Part 1: Bird is the Word
The Dallas Area Pontiac Association (DAPA) invited HPP to host a Pavement Pounders Shootout at the Texas Motorplex (in Ennis) in conjunction with the American Southern Nationals, and provided volunteers to help out. To get this series started with on-the-edge-of-your seat action, we paired a four-time NHRA national-event champion with a GM Arlington Assembly Plant engineer. Both agree that “Bird is the word,” but a generation gap between the two vehicles sets the stage for an exhibition of traditional Pontiac muscle and GM Gen IV LS-series power. Let’s meet the racers.
Lee Bannister of La Vernia, Texas, took up professional racing after retiring from a career in education. His ’72 Firebird features a 455 H.O. with 7F6 Round-Port heads, a Turbo 400, and 4.10 gears.
Dave Whitten of Rockwall, Texas, works at an assembly plant that produced GTO Judges from ’69-’71. His ’01 Firebird Formula is powered by an LS7 longblock, a Turbo 400, and 4.11 gears.
The temperature at Texas Motorplex ranged from 78.1 to 91.4 degrees. Barometric pressure was 29.75 hg and the dew point was 68 degrees. The track is 530 feet above sea level and density altitude ranged from 2,641 to 3,212 feet, so we give each racer his own correction factor based upon the density altitude at the time of his best pass. Lee’s best pass occurred at 1:20 p.m. (DA: 2,901); Dave’s best pass occurred at 11:47 a.m. (DA: 2,808). The correction factors are designed to chart the theoretical best performance at sea level and are done on the best pass only, based on e.t.
Lee’s gameplan was to raise tire pressure twice in 4-psi increments to see what affect his drag radials had on e.t.’s. The first increment was prior to his second run.
“When I launched, I could feel the tires just on the verge of spinning,” he says. “I have so many years in this car that I could tell it was right on the edge. I already knew that raising the tire pressure another 4 psi would have a poor result.”
On that second pass, Lee discovered that his new cam felt like it pulled strongest between 5,100- and 5,600-rpm. “With that, I also learned that my 4,500-stall converter was too tight for the new cam. I intend on talking to my converter builder Kenny Ford about adjusting the stall on this unit,” he says.
Lee’s best pass of the day—an 11.60 e.t. at 114.14 mph—came after installing leaner secondary rods in his Q-jet and setting his rear tires to 20 psi. “It was first time in 18 months that my Bird has gone 114 mph at a track,” he says.
Of the event, Lee says, “I seldom get to run by myself and listen to what the engine does. This was most helpful.” He described the track conditions as very hot, yet despite this, he says his Firebird’s reaction to the asphalt was “impressive.”
Dave came to our Shootout to get some seat time in the Texas heat. “I knew the track temperature and density altitude would prevent me from besting my quickest e.t.’s,” he says.
His first pass netted him a 9.42 at 143.31 mph. He followed it with his best pass of the day—a 9.41 at 142.81. “I had not run this combo in this high a density altitude, and I was impressed that it ran so well,” he says. For the rest of the day, the heat worked against improving his times.
When asked about the event, Dave says he enjoyed “the good quality of cars and racers.” He describes his Firebird’s reaction to the track as “very good, considering the high track temperatures.”
Dave sends special thanks to his wife, Jennifer; Mike Brink (Brink Racecraft); and Jason Haines (Lingenfelter Performance Engineering).
This month’s Shootout participants are both card-carrying NHRA members, and each admits to being intimately familiar with his Pontiac’s capabilities. Regardless, both men learned something about their cars at the Shootout.
Lee’s racing career has kept him focused on running against other cars, so he was pleased and surprised with what he learned when there was nobody to battle in the opposing lane. Dave usually doesn’t race in such high-density altitudes, and he was intrigued that his Firebird could still run mid-9s when confronted with less-than-friendly summertime temps.
Like them, you may learn something about your Pontiac on the dragstrip, no matter how well you know your car. We’re sure the cars and combos detailed in this story will give you plenty of ideas for your project
Thanks to the Dallas Area Pontiac Association (DAPA), and the management and crew at Texas Motorplex for helping make this Shootout possible.