Photo Credit: Bob Johnson
With the sales of the 2013 COPO Camaros on the books, Chevrolet Performance is bringing you an exclusive look at three of last year’s models in action. The 2012 COPOs have obviously made quite the name for themselves. And if you’ve had the rare opportunity to see just how well a COPO can perform in person, it’s easy to see why we decided to unleash another 69 for 2013.
COPO Camaros are tearing up drag strips all over the country, with the blower engines making it into the high 8s with minimal modification, and even 427s running in the mid 9s straight off the lot. They’re running up and down the East Coast in places like Englishtown, Maple Grove, and Charlotte; screaming up and down the West Coast in Pomona, Seattle, and Las Vegas; and of course racing at Indy for the NHRA U.S. Nationals and the Chevrolet Performance LSX Shootout.
With that in mind, Chevrolet Performance wants to give you an update on three high-profile COPOs on the circuit. We gave Dave Bridgewater and the Jimmy Vasser team a call to see what they’ve done with their respective COPOs, and how the cars have lived up to their expectations.
Photo Credit: Bob Johnson
Dave Bridgewater’s fate seemed sealed the moment the COPO was given the production green light. Bridgewater has a knack for collecting Stock Eliminator cars, especially Camaros. “I seem to keep acquiring cars,” he says with a chuckle. At any given time he’ll have four or five cars at his disposal for his campaign in the Stock Eliminator class. “I currently have five cars running, three ’69 Camaros, a ‘99 Firebird, and, of course, the 2012 COPO,” he explains. When the COPO was announced, it seemed like the perfect chance to expand his arsenal. “I signed up for it right away,” he says. “But I got a call later on letting me know that they were all sold out."
“When I went to the SEMA show last year and saw they were selling them again for 2013, I signed back up,” he continues. “Well, on December 18, I got a call from [Chevrolet Performance], and they said, ‘Christmas has come early here in Michigan.’” Bridgewater was informed that a prospective buyer of a 2012 COPO had backed out of the sale, and he was next on the list. He was, as you can imagine, ecstatic. “I told them to put it on a truck and go west,” he recalls.
Even though he didn’t originally order the car and wasn’t able to check the option boxes himself, he said the loved the car from the start. “It came with the 427 [cu. in.] engine in it, which is exactly what I would’ve ordered,” he says.
When it got off the truck in Bridgewater’s home state of California, it immediately went to testing. With the help of master engine builder, tuner, driver, and crew chief Paul Cannan, Bridgewater started getting the car ready for the strip. And on its first time on the track, the car proved its mettle, running a 9.81 at 142 mph, and covering 50 feet in 1.28 seconds. But after some tuning, adding a weight box, and adding a two-step launch control, he started seeing some real speed come out of it. “We ran a 9.69, 9.71, and 9.72,” he says. “Then we started getting into the chassis tuning.”
He also says that the addition of a new torque converter and a 3-speed automatic really woke the car up. “It’ll run one second under index real easy,” he adds.
All the tuning and modifications ended up paying off, with the car taking home its first Wally in Vegas. “The COPOs really are awesome cars,” says Bridgewater. “They’re deadly consistent. They put incredible power to the track. They’re extremely well built.” He says the most impressive part is the difference between the COPO and his ’69 Camaros. “This car traps at 145 mph, and the old cars will do 125,” he says. “that may not sound like much, but it’s an absolute thrill.”
With a #8 finish in the points in his old car last year, and the COPO already propelling him to #10 this year, Bridgewater has big expectations for this year. Other than the previously mentioned Wall-worthy appearance in Vegas, Bridgewater plans to run in Phoenix at the Winter National and divisional races, then back to Vegas where he took the class win last time to run in the nationals and divisional, and will be at Sonoma next for the divisional and national rounds. And, of course, he’s hoping to run in the world finals.
“This is looking to be the best year ever,” says Bridgewater. “The car is perfect, the driver just needs some work.”
If their last name rings a bell, it should. Jimmy Vasser Jr. made his name in IndyCar racing, winning the championship in 1996. Today, he owns a Chevrolet dealership in Napa, California, with his dad, Jim Vasser Sr. “My dad’s always been a hot-rodder,” says Jimmy Jr., adding his father is the reason he got into racing in the first place. “So when I saw the COPO, I said, ‘That’s a pretty cool car’ and told him about it.”
“He called me up and said, ‘Hey, Dad, you’ve got to check this thing out,’” adds Jim Sr. “I quit drag racing in 1970, but when I saw the car I thought this was the car to get me back into it.”
Since Jimmy Jr. only runs Chevrolet engines in his IndyCars, he knew he had to get himself on the list. Fortunately for Jim Sr., he did, and the Vassers were soon in possession of their very own COPO.
Jim Sr. wouldn’t do anything with the car if it wasn’t full-bore, though. So he ordered the car with the Collectors’ Package, an option that shipped one of each of the three engines available for the car — all with matching serial numbers — that allowed the drag racing team to fine tune each one. “Our goal is to represent the family out there,” says Jim Sr. “We’re not here to play around. So if we’re going to race it, we’re going to make it fast.”
The car was delivered just a few days before last year’s U.S. Nationals. “We ended up renting out a strip in Indianapolis a couple times so we could get a couple test runs in to see what it could do,” says Jim Sr. Then it was time to get it on the track. “The car ran pretty good in Indy,” adds Jimmy Jr. “It won a couple rounds, but didn’t win the whole thing.” No one expected it to straight from the Oxford factory, but it wasn’t expected to run so well either. With the capability of the car realized, it was time to start really exploring the limits of the speeds the COPO can reach.
The team started honing in on the 327 cu. in. with the 2.9L supercharger to take on the BB/SA NHRA class. “It ran 9.50 right out of the box, which we liked, so we started building it out.” With the help of engine builder Rick Waters, the team put a 3-speed automatic in, and built the engine three times over, exploring everything possible within the Stock division rules. “We haven’t run this last [engine setup] yet, but it’s going to be fast,” says Jim Sr.
It must be, because the Vassers say that the latest engine combination has managed to run a 9.03 at Sonoma, covering 50 feet in 1.23 seconds, and passing the traps at 149 mph. “The car is absolutely amazing,” says Jim Sr., saying that team driver Eric Reyes comments on how straight and true the car runs. “I can’t believe how well it handles,” Jim Sr. adds.
If you want to see the King Kong COPO yourself, the Jimmy Vasser Chevrolet Racing team will give you plenty of opportunity. The team plans to run in Sonoma, California; Woodburn, Oregon; Seattle in both the national and divisional rounds; Las Vegas in the national round; Pomona; and back to Vegas for the divisionals. Of course, the plan is then to make it to the nationals in Indianapolis. But the Vassers know that a lot of work will be the only way to realize that goal.
“For an old guy, I’m intense,” says Jim Sr. “And I believe talk is cheap.”
“We got to make it happen,” concludes Jimmy Jr.
Since we love our FUEL readers so much, we figured we’d give you some bonus content, free of charge. So we put together a downloadable wallpaper showing just where next year’s class of COPOs ended up, and how they were specced out.
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