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1998 Pontiac Firebird - Back In Black

Brian Black’s take on an LSX275 race car, 430 cubic inches, two stages of nitrous, and the 7-second slips to prove it all works

Justin Cesler Dec 20, 2011
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“I originally bought and built this car around being a high 9- to low 10-second car on motor only.” Just a couple of months ago, Brian trapped 141-mph. At half-track. On a 275 drag radial. On the big end Brian has ran a blistering 7.89 at 175.5 miles an hour and recently won the 2011 GMHTP Shut Your Face Race held at the Holley LS Fest in Bowling Green, KY with a string of low 5-second passes. His 430 cubic-inch motor makes over 1,000-hp naturally aspirated, breathes through a set of custom MOZEZ canted-valve cylinder heads and inhales a ton of nitrous oxide thanks to a two-stage dry system plumbed through his gorgeous Marcella intake manifold. His idea of a bad 60-foot is anything in the 1.25-second range and he has been as fast as a 1.21-second sixty with no progressive nitrous control. The kicker? Brian’s 29 years old and built most of this beast with the help of just a couple key people and hours of hard work. Wondering what you’ve done with you life so far? Join the club.

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“I never intended on using nitrous with the car, but I caved into peer pressure from a good friend of mine, Tim Blanchard. The first year with the car I went from 10.20’s on motor at the start of the season with a 404 cubic-inch LS6 headed combo to an 8.94 at the end of the 2007 season with a small 200-shot of nitrous.” Okay, so Brian is obviously a fast learner, but let’s not give anyone the idea that running as fast as he has with a nitrous-fed LSX is easy or even remotely close to simple. “I ran the old 404ci 6.0L block engine from 2007 through 2008 and then started an LSX build in 2008/2009. I completed the 427 C5R build in the late spring of 2009, but the economy down turn and being out work for most of 2009 didn’t allow me to run the car like I had originally planned. I ran it a handful of times in the fall of 2009 to a best of 8.82 at 157-mph. Over the winter of 2010, I did several updates with the car, but still kept it pretty much the same. The 2010 season is one that I would like to erase from my memory completely, but we can say that we at least gave it our best. We started the season with a major internal oil pressure bleed off/leak. We ended doing a complete tear down and fixed that: Rebuild 1. Then we fought a water issue, which ended up being a small crack in the cylinder head that would leak when the engine was cold but seal up when hot...that required another complete teardown as there was so much water that it rusted the rings: Rebuild 2. Down in Bowling Green for the first annual LS Fest, I heard a sound like a belt squeal while getting ready to do a burnout. We ended up breaking a roller lifter and trashed several others. We tore the engine down again to fix/replace lifters, bearings, rings, and pistons: Rebuild 3. And once we got the engine back together for the third time, we had issues with a broken torque converter, which caused us more headaches. So in the meantime while I was waiting on getting my torque converter fixed, I decided to sell off everything in the power train except the block, crank, dry sump and converter… At this point I was contemplating going with a big single turbo setup, but I decided to go back to what I know and that was nitrous.”

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And when Brian decided to stick with what he knew, he did exactly that. Starting with a standard deck GMPP LSX block, Brian teamed up with Don Baxter and Brian Thomson to build a proprietary bullet that would be capable of making great power on motor and still be able to inhale enough nitrous for a 7-second pass. With a 4.130-inch bore and "special work done to the deck surface to make it more rigid and able to withstand the nitrous usage" the motor started to come together and was carefully assembled with a Callies Magnum 4-inch stroke crankshaft, GRP aluminum connecting rods, and custom Diamond pistons that were modified to Brian Thomson's specifications. Above the custom slugs, Brian and Don installed a set of brand new Mast Motorsports MOZEZ canted-valve cylinder heads, which feature "titanium everything" and a set of Jesel rockers, of which Brian conveniently "forgot" the rocker arm ratio. He must have also forgot the camshaft specs since he could only tell us the duration at .050-inches was "big/bigger" and the lift was "somewhere north of 1-inch." He didn't even put anything in the lobe separation box, so you're on your own if you were planning to order a matching bumpstick for your next Shut Your Face Race contender. "Don Baxter and myself had over 125-hours of time into the clearancing, checking and assembly of this engine. He is definitely as meticulous as they come when building engines and it shows with the results from this season." In fact, it showed on the engine dyno too, when Brian's 430-inch combo laid down 1,020 horsepower before the nitrous system.

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Speaking of the nitrous system, let's turn our attention to the epic Marcella Manifolds' sheet metal intake manifold, which was hand-built specifically for this engine combination and houses the nozzles responsible for the majority of Brian's success. "This thing is almost too nice to bolt to an engine." Almost, but that still didn't stop Brian from shipping the intake across the country to David Vasser of Nitrous Outlet to have him "work his magic" on a 2-stage dry nitrous delivery system. Nitro Dave, as always, did what he does best and hooked Brian up with a system capable of flowing large amounts of the good stuff with equal distribution and killer good looks. With "both kits under a 31-jet" (you can read that however you want), Brian has been slowly creeping up on the big power with help from the new Dry Nitrous Control software in his Big Stuff 3 engine management box and guidance from one of the greatest nitrous LSX racers in the country, Justin Smith. "I've known Justin from years prior, but his help and guidance on the dry nitrous has been invaluable. He got me started on what to do, how to do it and why. He also taught me how to do power management, as that plays a major role with using the 275 radials." Believe it or not, Brian uses no form of progressive control on his setup and has won races and gone faster using only small corrections in the tune. "Had it not been for Justin and his help, I would definitely not of had the success I've had this year."

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Powerplant aside, the rest of Brian's '98 Formula WS6 is just as well engineered and fabricated, including the gorgeous engine bay, perfect wiring and the intense drivetrain and suspension combination. A Coan Big Dog powerglide takes power from the 7,000-stall—yes, 7,000-rpm stall—that Coan built for Brian and transfers it back to the Midwest Chassis' fabricated 9-inch rear, which is stuffed with goodies from Strange Engineering and a lightweight 3.89:1 ring and pinion. The suspension is also almost completely from Eric Vicary and the crew at Midwest Chassis, and fits the stock suspension rules thanks to a plethora of high performance parts built and fabricated by Midwest specifically for maximum hook on small tires. Afco double adjustable shocks front and rear also help keep the tires planted and Brian tunes them around a set of Strange Hyper Coil springs. "I designed and built the car around what I was looking for, liked and wanted. I love the stance and color combination with the red car and the black accents. I take great care in making sure the car fits what I want, whether it comes to powder coating, polish, paint, etc. I am a very meticulous person when it comes to the final outcome of the car." For a project he purchased in '05 with the intent of running low 10's, it should be obvious that Brian takes his level of modification seriously, but it's amazing to see how quickly it shows, even from the pages of this magazine. The stance, the bright red paint over the Joe Van O' carbon fiber hood (that's 8-coats according to Brian), the slick Weld Racing wheels, the Pro Stock style carbon and aluminum wing... The entire package screams racecar, but without any pretention or over done machismo. Brian built a rocket and it looks just as fast as it runs.

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"I would like to thank my parents for coming with me and helping at the track and for the support of the project, especially my dad for coming with me every time I race the car regardless of what's going on. Rusty Graff for all of the assistance at the track..." and a whole cast of other crew and friends who we've already (hopefully) mentioned in this article. It's funny, for a 29-year-old who recently achieved great success, Brian has remained humble and grateful for all of the help he has received and for all of the friends he has made along the way. As your reading this, Brian will probably still be hard at work on the next version of this mean machine, as he has already started preparation for the 25.3 chassis upgrade and a major weight loss program for the heavy WS6. Of course, he also has some "winter upgrades for more power" planned and hopes to reach his goal of running 4.90s in the eighth-mile to be competitive next season. If fours seem like a long way from running 10's, it is, but then again, this is Brian Black we're talking about and he might just have the stones to do it.

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Data File

Car: '98 Pontiac Firebird Formula WS6

Owner: Brian Black

Block: LSX, 430cid

Compression ratio: 13.5:1

Heads: Mast Motorsports Mozez Canted Valve 352cc, 2.250 intake, 1.60 exhaust valves

Cam: Custom solid roller

Rocker arms: Jesel

Pistons: Diamond, forged

Rings: Total Seal

Crankshaft: Callies, forged

Rods: GRP, aluminum

Throttle body: Twin Wilson 2000-cfm 4-barrell

Fuel injectors: 120 lb/hr

Fuel pump: Magnafuel 4303

Ignition: Big Stuff 3, coil-near-plug, NGK 11

Engine management: Big Stuff 3, tuned by Dan Bills (motor), Justin Smith and Brian Black (nitrous)

Exhaust system: Kooks 2-inch stepped long-tube headers, 3.5-inch collector

Transmission: Powerglide, built by Coan

Converter: Coan, 7000-stall

Driveshaft: 4-inch, aluminum

Front suspension: Midwest Chassis K-member, upper and lower control arms, Afco shocks, Strange Hypercoil springs, removed swaybar

Rear suspension: Midwest Chassis torque arm, lower control arms, Panhard bar, subframe connectors, Afco shocks, Strange Hypercoil springs

Rear end: Midwest Chassis Fab 9-inch, 3.89 gear, Strange 40-spline axles, Strange billet spool

Brakes: Strange Pro Race 4-piston, front and rear

Wheels: Weld Racing Alumastar 15x3.5 front, 15x10 rear

Front tires: Goodyear 26x4.5

Rear tires: Hoosier drag radial 275/60/15

Fuel: VP 120

Best ET/mph: 7.89/175.5

Best 60-ft. time: 1.21

HP/TQ: 1,020/690 (motor)



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