Fireball Camaro: First In The 8s

Imagine your friend, neighbor, coworker, boss, or overly competitive little brother just announced they are buying a new Dodge Demon. Cool! It’s a pretty serious car. But after all, it’s just not your style. So while you’re genuinely excited for them, envious does not describe how you feel. But imagine how awesome it would be to take the wind out of their sail when you tell them you’re buying a more powerful, better performing, and better looking car, but you aren’t paying a supercar price tag!

Fireball Camaro

Fireball Camaro is a company in Oklahoma that builds some serious performance iterations of the Chevrolet Camaro. There are two versions that you can purchase off the dealer floor at numerous Chevrolet dealerships across the country—the Fireball 700 and the Fireball 900. The cars have been in development for a couple of years and have been available to the buying public for about the same time.

The Fireball 700 gives you over 720hp starting at under $50,000! It features a ProCharger supercharger, custom tuning, custom Fireball badging, and Fireball-spec Niche wheels. For the price, it’s truly a great package.

The bad boy, however, is the Fireball 900. The Fireball 900 also features a ProCharger supercharger and extensive tuning, but gives you many more options to customize the build for you. This car gives you over 900hp for under $90,000.

The Fireball 900 Camaro is equally at home on the street as it on track. It drives nearly stock-like. Well, as stock-like as a 1,500-horsepower car can. It retains the factory automatic transmission and factory differential. This means it has very good street manners.

Fireball Camaro is the brainchild of Russ Harrison and Ryan Martin. You may know the name Ryan Martin from Discovery Channel’s hit show “Street Outlaws.” He has also been a stand-out in the world of outlaw radial drag racing. His Fireball Camaro racecar has been a best e.t. of 3.83 at 208 mph in the eighth. That’s serious performance no matter how you look at it.

The company has a fleet of prototype and R&D vehicles used to test different combinations of parts for performance and reliability. One of the company’s Fireball 900s has been dedicated to smashing sixth-gen Camaro quarter-mile records. To date, the company has been the first in the 10s and the first in the 9s. Now the company can also tote that it’s the first to the 8s AND the quickest LT1-equipped car in the world! This level of performance is due largely to the massive team of people and companies that have worked extremely hard to make this happen. One area that the team spent a good amount of attention to is the suspension.

Making Changes and Improvements

Until now, the Fireball Camaro R&D car had completely stock suspension. It was  riddled with deflection and absorbed as much power as it put to the ground. The car was described as squishy and sloppy, and these are a few of the things the Fireball team was looking to change.

In early 2017, Fireball Camaro teamed up with BMR Suspension to help launch the Fireball 900 Camaro even harder than they had previously. The main R&D Fireball 900 had been a previous best of 9.01 with a best 60-foot of 1.34. But according to Martin (who was doing all of the driving), the car felt sloppy and inconsistent. After some in-depth conversation with the engineering team at BMR, both companies decided to partner in an attempt to push the car past the next performance milestone.

The plan was to improve some known weak links in the sixth-gen Camaro’s rear suspension, and put some new parts through an extreme torture test. The plan was to take as much deflection out of the rear suspension as possible. That meant an array of hard parts, replacement bushings, and spherical bearings would be installed to replace the factory components that were primarily designed for comfort, not performance.

The factory bushings are made from a very soft rubber. While this does a lot to reduce NVH (noise, vibration, and harshness) it does nothing for performance. Combine this with weak, stamped-steel suspension links, and eccentric bolts for adjustability that can slip when big power is applied, you have a sloppy, inconsistent suspension system. The Fireball Camaro team partnered with BMR Suspension to make the necessary improvements to the car to help get it into the 8-second quarter-mile zone.

BMR started with upper and lower trailing arms and upper control arms. The factory parts were discarded for single-adjustable, rod-end versions. These parts accomplish a few goals; they eliminate one soft rubber bushing per link, and nearly eliminate the deflection seen in the links themselves. There is an added benefit of adjustability, but it is not one of the main reasons these arms were selected.

The first installment of the upgrades from BMR Suspension was the rear suspension links. This included the upper and lower trailing arms (UTCA059, TCA060) and upper control arms (UTCA062). These links are single adjustable, rod-end arms. The tubular design eliminated deflection seen in the stock arms, and the rod ends eliminate one rubber bushing. This eliminates bushing deflection and spindle rotation, keeping the alignment more consistent. It also helps transfer more power to the tires.

The first part of this installation is disassembly. The easiest way to do it is to completely remove the cradle and differential from the car. Bobby Bebout unbolted the entire IRS assembly and lifted the car off of it giving him easy access to everything. He removes all of the links, spindles, and unbolted the differential and axles. With it completely disassembled, the cradle was lifted off the table and prepared to remove the factory bushings.

BMR’s double-adjustable toe rods were the final piece needed to control the dynamic alignment. These are stout, rod end/rod end links that eliminate the factory eccentric bolts, putting all of the rear toe adjustment in the arms. This allows for an exact toe setting that will not change due to slipping eccentrics. With toe being such a critical part of the rear alignment, it’s extremely important to keep the rear tires pointed in the right direction.

BMR’s toe rods (TR007) are a significant improvement over the factory pieces. The BMR units eliminate the factory eccentric bolts and put all of the adjustment in the arm. It also comes with stainless steel lockout plates, which keep the arms in place. The heavy-duty rod ends keep the wheels pointed in the right direction, while offering tons of articulation.

Replacing the toe rods is as easy as unbolting the factory arms and installing the BMR arms. The arms are set to length of the factory arms before being installed. Being that these eliminate the eccentric bolts, the length will not be perfect, but it should be close enough to get to the alignment shop.

Beyond the links, the area that needed the most attention was the cradle and differential bushings. The factory bushings are very large and made of soft rubber to absorb as much NVH (noise, vibration, and harshness) as possible. This gives you a smooth comfortable ride. But in a car that is being used for max performance, NVH is not something that matters. Because of this, Fireball and BMR decided to go solid for both sets of replacement bushings. The factory cradle bushings were removed and replaced with CNC-machined Delrin versions. Delrin is a solid polymer that is lightweight, very strong, and has no give. This means the cradle is solidly mounted to the chassis and will not deflect, no matter how much power is applied. The factory differential bushings are made from the same soft material as the cradle bushings. This means when power is applied, the differential can move substantially. This deflection is one of the root causes of wheelhop, which the Fireball team is looking to eliminate. The factory differential bushings were replaced with BMR’s billet aluminum differential bushings. These are CNC-machined for an exact fit, and lock the differential in the cradle eliminating any deflection.

With the suspension links out of the way, the focus is shifted to swapping the subframe bushings. The factory cradle bushings are very large and made from soft rubber. This causes large amounts of deflection, which gives the entire IRS the ability to move under the car. This can leave you with a disconnected feeling. By adding stiffer bushings, the cradle’s movement is limited and the driver can better feel and control the car. For this application, BMR chose the Delrin cradle bushings (BK062). These are a solid polymer that will lock the cradle in place, eliminating bushing deflection.

Removing the factory cradle bushing can be a daunting task. There are many ways to get them. BMR recommends cutting the bushings out, but this can be time consuming and can damage the cradle. Fireball used a torch to heat the cradle up and knocked the bushings out with a large hammer. Once the factory bushings were removed, the BMR bushings were knocked into place with a plastic hammer.

The next step was to replace the rest of the rubber bushings in the cradle. This includes the spindle side of the upper and lower trailing arms and upper control arms, as well as the cradle side of the lower control arm. The spindle side of the lower control arms comes with a spherical bearing from the factory, so it does not need to be replaced. With all of these replaced with spherical bearings, all of the deflection in the differential, cradle and suspension links has been dramatically reduced. This means nearly every bit of horsepower and torque will hit the tires and not be absorbed by the rear suspension.

The differential is one of the first parts that sees power as it is transferred through the chassis. The soft bushings allow for incredible amounts of deflection. This is one of the main causes of wheelhop. BMR decided to go with its billet aluminum differential bushings (BK059) to lock the differential in place. This means every bit of power is transferred to the wheels. Unfortunately, this also means NVH will be significantly increased. But with this being an R&D vehicle that is primarily used at the track, noise was not a concern.

Like the cradle bushings, the differential bushings can be difficult to remove. There are two in the differential and one in the cradle. Bobby used a hole saw to remove the bulk of the factory bushings, then a hammer and chisel to remove the bushing sleeves. While this was effective, the chisel can easily damage the bushing bore on the differential. With the factory bushings removed, the BMR pieces get hammered into place. These bushings are CNC-machined for an exact fit and anodized for corrosion protection and good looks.

The last piece of the puzzle was a set of lowering springs. These will give the car a more aggressive stance, but also have an increased spring rate over the factory springs. This will help keep the rear tires planted during hard launches.

BMR also sent a set of its lowering springs (SP041) for the sixth-gen Camaro. This will give the car a more aggressive stance and some added spring rate for hard launches.

The rear springs are as easy as putting them in place when the rear cradle is reinstalled in the car. For the front, the struts are removed and the spring is replaced. The installation is very straightforward, and the result is a lower, more level, meaner looking attitude.

Off To The Track

The Fireball crew went to the track with the intention of smashing into the 8-second zone. Unfortunately, they found it would take some more work to make it happen. The huge reduction in suspension deflection meant the hit to the tires was significantly harder. Without the availability of adjustable shocks, that meant power application would have to be managed to help with traction.

It would be poetic to say we bolted some parts on the car and it instantly went out and set records. Unfortunately, that simply isn’t realistic, or the way it happened. In fact, the next time out, the car couldn’t reproduce its previous best. With such a dramatic change, the entire group was left scratching their heads, but hey, this is racecar stuff we’re talking about. Nothing is ever easy. Over the next couple of months, the Fireball crew made changes and adjustments to the car, trying to make everything work together. The massive reduction in suspension deflection meant the hit to the tires was significantly harder. With stock shocks, the car was having a hard time hooking. Although this initial outing was met with significantly more tire spin, this meant the suspension components were doing their job. It was just time to connect the rest of the dots.

The Pay-Off

Once they got a handle on the car, the Fireball crew diligently worked towards the goal of the first 8-second pass. Along the way there were some casualties. A transmission and a differential had to be replaced due to breakage, but since they were simply factory components, it was easy to fix.

After numerous trips to the track, breaking a differential and a transmission, it all started to pay off. The Fireball team slowly figured out the threshold of power the car was able to put to the ground, and how quickly it could be ramped in. As the tune was changed and made more and more aggressive, the car went quicker and quicker. After an easy shakedown pass to start the day, the car was leaned on, and everyone was rewarded. A string of 8-second passes proved that a forged engine, stock transmission and differential, boost and nitrous, the right suspension components, and an insane amount of tuning was enough to propel a full-weight 2016 Camaro into the 8s. At the end of the day, not only did Ryan Martin and the Fireball Camaro team have the first 8-second sixth-gen Camaro, but they walked away from Thunder Valley Raceway with the quickest LT-powered car, period.

Finally, all of the hard work and dedication paid off. After a couple of easy shakedown passes, they leaned on the car and were rewarded with the first of many 8-second time slips. Not only did they break into the 8s, but they kept chipping away at the elapsed time, taking the LT record in the process. The 8.83-second pass solidified their place in the record books. And according to Ryan Martin, they don't plan on stopping there!

It only took 8.83 seconds to write their place in the history books. This is an impressive feat considering the list of shops and builders that have been playing with the C7 Corvettes for a few years. Sure, someone will come along and go quicker and faster, but no one else will be able to say they did it first. As for being the quickest LT-powered car in the world, this is not a title Ryan Martin or the rest of the Fireball team plans on losing anytime soon. Fireball, along with a long list of great companies that support them, are constantly working on new and innovative ways to make more power, propel the car quicker and faster, and keep knocking down barriers – making the story of this 2016 Camaro even more colorful. We are extremely excited to see what else the Fireball Camaro crew has up their sleeves.

Ed note: This story was written by contributor Pete Epple, an employee of BMR Suspension. While the article does feature BMR products, we felt that the value of the information outweighed any negatives from this relationship.

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About the author

Pete Epple

Pete Epple has been an automotive enthusiast for the better part of 30 years, and a racer for nearly as long. He's been writing about cars for nearly 10 years.
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