Feature: Charlie Baucom’s Ultra-Clean All-Motor Top Sportsman Camaro

BAUCOMLEAD
Nestled in the deep south, CBI Performance Warehouse has been supplying parts and expertise to street rodders and racers all across the US for over 25 years. CBI’s founder, Charlie Baucom, has fielded a host of race cars during that time, ranging from Super Comp dragsters, a super-cool 1941 Willys, and even an NHRA Pro Stock Cutlass. Most of Charlie’s rides have been driven by his friend and business partner, Jeff “Slim” Wilkerson, owner of Wilkerson Racing Engines and current owner of CBI. Slim and Charlie met in the early 90’s, when Wilkerson was a machinist and test driver for NHRA Pro Stock racer Gary Brown, and the two formed an instant friendship, followed shortly by their partnership.

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Over the years, the pair enjoyed success on and off the track. They put together a couple of dominant seasons in the Goodguys Nostalgia series, winning several races in their widely-recognized Willys, and Wilkerson won the 1994 NHRA World Finals in Super Comp in a hard-charging Pro Stock-style Cutlass (It would be more than 10 years before another door car took home a Wally in Super Comp, a class thoroughly dominated by dragsters). Between races, Wilkerson was building a loyal customer base with his engine building program, which provides power for NHRA Sportsman powerhouses Sherman Adcock Jr, Bryan Robinson, Jason Lynch, and David Tatum, among many others.

This engine, the smaller of the Camaro’s tandem of powerplants, has pushed the car into the 7-teens in the quarter,

Wilkerson and CB both have an affinity for naturally aspirated combinations, with Wilkerson’s 500 cubic inch engines often outrunning nitrous-injected and blown entries in Goodguys’ A/Gas eliminator. When it came time for the pair to build a new car from scratch, they knew it would be an all-motor setup, built to run quick, but consistent, to compete in Top Sportsman.

Charlie rung up Mike Floyd Race Cars (MFRC) in Manning, SC and ordered a chassis after seeing some quick numbers out of cars running his chassis in Automatic Pro Mod classes around the southeast (before Pro Mods running automatic transmissions was the norm). Baucom had also spied the 1968 Camaro body concept from Cynergy Composites and fell in love with it. A couple of phone calls later, he had one of the very first carbon fiber Cynergy bodies headed to South Carolina to Floyd’s shop.

A few months later, the completed roller was sent to Tim Thompson, a little-known but highly-skilled painter in Georgia. Thompson had done any paint work Charlie and Jeff had needed over the years, each car turning out more impressive than the one before. While Charlie, who has always dropped cars off with a “do whatever you want” direction at Thompson’s shop, had hoped for a more understated paint scheme for the Camaro. The general consensus has been very welcoming of the orange-and-white (and many more colors) paint scheme.

To date, the car has won a Best Appearing and Best Engineered award, and has been oogled over by fans young and old. The car also holds a special place in Thompson’s heart, as it was the final project his father and body man, “Fat Max” Thompson, helped on before he passed away. There is a special signature on the spoiler of the car noting the passing of the torch from Max to Tim’s new body man, Art.

This is what Wilkerson sees from the driver’s seat. A wealth of carbon fiber accented by hydro dipped tinwork to match. The K&R Pro Cube delay box and Precision Performance Products shifter in the foreground, the MSD Digital-7 ignition and CO2 bottle behind.

Upon completion of the paint work, the Camaro was pushed to the back burner for a couple of years as Slim was slammed with customers new and old ordering engine for their programs. Eventually business reached a slightly less-frantic pace, and Wilkerson began final assembly of the Camaro. The first order of business was having nearly all of the brackets and removable components powdercoated or hydro-dipped. The titanium brackets, valve covers and pedal assembly were coated in a slick matte nickel coating, while the transmission tunnel tin work was hydro-dipped to match the carbon fiber floor panels and wheel tubs. The housing for the delay box (a must-have for Top Sportsman) and the CO2 bottle were also given the carbon fiber treatment to match the rest of the interior.

Turbo Start’s 16V battery assures worry-free starts when the late rounds require shorter charge times between passes.

With the aesthetics and interior locked down, Slim moved to the trunk, where he mounted a Turbo Start 16 volt battery on the car’s centerline for balance, and tucked the mandatory fire-suppression system’s container into the passenger side behind the huge carbon fiber wheel tubs. Beneath the trunk is a custom rear end housing containing Mark Williams axles and gearset, and MFRC’s trick single wheelie bar setup. Outside the rear end, the Camaro relies on disk brakes from Lamb on all four corners to bring the excitement to a quick stop. Lamb also got the call for rear suspension duty with their coilovers handling the hard hitting launches and down-track bumps with ease, while Penske struts dampen things out front. Rolling stock comes from Weld in the form of Aluma•Stars front and back, with the rears wearing gold anodized double beadlock rings. The skinnies are wrapped in Goodyear rubber, while Hoosier slicks cover the sticky business out back.

Taken at PDRA’s Memphis race earlier this season, this photo shows the 655″ Top Sportsman engine, churning out 1,350 horsepower and 1,020 ft/lbs of torque and pushing the Camaro into the 6-second zone at nearly 200mph.

The Camaro actually has a pair of powerplants Wilkerson can choose from, depending on the class he’s planning to run. One is a max-effort build for Top Sportsman, the other a more conservative setup for running 4.70 Index races around the southeast.

The Top Sportsman bullet is a Wilkerson-built 655-inch mill built around a Dart block and Callies crank slinging MGP rods attached to Diamond pistons. A set of Dart’s 11 degree Big Chief heads handle the incoming and outgoing airflow, pulling air in through a pair of custom Gary Williams carburetors and a trick Switzer Dynamics intake, and expelling the fumes through a set of custom equal-length headers. The heads feature Jesel rocker arms and Isky lifters, a Jesel belt drive spins the Bullet Cams camshaft, while an MSD crank trigger and Digital 7 ignition handles the spark.

Though he would fail to qualify for the tough PDRA Top Sportsman field, Wilkerson laid down a best 1/8th mile ET of 4.44 seconds in the Memphis summer heat.

The 1,365 natural-aspirated ponies are sent rearward to the Abruzzi-built Powerglide transmission via a custom converter, also from Abruzzi, then onward to the rear end via a carbon fiber driveshaft sourced from Mark Williams.Wilkerson relies on VP Racing Fuels for the Camaro, which drinks VP’s C16 fuel, as well as for his in-house dyno. He says VP offers excellent repeatability and great performance — both attributes needed to offer the best engines possible to his customers, as well as helping him go rounds on the track.

To date, the Camaro has been as quick as 6.97 at 195 MPH in the sweltering Georgia heat at NHRA’s Division 2 points meet earlier this season.

The back-up engine, a similarly spec’d but more conservative 632-inch Wilkerson-built mill, gets called into duty to limit wear on the 655-inch bullet. It has to be slowed down drastically to run 4.70 index races, as it runs deep into the 4.50’s. In quarter-mile duty, the 632 has been as quick as 7.18 — certainly impressive numbers for a back-up engine.

Ripping off sub-1.1 second sixty-foot times, the Camaro leaves harder than many quicker cars that rely on power adders to power them to quicker ET’s.

Wilkerson notes that the Camaro drives “like a dream”, planting the tires hard and driving straight and smooth, almost effortlessly ripping off sub-seven second elapsed times at nearly 200 miles per hour. Footage from a GoPro mounted under the car revealed that, although the car sports only a Pro Stock-style rear spoiler, it makes so much downforce at the eighth-mile mark that it was bottoming out the shocks — a testament to the design of the Cynergy Composites body and the functionality of the small wicker bill on the trailing edge of the spoiler. A call to Eric Davis at Penske remedied the shock problem, and now Wilkerson and Baucom are looking forward to cooler weather, where they hope to see some 6.8-second elapsed times and 200 MPH speeds, both of which would be outstanding benchmarks for the beautiful all-motor machine.

About the author

Jeremy Patterson

Jeremy Patterson, known to most as "Taco," is a husband and father of two from Madison, Alabama. A former bracket racer, he stepped out of the seat in 2005 to focus on his growing family. A few years ago, he returned to the sport, this time with camera in hand as a trackside photographer. He started RadialsOnly.com before joining DragZine in 2014 as a freelance writer.
Read My Articles

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