Written by Ainsley Jacobs
Photo by Wayne Stewart
Most people lament the loss of summer, but for racers, the cooler air means quicker runs and new world records. Jonathan Atkins, owner of the North Carolina-based Tick Performance shop, made a lot of noise at the FL2K race when his stick-shifted F-body Camaro “The Grubb Worm” went 7.546 at 190 mph and claimed – at least – four world records along the way.
The Camaro, which Tick originally tuned for its former owner, Randy Grubbs, was making about 900 horsepower when Atkins first got his hands on it. “I was a diehard LS fan and LT hater until I started working with this car about a decade ago,” shared Atkins of his initial impression of the Grubb Worm. His opinion quickly changed, though, and he took ownership of the car about three years ago.
“Current horsepower is about 1,300 wheel horsepower,” stated Jesse Kiser of the Earnest Marketing agency which handles Tick Performance’s PR. A turbocharged LT1 engine from a mid-90s era Caprice is under the hood, with a stock block that’s been filled. Trick Flow LT1 heads and a stock LT4 intake round out the rather simple yet robust assembly. “The previous engine was lower budget, so we went up on the compression for this to 11.5:1 and are using a Crower crank, Oliver rods, and Diamond pistons.”
Engine management comes by way of a Holley EFI system. “We used to run EFI Connection’s 24x LT1 conversion system since that’s a big thing with LT1 engines, but now we’re proving you can do a lot without anything fancy,” continued Kiser, who appreciate Holley’s integrated torque cut feature for shifting and being able to build boost on the starting line. “We don’t have any other gauges other than the Holley 7-inch dash and our own Tick Performance digital dash module to go with it.”
The suspension is fairly straightforward as well, featuring a tubular K-member from Rock Solid Motorsports, AFCO Big Gun coil-overs in the factory rear location, Midwest Chassis upper control arms with factory lower arms, a Burkhart Chassis-fabricated 9-inch rear end and custom-built Tick Performance torque arm, and a Spohn Pro-Series anti-roll bar.
The real magic, however, is in the Grubb Worm’s transmission. Tick Performance specializes in drivetrain work, and this car highlights their incredible capabilities. The H-pattern TREMEC T56 is technically a 4-speed, as Tick’s incorporated their 5th- and 6th-gear delete kit. A laundry list of upgrades including face plating by G-Force Racing Transmissions have also beefed up the gearbox’s potential, and an upgraded GM master cylinder helps prevent flow issues.
“We’ve been doing T56 builds for a variety of levels, from factory rebuilds to Magnum conversions to our baddest that’s in John’s car, and even have a couple guys running high-horsepower applications with fully synchronized transmissions,” Kiser added of Tick’s offerings, noting that the shop was founded by Atkins’s father, Johnny, more than thirty years ago.
In Florida at Bradenton Motorsports Park for the 2019 rendition of the beloved FL2K event, Atkins came fresh off the trailer and went 7.732 at 186 mph with very little adjustment. The following day, the LT1 Camaro went 7.598 at 187 mph, and topped out at 7.546 at 190 mph during the second round of eliminations with approximately 35 pounds of boost pushing through the 8891 CEA Precision turbo.
“Internet records aren’t important to me,” said Atkins. “I just want to show what our transmissions are capable of and how fast an ol’ junk LT can run in the sea of all wheel drive imports, LS swaps, and mod motors.” True to his word, his incredible runs claimed the GM/6-speed quarter mile elapsed time record, the quickest Tremec 6-speed (including T56 and Magnum) record, the quickest H-pattern stick-shift rear wheel drive record for the USA, and both the quickest and fastest GEN II LT1 record.
The secret, Atkins shares, is in the science of dialing in the slipper clutch. “The second pass, it slipped too much and so we pulled the transmission out and removed shims to tighten it up,” he elaborated of what only got buttoned up moments before qualifying on Saturday. On the final run, the team also added a few more psi to the recipe. “We spent more time dialing in the clutch and still haven’t tried to go faster with just power. We’ll really throw the power at it in Maryland [for the World Cup Finals: Import vs Domestic race].”
So, even with the stick-shift T56 record solidly in his hands, it seems there’s more in store for Jonathan Atkins, the “Grubb Worm” LT1 Camaro, and Tick Performance.