Feature: Paja Agatonovic’s Stunning Outlaw 10.5 ’69 Camaro

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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.

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Agatonovic campaigns his gorgeous, show-quality ’69 Camaro with the Pacific Street Car Association in the Outlaw 10.5 division, with power from a monstrous 903 cubic inch, nitrous-huffing powerplant.

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.

DSC_0840But 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.

Here's the money-maker: a 903 cubic inch GM wedge-style bullet from Sonny Leonard, with four stages of nitrous oxide that delivers an estimated 2,750 horsepower. And with plenty of polishing work throughout, it'll blind you on a bright, sunny day.

Here’s the money-maker: a 903 cubic inch GM wedge-style bullet from Sonny Leonard, with four stages of nitrous oxide that delivers an estimated 2,750 horsepower. And with plenty of polishing work throughout, it’ll blind you on a bright, sunny day.

“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.

With his trucking operation flourishing around the turn of the century, Agatanovic purchased a ’69 Corvette Stingray 427, stuffed it with a 572-inch pump gas nitrous motor, and was back at the track burning rubber. In 2007, he acted on his affection for first-gen Camaros and purchased a ’69 model and began competing in Northwest heads-up 10.5 races, eventually certifying the mild steel car to 7.50 and filling the pipes with a 632-inch Sonny’s nitrous mill that pushed it into the high sevens. But soon, the limits of the heavier car manifested themselves, and Agatanovic went on the search for a chromoly chassis ’69  that could be certified to 6.00 for serious Outlaw 10.5 action.

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.”

One of Paja's earliest race cars was this 1972 AMC Gremlin with a 327 Chevy , a tunnel ram, dual quads, and a four-speed -- a far cry from the six-second Camaro he campaigns today.

One of Paja’s earliest race cars was this 1972 AMC Gremlin with a 327 Chevy , a tunnel ram, dual quads, and a four-speed — a far cry from the six-second Camaro he campaigns today.

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.

Agatonovic's current '69 Camaro is seen here with the flamed paint scheme it had when he purchased it in 2007, alongside his first '69, which ran in the high sevens with a 632-inch Sonny's nitrous motor under the hood.

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.

Agatonovic's Camaro after a horrific two-car incident at the Sacramento Raceway in the spring of 2013. Despite turning over and striking the wall, the damage was largely cosmetic.

Agatonovic’s Camaro after a horrific two-car incident at the Sacramento Raceway in the spring of 2013. Despite turning over and striking the wall, the damage was largely cosmetic.

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.

A lightweight carbon fiber body, built on stock '69 Camaro dimensions and weighing just 54 pounds, was sourced from noted body maker Joe Van Overbeek during the rebuild.

A lightweight carbon fiber body, built on stock ’69 Camaro dimensions and weighing just 54 pounds, was sourced from noted body maker Joe Van Overbeek during the rebuild.

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.

Vanderbeek Race Cars in Oregon, which updated the car when Agatanovic first purchased it, performed the rebuild after the crash that destroyed the original body.

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.

Agatonovic has been 4.25 to the eighth-mile and 6.55 to the quarter thus far with the 903-inch combination, but admits he and his crew are still feeling out the learning curve as they work toward their goal of running consistently in the 6.20's.

Agatonovic has been 4.25 to the eighth-mile and 6.55 to the quarter thus far with the 903-inch combination, but admits he and his crew are still feeling out the learning curve as they work toward their goal of running consistently in the 6.20’s.

“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.

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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.

DSC_0926Inside, 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.

After the crash, the car was rebuilt with a complete carbon fiber interior, including the seat and a stock '69 Camaro replica dash. all of the hardware to install the interior, along with the many components inside the cockpit, were polished to a show-quality shine.

“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.

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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.”

DSC_6281Of 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.

About the author

Andrew Wolf

Andrew has been involved in motorsports from a very young age. Over the years, he has photographed several major auto racing events, sports, news journalism, portraiture, and everything in between. After working with the Power Automedia staff for some time on a freelance basis, Andrew joined the team in 2010.
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