When you pull up to a racetrack and are immediately welcomed by a trio of brand-new 1LE Camaros – you know it’s going to be a good day.
Gingerman Raceway in South Haven, Michigan was, indeed, the place to be on July 31st. Why? Because, that’s where Todd Napieralski, driver and co-owner of Total Performance Racing was spending the day with a few very special Camaros.
Todd, also known as tnap3339 here on The BLOCK, has spent the past few years racing a 2010 Camaro SS in the SCCA Pro Racing World Challenge series. Today he’s brought along his other race car, a Camaro 1LE. This isn’t just any 1LE Camaro though, it’s the first of its kind to have been upgraded to 1LE specs from the SS configuration. And while Todd worked to bring his car up to 1LE specs, he also worked with Chevrolet through the SCCA T2 homologation: the approval process that grants a vehicle entrance to a series via compliance with that series’ guidelines. The collaboration between Todd and Chevrolet enabled them to successfully homologate the Camaro 1LE package for competition in this year’s SCCA Runoffs (September 18-23).
The 1LE package is an add-on to the Camaro 1SS or 2SS coupes with manual transmissions. In a press release detailing the 1LE’s 2:58.34 lap time at Virginia International Raceway, Chief Camaro Engineer Al Oppenheiser said “The Camaro 1LE combines the best elements of the SS and the ZL1 with a focus on handling. We optimized every part of the SS for improved track driving, including gear ratios, suspension tuning and chassis mounts. The result really brings the Camaro 1LE alive at every turn – whether you’re carving through your favorite back roads or working on lap times on the track.”
The 1LE’s focus on track performance is what attracted Todd and Total Performance Racing to the package. He and his team have been hard at work preparing the car to compete in the SCCA T2 series. Besides taking his car on the track, Todd was also there to put the production 1LE through the paces, and The BLOCK was on hand to catch every moment of it!
After a few hours of smoking tires on the track, Todd sat down with The BLOCK to talk about his racing endeavors, his thirty years in Camaros, and how the all-new 1LE will be a force to be reckoned with on the track. Check out this video and exclusive interview with Todd on all things Camaro, 1LE and racing.
You’ve driven Camaros for a long time, tell us about your history with Camaro and Chevrolet products.
Yeah, I started with an ’82 Camaro back when I first started driving. I’ve always had Chevy products, I’ve had them all. I’ve had the Chevette, the LUV pickup, the S10. We could never have anything but GM products growing up. Having a mother and father working in General Motors that’s all we knew and all we had.
So your family connection was what initially drew you to GM?
Absolutely. There were strong emotional connections to keeping Chevrolet in the family.
What got you into racing?
My brother and I raced when we were younger, our first stint was with motorcycles growing up, doing motocross racing and poker runs when we were around 10-12 years old. My stepfather raced snowmobiles, so we were always around fast snowmobiles, as well. We always had something on the farm that we could race around all year long. As we got older and got into our professional lives, we went off to college, started our families and got away from it, but then decided to get back in to it.
What sparked your interest again?
My brother Rich has a restoration business in Saginaw, Total Performance Restoration, where he works on classic cars, some marine applications and does some collision work. He was the catalyst to getting back into racing. I was looking for something to do so we went out to a DE event at Waterford Hills. The first car I drove was a C5, and I was instantly hooked. My instructor was about 70 years old and I thought he was going to kill me in that car! He was going down the back straight away and I thought he was going to take us directly into a wall. He threw it into the corner, hit that apex and came out of there and it was all over for me – I had to have a car. I bought a racecar before I had my full competition license. That was back in 2007 when we bought the first car, a 4th generation 2002 Camaro SS that I raced up until two years ago. It was a great car to start with because we were familiar with the Camaro line. Rich has a 3rd generation Camaro and has been racing that, as well. So we’re fortunate to have his frame and collision shop in house, it makes it a lot easier to build cars and make our own stuff.
How much time do you spend on your race program?
There’s not enough time in the day for the race program, unfortunately. Besides our 1LE Camaro, we’ve been really busy with our World Challenge car, a 2010 Camaro SS that we run in GTS with World Challenge. Campaigning two cars in two different series has kept us extremely busy. We completed our 1LE build in about 30 days, from start to finish, and there’s literally not enough time in the day, we’re always working on something with the racecars. It seems like if you have another week you need two more, so we’re fortunate to have a team of guys that have their regular jobs during the day and come out to the shop at night and work. With the World Challenge car we’re competing against professionals as a privateer team with all volunteers—and they just do such a great job. As the driver, as the guy that gets in the car, it’s amazing to see how much emotion they have vested in the program. It’s truly been amazing seeing the team bond over all the projects that we’ve had.
Tell us about your 1LE Project.
The 1LE project was something that we didn’t have on our radar. We are always looking for cars that we can convert to racecars. Opportunities to acquire a chassis or a car that would make a good racecar come up here and there. So we got this Camaro, we weren’t sure what we were going to do with it. When we heard the 1LE package was coming out we thought that would be a good project. We didn’t have a lot of time to get the project done and homologated with SCCA on our own, but the team at Chevrolet worked hard to get it homologated in time for us. We worked together on some of the things we thought were most important and they were able to push it through and get us the 1LE package for our car.
And now your car is the first car with the 1LE package on it. How did you begin working with Chevrolet to make that a reality?
With the World Challenge car we got to work with some of the guys at Chevrolet, including Danny Kellermeyer and Mark Dickens, both whom are accomplished racers. These guys are friends of Chevrolet racing and kept people abreast as to what was going on. The timing was just perfect to put something together with 1LE.
Oh, absolutely, it’s been a genuine joy to see Camaro back in racing. Seeing what’s happening in all of the series, whether it is Grand-Am, Trans-Am, World Challenge or Club Racing. Just seeing the Camaro back and doing well, nothing could make me happier. I’ve been a Camaro guy my entire life and that is the only car I will race. I’ve been in other cars and I always tease our Corvette drivers that their cars are way too easy to drive – that they’re not really race car drivers! But I’ll tell you, this new Camaro – I just got a chance to drive the 1LE production car today and I am amazed at how well balanced the car is and how well it performs on the track. It turns in really well, it goes right down to the apex, there is no under steer or oversteer, the tires are fantastic, they’ve got a ton of grip, and the car is just really well balanced right out of production.
What other racecars do you have?
Just the Pirelli World Challenge car for me. It’s been different with that car, we’re allowed to do more modifications in that series. Our team has both third and fourth gen race Camaro's in American Sedan and T2 and also a T1 C-5 Z06 Corvette. I do have a 1989 convertible project car with an LS2 in it. Its got 545hp with a mini-cage and door bar to support it and a complete chrome molly underneath it. I went a little overboard on that car, but it was a fun project of mine. That’s just a Sunday driver.
Tell us about some of your initial experiences with your Camaro 1LE racecar.
Well, we just exceeded the T2 record at Pittsburgh International Race Complex, formerly known as Beaver Run. In qualifying we were faster than the existing track record there by three-tenths of a second with our 1LE racecar. But, records are only set during a race. During that race we had the fastest lap but we were one-tenth off from setting the record. The race was in the afternoon with more humidity and a hotter track while qualifying was in the morning with cool air, lots of power and good grip. But we were very happy to go out there and have the car perform that well. It’s a good indication that we should take the car to Road America and compete in the SCCA National Championship Runoffs. That was a great barometer that we wanted to use to see where we were on the development of the car. We’ve got more we want to do on the car, but I feel we’re ahead of where we should be.
What are your future plans for the car?
We’re going to go right back to testing. We’ll get out on the track as much as we can and keep making adjustments to make the car handle better. In our series we have to run restrictors, so it changes the game a little bit as far as horsepower. Also, with us taking a lot of things out of the car, striping the seats, air conditioning and such, we’re changing the production weight and balance. And again, I’m amazed at how well balanced the production car is, it handled really well. We’re going to keep testing the car, we’re going to get on the track as much as we can and we’re going to keep evaluating how we can make the car better.
What is your favorite part about this car?
It’s a Camaro! Plain and simple. There’s nothing else I want to drive, I just love Camaros. Somebody could hand me the keys to a Mustang and I’d just hand them to the next guy. I just want to see the Camaro do well, it’s a personal thing of mine. It’s been in our family and it’s been in my blood. It’s something I’ll take to my grave because it’s an awesome car!
What do you think about Chevrolet offering a track focused package to the masses?
I think it’s awesome because I think it’s exactly what people want. Camaro enthusiasts are road and track guys. We all want a car that handles and is well balanced. To offer something like this on a production car, where a guy doesn’t have to spend a lot of time and money researching and mixing and matching aftermarket parts is great. Quite frankly, knowing what I know about racing, buying parts and the costs of labor, I think it’s a great value.
What parts from the 1LE package are making the biggest impact in your performance?
I think one of the biggest issues with making a production Camaro a racecar and giving it a track package is that the car inherently has a lot of understeer, it likes to push on the track. One of the things we have on the SCCA T2 car is the 1LE sway bar, which basically changes the geometry in the rear and helps balance the car a lot. I think that was a huge application to get rid of the inherent understeer that the car had. Certainly the cradle bushings on the rear cradle really helped minimize the movement back there– that was a big plus for the car. Just getting some of those critical areas stiffened up really helped the car.
Your goal at the Run Offs is, of course, to take home 1st place. How close to that do you feel you are?
Based on our performance, I’m feeling really good about how the car can compete. The Mustang is projected to win the Run Offs and the Evo is really strong but we qualified ahead of both of those cars at PIRC. So I’m very optimistic that we can pull this off.
What will make your Camaro competitive in T2?
The Camaro is heavy compared to its competitors in T2, but we also have a lot of power and a lot of torque. The specific things that will make the car competitive are the facts that it has better Brembo brakes along with the 1LE sway bars, front struts, rear shocks, new springs and bushings. It’s better balanced and the torque-curve is really nice. More downforce from the 1LE splitter in the front helps keep the front planted and reduces understeer. Since the Run Offs are at Road America, which is a horsepower track, there will be a lot of high speeds. Keeping the car balanced with proper airflow and the ability to stop it will be huge factors in the competition.
What else does the future hold for you and the team at Total Performance Racing?
The team at TPR is basically here to develop the Camaro. We love taking the cars to shows and events when we are not racing. We also have a program where we’re developing some of our younger drivers through karting. We hope we can continue to build more Camaro race cars and continue to apply the things that are coming into production, to the racetrack, and make it affordable for everyone who wishes to participate at varying levels of competition.
Todd, many thanks for your time, we’re looking forward to seeing what the future holds for you, Camaro 1LE and Total Performance Racing!
Got a question for Todd or the TPR team? Head on over to the Camaro forum and post ‘em up!