Despite the brand riding off into the sunset a decade ago next month, there remain legions of Pontiac loyalists, the majority of whom owe their dedication of the “Arrowhead” to the iconic musclecars of the 1960s and ‘70s. While Pontiac was befallen by a series of ill-fated, un-intriguing, and poorly-selling vehicles in its twilight, it was, during those golden years of the musclecar, the performance division of General Motors, blessing the automotive world with the likes of the GTO, LeMans, Firebird, and Tempest, among others.
Tommy Youmans grew up right alongside the Pontiac brand, his youth coinciding with its transition from classically-styled family sedans to pure-bred muscle machines in the early ‘60s and into the next decade. To suggest that those iconic namesakes made an impression on him at that early age would be a gross understatement. Youmans, a soft-spoken, God-fearing, self-made gentleman from central Georgia who exemplifies the hard-working, simple-living life of the South, has owned more than two dozen Pontiacs in his time — and he still has most of them.
“My first job was working at a full-service gas station, and one of the guys that worked there had a ’65 GTO, and that was my introduction to Pontiacs,” he says with his unmistakable Southern accent. “It was just a cool car. A lot of the guys in town either had Mustangs or Camaros. But the GTO was an awesome car — the power and the torque and everything that it made, the styling. It was a cool car.”
“After high school I went into the Navy, and as soon as I got out of boot-camp, I came home on leave and had a little money and I wanted to buy a car, and I knew I wanted a Firebird. My dad had probably one of the ugliest pickup trucks ever made — a 1969 Dodge — and that’s what I had to drive,” he says with a laugh. “So I hunted and hunted and bought a one-owner ’68, and loved the car. We progressed with it, going from the street car that it was and making it faster and souping it up, just doing the things that a normal young man at 19 or 20 years old did. And my love of Pontiacs just grew from that experience.”
This guy had a turbo car, and he told me I ought to drive this thing one time. When I felt those turbos go to making power, and I felt that boost sensation, it was like oh…my…Lord. This thing is awesome.
As Youmans’ automotive exploits expanded, he and his buddies found themselves street racing on the Peach State’s back-roads and, eventually, the nearby Warner-Robins Dragway.
“We were small-town America, so everybody cruised the strip and street-raced, and we had three or four spots out in the county we would go to and line up and arm-drop race. I got into that, and from then on, it was just an addiction,” he shares.
As tends to happen, life got in the way; Youmans got married, expanded his family, and laid the groundwork for his career in the steel construction business. He wisely put the racing on the back-burner, but he says that affection for fast cars was always there, and as the years went by, like a strong river current, he was pulled right back in. Youmans and childhood friend and fellow Pontiac aficionado, Randy Barlow, built a racecar utilizing a ’68 GTO — one of many Pontiacs that Youmans had purchased by that time — and hit the track virtually every weekend. They ran that car at various Pontiac-only events, progressively going quicker and faster.
While on the look-out for what he was really after, a ’70 GTO chrome-moly chassis car, Youmans bought a ’64 model, assembled a 535-inch all-motor Pontiac combination, and ran it like that for a number of years. “But, of course, that wasn’t quite fast enough,” he says. Someone once told me, ‘that thing is bad…but once you put a little spray on it and some little tires, that thing will go,’ ” he shares with a chuckle. “I was old-school, I was big tires. This little tire thing came up and bit me.”
Youmans was competing in grudge races in around his native Georgia, but began getting complaints from his competitors who took issue with his sheet metal intake and dual carburetors, despite running naturally-aspirated opposite their nitrous cars.
“I told them, ‘well you’ve got nitrous.’ But the Pontiac motor just made so much torque that I was able to compete and beat those guys. They started fussing and I just told them, ‘I want to race — ya’ll tell me what I’ve got to have,’ and they said inline-valve heads, cast intake, single carburetor. Mike Hill started helping me with tuning and we just got quicker and quicker. I tell some of those grudge guys even now, ‘this is all ya’ll’s fault!’ They say, ‘what do you mean?’ And I say, ‘if you’d have let me race the way I was, I probably never would have built the car I have now…I never would have gone this fast.’ ”
In truth, Youmans owes not his grudge racing counterparts, but an offer from a friend for the work of art you see before you.
“This guy had a turbo car, and he told me I ought to drive this thing one time. When I felt those turbos go to making power,” he begins with a chuckle and a grin, “and I felt that boost sensation, it was like oh…my…Lord. This thing is awesome.”
Youmans returned home and knew this was what he needed to do. He gained his wife’s blessing, telling her, “I wanted a ’70, and I couldn’t find a ’70, and I want to build a twin-turbo GTO and I want to go fast.”
Youmans met Todd Dobson of Mod-Rods in nearby Macon, Georgia, who he refers to as “a good Christian guy with a small shop that works mostly by himself,” and laid out the plans for the ’70 GTO he had long dreamed of. Not one to cut up a perfectly good Pontiac to make a racecar, Youmans and Dobson sourced factory reproduction panels to construct the car — quarters, rockers, A-pillars, rear valance, and deck panel.
Dobson spent seven months assembling the car, from a pile of ’70 GTO panels to a work of art covered in striking Carousel Red color.
Racing is the most addictive thing I have ever done in my life.
Despite the lack of parts availability, particularly at the extremes that he intended to operate, Youmans was dedicated to sticking with traditional Pontiac power. He approached the team at Kaufmann Racing Equipment in Ohio, which had built a plethora of Pontiac racing engines, but never a twin-turbo Pontiac of the caliber he had in mind. But they were willing to take on the project.
Kaufmann utilized a billet MR1 block, and together with GRP rods, Bryant crankshaft, and Ross pistons, assembled the 505 cubic-inch Pontiac of Youmans’ dreams. Topped with KRE’s Warp6 cylinder heads, a custom billet intake, and fed by a pair of 98mm Garrett turbos, the one-off mill produced a staggering 3,355 horsepower and 2,933 lb-ft of torque on the hub dyno at FuelTech, at 50-pounds of boost. This, he says proudly, is the most powerful Pontiac engine known to exist.
A FuelTech FT600 wired by Michael Bunton gives the ignition and fuel its directions, while an RCD dry sump system manages the oiling, and custom stainless 2-1/4-inch headers exhale the exhaust gases.
An M&M Turbo 400 and torque converter package route the power back to a Mark Williams 11-inch full floater rearend housing. TBM brakes behind Sander 740 Series wheels are situated up front, while Mark Williams carbon-fiber brakes are paired with 15-inch Weld Alumastars out back. Menscer shocks are located on all four corners.
The one question Youmans is asked about more than any other — perhaps aside from the engine — is whether or not he and Dobson chopped the roofline. And he insists, despite the appearance, they did not.
“We were measuring off of a stock car, and once we got the nose for it and tacked everything up, the windshield looked so straight up and down…it didn’t look like a racecar. I really wanted to do something different, so we started playing with it,” Youmans explains. “Todd raked the bottom of the windshield out, and when he did that, it dropped the leading edge of the roofline down a little bit. With everything we did with the hood to make it cover the intake, it made the look of the car just unbelievable, to me. Everyone swears up and down we chopped it, but we didn’t. To me, it just made the car look a lot better.”
The windshield is, he confirms, stock in dimension, from corner to corner.
“I’ve caught grief from some of the traditional Pontiac guys, but I tell them that it’s a racecar…not a street car. I’ve never said it was a street car. It looks good to me, and I think you should build something that you like,” he says.
Adding to uniqueness of the car, Dobson molded a VFN nose and hood together into one, used modeling clay to build the center up to cover the intake plenum, and added the fiberglass headlight buckets for the factory GTO headlights, making it a truly one-of-one nose.
Youmans debuted the GTO at Middle Georgia Motorsports Park in late summer and then, at the urging of many in the Pontiac brotherhood, attended the Pontiac Nationals. On big tires, he coasted across the 1/4-mile finish stripe to the tune of a 6.68 at 197 mph. He then made his big-show, small-tire debut at No Mercy 10 at South Georgia Motorsports Park in October, with Bunton and FuelTech’s Luis de Leon calling the tuning shots in tandem. There, he clocked a career-best 4.03-second elapsed time in Pro 275 trim, and was confidently targeting a 3-second run in eliminations when, on a competition single, the rear shocks topped out just after the launch, breaking the tires loose and sending him across the centerline and into the retaining wall. The impact buckled the drivers’s side quarter panel and mangled the custom ’70 nose.
“It was going across the track and it was slowing down and I was trying to feather the brake so it wouldn’t slide the tire. And I kept saying, ‘please don’t hit anything,’ and then when I saw it was going to hit the front end I said, ‘please don’t come around and hit the wall,’ but that’s what it did,” he explains.
“We had put some more power in the car and made a shock adjustment before that round to try leaving faster,” he goes on to say. “Our 60-foot had gotten better every pass. Some people ask, ‘you had the bye, why didn’t you break the beam and motor down the track and come back around?’ Well, you’re a racer — the number one qualifier is on the other side of the ladder and he went 3.90. We knew we may have to face him, so we were trying to go 3.90s…we knew we could. You can always second-guess your decisions.”
By that Monday, Dobson had already cut the quarter panel from the car and begun work repairing the GTO in hopes of a return to the racetrack before the end of the year. As part of the process, he has made steps to increase the separation from its previous limit of 5-inches.
“At the end of the day, it’s just a racecar. My wife was so worried that I was going to have a wreck, and I told her to quit worrying about it, because it’s going to happen. If you go the speeds we go long enough, it’s going to happen. All I can do is build the best car I can, buy the best safety equipment, and say a prayer every time I get behind the wheel,” he says.
Youmans’ collection currently features twelve Pontiacs, including a ’76 Catalina station wagon, two ’68 GTO’s, two ’73 Trans Am’s (a “big bird and a “little bird”), a ’72 455 Ram-Air Firebird Formula, two ’68 Firebirds, a ’67 Firebird, a ’64 Grand Prix, ’79 Trans Am, and another ’68 GTO that’s presently being restored. And of course, the ’70 GTO you see here. But despite all the power the racecar has, he admits his ’64 GTO Tri Power 389 three-deuce four-speed is the one he’d be least likely to part with.
Youmans’ affinity for the Pontiac brand, and for drag racing, led him to name his race team, appropriately, Addicted Pontiac Racing.
“Racing is the most addictive thing I have ever done in my life. I love to work hard, I started out with nothing and own my own company, I worked off my hands and my butt and just made it. With a bunch of good guys and the blessing of the Lord, I was able to be successful and do the things that I’m doing. It all allowed me to be able to do this,” he says.
Youmans’ race team includes his oldest grandson Jesse Blunt and Mark Bird, along with the aforementioned Bunton and de Leon. And his mission, aside from going 3.90s, is to enjoy the process, win, lose, or draw.
“All three of us work good together, and we just have a great time. If you can’t have fun, why are you doing it, you know?” he asks in closing. “We cut and up have a good time, and even through tearing the car up, we had a good time.”