$10K Drag Shootout 3: Inside Villain Squad’s Bottle Rocket Firebird

Brian Petty, the host of season three of the $10K Drag Shootout No Prep Edition presented by Lucas Oil Products, began the season premiere with “it’s almost like the horsepower gods don’t want us doing this.” He was referring to some of the calamities that have faced the show in the past – these include hurdles such as the trailer fire that damaged the cars in season two. This season, in addition to all the challenges the Coronavirus pandemic presented, one team backed out of the competition at the last minute, resulting in a need to fill that void.

Enter Jorge “Geo” Ramos, who was part of the season two show and was called upon to put together a last-minute team. This group, called Team Villain Squad, may have had 11th-hour hurdles to overcome, but their self-proclaimed determination will only make for a remarkable season-three story.

Team Villain Squad is made up of leader Jorge “Geo” Ramos, engine and cylinder head leader Russ Barber, and all-around fabricator Nathan Egli. The jack-of-all-trades man is Ben Freeman, along with tuner Justin Carpenter and all-around builder Kelvy Limon.

The Car and Chassis

During the first competition for the schoolyard pick for their build car of choice, the villains selected the 1999 Pontiac Firebird. The V6 powerplant was quickly pulled while other team members were simultaneously removing the rear suspension. The stripped body was then outfitted with a supplied Chris Alston Chassisworks X-brace style, 10-point cage assembly.

Their plans led to incorporating a wealth of performance suspension components from BMR Suspension onto the F-body. Surrounding the differential now are BMR tubular lower control arms, sway bar and mounting kit, Panhard rod, and chrome-moly Xtreme torque arm kit.

On all four corners, the Firebird began its reassembly process with QA1 Performance double-adjustable shocks. The team sought to invest additional build budget by trading up their supplied single-adjustable shocks for QA1 double-adjustable coilover shocks in the rear.

The front suspension features a BMR k-member and A-arms purchased from Summit. The steering assembly is lightened with a Competition Engineering aluminum steering column kit, Grant steering wheel, and a steering U-joint (#214664) from Summit Racing Equipment. Wilwood brakes were installed on the front along with a Wilwood master cylinder, adapter, brake lines, and proportioning valve.

The Powerplant

One of the Villain Squad’s most significant hurdles was based around their powerplant. For their desired GM 5.3 LS engine combination they wanted to create, securing deals on used parts and transporting them to the build proved to be an impossibility. Ramos said, “While we were working over the Firebird on days one and two, we were still searching for an engine.”

Picking the Firebird was okay with all of us. We had the body shell stripped and were ready to begin the build process in just about two-and-a-half hours. For all of us who just met for the first time at the airport, I was pretty happy with how we were working together. – “Geo” Ramos

With no time to spare, Villain Squad had no choice but to rely on a stock 5.3L short-block, freshened only with a set of Total Seal CS AP Advanced Profiling Ring Set. The team inspected and decided to keep the original crankshaft, rods, and bearings in use. They opted to go for oiling improvements from Moroso, including a high volume oil pump and street/strip oil pan to adapt this block into this chassis.

The guys wanted to use a Gen IV 5.3L LS engine because of the stronger rods. It took two of the build days to locate the short-block they wanted. Ramos comments they questioned what they found but needed to roll the dice as they were out of time.

Villain Squad’s turbo plumbing appears rather rudimentary — and because there was only a limited bit of raw tubing material left for them, the job was indeed cobbled together — but Ramos explains there’s a method to his team’s madness.

“The more piping on the cold side that we could run the better we would be able to cool the air from the turbo. We weren’t allowed to run an intercooler due to running E-85, so we needed other ways to cool the air, so more pipe was the answer. We also added a compartment in between one of the cold-side piping bends so we could put dry ice in it and it would help with air temps — this was a trick Jesse Adams taught me last year.”

The “Bottle Rocket,” as they titled the ‘bird, is filled with Lucas Oil brand SYN SAE 10W-40 racing oil, Sure Shift ATF fluid, and SYN L9 racing gear oil. In the shop, the team utilized Lucas racing engine assembly grease, brake parts cleaner, and contact cleaner. The Firebird’s pet name came from the discovery of a fist-full of bottle rockets under the seats during disassembly.

Shopping with their $7,000 Summit Racing gift card, many other engine components surrounded the engine build. The list includes ARP bolts, studs, and fasteners for the heads, main studs along with balancer, header, and bellhousing bolts. Victor Reinz upper and lower head gaskets were selected, while their order sheet also added Moroso pan gaskets.

A COMP Cams #54-000-11 cam was hand-picked between the team and COMP technicians. With the last-minute gathering of LS-based components from classified ads, the Villain Squad is a little nervous about their overall engine.

For the cylinder heads, a pair of stock 862 heads were overhauled with a used BTR Performance valve spring kit, valve stem seals, and spring locators. The team worked with COMP cams to specify a lobe lift of .372-inch intake and .372-inch exhaust with a duration at .050-inch lift of 233-degrees intake and 243-degrees exhaust.

The remaining valvetrain details incorporated Summit Racing lifter guides (#SUM-150132-4), BTR 7.4-inch long pushrods, and factory LS rockers arms, timing chain, and roller lifters.

Induction, Power Adder, and Fuel Supply

Selected from the Summit catalog pages, a 96mm S40 Borg Warner turbocharger is mated to a stock 5.3 intake through an assortment of fabricated Vibrant Performance aluminum 3-inch tubes. The remainder of the turbo intake plumbing is team fabricated utilizing Vibrant Performance reinforced silicone couplers.

On the exhaust side, a set of factory stock exhaust manifolds were coupled to the turbo using some scrounged steel tubing and Summit Racing brand V-band clamps.

A Chris Alston Chassisworks cage surrounds the driver's office for the Villian Squad. There is a complete Ron Francis Express Series Switch Panel and Bare Bonz Race Wiring Kit, B&M Stealth Magnum Grip Pro shifter, and a large selection of safety equipment from Impact Racing.

A fuel system consisting of a Rhodes Race Cars five-gallon aluminum fuel cell is plumbed to a Summit Racing four-port regulator (#SUM-220059) through a selection of Fragola Performance Systems, Vibrant and Summit Racing fuel line and fittings. This feeds the engine with Renegade Pro 120+ Racing Fuel.

A VS Racing 60mm wastegate is controlling the boost. The ‘gate is regulated by a Viair compressor, pressure regulator, and an Innovate Motorsports solenoid. E3 Spark Plugs were mated to E3 plug wires and its ultra-high output LSX coils.

The Villain Squad located a set of Bosch injectors and a Summit Racing brand 92mm throttle body. A Holley Performance Terminator X engine control unit programs in the fuel and spark while nearly all the factory engine sensors were used except a new FAST air temperature sensor.


A used Turbo 400 transmission with transbrake and aftermarket bellhousing was acquired with some of the team’s spending cash. The trans is installed with a PRW Industries Xtreme Duty flexplate and Summit 32-spline transmission yoke. A B&M/Hurst Stealth Magnum Grip Pro shifter handles the driver’s shifting duties.

A Ford 8.8 housing was modified by Hawks Motorsports to mate to stock suspension and put together with a Moser Engineering 35-spline kit consisting of the spool, axles, and housing ends. A Spicer 3:73-ratio ring and pinion completed the differential for dragstrip duty. A Summit complete steel driveshaft kit connects the drivetrain.


As the last team to fire its car, and doing so in the final moments of build time, Villain Squad missed its opportunity to hit the chassis dyno to fine-tune its combination, forcing Ramos and company to do it the old-fashioned way: on the track. Nevertheless, he’s confident in his team’s abilities.

“I have a lot of tuning experience,” Ramos explains. “Kelvy and Ben are experienced tuners, as well. One thing I am not worried about is getting the engine mapped out to its ultimate capability once we head to the track.”

Despite their last-minute hurdles combined with a team previously unknown to each other, the Villain Squad pulled off a Firebird build that will take on the other teams on the Barona Dragstrip 1/8-mile.

Racing rubber is provided by Mickey Thompson. The team chose 3005 (28/10.5/15R) rear slicks and 30071 front tires. A set of Vision wheels were installed all-around. The rear wheels were outfitted with a set of donated Enemies Everywhere beadlocks.

“Building the Firebird was different this year compared to last,” Ramos finishes. “The Dream Team effort was a constant rush to build. This time, it was 110-percent, stop. And then 110-percent, stop again. It definitely made completing the car before the deadline an accomplishment.”

Four teams with very innovative plans to get the most from their budgets make season 3 of the $10K Drag Shootout No Prep Edition well worth the watch. The series is aired on the MAVTV networkHorsepowerWars.com, plus follow us on Facebook and Instagram. See Team Villain Squad head to Barona Dragstrip with their Firebird to square off against all others.

Team Villain Squad “Bottler Rocket” Car Specifications

Vehicle: 1998 Firebird
Weight: 3,350 lbs, plus 200 lbs via “The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air” rule
Roll cage kit: Chris Alston Chassisworks 10-Point Rollcage X Brace Style – #7003
Driveshaft Loop: BMR – #BMR-DSL003
Roll Bar Padding: Summit Racing 45.1 padding – #SUM-590102
Harness Mounting Tabs: Summit Racing mounting tabs – #SUM-510312
Driver’s Helmet: Impact Champ SNELL15 – #13015408
Driver’s Gloves: Impact G6 SFI3.3/5 – #34200410
Driver’s Suit: Impact SFI 3.2A/15 –  Jacket #29600410, Pants #29700410
Safety Harness: Impact 5-point harness– #5911111
Window Net: RJS – #RJS-10000101 
Plumbing: Vibrant stainless steel, -4 AN,  hose ends – #SUM-230410
Fasteners: ARP Bolts

Engine Diaper: Summit Racing engine diaper – #SUM-0590200
Switch Panel: Express Series switch panel – Pro Race Version – #SP-80
Electrical/wiring: Ron Francis Bare Bonz Race wiring kit – #BB-16
Battery box: MOROSO Performance – #74051
Battery: Dynabatt 12v by Performance Distributors – #5575A
Battery switch: Moroso battery disconnect switch – #74101
Transbrake button: Biondo transbrake button – #SBR-MUSH-O

K-Member: BMR Steel, Chevy, Pontiac – #BMR-KM013R
Front shocks: QA1 Shock Stocker S-ADJ 12.38 – #TS703
Front Coil Over Kit: QA1 Kit, Pro-Coil Aluminum S-Adj – #GS502-15300
Rear shocks: QA1 double-adjustable – #QA1-DS902
Anti-Roll Bar: BMR Sway Bar 3.25 axle bolt-on brackets – #BMR-SMK008
Lower Control Arms: BMR LCA chrome-moly double adjustable rod ends – #BMR-MTCA003H
Panhard Bar: BMR Panhard Rod, DOM double adjustablej – #BMR-PHR003R
Torque Arm: BMR Xtreme Torque Arm kit, chrome-moly – #BMR-XTA001
Spherical Bearings: Moser Engineering – #9508B
Air Suspension Kit: RideTech – #ART31952150
Steering Column Kit: Competition Engineering steering column – #CEE-5074
Steering Wheel: Grant Formula GT – #GRT-161-14
Steering Wheel Installation Kit: GTX – #GTX-20-3005
Front brakes: Wilwood Dyna-Pro  – #140-10786-D

Engine block:
GM LS 5.3L motor minus heads – used
Pistons: OEM hypereutectic – used
Connecting Rods: OEM powdered metal – used
Rings: Total Seal – #CS8794-5

Head bolts, studs, fasteners: ARP Bolts
Flexplate/flywheel: PRW SFI GM-LS Series Quick Launch – #1834624

Cylinder Heads: Stock 862 GM heads used
Locators: BTR valve spring locators #BTC-SL505060-16
Valve springs: BTR platinum spring kit, used
Valve stem seals: BTR valve stem seals – #BTC-VSLSKIT
Rocker arms: GM Rocker Arms – used
Rocker arm stands: Chevrolet Performance rocker arm stands – #NAL-12600936
Camshaft: COMP Cams 12674R/13056R HR1176+6 serial# 449147-20 – #CCA-54-000-11
Timing Chain: Stock GM
Lifters: GM LS lifters, set of 8, used.
Pushrods: BTR one-piece – used
Head gaskets: BTR head gaskets LS9 Chevrolet – BTC – #BTR22033
Gaskets: Exhaust, water pump, fuel pump – Victor Reinz
Oil pan gasket: Moroso GM LS – #93152
Starter: ProForm Hi Torque Mini Starter – #66277
Alternator: Tuff Stuff GM Alternator LS1 – #8242NB
Throttle Cable: Summit throttle cable – #SUM-200042

Engine oil: Lucas Racing high performance motor oil – #10911-1
Automatic transmission fluid:
Lucas semi-synthetic sure shift – #10052-1
Gear oil:
SYN L9 Racing gear oil – #10456

Transmission: TH400 with transbrake, aftermarket bell – used
Torque Converter: TCI – TCI-241000
Shifter: B&M Stealth Magnum Grip Pro – #BMM-881052
Gate Plate: B&M Gate Plate, Pro Stick  – #BMM-80710
Transmission safety blanket: Summit Racing transmission blanket – #SUM-590300
Flexplate: PRW Xtreme Duty – 1834624
Transmission yoke: Summit Racing transmission yoke – #SUM-731001
Transmission Cooler: Hayden trans cooler – #HDA-679
Rearend housing: Hawks Motorsports Ford 8.8 F-body housing
Axles: Moser Engineering 35-spline axles kit – A1M00
Driveshaft: Summit steel driveshaft – #SUM-730404
U-Joints: Spicer
Ring & Pinion: Spicer 4.10 Gear

Radiator: PRW Industries racing radiator 19- x 29-inch – #PQX-5401929
Water pump: PRW Industries Elec. Race Chevy BB 396-454 – #4445407

Throttle body: Summit throttle body, EFI manifold – #SUM-227100B
Throttle body sensor: ICT throttle body adapters, EFI manifold – #ICB-551513
Throttle position sensor: MSD – #MSD-2942
Air intake tubes: Vibrant – #VPE-2774, #VPE-2775, #VPE-2714
Electronic Fuel Injection: Holley Terminator
Fuel injectors: Bosch – used
Fuel Rail Kit: Summit fuel rails, SB LS1 – #SUM-227152
Fuel Filters: Holley – #162-572, #162-570
Fuel: Renegade Pro 120+ – #R120
Airline: Klein suspension kits, air spring replacement parts, tubing – #KLN-25014-1
Air System: VIAIR Air Compressor onboard air system – #VAR-10000, #VAR-90150
Air Temp Sensor: FAST Sensor Air Temperature – #FST-307004
MAP sensor: GM MAP sensor – used
Fuel Cell: Rhodes fuel cell, pro series – #RHC-18-0205
Ignition coils: E3
 acing ignition coils pack set – #E3-602
Coil Harness, bracket, spacer – ICT LS – #ICB-WEC0130, #ICB-551654, #ICB-551303
Spark plugs: E3 racing spark plugs – #ETP-E3.111
Exhaust: Stock manifolds, Summit Racing clamps – #SUM-694500

Power Adder
BorgWarner AirWerks Turbo, SX400, cast iron turbine housing – #BWW-177287
Wastegate: VS Racing – #VSG-VSR60WG
Solenoid: Innovate MAC Solenoid – #INN-3883

Front wheels: Unknown
Rear wheels: Vision 571 Sport Star II – #VSW-571-5161B-25
Front tires: Mickey Thompson 26.0/4.0-15 ET Front – #MTT-30071
Rear tires: Mickey Thompson 3055S (28×10.5 Stiff sidewall slick) – #3055S
Lug Nuts: Enemies Everywhere titanium lug nuts 5/8″
Wheel Components: Enemies Everywhere beadlock conversions – used
Drive Studs (Rear): Moser Engineering drive stud kit – #8080

About the author

Todd Silvey

Todd has been a hardcore drag racing journalist since 1987. He is constantly on both sides of the guardwall from racing photography and editorship to drag racing cars of every shape and class.
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