The northeastern portion of the country is well regarded as the present-day hotbed of Outlaw 10.5 racing, taking that distinction from their neighbors to the south during the latter portion of the 2000’s. But while many of the headlines emanate out of tracks like Cecil County and Atco, racers on the left coast have continued to make their existence known in 10.5W racing. Not only did they hold the quarter-mile world record for more than a year and a half, but the region boasts some of the most spectacular cars you’ll find anywhere. And one shining example of such, which has the power to match it’s show-winning looks, is the 1968 Chevrolet Camaro of Oregon native Paja Agatanovic.
Take a walk around Agatanovic’s Camaro and you’d swear he cleans it inside and out with a toothbrush. Lift the front end off on a bright, sunny day and you’ll need a pair of shades so as to be blinded by the polish work on virtually every part and piece that’s capable of being polished. It’s that kind of race car, and it’s one that Agatanovic and his crew take great pride in.
But equally as important as the looks is the performance, and for that, Agatanovic relies on a monstrous 903 cubic inch wedge motor built by Sonny Leonard at Sonny’s Racing Engines, fed copious amounts of nitrous oxide by a four-stage Sonny’s nitrous oxide system.
Agatanovic, who was born in Serbia, moved to the United States and the Chicago area with his family as a child and later became interested in cars and racing in his teen years during the 1970’s. Agatanovic ran a Chevy-powered AMC Gremlin early on, but got married and stepped away from drag racing in the 1980’s to start a family. He later began operating his own trucking business as a contractor for FedEx in the late 1990’s, and expansion by FedEx in the Pacific Northwest took he and his family westward, and they never looked back. But drag racing and muscle cars, albeit not front and center, were always there in Agatanovic’s mind.
“The passion and desire for muscle cars was always with me — it never left my mind. Every time I’d hear or see a souped-up muscle car going down the street, I’d slow down, open my window, and just enjoy listening to it rumble,” he says.
The passion and desire for muscle cars was always with me — it never left my mind. Every time I’d hear or see a souped-up muscle car going down the street, I’d slow down, open my window, and just enjoy listening to it rumble.
Just such a car was soon discovered on Racing Junk in Canada, and in short order, a flight was booked to have a look. “When I got there the car was no disappointment. It had been stored for the last four or five years. It was originally owned and raced by Ontario’s Little Ricky Carlos, then bought, redone, and raced by Tony Piselli of Woodridge, Ontario.”
The car was originally built in 1997 by LE Chassis Engineering and was the first Pro Street car in Canada to exceed 200 mph. It also won the World Street Nationals in 1997 in a wild contest with Pat Musi) and the inaugural NSCA Shootout in 1998.
Agatanovic arrived home with the car and took it to Vanderbeek Race Cars in Silverton, Oregon, where it underwent a complete makeover, with updates to the chassis, the complete interior, and new paint, all of which far exceeded Agatanovic’s initial cost estimates. But all the work was certainly recognized, as it captured local car show awards right out of the box. The car ran in the 7.20’s in that configuration, before a 792-inch Sonny’s Chevy-Hemi was purchased, pushing the performance into the 6.80’s. But the final gauntlet was laid with the addition of the aforementioned 903-inch, electronic fuel-injected powerplant.
Unfortunately, bad fortune struck before Agatanovic could get the momentum rolling with the new combination. At the PSCA Nor-Cal Nationals in Sacramento in March of 2013, he lost traction just off the starting line and was involved in a devastating two-car crash with Steve Collins that ultimately sent the Camaro onto its roof and into the wall tail-first, sparing the chassis and drivetrain but doing considerable cosmetic damage that led to the rebuilding of the car as you see it now.
The entire car was redone by Vanderbeek Race Cars, and this time, a carbon fiber replica body — weighing just 54 pounds — featuring completely stock dimensions fabricated by Joe Van Overbeek was utilized due to allowance from the PSCA in Outlaw 10.5. Agatonovic waited three months for the body to be complete, and was back on track in November.
The complete interior is finished with carbon fiber (including the seat), with polished stainless screws and other polished pieces everywhere. A replica ’69 carbon fiber dash was made by Van Overbeek, and even the rear wing was done in carbon, giving the car an incredibly high-end, sophisticated look inside and out.. The car still retains the original lights and bezels, front and rear.
The big Sonny’s 903, a 5.3-inch bore space wedge, features GRP billet aluminum rods, a Bryant billet crank, Sonny’s custom pistons, cam, and full-CNC’ed heads, along with a custom lightweight sheet metal intake topped with four Accufab throttle bodies controlled by an Edelbrock EFI system. A Dailey Engineering six-stage dry sump system delivers the oil, with help from a Star vacuum pump. An MSD Digital 7 ignition system provides the spark, and everything is exhausted through headers stepped from 2-3/4-inch to 2-5/8 with Burns merge collectors.
“Everything on the motor and in the car has been polished and re-polished down to every little screw, and it was all done by a good friend, Eddie Luck, who those in the area know as Chrome Eddie,” Agatanovic says of the glistening appearance of the assembled engine. “Eddie grew up with my good friend, David Chun Sr., and hangs around the shop quite a bit, as he’s now retired. Eddies’ way of thinking is that everything should be chromed or polished, and before the motor was put together, to make Eddie happy, I had Todd [Hoerner] at Sonny’s ship all of the external parts that could be polished, including the intake and dry sump, to Eddie so he could polish it before assembly.”
A lightweight Rossler Pro Mod Turboglide transmission is paired with a Neal Chance Ultra Light full billet converter and controlled by a B&M Pro Bandit shifter, which deliver the power through a 3.75-inch diameter PST carbon fiber driveshaft to a fully polished Scribner nine-inch floater rear end housing, featuring a 1.57 rear gear and Strange Engineering 40-spline gun-drilled axles. Weld Racing Aluma Stars front and rear give the car its show-and-go, with the 16×16’s at the back wrapped in Mickey Thompson 33 x 10.5W slicks putting it all the ground. Strange disc brakes (carbon fiber at the rear) provide the stopping power.
The Camaro rides on Strange struts up front and Penske double-adjustables at the rear, re-valved and prepped by Chris bell, while a set of 82-inch wheelie bars provide the assist to the suspension at the starting line.
Inside, you’ll find a chromed nitrous bottle rack, Stroud five-point harnesses, a custom nitrous control panel and Painless ignition control panel, a Halon 10-pound fire suppression system, and Davis traction control. Data acquisition is handled though a Racepak V300SD system, with EGT’s, O2’s, front and rear shock travel sensors, and a wheelie bar sensor all collecting vital information.
After purchasing that first ’69 Camaro, Agatanovic befriended Chun Sr. and his son, David Jr., who were local tuning shop operators and drag racers. The father and son duo were an integral part of Agatanovic’s early racing ventures, and their partnership continues to this day, with David Jr. serving as the crew chief and right-hand man on Agatanovic’s Outlaw 10.5 machine.
“David Jr. always goes with me and helps on the car. We just came really good friends, and if we go, we both go,” says Agatonovic. “If it wasn’t for him, I wouldn’t be able to do this. He’s a great mechanic.”
With David Jr.’s prowess on the technical side, Agatanovic has been as quick as 4.25-seconds and 176.75 mph in the eighth-mile with the car in its present configuration, and 6.55 at 216.80 in the quarter, with a best sixty-foot time of 1.09 to date.
Says Agatanovic, “we’re still working to get a handle on this engine combination, and our goal is to be competitive with the top Outlaw 10.5 cars on the west coast, which are running in the 6.20 range. We struggled this year to get the power to the ground, so we made some suspension and gear changes that have helped in the front half. This wasn’t one of our good years, but we figured out some things in Las Vegas [Street Car Super Nationals] that should help us next year. We’ve got more than enough power, but it’s just a learning curve.”
Of course behind every great racer is a solid support group, and in addition to Chun Jr. and Eddie Luck and their hands-on assistance, Agatanovic cites his wife, Nada, son Dragan, and daughter Jelena for standing behind him in his racing endeavors. Agatanovic also credits Supertune, Vanderback Race Cars, Brandon at Sandy Auto Body, Sonny and Todd Hoerner at Sonny’s, Joe Oplawski, Josh Lindsey, Roger at Racepak, Clayton West at Edelbrock, and Buddy at Mickey Thompson for their support and input.