FEATURED CAR: Building A Family Legacy
Quick Tech: 1973 Chevrolet Camaro "The Rat Hunter"
Chassis Type & Mods: 12 point cage 8.50 cert. Funny Car style cage. Backhalved with 4 link and TRZ Motorsport upper and lower control arms with AFCO dual adjusting coil overs leading the way out front.
Suspension & Brakes: AFCO BNC double adjustable shocks in the front and Strange coilovers in the rear. Wilwood disc brakes on all four corners.
Body & Paint: 1976 Lincoln Black with red decal and silver pinstripe. Removeable fiberglass hood, doors, Lexan windows.
Engine: 429 CI Dart Small Block with Edelbrock Heads, Edelbrock Intake, Callies Crank, Cerillo Rods, Diamond Pistons, Manley Valves and Seats, 14.2:1 Compression.
Induction and Fuel Delivery: Edelbrock 18 degree Performer Intake with a Nickerson 1250 cfm Dominator with a massive 199 jet for the alcohol. Ron’s Racing belt drive fuel pump and a Holley regulator.
Electronics & Ignition: MSD Pro Billet distributer, MSD HVC Pro Power Coil, MSD 3 step retard, Edelbrock Progressive Nitrous Controller, Biondo delay box.
Exhaust: Stainless Steel Kooks Headers into 5.0" collectors.
Transmission & Driveline: Dedenbear Cased Powerglide. Pro Torque 10” converter with a 4000 stall. Nassau built custom driveshaft.
Differential: Dana 60 with Don Hardy spool and axles. 4:88 Richmond gears.
Tires & Wheels: FRONT – Weld Wheels 15x4.0 with Hoosier skinnys - REAR – Weld Wheels 15x12 with Hoosier 15x32.
Special Thanks: We would like to thank Mike from MI Performance for always helping us out and opening his shop whenever we need it. James Antonetti from JA Race Engines for building us an amazing engine. Steve from Induction Solutions who always answers all of our questions. And lastly, we want to thank Mom Baker for being our biggest fan.
For Jeff and Jesse Baker of Seaford, NY their Camaro isn’t just about racing it’s about building a family legacy. Jeff is so committed to this dream that if for some reason no one is ever going to use the car, he would like it to become a jungle gym or play house for his present and future grandkids.
The way I see it, making this 73 Camaro lawn art has no near future, as it was just upgraded with intentions of hurting some feelings this season.
Jeff bought the car back in 1979 for a meager $400. Although the engine and transmission were blown, and the front fenders and door panels were covered in rust, this didn’t stop Jeff from beginning his dream of building a family race car. Jeff was the Service Manager at the legendary Motion Performance in Baldwin, NY. This is where he did most of the original work on the car like fabricating the roll cage and chassis. When Motion Performance closed down, Jeff began working at Scott Shafiroff Racing Engines. That’s where he plumbed the entire car and had S&W Racecars do all of the sheet metal work.
Being a U.S. Marine, Jeff was no stranger to hard work and dedication. It took him nearly four years to get the Camaro complete with its first phase. Phase 1 included a small block 305 coupled to a Hemi 4 speed transmission, along with all of the basic accoutrements needed to get the car down the track. The original rusted panels were replaced and fixed by none other than Joey Buttafuoco of Massepequa, Long Island. Yes, the same Joey Buttafuoco who’s under age girlfriend shot his wife Mary Joe in the face. Another Long Island legend, Corvette Eddie, may his soul rest in peace, painted the Camaro when Joey was finished with all of the bodywork.
Jeff enjoyed his new race car until 1990 and decided to put it in storage and save some money while he raised his two boys, Jeffrey and Jesse. His older son Jeffrey showed no interest in cars, but his younger son Jesse couldn’t get enough of them. By the time Jesse was 13 years old, he convinced his dad to get the car out of storage and put it back on the track.
2004 marked a big year in upgrades for the newfound father/son team. The old and battered 305 was replaced with a new 357ci small block. The old Hemi 4 speed was replaced with a Turbo 400. Jeff decided to be on the cutting edge of technology and changed the old carburetor setup to a newer fuel injection system (for 2004). It took Jeff nearly 2 years to figure the fuel injection out and eventually went back to his old and trusted carb. They debuted their newly upgraded project in late 2005.
2007 brought another list of upgrades and improvements to the Camaro. The first thing to go was the engine. They replaced the 357 with a stout 429 small block and upgraded their old and worn Turbo 400 with a freshly built, Dedenbear cased race-ready Powerglide. The exterior was given a few upgrades as well with a new hood, paint, and wheels.
The Camaro was so successful that Jeff was able to rent it out to grudge racers and recoup some money that he had invested into the build. The small block powered Camaro earned its nickname at this time and has been called “The Rat Hunter” ever since.
As with all father/son teams it doesn’t take long before the son develops his own aspirations for the car and breathes a fresh and new picture for what the car needs to become. The Rat Hunter was about to become a beast! In 2018 it was time for Jesse to step up and breathe some fresh life and ideas into the Rat Hunter. This began with installing an 8.50 certified 12-point funny car roll cage and a 6-point racing harness for added safety. They moved the custom gas tank into the front of the car, which holds 4 gallons of alcohol for the engine and 1 gallon of c16 for the Induction Solutions nitrous plate system, which uses an Edelbrock progressive nitrous controller. The fuel is moved through the system by a Ron’s Racing belt drive fuel pump and sent to a Nickerson 1250 Dominator carb setup for alcohol with a massive 199 main jet. The Dominator sits on top of an Edlebrock intake and Edelbrock 18 degree Performer heads fitted with stock Manley valves and Crane rockers. At the very foundation of this alcohol-guzzling beast is a Dart 429 cubic inch small block. The 429 is fitted with a Callies crank, Cerillo rods, and Diamond Nitrous pistons pumping a rather stout 14.2:1 compression. A set of Kooks stainless steel headers help the Rat Hunter exhale all of its fury. And I must mention that this is one of the loudest small blocks I have ever stood next to. Spark is provided by a complete MSD ignition system, including a billet distributer, wires, crank trigger, 3-step retard, and a digital 7AL ignition box. Keeping that 1100 horsepower small cool is a CSR billet water pump that is connected to a Jeg’s aluminum radiator with dual fans.
All of that power is handled by a 10” Pro Torque converter with a 400 stall connected to a Dedenbear cased Powerglide. The Powerglide is operated by an old school Cheetah shifter. A custom built Nassau driveshaft connects the transmission to a Dana 60 fitted with a Don Hardy spool and axles. A set of Richmond 4:88 gears make their home inside of that Dana making this Camaro at home in the 1/8 and ¼ mile. Connecting the Rat hunter to the road is a set of Weld Wheels and Hoosiers front and back.
The Suspension of the Rat Hunter was upgraded as well with a pair of Strange coil-overs out back and TRZ Motorsport upper and lower control arms with AFCO dual adjusting coil overs leading the way out front. New, longer wheelie bars were added to assist in getting the Hoosiers to hook at launch. Wilwood drag racing brake kits round out all four corners, helping the parachute slow down this killer small block after each pass.
At 2, 600 pounds, The Rat Hunter made its best pass of 9.30 at 145mph before its upgrades in 2018. Jeff and Jesse now hope to flash the timers in the 8.50s. As far as I see it, they are an unstoppable team, especially with the help of Matthew, Jeff’s eight-year-old grandson. Matthew took the role as co-crew this year and helps his dad and Meepaa (Jeff) load and unload the car, as well as keep it clean after every pass.
Jeff took his last pass in the Rat Hunter in October of 2018 and the Marine in him still wants to get behind the wheel and feel the new upgrades despite his health not cooperating with him. I had the pleasure of pitting next to this family team at the famous Maple Grove Raceway in Reading, PA. They welcomed me and my family as if we were their own. Due to a major thunderstorm, we spent a lot of time together that weekend in our pits just trying to stay dry. I asked Jesse if he had any future goals for the Rat Hunter, and besides dipping into the 8.50s, he wants to hurt some feelings, take everyone’s money, and spend as much time with his dad and son as humanly possible. If Matthew has half the gearhead fever his dad and Meepaa have, this car will continue the family legacy and will never become lawn art on his watch.