The Silver Unit: Street Outlaws’ Derek Travis And His ’86 Camaro

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What would you do with a 704 cubic inch big-block with three nitrous kits? Chances are racing it on the street isn’t the first thing that comes to mind. But for Derek Travis from Discovery Channel’s Street Outlaws, that was the plan all along.

‘Gangster Ass’ Derek is a big guy with a big personality, and he’s got a big attitude and big power to back it up. He’s a fierce competitor, and there isn’t much else to say. Derek walked on to the show taking the role of the bad guy, and the villain-esque portrayal in television land worked. But the truth is you’ll never meet a nicer, harder working guy.

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Derek’s love of cars started at a young age, and family has always been at the center of it. Derek was born and raised in Oklahoma City and was 16 years old when he met his now wife, Christina. He drove a 1982 Camaro and Christina had a 1985 Mustang GT. “She always talked about how much faster her car was than mine,” Derek explains. “So that’s when it all began. My father-in-law and I went out to the street one day and we raced my Camaro against her Mustang. If you hear my father-in-law tell the story he, whooped the (expletive deleted) out of my Camaro, but in reality, he only beat me by one, maybe two cars. I caught so much grief from Christina that I was determined to never let her car beat me again.”

Winger Racing Engines of San Angelo, Texas built Derek a nasty 704 cubic inch big-block. The bullet was topped with three stages of nitrous plumbed into a TRE sheetmetal intake manifold by Steve Johnson of Induction Solutions.

Fast forward a few years, and Derek is now in the thick of one of the biggest phenomenons to ever happen to drag racing: Street Outlaws. Whether you’re a fan of the show or not, the impact that the racers from the 405 have had on the sport is undeniable. Though the show was an overnight success, for guys like Derek, the success has been cultivated over decades of racing on the streets of OKC.

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“In 2005 I traded a 1975 Camaro to a high school kid for the 1986 Camaro that is now known as the Silver Unit.” Derek continues, “When I got the car it was multiple colors and had shoe polish on that back glass that never wanted to come off. I built a mild small-block for it and put a small shot of nitrous on it. With the help of my brothers, we painted the car flat black and laid out some racing stripes with gray primer. I then went hunting for some action.”

This is when Derek made a friend that would change everything–  Daddy Dave Comstock. Derek and Dave began hanging out and Dave taught him even more about cars and racing. The two built several motors together, and even tackled the back half job on the Silver Unit. Dave was a big part many other upgrades that helped make the Silver Unit what it is today, including the name. While looking for a name for the car to use on the show, Dave made a joke calling the car the Silver Unit. The phallic funny stuck, and the rest was history.

The Silver Unit's off-season overhaul started in late 2015 when the car was brought to G&S Custom Fabrication and Suspension for an all-new chassis. The car was gutted and fitted with a new mild-steel 25.5-spec chassis. The upgraded chassis was needed to handle to newfound power from the 704-inch Big-Block.

Derek and the Silver Unit have been up and down the bottom half of the OKC top 10 list. The Third-Gen Camaro has always been a threat no matter who’s in the other lane. Derek tells us the Silver Unit was a very consistent street-raced car over the past few years, but with the addition of Pro Mod-style chassis and ever-growing horsepower numbers, the other cars on the list are doing nothing but getting faster. This meant Derek needed to step up his program to stay on the list. His drive to be faster prompted a total rebuild of the 1986 Camaro at the end of 2015, and it all started with the chassis.

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Derek teamed up with G&S Custom Fabrication and Suspension in Athens, Alabama, and the Camaro was cut apart. In the beginning of 2016, the car was nothing more than the factory roof and quarter panels. G&S built a complete 25.5-spec mild steel chassis and had the car back to Derek in just weeks. The old combination that had taken Derek as high as number five on the list consisted of a 604 cubic inch Big-Block Chevy engine with two stages of nitrous, courtesy of Induction Solutions. With a stronger chassis capable of handling more power, Derek turned to Winger Racing Engines of San Angelo, Texas, for more power.

Part of the car's new ultra-aggressive looks come from the slick, black anodized Street Lite wheels from Billet Specialties. The blend of polished aluminum and black anodized aluminum matches the color scheme of the Silver Unit perfectly.

The 604 (that now has a giant hole where a cylinder wall should be) was replaced with 704 cubic inches of nitrous-fed Big-Block Chevy power. Not only does this engine have more displacement, but it also has a third nitrous system. Fuel and ignition timing are controlled via a Haltech Elite EFI system, which allows Derek to have absolute control over how much power gets to the wheels, while a set of injectors from Fuel Injector Clinic supply the fuel.
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Power gets to the wheels via a Powerglide transmission and torque converter, built by Freakshow Performance. A Moser Engineering M9 9-inch rearend put the power to the Billet Specialties wheels, with massive slicks mounted on them. The chassis and running gear isn’t all that has been upgraded, though, as the wheelbase of the new chassis has been extended for stability, and this required some new body work. Derek turned to VFN Fiberglass for the new one-piece nose and extended hood for the Silver Unit. Rod Shop Paint and Body layered the familiar silver hue and black stripe, making the Camaro as much show as it is go.

“The show has given me a large amount of exposure, along with the ability to travel a lot and race at tracks that I wouldn’t have had the chance to otherwise,” Derek explains. “The support we’ve gotten from our fans is unreal and really makes all of the late nights, long hours, money spent well worth it.”

The Crash

“After getting out of the car all I could do was think that this was a bad dream I couldn’t wake up from.”

In racing we have safety equipment in place for a reason, and unfortunately, Derek would put the safety prowess of the Silver Unit to the test in the most unfortunate of ways. While competing at a no prep race at I-22 Motorsports in Eldridge, Alabama, Derek found himself in the situation every racer fears.

“I staged the car and got on the transbrake,” Derek explains. “I saw the other guy red light and let go of the button. When two kits came on it paddled the tires and drove towards the center. I pedaled it and got it straight, but knew I needed data on both kits, so I got back in it. It spun again and turned right, hitting a small dip in the track at the same time. It turned hard enough that I was about to go head-on into the wall.

After heading towards the center of the track, Derek went for a rough and wild ride at I-22 Motorsports in Eldridge, Alabama. The car made hard contact with the right retaining wall just past the half track mark. Though the car didn't roll, you can see the massive amounts of damage. Derek walked away, but had injuries to his ribs, neck, back, and arm. The fact that he walked away is a testiment to high level of safety built into the car and his protective equipment.

“The wheels on the right side of the car were off the ground, and when I felt them finally touch, I struck the throttle again to try and get the car to turn. It spun the car back to the left a little and the car hit the wall hard with the right front. It broke the front wheel and suspension off and the car slid for about 500-feet. As the car was sliding, I was thinking that I needed to breathe and that I couldn’t believe I wrecked MY car, my job, and my dream.”

Derek walked away from the crash with multiple cracked ribs, whiplash, a torn muscle in his arm, and a bulged disc in his back, but the important part is that he walked away.IMG_0568

“After getting out of the car all I could do was think that this was a bad dream I couldn’t wake up from,” Derek concludes.

After the accident, Derek brought the car back to G&S to have the chassis evaluated. The damage is repairable, but it is still up in the air if the best route is to simply build a new car. Derek wouldn’t have been able to get the car to this point without the help of his sponsors, so the future is slightly unclear at this point. The one thing we can tell you is that you haven’t seen the last of Derek Travis.

About the author

Pete Epple

Pete Epple has been an automotive enthusiast for the better part of 30 years, and a racer for nearly as long. He's been writing about cars for nearly 10 years.
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