The first round of Stock Eliminator at the 60th annual Lucas Oil NHRA Winternationals featured a D/SA heads-up meeting of two very cool old-school hot rods. Randi Lyn Shipp, a seven-time national event winner in the category, brought her sleek ’67 Pontiac Firebird to the starting line, and Mark Maxwell met her there with his super cool ’67 Chevy Camaro. Stock Eliminator and Super Stock racing is fun for anyone who just flat-out loves muscle cars, but this match was particularly easy on the eyes.
While Shipp’s Stocker is known for its beautifully clean appearance that sports only a Mickey Thompson Tires decal, Maxwell’s Camaro, emblazoned with vibrant paint and “A Few Dollars Less” on the doors, stands out with a very retro vibe. It turns out that the retro look is 100% authentic.
Preserved in an environmental bag by previous owner Hal Ey for the past three decades, the car is a time capsule. It’s more than a beautiful drag car to Maxwell, though. It’s one of his first loves.
“I first drove this car at the 1988 Winternationals,” said Maxwell, who was 18 years old at the time. “I had run the 1987 World Finals with my car, a GTO that my dad put me in when I was 16. He realized I was a good driver but that my car wasn’t really competitive, so he spoke with Hal and asked him if he’d let me drive his car. Hal said, ‘Yeah, let’s give the kid a shot.’ ”
The first time Maxwell got in the car was at the Pomona season-opener that year, and the learning curve was evident as they all began to get to know one another. After spinning the tires and never really hooking up throughout the weekend, Maxwell went out first round.
But then they went to the Bakersfield points meet, and everything started to come together. Maxwell was runner-up there to respected racer John Calvert, and at the very next event – the points meet at Fremont Dragstrip – he scored the trophy. Final-round appearances at the Sonoma national event and both the Palmdale and Las Vegas division races caught the attention of Georgia Siepel, who was managing Fremont at the time.
“She asked me if I would run the ET Finals and represent their team, and I said ‘Sure, but I haven’t run your series at all.’ She said she knew, but that it would give them a chance to win,” recalled Maxwell. “So, I raced in a class called Heavy and won it for them. I ended up No. 5 in the world that year and won the division championship.”
The next season, he won his first national event with Ey’s “A Few Dollars Less” Camaro at the NHRA Springnationals in Columbus – but not without a dose of drama.
“I got a little over-excited in the bleach box, over-revved the motor, and tagged a valve. The motor was hurt, but I was like, I have friends here. I can fix this,” said Maxwell. “I took the head apart, and dad and I worked late that night. I found a valve at the Manley booth and brought it to Gary from Lenco, and he fixed it. We put it back in the car, got it running, guessed at the dial-in, and won the race.”
Maxwell won the division that year as well, but at the end of the season, Ey decided he wanted to park the car for a while and give it a break. That was the end of the partnership and Maxwell’s relationship with the Camaro until last September, when he got a message from Jeff Moreland asking if he was the one who had driven the car and if he was interested in purchasing it. Ey was in-process of selling quite a few of his old hot rods with Moreland’s help, and the Camaro was still in the collection.
“I asked how much, he told me, and I said I’d be there Saturday to pick it up,” said Maxwell.
The timing was ideal. Maxwell had already been formulating a plan to spend more time at the racetrack this year with his father, Larry, who races Super Stock. Wife Stephanie’s strong encouragement guided him towards making his return at the 2020 Lucas Oil NHRA Winternationals with his former Stocker.
It was no easy task to prepare the car for a return to national event competition; although the exterior was just as he’d left it, the items within the engine compartment had aged.
“It hadn’t been on a dragstrip in 31 years,” he said. “I took the tranny out immediately and gave it to my dad, and he sent it to Rod Kenny to be rebuilt. I went through, freshened the motor and rebuilt the whole front end. John Calvert remembered the car and donated a full rear suspension.
“We had to replace all the fuel lines because they were corroded and cracked, and we spent the latter part of December finishing the motor with things that needed to be upgraded to make sure it was good. We went and made some test runs, and the car was running under the index so I said, ‘Okay, this is good. As long as I don’t have a heads-up race first round, I can do this. I’m a good bracket racer.’ ”
And then he drew fellow D/SA Stock Eliminator racer Shipp in the first round. Maxwell was wide awake at the starting line and cracked off a .001-second reaction time, but Shipp’s 10.751 got the nod over his 11.366 at the stripe.
Even still, Maxwell came away from the Winternationals pleased and eager to continue his relationship with his old pal.
“I’ve driven a number of cars for people in the past 30 years, but this Camaro is what started me off at being successful in drag racing,” said Maxwell. “It’s my baby. Once I found out it was available, snagged it, and brought it home, I went in the garage and sat in it for like an hour, thinking about all the racing I’d done with it. It’s as beautiful now as it was back then.”
Maxwell plans to clearcoat the car with all of the original stickers, and he’s going to let his son, Christian, run it a bit and wear out the motor currently under the hood. But once he’s able to generate a little bit of cash, the plans are to build an up-to-speed, modern-day engine that can run with the current Stockers and have a shot at winning a heads-up race.
“I’m not done yet,” he said.
Maxwell graciously thanked Clark Holroyd and Jim Meador for their assistance and advice ahead of the Winternationals, which allowed him to run under the index with an engine that last saw the light of day in 1989.