"Go out on top!" Although this is seemingly the mantra of successful pro-athletes, it also rings true for competitors of every generation. Case in point: after his last race at the 1984 NHRA World Finals in Pomona, California, Coleman Roddy of Port Arthur, Texas, saw the way that Competition Eliminator was progressing and promptly sold off his World Champion '84 Pontiac Firebird D/MP Competition Eliminator race car and all racing related backup parts. According to Coleman, "After winning the championship for the second year in a row, the first running a '65 Vette in E/Gas, the impact of the dollars necessary to remain a champion was taking its toll.
"No longer was it solely about competing for the love of drag racing, but it turned into constantly searching for sponsorship funds and scratching to make ends meet."
As the World Champ and the winner of the prestigious Quaker State Cup, there was nowhere to turn after being named the top Sportsman racer. After collecting his $15,000 check and liquidating the racing assets, Coleman went back to a more normal life and dedicated himself to the business along with his racing partner and dad, proprietors of R&R Auto Sales in Port Arthur. The race car was gone, but the memories of two Winternationals victories and being the first NHRA driver to win back to back Comp Eliminator championships never faded. Sure being a local legend alongside Port Arthur's own Janice Joplin and Jimmy Johnson was great, but it wasn't until 2003 when a lightly used '02 Z28 rolled into auction that the racing bug struck again.
With age comes wisdom and this time around a return to competitive action wasn't on the agenda, but rather building a quick and reliable drag car for the pure fun of dropping the hammer and riding out a pristine 9-second pass.
Purchased for resale by R&R Auto Sales, the '02 Z28 quickly became a favorite of Coleman and he enjoyed it so much that he started heading out to Ben Bruce Memorial Airpark Raceway in Evadale, Texas, to relax and let the Camaro run the quarter-mile. After only a few practice runs on drag radials the car posted 12.90 times, and soon thereafter the Z28 became a permanent fixture at R&R. Over the next couple of years the Z28 slowly transformed from weekend fun car to part-time racer. After more than 300 runs on the LS1 and low 10-second timeslips in his back pocket, it was time to step up the performance and build a more powerful engine combination. Before getting too far ahead of ourselves, remember that with a Competition Eliminator background and a slew of connections to the legends of drag racing, a few items would be consistent. First, as with his 280-cube, GMC-equipped '84 Bird that ran 9.15s with dual Quads, the engine had to be naturally aspirated and be capable of spinning to the moon. Sure, maybe it wouldn't cross the finish line north of 10,000 rpm like his Comp motors did, but it had to make power much as its small-block cousin, with a highpitched shriek and shrouded with otherworldly super-secret camshaft voodoo.
After consulting with Thunder Racing on available engine combinations, a plan came together to build a largercube motor using a fresh LS2 block. Build duties would naturally fall to David Nickens and his wildly successful Nickens Racing Engines of Conroe, Texas. According to Roddy, "Nickens has been at the top of the field for decades in engine building for professional race classes, and, after winning back-to-back titles with his engines, it was a logical choice to have David build a high-revving LS2." The stock bore of 4.00 inches was line honed to 4.015 inches, while the 3.622-inch stroke was fitted with a Lunati Pro-Billet 4340 forged crankshaft pushing the stroke to 4.00. Rather than utilizing off-the-shelf pistons, Roddy contacted his old friend Ed Ersis of JE pistons and in combination with Nickens, a custom-built, flat-top piston was designed that included redesigned side skirts, gas ports and lowtension ring packs. After blueprinting the assembly, a set of Thunder Racing billet main caps secure the rotating assembly. Rounding out the bottomend is a blueprinted stock oil pump, factory oil pan and an ATI Super Damper harmonic balancer.
With a solid bottom-end built, Coleman turned to Brian Tooley at Total Engine Airflow (TEA) in Tallmadge, Ohio, for cylinder head expertise. A fresh set of GM LS6 heads were utilized and were subjected to TEA's Stage porting. After enlarging the combustion chambers to match the 4.00-inch bore and extensive CNC-porting, the heads were milled to 62cc in order to achieve an 11.5:1 compression ratio. After receiving new seats and guides, Manley stainless valves, measuring 2.08 and 1.60 inches respectively, were fitted and a competition multi-angle valve job was performed, allowing the heads to flow 325 cfm at .600 lift on the intake and 260 cfm on the exhaust. Comp cams 921 double springs and titanium retainers along with Thunder Racing 7.3750-inch hardened chrome-moly pushrods work in conjunction with a fresh set of stock hydraulic roller lifters and GM 1.7 rocker arms to swing a custom Thunder Racing/Comp Cams hydraulic roller camshaft. Although the cams specs are proprietary, guess above 280 duration at .050 with Mothra-like lifts approaching .800, and you will be in the ballpark.
With an efficient piston and head design, attention turned to the fuel and exhaust systems. Topping off the heads is a TEA-ported FAST 90mm intake that is fed by a Nick Williams 90mm billet throttle body that receives air from a GM 85mm MAF, Whisper lid and K&N air filter. A matched set of Bosch 37-pound fuel injectors provides the hungry motor fresh 108-octane racing no-lead that is pushed forward by a Racetronix in-tank fuel pump. Stock coils, spark plugs and plug wires light the fire in the engine, which was expertly tuned by Geoff Skinner of Thunder Racing using EFI Live. In order to evacuate the cylinders in rapid fashion a set of Dynatech 1 3/4- to 1 7/8-inch stepped headers were ceramic coated and dumped into a 3 1/2-inch collector before exiting through dual-tuned 1-foot long length exhaust pipes.
To ensure that the drivetrain wasup to the task, Coleman called upon his association with Mark Williams Enterprises and had them supply him a bullet-proof 12-bolt Chevy rearend assembly. Equipped with Williams 33-spline Hi-Torque axles, steel spool and Richmond 9310 lightened 4.30 rear gears, the 1350 U-joints mate to a Mark Williams 3 1/2-inch aluminum driveshaft. Transmission duties are handled by a purpose built TH350 that was assembled by Greg Freeman of Baker's Transmission in Orange, Texas, to Comp Eliminator specs. Helping the TH350 handle the power was a full arsenal of ATI Performance Products parts, including aluminum forward and direct drum and 36- element sprag. A stock input shaft, reverse valvebody and Kevlar clutches easily handle the horsepower. Putting the torque into motion is an 8-inch ATI Treemaster MRT stall converter that flashes to 4500 rpm. When combined with the TH350's stock 2.52 low-gear set and an ATI Compu-Flow transbrake the engine quickly leaps into its power zone. Rounding out the transmission is an ATI steel flywheel, transmission cooler and scatter shield for added security and cool fluids. A Turbo-Action Cheetah SCS shifter with reverse-pattern and command center controls the gear changes and houses switches for the line-lock, trans-brake, water pump and two-stage rev limiter.
Very little had to be done in the way of lightening the car or altering the stock appearance for 9-second passes. Optioned as a "Billboard Car," the Z28 was literally a stripper with roll-up windows and a low-line stereo. "Madman" and Thunder went to work, and the A/C and HVAC systems were removed and a Burkhart Chassis HVAC plate was bolted to the firewall. Inside the cabin, the airbags and rear seat were extricated along with the factory stereo, and a single Kirkey aluminum racing seat replaced the buckets. A 10-point rollcage custom built by John Harrison of Houston, Texas, provides occupant safety and a solid foundation for the suspension. Out back, a Madman & Co. "Outlaw" torque arm with integral transmission cross member and weld-in subframe connectors are combined with chromemoly lower "Outlaw" control arms and Panhard bar, which all feature doubleadjustable aircraft grade rod ends. A Madman & Co rear sway bar is welded in and a matching wheelie bar with adjustable and removable bars is utilized to fine-tune the rate and upward mobility of the light Z. AFCO coilovers featuring 150-pound rate springs and Twin-tube multi-adjustable drag-race shocks allow efficient rear weight transfer and almost infinite adjustability for varying track conditions. To further lighten the car and provide better front-end control a PA Performance K-member and BMR upper and lower control arms were sourced, while the power steering rack was converted to a Madman & Co manual rack. AFCO coilovers featuring 250-pound spring rates and adjustable shocks round out the front end.
After some initial track testing and adjustments in order to optimize the car's launch, the meager 404 cubicinch LS2 turned a freakish 9.41 at 139.96 mph with a 1.25 60-ft time. Having also gone 5.91 in the 1/8th mile dispels any notion that the combination is only a top-end charger.
According to Coleman, "All of my LS drag race friends call the car a 'freak.' The Z28 consistently runs mid 9s and walks around most other big-cube or power-adder cars with what I describe as a modern day Comp Eliminatorstyle motor build. Winning an NHRA Championship or maximizing a car's potential is all about experimenting to find the last inch of power and taking care of the details. Having made associations with some of the most successful builders in the country and allowing Thunder Racing/Madman & Co. to set up the chassis has made this a truly enjoyable experience. Launching the Z28 to the horizon and holding on as it shrieks to yet another 9-second pass is fun-especially when there's no pressure involved. Sure it was fun to rub elbows with Don Garlits and Bob Glidden and get a peck on the cheek by the Winston girls, but it wasn't the lifestyle for me. I would like to continue having fun with the car and have already had Madman fabricate and install a funny car rollcage to support future power upgrades."
With an LSX block purchased and being worked on at Nicken's Racing, the 427 should be complete by early '08 and take Coleman deep into the 8s. If nothing else, it will be awe-inspiring to hear yet another example of Comp Eliminator chicanery rev to the moon and launch to the stars.
Next time you head out to the Gulf Coast, drop on out to Evadale and watch Coleman relax in his Z28. On the off-chance that you don't see him there, stop into R&R Auto Sales or wander over to the Museum of the Gulf Coast in Port Arthur and check out the Coleman Roddy display in the Sports Legends exhibit area besides other Texas legends like Bum Phillips and Jimmy Johnson.
After winning the '83 NHRA E/Gas Competition Eliminator World Championship with a '65 Vette, Coleman shocked the racing community and switched classes with an unproven car. After purchasing a brand new '84 Firebird it was promptly converted into a D/MP Comp Eliminator racecar and debuted at the opening national event. Right out of the gate the Firebird set class records and rolled through the competition to claim an unprecedented 2nd consecutive Comp Eliminator Championship for Coleman, plus the coveted Quaker State Cup as the Top Sportsman racer. Don't believe for a second that the accolades went to his head. Sure, he has a permanent display in the Sports Legends exhibit at the Museum of the Gulf Coast-but it was only through investigative research that this tidbit was uncovered. Coleman would rather launch high and hard than sing his own praises.