Under the Hood of Tom Bailey’s 4,000HP, HOT-ROD-Drag-Week-Winning Sick Seconds 2.0 Camaro
In the street-legal drag racing world, Tom Bailey needs no introduction. Over the past decade, the Lake Orion, Michigan resident has repeatedly raised the bar for competitors at Hot Rod Drag Week, an annual event that see competitors from around the country go toe-to-toe at various tracks throughout a given region over the course of a week.
However, unlike typical drag racing shootouts, Drag Week also requires competitors to drive their race cars more than a thousand miles on public roads to reach each track to be eligible to compete, a caveat that brings a significantly greater challenge to the table. These cars don’t just need to last for a round, or even a day’s worth of racing – they need to live on street and at the track for the duration of Drag Week. If the car breaks and you can’t fix it in time for the next race, you’re out.
“You get a season’s worth of racing in over the course of a week,” Bailey says. “And I enjoy the challenge. It’s grueling, and it definitely tests you. There’s no loading the car in a trailer and going home – whatever happens, you’ve got to fix it, and then you’ve got to drive 300 miles to be at the track the next day to race. It’s man versus machine in that way.”
Bailey’s stints in ’69 Camaro race cars dates back to 2007, when he procured a rolling chassis off of eBay to build for the event. It would later be named the Indian Burial Ground Car, a moniker it earned during Bailey’s first Drag Week back in 2010. “It seemed like every time we took that thing out, something broke,” he explains. “And it would be something that wasn’t supposed to break, some weird little thing. After missing 2008 and 2009 because the car wasn’t ready, I just decided to go for it with the 2010 event.”
Motivated by a Procharged 540ci mill and underpinned by an 8.50 chassis, Bailey piloted the Camaro into the 9s before dropping a valve about 50 miles from the last track of the week. “It was just one of those weird things about that car,” he recalls. “So the next year, the goal was to finish the event.”
A month prior to Drag Week 2011, a thrust bearing failure in that 540 forced the team to rush to finish a new motor they’d been planning to use the following year. Totally untested, Bailey fought overheating and charging issues throughout the event with the new engine, but it made it through to the end. Barely.
Despite the hassles, Bailey says he learned a lot from those two events. “Cooling and charging are the most important things – everything else is kind of secondary.”
He says that the new 615ci motor they’d built for the Camaro was simply too much for that car, and plans were put in motion to start from scratch with an entirely new build. Not long after, however, Bailey got word of a fellow racer who was looking to offload a car that was a perfect fit for this stout mill. Dubbed Sick Seconds, Bailey bought the car as a roller and swapped in the drivetrain from the Indian Burial Ground car, and switched over from his blower setup to turbos during the process.
As with its predecessor, Sick Seconds made its Drag Week 2012 debut virtually untested. “We fought rocker issues all week – we kept breaking rocker arms,” he says. “Finally, on day three I think, we basically just ran out of rocker arms and had to bow out.”
Although disappointing, it was clear the new car was a big step up from its predecessor in terms of outright performance. “We got some new rocker arms shipped to the track at the end of the event, and we made a couple of exhibition passes. That’s when I ran my first six-second pass.”
Though unofficial, Bailey knew they were clearly on to something. After refining the setup a bit more and resolving the rocker arm issue, Bailey came back for Drag Week 2013 stronger than ever. But running on a borrowed converter, he wasn’t quite sure what to expect. “That’s the first year we won it,” he says. “And it was the first car to run a six-second pass on every day of Drag Week, too.”
He points out that the competition wasn’t exactly letting him off easy, either. “On the first day, Dave Ahokas went before me and ran a 6.82 – the fastest pass in Drag Week history. I’m sitting there in the staging lanes, and it almost took the wind out of my sails – the fastest we had been on the old converter was in the 6.90s. But then we went up there, spooled the car up and made a pass, and I go 6.70. It was crazy.”
Oiling gremlins would force Bailey to drop out early in the event the following year, but he resolved to up his game even further for Drag Week 2015. “That’s where 2.0 came about,” he says.
He describes Sick Seconds 2.0 as essentially a street-legal Pro Mod car. “The chassis and everything else was custom built for this application – it’s got provisions to support a trailer hitch, and all the tubing is bigger than what you’d normally use in a Pro Mod to compensate for the beating the car takes out on the road. When comes to the body and dimensions it’s pure Pro Mod, but everything was kind of specialized to the requirements of Drag Week – it’s got a lot of features to make it work on the street.”
With the new build losing more than 300 pounds of weight versus its predecessor, Bailey had a new performance target in mind. “We built it to get into the fives,” he says. “We knew with the weight and aero that 1.0 wouldn’t be able to do it, so we had to build something specific to hit that.”
Weighing in at 2950lbs with Bailey in it, 2.0 has seen several drivetrain revisions in the years since. After debuting with the 1.0 drivetrain in 2015, Bailey had a custom billet block developed for 2016, an engine which broke on the second day of competition.
After making a few changes to address those issues, Bailey brought the custom billet block back for 2017, which broke again, this time on day three. “What we realized with the custom billet stuff was that when we broke something, we either had to have multiple spares with us, or we were dead in the water.”
Bailey brought Sick Seconds 1.0 back out for Drag Week 2018, but they nearly called it a day after a piston failure on the third day of the event. Stuck without a spare on hand to replace it with, a member of Bailey’s team drove from Michigan to North Carolina that night with the new hardware. The team got the car back together at around 4am on day four, at which point Bailey drove directly to Bristol to make it to that day’s race in time. “That’s the man versus machine element I’m talking about,” he says. “There’s a sick satisfaction to beating it. No matter how many times the machine tries to beat you, you have to be more stubborn.”
It ended up being worth the effort, even though the weather was working against them as well. “In 2018, we basically drove into a hurricane to go race, while everyone else was evacuating,” he recalls with a laugh. “Driving in six to eight inches of standing water with a street legal race car on cheater slicks can be a little sketchy. But we got there, and we ended up winning that event.”
While Sick Seconds 1.0 had certainly proved its worth, he was determined to make the new car work. “After a few years of development, Steve Morris finished his new SMX platform, which we ran in 2019,” Bailey says. “It’s all custom billet stuff, but the cam, rods, pistons, and crank are all 481X-style components. So for the major “consumables” you can use a 481X part rather than full custom pieces that you’d have to wait for.”
Although this 526ci power plant is similar to a 481X, cooling passages have been built into the architecture, converting what would otherwise be a solid billet, race-only engine into something that could live on the street. Outfitted with an Isky cam and lifters, custom SMX cylinder heads, a Holley Dominator EFI system, and a pair of 94mm Precision turbos running 65 pounds of boost, Bailey estimates the engine is dishing out around 4000 horsepower in its current configuration.
Bailey raised the bar yet again in 2019, where he ran the first five-second pass in Drag Week history with a 5.996 @ 250.4 MPH at Virginia Motorsports Park on the final day of the event. Not surprisingly, he took home the 2019 title as well.
He notes that after moving from a regular coil on plug setup to the MSD 600 box over this past winter, he’s since beaten that time in full Drag Week trim, too. “We felt like we were close to the limit with the coil on plug setup – the MSD 600 box opened up a lot more room on the tuning side for us. In January we went down to Bradenton Motorsports Park after switching over to the new box, and with no other changes we went 5.77 @ 260.”
After running some events in January and February, Bailey says a full teardown in preparation for Drag Week 2020 is currently underway. “Right now we just want to keep refining the car and see how deep into the 5s we can get.” But it should come as no surprise that Bailey isn’t one to rest on his laurels. “There’s also another project in the works,” he adds. “It’ll be vastly different from Sick Seconds 2.0, and the hope is that it will debut next year.”
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