Written by Ainsley Jacobs
Photography by Kevin DiOssi and Dr. Rudy Rouweyha
Finally able to slow down after a lifetime of being busy, Tom Calabrese is speeding up with a racing career and a son who is following in his footsteps.
Living in upstate New York, Calabrese had been a faithful Pontiac man and even raced a ’55 back in 1962 when he was in high school. Unable to afford to buy parts, Calabrese concocted his own makeshift solutions through creativity and ingenuity, using junkyard parts and whatever he could find. That determined mindset would go on to serve him well, and after being drafted into the Vietnam War while he was in college, Calabrese returned home to start his career.
“I bought an old ’65 Chevy Super Sport in 1969 that I only paid $500 for because it had a dent in the rear quarter and I ran the shit out of that car,” laughed Calabrese, who went on to focus on his professional life as owner of his own infrastructure installation business for residential construction and being involved in highway and heavy construction in New York state. After he had gotten out of the service, too, Calabrese met a girl who he instantly knew was the one for him. He married his sweetheart, Carol, in 1980 and the couple had a son, Shawn.
Around 2007, while Shawn was in college, Calabrese saw an advertisement in a popular automotive magazine for the LSX Shootout event held in conjunction with the NMCA race in Memphis, Tennessee. Designed for late-model Camaros, Firebirds, GTOs, Corvettes, and other LS-powered vehicles, the Calabrese men decided to give it a shot.
Over the years, Calabrese waited on GM to come out with its new Camaro and in 2010 he got his wish with the debut of the fifth-generation Camaro. He bought his ’10 Camaro SS in June of that same year and immediately contacted Livernois Motorsports in Dearborn Heights, Michigan, for a quick overhaul.
“I told them I didn’t care what they did, I just wanted it to run 12 seconds,” laughed Calabrese, who was impressed with the workmanship Livernois delivered.
Incredibly, the entire process took only 15 days. The Livernois crew picked up Calabrese’s Camaro from his home in New York, and, two weeks later, he drove out to Michigan with a friend to pick it up.
Included in the upgrades was a high-performance camshaft, new ported and polished heads for the 376ci LS3 engine, a ported intake, a carbon fiber driveshaft, Driveshaft Shop 1,400-horsepower axles, and a full array of BMR suspension components, front and rear.
“They also put MSD ignition on the car, and now the motor is all customized and painted up with orange LSX valve covers from Scoggin-Dickey to match the car,” added Calabrese, whose car also added a set of EBC performance brakes.
He opted to leave the rearend gearing in its stock 3.23 form, and the 3,800-pound car responded well to the decision.
“Often times in a race, people will get out on me, but at the top end I have enough mile per hour and that’s where I used to run down a lot of cars. It’s just easier on the driveline this way,” Calabrese added.
Held at Gateway Motorsports Park in St. Louis, Missouri, the first Fifth-Generation Camaro Challenge was Calabrese’s inaugural event with his newly finished Camaro.
“I ended up going rounds and lost by two-hundredths in the final,” he recalled of his impressive runner-up finish.
The following year, in 2011, Calabrese and his son decided to follow the Chevrolet Performance Challenge Series and make a go of it. The patriarch tried his luck in the True Street category, while his son wheeled the Camaro to an impressive performance to take the Fifth-Generation Camaro Challenge season championship title.
“Well, now that we had the number one on the car, we decided to go again in 2012,” explained Calabrese, who had also added a set of custom CNC-machined Bogart Racing 17-inch wheels to his car that were specifically designed to fit over its large brake calipers.
Shawn settled for second in the points chase in 2012. In 2013, Calabrese took over driving duties. He was on track for a strong finish in the championship standings himself, but when he broke out and got beat during the final round in Indianapolis, Indiana, he slipped into third—still, an incredibly respectable performance overall.
In 2014, Calabrese was able to score a big win in Indy over Ronnie Hackleton to finish out the year strong and secure a Fifth-Generation Camaro Challenge championship title of his own. Meanwhile, Shawn had been consistently successful in the newly created Proform LSX Rumble category and in 2015, Shawn stepped up to LME Street King and Calabrese moved into Proform Rumble.
“I was intimidated by it, but I ended up 11th for the year so I realized OK, I really can do this,” shared Calabrese.
Focused on winning and chasing another championship in 2016, Calabrese’s drive and determination paid off as he took home the Edelbrock Victor trophy for NMCA Proform Rumble at the 5th Annual Chevrolet Performance Nationals race held in conjunction with the NMRA/NMCA All-Star Nationals at Atlanta Dragway in Georgia in June. That win helped him secure the title, and when the season wrapped up, Calabrese had succeeded in his mission to earn a second championship.
He slipped in the standings in 2017, but was back up by the following year where he won the True Street-style Chevrolet Performance Street Car Challenge for LS- and LT-powered cars in April 2018 at Atlanta with a three-run average of 11.94 seconds. Calabrese was also the runner-up in Proform Rumble at both the Georgia and Ohio races, wrapping up the season fourth in points.
Calabrese credits his success to a well-prepared car and a good team to rely on for maintenance. His local dealership, Don Mealey Chevrolet in Clermont, Florida, has a specially trained Camaro mechanic on hand who is Calabrese’s go-to guy when he needs his transmission, engine, or rearend serviced—something he typically does about three times a year.
With only 24,000 miles on the car, he wants to ensure it stays pristine and his wife, Carol, supports his efforts completely.
“She even bought me a Meziere Enterprises electric water pump for Christmas!” said Calabrese happily. “I also trust Dave at Minneola Auto here in Florida to do some of the more intricate work on the car.” Knowing he can trust the team to treat him well and do things right, Calabrese appreciates the Minneola team’s meticulous approach.
“I’ve been very happy with the car. It’s just a spectacular performing machine,” noted Calabrese, who has only been out a handful of times so far in 2019, but still managed a runner-up finish in the Chevrolet Performance Street Car Challenge at the season opener in March with an 11.81-second average and went on to win the 12-second category of the CPSCC at the following event in April.
“I really like the camaraderie with all the racers in the Chevrolet Performance Street Car Challenge and True Street classes, and I enjoy helping the newbies since I’ve been running it since 2011. I like giving ‘em little hints, and a few races later, they’re beating me!” laughed Calabrese, who especially appreciates the challenge of having to know his car well enough to know when to slow it down, speed it up, stage deep to knock off a tenth or to stage shallow. “I also really like that you get cool down time between laps, a nice trophy, some cash, and you don’t beat up on the car too much.”
In Proform Rumble, Calabrese finds that the competitiveness of the class is what keeps him sharp.
“You have to be really on your game, and can’t be sleeping on the tree,” he added, noting that the tune up and cool down both have to be just right. “It’s an adrenaline rush to be racing with some of the best index class cars there are.”
In the midst of all his racing, and winning, Calabrese’s career calmed down and he was able to step gracefully into retirement. Now 74 years young, the spirited man stays busy by playing Texas Hold ‘Em twice a week with his friends near his new home in Groveland, Florida, and earns pocket money power washing driveways and housings. He enjoys babysitting his two-and-a-half-year-old grandson, Nicholas, and is Shawn’s right-hand man as he continues to compete his latest Fourth-Gen Firebird in the Chevrolet Performance Stock class.
“You beat yourself up because you want to win, but I’ve turned my focus now to helping Shawn. We’ve won a lot of Chevrolet Performance Challenge Series races, and I’ve got two championships, but I want to spend time with my son, relax, drink a few beers, visit friends’ pit areas and have fun that way,” Calabrese continued of his change of pace. While his Camaro is [temporarily?] parked his garage with a cover on it, Calabrese has centered his energy on seeing Shawn succeed instead.
Although it hasn’t been smooth sailing for Shawn in his 2019 season—a spun rod bearing at the 13th Annual Nitto Tire NMRA/NMCA Super Bowl of Street Legal Drag Racing held at Route 66 Raceway in Joliet, Illinois, meant Shawn was out, but not down. The two men quickly rallied and bought another engine from Scoggin Dickey Parts Center, as replacing the wrecked bearings would nullify the old DR525 engine’s “sealed-stock” status. Now, the men are eagerly awaiting delivery of the new engine while Paul Falcon at LS1 Excitement in Durham, North Carolina—a close family friend and Nicholas’s godfather—will be doing the install work.
Racing with his son Shawn has elevated the sport to a whole new level for Calabrese, who was even able to celebrate a special double win in 2016 at the fifth-annual Chevrolet Performance Nationals in Georgia where both men won their classes.
“Shawn won in LME Street King, and I won in Proform LSX Rumble, so we had this double picture in the Aerospace Components Winner’s Circle with both cars and our big checks,” he reminisced of the memorable moment. “Also, back when Shawn was racing the Firehawk, my car was competitive against him and sometimes in time trials we would go up against each other. I could beat him if I got the holeshot, not by much, but he would give me a thumbs up and it was a lot of fun!”
Perhaps it’s being surrounded by family and good friends that keeps Calabrese young. His energy and enthusiasm are truly inspiring, and he simply laughs when people hint that he’s too old to drive his 11-second street car.
“When it cools off here in Florida in September, I put the street wheels and Mickey Thompson Pro Comp tires on and take it out cruising,” stated Calabrese, who has run as quick as 11.51 at 120 mph while bracket racing at Orlando Speed World in 2017. His love for coming to the races, though, and the people involved, is what keeps him coming back time and time again. “Racing with my son, well, it simply doesn’t’ get any better than that.”
Owner: Tom Calabrese
Driver Tom Calabrese
Hometown: Groveland, Florida
Occupation: Retired 44 years of highway and heavy construction
Class: 5th-Gen, Rumble, True Street, and Chevrolet Performance Street Car Challenge
Crew: Shawn Calabrese (son), Carol Calabrese (wife)
Car Make/Model/Year: 2010 Chevy Camaro SS/RS
Engine builder: Livernois Motorsports
Displacement: 376 cubic inches
Block: L99 stock
Bore: 4 inches
Heads: Livernois ported and polished
Valvetrain: 600-pound valve springs with titanium retainers
Cam type: Livernois custom ground
EFI system: Stock throttle body with ported intake, MSD ignition, and Meziere electric water pump
Power-adder: Naturally aspirated
Fuel brand and type: 93 octane, DeatschWerks fuel injectors
Headers and exhaust: 1 ¾-inch Kooks custom long-tube headers with Corsa cat-back exhaust
Transmission: 6L80E custom Livernois tune
Transmission Builder: GM
Clutch/shifter/torque converter: Precision 3,200 stall speed
Rearend: Eaton Truetrac, 1400-horsepower Driveshaft Shop axles (3.23 ratio), one-piece carbon fiber driveshaft
Body and/or chassis builder: Livernois Motorsports
Suspension: BMR Suspension, Energy Suspension, and Pfadt Racing
Brakes (Front): Brembo six-piston calibers, EBC carbon ceramic brake pads, cross drilled, and slotted rotors
Brakes (Rear): Brembo six-piston calibers, EBC carbon ceramic brake pads, cross drilled, and slotted rotors
Wheels (front): 17×5-inch custom Bogart Racing Wheels (SS style)
Wheels (Rear): 17×9-inch custom Bogart Racing Wheels (SS style)
Tires (Front): 17×5-inch Mickey Thompson
Tires (Rear): 315x40x17-inch Mickey Thompson ET Street R
Aftermarket body modifications: Custom Phantom grille, Seibon carbon fiber hood with air extractors, car lowered 1 ½ inches
Safety equipment: Fire extinguisher, six air bags
Vehicle weight: 3,800 pounds
Quickest et: 11.51 at 120 mph at Orlando Speed World
Best 60-foot: 1.61 seconds
Fastest mph: 121 mph