Sevens With A 4L80E: Inside Jeff Zerkle’s Boosted 190 MPH Trans Am

A 7-second car is an impressive accomplishment; it can take a lot of time, money, and unfortunately carnage to figure out the right combination to go that fast. The first thing a lot of racers will ditch in an effort to do so is the newer electronic transmission. While these transmissions offer a serious advantage to a street car for cruising down the highway at speed, they have not been noted for their dependability on high horsepower racecars over the years. It’s not unheard of for a 4-speed transmission to run in the nines consistently nowadays, but anything faster than that can prove to be more difficult. 

Jeff Zerkle had a different plan when it came time to build a race/street car. Jeff, an Ohio native, has an engineering degree from Ohio State so naturally he’s up for a challenge. Instead of losing the drivability of the newer-style electronic automatic, he wanted to see just how far he could push it — so far he has gone way past what some people thought were possible and continues to do so. 

Jeff started working on cars in high school by modifying a couple of Mustangs here and there. In 2000 he was wrenching on a ’95 Trans-Am and that’s when a co-worker introduced him to the world of drag racing. Needles to say, like most of us Jeff has been hooked ever since. 

In 2009 Jeff decided to part ways with his then-current project, the Trans-Am, and purchase the red 2000 WS6 roller from a friend. Jeff stated,”I was building a 6.0L LS engine for my Trans-Am and it just made sense to upgrade to the newer body style. I decided to part out my car to build my first bad-ass 10-second turbo street car.  One year later in 2010 the car made it out to the track on a single 80mm turbo, certified 8.50 cage and a 4L80E transmission and ran 9.50s.” Since then, the car has been updated every year and continues to go faster with a different combination of turbos, engines, and driveline.

The current configuration for the WS6 consist of a Dart LSX block that is a mild 388 cubic-inches. The forged Wiseco pistons offer a compression ratio of 10:1 and are mated to a set of Callies Ultra billet rods and billet crank. The Bryan Tooley Racing roller turbo cam keeps the airflow moving with the help of the Trick Flow aluminum heads. Jeff is currently running a pair of 76/75 Precision Turbos that connect to the Edelbrock Pro-Flo intake manifold. For injection purposes Jeff turned to the pros at Holley Performance Products and utilizes a Holley EFI system. Jeff added, “I do all the wrenching, metal work fabrication, and tuning on my car, as well as machining of custom parts that are required.”

 

In 2016 Jeff experienced convertor failure on the 4L80E. He reached out to Chris Sehorn and crew from Circle D Specialties for a solution and has been working with them since 2016. Jeff said,”I dealt directly with Chris on testing their new 252mm converter on my 4L80E as well as their new aluminum flexplate. It took several modifications to get it dialed in, and Chris has really taken care of me at every step. I remember Chris telling me about the new flexplate and asking me if I wanted to try to break one.” Jeff, not wanting to back down from a challenge gladly accepted and is still running that prototype in the car today. Jeff continued, “Chris has been awesome to work with and customer service has been second to none. He really knows his stuff.  I highly recommend him to anyone that’s looking for a new converter or flexplate.”

The drivetrain for the T/A is a built 4L80 transmission with a manual valve body combined with the Circle-D flexplate and converter. The lightning-fast gear changes are controlled by a Precision Performance Products air shifter and UMI suspension components with AFCO coil-overs get the power to those sticky 275 Mickey Thompson Pro Drag Radial tires. All of this effort results in a 3,600-pound street car that holds the 1/4-mile record for the fastest 4L80E car in the country.

Jeff states,”The car has been 7.50s at 190  mph in the 1/4-mile and 4.80s at 147 in the 1/8-mile. It has also pulled a 1.17 60-foot. It should go low sevens with the power it makes.”

Jeff’s 2000 WS6 4L80 monster getting ready for lift off as the bulbs light up. Photo Credit: Buzz Media

As easy as all of this sounds, Jeff has had his share of challenges. One of the biggest feats for the happily married father of three is trying to find a balance between racing and life. Jeff handles all of the work himself and next season is always here before you know it. Another challenge is keeping the exterior of the 18 year old WS6 looking good. Jeff stated, “The car has had blown-up turbo pieces come through the hood, cracked front bumper from a trailering issue, rear bumper paint removal from a sky-high wheelie that put the car up on one back wheel, and the latest issue with a broken window and cracked hood from forgetting to put the hood pin in.”

From the photos it’s hard to tell that any of this has taken place but we will just take Jeff’s word for it. 

Mr. Zerkle would like to thanks Circle D Specialties, Extreme Automatics, and Brian Tooley Racing, for all of the help and support with his race ventures. Future plans for the car involve getting the car in the sixes. Extreme Automatics is currently in the process of building a 4L80 for the car starting with the new Reid SFI case and using all of the best parts available. The WS6 will also be getting a new cage that will certify it for the 6-second zone and make it legal. 

 Jeff and his T/A mostly compete within 3-4 hours of Dayton, Ohio and races in either True Street or a small-tire type class. If you see this car out, pay attention because it’s a 3,600-pound missile that will be gunning for the sixes! If a 4L80 can handle that kind of abuse, we will sell all our DeLorean stock and dump all $12.74 into General Motors!    

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About the author

Brian Havins

A gearhead for life, Brian is obsessed with all things fast. Banging gears, turning wrenches, and praying while spraying is just a few of his favorite things.
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