Pro Stockers laying more than their share of rubber.

Once again, Jason spun the tires through the water then rolled up a few feet, as directed by Crew Chief Brett Templeton. The line lock was flipped on, the rpm pegged at 7000 rpm, and the burnout started. Once at the top of First gear the 400 is shifted to Second--a formula that took some experimentation as well as consultation with John Spar from B&M. Once the tires started to bite, Brett gave Jason the thumbs-up and the line lock was released, catapulting the T/A forward.

Through the radio headset and with hand signals, Brett guided Jason into the groove. Now that the Trans Am was staged, the transbrake was engaged, and the 385-cube mill and F-2R blower began to sing a two-part harmony; the engine's 5500-rpm baritone was matched by the Procharger's falsetto whine. In one violent motion the transbrake was let out and First gear was engaged, pressing Jason further back into the seat. The tires crinkled and ripped into the pavement as the front wheels lifted up about 2 feet and the body sunk on top of the rear tires. The back wheels tripped the 60-foot sensor in 1.24 seconds as the front tires made their way back to earth. Eight-thousand rpm was reached by the Turbo 400 at the top of each of its three gears before the black rocket went through the traps.

An eternity passes as the T/A's parachute deploys. Finally, the board ignites and simultaneously, the crew erupts--7.94 at 176 mph! Hardcore's Mule is now the fastest LS1 in the country--on stock suspension and 10.5-inch tires, no less!Gary Penn later commented, "We were all so elated because this is the goal we had been working toward; it was the reason everyone worked such long hours so many days. And that excitement was immediately followed by a sigh of relief that we had finally done what we set out to do."

Following the 7-second pass, cell phones rang and message boards were flooded. Who will be the next to break into the 7s, and could Hardcore do it again? Well, one of those questions was answered the following day when Jason piloted the T/A to a 7.96 run with similar track conditions. As for the competition, they certainly have a lot of catching up to do.


On this wicked 385, Hardcore fabricated the intake manifold for increased plenum volume and a smooth transition in the runners. The company has continued to make improvements to this design since its inception on the previous 408 iron-block that inhabited the engine bay. An enormous Aeromotive mechanical fuel pump and a more conventional-style MSD coil and distributor must also be used to keep up with the demands of the boost.

Before the first run, and in between each run, the car goes up on the jackstands and is checked thoroughly as you can see here. Racing at the 7-second level is dead-serious.

The ignition timing must be checked and reset quite often as well because detonation in this motor could be fatal for both the engine and the driver! Overall, the T/A runs about 19 degrees total timing, and the air/fuel ratio is kept about 12 to 1.

John Force ain't got nothing on Jason.

Though the tire pressure and shocks were not dialed in yet, Hardcore's custom-fabricated adjustable rear sway bar and torque arm kept the T/A launching straight as an arrow.

One of the crew members records all of the runs on video so that they can review the tires and the position of the car in between runs...

...This has proved to be the most useful in keeping the Pontiac launching the way it should to break into the 7s as it did here.

Pushing the Procharger F2-R beyond its capabilities caused Hardcore to send it back to ATI in December for some freshening and a few stronger components. In case you are wondering, the R doesn't stand for racing, it's for reverse, as in reverse rotation. This allows them to utilize the cavity for the fog light as a channel for inlet air. Also notice the extra bracing on the bracket for the head unit.

When the crankcase vent decided to sneeze oil all over the engine the crew went hard to work at cleaning up the top half with some brake cleaner before TIG welding the breather assembly.

Fellow Pontiac racer and Pro Stock driver Greg Anderson was among several pros testing that day, and he was interested to see what was cooking underneath the hood of this bad boy.

Driver Jason McNeil said the T/A was surprisingly stable all day and "never gave any indication that it wanted to do anything funny." He credited the crew for the success of the car--both in putting the car together and in thorough between-run maintenance, which has kept it durable and consistent.

Crew Chief Brett Templeton has proved an invaluable member of the team--he's seen here getting Jason lined up in the groove.

The custom fabricated air-to-water intercooler was made by Procharger and plumbed by Hardcore. This larger unit was installed in January following December's low 8-second timeslips, and is capable of supporting over 2,000 hp. The interior is surprisingly intact, with the addition of the NHRA-legal full rollcage, Sparco Evo 2 racing seat, and gauges.

A chain is only as strong as its weakest link, and you won't find any weak links here from owner Ronnie Duke (third from right) to Crew Chief Brett Templeton, as well as Mark Fryfogle and Eric Von Hentshele, who are responsible for the engine and driveline.


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