Jessie Coulter is the quintessential hot rodder. He builds what he drives. He can weld stainless steel. He can twist a wrench. He can machine a part. Hell, he can even prep and paint the thing. And to the mechanically challenged, he seems a wizard, always thinking about the step beyond and what it will take to get him there.
He has other endearing qualities, too. He loves his family and his friends. He doesn't cotton to the ordinary. When asked what was his most memorable experience with his 1991 Camaro he says this: "Hot Rod Reunion 2010. [Friend] Kenny Patton and I got the car out and drove it around town, 14:1 compression, aluminum rods, parachute hanging out the back, and a 10-pound nitrous bottle between Kenny's feet!" Driving a race car on the street tends to make people think you might be a little daft, irresponsible at the very least. But then they aren't Jessie Coulter.
He hails from tiny Smiths Grove, Kentucky, over in the southwest corner of the Commonwealth and just a holler from Bowling Green where he worked for Holley (twice) as the nitrous oxide tech support guy, and though he describes himself as a self-employed mechanic for the last decade, we know him for much more than that. His mantra: Do what is working. When it stops working, stop doing it.
This Camaro has occupied him since 2000 and has undergone several iterations. He found it in the AutoTrader and bought it as a daily driver—a replacement for its white twin that he'd sold. It had a 350 TPI engine with 115,000 miles. Though the wheels and some of the paint had faded to pink, the body was straight. He swapped in a 1997 LT1 motor. He had the heads ported, added a small cam, and a dry nitrous kit. The car ran mid-11s all day long. He poked it with a six-speed and converted the nitrous to a custom nozzle system. The Camaro ran consistent 10.80s against cars with much more money shaking between their fenders.
Money wasn't an object to Jessie because he didn't have much to spend. He made do with what he could afford. He'd nuke a piston before an event and spend the next two days swapping in a junk short-block. In 2008, he liked the looks of NMCA's Street Radial class and he ran it through 2010 when it was dissolved. Jessie didn't poor-mouth like a skank. He just parked the car. He sold the motor and tried to sell the rolling chassis as well, but the market for 8.50-second 'caged third-gen Camaros was thin. The offers sucked. Jessie wouldn't capitulate. So the transformation began with help from Kenny Patton (best friend and right hand); George Smith (family friend and race car fabricator); son Tyler (parts cleaner and welder's helper); Autumn (wife); and daughters Lexi, Haley, and Briley (who lost time with their dad while he was being consumed by the garage.)
For his current platform, Jessie quit the juice and embraced non-parasitic forced air. He bought a 6.0-liter cylinder block and carried it to Scott Carter at RaceTech Engine Machining in Clarkston, Michigan. RaceTech blueprinted the components and assembled a short-block equipped with ARP 1⁄2-inch studs. The bottom end features a stock crankshaft, GRP aluminum connecting rods, and 11:1 JE pistons. The bumpstick is a COMP Cams hydraulic roller (0.615/0.610-inch lift at 243/249 degrees duration) and linked to the crank by COMP double-roller timing gear. Brian Tooley Racing in Bardstown, Kentucky, softened the combustion chambers of the Trick Flow 215cc cylinder heads and installed LS3 valves (hollow-stem intakes) that would be worked by hefty Trend 3⁄8-inch pushrods. Jessie sealed the heads with LS9 gaskets and the lower end with a Melling oil pump and a Moroso 7-quart sump.
A turbocharged engine requires yards of aluminum ducting to service the compressor as well as the intercooling medium, in this case a custom Chiseled Performance combination with an integrated Rule 3700 pump that carries coolant to the engine as well as the intercooler. Jessie prepped the intake system with an Edelbrock Pro-Flo XT intake manifold fed by a MagnaFuel pump. He used a mock-up block to illustrate the 1 3⁄4-to-1 7⁄8-inch stepped headers and a custom AEI engine mounting plate with cutouts for the forward-facing header dumps. Forced Inductions in Hazel Green, Alabama, provided a S476 turbocharger that yields 18 psi of positive manifold pressure. The EFI controller is a Holley Dominator employing LS7 coils. A Powermaster 16-volt alternator keeps the system vibrant. Included in the ancillaries are a Moroso vacuum pump driven by a Jones Racing Products crank mandrel, a 5-inch diameter downpipe by Jessie and a custom mid-plate by Bob Ette at AEI. The 370-inch engine extrudes a conservatively estimated 1,100 horsepower at 6,800 rpm.
Since a stick shift wouldn't work very well with this forced-air engine, Jessie infused the drivetrain with an ATI SuperCase Powerglide fitted with a manual valvebody and a 3,800-stall converter. Torque is carried by a 3-inch diameter chrome-moly Precision Shaft Technologies propeller that intersects with a Moser M9 axle fitted with a spool traction equalizer and 3.50:1 gears. In addition, Jessie built a custom backbrace for the assembly and relocated the TRZ lower control arm attachments.
The front of the chassis is typical for a car like this. Jessie founded it on a Racecraft K-member. Stock spindles support Lamb Components 11.5-inch discs with four-piston calipers. PA Racing tubular control arms and Koni single-adjustable shocks are joined by AJE coil springs. The rear suspension is a combination of adjustable QA1 dampers and coilover springs. Jessie built a custom torque arm to go with it. The energy burners are four-piston Wilwood plates with a diameter of 11.4 inches.
The rolling stock is lightweight and slick. The 3.5-inch wide skinnies are Weld Racing V Series and carry 26.0x4.5 Goodyear Front Runners. On the drive end, 10-inch V Series double-beadlock hoops host 275/60 Mickey Thompson Street Radial Pro tires.
If it's not necessary, you won't find it inside Jessie's ride. He added a huge measure of safety and torsional rigidity by putting up a 25.5-spec rollcage. Within that spidery nest, the near-stock interior features Kirkey seats, G-Force restraints, and a flock of Auto Meter Ultra-Lite gauges in the stock cluster housing. He keeps his hands busy with the B&M shifter and Grant steering wheel.
Before a drop of color caressed the sheetmetal, Jessie built and installed mini-tubs. He also contracted a neat, custom carbon-fiber hood with a mondo lump and refrained from painting it as a matter of contrast to that sea of crimson. There was no further attempt at showcasing the Camaro with any special or custom work. Jessie straightened and massaged the body and applied the DuPont Viper Red and basecoat clear.
"After being laid off yet a second time from Holley in 2012, the build came to a short halt," said Jessie. "I was two months from the birth of my youngest daughter. Hard work and persistence paid off, as we fired the car in June, 2013, but this left little time for testing, license passes, and tuning the EFI. With only six passes on the car, we decided that LS Fest would be a cheap test session if nothing else. Kenny [Patton] and I were up through the night changing the converter. We never expected to make it to the finals." Jessie did what works.