I grew up in a family far removed from cars, but as a little kid, I would literally drag my mother “window shopping” at Mecham Pontiac a few blocks from our home in Glendale, AZ to drool over the Macho T/As, and later the MSE cars that were created there. I’m sure in some small part it was also the culture of the later Gen Xers that included a nightly dose of cool car shows like Dukes of Hazzard and Knight Rider that played a role in fueling my desire to get a driver’s license and go as fast as possible.
Right after college, I started working for a local Chevrolet dealership. I met my husband while working there when he enticed me into a first date — in part to see the 1998 Camaro SS he had. It was love at first sight for both him and the car. As a birthday gift the following year, he ordered me a 2002 Camaro SS convertible. I promptly took it to the strip and blew the 10-bolt out of it (3 times in the first year).
The constant rear end failures on a car we wanted to keep fairly stock led us to purchasing this 1988 Pontiac GTA 8 years ago with the hope of drag racing and having a good time with it. I wanted any color but red, so naturally, I got a red car. The car was stock at the time and had been the daily driver of a person who traded it in on a Corvette. The paint was rough, the spoiler was split, and overall the car showed its age. And with age, the original engine gave up about 4 months after purchasing the car.
Right after completing a stock engine refresh, the local F-body club we are in was invited to an autocross event hosted by AZ Corvette Enthusiasts, and I was completely hooked. My very next event was a Pro-Touring event from American Street Car Promotions called Run to the Coast at El Toro, CA, in early 2010. We went with the goal to “not finish last,” and with a mid-pack finish at that event, the direction of the car took a quick right — then left — turn. Since that time, I’ve been competing in Pro-Touring events, road courses, and autocrosses across the country while constantly updating the car to be competitive. 2017 saw the car competing in 10 states, in 18 events, with 35 days spent on track.
The car itself has evolved from a stock 350 TPI engine with a 700R4 automatic transmission and a 9-bolt rear end to a 418CI LS3, a T-56 Magnum transmission, and a Moser 12-bolt. In between, the engine bay has held a high-compression, high-revving 383 and a stock cube LS1, along with a series of transmission rebuilds. In total, the car has seen 5 engines, 3 different types of transmissions, and 2 different rear axles since coming into our possession.
The car was designed to look as good as it runs, with the exterior paint completed by Rich Malley, a custom hood and intake airbrush work done by Moe Madrid at Bad Boy Designs in Peoria, AZ, an Aero Wing from Mecham Performance, and a custom roll cage created by Brian Finch at Finch Performance in Nashville, TN.
Almost all the mechanical work was completed by my darling husband Tom Pichette in our garage at home, with help from our friends when tasks required additional hands. A thank you to William Garrett, Kris Burns, Casey Aldridge, and Joshua Jones for their assistance over the years with engine and transmission swaps. In the last 18 months, it has also seen some work done by Finch Performance (a rear end gear replacement) and UMI Performance (complete front suspension rebuild).
Prior to 2015, the car ran whatever tire was available in the stock 16-inch size, and later a 17x9 size. This included the BFGoodrich g-Force Sport Comp 2, among other tires. Then in the spring of 2015, Bill Howell invited us to be part of the BFGoodrich Share the Ride program. For those not familiar with this program, it involves having a group of cars at each Autocross Guys event that provide rides to spectators. Anyone wanting to ride in the passenger seat for a lap around the autocross course can sign a waiver, get in line, and take a lap with one of the drivers. All of the cars participating in the program ride on a BFGoodrich tire. Initially it was just the newly introduced Rival, but now it can be any BFGoodrich tire. After the invite into the program, we switched the car to the Rival and haven’t looked back. Initially we ran the smallest tire in the group with the 255/40/17 being the largest Rival we could put on the 17 inch wheels we ran. In 2017, with the addition of the 18x10.5 Forgelines, we moved up to a 315/30/18 Rival.
Participation in the program for the last 3 seasons has given us the opportunity to provide rides to thousands of spectators and convince some of them to bring their own car to the autocross area and give it a try. Those 3 years have also seen us burn through about 18 sets of Rivals while enjoying every minute of the events and camaraderie that has developed within the group participating in these events. For 2017, BFGoodrich provided 2 base model Mustangs to be the primary cars for Share the Ride, but the core group of drivers still take riders as needed to keep the line from getting too long.
Since getting this car 8 years ago, I’ve been fortunate enough to drive this car literally coast to coast, from San Diego, CA, to Hilton Head, SC, and on well-known “Driver’s Roads” such as the Pacific Coast Highway from Dana Point to Monterey Bay in CA; Mulholland Drive in Los Angeles; and Tail of the Dragon in TN/ NC. However, my favorite road is probably in my home state of AZ: State Route 89- 89A that takes you from the foothills of Wickenburg, AZ to the majestic red rocks of Sedona, AZ, and ending a mile high in Flagstaff, AZ. The road has many switchbacks, twists, and turns, and for most of the year, not too much traffic. It’s what the car was originally built with in mind, and it stays true to its roots as not only a vehicle that can hold its own on the track, but is truly a pleasure to drive.
Along the way, Tom and I have made a lot of great friends and would like to thank the following for their friendship and support:
- Bill Howell, @Brian Finch, and Yancy Johns of the Autocross Guys for being the primary corrupting influence that moved the car and driver from drag racing to Pro-Touring.
- Bill Speed at Black Widow Performance Exhaust
- Jeff Baluyot at Wilwood Brakes
- Ryan Kirkwood, Ramey Wormer, and the entire team at UMI Performance
- Tim Cromer and Richard Winchester at BFGoodrich Tires
- Brian Finch at Finch Performance
- Scot Walkowiak from GNS Performance
- Rob and Trish Byrd from Racing Byrds
- Will Baty at Centeforce Clutch
- David Schardt and Darren Redmond at Forgeline Wheels
And special thanks to Alexandra and Fred Zust (Blackwatch Racing), and Dale Betram (Fairway Auto), who have all been more than willing to jump in the passenger seat and instruct whenever the time allows at the various west coast autocross and road course events.
Here’s a full list of modifications made to the Dragonlady:
- Frame: Factory
- Modifications: UMI Road Race Tubular K member. T56 swap transmission crossmember from Hawks Motorsports
- Rearend / Ratio: Moser 12-bolt with 3.42 gears using a TrueTrac differential and 33 spline axles
- Rear Suspension: UMI Watts Link, lower control arms, and torque arm, Factory 1LE 24mm rear swaybar, UMI tuned AFCO single adjustable coilovers with 400 lb springs.
- Rear Brakes: Factory GM
- Front Suspension: UMI tubular lower control arms, UMI Weight Jacks with 1100 lb springs, UMI tuned AFCO double adjustable struts, Factory 1LE 36mm front swaybar, UMI upper strut mounts
- Front Brakes: Wilwood 4 piston calipers using 12.19 inch rotors.
- Steering Box: Turn One 10:1 ratio steering gear
- Primary Wheels: Forgeline GW3R with HTM Gold finish
- Primary Tires: 315/30/18 Rival S
- Backup Wheels: Year One 17x9 Snowflakes
- Backup Tires: 255/40/17 Rival S
- Gas Tank: Factory tank with Racetronix Hotwire kit and Walbro 255lph fuel pump
- Engine: 418 CI LS3 short block with a 24x crank sensor and 1x cam sensor. Forged crank, rods, and pistons from Texas Speed. Cam is a Lunati 227/239 .600 lift at 112LSA
- Heads: GM CNC ported LS3 heads
- Injection: Factory LS1 ECM tuned by Westech Performance
- Manifold: Factory LS3 intake with airbrush art by Moe Madrid at Bad Boy Designs
- Ignition: Factory coils with MSD wires
- Headers: Stainless Works 1 7/8 inch primary tubes with 3 inch collectors
- Exhaust / Mufflers: 3 inch y pipe with a Black Widow Widowmaker mufflers
- Transmission: Tremec T56 Magnum converted to a 98-02 FBody tailhousing
- Shifter: MGW short throw for a 98 – 02 FBody
- HP/Torque numbers: ~500 rwhp 500 lb/ft
- Misc: Oil control is maintained using an Improved Racing baffled oil pan with a remote oil cooler and 2 qt Accusump. Radiator is a custom Ron Davis Racing dual core road race unit with dual Spal fans.
- Factory coupe converted to t-tops by the dealer in 1988 using a Cars and Concepts t-top conversion package. Body clearanced to the inside to accommodate 315/30/18 tires on all 4 corners
- Factory hood graphic airbrushed by Moe Madrid at Bad Boy Designs
- Bodywork / Paint By: Rich Malley
- Paint Type / Color: Sherwin Williams automotive paint in factory torch red
- Factory dash with Intellitronix digital replacement gauges
- Air Conditioner: Factory LS1 compressor connected to 1988 factory components.
- Stereo: Pioneer head unit with Polk Audio speakers. 1 inch tweeters in the dash, 5 inch round and 4x6 speakers in the B pillar, 10 inch subwoofer in the rear hatch. All speakers powered by a Alpine digital amplifier. Stereo includes XM radio receiver.
- Steering Wheel: Grant GT Sport wheel
- Steering Column: Factory
- Seats: Corbeau CR1 with 6 pt harnesses
- Cage by Finch Performance
- Aeromotive Inc. - AFPR
- AFCO Racing Products - Front: UMI tuned AFCO single adjustable coilovers with 400 lb springs, Rear: UMI tuned AFCO double adjustable struts
- BF Goodrich Tires - 315/30/18 Rival S
- Black Widow Exhaust - Widowmaker mufflers
- Centerforce Clutches - DYAD Clutch
- Corbeau - CR1 racing seats
- Crow Safety Gear - 6pt harnesses
- Detroit Speed, Inc. - Oil catch can
- EATON - Trutrac differential and 3.42 gears
- Finch Performance - Cage
- Forgeline Motorsports - GW3R 18x10.5 wheels
- Grant Products - Steering wheel
- Intellitronix Corp. - Digital gauge panel
- Lokar Performance Products - Throttle Cable
- Lunati - 227/239 cam
- Mecham Design, Performance - Aero Wing
- Moser Engineering - Rear axle 12 / bolt
- Racetronix - Fuel system
- Ron Davis Racing Products - Custom radiator
- Silver Sport Transmissions - Transmission upgrades, Shifter
- Spal Automotive USA - Dual fans
- Stainless Works - Exhaust is 1 7/8 headers to a 3 inch pipe
- Texas Speed & Performance - Short block with forged Texas Speed internals
- TREMEC - T56 Magnum
- Turn One - Steering pump and a solid u-joint steering shaft
- UMI Performance - Rear Lower Control Arms, Torque Arm, Panhard Rod, adjustable front and rear shocks, upper strut mounts
- Walbro - Fuel pump
- Wilwood Disc Brakes - 4 Piston Calipers and rotors on the front of the car