Written By Ainsley Jacobs
Photography Courtesy of Steve Baur and Paul Gargus
Even though drag racing is (mostly) shut down at the moment, Remlap, Alabama-based racer Paul Gargus was still able to make history by clicking off the first 3-second hit in Limited Drag Radial trim while testing at Alabama International Dragway on Thursday, May 7, 2020, with his 3,300-pound ’69 Chevy Camaro on radials.
Gargus purchased his lean and clean classic Camaro in ’91 and spent the next few years driving it as the build evolved. David Lemmond’s Race Shop did the initial 25.2 SFI chassis work, and the engine was set up to run on nitrous.
“Chris Terry worked there and was around the turbo stuff, so I decided to change over to turbochargers,” explained Gargus of what inspired his decision to switch power adders around ’12.
A few years later, in ’18, Terry – now operating his own shop, CTR Race Cars – back-halved Gargus’s Camaro and converted the former ladder-bar suspension to a four-link setup instead. Around that same time, Gargus teamed up with Scott Tidwell and decided to do a complete powerplant upgrade, as he had been running the turbos on the former nitrous-injected engine.
By ’19, Gargus was ready to drop in his Pro Line Racing-assembled 555ci big-block Chevy engine built around a Dart block, Energy Manufacturing heads, and Visner billet intake manifold with twin Garrett turbos.
“Mark Micke helped out, too, and we’ve got a complete transmission package from him,” said Gargus, who runs a two-speed Turbo 400 transmission and converter from M&M Transmissions along with a set of Menscer Motorsports shocks.
The new bullet required a bit of effort to get it situated in the first-generation Camaro, though, so Terry front-halved the car as well.
“It still has the stock firewall and floor pans, it’s not a double frame rail car or anything exotic,” noted Gargus. “Michael Bunton wired up the FuelTech EFI, then we took it to FuelTech and Luis [de Leon] helped us out with some things and got it on the dyno.”
In February, Gargus debuted the new combination at Lights Out 11 at South Georgia Motorsports Park. There, his 4.185 at 188.02mph blast during LDR qualifying put him seventh in the incredibly competitive field. Three round wins in eliminations enabled Gargus to advance to the semi-finals where he set the low ET of the weekend when he ran a 4.057-second eighth-mile, although Shane Stack got the win on a hole shot.
Bolstered by the Camaro’s performance in February, Gargus knew he needed more and headed out to Alabama International Dragway in early May. Although Terry usually handles the tune up, Gargus was able to hire world-renowned tuner Steve Petty of Pro Line Racing for the day to really put the polish on the FuelTech maps for the test session.
“We had run 4.05 at Valdosta, so Steve [Petty] took that and picked at it a bit,” explained Gargus, whose factory-wheelbase Camaro ran like a bracket entry with a 4.04- and a 4.02-second hit before culminating in the record-setting 3.98 at 191.97mph trip, along with a best 60-foot time of 1.05-seconds. “We have a lot of time invested and a lot of good people helping out, and the hard work is paying off, so we made big strides pretty quick.”
In addition to Terry, Tidwell, and Petty, Gargus also is proud to have Chris Jebeles and Tim Fuller in his corner, along with his wife, Angela, who is a huge help both at the track and in the shop back home.
Although the number itself is unofficial, as it was done in testing and not in competition, Gargus has clearly shown what his car is capable of and secured a target on his back for when things get going again.
“We were lucky enough to come out with it, but there are a whole lot of nitrous, blower, and ProCharged cars all real tight with the numbers, so there’s a lot of teams out there and more of it coming,” said Gargus humbly of his heroic achievement and frontrunning car. Gargus plans to follow as much of the Limited Drag Radial circuit as he can.