There was a time, not long ago in fact, that the latest and greatest, state-of-the-art chassis technology was attainable only by those with the finances to purchase a complete, finished race car from some of the sport’s elite chassis builders. Such an acquisition often requires an investment well into the six-figures, and as such, is typically reserved for the professional Pro Stock and Pro Modified race teams. But times have certainly changed, and today, the very same parts and pieces — and once-closely guarded secrets — that are under the upper echelon of drag racing machines can be built at a fraction of the cost by those with the skills, the tools, and the time to make it happen.
Missouri-based Tim McAmis Race Cars (TMRC), which specializes in ultra-fast doorslammers, has been selling pre-bent chassis kits since its founding in 1992, just two years after founder Tim McAmis won the first-ever IHRA Pro Modified championship. In the nearly quarter of a century since, the company’s chassis offerings have grown by leaps and bounds, not just in technology by way of extensive research and development, but in the sheer number of vehicles makes and models that kits are made available for. In all, TMRC’s catalog includes 54 different unwelded chassis kits, for everything from 1949 Mercury and 1955 Chevrolet bodies to the swoopy, new-age Ford Mustang and C7 Corvette. All of the kits are built and blueprinted to 25.1 SFI specifications.
While such kits have been available for years, it’s only been in recent times that the company, through the launch of its Tim McAmis Performance Parts division and an adjustment in its business approach to full race car construction, began to heavily promote its chassis kits and the hundreds of parts and components available to take them from a pile of bars to a professional-grade race car in your very own garage.
“We’ve sold thousands of the pre-bent chassis kits over the years, but it wasn’t until recently that we had the resources, from a marketing and media standpoint, to really push that product. It’s the base product for all of the other components that we sell,” McAmis says.
One of the key pieces, in terms of marketing, for McAmis’ chassis kits has been the development of a new, two-hour instructional video that’s included with the kits and available for purchase separately. It walks the viewer step-by-step through the entire process of measuring, laying out, and assembling the chassis. Beyond that, of course, is the required knowledge of notching, welding, and other pertinent fabrication abilities.
“The video really pushed it over the top, explaining in detail how to put one of these cars together. You have to start with the chassis, no matter what kind of project it is, so you have to get that started to build the foundation for all of the other parts that go with the car,” McAmis says. “So we really wanted to spend some time making it easy on the customers to understand how to put the chassis together, and to not be intimidated by it.
We want to help people understand that if they have basic fabrication skills and they’re a good welder, that they can put one of these things together. There’s nothing to be afraid of. – Tim McAmis
Perhaps the defining element of TMRC’s chassis kits, however, is the product itself. That is, what you can buy in kit-form and assemble at home is the very same chassis, down to the last detail, that rests under no-expense-spared, in-house builds like the Pro Modified cars of Brian Hard, Mike Knowles, Danny Rowe, and others.
“If you do some digging around in this market, you’ll see that mostly what’s sold as a kit is not what is really built at the shop. You have the high-end cars that the shop builds for their customers, and the kits are kind of a downgraded version of that. We sell the exact same chassis that we construct here at our facility with our complete race cars,” McAmis says. “There are a number of builds going on with our kits that are very high-end, Pro Modified-style cars. It’s not the generic version—it’s the exact same thing we have on our tables here. And that’s what customers want—to be able to have the same thing that they could buy from us in a complete version.”
Sample clips from the TMRC Chassis Tutorial Video
Another course of action, aside from going the full-on DIY route, is purchasing a kit and commissioning a local chassis builder to complete the chassis. According to McAmis, a handful of shops around the country use TMRC’s kits in many of their race car builds, and countless others have had a McAmis chassis kit on their jig at one point or another. If you do go DIY, though, he estimates that, subtracting labor cost on the assembly of the chassis alone, one can save in the neighborhood of $5,000-6,000. To add to that, “if you have the ability to do this yourself and fit the tubing and weld, you’re going to save tens of thousands of dollars over buying it complete from us.”
Among the racers out there going the chassis kit route—and doing so in impressive fashion—are a pair of Top Sportsman racers, Tommy Payne and Tony Braglio.
Tony Braglio’s 1967 Ford Mustang
Maryland native Tony Braglio is nearing the finish line on one of the more impressive doorslammers—both inside and out—we’ve seen built in some time, and it all centers around a welded TMRC chassis kit and a 1967 Ford Mustang fastback body.
“We’re taking our time to build this car right, and we’re planning to go Top Sportsman racing with it as a stepping stone to Pro Modified,” Braglio says. “We’re building it to be Pro Modified legal and capable, so after shopping around and looking at cars already completed to find something that fits my needs, I got to talking to Billy [Johnston, of TMRC] about their chassis kits and body styles. I didn’t want to have another 1968 Camaro like everyone else, and at the time they were just finishing the Blown Money car of Mike Knowles and we really liked that Mustang body style.”
Braglio commissioned a local chassis builder, Kramer Brothers Race Craft out of Pasadena, Maryland, to construct the car, beginning with a fully welded chassis from TMRC. The car has been slowly coming together since.
“We wanted to have a quality piece, and this chassis kit gives us that. McAmis’ name also carries significant weight in the drag racing world, so that would help with resale value if I ever wanted to sell the car down the road. We were also able to buy a lot of the parts for the car from them, rather than spend time and money here doing all that work,” Braglio says.
The Mustang uses a number of components from the Tim McAmis Performance Parts catalog, including a Mark Williams rear end housing, Penske shocks, the rear wing setup, steering column, and carbon fiber wheel tubs and interior kit.
“As far as the body and chassis, in kit form, you buy it from them and you’re not really re-engineering anything. You might have to massage things a little bit, but it all pretty well welds right into place like it should. My painter, Chuck Buckler [of Banshie Studios] remarked, as well, how minimal body work was needed to prepare it for paint. The lines were all straight and nice,” he continued.
We wanted to have a quality piece, and this chassis kit gives us that. – Tony Braglio
The Kramer Brothers team has utilized McAmis’ customer support along the way, and once the car is completed and has been scaled, they and Braglio will supply the weight and horsepower data to McAmis and company to help dial-in the suspension for initial testing. “With their help, we’ll be able to go the track and go from A to B without a lot of guesswork,” he says.
Tommy Payne’s 1968 Camaro
Another East coast racer, Tommy Payne, took delivery of a McAmis pre-bent chassis kit and a 1968 Chevrolet Camaro V-4 fiberglass body in April, which he’ll be campaigning in the Southern Outlaw Top Sportsman Series.
Payne, a full-time chassis builder who operates D&T Motorsports in Charlottesville, Virginia, has worked with his share of chassis kits in the past, and thus far, has had nothing but positive remarks on the TMRC chassis kit.
“I’ve done a couple of chassis kits before, and none of them fit the way that the manufacturer suggested or promised that they would,” Payne says. “I was in Brian Hard’s pit area last year and ran into Bob [Schniedermeyer, shop foreman] from McAmis, and got to talking. He promised me that the body would fit within 1/8-inch of the chassis when building by the blueprints, and I can say that to date, he has been absolutely dead on the money. “It is, as advertised, the best fitting pre-bent kit that I’ve had the opportunity to work with,” he adds.
Payne shared that a week and half to two weeks of time is saved in the construction process by not having to map out, measure, and bend the tubes for the chassis. As well, there’s a very real cost savings as one doesn’t have to purchase the tubing, a tube bender, and have the experience and software to help bend the tubing properly. And, because time is money, he says you also aren’t investing the two weeks in that step in the process.
When you do this for a living, and time matters, to have someone else do the bend for you and have the chassis designed around their body, it’s difficult to put an hours or dollars saved on that… – Tommy Payne
“When you do this for a living, and time matters, to have someone else do the bend for you and have the chassis designed around their body, it’s difficult to put an hours or dollars saved on that, but it’s significant to have that part done,” Payne says.
Along the way, Payne has also been able to utilize the customer support resources that TMRC makes available to troubleshoot any areas of concern or to clarify the blueprints supplied with the kit.
“Before I screwed something up, they were able to answer the questions that I missed on terminology that was different from what I had used before,” Payne says. “But it was nice that an answer was only a phone call away before something was ruined—that they could talk me through their procedure and their interpretation on the blueprints. It was good to be able to talk to somebody and have the positive feedback on your concerns.”
Payne will be running a 632 cubic inch big-block from Nesbitt Performance, backed up by a Coan transmission and converter.
TMRC Chassis Kits
Although one wouldn’t know, it, a number of the top, record-breaking machines in the sport began as pre-bent and welded chassis kits and bodies from TMRC—not turn-key and ready-to-race. Perhaps the two most notable such cars are the 1968 Camaros of Pro Modified racers Andy Jensen and Doug Reisterer. Jensen, if you’ll recall, was the first turbo racer in history to record a three-second 1/8-mile pass, and also was the first to the 3.80s in his TMRC car. Reisterer, meanwhile, was one of the strongest-running nitrous racers in the country for a number of years, doing it all on a budget far less than his competition.
Others include Northeast Pro Modified standout Ed Burnley, with his nitrous-assisted Camaro, NHRA national event-winning Pro Mod racer Kenny Lang’s current supercharged 1968 Camaro, Quebec, Canada’s Roudolfe Nadeau and his brand new Pro Modified C7 Corvette, and Jesse Marceaux, who actually built his TMRC-chassis Camaro in his garage with his father’s assistance while he was still in high school.
The success of this group of racers, and countless more around the world, illustrate perfectly the type of quality that TMRC puts into their cars, be they over-the-top, in-house creations or the chassis kits they supply to individual racers and chassis shops near and far. While our sport will never be a cheap one, armed with the right tools and know-how—and unparalleled customer support—one can own a world-class race car today at a price within their budget.