Unheralded Hero: “Kamikaze” Chris Day Strikes Without Warning

The frontrunner. The odds-on favorite. The obvious pick. What’s notable about “Kamikaze” Chris Day, owner and driver of the flat-black El Camino made famous on Discovery Channel’s Street Outlaws series, is not that he or his program fit any of those descriptions, but rather that he races and scores wins despite being the opposite — the underrated, the overlooked, the improbable story. And though that position is a product of necessity, not design, it’s one he embraces. Because truly, it’s all he’s known.

Raised in a blue-collar household in “not the nicest” area of Oklahoma City, Chris recalls simply, “we were broke.” Indeed, even the best clothes his family could provide him were worn and stained from use last year, and the year before. Against that backdrop, then, anything additional or fun was his responsibility. And in his early years, of course that meant racing… dirt bikes? Well, it makes sense when Chris explains: “I’ve always been an extremely competitive person. Being frankly honest, I wouldn’t even say I’m necessarily a ‘car guy’. I’m just a ‘racing guy’. I’ll race a damn shopping cart! I don’t care what it is.” So between mowing lawns, chopping trees, pumping gas and providing weekend help with his father’s heating and air business, Chris paid his way from a BMX bicycle to his first dirt bike, and went racing with it.

There’s probably a threshold, of where you’re like a complete jackass, and then where the area of ‘safe’ would kinda’ be, and I’m usually OK with running out there in the ‘jackass’ range.

Around that time, too, he started helping other racers, on the car side. “A lot of my high school buddies and [other] friends all had cars,” he explains. For example, viewers of Street Outlaws might recognize his longstanding friendship with Justin “Big Chief” Shearer. Indeed, Chris recalls their bond being forged over work on the original Crow, Justin’s now-infamous Pontiac Le Mans. As he explains, “Me and Chief — we went to school, we went to work, and we’d be in the driveway until three or four in the morning, every single day, every single weekend, working on [the Crow]. That was the car me and him grew up working together on.”

With exposure and experience under his belt his own cars soon followed, from a Chevy LUV with a small-block, a Blazer with a small-block, and an A-body Chevelle. That one, in particular, was special. “God I miss it, so bad,” Chris laments, recalling, “It was a ‘71, it was ugly, it was emerald green. Like a bass boat, it had this ugly-ass paint on it, but it just sat badass. It ran nines, I drove it around, it was just a badass, rowdy-ass car.”

But each car — even the Chevelle — came and went as fortune allowed. Nevertheless, Chris was all the while part of a group of OKC racers who were, well, more competitive than most. “We did the local cruising thing, and stuff like that,” he starts innocently enough, but continues, “Most people go out there, and they hang out and drive around in their cars, and it’s just something to do. And with me and Chief, and Dave [Comstock] and the other guys, for some reason this stuff was serious!”

In Chris’ case, this applied particularly well to his intensity and commitment behind the wheel. That is, if he must will the car down the road in order to win, that’s exactly what he’ll do. The nickname “Kamikaze” was earned, after all.

“As far as driving stuff, I always stay extremely calm,” he begins. “There’s probably a threshold, of where you’re like a complete jackass, and then where the area of ‘safe’ would kinda’ be, and I’m usually OK with running out there in the ‘jackass’ range. So people that have grown up with me over the years, were just like, ‘Dude there’s something wrong with you. Like, what the hell.’ Some people do drugs, some people drink, some people do whatever the hell it is they do to relax — I’m the calmest and happiest when I’m this close to putting myself in the ground somewhere. So I’ll push it… that’s the part I like! That’s living, to me.” All of that set him up perfectly to drive a race car as lively as an El Camino.

It’s got a bunch of work done to it and stuff like that, but it’s not anywhere near a chassis car. It’s a modified El Camino with a big, dumbass motor in it.

The ill-handling stems from a factory design that’s about the furthest thing from a racecar. Though it retains the relatively long stock wheelbase of 117 inches, Chris notes that the car’s driveshaft alone is 62.5-inches long. “Nothing about that’s good for a racecar. Nothing. Literally nothing about the geometry of that entire car,” he continues. “Because with the way the cab — I say ‘cab’ like it’s a truck, but whatever you want to call it, where I sit, that ‘thing’ I sit in — is set so far forward, you can’t get everything back far enough to leverage the damn car correctly.”

And just like ‘improbable’ would be an apt descriptor for a drag racing El Camino, Chris acknowledges that the same can be said of him and his program. Even while continuing his work as a heating and air contractor even to this day — as a critical means of supporting his racing — the costs of competition have sometimes put him against the wall, financially.

“There have been times during this show, I’ve been dirt-broke poor,” he admits. And yet the idea of unfinished business, of having a point to prove, keeps him in the game. “So the ‘underdog’ thing, that I’m labeled as, it’s real. It’s not some kind of ‘role’ I’ve tried to play, or that I’ve necessarily wanted to play — you know I’m the guy who’s so competitive, I want to win at all costs.” But not only is he unfazed by the challenge, he seems to have exactly the sort of willpower it takes to overcome it. In Chris’ words, “I’m very prideful, and very stubborn.”

And that’s exactly what it takes to race, develop, and win with an El Camino. This particular car, of course, was previously owned by Justin and driven by Tyler “Flip” Priddy, as seen on the first season of Street Outlaws. When Chris received the car it had the same 498-inch motor with a stock GM block, Eagle crank, ancient Brodix heads and a single Nitrous Express fogger. “That thing was a trooper,” Chris recalls.

After eventually hurting it bad enough to require several rebuilds, he worked out a deal to install a friend’s already-built 582, reluctantly — “I’m way too prideful, I won’t take a handout from anybody alive,” he explains. Perhaps he should have stuck to his instinct, as that 582 turned out to be a “punk motor,” in his words. Thirteen rebuilds in a single season will certainly produce some ill feeling… as he jokes, “Like I had a damn Funny Car program — I would race it, then rebuild it, blow it up, rebuild it. Just nuts!”

Being frankly honest, I wouldn’t even say I’m necessarily a ‘car guy’. I’m just a ‘racing guy’. I’ll race a damn shopping cart.

Eager to move on from that debacle, Chris finally used the money he’d saved to work with Graham Jones at FastTimes Motorworks on an all-aluminum 632 with four stages of nitrous. And paired with he and his friend Les’ garage-built back-half chassis conversion to run big tires, in the summer of 2017 Chris took this combination back to OKC’s Top 10 list and was winning races with it. But yet, “I never got that car to run the way I wanted it to,” he admits. And of course, he’s never been one to settle, for anything.

At that time he therefore made perhaps the biggest change in his racing career — the switch from nitrous to turbos. Debuting at the annual PRI trade show in December 2017, the new powerplant uses the same block and heads run with nitrous, but with all-new Lunati crankshaft, Bill Miller rotating assembly, and Comp Cams billet cam. Built again by Graham Jones at FastTimes, the unit is fed by twin Precision Turbo 94mm Gen2 Pro Mod units via a modular Plazmaman intake. Power is transferred rearward via a ProTorque EV1 bolt-together converter and Rossler Turbo 400 3-speed.

But with the car now capable of 3,500 horsepower, the back half of the car required further attention. Following a few months at HPP Racing in Houston for fine-tuning of the turbo placement and piping — “That’s the first time that car’s ever been in a shop, ever,” Chris notes — the El Camino went to Cody Barklage at Starting Line Motorsports in Missouri for re-working of the back-half. Power now gets to the ground via new Moser 9-inch, Moser 40-spline axles, and Weld Delta’s inside 34×17.0’s. All that is held in place by new 4-link brackets, beefier 4-link bars, a Chris Bell anti-roll bar, and Chris Bell Kinetic Energy shocks.

Despite the nice parts and attention it’s received at the back-half, Chris notes the El Camino still isn’t anything close to some of the body-off, full-chassis cars now seen on the Street Outlaws franchise.

“It’s got a bunch of work done to it and stuff like that, but it’s not anywhere near a chassis car,” he says. “It’s a modified El Camino with a big, dumbass motor in it. It’s got stock front suspension — 100-percent stock front mounting locations. It’s not a strut car. [It’s got a] legit stock firewall and stock transmission tunnel.”

And that’s very much by design, as a reflection of what the car represents to Chris and the group of like-minded friends he grew up with. “The reason it’s still the way it is, and the reason it still gets built and raced the way it does, is because it’s just a ‘Piss Off!’ to all the nice cars. That car is my way — and Tyler, Justin, Shawn [Ellington], all of us — that’s like the ‘Kiss Our Ass’ car! That’s the, ‘You can have what you want and we’re still gonna’ beat you,’ car.” That is, it’s a “Screw You” to the superficial, the pedigree, and everything else that shouldn’t matter to what someone becomes in life.

Along with the many individuals behind him, Chris receives support from companies like Haltech, Speedmaster, and Woolf Aircraft Products that help make his racing endeavors possible.

As such, the car truly is a manifestation, the proof in steel, of Chris’ belief that passion, pride, and real work can overcome what’s lacking in pocketbook. Indeed, he wants to make it clear that, “Anyone could have my car. Anybody that wants to race and is serious about it, and is dumb enough to spend all their money and time working on one, can have a car like I have.” Of course for some, to commit so wholeheartedly to racing and getting ever faster would be daunting, and give reason for pause. But for him it’s second nature. As Chris concludes, “I’m an all-or-nothing guy. I’m either gonna’ really make it in my life, or I’m gonna’ be nothing. There’s no ‘middle’ for me. It’s something I tried to fight for a long time, but I’ve accepted that’s how I am. And I can’t fake that.”

Street Outlaws airs Mondays at 9pm on Discovery

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