PRI 2019: Street Outlaws Star Ryan Martin Unveils New ZL1 Camaro

Newly-crowned Street Outlaws: No Prep Kings champion, Ryan Martin, unveiled his all-new 2018 Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 today at the Performance Racing Industry Show in Indianapolis, Indiana. 

Built by chassis-building wizard Billy Gilsbach — who also constructed what eventually became known as the Fireball Camaro — the car is a true work of art. It features many tricks of the trade that Gilsbach is known for, in addition to a host of lightweight-titanium and one-off carbon-fiber components that make it one of the most advanced racing machines in any drag racing venue. 

Built specifically for the purpose of no-prep and street racing, the new ZL1 features a wheelbase of 111-inches — 2-inches shorter than the Fireball Camaro — and the engine is moved back in the chassis for better weight transfer.

“The Fireball Camaro was built for drag radial and Outlaw 10.5-style racing — back then, they were moving the engines really far forward to keep the cars from wheelstanding, and to achieve the desired weight bias,” Martin explains. “When we first bought that car and got to racing on the street and in no-prep, we said, ‘this car shouldn’t work good, because the engine is too for forward.’ It’s got a 92-inch axle to mid-plate centerline measurement. But we made it work, and obviously it’s one of the fastest no-prep cars there is. But, I knew when we were building the new one that we could do better. We could improve upon it.”

“Now, we have done things to gear it more toward being a no-prep car. We have the engine set back in the car,” Martin goes on to share. “The engine was moved back approximately 8-inches, and a double framerail has been built to be both higher and wider, which should make for a more stable car. We wanted to gear it to be lighter. When we first got the old car, it had factory framerails — it wasn’t built with the intent of being really light. With street racing, there are no rules, and with no-prep, who knows where it goes, so I wanted to build the lightest car I could. Anywhere that we could put carbon-fiber and titanium, we did. It came in almost 200-pounds lighter than the old car.”

The drivetrain is identical to the Fireball Camaro: a Pro Line Racing 481X with twin Precision Pro Mod 98mm turbochargers, an M&M Turbo 400 and lock-up converter, and a FuelTech FT600 ECU. Martin says, “I went that direction because I have plenty of spares. But also, because I’ve never had a lack of power with that combination. While we’ll have to get ahead of the game and get on the chassis to make it work well, I won’t have to fight the tune-up, because we know it like the back of our hand. By sharing parts between the two cars, if I have an issue, I can rob parts if needed. So it just makes sense.”

Martin first commissioned the new car after the Discovery Channel’s Mega Race, contested between he and Alex Laughlin, driving for Gas Monkey Garage’s Richard Rawlings. At the time, No Prep Kings was in its infancy, and knowing it would be a hit, Martin took his sizable winnings from that show and set the ball in motion for a purpose-built machine. In the time since, he has contributed much of his winnings to its completion.

With no carbon-fiber components available, Gilsbach invested hundreds of man-hours in building the custom doors and frontend. He started with factory parts, from which he built a plug to have one-off ZL1 parts made. Adding to the complexity of the process, he and Martin modified the frontend to shrink the wheel openings and changed the hood for a more visually appealing look. 

“He modified the fenders, and we had one of our Fireball 900 hoods that we had designed for our street car line that I wanted to put on it. I gave him a hood, two fenders, and a ZL1 front clip and said, ‘see what you can do with this.’ ”

Despite the considerable time and investment, Martin contends this car wouldn’t be seeing the light of day had his season not gone to plan.

“I told myself mentally that I wasn’t bringing this car out until I won a championship with the other car. I missed winning it the first two seasons by so little, and I didn’t want all the haters to say I couldn’t win it with that car, so I changed it up. Also, it was so important to me to win that championship so I could bring this car out. Because I told myself I wasn’t if I didn’t do it — I didn’t know what I was going to do with it. But, it was either going to sit in my garage or we’d have put radials on it something. I’m so glad we won, because now we can come out at season four of No Prep Kings with it, which is what I wanted to do anyway,” he says.

The more you look at the car, the more you see of the infinite detail that Gilsbach put into its creation.

“Everything that Billy does is amazing. His builds take a little longer, but it’s because everything he does is so intricate and well-thought-out,” Martin says. “The frontend itself is a work of art, in the way that the factory headlights are molded in (HID LED just like a factory ZL1), and the thoughts of where to put titanium in it.”

Of note are a carbon-fiber steering column, transmission tunnel, and the titanium gas and brake pedals, much of it provided by TMS. 

“The way he did the upper framerail bars — some people are starting to catch on to that. He did it before other cars got moved up and out, which makes them more stable,” Martin adds. “He built the wing from carbon-fiber, the rockers are custom carbon-fiber using his own molds. It’s all just over the top. 

For Martin, this project signified not only a reward for his tireless work and resulting success, but also a personal achievement in developing a car from the ground up, using many of his own concepts and ideas.

“This is the first purpose-built race car that I’ve built using my own ideas and with goals that I wanted to hit. It was a big deal, and I wanted it to be special and mean something. Winning the championship last year made this my reward to myself, to be able to bring it out.”

Martin and his team burned the midnight oil to make the unveiling at PRI. The car was picked up three weeks ago, and with the help of his team and the staff at Homier Fabrications and RK Racecraft (whom Martin credits the tireless efforts of for even making it here) the car was wired, plumbed, and fired for the first time, just before midnight on Tuesday. By 1:00 p.m. the following day, it rolled into the Indiana Convention Center and into position at the Precision Turbo & Engine booth, following an eight-hour trek from Georgia,

Supporters of the project include Strange Engineering, Summit Racing Equipment, Jerry Bickel Race Cars, Weld Racing, Boninfante Clutches, LAT, FuelTech, Race Parts Solutions, AJPE, Turbosmart, BMRS, Schoneck Composites, Moroso Performance Products, PTE, Wiseco, Visner Engineering, T&D Machine, Pro Line, TMS Titanium, Tim McAmis Race Cars, GRP Rods, Peterson Fluid Systems, Stock Car Steel and Aluminum, Woolf Race Products, and Optic Armor Windows.

Stay tuned for additional images!

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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