We all remember the one that got away. And most often it was our first real love. For John Schaeffer that one was a ’96 Trans Am. All it took for him to smoke would-be racers was a handful of mods to his six-speed equipped TA back in 1997. After a few years an expanding family and a job move forced him to sell it, though. “I felt like I lost a piece of my soul when I left it at the car lot and drove off in my new SUV…I kept saying one day I will own another TA, one day.” Fast forward to 2006 and one day became today. The Nixa, Missouri, native had been keeping his eye on this silver ’98 Trans Am WS6 at a local car lot for a month when finally he stopped in to look at it, and made the purchase.
John came to find out that the WS6 was already equipped with a cam and headers. He added a nitrous kit when this combo was no longer enough, which helped him run 11.6s until he eventually spun the #7 rod bearing. It was later uncovered that the motor also had Ross pistons and ported heads, and the car had come from Texas where it saw plenty of track time. Like any family man on a budget would do, John tore apart the motor and sold off the parts to help fund his next motor build. After putting in some extra time at work he scraped together enough over the course of a year to pick up a 370-cube iron block, used MS3 cam, and Patriot “317” casting Stage 3 heads. With Eagle Machine assembling the motor and Chris Huels at TuneLSX.com doing the tuning, the WS6 ran 11.0s on motor and 10.14 on nitrous with a Performabuilt 4L60E and full interior. Driving the car some 70 miles to and from the track as well as around town on the weekends, it was a potent little street combo. But John just couldn’t hit that elusive 9-second timeslip despite changing gears.
Now what? It was time to start making some serious changes. John took to GMHTP, web forums, and even Google to figure out what he could do to build a faster car. A plan came together and a budget was constructed to keep the family man on the level. The 370-inch motor was traded for a 408 using a Callies rotating assembly and Diamond slugs. The Patriot heads were cleaned up, refreshed, milled, and opened up by Greg McKiney at Eagle Machine. Cam Motion ground a custom cam to match the high compression nitrous motor with a healthy 242/252 duration and nearly .650-inch lift. The next call was placed to Frank at Performabuilt to replace the 4L60E with a more race-friendly Turbo 400 trans equipped with a transbrake. Throw in a Neal Chance 5200-stall converter and it sounded like a recipe for 9s, or did it?
“I heard so much about Nitrous Outlet and had talked to Dave in the past on some nitrous questions. I asked Dave to help me get to my goal of hitting 9s, so he suggested his direct port kit and dedicated fuel cell with two 10-pound bottles to keep the bottle pressure stable during the passes. So I sent my FAST intake off to him and it came back a piece of art, all the lines bent perfect. It looked fast sitting in the shipping box.” His old nitrous kit was traded for a set of Kooks stepped race headers, and suddenly it sounded like 9s would be no problem. The stock seats were ditched for Kirkeys and a 417 Motorsports custom roll cage with a G-Force harness was added while keeping the rest of the interior intact, including the stereo and heater. QA1 front coilovers with 315-pound springs and rear shocks with V-6 springs along with a Wolfe drag bar rounded out the chassis. A combination of UMI and BMR rear suspension parts already adorned the under side of the WS6, connected to a Moser 12-bolt.
With the TA being up to snuff with the SFI, John frequently races at several local Missouri events (including a recent Third place finish in King of the Street) and has been to the LSX Shootout for the last three years in the LSX Rumble class. Using a set of Hoosier 28x10.5 slicks and skinnies mounted on Bogart wheels John has been a best of 10.62 on motor and 9.36 at 142 mph on the jug. His famous wheels-up launches trip the 60-foot beam in 1.31-seconds despite being on the heavy side (over 3,700 pounds!). His next goal will be to drop some weight and try to go 8s, at which time he will be contemplating entering LSX Real Street.
“My brother Josh, Dad, and wife always go to the track with me, that’s the only pit crew I have and that’s all I need. We just go to have fun. I know I will never have the money to build a fast 7-second car, I’m just an average car enthusiast that works a regular job and enjoys drag racing and the sport [of it]. I have met so many awesome LS people that are willing to help you with your car or answer questions—you don’t find that in today’s world.”
No matter what place John finishes, he has already won. He has turned his interest and passion into a lifestyle, a way of connecting with others, and a way of extracting the marrow from life. Things certainly have evolved since he was a 23-year-old racing from stoplights. Who says getting older sucks?
Car: 1998 Trans Am WS6
Owner: John Schaeffer
Block: LQ9, 408cid
Compression ratio: 13:1
Heads: LQ4, ported by Patriot Performance & Eagle Machine, 2.08 intake, 1.60 exhaust valves
Cam: Custom hydraulic roller, 242/252 duration at .050, .646/.646-inch lift, 113 LSA
Rocker arms: Yella Terra, 1.7-ratio
Pistons: Diamond, forged
Rings: Total Seal
Crankshaft: Callies Dragonslayer, forged
Rods: Callies Compstar, forged
Throttle body: Nick Williams 90mm
Fuel injectors: 42 lb/hr
Fuel pump: Walbro 255lph, in-tank
Ignition: Stock coil-near-plug, NGK plugs
Engine management: Stock, tuned by Chris Huels at TuneLSX.com
Power Adder: Nitrous Outlet wet direct port nitrous, 300hp
Exhaust system: Kooks 1.75 to 1.875-inch long-tube headers, 3.5-inch Dynomax bullet mufflers
Transmission: TH400, built by Performabuilt Transmissions
Torque converter: Neal Chance 5200-stall
Driveshaft: 3.5-inch steel
Front suspension: QA1 coilovers, stock control arms, no sway bar
Rear suspension: QA1 shocks, GM V-6 springs, UMI torque arm, Panhard bar, BMR lower control arms, Wolfe Racecraft anti-roll bar
Rear end: Moser 12-bolt, 3.73:1 gear, 33-spline axles, spool
Brakes: stock, front and rear
Wheels: Bogart 15x4 front, 15x10 rear
Front tires: Hoosier 27x4.5
Rear tires: Hoosier drag slicks 28x10.5
Race weight: 3,760-lbs
60-ft. time: 1.31
Current mileage: 101,023