Cars

A toy for dad, daughter

Rachel Jones and her dad, James Cooper, are a natural drag racing team. He tunes the 9.70-second Camaro and she drives it as a member of the Ozark Mountain Super Shifters, a touring group of four-speed drag cars.
Rachel Jones and her dad, James Cooper, are a natural drag racing team. He tunes the 9.70-second Camaro and she drives it as a member of the Ozark Mountain Super Shifters, a touring group of four-speed drag cars. The Wichita Eagle

It's not that unusual to see a father and son working on a car together with the goal of collecting an impressive time slip at the local drag strip. It's a bit more unusual to see a father-daughter team sharing time under the hood with the same goal in mind.

But that's how it has been for more than a decade with James Cooper and his daughter, Rachel Jones.

"Rachel and I built this car ourselves... she won't let me do all the wrenching myself," Cooper said. The car in question is a white '68 Camaro, the second '68 Camaro the two have built together.

"The blue one was my college daily driver in 1998," Jones said. "The year after we bought it, we started racing it. He took his '55 Chevy and I took my Camaro," she said.

"We were racing the blue car occasionally. You know, break it on Saturday, fix it on Sunday so she could drive it on Monday," Cooper said.

Then one day he spotted a primered '68 Camaro on North 53rd Street, minus its transmission and drive shaft. "I offered the guy $500 under what he was asking and we took it home," he said.

A four-speed manual transmission was installed and Jones was soon running 13.20 elapsed times in the Sportsman category at Wichita International Raceway. "The last race of the year was called the turkey race and all the losers got a free turkey. In the first round, we dropped a valve and destroyed the engine. Rachel said, 'Give me my turkey so I can go home,' " her dad recalled.

That began a series of engine rebuilds, with upgrades including Dart racing heads. Jones called her dad at work after her first pass to tell him they had a problem: She had just run a 12.60 and at the time, that was too quick for the Sportsman class. So they moved the car to the Pro ET category.

The Camaro, now decked out in a white paint scheme in tribute to the old "Grumpy's Toy" drag cars of the '60s and '70s, has earned its nickname of "Rachel's Toy."

The car's performance continued to improve and the father-daughter team hooked up with a group of stick-shift-only drag cars that tour the Midwest together, known as the Ozark Mountain Super Shifters. "He's better known around the track as 'Rachel's dad,' " Jones said. That's okay with Cooper, who says he is having way more fun setting up and tuning the car than he ever did driving.

"Rachel's Toy" has now run a best of 9.70 seconds at just under 140 mph in the quarter mile.

That kind of performance is provided by a 427-cubic-inch Dart racing block with Brodix high compression heads and intake, using a 1000 cfm Holley racing carb and a set of specially modified Hooker headers. A Jericho four-speed transmission is used to send the estimated 700 horsepower toward the 4:56 gears in the 12-bolt Chevy rear end.

"We didn't have the ambition to have all these things on the car," Jones said. "We intended for it to still be a street car... it's still tagged," she said.

One thing her car has that few other drag cars contain is a working air conditioner. Actually, it's a vintage Bon Air "swamp cooler," mounted to the passenger seat base. Ice is dumped into the cooler, which routes cold air to the interior and to a fresh air tube feeding Jones' racing helmet on each pass.

Jones, who earned a computer engineering degree from Wichita State University, now works for Garmin GPS systems in the Kansas City area, where she lives with her husband and two young daughters.

But she and her dad continue their racing teamwork almost every weekend. They will be competing at Kansas International Dragway, on Ridge Road with the Ozark Mountain Super Shifters, on May 15.

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