Written by on June 17,
2016 Contributors: Big Red Camaro The original outlaw racer is down—but not yet out.
Last Saturday, June 11, 2016, R.J. Gottleib pulled Big Red on to Buttonwillow for a shakedown while running up to Pikes Peak. If you’ve been spying their Instagram andFacebook page, you’ll know that Big Red just received its first major rebuild since it became the genesis of the Pro Touring movement.
The goal was to bring Big Red to the Pikes Peak International Hill Climb for the 100th running of the legendary American hillclimb. Big Red has been in the spotlight for the better part of 30 years, and as any race car that sees massive use, eventually comes a point where you just want to break it all down and reassess every detail. For R.J. and Big Red, 2015 was that time.
While Big Red still wears its original 1969 sheetmetal, the chassis is a Osborne-built stock-car chassis Over the years, as new parts were added on, old ones forgotten about, and repairs made on other repairs, it was a perfect time to rethink the Big Red formula by increasing safety, simplifying electrical systems, and even dropping some weight. Additionally, the infamous 540ci big-block has been retired and a new secret-sauce, 555ci big-block has entered the equation. Additionally, the rear fenders were reworked to fit a larger tire, and some additional aero was added to help Big Red stick to Pikes Peak’s pavement. The suspension was revised, and overall, Big Red was completely amended.
All of this work culminated to the Pikes Peak tire test two weeks ago. Big Red showed strong times during the weekend, but the crew noticed relatively high engine coolant and oil temperatures. Pikes Peak’s starting line is more than 9,000 feet in elevation, and the 12-mile, 156-corner course shoots to 14,110 feet; as any skier can tell you, the air is “thin” at altitude—meaning, there is less air density. This not only affects horsepower but also aerodynamic and cooling capabilities.
While it’s not uncommon for teams to see elevated operating temps at Pikes Peak, the Big Red team felt that a shakedown at Buttonwillow Raceway was required. There, the team discovered wiring issues with the cooling fans. The repair was quick, and the team sent R.J. back on track. Unfortunately, about a half-lap into the second round of testing, Big Red caught fire.
Noticing smoke from under the car, R.J. immediately pulled Big Red over and managed to get out of the car with no injuries. R.J. says the fire began under the hood, but quickly spread under the chassis. He pulled over safely, but in the rush, he was unable to release the fire bottles as the flames had begun to engulf the interior.
Thankfully, Buttonwillow safety teams were on track and put the fire out. However, the damage is quite extensive, with much of the body charred. The interior is toasted, but largely still intact. Even the tires still hold air.
While out of Pikes Peak, Big Red’s Josh Oliver hopes the team will be able to return to racing before the end of the year. Right now, Big Red’s sheetmetal, chassis, wiring, and mechanical systems are being dissected to find the source of the fire. If the chassis did not take in too much heat, then the repair process can begin soon.
R.J. and the entire Big Red team wants to thank the outpouring of support; while perturbed, Big Red is still aiming for that checkered flag at The Peak.
We’ll keep you posted on the recovery of the original outlaw racer.