NMCA Racer Jenna Pierce-Wilson Talks About Drag Racing and FUELAB

Jenna Pierce

Jenna Pierce-Wilson successfully races a COPO Camaro clone built by family and friends. Her husband Jesse is heading up a project to build a second COPO Clone, which we have been covering in a Race Car Build Series of articles – see the latest installment at http://fuelab.com/race-car-build-series-building-a-copo-camaro-clone-part-3/.

Here is what Jenna had to say about drag racing and FUELAB.

Q: What got you into racing?
A: My dad got me into it. He has raced all my life so I knew about racing from a young age. He let me start racing the summer I was 14, I turned 15 that winter. My mom refused to let me race a junior dragster when I was younger so my dad waited till I was closer to 16.

Q: What was the first car you raced?
A: My dad started me in a chrome yellow 1999 Mustang GT. That was also my first car when I started driving.  It was completely stock except we put Nitto tires on the rear. It ran high 14’s in a 1/4 mile. My second time ever racing I took home runner up in this car. I ran in the street class for several years before moving on to a race car with slicks.

Q: What were some of the other cars you have raced and when?
A: After the yellow Mustang was a 2001 red Camaro Z28. I didn’t race that one long. Then a blue 2002 Mustang GT. We put nitrous on it and everything else was stock. It didn’t react well with just nitrous so we ended up pulling it off and sold the car. The last street car I raced was a black 1998 Trans Am. We only did a few mods on it including a rough tune, air intake and cooler thermostat. It would run mid 12’s. I raced that car for about 3 years and then sold it to my uncle in Florida. To this day the car is still in the family, my cousin races it, and it’s still going strong. Coincidently that car saved me from having to lose points for one of our NMCA races last year. The COPO wasn’t running so we had to park it for the Bradenton Florida race. If I didn’t race I would not get the points, so I borrowed my old car and raced it. I didn’t do so well, but I got my points.

Q: What associations have you raced in?
A: I had only raced at our local track up until 2013, when Jesse introduced us to the NMCA. We have also run in the LSX Series along with the NMCA.

Q: What have been your major racing successes over the past 5 years?
A: I have had several wins at the local track. Our first year out in the NMCA in 2013 we finished 8th in the Open Comp class getting us a top ten win. In 2014 we finished 3rd in the LSX Series 5th Generation Camaro Class. We won 2 races back to back wins that year as well. We won Norwalk and LS fest in Bowling Green. This year we won first place in Open Comp for the NMCA.

Q: What do you like most about racing?
A: The speed. The adrenaline. The fumes. Ha-ha I love the freedom. Out on that track it’s your own world.

Q: Is your family involved in your racing efforts?
A: Yes. My dad races alongside me in the NMCA. My mom is my biggest fan.

Q: How long have you used FUELAB?
A: 2 years now

Q: Why did you start using FUELAB?
A: At the time we were a new race team with a new car, and they were the only ones willing to work with us on a sponsorship. They had what we needed and they liked our car.

Q: Was there a particular problem you were having that FUELAB solved?
A: We didn’t really have any particular problem.  We needed parts and they had what we needed.

Q: How has FUELAB affected your racing success?
A: Reliability; out of all the systems on this car, the fuel system has never failed us. It works every time without any hiccups. We can count on their parts to work and not fail us.

Q: What FUELAB parts do you use?
A: We use the 51501 fuel pressure regulator, 41401 Prodigy fuel pump, and 82803/82813 fuel filters.

Q: What do you see as the primary benefits of FUELAB products and company?
A: Reliability. I can’t stress that enough.  When you have one less thing to worry about on your race car it makes a world of difference in stress relief.  They work, end of story.  Customer service is great as well.  If you have any questions, they will do everything they can to get you the answers you need. They’re a great company with amazing products.

Q: Where do you see yourself in racing in 5 years?
A: Hopefully still racing with the NMCA but getting into OSCA and some other racing. We just go season by season.

Q: What do you do in your spare time?
A: Remodeling a house right now. Ha-ha. Usually just the simple things; movies, hanging with family and friends, hanging with Jesse.

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Race Car Build Series – Building a COPO Camaro Clone – Part 3

It’s been a while since the last installment in our Building a COPO Camaro Clone article series. As it often does, life had gotten in the way of race car build progress for Jesse Pierce Wilson. Now he and his team are back on track and the COPO Clone project has taken major strides.

Building a 5th Gen COPO clone isn’t a common thing, and only a handful of race teams are doing it. Jesse told us. Jesse said he wanted to show that it was possible for a small time race team with a limited budget to build a car that would be competitive in the 5th Generation Camaro class. For an introduction to the build see http://fuelab.com/building-a-copo-camaro-clone/.

In an earlier segment (http://fuelab.com/race-car-build-series-building-a-copo-camaro-clone-part-2/) we touched on the removal of parts, and the repainting of the 2010 Camaro, which started life a V6. This article now focuses on the installation of new rear suspension, a solid axle, a roll cage, and ancillary components.

New Rear Suspension Installation

The COPO Camaro is designed for a singular mission; drag racing. While the independent rear suspension of the 5th Gen Camaro makes for great handling, it is not the best design for hard drag launches. Wheel hop is a major issue.

Camaro Rear Suspension - Apex Motorsports

This photo shows the 5th Gen Camaro IRS Design *Photo courtesy of Apex Motorsports

The COPO Camaro utilizes a solid rear axle design. Therefore, the stock Camaro needs major revisions to the rear floor pan and frame to provide mounting locations, for the solid rear axle assembly, as well as make room so that it can fit.

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Before the process of installing a new rear suspension was started, the interior of the Camaro was completely gutted. The Pierce Wilson’s purchased the car as a theft recovery, which simplified removal of the rear suspension and differential, as thieves had already done that. Note, the carpet and insulation were permanently removed

New Control Arm Mount Installation

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To provide mounting points for the new control arm mounts of the solid rear axle assembly, subframe connectors were installed. The connectors are made from square tubing which is welded to the rear passenger side and driver side floorpan. The connectors then exit the passenger compartment through cut outs in the floorpan.

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Lower control arm mounting brackets come in a kit the Pierce-Wilson’s purchased from COPO Parts Direct. In order to aid proper installation, the mounts were welded to a tube which acted as a jig. Measurements were taken to determine exactly how far apart the mounting brackets would need to be to ensure their proper placement alignment, before being welded into place. The jig was done to ensure they were welded exactly where they needed to be and with proper alignment.

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The lower control arm mounts were then welded to the sub frame connectors. The tube which formed the jig was later removed.

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Upper control arm mounts were also included in the kit from COPO Parts Direct. Jesse and his crew cut holes in the floor to access a rectangular tube which they had mounted in the interior earlier. The mounts were welded to this tube. This photo shows an upper control arm mount welded in place. Also, note the frame rail on the left side of the photo. Originally, the frame rail extended down further, and provided a location mounting the stock rear suspension. In order to provide clearance for the new solid rear axle suspension a section of the frame rail had to be cut out. The COPO Parts Direct included the cap that was welded into place.

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Here is an overview of the rear floor pan before the solid rear axle was installed. Note: The jig for the lower control arm mounts has not yet been removed.

Solid Axle Installation

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The axle housing was produced by Strange Engineering, and was sent to NPR Race Cars where brackets for the control arms were welded in place. The axle will run 4.10 gears, as well as Strange Engineering axle shafts. This photo shows the axle housing and control arms bolted into place. It is being supported by a jack as springs and shocks have not yet been installed.

Roll Cage Installation

After modifying the rear suspension to accept a solid rear axle, Jesse moved on to install a roll cage.

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As dictated by the NHRA safety requirements rulebook, at each point where the roll cage attaches to the floor pan a .125″ thick attachment plate must first be welded into place. This photo shows the attachment point in the driver side foot well.

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Tubes were precision cut

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A hole saw was used to cut notches

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Careful finishing on notches made sure fit was tight

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Tight fit aided welding

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Jesse said a close friend did an awesome job welding everything together

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Outriggers were fabricated from boxed tubing and fit between subframe connectors and the rear floor pan/sills. A hole was cut to receive the roll bar tubes.

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Welding Action Shot

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Roll bar tube was slid into hole cut in the outrigger. Since the tube could slide up and down before welding, it allowed Jesse to adjust it to just the right height before welding. The outrigger also helps tie the car together, making it more rigid.

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Quick release roll bar fittings are in place

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Hole is cut in dash cover to fit around roll bar

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Completed roll cage – rear

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Completed roll cage – front

Fire Containment Panels

The openings on the rear seat area and rear deck will be filled in with sheet metal (or aluminum) to seal off the trunk area which is required by NHRA if a fuel cell is being used.

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Panels were cut to size and fastened into place.

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This concludes Part 3 of the build. Stay tuned for future articles that will include installation of the interior, electrical and a FUELAB fuel delivery system!

 

 

Race Car Build Series – Building a COPO Camaro Clone – Part 2

This is a progress report on the COPO Camaro Clone being built by Jesse Pierce Wilson. In case you missed it, here is the intro to the build: http://fuelab.com/building-a-copo-camaro-clone/ . The vehicle started as a white 2014 Camaro V6. It’s a theft recovery, parts were missing, but the needed basics were still there. After the humiliation of being stolen and violated this Phoenix will rise from the ashes as a drag strip hero. Kudos to you Camaro!

Below are progress shots of the car stripped down and being repainted to red. The reason for the color change? Jesse says it’s just because he has a thing for red Camaros. We aren’t going to cover this part of the build in detail, however, in upcoming posts we will be covering three project segments in depth. The first project will include:

  • Roll cage install
  • Removal of the factory IRS differential and factory rear cradle/ from the car
  • Weld in control arm mounts and install new solid axle assembly
  • Fill in rear deck with sheet metal (or aluminum) to seal off the trunk area (required by NHRA when a fuel cell is being used)

So stay tuned for future segments of the COPO Camaro Clone Build!  

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Stripped down and almost ready for paint

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Some un-needed components removed. Less weight = faster!

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Doesn’t get much lighter than this…

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Red paint makes the car go faster

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Starting to look like a COPO Camaro!

Race Car Build Series – Building a COPO Camaro Clone

Jenna Pierce Wilson

Last week we introduced our Race Car Build Series, as well as introduced the first race vehicle that will featured; Rob Farley’s NMCA Mustang. This week we are introducing the second car that will be covered, and that is the COPO Camaro clone being built by the Pierce-Wilson family of Muncie, Indiana.

The Wilson’s are no strangers to COPO Camaro clones. Last year Jenna Pierce-Wilson raced a Fuelab sponsored 2010 replica COPO Camaro built by her husband Jesse Pierce-Wilson. She was quite successful we might add. Competing in the NMCA Chevrolet Performance LSX Challenge Series, Jenna ended up ranking 3rd in the 5th Generation Camaro Class for the 2014 season. Shameless Fuelab plug: The Camaro’s fuel delivery system featured Fuelab’s Prodigy High Pressure EFI In-Line fuel pump, a 515 series fuel pressure regulator, and a pair of 282 Series In-Line filters.

“Building a 5th Gen COPO clone isn’t a common thing, and only a handful of race teams are doing it” Jesse told us. “We wanted to show that it was possible for a small time race team with a limited budget to build a car that would be competitive in the 5th Generation Camaro class. We started with a 2010 base V6 Camaro and built a tribute COPO using notes from a GM COPO build book. The car turned out so well built that GM took notice. A high level manager from Chevrolet Performance saw it at race and thought it was the real thing. He had to check the VIN to be sure it wasn’t! Even a competing COPO owner couldn’t tell the difference. Then we saw our car posted on GM’s Instagram and Facebook pages. That was a big compliment. After a couple of races we were invited to the COPO build center in Michigan by Kurt Collins and Dr. Jamie Meyer – the Performance Marketing Manager at GM. They gave us a tour and discussed the COPO program. We were like kids in a candy store! It was really neat to be there talking to them. We never thought in a million years that something we built ourselves would get so much notice. It’s hard to believe it snowballed into this”.

“We decided to build a second COPO replica so Jenna’s dad can race it in the new NMCA Chevy Performance Stock Class” Jesse continues. “Of course I want to do some racing in it too, but the car is being built primarily with Jenna’s dad in mind. As with our previous build, we are going to rely on our basic tools, craftsmanship and ingenuity to get the job done”.

Fuelab will be covering the build of the Pierce-Wilson’s second COPO Camaro, including the installation of a Fuelab In-Tank Power Module fuel pump. So, stay tuned to the Fuelab Vehicle Builds website page (http://fuelab.com/category/vehicle-builds/) for regular updates.