RJ Race Cars and its Quarter-Max parts division have provided chassis and components to countless series champions, event winners, and record-setters in the sport of drag racing, but often its the most unique of partnerships that exist well out of the spotlight that deliver the best of stories. For father-and-son builders Rick and Rickie Jones, that story began more than a year ago, when they received a phone call from a group of racers half a world away in Spain — a nation with little to offer in the form of organized drag racing. The group, known as Team Centauro and led by Spanish businessman Angel Romero, had developed a rooted interest in high-performance cars and drag racing, had attended racing events here in the states, and wished to build a car. Not just any car, though — the quickest and fastest car in their native land.
With their decades of racing knowledge — not only in chassis building, but driving and tuning — the Joneses facilitated every step of the process for the group.
Romero, a prominent business figure in his native land, had only driven sports cars around tracks in Europe before turning his interest to drag racing. In Spain, however, drag racing is only loosely organized and there are no dedicated drag strips or drag-race chassis builders, so little in the way of opportunity existed for Romero to partake.
“[Angel] didn’t have much experience with drag racing — I think the fastest thing he’d ever driven was a sports car on the highway,” Rickie Jones explains. “In Spain, they don’t have any dedicated drag strips, so when they want to hold an event, they actually rent the airport runway and several cars come out. I think the national record there is 8.5- or 9-seconds, and so these guys wanted to jump in with both feet and didn’t really know where to start. They got ahold of us and we told them we could build them a car. We asked how fast they wanted to go, and they told us they wanted to be the fastest car in Spain. They wanted a ’68 Camaro…they had been to some races here in the states and really liked the look of the Camaro.”
As they do with any customer, Jones and company invited Romero and his group to their Galesburg, Illinois facility to be fitted for the car. At the same time, Jones — recognizing both Moreno’s lack of drag racing fundamentals and driving experience in a car of this caliber — advised he attend Frank Hawley’s School of Drag Racing.
“We told him if he’d never driven anything like this before, we really recommend he go through Frank’s program, earn his license, learn how to drive the car,” Jones says.
RJ Race Cars assembled a Top Sportsman-style ‘68 Camaro, capable of running in the low 7-second zone on a dedicated, prepared racetrack. RJ delivered the car turnkey, featuring a naturally-aspirated Refer-Morrison 632 with an M&M Turbo 400 transmission and torque converter. RJ outfitted the car with all the usual bracket-racing technologies, in the event the car was brought back to and left in the states to compete. The 25.1-spec car features RJ’s Extreme 4-link kit, 9-inch sheet metal housing, Quarter-Max wheelie bars and lightweight aluminum steering wheel, an all-carbon interior, Strange Engineering axles, brakes, struts, and third member, Stroud belts and parachutes with an air launcher, Safecraft fire system, Racepak V300 data logger and IQ3 dash, MSD Power Grid ignition, and RJ Pro Step headers.
Romero procured Jones’ services after the car was delivered and asked him to join in his visit to Hawley’s school in Gainesville, Florida. There, while Romero was taking part in Hawley’s classrooms sessions via a translator, Jones was in the neighboring garages with Romero’s mechanic walking him through the technical and maintenance aspects of the Camaro. “While they were having driving school up front, we were basically having mechanics school out back,” Jones says with a laugh.
At the close of the two-day session, Romero completed Hawley’s course in a 10-second, Super Gas-style car and than transitioned to the new RJ Camaro. Under the watchful eye of Hawley and Jones — the latter a seasoned doorslammer driver in his own right — Romero began with 330-foot shutoff runs, gradually progressing to the point that Hawley green-lit full 1/4-mile laps. By the end of the day, Romero had competed five to six runs, dipped into the mid-sevens, and earned his Advanced E.T. NHRA license.
“His first reaction was that it was awesome,” says Karim Cuberas, Romero’s representative. “The car felt as quick as lightning, and that’s the origin of the naming of the car: “Thunderstruck.” Mr. Romero is an AC/DC fan, and when he jumped out of the car he was thunderstruck. This car is the quickest thing he has driven yet, and we hope he continues improving, and as he does he will probably drive something quicker.”
“He got right out of Frank’s car, and I had this thing complete and turn-key waiting in the staging lanes — everybody in the class was drooling over it — and he jumped right in this thing,” Jones adds. “The next day he went a string of 7.50s and on the last day, we tried to de-tune and slow the car down to get it to run safely on the overseas runways they were going to be racing its on. It could obviously run in the sevens, but on the surfaces they have over there you might crash, so we wanted to make it safely run eight, nine, even 10-seconds….we wanted to give them different tune-ups that they could load for the different conditions.
“These guys were thrilled with the car and with Frank and with our service,” Jones says, adding, “It was a really neat experience, because someone from across the world, who really didn’t know where to start, wanted to get involved in drag racing. We felt like this might inspire other people — even people here in the states — who want to get involved and don’t know where to start. If this guy from Spain, who didn’t know what to do, had never driven a racecar, basically did all of this with our help and left the states with the quickest sportsman license you can get, anyone can do it.”
Since returning home, Romero and company have tested the car on a local runway, and long-term, their hopes are to compete in existing events — particularly, the European Drag Challenge in England, Germany, and Sweden — while simultaneously utilizing the car to generate interest in more organized racing in Spain. Above all, though, Cuberas says Romero “wants to have some fun” with the endeavor.