Allan Patterson vividly remembers his first day of competition at the Sunflower Rod and Custom Association drag strip in Great Bend. It was back in 1960, before he had an unrestricted driver’s license, so he had to have his ’40 Sedan towed to the track by his cousin, whose new car broke down in the process.
He cautiously drove his Ford into town and spent the night sleeping in it. Amazingly, he set a national stock class record on his first pass down the quarter mile — if he backed it up on a later run. Unfortunately, on his second run, the car sputtered halfway down the track and ran out of gas, killing his potential record in the process.
"I didn’t have enough money to get out of town," he recalls wryly. He figures this weekend is bound to go better, when he and his son, Todd, and their racing partner, Bob Tyler of Winfield, go after an NHRA national record in their 2012 COPO Camaro at the very same drag strip.
The car is one of only 69 COPO Camaros built by Chevrolet last year to commemorate the original 1969 COPO Camaro, which also numbered 69 cars. Both versions were special-ordered (Central Office Production Order, or COPO) race cars.
The competition for the limited 2012 version was intense.
"It was quite an honor to be one of the people picked by GM out of thousands that had expressed an interest in obtaining one of these cars," said Tyler, who actually owns the COPO Camaro. "I believe we were picked to receive the car due to our commitment to team up with Patterson Racing and race the car at NHRA national events."
Only about 10 of the 2012 COPO Camaros are likely to see real drag strip competition, with the rest going to high-end car collections, Allan Patterson said.
Tyler, president of Husky Liners, sponsors the car, along with the Pattersons’ 2010 Chevy Cobalt, which recently set a record in the A/Super Modified Automatic class, turning the quarter mile in 7.90 seconds at 172.65 mph at the Cajun Sportsnationals in Louisiana.
This weekend, the focus is on the CC/SA class record and the COPO Camaro appears to be up to the task. It is powered by an 850 horsepower engine built by Patterson Racing, or double the factory’s conservative 425 horsepower rating of the 427 cubic inch small block V-8 engine originally installed in the car.
That engine and the Powerglide transmission, along with the factory racing differential, was removed from the car and carefully stored away after one day of testing at Heartland Park Topeka last year.
"The deal was do not blow up the original engine, transmission or rear end … preserve it so 10 or 15 years from now, it can go back in and it will be a valuable collector car that can be sold at Barrett-Jackson," explained Allan Patterson.
"We tested it with the new motor and this car stood up and about turned over, so we put the wheelie bars on it."
Although it carries the number 18 serial number, the COPO was actually the fifth car assembled, so that it could compete at the U.S. Nationals in Indianapolis last year.
"We were runner-up in class to Dave Connelly at the U.S. Nationals," Allan Patterson said, adding "Our car was the fastest, but we red-lighted."
Connelly is one of the best Pro Stock drivers, noted for his lightning quick reaction times, so Todd Patterson knew he had to cut a great light.
So what kind of mark are they shooting for at this weekend’s NHRA national open event?
"We’re aiming for a 9.30 at approximately 145-147 mph," said Todd Patterson, who will be at the wheel of both cars. How do the two machines compare?
"Well, the COPO does a bigger wheelie, but this one (the Cobalt) sits you back harder in the seat,” he said. “Of course, it runs in the 7s, has 1,050 horsepower compared to 850 and is about 700 pounds lighter.”
The biggest challenge for the hard-charging COPO Camaro will come at this year’s NHRA Factory Stock Showdown, which will be staged as part of the U.S. Nationals in Indianapolis over Labor Day Weekend. The car will compete against other COPO Camaros, as well as Ford and Dodge super stock entries.
"I think we can go 9.25-ish at the Factory Stock Showdown," a confidant Todd Patterson said.
"I can guarantee you one thing, we won’t run out of gas," Allan Patterson said.