If you haven’t heard of Phil Reichardt or seen his beautiful 1967 Camaro RS/SS in action, you may want to brush up, because, as the current MX235 points leader and one of the performance frontrunners in 8.5-inch tire racing, he’s quickly establishing himself as a force and a household name in the radial tire racing arena.
For Reichardt, the on-track success that he’s enjoying is the culmination of more than a quarter of a century of tireless effort, while at the same time a mere stepping stone to where he envisions being, competitively.
The Festus, Missouri racer could well be considered one of the veterans of radial tire racing in the Midwest, having competed both at the track and on the street in various capacities on drag radials in American’s heartland over the last two decades — all behind the wheel of the Camaro that he acquired in an unlikely trade 23 years ago.
“I got the Camaro in a trade for a ’69 Ford F100 pickup truck. A friend had it, and we both went to the racetrack, he raced his and I raced mine, and the Camaro ran like a 15.8 and my truck went a 15.1. And he was totally pissed off. He was like ‘this sucks.’ He wanted something that was almost done, and my truck was, and so we traded straight up. I was young, and I really wanted a Camaro. My cousin went with me to look at it and he said, “yeah, you need to do that,’ ” he shares with a laugh.
“When I got it, it was rough. Several things on it were just half assembled.”
Reichardt raced the Camaro for the better part of a decade before having an eight-point roll cage installed, and it was at that point, he comments, “where shit started going south.”
“It was still a full steel street car …. basically I took the whole car, stripped it down, painted it the exact same color I had the first time, and then I painted the cage and did the firewall. It took me about a month or two months to do the bodywork, and Andy [McCoy, of Andy McCoy Race Cars] put the cage in it. We had a little bit more aggressive of a motor in it — it had some Dart heads on it with a pretty big nitrous kit, so it made some decent horsepower, but we could still drive it.”
I was pretty big into street racing, probably since I’ve had it. It got well known as the purple Camaro. People would say ‘here comes the purple Camaro.
“I was pretty big into street racing, probably since I’ve had it. It got well known as the purple Camaro. People would say ‘here comes the purple Camaro.’ There was an incident where I got caught street racing, at about four in the morning. There were about 60 people on the side of the highway with enclosed trailers and everything. It was a race for $100 that was more about bragging rights. There was a big guy from out of town that was down here that called me out. We were ready to get this thing on and the cops showed up and I got busted … the other guy took off. I thought they were going to tow my car, but thankfully they just gave me a ticket and a court date. I still don’t know why, but the ticket never showed up, and that was my ticket out — I was done, I said ‘I’m not street racing anymore.’ ”
He then began competing in 275 drag radial events at the track, running 5.30s at a time when the purpose-built machines elsewhere in the class were in the 4.70s and 4.80s.
“We were trying to get into X275, but it was just crazy how fast the cars were getting. We couldn’t compete, because everyone was weighing in at 2,600 pounds and we were at 3,260. We were staying with them, we were qualifying well, but we weren’t competing.”
Reichardt hung with it in 275 radial at Ozark Raceway Park for a number of years, but eventually realized he had to do something to be competitive. As a true RS/SS car, he was hesitant to cut it apart, convincing himself at one time that he’d rather sell it than harm it.
Car: 1967 Camaro RSS/SS
Engine: 434-inch SBC, Callies crankshaft, GRP rods, Ross pistons, 9-degree Dart cylinder heads, Edelbrock intake, COMP camshaft, Davinci 4500 Dominator carburetor
Power Adder: NOS nitrous (up to 700 hp shot)
Transmission: Transmission Specialites Powerglide and converter
Driveline: PST carbon fiber driveshaft, Fab 9 housing, Strange Engineering Ultra case, 40-spline axles, carbon fiber brakes
Suspension: (Front) TRZ upper/lower control arms, Moroso trick springs, Menscer shocks Rear) Split mono Caltrac spring and bars, Penske shocks
Wheels/Tires: Weld 15×10 double bead lock rear w/M/T 26×8.5, 15×3.5 front
And so, the Camaro underwent its third (and current) iteration. Reichardt tore the car down and sold about $7,000 worth of items off of it —the front clip, the doors … “basically everything down to the shell,” he explains. The goal, as he shares, was to ensure the car could fit a number of classes, thus he kept the stock firewall in it and put a whole new one-piece stock floor back in during the re-build. A Smith Racecraft bolt-on front clip was installed and McCoy cut the old cage out and put a whole new 25.2-spec jungle gym in to tie it to the front end. Fiberglass door panels and interior and trunk panels were also added to help reduce weight.
In all, more than 500 pounds was removed from the car in the process of making it a lean, mean, racing machine. While it remains some 180 pounds overweight, it hasn’t kept Reichardt out of the ballpark: to date, he’s run a best of 4.72 at 145 mph — .014-seconds off the MX235 competition record — with stout 1.08 60-foot times.
“We have learned so much throughout this last build. What it takes to play at the next level of racing where we are today. So much thought has to go into everything for it to all come together.”
One element of the car that has’t changed throughout all of its iterations is the rear suspension. Since the beginning, and even to this day, Reichardt runs on leaf springs: split mono Caltrac springs, Caltrac bars, and Penske shocks providing the dampening. And it hasn’t proven to hold back his performance; with the Mickey Thompson 26 x 8.5’s bolted on, he says there’s no shortage of traction.
We’ve put more power to this 8.5 than we ever did with the 275. Right now I’m running the biggest nitrous kit I’ve ever run in my life … street racing or anything.
Power comes from a 434 cubic-inch small-block Chevrolet built by Doug Albietz at AMT Racing Engines, topped with 9-degree Dart cylinder heads and an Edelbrock intake plumbed with an NOS nitrous oxide system. A Transmission Specialties Powerglide and converter transfer the power rearward to the Fab 9 housing outfitted with a Strange Ultra center section, 40-spline axles, and brakes.
Penciled into Reichardt’s calendar with an exclamation point is this October’s $20,000-to-win MX235 shootout in Tulsa, Oklahoma, and before then, he’s hoping to get an additional 60 pounds of weight off the car, and then work will begin this winter to get it to the minimum weight so he can march to the head of the class. He’ll accomplish this through the addition of spindle mount wheels with carbon fiber brakes and the use of carbon elsewhere on the car. But with everything on the cars’ exterior already fiberglass with the exception of the roof and quarter panels, getting down to fighting weight won’t be an easy nor cheap task.
“I’m picking at it. Right now, any of my downtime where I’m not working on my house or at work I’m trying to figure out where we can get weight out of it. But it’s expensive. It’s all about the weight — with the exact same engine and nitrous, we went from a five-teen car to the 4.70s by taking 585 pounds off of it before.”
Ultimately, though, he’d like to switch engine combinations entirely to step his program up another notch.
“Eventually I want to go to an LS setup. I think the LS stuff is going to be the new small-block Chevrolet. The big heads and all are coming to the LS. I’d like to do an LS and and stay nitrous and carbureted.”
In addition to a slate of 8.5 races the remainder of the year, Reichardt has also been invited to a couple of No Prep events — a venture both familiar and unfamiliar at the same time to the former street racer. “I don’t know how well the 8.5 will do on it, but I thought about trying it. Even if we threw a 275 on it, I’d really like to do it.”
Reichardt is quick to thank the many family, friends, and supporters of his racing program and his time away working on the car and competing across the Midwest and East coast.
“The most important person to thank is my family: my wife, Michelle, and my four kids: Breanna, Jakob, Mason, and Grant, for understanding all the long nights and days of being gone building and racing the Camaro. I also have to thank my best friend, Kevin Ehrhardt, who without I can’t get it done. Also, Doug at AMT, Andy McCoy, Steve Richards, Tom Kohler, Kevin Clark, and Mike Hately. I have met so many good people while racing on the road. It’s like one big family and it’s what keeps me going back. It’s all about the memories … and going fast, of course.”