“About twenty years ago, I started drag racing with a ’68 Camaro,” says DeWayne Mills of Tulsa, Oklahoma. “And it’s the same car we’re racing in Radial Versus the World, today.”
Initially a street/strip project with a burly 598ci big block under the hood, the Camaro played double-duty as a cruiser and drag strip terror. “We used it to cruise around town, and we’d drive it out to midnight drags here in Tulsa. Eventually, we decided it was probably a little too fast to be on the street, so we started running some local True 10.5 events.”
Mills says his penchant for the drag strip originally came from his mom. “She used to take me to the drag strip and dirt track races when I was young,” he says. “I’ve always been fascinated with cars. Before I even had a driver’s license, I was tinkering with a ’63 Chevy pickup that my grandfather left me. At about 13 years old, I was getting that thing set up for Pro Street in a little garage.”
These days, Mills Racing competes in Radial Versus the World, No Prep, and X275 racing. “The Camaro we race in Radial Versus the World is the Golden Gorilla,” Mills explains. “We rebuilt that car back in 2008 with a 25.2 chassis and a ladder bar setup. That same year, Donald Long introduced the Radial Versus the World class at Lights Out in Georgia, so we decided to go to that race and check it out. We showed up down there with True 10.5 tires on the car and tried to test – all I did was shake my teeth out! That’s when we decided to try radials, and we haven’t looked back since.”
In 2015, the car saw some unexpected airtime that served as the catalyst for its latest setup. “At Lights Out 6, the car stood up and took flight – sailed through the air for a few hundred feet and landed on the wall. The damage was bad enough that we had to cut the front half off of it and start over, and that’s the configuration we run today.”
That combination currently includes a 572 cubic-inch 481X powerplant from Pro-Line Racing with a pair of 106mm Precision turbos, backed by a two-speed gearbox from M&M Transmissions with a ProTorque torque converter. Despite being one of the heaviest cars in the class due to the rule stipulations that put it at 2,950 pounds, the 5,000 or so horsepower under the hood has helped to propel the Golden Gorilla to a personal best of 3.66 at 213 mph.
But the Golden Gorilla isn’t the only ’68 Camaro in Mills Racing’s garage. The Golden Kong is the team’s No Prep car. It’s another ’68 Camaro with the team’s trademark black and gold livery. “While the hardware is similar to the Golden Gorilla’s, there’s way too much weight in the front of the RVW car to set it up for No Prep,” DeWayne says. “So, this is a purpose-built No Prep car – we’ve cut everything off that car that we don’t need. It’s just about as light as you can get with a factory steel body.” Like the Golden Gorilla, Kong is motivated by a 481X power plant from Pro-Line Racing with Precision turbocharging. An M&M three-speed transmission handles the gear changes.
The third car in the team’s lineup is campaigned by DeWayne’s daughter, Kallee. “She originally ran Juniors, and when she turned 15, I asked her if she wanted to run a big car,” he recalls. “She’s like, ‘Yeah – I think I want to run a Mustang! Just kidding, I want to run that other ’68 Camaro we have.” At that point, the car that would become colloquially known as the Golden Panda was more or less a daily driver. Mills sent the car to Matheis Race Cars in Byrnes Mill, Missouri, to get it prepped for X275 racing. It’s powered by a 427 cubic-inch Pro-Line engine with a Precision 85mm turbo and, like the Golden Gorilla and Golden Kong, it’s got a set of Wiseco pistons in it.
“A few years ago we were having some issues with pistons cracking, and the folks we were working with at the time weren’t really listening to us – they were just telling us what they wanted to do,” he says. “I showed the guys from Wiseco what was going on and I asked them if they could reinforce the areas where we were seeing failures, and they listened. Our feedback didn’t fall on deaf ears, and we got what we needed to put together a reliable combination. They’ve helped us a bunch.”
Mills says that last season was a bit of a learning process. “We ran good at Lights Out and runner’d up at Sweet 16, but right after that, we started having engine issues. The setup was fast, but it wasn’t reliable. Mid-season, we decided to go back to the 481X from the Hemi. Wiseco was totally on board – we built three engines, and they got us pistons for them right away. We really just needed to take a step back in order to move the program forward.”
Mills is optimistic about the team’s prospects for this year. “We’ve been testing with the Radial Versus the World and X275 cars, and they’re running competitive numbers right now,” he says. “Our plan is to hit the bigger RVW events as well as a lot of the No Prep stuff with the other car with Daniel Pharris doing some of the driving. We’re hoping to do some X275 races with the Kallee’s car too, so our plate’s pretty full this season.”
Further down the road, Mills notes that they may consider campaigning a car in Pro Mod. “We could go that route if the No Prep stuff doesn’t pan out for us,” he says. And he’s already got a car in mind for the job. “I think we’d probably build another ’68 Camaro. We’ve got kind of a theme going.”
Story by Brad Iger, photos by Luke Munnel, courtesy of Wiseco