Certain experiences stay with you more than others. Hanging out the window of an AMC Rambler to take photos as we cruised alongside the 2018 Drag Week-winning car months after its victory was one of those moments.
This story starts last year — longer ago than I ought to admit — when my friend Ken Cox asked if I wanted to shoot the fastest street car in America. Well yes, I thought, but the issue is that it probably isn’t really a street car. After all, what’s the definition of a ‘street car’ anyway?
Registered and plated? Capable of going around the block on a good day? Sort of road legal? Everyone seems to have their own spin on an interpretation that works for them, but Hot Rod magazine has a very succinct definition that’s applied to their Drag Week competition.
Five days, five races, and a 1,000-plus-mile road trip. Because if you can’t actually drive your car on public roads from race to race, it’s not really a street car, is it?
No, not quite, and that’s what makes Tom Bailey’s 1969 Camaro – better known as Sick Seconds – such a monster. This Chevy is more than just a 6-second car, it’s one that can cruise down to the local burger joint outside Detroit any day of the week. It really is a street car.
But before diving into how Sick Seconds makes 3,500hp and was the first Drag Week car to pull off five consecutive 6-second runs, allow me to introduce you to Tom Bailey himself. He’s really just like you or me, only… faster.
You see, this is the guy who said “it felt slow,” with a big grin when interviewed after a 6.70-second quarter mile ET — which was at the moment the fastest run of the event — citing the need to improve his 60-foot time. Tom’s taken first place at Drag Week three times now, with two of those victories coming behind the wheel of this car.
As good-humored as Tom is, the bottom floor of his garage at the M1 Concourse isn’t messing around. The garages here come as a blank slate, allowing their owners to build out their space however they’d like.
Downstairs is the work zone, home to tools and some serious toys, while upstairs is pretty much just toys.
Toys or not, as three-time and currently reigning Drag Week champ, it should come as no surprise Tom likes to win. He and his son Aydan proceeded to give me (and Ken) a crash course on how to consistently lose every game upstairs, with either father or son coming out on top every time.
Except once, when Ken and I beat the duo in an intense shuffleboard match. So it’s not like Tom is unbeatable, you just have to pick your battles.Street Car
By default, a street car should be able to drive on the street at any given time — it is sort of in the name. Luckily for me, this was ‘any given time’, and late on my first afternoon in Michigan I found myself in Tom’s garage as he readied the Drag Week winner for the road.
All this really meant was taking off the wheelie bars and putting on side mirrors as Tom’s son Aydan fastened some filters to the turbos.
On the topic of Aydan, who had just received his driving permit before my visit, Tom laughs and says he’s definitely chomping at the bit when it comes to getting behind the wheel.
You might have noticed the tow hitch, too, required to haul a support trailer around to each race during the 1,000-mile road trip that is Drag Week. I don’t care about your cousin’s friend’s dad’s car that’s never lost a race on the freeway; this is a street car.
Next, the difficult decision of which car Ken and I should drive ourselves around in to follow Tom and Aydan. There were two options: the cheapest Turo I could find in proximity to the Detroit Metro Airport, or Ken’s freshly-restored 450whp 1963 AMC Rambler.
I guess that wasn’t so hard, actually.
If you’ve ever been to Michigan, you’ll know this is American car country. Everyone has an association to one of the big three in some way or another, and the closer to Detroit you get the deeper this loyalty runs.
But regardless of whether they’ve been a Ford family since their great-grandfather helped churn out early Model Ts, or if their uncle and all his kids work for Chrysler, everyone’s head turns when Sick Seconds cruises by. You can’t not. But the funny part is, people aren’t surprised to see something like this on the road out here.
It’s almost normal, as if it’s expected, and few recognize the car as the two-time Drag Week winner. So somehow, in the most conspicuous street car ever, Tom and Aydan sort of cruise under the radar in the copper Camaro.
That’s just as well, because Tom takes this car out and about a surprising amount, working out the kinks to make it more and more streetable as time goes on.
It shows too, because when photographing purpose-built race cars of any type there’s always some sort of issue that comes up during the shoot: The battery dies, the car overheats from idling, the starter won’t engage from heat soak, and the list goes on…
But not Tom Bailey’s car. This car is a driver, a seasoned Drag Week contender which has sat in traffic, hauled a trailer through the rain, and made a 6-second pass the following day.The Specs
This incredible high-horsepower reliability comes thanks to a number of factors, but Tom is quick to credit Steve Morris of Steve Morris Engines for his work on the 615ci Brodix big-block Chevy V8.
For the street, Tom’s ’69 Camaro is good for 1,500hp on pump gas, but at the track the car makes more than twice this figure. This is made possible thanks to a pair of 94mm Precision turbos which smash air through a Holley EFI setup and an Edelbrock intake which is paired with a billet plenum — take a second look at the big chunk of aluminum sitting atop the motor. Inside the block, Steve Morris has selected a Callies crank, Oliver Racing Parts connecting rods, and Diamond pistons to handle the abuse at the track and the wear on the road.
While the engine has been partially rebuilt over time — including a quick and dirty piston swap during last year’s Drag Week competition in the middle of the night thanks to a failed injector — Tom says the motor hasn’t been out of the car for a few years. While the don’t fix it if it’s not broken mentality has gotten him this far, Tom admits it’s probably soon time to go through the engine.
The ’69 Camaro itself is a complete tube-chassis build with relatively factory-looking fiberglass and carbon fiber body panels attached all around. Under the fenders a Wilwood disc brake setup aids the parachute in bringing the 3,500hp beast to a stop after 200+mph runs.
Every last inch of the car has been upgraded, fortified or simply tossed out – but that’s what it takes to boast a five-day average of 6.83 seconds in the quarter mile, with an average trap speed of 213.94mph, which is exactly what Tom did with this car in 2013.
For some perspective, the second-place driver’s average was nearly 0.4 seconds slower and more than 15mph less than Tom’s over the five races of Drag Week.
Tom won overall again in 2015 in a different ’69 Camaro, again with a sub-7-second average and an incredible fastest pass of 6.355 at 224.96mph. Then, back in the copper-colored ’69 Camaro at hand, Tom took the top spot for a third time in 2018, despite the injector problems mentioned above.
Tom is an unfazeable competitor, and he credits his success at Drag Week in part due to how much he actually drives this car at home. Seeing as how Sick Seconds even has a pair of cupholders, I’ll take his word for it.
Tom loves racing — and winning — but it’s obvious that he has a passion to just be around cars, regardless of what that looks like.
Wrenching, watching a race, or just going for a drive, every day during my visit to the M1 Concourse Tom and Aydan were together in the garage getting something done.
I won’t pretend I know Tom well, but I’m sure I’m looking at a world of hurt on the shuffleboard table when I make my way back to the M1 Concourse for this year’s Motovicity’s Speed Ring event.
Although, without spending a great deal of time with someone, it’s often hard to sum them up in one succinct phrase.
However, Tom’s response to the experience of driving his ’69 Camaro on the road is probably as close as I’ll get. “How does it feel?” I asked.
Tom answered back with a big grin:
“Like a Civic.”
Trevor Yale Ryan