It is a fact: Today’s youth are nothing like older generations. They don’t work as hard, they don’t appreciate the finer things in the muscle car life, and they are more about computer speed versus real speed. But, wait a minute, there is an exception to the norm, a hope that all of today’s youth are not lost and misguided. The proof is in Blake Catalanotto, a 23-year-old recent college graduate who built a ’67 Camaro RS/SS not because it was a hand-me-down from his dad, but because it is the car of his dreams. It wasn’t a gift nor did a professional shop, using his dad’s credit card, build it. It is a first-gen Camaro constructed in the comfort of his garage using greenbacks that he earned mowing lawns in neighborhoods across his hometown of Metairie, Louisiana, which lies just outside the city limits of New Orleans. Blake is the next generation of hot rodders, and a ray of hope for the future of this hobby and sport.
“I bought the car when I was only 14 years old because I knew they were hard to come by,” Blake says, in a typical New Orleans drawl. The F-body was built to run in a straight and fast fashion but it took many years of hard work and dedication to achieve that task. A rusty and incomplete body and chassis sat for a few years before the project was moved into the garage where he and his dad, Vincent, began taking it apart and formed a plan. He continues, “I originally wanted to just build a nice street/strip car but it snowballed from there. Once I decided to go heads-up racing I looked at NMCA Xtreme Street class and also the X275 drag radial class.” The X275 category is one that has swept through the Outlaw street-legal drag racing scene over the past few years. Like Xtreme Street, the category is based on conventional-style engine combinations with limited power adders and the racers must run cars with a stock-style chassis. Naturally the front suspension can be modified, but must still be based on the stock setup while out back a racer can employ either a stock rear suspension combination or a pair of ladder bars. The 275 moniker comes into play as it describes the tire limits—all racers must compete on 275R60-15 drag radials of which most utilize either a Mickey Thompson or Hoosier version of it. To run Xtreme Street Blake simply needs to add slicks, a few weight bars, and let it rip.
The car was finished in 2010 and Blake only went to a few test sessions as he learned the ins and outs of running a high-powered small-tire race car. He learned the basics of driving thanks to his start in Junior Dragsters and later handling the driving chores in his dad’s Top Sportsman Camaro. A few engine updates over the winter of 2010 and Blake came out swinging over the next few seasons. His best time is 4.85 at 145 mph, which works out to roughly 7.50s-7.60s on the quarter-mile length of track. After a few big events throughout the southeast, the car delivered Blake to a runner-up finish in X275 at Holly Springs Dragway late in 2011. He merely freshened his 521ci engine and Powerglide over the winter in anticipation of the following racing season. The goal is to push the engine harder as the 4.85 was accomplished with a small hit of nitrous, a number he won’t reveal but assured us there was a considerable amount of power left on the table. He is looking toward the 4.70s on the eighth-mile tracks as the top X275 racers run that quick at most racers with a few top runners going 4.60s when the weather conditions are favorable.
As mentioned earlier, all of the work was performed in the Catalanotto garage under the watchful eye of his dad and uncle, Carlo Catalanotto who is a noted heads-up Mustang racer. There were a few chores that did get completed outside of the family compound that includes the SFI 25.5 rollcage, ladder bar suspension, and front suspension modifications. Blake and his dad did all of the bodywork themselves save for applying the silver paint and clearcoat, which was another major chore completed by a professional body shop. It took several years for Blake to build it as he saved money and bought parts when his cash flow allowed it. The Camaro is an inspiration to today’s youth, a first-gen Camaro can be yours and Blake is living proof of it. No matter how quick Blake runs in 2012, the fact that this 23-year-old is racing a Camaro that is nearly twice as old as him is flat-out cool. And an even better part of the equation is that Blake proves that today’s youth is not totally lost.
Blake turned to Huntsville Engine and Performance to whip his big-block engine into shape. The foundation for the powerplant is a 521ci Brodix aluminum block, and it’s filled with a Callies crankshaft, GRP aluminum rods, and JE pistons. The JE pistons set the compression ratio at 13.5:1 keeping it nitrous-friendly since the nitrous oxide adds a lot of cylinder pressure on top of the compression. A custom COMP Cams camshaft is used to open and close the titanium valves but Blake was mute about the specs other than “it’s really big”. Moving topside, the Edelbrock Victor-Musi 24-degree cylinder heads were ported by Larry Meaux as was the Profiler intake manifold. Induction Solutions plumbed the intake with a single direct-port injection. Pro Systems was tapped for one of its Dominator-style carburetors. A complete MSD ignition system fires off the spark and the 7531 ignition box gives Blake and Seth James control of the power curve. The 7531 ignition allows them to utilize Slew Rate and build custom timing curves to help bring on the power smoothly. An Edelbrock Progressive Controller is also used to control the rate of nitrous entering the engine. All told the engine is estimated to be capable of 1,500 hp with the right nitrous tune-up, and controlling that power is paramount to keeping the 275 tires glued to the asphalt. BTE was tapped to build the Powerglide for this small-tire freak. It features a 1.80 First gear and Blake picked up a Neil Chance torque converter to go inside the bellhousing.
Externally the car has received two major body modifications, the first is the aluminum rear wing to help keep the car glued to the track at 180 mph. The other major upgrade was the Glasstek 6-inch cowl induction hood. Blake and his dad worked a considerable amount of hours fitting a host of original and aftermarket body panels. Once the body was straight and complete they spent countless hours sanding and prepping for the forthcoming Sikkens Silver paint. The result is a show-quality appearance that has even the most seasoned car builders stopping to take notice. Blake took the time to ensure all the factory chrome trim and bumpers looked perfect and fit properly. The stance is courtesy of a full racing-style suspension, and the Weld Racing wheels add a touch of class. One more thing to note, the car is not just clean on the topside, the underbelly is scrubbed, cleaned, and waxed just as frequently.
The interior is dominated by the Funny Car ’cage that makes up a big portion of the SFI 25.5 certification for all cars that run quicker than 8.50 but not below 7.50 in quarter-mile competition. Moving past the racy rollcage the original dashboard is intact, and Blake added a Racepak dashboard to keep track of the engine’s vitals and eliminate the need for several gauges. An Auto Meter shift light is placed on the aftermarket steering column in plain view. The passenger side of the car is dominated by racing components that include two nitrous bottles and easy access to the MSD ignition system and Racepak data acquisition. Blake mounted the Edelbrock Progressive Controller right behind the shifter so he can make adjustments based on track conditions as he pulls to the starting line. He sits comfortably in a Kirkey seat and is secured in it by a Stroud five-point harness. An onboard fire suppressor system was also added to the interior amongst the original door panels, dashboard, and other original interior components.
Chassis & Suspension
Blake built the Camaro to accelerate quickly on the dragstrip, and the suspension directly reflects that desire. Carlo Marphis is credited with all of the chassis and ’cage upgrades, as it was one area that Blake couldn’t do in-house. The rearend is a fabricated 9-inch housing that has a pair of ladder bars and coilover shock mounts welded to it. Marphis filled the housing with a Strange spool, 40-spline axles, and a top-secret rear gear. (Blake didn’t want to reveal the cogs because he said it took several gear ratios to find the optimal one with the 275 radials.) A pair of Strange double-adjustable rear shocks and Hypercoil coils keeps the back of the car from dragging on the ground. Up front the suspension is closer to stock as TRZ upper and lower control arms replace the factory units while Santhuff double-adjustable shocks help weight transfer. The combination of a custom timing curve, nitrous control, and aforementioned suspension components has helped Blake accomplish an impressive 1.19 60-foot on drag radials that feature about 10.5 inches of rubber on each side. The car also checks in at the scales at a rather portly 3,320 pounds.