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Bad Penny—Mike and Sam Farmer's Tin Soldiers-built Camaro is all good in NMCA Xtreme Street

Posted By: Steve Baur
Written by Ainsley Jacobs
Photography by Kevin DiOssi

 
When Mike Farmer and his son, Sam, bought their “Bad Penny” 1980 Chevrolet Camaro, they had plans for a mild build that they could enjoy racing together—they never expected they would wind up alongside some of the baddest racers on the planet running it in NMCA Edelbrock Xtreme Street and Ultra Street.
 
When Mike, now 55, was a teenager, he bought his first car, a 1971 Oldsmobile Cutlass, for just $600 and was at the drag strip less than two weeks after getting his driver’s license. He tore it up so badly on its first pass that even his father was perplexed as to how it was possible. Despite the damage, he got hooked. Mike dreamed of running a “fast” index category like Super Comp or Super Gas, but financially that wasn’t viable, so he bracket-raced through his late teens and early 20s instead.
 
“Along came marriage and kids, and I sold all the cars,” reminisced Mike of how his youngest son, Sam, showed an early interest in motorcycles that enabled the father to get back into motorsports. “I got him a dirt bike when he was about four years old and later, a Honda RS125 race bike.”
 

Mike built a road-race bike for himself, too, and he and his son raced together for about a decade before he broke his collarbone and Sam broke his femur and Mike’s wife/Sam’s mother, Athena, put a stop to their two-wheeled shenanigans.
 
Sam preferred Chevrolet Camaros, and Mike was more than happy to encourage his curiosity. As a family, they searched every weekend for the perfect platform and in 2014, when Sam was in his junior year of high school, they found it.
 
“It was nice, it came from a military man from Washington state that brought it here to Ohio. There was no rush or anything,” shared Mike of the cool car his son would be lucky enough to drive every day.
 
Not long after, though, the Camaro’s transmission let go and so Mike and Sam found themselves on the hunt for an upgrade. At first, they thought maybe they would use a small-block engine, but wound up with a big-block, 496-cube engine on nitrous instead that helped propel their Camaro to 11-second quarter-mile elapsed times.
 
Sam, now 24, wanted to go faster and the men contemplated fabricating a roll cage themselves, but ultimately decided to trust a professional for the job.
 
“I talked to a handful of builders and my friends kept recommending Tin Soldiers Racecars, but I blew them off,” laughed Mike, who immediately changed his mind after meeting TSR co-owners Jason Terrell and Brad Schnieders. “We all clicked and I knew these were my guys.”
 

Jason’s similar upbringing to Mike’s may have played a part in the men feeling connected, as Terrell always wanted to go fast, too. His father, Ron Terrell, is an incredibly accomplished NHRA Super Stock driver with dozens of national event wins and who is still racing at the age of 78, while regularly dominating in NMCA Stock/Super Stock competition. “I never knew what it was like to walk into a garage and not see a race car there… people without race cars are just weird to me,” joked Jason, 32, who also spent a stint competing on dirt bikes.
 
In his early 20s, Jason attended a local Thursday night grudge racing event and was absolutely hooked on heads-up drag racing.
 
“There were 3,000 people there and it was really exciting. I watched tons of videos of guys like Ron Rhodes and Troy Pirez Sr. and Phil Hines and Shawn Pevlor… I loved it,” he affirmed of what inspired him to build his own Third-Gen Camaro.
 
After tinkering with his then-10-second turbocharged and LS-powered “pile of crap” street car, Jason decided to learn to weld and attended a local community college. From there, a job offer financed his own racing endeavors while side-jobs working for other people put extra cash in his pocket.
 
Eventually, the company he was working for began to lay people off, and, fate brought Brad into his life in early 2015.
 
“The first time I met Brad, he was working at another shop and I realized he was a bright light in a place that wasn’t shining on its own—no one saw how talented he truly was,” Jason stated of his new friend’s ability.
 

Jason lived the American dream with a wife and a baby and a home, and the idea of stepping out of his security to go off on his own was a pretty intimidating prospect. It took some time, but Jason’s strong faith and belief in God, coupled with a perfectly timed dream (or perhaps, a premonition) gave him the confidence to explore a new venture—Tin Soldiers Racecars.
 
“I knew this was where I was meant to be, and I could either resist it and struggle and wind up there eventually anyway, or I could embrace it and run toward this dream at full speed,” he asserted.
 
In May of 2015, the guys took the leap of faith. With only $500 of tools purchased from Harbor Freight to get them going, they signed their lease on a shop in Kentucky and Tin Soldiers Racecars officially became a business.
 
Roughly one year later, Mike and Sam walked in the door of Jason and Brad’s budding business, which recently relocated to a larger facility.
 
“Originally, we wanted an 8.50s cage but they talked us out of it,” said Mike, who was happy with the choice to do the build right the first time as he also planned to use the Camaro as part of his faith-based ministry work. “We decided to paint it a beautiful orange color and christen it ‘The Bad Penny,’ as a reference to the bible story about the widow whose penny was so valuable to her.”
 

While Rick Parsons of Hook Road Body Shop in Xenia, Ohio, sprayed the Camaro’s gorgeous copper hue, it was Jason and the team at TSR that handled the rest of the build.
 
The men stuck with the Chevy’s factory leaf spring configuration and aimed its trajectory at Ultra Street so that Sam could eventually race at big events such as Donald Long’s Lights Out and No Mercy.
 
With big power goals, however, it was decided that they would first focus on building the foundation as best as possible so that Sam could get comfortable before getting up to speed, literally, with a matching high-end engine.
 
TSR offers tons of proven, turn-key race car packages and so the Ultra/X275 bundle was selected. At its core, the package includes a 25.2/25.3 dual-certified chrome-moly chassis, Smith Racecraft tubular front end with one-piece fiberglass nose, and carbon fiber everything from the main hoop pack including the tubs. The lightweight parts, combined with a gutted body, meant that the Camaro easily made the required class weight even with its factory doors in place and the roll-up/down windows still functional.
 

Menscer Motorsports supplied the front shocks and has been a “Godsend” for the Tin Soldiers Racecars operation.
 
“Mark [Menscer] is a huge help. If we build a car here, it’s got Menscer’s stuff on it,” affirmed Jason, who also upgraded the copper Camaro with a TSR-fabricated 9-inch rearend housing, Strange Engineering 40-spline axles, Strange brakes, and RC Components wheels.
 
The Camaro also served as a development tool for TSR to create the adjustable leaf-spring mount kits that are now used widely in drag racing. Complemented by a set of Smith Racecraft Assassin traction bars, the TSR kit allows for a wide range of adjustability that’s similar to a standard four-link suspension.
 
Brandon Doller of Lowdoller Motorsports supplied shock sensors and other data monitoring components, while Instant Karma Racing helped out with other parts and cold beer as needed.
 
“It took us about six or eight months, and Mike was a gem the whole way. It was fun to enjoy the build process with him,” shared Jason, who also enjoyed watching Sam win $1,200 at TSR’s annual customer appreciation day open house event before the Farmers had even dropped off their car. “I think Sam just let us keep the cash to put it towards the build.”
 

The work wrapped up in early 2017, and Mike and Sam took their roller home to drop in an engine and do up the wiring and plumbing. A big-block on nitrous was originally on the spec sheet, too, however, it was scrapped in favor of a more budget-friendly turbocharged 5.3-liter LS engine with a stock bottom end. They raced it locally in the interim with Brad managing the tune-up of the Holley EFI system and Sam had a blast running in the 5.30-second zone.
 
Jason and Brad were busy racing their white SN-95 Ford Mustang as well, and, in only its second competitive season out, TSR’s flagship vehicle captured the Limited 235 championship title in 2020, also with a turbo LS combination.
 
By 2021, however, an interesting [ie: currently somewhat of a secret] opportunity appeared and they needed a car to campaign in NMCA Edelbrock Xtreme Street.
 
“I like the professionalism of the NMCA and that there’s always a schedule; that’s appealing for us as business owners,” noted Jason of why he was excited about getting involved with the series. 
 
The Farmers agreed to get onboard, too, and it was decided that the “Bad Penny” Camaro would make its debut. To prepare, a new 365 cubic-inch LS engine was built and fortified with a complete Brian Tooley Racing valvetrain before being mated to an old Powerglide transmission and PTC torque converter.
 
“Brian Tooley has always been there to work with us on doing more with less and without a huge checkbook. It’s great that he’s open to trying different cam profiles and other things,” Jason added.
 

A 76mm class-legal Precision turbocharger was added, and Jason appreciates the company’s focus on making sure they have the parts they need to race when they need them—even if the Z28 front grille emblem happened to accidentally come off and get sucked into the impeller at one particular event.
 
Mike and Sam had debuted their revamped Camaro at the Lights Out 12 race at South Georgia Motorsports Park in late February. Sam qualified 22nd in a large Ultra Street field with a 4.941 at 140.55mph hit and improved to 4.923 at 140.96 mph in the first round of eliminations, but did not get the win.

When the first weekend of April rolled around, the Farmers handed over the reins so that Jason could do the driving duties at the 13th Annual NMRA/NMCA All-Star Nationals at Atlanta Dragway in Georgia. There, Jason ran 4.762 at 144.74 mph in NMCA Edelbrock Xtreme Street/NMRA Edelbrock Renegade and qualified 15th in the combined category. 
 
“It ran well, but Brad looked at the data and we knew something wasn’t right,” Jason confessed of what was later to be determined to be clogged injectors due to a prior fuel pump failure. “We pulled every bit of line, went to Autozone to get some parts, and rigged a jump pack to fire the injectors so we could clean them in the only hillbilly way we knew—by spraying brake cleaner through ‘em.”
 
Although the fix worked, the guys soon found that they had unintentionally unlocked some more power and the Camaro spun its tires in the first round of eliminations as a result and Jason was out in a pedal fest.
 

By the next event, the 16th Annual NMRA/NMCA Super Bowl of Street-Legal Drag Racing Presented by HPJ Performance in May at St. Louis’s World Wide Technology Raceway, the guys had made a few changes and were feeling confident. They had replaced the transmission with a new Powerglide from RPM Transmissions and installed a new transbrake, while Brian Tooley supplied a new cam and Tony Bischoff at BES Racing Engines ported the cast Trick Flow 225 heads.
 
The upgrades netting a significant jump in performance, as Jason earned a 4.697 at 153.35mph time slip in qualifying to sit 14th of 26 in the combo class. Incredibly, from just one month earlier, Jason advanced nearly 10 miles per hour and shaved a tenth of a second off his elapsed time.
 
In Michigan in late July at the Inaugural Arrington Performance NMRA/NMCA Power Festival Presented by Force Engineering, Jason finally got what he was waiting for—in lights. He started eliminations ranked 13th of 28 entries after having run 4.711 at 150.30 mph and had finally found his stride. The event was a confidence-booster as he defeated both Steven Wardlow and his friend and teammate Dave Fiscus before a broken fuel pump meant Jason wouldn’t get the chance to race his idol, Joel Greathouse, in round three.
 

From flying high to feeling low, Jason and his crew regrouped for the 20th Annual NMCA All-American Nationals at Summit Motorsports Park in Norwalk, Ohio.
 
“It was hot and the car fought us the entire time,” lamented the driver who drowned his sorrows with copious amounts of the track’s “1-pound of ice cream for $1” deal.
 
Jason was second to last on the qualifying order, a dismal 6.090 at 135.04mph run coming as the result of an engine that let go on the top end. He refused to give in, though, and quickly put a plan in motion to find a replacement engine.
 
“I called Brian Tooley as he had our motor we raced with the 235 car last year, a smaller 330 ci engine than we had been running, and he opened his shop on a Saturday for us so that we could get it to the track via Martin Connelley and Brad Arnold,” said Jason, grateful for the help of those who rallied to get him running again from two states away. With no engine hoist to make the install easy, it took six “pretty strong dudes” to manually place the engine between the Camaro’s frame rails. “ProMedia made sure they were able to get in at 10:30 p.m. at night, and the car was making noise again by 2:00 a.m.”
 
For all their hard work and thrashing, though, Jason only went 5.446 a 143.78 mph as Eric Bardekoff defeated him in the first round of eliminations.
 
“It sure would’ve been an amazing story if we won, but that’s racing. So, I had another ice cream and drove home,” he professed.
 
With just one NMCA race left of the year, the TSR team prepared for the 20th Annual NMCA World Street Finals Presented by Chevrolet Performance at Lucas Oil Raceway in Indianapolis, Indiana, by taking the whole back end of the Camaro apart. They greased and performed maintenance on everything, checked the shocks, and tweaked all the settings.
 

Fortunately, the attention allowed the “finicky” leaf springs to work better than they ever had before, and Jason ran a new personal best with the Camaro of 4.587 at 154.85 mph during NMCA Edelbrock Xtreme Street qualifying to put him third of nineteen. He kicked off eliminations by praying with his opponent, TJ Strange, in the staging lanes before dispatching the man and moving on to do the same to Becki Cram in round two before Tim Knieriem knocked him off the ladder by a hundredth of a second margin of victory.
 
“On paper, this factory-block, stock-crankshaft motor doesn’t look nice. It has over 200 passes on it, most at over 30 psi. It’s got factory valve covers and a factory dipstick with a zip-tie on it,” laughed the driver, who was pleased just to have finished out his year with a successful outing after the earlier struggles and receives additional support from his realtor friend, Carl Kappes, “Your CBWS Agent.”
 
“We accomplished our goals and made it well into the .50s, which only a handful of people in this class have done—I screamed so hard when I saw that come up on the scoreboard.”
 
Overall, Jason finished ninth in the 2021 NMCA Edelbrock Xtreme Street championship points and plans for another run at the title in 2022, but can’t say which car that might be with just yet, as he knows Sam is itching to campaign his own car.
 
“The highlight of my season has been meeting all the awesome people that race in our class and hanging out every night,” added Mike, who tries his best to never miss a race and is often joined by Sam when his son isn’t busy working as a union pipefitter. “We have a new motor in the works, but it’s a bit of a secret for now, although we’re planning to piggyback off of what our friend Dave Fiscus has learned.”
 
For all the highs and lows of the season, though, it’s been faith and gratitude that kept Jason, Brad, Mike, and Sam all moving forward with grace and confidence.
 
Behind the scenes, Jason’s wife, Tara, and Brad’s wife, Taylor, have been instrumental in allowing the Tin Soldiers Racecars co-owners to continue to build upon the dream they started less than a decade ago. Without them, Mike and Sam’s Camaro might never have been built in the first place. Similarly, Jay Bird, Dalton, Brian, Zach, Nick Reams, and all the Soldier Boyz and Girls back at the shop have also been priceless in making sure everything runs according to plan with long hours and unwavering commitment to TSR’s customers.
 

The Details

Owner/Driver
Owner: Mike Farmer                      
Driver: Sam Farmer/ Jason Terrell 
Hometown: Walton, Ky 
Occupation: Tin Soldier Racecars 
Class: NMCA Edelbrock Xtreme Street 
Crew: Big Brain Brad, Mike Farmer, Jay Bird, Nick Reams all the Soldier Boyz and Girls 
Car Year/Make/Model:1980 Chevy Camaro 
 
Powertrain 
Engine: LS JUAN 
Engine builder: Big Brain Brad 
Displacement: 330 cubic inches
Block: Stock Silverado 
Bore:
Stroke:
Crank: Stock Silverado 
Rods: Callies Compstar 
Pistons: Wiseco 
Heads: Trick Flow 225 by BTR
Valvetrain: Hydraulic roller 
Cam type: BTR custom grind 
Carburetor or EFI system: Holley EFI
Power-adder: turbo 
Fuel brand and type: VP Racing Fuels Q16
Headers and exhaust: Turbo kit by Soldier Boyz with boost by Precision Turbo 
Transmission: Powerglide 
Transmission Builder: RPM Transmissions
Clutch/shifter/torque converter: PTC torque converter
Rearend: 9-inch 
 
Chassis 
Body and/or chassis builder: Tin Soldier Racecars 
Suspension (Front): Smith Racecraft 
Suspension (Rear): Adjustable leaf spring system by Tin Soldier Racecars 
Brakes (Front): Strange Engineering
Brakes (Rear): Strange Engineering
Wheels (front): RC Comp 
Wheels (Rear):  RC Comp
Tires (Front): Mickey Thompson
Tires (Rear): Sticky Mickey 275 ET Street R 
Aftermarket body modifications: Straight from the trailer park 
Safety equipment: all of it 

Stats
Vehicle weight: 2,970 pounds
Quickest ET: 4.587 seconds
Best 60-foot:1.10 seconds
Fastest mph: 155.40
Sponsors: Brian Tooley Racing, BES Racing Engines, RPM Transmissions, Instant Karma Racing, Precision Turbo & Engine, Menscer Motorsports LLC
Lowdoller Motorsports, TRZ Motorsports, Performance Torque Converters, and Holley EFI
 


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