Those assembled at the Virginia Motorsports Park for the final day of Drag Week 2019 held their collective breathe for 5.998-seconds as Tom Bailey made history — eclipsing what are likely the last two great milestones in street car drag racing as he added a 250.46 mph speed to the first-ever five-second pass in the 15-year history of the drag-and-drive event.
They are numbers once considered inconceivable by even the most confident of racers; for Bailey and engine builder and co-pilot Steve Morris, they were five tireless years in the making. Regardless of your view, they are numbers that will never be forgotten.
Bailey traversed more than 800 miles (the route itself was in the neighborhood of 770 miles) in his Skinny Kid Race Cars-built, Sick Seconds 2.0 1969 Chevrolet Camaro…a Pro Modified car on the street in virtually every way. With a small parts trailer in tow, Bailey achieved around nine miles-per-gallon along the trip through Virginia, Maryland, and New Jersey.
In collecting the Unlimited class and overall crown, Bailey turned in runs of 6.211, 6.836, 6.180, 6.270, and 5.998, for an average elapsed time of 6.299. It was the Michigander’s fourth overall victory, and his second in Sick Seconds 2.0.
…by no means were we trying to barely make it. This was the bottom off the ninth inning, there’s two out and two strikes and you’re either a hero or a zero…you couldn’t set the stage any better to be either one.
In the run-up to Drag Week, Morris finalized the first copy of his new in-house new engine package, referred to as the SMX, which is based around the formidable 481X powerplant common in Pro Modified, Radial vs The World, and other high-horsepower venues. At 526 cubic-inches, the combination allows Bailey to safely turn higher RPM, but also gives he and Morris greater access to the library of 481X parts that exist in the marketplace. In the end, it was the spark needed to make history.
FIRST EVER 5-Second Pass on Drag Week!
The FIRST 5-Second Drag Week pass EVER! Tom Bailey & Steve Morris made history Friday with a number that racers have been chasing for many years!Posted by 1320Video.com on Monday, September 16, 2019
“We made a whole bunch of changes to our combination to get it to a Pro Modified level — it’s smaller displacement so that we could run higher RPM. We knew the car had it in it. We got the combination together right before we went to Indy [NHRA U.S. Nationals exhibition], basically two weeks before Drag Week, so we didn’t have any test time. The first 1/8-mile pass was the first day of Drag Week. That of course was also the first 1/4-mile pass. It was just trying to find what it wanted each day with the Drag Week dilemma — it’s one-and-done for the most part at each track, so you don’t get time to mess with stuff,” he explains.
“The goal was to run a five every day, but we knew on the first day that we couldn’t do that, so it was a matter of building up to it,” he goes on to share. “We gathered data as the week went on, and on the last day, what we thought would work didn’t — it went the 6.07, and we saw some electrical issues we tried to fix and went back up there with a similar setup and it went the five. Getting to that 5.99 was with six full runs on the car — once we get everything lined out, we know there’s a whole lot left untapped in that thing, so we’re pretty excited about that.”
With the previous 615 cubic-inch engine, Bailey could run up to around 8,200 RPM safely, whereas the SMX allows him to spin the crank at 9,500.
A pair of 98mm Precision turbos provide the boost for his world-beating machine.
“Turning that RPM is the secret to the Pro Mod stuff. We changed the first and second gear ratio and the rearend gear ratio to match it closer to a Pro Modified car. Now that we’re on a more common platform, we’re basically just a fat Pro Mod. We weigh around 2,850-pounds.”
It’s just a pissed-off engine…it just seems pissed all the time. It runs fine, nothing breaks, but it seems angry.
Bailey and Morris were able to eschew some of their previous mechanical woes that have plagued this particular car at Drag Week, sailing to a relatively smooth victory. The heads were removed on day two at Cecil County to address the valve guides sticking when the engine was stone-cold, and time was spent repairing an axle seal over three days.
“We were at the hotel every night by 11 p.m. and that was without getting into a rush. It was pretty seamless, we had no roadside issues or anything to tear apart. The worst thing we had was one of the rear axle seals on the floater housing was leaking and we had to take it apart three days in a row to get it fixed right. If a rear axle seal is the worst thing thing going on, then I’m okay, because that’s something you can just ignore,” he notes with a laugh.
After prior attempts at the 5-second zone and exhaustive efforts behind the scenes, Bailey was confident that if everything went right with the new engine, this was the year he could achieve what no one else has ever done on Drag Week.
“There were a lot of delays with production, the cylinder heads and the block, that pushed us back further than we were supposed to be and right up against the timeline for Drag Week. So we were going in with something completely untested, and un-driven for that matter….it had zero street miles on it when got to Drag Week. We ran it on gas just enough to get an initial tune-up, so we were nervous in that situation because we didn’t get to sort anything out.
Granted, the car itself had been sorted out for street driving, so we were just replacing engines — it wasn’t overly complicated, but no one has taken 481X architecture and driven it almost 1,000 miles. An engine like this is only ever run for five or six seconds, but Steve reassured me that all the angles and everything were good, that it was solid,” Bailey says.
“The engine sounds different, it runs different than it used to. It’s just a pissed-off engine…it just seems pissed all the time,” he goes on to explain. “It runs fine, nothing breaks, but it seems angry. The 632 purred like a kitten and it was smooth, and this thing is just pissed. But we hot-lapped it hard at the end, it fired right up every time, it drives great. It really does not care.”
In regards to the five, Bailey adds, “it wasn’t our plan to cut it that close, that was just God speaking there. On the 6.07 run, it laid over at the top of the third gear change, so we leaned it up a little bit. We found a ground that was loose on a cylinder head and there was still a little noise on the 2-3 shift. Other than that, it was smooth, and I knew it was on a good run.”
Bailey took advantage of VMP track manager Tyler Crossnoe’s wall-to-wall track prep to brave his way through a run in which his Camaro drifted toward and hugged the centerline much off the 1,320-feet — any other track and the magical number may have been staved off for another year in order to save the racecar.
“You can’t get much closer to not getting what you were hoping for, but you did get what you were hoping for. It’s kind of crazy to pick up eight miles-per-hour and .08-seconds, even thought it should have picked up a full tenth. But by no means were we trying to barely make it. This was the bottom of the ninth inning, there’s two out and two strikes and you’re either a hero or a zero…you couldn’t set the stage any better to be either one. The fact that it did it, and did it that close to each of those milestones, it’s crazy,” Bailey says.
When you look back on it, you say, ‘I just drove this thing up and down the East coast and it’s capable of going 0-250 mph in five-seconds’ — it’s kind of surreal,” he reflects.
With his primary goal of breaking the mythical 5-second barrier, Bailey will now his turn his sights to achieving a five-second average and a full scorecard of five-second elapsed times — both goals he feels he could have accomplished this year had the situation been different.
“I think we could have done it if we had a couple more weeks to test, because it’s so close, and there’s so much left in there, so we’ll have to see. When they come out with the tracks next year, we’ll decide if the tracks can handle a 250 mph car. We just got two of the milestones done, and I have a hard time believing anyone is going to run 4.99 or 300, so that last thing on the table is to run a five average and a five every day. So if we could be blessed enough to do both in the same week, that would be a great thing.”