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The baddest camaro ever. badder than it ever was.

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Driving fast and taking chances

A documentary series from Handcrafted Entertainment.

‘BIG RED: Driving Fast & Taking Chances” is an episodic documentary series that chronicles the 25 year history of what Hot Rod Magazine calls, “The Baddest Camaro Ever.” Each week, we travel with Big Red and her Team to racing events, where the stakes are high, and the competition is always fierce. The series unravels Big Red’s iconic past from it’s birth on an assembly line in a Detroit factory in the late 1960’s – to it’s renaissance in 1986, when father and son duo, Dan & R.J. Gottlieb, re-imagined the ’69 Z/28. They built the car that they had always dreamed of – an earth shaking, teeth rattling, full throttle, absolutely unlimited open road racing behemoth. In the late 1980’s, European Exotics like Lamborghini, Ferrari and Porsche had virtually negated the golden years and triumphs of the classic American Muscle car era. Big Red and the Gottlieb’s quickly put an end to all that in 1987 when they brought Big Red to the internationally renowned La Carrera Classica in Ensenada, Mexico. The legend that began back then, is thriving today.

 

The big red camaro story

In 1969 a Chevy Camaro left the factory to go on to become the baddest Camaro of all time. This is it’s story.
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    1987 | La Carrera Classica II

    “Let’s go kick some ass!”
    Dan & RJ had an idea to do something truly remarkable: take a stock 1969 Camaro and stick a Full Race 540ci Lingenfelter Big Block in it. They took this “creation” to Mexico seeking to challenge the worlds finest European Exotics.  During the race, at 150mph in a sweeping left hand turn, steering components in the Camaro let go and the car smashed into a rock wall.  RJ and Co-Driver Chris Kaufman were ok, but the car was totaled and a valuable lesson was learned.

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    1988 | La Carrera Classica III (3/21/88)

    “What a difference a year makes”
    After nearly a year under construction Dan & RJ debut “Big Red” at the 3rd Annual La Carrera Classica.  With a NASCAR chassis built by Bill Osborne and the same 540ci engine as before, RJ and Co-Driver Osborne cruise to a decisive victory and set the record at the Mexican Road Race.

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    1988 | Silver State Classic Challenge I (9/25/88)

    “The Great American Road Race is born”
    After several years running the Open Road Race in Mexico growing concerns over racer safety and hospitals prompt Dan Gottlieb, Cliff Jones, Steve Waldman, Roger Ward and others help organize THE Great American Road Race. A hastily arranged, First Annual Silver State Classic Challenge is held outside of Ely, NV.  Dan drives his souped up ’86 Corvette.  R.J. and Big Red stayed home, not expecting the event to be such a huge success.  First place goes to Jim Liautaud, Jr. in a Testarossa at 162.58 mph average. Dan places 2nd at 156 mph.

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    1989 | La Carrera Classica IV (3/4/89)

    “The Outlaw”
    This would be the final La Carrera for Big Red.  Numerous protests since the win in 1988 that, “Big Red is no longer a homologated car, but more of a pure bred race car with a Camaro shell draped over it” had been too much for the event promoters to ignore and following this race in ’89, Big Red was never invited back.  But all this only fueled the legend and from this point on “Outlaw Racer” was the handle that Big Red wholeheartedly embraced.  RJ in Big Red led the '89 race and was easily cruising his way to another victory when the clutch let go and Big Red retired from La Carrera for good with a “DNF.”

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    1989 | Silver State Classic Challenge II (9/18/89)

    “Big Red restores the glory of the American Muscle car”
    The first one had been such a huge success:  “The second running of the Silver State Classic was expected to be much like the first--a group of high rollers bringing together their European exotics and assorted oddball sports cars (with a handful of Corvettes, Panteras, and other domestics thrown in) to let it all hang out on a closed section of highway in the remote desert of Ely, Nevada… The Euro supercar owners at best tolerated the Vette guys and were confident that a red Italian car would run the highest speed of the event. It would be a red car, that's for sure, but not one of theirs…That's when it happened. Amid the polite conversations of tire ratings and frequent V-12 tune-ups there came a rumble that seemed to generate from well below the earth's crust. We hot rodders in attendance recognized it as the sound of a high-compression big-block Chevy firing up. The rest weren't quite sure what was happening until R.J. Gottlieb backed Big Red out of the trailer, clunked the Jerico into first gear, and slowly idled the surging, barking, bright red '69 Camaro between the rows of shiny new sports cars toward its space next to father Dan's hot rodded '86 Corvette. After R.J. backed it in and hit the switch to kill the 800-horse Rat motor, the world seemed eerily quiet…Normally, a crowd would gather around such a spectacle, but not here. Not today. The other competitors kept their distance, and all they could do was stare, mouths agape in sad realization that they would all be racing for Second Place, and even then, nobody would care. For this garish American "godawful hotrod" was sure to not only eat their lunch, but to also spit it back in their face and walk off with their trophy wife…Sure enough, with HOT ROD's Joe Pettitt doing little more than providing right-side ballast, Big Red destroyed the 94-mile course in 27 minutes, 54 seconds, for an average speed of 197.99 mph and a radar-recorded 222-mph top-end velocity. That was in 1989, and the legend of Big Red had just begun.” –Hot Rod Magazine 2005 by Rob Kinnan

    It was also in this year after making headlines and having earned the respect of the automotive world, that Big Red was invited the Nissan/Calsonic 5.7 mile high bank oval test track in Casa Grande, AZ for a 24 car shootout of the “…worlds quickest cars” put on by Road & Track Magazine.  Big Red astonished everyone in attendance posting a top speed of 203mph on her first run.  Editors of the magazine were so confounded, and frankly a little embarrassed since their magazine catered to the late model and Euro crowd that they had the radar gun checked and asked Big Red to do it again.  She did, and when the magazine came out, the Camaro was conspicuously cropped out of the cover photo, but still very much included in an article that no doubt had the editors saying, “What were we thinking???”

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    1990 | Silver State Classic Challenge III (9/21/90) -
    Nevada Open Road Challenge (5/12/91)

    “The Outlaw legend continues”
    Big Red ran SSCC again in 1990 taking top honors in the event for the second year in a row, but due to a leaky intake valve ran a slower average speed (189.25mph).  Then Big Red was back in Ely, NV in the spring of ’91 for the companion event to the SSCC, the NORC, exactly the same event, but promoters decided if one is fun why not run it twice a year.

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    1996 | Big Red is put away for a few years (1996)

    “The Outlaw retires”
    For reasons no one can really remember, Big Red was sent out to pasture.  Dan Gottlieb loaned the car to Don Laughlin’s Auto Museum in Laughlin, NV where it sat and was admired for nearly 10 years.  Maybe it was that she had already done so much, cast into the spotlight and constantly forced to exceed expectations that any normal car would cower from.  Maybe it was just that her driver, the only man who had ever piloted her, had to go to the east coast where school and work were waiting.  In any event, she sat comfortably in the museum adjacent to the casino where over the years tens if not hundreds of thousands of passerby looked on and admired her.

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    2004 | Big Red: Restoration and Return to Glory

    In late 2003 RJ returns from the east cost and resumes life in Southern California.  He promptly decides it’s time to bring Big Red out of hibernation and, “maybe take it to a few nostalgic car shows.”  This turned into a full-blown restoration and soon the competitive hunger returned. Dan and RJ updated the car to once again feast on Italian food and anything else the competitive circuit could put forth.

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    2005 | NORC (Z2Z Challenge - 5/15/05)

    "Dusting off the cobwebs"
    Big Red comes out of hibernation and returns to Ely where it all began.  Upgrades to Big Red included a litany of 21st century technology to keep current as things had advanced greatly in the performance auto industry in a mere 10 years. They would add safety countermeasures, improved racing seats, more reinforcing of the roll cage and better brakes among the many mechanical improvements. This of course was in response to the most remarkable upgrade to Big Red in the form of an all new 598 cubic inch Larry Mollicone crafted power plant that produces nearly 1100 horsepower!  It had been a long time since the car had been put through the paces so the team chose to participate only in the Baer Brakes sponsored Z2Z Challenge - an acceleration/deceleration contest where participants have a maximum of 1 mile to achieve top speed and then bring it to a halt as quickly as possible. Big Red again took top honors in the contest.

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    2006 | Silver State Classic Challenge (9/17/06)

    "Back to the one that started it all"
    Finally after 15 years since it’s last SSCC, RJ and Co-Driver Kris Kaufman set their sights on Hwy 318 for Big Red’s first Road Race of the 21st Century. Now Bigger, Badder, Stronger and Faster-Big Red looked to raise the bar and put yet another record in the books.  The instant Big Red left the line though it was clear that something was wrong, for the first painful 20 miles of the course faltering fuel pumps struggled to feed the angry 598 as it blubbered and coughed, starving for fuel. After killing the engine and rebooting the entire system, the beast sprung to life. Big Red roared to 7000rpm and in an instant the onboard GPS was reading 200, 205, 215mph!!! Now that the car had come to life RJ drove perhaps harder than he ever had before knowing that to overcome such a tremendous setback from the first 20 miles would require near supersonic speeds.  In the end, there was no way to defeat the clock and such an abysmal 1st sector performance. Big Red clocked an average speed of 163.932 due to the mechanical issues, which was still good enough for 1st place among 3 competitors in the Unlimited Class, but far off the mark she had set so many years earlier.

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    2007 | Fast and the Furious Audition (2007 - 2010)

    "It's baaaaaaack, and chewing up the competition…again"
    Big Red gradually re-emerged onto the automotive performance scene over time and participated in a number of events like: The Optima Ultimate Street Car Invitational, The Texas Mile, Vintage Auto Racing: Big Bore Bash at Willow Springs and the Mojave Mile, taking top honors at nearly every single event. Big Red was also featured in the 2009 Film, the 4th installment of the Fast & Furious franchise.

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    2011 | 2011 - 2014

    "Big Red in the Modern Age of Racing"
    It was in 2011 that racing Big Red was taken to an unprecedented level and a massive documentary filming project was begun with the intention of creating the most comprehensive and historically accurate telling of Big Red’s ever expanding legend. To showcase the cars diverse prowess the Big Red Team campaigned the car in a wide variety of events. The Texas Mile in March of 2011 brought Big Red heartbreakingly close to the personal goal of 220mph in a standing mile. This was followed by the harrowing canyon run at Spectre Performance’s Virginia City 341 Hill climb where Big Red placed 5th overall with an very respectable weekend best time of 3:29.99 and easily earned membership in the coveted 3:41 Club.   Then it was time to once again take on the event that made Big Red famous.  For only the second time in 25 years RJ enlisted Joe Pettitt to again ride shotgun and relive the legendary ride that his Hot Rod Magazine article told the story of so well in 1989.


    As if this weren’t enough for one year, RJ entered Big Red in Vintage Auto Racing Association -“Big Bore Bash” at Willow Springs Int’l Raceway for no holds barred door to door title bout with two dozen rival Camaros, Mustangs, Cobras and Corvettes.  The following year in 2012 saw Big Red competing at multiple Mojave “Flying Mile” Events as well as the expanded format 1.5 Mile “Mojave Magnum” where he set the record that still stands at 234.4mph!  Later that year Big Red once again dominated the field at V.A.R.A’s Big Bore Bash.

    After having repeated so many events so many times over the years, Big Red and Crew contemplated new challenges, seeking something radically different that was unlike anything the car had ever done before. The decision was made to take on the fabled world of Land Speed Racing. 2013 brought a great many changes to Big Red as she found her way to one of the great dry lakes of Southern California-El Mirage. Running for SCTA Records in a class that allowed Big Red’s traditional unmodified body style but required the use of forced induction the beast now sported an 1800 horsepower supercharged motor for the very first time ever.  Countless other changes had to be made for both regulatory reasons as well as the pursuit of maximum speed. But with the exception of the snorkel type hood cowl, Big Red remains as true to the original as the rulebook will allow. Big Red’s LSR dreams ultimately bring her to the world famous salt flats of Bonneville International Speedway. In August of 2013 Team Big Red descends on “Hot Rod Holy Ground” for an attempt at the class record of 246.767mph. Over the course of the 9-day event Big Red chewed up the salt and reached speeds in excess of 227mph. The team made many changes to the car as they evolve the strategy to reach the record.  In the end, poor traction and a catastrophic engine failure doused their hopes and put Big Red back in the trailer. But with a vast amount of experience and data collected and a newfound love for the sport, the Team has resolved to return again in 2014… and as long as it takes to see it through.

 
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The engines of big red

No one engine alone can propel Big Red to success. Over the years RJ and the Team have developed a number of incredible power plants built by Larry Mollicone for just the desired effect in whatever competition they choose.

The Peanut

The Original Big Red Engine

  • 540 c.i.d Donovan block, AFR heads, Dart intake
  • Single Carb Holley 1050 Dominator
  • HP: 850
  • Practical Use: Street, Closed Course Racing on tighter tracks
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The Bullet

The Reliable Road Course Engine

  • 598 c.i.d Brodix block, Big Duke heads, Hogan intake
  • Single Carb Custom Braswell “Severe Duty”
  • HP: 990
  • Practical Use: Open Road Course, Closed Course Racing on larger tracks
MONSTER

The Monster

The Mile Course Killer

  • 598 c.i.d. Brodix block and 12º heads, Hogan intake
  • Dual Carb x2 Custom Braswell “Severe Duty”
  • HP: 1108 (1303 w/N2O)
  • Practical Use: Flying Mile
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The Elephant

The Supercharged Tank Engine

  • Supercharged 598 c.i.d. Brodix block, heads, and intake
  • Single Carb “Experimental 4BBL” by The Carb Shop
  • Pro-Charger Induction
  • HP: 1400-1900(Depending on PSI)
  • Practical Use: Land Speed Racing, Flying Mile
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The big red camaro team

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BIG RED

The Baddest Camaro Ever
  • La Carrera Classica 1988 - Winner . Record Holder
  • Silver State Classic Challenge 1989 - Winner . Record Holder
  • Texas Mile Goliad 2011 - Top Speed 217.1MPH Fastest Stock Bodied Muscle Car/Fastest Normally Aspirated Car
  • Spectre Challenge Virginia City Hwy 341 Hillclimb 2011
    - Top 5 Finisher: 3 min :29 sec
  • Vintage Auto Racing: Big Bore Bash 2011 & 2012 - Pole Sitter/Race Leader 20+ laps Broken Transmission DNF both years
  • Mojave Magnum 2012 1.5 Mile Speed Challenge - Winner . Record Holder 234.4MPH
  • Mojave Mile 2014 1 Mile Speed Challenge
    - Winner - Record Holder 
    232.4MPH
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R.J. Gottlieb

The Driver

R.J. Gottlieb is the only man who has ever driven Big Red with one exception, the car's creator Bill Osborne.  In 1989 at the age of only 19, he had already set records at two Open Road Racing events: La Carrera Classica and the Silver State Classic Challenge which earned him the dubious title, "The Fastest Teenager in the World."  His prior experience in Pro Stock drag racing, as well as IMSA & SCCA Trans Am and Super Production Road Course Racing, served him well in the pursuit of infamy as the Driver of The Big Red Camaro. But in 1992, though he could have pursued what might have been a fruitful professional driving career R.J. stepped away from the racing scene in favor of business school and working with his father in real estate. Eventually all the Gottlieb’s race cars were sold off except for ONE.  In 2003 R.J. returned to California and the lure of speed, and the thirst for conquest reignited the Big Red passion and put him behind the wheel of his legendary Camaro once again.  R.J., now in his forties continues to campaign Big Red in a wide variety of speed contests, both old and new.

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Dave Ward

Team Manager

Dave Ward is has been involved in the world of motorsports since 1975 when he was but 16 years old. Dave’s vast experience and expertise both behind the wheel and in the pits stand as testament to his love and dedication for the sport, as do his several championship victories in both road racing and drag racing.  Dave Ward joined the Big Red Camaro Team in 1989 while he was working for Bill Osbourne of Inland Chassis Design, the creator of Big Red’s steel tube chassis.  Dave now serves as Big Red's Team Manager, he is a master fabricator and is in charge of every aspect of the racing operation from planning and logistics to car prep and racing setup.  Nothing with Big Red is ever easy.  The car has always been a complex riddle as it repeatedly attempts the impossible, but after working on her for nearly 25 years, Dave can unravel the mystery like no one else can. 

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Larry Mollicone

Engine Builder/Tuner

Larry builds engines the way that a Michealangelo created art, his attention to detail is unrelenting and he is obsessed with perfection.  As a former ASAF supplies and logistics specialist Larry came out of the military and went to work in the automotive world and at the time Southern California was a hotbed of motorsports activity.  Larry quickly found that he had a talent for building high horsepower engines, specializing in large displacement specialty units used in race boats and his services were in high demand.  Over the years Larry has built engines for more legendary drag racers, boats, NASCAR and road racers than anyone can remember.  It was Dan Gottlieb who in 1987 saw that there was only one man who would build the engines for Big Red, and Larry has been doing that ever since.  Now after nearly 25 years, Larry oversees the engine program for the car and at the behest of Driver R.J. has developed not 1, but 4 distinctly different engines with horsepower ranging from 850 to a mind numbing 1900.  All this in the pursuit of more records at a wider variety of events than possibly any other car that is active in motorsports today.   You can always find Larry at any Big Red event working in his element, taking air density measurements, coaxing performance from the engine, or if need be, preparing to help swap in another engine in case of a venue change. 

 

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Tim Fleenor

Crew Chief

Tim, like Dave Ward comes out of the Bill Osborne camp and there is no coincidence here.  More like a reverence.  For Tim working on Big Red is not a job, it's an honor, and a duty that he takes very seriously.  With a custom built car like Big Red there is no repair manual and the knowledge of the inner working of the monster can only come from years of taking her down and putting her back together.  Tim has studied every inch and knows Big Red like the back of his hand.  He, along with Ward, is in charge of the hands on Big Red experience and spends more hours in, around and under Big Red than anyone.  On race days you will find Tim the picture of perfect focus, every detail must be checked, a punch list too long to list here, Tim makes sure all of Big Red is in race ready condition and set up to trounce the competition.

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Mark Ewing

Head Mechanic

As a teenager working in the shop of Bill Osborne (the trend continues) sweeping up debris, running errands and helping out in any way needed what Mark didn't know at the time was that Bill was building a legend that he would one day carry on and help maintain.  Ewing already had a passion for auto racing and prior experience with his father and others who were campaigning in SCCA events.  By the early 1990's Mark found himself in the employ of Dan Gottlieb's racing operation, Raceway/LA Speed, which housed numerous Trans Am and GT cars piloted by R.J. and other drivers.   He attended one of Big Red's last Silver State runs to see the Camaro do what it does best.  During Big Red's "hiatus" in the Laughlin museum Mark moved away and took up a life in Texas.  It wasn't until 2009 that he learned that Big Red was back and nasty and very, very hungry.  Mark showed up unannounced at the 2009 Texas Mile and though R.J. and the Team hadn't seen him in nearly 20 years they immidiately reconnected and picked up right where they had left off.  Though he still lives in Texas, Ewing flies in and crews every race.

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Big Red Events

Past Events:
La Carrera Classica - 1987, 1988, 1989
Silver State Classic Challenge - 1989, 1990, 2006, 2011
Nevada Open Road Challenge - 1991, 2005 (Baer Brakes Z2Z Challenge)
The Texas Mile - 2009, 2011
V.A.R.A. Big Bore Bash - 2005, 2011, 2012
Spectre Performance Virginia City "341" Hillclimb - 2011
Mojave Mile - 2010, 2011, 2012, 2014
Mojave Magnum - 2012
SCTA El Mirage LSR - 2013, 2014
Bonneville Speed Week - 2013, 2014
Chevy/Hot Rod Magazine Z/28 Challenge Barber Motorsports Park - 2014
SCTA El Mirage Meet - August 2014, November 2014
Mike Cook's Bonneville Shootout 2014

Upcoming Events:

MKM Racing’s Mojave Magnum 1.5 mi Speed Challenge – 4/11 & 4/12 2015

SCTA El Mirage Meet – 5/16 & 5/17 2015

Many more 2015 events to be announced!

A THANK YOU MESSAGE FROM THE BIG RED TEAM

With every event we bring Big Red to we are overwhelmed by the outpouring of praise and admiration our fans have for the car.  Without the love and support of our friends and followers everything we do with her would be just racing.  We thank you for bringing it to another level and making it about so much more.  May the legend live on for another 25 years and as always, you all are invited to join us at events – stop by, see the car and talk shop and grab a hat and T-Shirt.

Thank you,

RJ_SIG2

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Contact Big Red

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