Born into a racing family, Cory Clemens dreamed about one day wheeling a wild drag car of his own. Now, at 22 years old, the aspiring racer is taming the small-tire world and climbing the ranks of Pro 275 with his “King of the Jungle II” 1987 Pontiac Firebird Trans Am GTA.
Cory grew up around cars thanks to his father, Wayne Clemens. Wayne’s involvement in racing – first on the streets, then in Outlaw 10.5, and finally in Pro Modified – inspired Cory to follow a similar path. “The louder and faster they were, the better,” recalled the young man of how he loved the fast-paced adrenaline of drag racing. “I remember all the action and competition, and knew that one day, I wanted to be in that seat going fast!”
Always one to “live on the edge” with sports and crazy adventures, young Cory satisfied his speed addiction with go karts and sport bikes, then quelled his craving for competition by driving a Junior Dragster when he was 10 years old. Eventually, the scaled-down dragster was sold and replaced with a Pro Street 1994 Pontiac Trans Am for Wayne, which Cory helped wrench on every night.
Several other cars came and went, and a 2000 Chevrolet Camaro SLP became Cory’s high school hot rod and his first love. “I did some street racing with it and got a name around town,” he confessed. He was 15 at the time, and that’s when his father found his current 1987 Trans Am for sale on Craigslist. Cory checked out the car but didn’t think much of it, as he was “more of a fourth-gen kind of guy.”
One blistering cold day, Wayne picked up Cory and his brother, Colten, from school and took them on a three-hour road trip from their home in Lake of the Ozarks, Missouri, to St. Louis just to take a peek at the third-generation Firebird. “Everything had been tossed in the guy’s trailer, but it was in great condition,” Cory said of how the car still had all of its original pieces except for the interior. “My dad and I went back and forth while we were there and inevitably bought it!”
Thinking that the GTA would be a great start to let Cory learn to build a drag car from scratch, the men liked that the F-body was not as common as a Camaro or other platforms. At the time, he had been racing his Camaro and even a dragster sporadically, but the Trans Am quickly became his main focus.
Working together at the family’s business, Clemens Motorsports Unlimited LLC, the Clemens men spent every day after school, as well as days off and summers, hustling to get the Pontiac on point and make it something they could be proud of. It was a bittersweet process, as they enjoyed their time together, but consequently had to sacrifice time away from friends, family, and loved ones. However, the people they’ve met since, and the memories made through racing along with the skills they’ve all acquired, has made it worth it.
“Every nut, bolt, bar, tube, piece of fiberglass or carbon…everything has my blood, sweat, and tears on it,” Cory affirmed. He learned to weld and fabricated the double framerail 25.2 SFI-certified roll cage himself, and also wired and plumbed the car, among so many other details. “My brother and I spent so many man hours grinding away at this car to make it what it is. He [Colten] dedicated so much of his time, even though he didn’t want to some days, to help get me into the driving position I am in.”
Originally, the men intended to run in Limited Drag Radial (LDR) but later bumped up their goals to Pro 275 and Small Tire No/Time instead. To power the Pontiac, they selected a potent billet Brad Anderson Enterprises 521 cubic inch Hemi from Jeff Dickey of JD Engine and Machine and filled it with JR1 Racing Oil’s high-performance fluid to keep things running smoothly.
JE pistons atop Carrillo rods swing around a Bryant crankshaft and have been carefully selected to produce a 9:1 compression ratio, while the solid LSM Systems Engineering camshaft works with Manton pushrods, Manton rockers, and more. Finally, the BAE TA1X billet aluminum cylinder heads were capped with a set of cool, custom valve covers.
A Hogan’s sheet metal intake is fed compressed air courtesy of twin 88mm Garrett turbochargers, which inhale through some slick carbon-fiber inlets, and boost is managed by way of dual TiAL wastegates. Finally, the spent gasses are dumped out of the engine through custom exhaust manifolds and bullhorns which Cory fabricated himself at Clemens Motorsports Unlimited LLC.
Cory bought the full catalog of M&M Transmission components in order to handle the Hemi’s nearly 5,000-horsepower that Colten coaxes through his tune-up of the ComSYNC EFI system as an M&M two-speed Turbo 400 automatic transmission was paired with an M&M torque converter and M&M shifter.
Each of the car’s four corners were outfitted with shocks and struts from Kinetic Engineering, as well as Strange Engineering stoppers. Finally, a Nitro Gear & Axle rear end with 3.90 gears and a spool was installed, along with 40-spline axles from Strange Engineering, to finish the job of transferring power out to the ground and through a set of Weld Alpha Pro wheels wrapped around Mickey Thompson 275 drag radial rubber.
Given that the Trans Am was in excellent, rust-free condition ever since the Clemens family acquired it, it made a great canvas for Trenton Clark to spray the eye-catching candy red, gray, black, and gold scheme. Prior to the spray job, though, the factory front end had been replaced with a one-piece nose and a rear-wing was added – both of which were custom-made in-house at Clemens Motorsports Unlimited.
Christened “King of the Jungle II,” the Clemens family debuted their Pontiac project at the 2019 Performance Racing Industry (PRI) Show in Indianapolis, Indiana. “I made my first burnouts and passes in Tulsa after building and working on my prized possession every day for more than four years, and I have been hitting the road running ever since,” noted Cory, who trusts TurboStart Batteries to help fire up the car every time.
Cory prides himself on knowing his car inside and out and believes that insight gives him a competitive edge as compared to many others. “Most of the racers at our level don’t build their cars, let alone know how to fix or tune them,” he asserted. “I don’t think that’s what the sport of drag racing, or racing period, was built on.”
Despite having “no inkling” of how to run a radial, Cory has already made his first 3-second run in the 1/8-mile. “For a self-built, self-tuned, small, low-budget team, we did it in the first 40 passes on the car,” stated Cory, who has run a personal best of 3.99 seconds, with a fastest speed of 196 mph and a quickest 60-foot time of 1.05 seconds to date in the stock-dimension F-body. “We’re getting her figured out and just want it to be consistent every round. Thanks to Ryan and Bryce Micke at Mick’s Performance for the EFI tuning and advice.”
Running in Donald “Duck” Long’s FuelTech Radial Outlaws Racing Series in 2022, Cory finished firmly as 21st overall in the fiercely competitive Pro 275 category despite attending only four of the season’s six events. More than anything, though, he’s thrilled with how well the car handles. Both smooth and out of control at the same time, “it pulls on hyper speed” all the way until he dumps the ‘chutes. “It’s like a head-on collision with a marshmallow,” laughed the driver.
Cory stays cool, calm, and collected throughout his run, and much of his mental peace is credited to having an amazing team behind him. “This car is what it is because of the great people we have helping us,” he asserted. “But all the credit truly goes to my dad and brother; they’re the ones that really make it happen.”
Now more than ever, Cory is hungry to pick up his first event win in Pro 275 or Small Tire N/T and is on the hunt with his “King of the Jungle II” 1987 Pontiac Firebird Trans Am GTA and has his family locked and loaded by his side to help take down the competition.
Car: 1987 Pontiac Firebird Trans Am GTA
Chassis: 25.2 by Cory Clemens at Clemens Motorsports Unlimited LLC
Engine: BAE 521 ci Hemi
Cylinder Heads: BAE
Connecting Rods: Carrillo
Camshaft: LSM Systems Engineering
Power Adder: twin 88mm Garrett turbochargers
Transmission: M&M Transmission TH400 two-speed automatic
Torque Converter: M&M Transmission
Engine Management: ComSYNC EFI
Rearend: Nitro Gear & Axle
Suspension: Kinetic Engineering
Brakes: Strange Engineering
Wheels: Weld Alpha Pro
Tires: Mickey Thompson 275 Drag Radials
Quickest E.T.: 3.99-seconds (eighth-mile)
Fastest MPH: 196 mph
Best 60-Foot: 1.05-seconds