Automotive journalist and gearhead Jacob Davis partook in this year’s inaugural Sick Week drag-and-drive event in his 1967 El Camino, and he (with photographic support from Cole Reynolds) documented both his own journey through this grueling test of man and machine, but also those of his peers and the drag race-turned-adventure itself. Through a partnership with the content team at Holley, this unique look from behind the wheel at Sick Week is made possible.
Drag and drive events have become the ultimate test of what it truly means to have a quick street car in today’s day and age. These week-long torture tests of man and machine were the brainchild of David Freiburger back in 2005 when he came up with Drag Week. Over the years they have surged in popularity, resulting in many different offshoots inspired by the original event. One of the best-known racers, Tom Bailey, cut his teeth at Drag Week over the years, even winning the event multiple times with his two street-legal Camaros, which ultimately led us here to his own event known as Sick Week.
Bailey assembled a star-studded cast of racers with some of the fastest street cars on the planet showing up to race at four different tracks over five days, all while driving their cars over 800 miles with no support vehicles other than the kindness of fellow racers to help overcome problems. Self-proclaimed by the man himself as “The Hardest Vacation you’ll ever take,” the first annual Sick Week takes the diehard racers that live for these events south to Florida for some warm weather and drag racing in the middle of winter many of the tracks up north are still covered in snow.
Despite having covered many of these kinds of events as an automotive journalist and knowing full well the struggles of those who take on the challenge, I decided to enter my own vehicle into the fray, a 1967 El Camino. Nothing about that decision is smart per se. Not only is it an expensive endeavor, but there is a rather high likelihood of breaking your car in some manner along with a virtual guarantee you will lose out on many hours of sleep. However, I can personally assure you that these events are some of the most fun you can ever have drag racing and the people that attend them are some of the best you could ever have the distinct pleasure of meeting. With that said, let me walk you through what it’s like to attend one of these events from the moment you decide to take on the challenge all the way through finishing it on the last day.
Before you even get to go racing you have to win the first race by securing yourself a spot in the event when registration opens. There are only 350 slots available, with a number of racers several times that interested in attending, so it’s a mad dash to fill out your registration form and put in your credit card information before all the spots are taken once things go live. Unfortunately, I was handed my first loss when the event sold out within just three minutes!
Luckily that doesn’t necessarily doom your chances of getting in these events. You can get on a waitlist for slots that open up as other racers inevitably drop out for various reasons, and even if you don’t get called up before the event, as far as I know not a single drag and drive event has ever completely filled to capacity on tech day. Personally, I was way down the waitlist but showed up anyway, fairly sure there would be room to spare. I was right about this and was entrant 329 out of 331 racers that actually made it there.
The second race is the race against the clock just to get your car done in time for the event. While this may sound simple, we all know how much longer most projects end up taking compared to what we first had planned in our optimistic if not slightly delusional minds. I am definitely guilty of this fact and just two weeks before the event, the Elco was basically a shell of a car with no suspension, no wiring, no brakes, no front sheetmetal, and a bare block of an engine that still needed to be assembled.
Situations like mine are exactly why, if you get your car ready in time, you should just show up because those registered racers who didn’t get their vehicle done in time leave room for the unregistered folk to slip their way in at the last minute. Luckily, I’m stubborn, and will forego sleep in order to meet a deadline, and after many sleepless nights, the engine fired up for the first time. It was 4:00 a.m. the day of tech and registration.
My father, Tim Davis, would be serving as my co-driver for the week and helped load it up on the trailer just before we cannonballed straight to Bradenton Motorsports Park without actually finishing the car or working out any bugs. As soon as we got there, we had to put in the headlights, turn signals, swap a bad starter, and slip into the back of the tech line with a barely running car. This is when I bolted on my horn and wired it up to complete the list of requirements to be considered a truly legal street car while I waited for the NHRA official to inspect my car. We were literally one of the last three cars to make it through tech that night before heading over to Cleetus McFarland’s Freedom Factory to catch the end of the pre-party and celebrate our first win of the event, despite having a car that still needed more work.
After a short night’s sleep, we headed to the track early for day one of Sick Week where we were able to source some drag radials from Mickey Thompson’s on-site trailer, before having my friend, Lance Disharoon, from Mill Creek Calibration plug into our Holley Terminator X ECU to diagnose a few issues and drop in a base tune-up for the new engine we built for the car.
We were able to quickly diagnose the main issue with how the car was running by seeing that we were getting no cam signal whatsoever. Somehow in my haste to toss the car together, I had forgotten to plug in the cam sensor, resulting in an engine that barely ran on what felt like only half its cylinders. After plugging that back in and giving the car one last check over, we did a few miles of street driving to let the ECU learn just a bit before hitting the track with no expectation for what the car might do.
On our first pass, we ran a 13.25 at 106 mph. I knew it had more in it, so I looped back to the staging lanes and managed to run a 12.86 at 109 mph on our second pass. I turned in for my time slip on the day, entering myself into the Dial Your Own (DYO) class. I knew I would likely not be competitive whatsoever anyway. Then it was time to load up the car with all of the stuff we needed to survive the week, park our truck and trailer in the impound lot where we would not be allowed to access it again until the end of the week, and hit the road to drive the route laid out for us being sure to stop at the designated checkpoints along the way as we headed to Orlando for day two!
We had it easy compared to many of the racers there because our car is such a mild street/strip car, unlike some of the incredible machines that competitors brought out to this event. Several racers didn’t even make it past their first pass before their week was over, due to some sort of catastrophic failure on their car.
Even Tom Bailey, the organizer of this whole shindig himself, dropped a valve inside his twin-turbo, big-block-powered Camaro, only 50 miles into the drive, knocking him out of competition. However, many of the fastest cars were still in contention. Seeing cars that are capable of six-second quarter-mile times pulling a trailer full of tools, spare parts, luggage, and anything else they might need behind them as they roll down public roads in race cars to the next track is something that will never get old. Despite having a brand-new build with virtually zero miles on the set up, we made the first drive with no issues whatsoever. We only needed to adjust our new Holley LED Retrobright headlights so we could see a little further down the road.
Unfortunately, day two racing at Orlando Speedworld got canceled due to rain, so we simply took a picture at the track before hitting the road for Gainesville. The wet day obviously made driving drag cars on the street even more interesting. A lot of the competitors swap tires between the street and the strip, but many simply run DOT-approved drag radials. This can make for a mildly sketchy drive where throttle management in these high horsepower machines is key to avoiding slippery situations along the route. Despite the abnormally chilly weather and plenty of rain, we managed to enjoy a beautiful drive along the Atlantic Ocean on Florida’s east coast, making it to Gainesville without a single issue with of the car.
The rest of the week was more of the same for us. We made two passes at Gainesville, running a best of 13.01 at 108 mph, which was slightly slower than our pass from day one before making the drive to South Georgia Motorsports Park in Valdosta, GA. Once again, without any problems. There, we changed the break-in oil on the motor after logging about 500 miles and made two passes with a best of 13.11 at 107mph.
The drive back to Bradenton had us stop at the Don Garlits Museum of Drag Racing. This is a truly incredible collection of drag racing history that any drag racing fan should stop and see if they’re traveling down I-75 through Gainesville. Again, the drive went off without a hitch for us to our hotel that night about an hour from Bradenton. Racing didn’t start until 2:00 p.m. on the final day, so we had a lazy morning before heading to the track.
About forty-five minutes from the track we came across Cadillac Shawn on the side of the interstate. His twin-turbo, 8-second, 1977 Coupe DeVille had cracked a wheel. He didn’t have a way to fix it, so we swapped to our drag radials and let him take a drill to our street wheels to open up the holes to clear his 5/8-inch studs so he could get the car to the track and complete the event. One of the best parts of these events is just how much all of the racers are all willing to do to help each other, so when the opportunity to do that for someone else presented itself we were happy to do whatever we could to keep him rolling.
The final day is really a big party for those who survived the entire trip because all one has to do is break the beams on the starting line in order to say they finished Sick Week. Of course, all of those that are close to winning their class are stressed about running the number necessary to secure their position. Competition is fierce in nearly every class with hundredths and sometimes mere thousandths separating the top cars. This was not our case, and we were just happy to be there after having a completely unproven and untested car on day one of the event. On the final day, we ran a 13.08 at 107 mph, locking in our average with a 13.015 at 108 mph just missing out on the 12-second average I wanted. But really, just finishing the event was a huge win for us considering what the car looked like just a couple of weeks prior.
I knew the trials and tribulations of these events better than most because I have spent years telling the stories of others as they have taken on events just like this one. But despite my better judgment, I signed up anyway, knowing the experience would be worth everything invested to be there. From the sleepless nights getting the car ready, to the long hours put in at the drag strip and on the road to the next track each night, and the hours spent in the car talking with your co-driver, everything about these events is a whirlwind that is so much fun to be a part of even if it is the hardest vacation you could imagine.
To successfully complete my first drag and drive event as a participant truly makes me feel as though I have leveled up as a diehard car guy. Seeing all of the drag racing family together in Florida for Tom Bailey’s Sick Week in the middle of winter may just have to become a tradition for my father and me. Now we just need to make the car faster for the next event and see if we can take home a class win at the next one rather than just being along for the ride.