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The Story Behind Ryan Martin’s New Purpose-Built Big Tire No Prep ’18 Camaro ZL1


Ryan Martin Fireball 2.0 CamaroWhen Ryan Martin unveiled his all-new, purpose-built no prep Camaro ZL1 at the 2019 Performance Racing Industry (PRI) Show in Indianapolis, Indiana, last week, people were shocked and opinions were rampant. Martin, however, has had the project in the works for quite some time and was incredibly meticulous in his planning all throughout the process.

As the Street Outlaws: No Prep Kings series gained momentum, Martin knew he was asking a lot from his Fireball Camaro which had originally been built for Outlaw 10.5/Radial use by Joe Copson. Expecting the car to perform double duty between track-based events and street race shenanigans, too, was also taking a toll on the chassis – and the team.

“We would go street racing, then run No Prep Kings the next weekend and would have to bring the car in the shop, change the third member, the four link, the converter, the tune up, and go somewhere close to test before NPK, then run there and bring it back to the shop after to swap it all over again back,” explained Martin of the never-ending task of flipping the Fireball between street or strip trims over 1,500+ passes. The energy expended was starting to wear on Martin, his crew, his family, and the car itself, so he started considering his options. “When you have two different incredibly demanding things pulling you in two different directions, it’s tough.”

Instead, Martin wisely opted to simply build a second big tire car instead, so that he could keep it geared towards one thing and one thing only – No Prep Kings. And, with letting the Fireball continue to enjoy its reign of terror on the street, Martin figured he would be able to be more competitive in both realms.

“I told myself ‘any money I win from this [NPK] will go back into building a new car,” shared Martin of his decision that was made during Season 2 of the show’s series. So, with having won four races in season two, and four in season three – along with the championship title – Martin had a good enough chunk of money to finish the project he had started on nearly two years ago.

Back then, Martin knew a guy that raced locally to him in Oklahoma that had a brand new ’18 Camaro ZL1. “He flipped the car at the track – it was pretty much stock, I have no idea how he managed to do that – but he lost it through the traps,” Martin explained of how the brand new machine wound up on its lid, totaled. The owner decided to part it out and sold most of the components.

Meanwhile, Martin had been toying with either building a new sixth generation Camaro or his next favorite body style, a ’69. Remembering the other guy’s wreck, he called him up but was told the car had already been sold. So, Martin called that other guy and was given a price. “It was expensive for buying a wadded-up car and a title basically,” he laughed of how the two parties went back and forth before finally agreeing on a price. “I bought the car a week later and got started on it – yes, we tore up a real ’18 ZL1.”

With the rumor mill running rampant and tons of other new purpose-built no pre cars in the works that Martin knew would be his competition, he did everything he could to stay on the forefront of technology and innovation to have an advantage in No Prep Kings.

Ryan Martin Fireball 2.0 CamaroThe talented fabricator and renowned chassis master Bill Gilsbach was tasked with spearheading Martin’s new big tire build, and he certainly did not disappoint. The two discussed Martin’s pain points with the Fireball, what caused the team to fight the car, and what to do about it.

Since the Fireball was originally intended for Outlaw 10.5/Radial tire use, the engine was set farther forward than was ideal for no prep-style racing. Additionally, the Fireball’s four-link brackets on the chassis and housing didn’t have enough adjustment for the team to be able to put the bars exactly where they wanted to get the tight bite at any given track, so compromises were perpetually made. “To fix all that, Bill set the motor back 8” further in the new car than the other car, and we got a nice set of very fine adjustment four link brackets,” noted Martin. “The wheel tubs are also a little low in the Fireball so it would rub with the big tires and I would have to run the ass-end higher than I wanted, so we changed that, too.”

Martin also made it a point to try and lighten the new ’18 ZL1 as much as possible and took out any non-essential material that he could. Thanks to help from TMS Titanium, every bracket or bracing that could be titanium wound up being made – including the firewall, brake pedal, gas pedal, body braces, body mounts, transmission mounts, parachute mount, and so much more. Additionally, carbon fiber sheets and other lightweight components from Tim McAmis Performance Products were added throughout the interior and exterior. “It was the first time I built a car from scratch – all my others had been rollers – and I wanted it to be over the top,” he added.

After Gilsbach signed off on the 25.2 SFI-spec chassis with chromoly tubing from Stock Car Steel and Aluminum in Mooresville, North Carolina, Martin and his team stripped it all back down and sent it to Jerry Bickel Race Cars. There, the Camaro was painted inside and out, the roll cage was powder coated, and other components were anodized before it was all re-assembled. Bickel also built a trick rear-end housing and supplied tons of little odds and ends, including the wheelie bar kit, to be more involved in the overall project.

The Audi gray that was sprayed on the ZL1’s exterior, however, was actually a last-minute decision by Martin. “It was between that or black or red and I didn’t want to do red because the two cars are so similar from the rear, I was afraid the average person wouldn’t be able to tell them apart and I wanted everyone to know which car they were watching,” he elaborated of the choice that knocked out the flaming hue. He made the call to go ahead with the gray only ten minutes before the car went into the paint booth. “I wasn’t sure how I was going to feel about it, but, turns out, I like it.”

Although the paint scheme was up in the air, the choices about what to run for the actual combination itself was not; a Pro Line Racing 481X Stage-4 engine with twin Precision 98mm turbochargers was on the bill. “PLR has been great for me because if I break or have any issues, there’s no question about it, they’ll be working on my stuff first thing on Monday morning,” said Martin, who has seriously enjoyed his partnership with the powerhouse engine builder and also trusts PLR’s partner, FuelTech for his engine management needs via an FT600 system – the same as what’s in the Fireball.

Putting roughly 5,000-horsepower to the (unprepped) ground is quite a task, but Martin’s had good luck with his M&M Transmission TH400 and ProTorque lock-up converter in the past so he saw no need to change. A carbon fiber driveshaft from Dynamic Driveline and Bickel-fabricated rear end are also important pieces of the equation, as is Strange Engineering’s billet 9-inch center section with 10.5-inch gears. Strange also supplied the floater axle hubs, axles, and carbon brakes.

Finally, Martin and his right-hand crew man Javier Canales spent nearly three weeks hustling through the finishing work at RK Racecraft and Homier Fabrication in Georgia, working on plumbing, wiring, and buttoning it all up. “It was all hands on deck with me and Javier working side-by-side as [John] Homier was doing the wiring and Ryan [Rakestraw] at RK were doing the plumbing,” continued Martin, whose gorgeous car made its final stop at Glasslife Atlanta for a car show-worthy ceramic coat before it made its way up to Indianapolis, Indiana, for the 2019 PRI Show.

Interestingly, the Camaro was only cleared for public viewing thanks to Martin’s No Prep Kings championship title. “It was actually supposed to be done for last year’s PRI [2018] but that didn’t happen,” he confessed. Once he missed that mark, Martin knew he wouldn’t have the new car ready for season 3 of NPK but had ol’ faithful and used the Fireball instead. Without a deadline, though, he was able to take his time on the build and be more thoughtful as to what needed changing along the way.

“This was my third NPK series with the Fireball,” noted Martin, who barely missed the title the first two times around. “Knowing I was in the hunt for the championship in season three, it would have been disappointing if I couldn’t pull it off with the Fireball. And, I didn’t want to change to the new car because then people would say I built it because I couldn’t win with the Fireball.”

Now, as No Prep King’s fourth season prepares for filming, Martin is preparing to kick ass – and to go testing as early as possible. “All the people that helped us out are all badass at what they do and are incredible people. Our plan is to NOT have the new car blues,” joked the man who is nothing but business when it’s time to be serious. “We also plan to win another championship with the new car and make it more competitive than the old one. There is a lot of tough competition, so by no means do we think it will be the easiest task, but we’re going to try to avoid the unexpected.”

And, to set the record straight, the new ’18 ZL1 definitely is not the “Fireball 2.0” but has not yet earned a name of its own. Martin has toyed with several options and even opened the naming process up to his social media networks for suggestions, but nothing has stuck so far. He’s going to wait until he drives it to see what winds up a winner – just like he’s sure this car will be in the next season of Street Outlaws: No Prep Kings.

Ainsley Jacobs
P.TEN Marketing's Ainsley Jacobs is a freelance motorsports marketing professional with extensive experience in marketing and communications, website development, social media management, photography, journalism, and more.