Larry Smithey built drag racer from ’67 Camaro.
By David Leone
WAKE FOREST — You’ve seen them on ESPN2, rocketing down the drag-racing track at extreme speeds, with engines chortling loud enough to drown out stampeding elephants, accelerating for most of the eighth of a mile before deploying a parachute for a sudden stop.
But what you might not know is that while the cars in each class have to meet certain requirements, how they get there can vary widely.
A few weeks ago, at the Youngsville Fall Fest, Wake Forest’s Larry Smithey proudly displayed his “Super Shaker,” a drag racing beast built into the body of what was once a 1967 Camaro.
Smithey got into racing in the late 1960s when he ran a Sunoco dealership. He’s been racing ever since on the International Hot Rod Association (IHRA) circuit, locally and in Rockingham, but had to rework the Shaker entirely to meet modern safety codes.
It doesn’t look like a Camaro, in part because of the enormous blower engine that gives the driver 2,000 horsepower, allowing the vehicle to travel that one-eighth of a mile in 4.5 seconds. It also has been elongated lengthwise and enormous rear wheels added for stability.
The concept of stability is itself a bit of a stretch, however.
“It’s dangerous every time you get in it,” he says. “You make the car as safe as you can — there’s a heavy rollbar cage.”
The name, Super Shaker, refers to the teeth-rattling vibration it makes idling on the dragway.
“That’s where we got the name — people think the ground shakes when it leaves,” he brags.
The Super Shaker took Smithey about six years to build, working on weekends with friends. One buddy who had a machine shop was a big help.
On race days, the Shaker is towed to the starting line to save fuel and towed back when done.
And though it might not appear it, it’s built with an economy of design.
The entire gas tank is used for the race. No drop of fuel is wasted, no excess fluids anywhere.
“There’s no radiator. Alcohol cools the engine,” he says, noting that the car doesn’t run long enough to overheat.
The vehicle weighs 2,350 pounds without the driver. For the class he races in, it has to weigh 2,600 pounds. Smithey takes care of that — personally.
“I make up the ballast,” he laughs.
Smithey is also a pilot, which must feel like a leisure activity compared to the liquid-fuel rocket that regularly blasts him horizontally down the blacktop.
When asked what feels better, the race or the win, Smithey said that like most drag racers, he suffers from a condition called white line fever.
“There’s not much to be said for being second place in a two-car race,” he joked.