Prev Article Next Article

Birds of a Feather How a pair of Pontiacs forged a friendship on and off the track

Written by Derek Putnam Photography by Kevin DiOssi Many of us look back fondly on high school and remember time spent with friends, hobbies and sports, as well as figuring out a career path. Some acquire a first car that makes an impact powerful enough that it stays with the owner for a lifetime. In 1997, the American sports car scene was gaining power, with the all-new LS1 engine platform debuting in the Chevrolet Corvette. While the Chevrolet Camaro and Pontiac Firebird would still employ the LT1 engines for another year before their change to the LS engine, horsepower was enough to clock high-13-second passes in bone-stock condition. For Justin May and Shawn McAlees, their high school Firebirds would instead come from the third-generation, built from 1982 to 1992, which sported a little less performance. And despite both men purchasing a red Firebird in the same year, the mutual interest didnt spark a friendship. We grew up within a few miles of each other, Justin explained. But we didnt hang out, and Im not really sure why we werent doing things together in high school. McAlees agrees their taste in cars didnt bring them together at first. We knew each other, and our houses were just a few streets apart, Shawn added. We may not have done much together in high school, but it didnt take long before our paths crossed after graduation. Triple Threat Originally equipped with the base six-cylinder engine rated at 135 horsepower, Shawn McAlees 1988 Firebird only looked the part of a sports car when he first acquired it. It wasnt in great shape appearance wise either, said Shawn. So he employed his father to help him repaint the car, and the results are still gleaming 22 years later. Although it might have been lacking in performance, it reliably served daily driver duties for three years before McAlees got the itch for more horsepower. Nearly doubling the original engines displacement, Shawn swapped in a Tuned Port-based 355-cube small-block backed by a 700R4 overdrive automatic in 2000. Providing assistance on the swap was Justin May, and it wouldnt be the last time he was a helping hand on the buildup of McAlees Firebird. Now with more power under his right foot, McAlees continued drive it daily, but drag racing and autocross duties were also added to the list. It was a mild build. he admits of the engine, but it got the car into the mid-13-second range at the drag strip. It was only one year later McAlees picked up a new daily driver, moving the Firebird into the role of a weekend toy. The car was driven for five years without changes, but in 2006 an opportunity to pick up some power presented itself. I wanted to go a little faster, and Justin was swapping his car over to LS power, McAlees said. The LS swap meant Justins 406-cube small-block was without a home, and McAlees snapped it up. This provided enough power to push the 3,680-pound car to a best elapsed time of 11.30 naturally aspirated, and a 10.25 ET when he engaged the 150-horsepower shot of nitrous. The extra power wasnt just used for spirited street driving or drag strip passes, as McAlees also enjoy the turns in his ˜Bird. Autocrossing is a little different than drag racing, he said. I enjoy doing it; its part of the reason the car doesnt have skinny front wheels, and it doesnt have a high numerical rear gear. I actually thought about competing in the Optima series. But a lot of changes would be necessary to be competitive, so I decided to do more street driving and drag racing with the car instead. That includes participating in the NMCA Gear Vendors True Street class, where he just missed picking up the 11-second title at Norwalk, Ohio in 2015. McAlees has made small changes since then to improve the performance and fun factor of the Firebird. But in 2017, the 406 engine decided to wave the white flag. A coolant leak between the cylinders was discovered, he said. At that point it was decided we should build a better and faster engine. A Dart block provided the base for a 400-cube short block, and it was filled with a Callies rotating assembly. The top end from McAlees 406 engine was freshened and bolted back in place. The tuning side of things was also changed, as Justin employed a 24x LS1 computer out of a 2002 Camaro, along with a coil-on-plug system for more control and a much more consistent timing curve.  Despite the Firebird being a lot faster than when he started with it, Shawn has stayed true to its roots and not cut it up or make it a single-purpose car. I wanted to be able to not only use it, but enjoy using it, he said. A big part of that was realized because of his friendship with May. We started talking after high school was complete for both of us, McAlees said. Every once in a while, wed talk about projects we both got involved in. That led to a friendship and a car that he will hang onto for a long time. Ive been with my wife for 12 years, and when we got married two years ago, we made sure to include the car, McAlees admitted. Its been a great ride so far, and Im looking forward to a great 2019 season. The Details Owner/Driver Owner: Shawn McAlees Driver: Shawn McAlees Hometown: Maumee, Ohio Occupation: Software QA Analyst Class: Gear Vendors True Street Crew: Heather McAlees (Wife) Powertrain Engine: Gen 1 Small Block Chevrolet, 11.5 Compression Engine builder: Scott Gressman, Gressman Powersports Displacement: 400 ci Block: Dart Little M Bore: 4.125 Stroke: 3.75 Crank: Callies Comp Star Rods: Callies Comp Star H beam, 6-inch Pistons: JE custom Cylinder heads: AFR 23-degree, 195cc Valvetrain: Manton pushrod, Harland Sharp Diamond series rockers, Crane hydraulic-roller Ti-bar lifters, and PAC Springs Camshaft: Indiana Muscle Car custom grind hydraulic roller by COMP Cams EFI system: EFI Connection 24X, Tuned with HP Tuners by Justin May at IMC and owner Power-adder: Nitrous Outlet Single Nozzle System, 175-horsepower shot, Promax controller Fuel: VP MS109 Spark plug: NGK Headers and exhaust: Stainless Works 1.75-inch long-tube headers, 3-inch Y-pipe to 3.5-inch single full-length exhaust, 3.5-inch Stainless Works muffler, 3.5-inch tip Transmission: Turbo 400, JW Performance Ultra-Bell Transmission Builder: RPM Transmissions Shifter: B&M Pro Ratchet Torque converter: Yank billet, 9.5-inch, 3,400-rpm stall Rearend: Moser Engineering 9-inch, Moser Engineering 35-spline axles, back-braced Driveshaft: Strange Engineering 3-inch chrome-moly Differential: Moser Engineering 9-inch aluminum center section w/ 3.50 gear ratio and steel spool Oil Pan: Canton Road Race with windage tray, crank scraper and trap doors, 6-quart capacity Intake: LT1 converted to SBC, ported with remote thermostat Throttle body: TPIS monoblade Injectors: Fuel Injector Connection 42 lb/hr Chassis Body and/or chassis builder: 1988 Pontiac Firebird, painted in 1997 by my late father and I (Dennis McAlees), Suspension (Front): BMR A-Arms, K-Member and steering brace, Stock 36mm WS6 sway bar, QA1 18-way double-adjustable front struts, stock V6 springs Suspension (Rear): BMR Panhard bar (adjustable), BMR Panhard rod relocation kit, BMR Xtreme anti-roll bar, BMR lower control arms, BMR Xtreme torque arm, QA1 18-way single Adjustable shocks with 150 in-lb springs, Wolfe adjustable upper spring mount Brakes (Front): 1999 GM F-body disc Brakes (Rear): 1999 GM F-body disc Wheels (front): Weld S77, 17x8-inch Wheels (Rear): Weld S77, 17x10-inch Tires (Front): Mickey Thompson Street Comp 245/45-17 Tires (Rear): Mickey Thompson ET Street SS 305/45R-17 Body modifications: None Fiberglass/Carbon body components: N/A all-steel Cooling: Meziere pump, Champion Radiator, Custom shroud and hold down by Don at Scott Rods, Toledo, Ohio), SPAL 15-inch fan Safety equipment: Bell Racing Vortex Helmets, G-FORCE Racing 3.2/5 jacket, front and rear driveshaft safety loops Vehicle weight: 3,680 pounds with driver Quickest ET: 9.594 Best 60-foot: 1.343 Fastest mph: 139.9 mph Sponsors: Indiana Muscle Car   Engineering a Beast Getting good grades in school can pay off in several ways. For Justin May, it resulted in a 1991 Firebird. My mom suggested she would pay for half a car if I got a 4.0 GPA in my Junior and Senior year of high school, Justin said. I wasnt looking for a third-generation Firebird, but this was a good one. It served daily driver duties into his college years at University of Toledo, and Justins engineering studies would provide the spark to making this ˜Bird spread its wings. A few engineering students were gearheads, and we were always in competition to have the fastest car, said May. So he started saving money and gathering parts. At one time, my closet at college had almost an entire engine worth of parts before I started the build, he admitted. He assembled a 406-cube small-block with good parts designed to take a shot of nitrous, so Justin soon had a 10.50 time slip in his hands, all while banging the gears of a manual transmission. This engine also sharpened Mays EFI tuning skills, something that would come into play later in life. After Justin graduated from the University of Toledo, he moved to Indiana in 2004 to work for Zimmer Biomet, a medical company that makes prosthetic knees. He also picked up close to 30 patents for his work, but his love for cars stayed alive as well. I was building and tuning cars on the side for years, May said. The Firebird was a part of that passion for him, and in 2006, a search for a new daily driver led to another change for the Firebird. I was looking for a new daily driver, and test drove a 2001 Camaro, he added. The LS platform made such an impression, Justin wanted more than just one. I wanted a ProCharger and a LS engine in the Firebird, he said, and a 408 cubic-inch engine topped with 225cc AFR heads and an F-1R ProCharger was put together, with a unique twist. ProCharger didnt have a bracket system for a LS engine in a third-generation chassis, May recalled. So he put his engineering skills to work, and created his own. It was completed in time for the 2010 Chevrolet Performance Series Challenge at Saint Louis, where he picked up the 10-second class win in NMCA Gear Vendors True Street. Although Justin would go on to pick up additional True Street class wins in the next three years at the NMCAs World Finals at Indianapolis Raceway Park, he wanted more. It was a good engine, but it just wasnt quite a quick as I wanted to go, he said. So a 427 cubic-inch engine based on a LSX block got the call, along with a new F-1C 94 ProCharger, to push the Firebird to a best of an 8.24 at 174 miles an hour. In addition to changing combinations, May decided to switch gears (literally) and open a shop of his own, Indiana Muscle Car, in 2015. There was definitely risk involved, in both my supercharger bracket design and switching careers, Justin admitted. But if you look at the market, more big name companies are now making parts for third-generation Camaro and Firebird platforms. Ive worked on some nicely done third-gen cars, some that have been with the owners since high school. Ironic, isnt it  His new job also meant new things for the Firebird. My car is our shop mule, May said. So I switched to a turbocharger in 2016 to test and develop a kit. He selected a 94mm Precision turbo for the job, and after some time to refine the combination, Justin captured the 2017 NMCA True Street crown in Norwalk on the strength of an 8.23 average. Ive always wanted to be a True Street champion, May said, who despite the quick times, wants to keep the Firebird as stealthy as possible. Ive spent a lot of time to make everything appear stock and clean, including a flat hood and nearly stock interior. So what does the future hold for May and his ultra-quick Pontiac Im aiming for a 7-second pass in True Street competition, and learn how to use all the power this engine makes, he said. And just like his friend Shawn McAlees, May plans for more time behind the wheel of his storied Firebird in 2019. It doesnt seem like 22 years have passed, he said. We got blamed for the others mischief in high school, but Shawn and I share a deep connection with our first cars, and that love of third gens brought us together. The Details                                                  Owner: Justin May Driver: Justin May Hometown: Leesburg, Indiana Occupation: CEO, Indiana Muscle Car Class: Gear Vendors True Street Crew: Nicole Meredith, Masyn Derf Powertrain Engine: LSX, 9.8 compression Engine builder: Andrew Kittrell, Performance Technology, Wakarusa, Indiana Displacement: 427 ci Block: LSX Bore: 4.125 Stroke: 4.00 Crank: Callies Dragonslayer Rods: Oliver Pistons: JE custom Cylinder heads: TFS 245cc cathedral Valvetrain: Lunati Ti-bar lifters, Yella Terra rockers Camshaft: IMC custom-grind hydraulic-roller by Cam Motion EFI system: Holley Dominator tuned by Indiana Muscle Car Power-adder: Precision 94mm T6 turbocharger, Chiseled air-to-water intercooler Fuel: VP MS109 Spark plugs: Brisk Headers and exhaust: Indiana Muscle Car stainless turbo system, forward facing Holley cast-iron manifolds Transmission: Turbo 400 based on Reid case Transmission Builder: RPM Transmissions Shifter: B&M Pro Ratchet Torque converter: Yank billet, 10.5-inch, 3,400-rpm stall Rearend: Madman and Company Racing fabricated 9-inch, Moser Engineering 40-spline axles Driveshaft: 3-inch chrome-moly Differential: Moser Engineering 9-inch aluminum center section w/ 3.25 gear ratio and spool Oil pan: Moroso steel baffled pan Intake: Holley Sniper Race EFI Throttle body:  92mm Nick Williams Injectors: Fuel Injector Connection 170 lb/hr Chassis Body and/or chassis builder: 1991 Pontiac Firebird, Advanced Chassis SFI 25.3 cage, Elite Fabrication parachute mount, mini tubs, and wing Suspension (Front): BMR K-member, Strange Engineering double-adjustable struts, Racecraft lower control arms Suspension (Rear): Madman and Company Racing torque arm, Madman and Company Racing-valved Afco shocks Brakes (Front): Strange Engineering disc Brakes (Rear): Strange Engineering disc Wheels (front): Weld V-series, 17x5-inch Wheels (Rear): RC Components, 15x12-inch Tires (Front): M&H, 185/55-17 Tires (Rear): Mickey Thompson 275 Pro Body modifications: None Fiberglass/Carbon body components: Fiberglass flat hood painted by Scott Klepinger, Modern Muscle Car Factory Safety equipment: HJC helmet, G-Force jacket and pants, G-Force gloves, G-Force shoes, RJS five-point belts, Stroud window net Vehicle weight: 3,610 pounds with driver Quickest ET: 8.03 Best 60-foot: 1.22 Fastest mph: 180 mph Sponsors: Indiana Muscle Car  

join our

email list

You’ll be first to know about Race Pages Digital latest news!