Family Tradition: The Pennington’s F.A.S.T. 1969 ZL1 Camaro

Not many people get the chance to race their dream car. But when they’re given the opportunity, they’ll move heaven and Earth to make sure it happens. Jordan Pennington has loved his father’s 1969 ZL1 Camaro since he was a kid, and he jumped at the chance to drive it when the offer was made. The car has the potential to smash many records in the F.A.S.T. racing series this year.

Racing is a family affair in the Pennington household — Jordan’s father, Terry, used to race the ZL1, but parked it in 2005, so he could build a 1969 L88 Corvette that holds the current F.A.S.T. series record with a 9.77 at 139 mph. Julie Pennington, Jordan’s mother, has her own 1969 L88 Corvette that she races alongside her son and husband.

What makes the ZL1 that Jordan races so interesting is the fact it competes in the F.A.S.T. racing series. F.A.S.T. stands for Factory Appearing Stock Tire; besides being the name of the series, it’s also a high-level explanation of the rules. The cars that race in the F.A.S.T. series must look just like they did when they were purchased, and you can only run bias-ply tires. There’s an extensive list of rules on the F.A.S.T. series website that explains just how factory appearing a car must be, and what parts are allowed to be used.

Terry purchased the Camaro in 1999 from an individual in the state of California and had the car shipped to the family’s Indiana home. With an original ZL1 aluminum engine, the car ran an impressive best time of 10.92. In 2005, the ZL1 engine was sold and the car was put in storage while Terry raced his L88 Corvette. After 20 years, Terry built a new garage that had a spot for the Camaro, so he decided it was time for the car to make a return to the track.

Now that the car was being brought back out, it was time to get a fresh bullet to put between the fenders. Jordan and Terry weren’t planning on bringing a knife to a gunfight, so they went big with the Camaro’s powerplant.

“We called Tony Bischoff of BES Racing Engines and told him to build an all-aluminum big-block Chevy.  This is heads-up racing, so I’m not going to give out too many details, but it’s a 540 cubic-inch engine making over 850 horsepower to the crank through the factory exhaust manifolds. We actually lost over 100 horsepower when we switched from headers to manifolds on the engine dyno. We were planning on bringing this thing out in 2021, but some parts showed up earlier than expected and we were able to make the last NMCA race at Indy in late September,” Jordan says.

Jordan and his family went into full thrash mode to get the Camaro ready for the NMCA finale after getting the engine from BES. Everything was going fine until they discovered the oil pan was entirely too big for the stock subframe assembly. They started to massage the subframe to clear the oil pan so the engine could go back into the car. The surgery was a success, so the engine was filled with fluid and Jordan took the Camaro for a test drive. During the cruise, the Camaro developed a nasty vibration that needed to be investigated.

“I brought the car back and found the TH400’s case had broken where it bolts to the block. It’s now about 3:00 p.m. on Thursday, and we weren’t ready to give up just yet. We thought about it and were trying to find a way to come up with a transmission so we could make the race. Well, this is where a 2014 supercharged COPO Camaro came to the rescue. We have run that car in NMCA Factory Super Cars and it had a perfect working TH400 that we could use. It didn’t have the correct first gear ratio, but it was better than what we had. So, we ripped apart a running COPO Camaro and shoved its transmission into the ’69. At this point, it’s now about 2:00 p.m. on Friday, we get a few hours of rest, and head south to Indianapolis,” Jordan says.

Jordan’s first attempt at a pass after he arrived at Indy didn’t go as planned. The Camaro’s vibration returned and it left everyone scratching their heads about the cause. Terry instructed him to make a pass to see how the car felt, and if things didn’t seem right to just pull off to the side. Jordan made a 10.45-second rip at 134 mph, which was half a second quicker than the car had ever gone before, but the vibration was still there.

Back in the pits, Jordan and his father started their investigation trying to find the cause of the vibration, and discovered the problem. The wrong flexplate was used during the thrash of assembling the car, so the transmission came out yet again, the right flexplate was bolted to the engine, and Jordan was in business. Unfortunately, on Sunday, when Jordan started the Camaro, a horrible knocking sound was coming from the engine. It turns out the externally balanced flexplate had taken out some bearings in the engine so Jordan’s weekend was over.

Not being the type to just sit back, Jordan got to work preparing the Camaro for the track once again. BES returned a fresh engine to Jordan and he took the Camaro to a track rental where it ran 10.14 at 135 mph. The car was down on MPH, so Jordan bolted the Camaro up to a hub dyno and did some testing. It turns out the borrowed exhaust system he used to get the car ready for Indy was a major restriction. After replacing it with a full 2.5-inch exhaust the Camaro made over 700 horsepower to the tires.

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“The car currently sits and waits for the first F.A.S.T. race. With the power we picked up and the changes we made this winter, the car will click off a 9-second pass at the first event. With a few more days at the track, testing and adjusting suspension, it will be a threat to reset the F.A.S.T. record,” Jordan explains.

Jordan Pennington went to extreme lengths to race his family’s 1969 ZL1 Camaro for the first time. Now that Jordan has some of the bugs worked out he’s more than ready to start making tons of passes in the car. Who knows, we could see an all Pennington F.A.S.T. final this year.

About the author

Brian Wagner

Spending his childhood at different race tracks around Ohio with his family’s 1967 Nova, Brian developed a true love for drag racing. When Brian is not writing, you can find him at the track as a crew chief, doing freelance photography, or beating on his nitrous-fed 2000 Trans Am.
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