James “Birdman” Finney is one of the toughest no-prep racers to ever grab a lane, and his reputation has garnered the respect of every racer he’s lined up against. During the filming of Discovery’s Fastest Street Car in America this summer, Finney experienced one of the most brutal crashes to date on the show. This is the story about his comeback that almost didn’t happen, and the Camaro that has replaced his familiar Firebird.
The photos and videos of Finney’s crash tell the story of just how vicious it was — the Firebird looked like it had been through a tornado. Finney survived the crash but still had to spend some time in the hospital due to the injuries he sustained. The crash really could have been the end of Finney’s career if it wasn’t for his friends who wanted to see him keep racing.
“After the crash, I was really going to get out of racing for a bit. The funds had been rough, I was laying in the hospital bed, and I was just relieved it was over. I was tired of spending the massive amount of money it takes to run one of these cars and the time I was away from my family. A friend that I drive a racecar for handed me a check for $10,000 because he knew I was having trouble. He then asked me what it would take to get back to racing, I told him it would take at least $50,000, but it didn’t matter because I was getting out of it. He came back the next day and loaned me $50,000 and said to pay him back next year. I just thought at that point, I can’t quit now,” Finney says.
Finney was on track to get back to racing again, but little did he realize how soon it would actually happen. A week after the gentleman loaned Finney the money needed to get a new car, another friend reached out to him about being a hired gun to race his car.
“Right after that guy gave me the money for the new car, Chris Hamilton called and asked me to drive his car for the Mega Cash Days deal since he was flagging it. I got right back in the seat a month after the crash. In fact, when you watch the show you’ll see in the first episode I have a cast, in the second I cut it off because I couldn’t drive the damn car,” Finney explains.
The 1969 Camaro that Finney acquired still has a steel roof and quarter panels, so it fits the rules for No Prep Kings and most other no prep events. Finney planned on buying Scott Taylor’s Firebird because it was set up like his previous car, but that changed when Taylor showed him the Camaro. Taylor himself actually wanted to purchase the Camaro, but he wouldn’t have the time needed to get the car ready.
“The new car uses the turbo, engine, transmission, rear end, and shocks from the Firebird, so it saved us a lot of time being able to use all of those parts. The crash really didn’t hurt anything in the drivetrain…it bent a flange on the intake charge pipe, that was it,” Finney says.
Finney still had to make some changes to the car to fit his needs. He’s cut the quarter panels up so the big tires will fit how he wants by using a kit from Chassis Engineering. This was done to get the car’s ride height where he needed it to work with the 4-link suspension on no-prep surfaces.
The Camaro has only been to the track twice since Finney purchased it and so far he likes what he sees. Finney also plans on putting a lot of laps on the car in 2021 with a full slate of races on his dance card.
“The new car is much better than the old Firebird, but I still love that car…I swear they’re going to have to bury me with it. I’m putting it in my will. We won over $500,000 with the Firebird, but this new Camaro is safer, it has a longer wheelbase, and is a better chassis. I’ve had to make some changes to it, but this car will be faster than the Firebird. I’m going to run No Prep Kings for sure. We’re doing Fastest in America again,” Finney says.
James Finney has earned his reputation of being the boogieman of no-prep racing through his years of success. This Camaro is the start of a new and exciting chapter for the veteran racer that could lead to more wins and even more headaches for the competition.