PRI 2018: O’Neal, NGK Unveil LSX-Powered Top Sportsman Camaro

NHRA Top Sportsman drag racer, Don O’Neal, along with representatives from automotive ignition technology leader NGK Spark Plugs, announced an extension of their marketing partnership in a press conference held at the Performance Racing Industry trade show in Indianapolis this morning, as O’Neal also revealed the new race car that he’ll enter into battle in 2019.

O’Neal, who finished seventh in the Top Sportsman national standings in 2018, is set to debut a 2015 Jerry Haas Race Cars-built Chevrolet Camaro, which will be powered by a unique Magnuson-supercharged Chevrolet 427 LS engine built by Patterson-Elite Performance and fueled with VP Racing methanol. A Holley EFI system will manage the fueling and ignition, and a Coan Racing transmission and converter will back the LS powerplant. AFCO, a longtime marketing and technical partner of O’Neal’s, will outfit the Camaro with its Terminator Series spindle-mount front struts and four-way adjustable rear shocks.

O’Neal has used NGK Spark Plugs in his familiar 1999 Chevrolet Monte Carlo for the past five years, and the new car will carry on that tradition while also utilizing NTK engine sensors — a division of NGK that will be boldly represented on the passenger-side of the Camaro. The COPO Camaro-inspired powerplant will be triggered by a set of NGK racing spark plugs, the 5671-8. 

For O’Neal, the new Camaro and its modern production-based powerplant is the perfect vehicle to further the marketing initiatives of supporters like NGK and reach the younger demographic of the sport.

This Camaro the nicest thing I’ve ever had the opportunity to drive. I’m 45 years-old and I’m as excited as I have ever been. I’m giddy over it. – Don O’Neal

“In the motorsports world, it’s about making sales and increasing market share for businesses — whether they’re inside or outside of the automotive industry,” O’Neal explains. “Because our racing depends on sponsorship, I had to evaluate the marketplace that corresponds with the demographics of motorsports — primarily NHRA drag racing and 25-35 year-olds — the new consumers who are buying and modifying automobiles. What excites them? Well, that’s the GM LS engine platform, turbochargers, and superchargers. I wanted to find the right package that would intrigue our marketing partners, was part of their strategy, and ultimately, is different. People remember different, and they follow it, and it becomes a way to have an attachment point to create customer loyalty and customer conversions.”

“This is a logical extension of our expansion into sensor technology,” said Danielle Orlando, General Manager of Marketing at NGK Spark Plugs. “There is a cultural alignment between the ways we do business. We’re both moving into new markets together in 2019, Don’s team and NGK. Don’s team has a new race vehicle and engine combination, while NGK is bringing its NTK technical sensor line into the motorsports world. We are confident this will be a long term, mutually beneficial relationship. We’re looking forward to moving forward together in new directions in 2019.”

“I prefer NGK because of their quality,” O’Neal . “They have less than a 1-percent failure rate. We don’t have time for any mechanical failures. We need our spark plug to light and stay lit so we can complete the run.”

Drag racing has become technology-driven, O’Neal went on to say. Information is now the key to a successful program and that is where the decision to use NTK sensors in the car stemmed from. The telemetry and data collection will help the team make set-up decisions at the track that will help the team be more competitive.

O’Neal said, “We are making the switch from a car with three stages of nitrous boost to a supercharged car. We wanted to make this change because we felt today’s customer could better relate to this new set-up. This new engine/vehicle combination is an opportunity for us to communicate the product message and the brand story about NGK and NKT’s OEM quality to everyday people.  It’s our goal to help create customer loyalty for both NGK and now NTK sensors. These are products we’ll be using every day and they’re also products everyday people use in their own vehicles.”

We’re both moving into new markets together in 2019, Don’s team and NGK. Don’s team has a new race vehicle and engine combination, while NGK is bringing its NTK technical sensor line into the motorsports world. – Danielle Orlando, NGK

“This Camaro the nicest thing I’ve ever had the opportunity to drive. I’m 45 years old, and I’m as excited as I have ever been. I’m giddy over it. I’m excited for the Patterson-Elite guys to get this engine done, get it in the car, and get this process going to go the racetrack and get started on 2019,” O’Neal adds in closing. 

O’Neal tentatively plans to take delivery of the engine by February and will have the combination dialed-in before making its on-track debut in the spring. O’Neal is still ironing out his 2019 race schedule, but confirms he will again compete at a full slate of NHRA Mello Yello and Lucas Oil Drag Racing Series events and vie for the Top Sportsman national championship.

Don O’Neal 

Don O’Neal is a retired U.S. Army soldier and semi-professional drag racer who is passionate about marketing in motorsports. O’Neal served more than 22 years of service in the United States Army and has 24 years of experience as a driver. 

O’Neal started racing in 1992 after his dad, a devout racing fan and Vietnam Veteran, passed away. In 2001, he started racing professionally and drove the U.S. Army dragster from 2004 to 2012. In 2010, O’Neal made it to the final round at the U.S. Nationals at Indianapolis. Currently, with two NHRA National event wins and two NHRA divisional wins in Top Sportsman, O’Neal is a consistent Top 10 finisher in Top Sportsman, finishing 8th in 2017 and 7th in 2018.

O’Neal juggled being both a soldier and a driver for 12 years, before retiring from the U.S. Army in 2013. In the U.S. Army, O’Neal served as an aircraft component supervisor and recruiter, stationed at bases around the world. O’Neal received his MBA in Business Administration and Marketing in 2016.

O’Neal represents Streetway Marketing & Media, a company based in Evansville, Indiana. The company focuses on identifying, developing, and executing business programs to increase B2C and B2B awareness. Streetway Marketing & Media supports sportsman racer efforts to help grow individual or team programs through management and professional assistance, including image, brand, and business success. 

In 2019, he will race the 2015 NGK/NTK Top Sportsman Chevrolet Camaro in National Hot Rod Association (NHRA) and Lucas Oil Racing events. O’Neal and his Top Sportsman car will also travel throughout the country to recognize military personnel and their families.

O’Neal represents NGK Spark Plugs, VP Racing Fuels, Tub O’ Towels, Lucas Oil, K&N Filters and Mickey Thompson Tires.

O’Neal is originally from Henderson, North Carolina, and currently resides in Evansville, Indiana. He is married to Diane, and they have four girls: Alixandrea, Logan, Emily, and Claire. 

About the author

Andrew Wolf

Andrew has been involved in motorsports from a very young age. Over the years, he has photographed several major auto racing events, sports, news journalism, portraiture, and everything in between. After working with the Power Automedia staff for some time on a freelance basis, Andrew joined the team in 2010.
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