Interview by Mary Lendzion
Photos by Fastest Street Car and courtesy of Brian Keep
Back in the day, Brian Keep raced in an Oldsmobile Omega, Chevrolet Blazer and Chevrolet S10, and on everything from dirt and mud to asphalt and concrete.
But for the past several years, he has been racing in his 1998 Camaro, and is as competitive as they come in NMCA Edelbrock Xtreme Street as well as in Ultra Street.
He came out swinging at the first event on this year’s NMCA schedule, the 18th Annual NMCA Muscle Car Mayhem presented by Holbrook Racing Engines in March at Bradenton Motorsports Park in Florida, where he set the pace in qualifying with a 4.525 and 154.05 mph, secured elapsed-time and top speed records with those times and settled into the Aerospace Components Winner’s Circle.
Now, he’s leading points in the category, and hopes to hold onto that lead in his Camaro powered by a 427 cubic-inch small-block Chevrolet engine fronted by a ProCharger F-1A-91 and backed by an RPM Transmissions-built Turbo 400 and Ultimate Converter Concepts converter.
With a ton of talent and a take-charge approach, Keep will be wildly entertaining as well as one to watch in the weeks to come, and supporting him every step of the way will be his daughter, Samantha Keep, and fiancee, Angel Crampton.
Read on for more about the driver who lives in Ft. Myers, Florida, owns AC Keepers and Grade Keepers and likes to be on a boat when he’s not behind the wheel of his Camaro.
WHEN DID YOU DEVELOP AN INTEREST IN CARS?
I’m originally from Massachusetts, and I was raised by a single mother with four kids. I became interested in cars at a young age, and by the time I was 15, I was driving a van for an appliance and refrigeration company that I worked as a technician for. When it was time to get my driver’s license when I turned 16, my boss took me because my mom wasn’t really ready for me to be driving, especially her car.
WHAT WAS THE FIRST CAR YOU OWNED?
It was a 1966 Chevy Bel Air with a straight-six engine that I got from my grandma when I was 16. It was blue and it was rusty, or patina as I like to call it, but it had character. I drove it to and from school, and then one day, I had a fender-bender in the snow in the winter, and that summer, I bought a 1973 Oldsmobile Omega. It was the second car in a row that I got from a grandma, and this time, it was my best friend’s grandma’s car. The difference was I had built up a 350 cubic-inch engine for it, and it was faster. That’s when I started racing a little on the street.
WHEN DID TAKE YOUR RACING TO THE TRACK?
I was still a teenager when I took the Omega to New England Dragway in New Hampshire. Because I was a boy looking for something to do, I wanted to see how fast I had actually been going on the street. It ran 10.2 and 130 mph at the strip, with no rollcage, so I was promptly kicked out. I had no clue it would be that fast, but it felt good to do that, and to know that I had the fastest street car in three surrounding counties. That’s around the time I discovered I had a knack for working on cars and making them go fast. I went on to build a new engine for my brother’s Chevelle, because his engine had been burning more oil than gas. It was a smoke-show.
WHAT CAR CAME AFTER THE ALL-IMPORTANT OMEGA?
Believe it or not, it was a Blazer truck that I got right before I graduated from high school. It had a diesel engine, and it was four-wheel drive. I was quick to pull my gas engine out of the Omega to replace the diesel engine in the Blazer. I was driving it around when I decided that I wanted to move to Florida. I didn’t know anyone when I moved there, but I found work as a mechanic, and then in appliance repair and refrigeration, and then I found Mud Hole racing.
IS MUD HOLE RACING EXACTLY WHAT IT SOUNDS LIKE?
I think it is. We gathered on weekends on swamp land and mudded. When I got tired of doing that, I got into actual mud-racing in the truck, and I dominated in the small-block class, and I have about 200 trophies from that. For mud-racing, you are out of control and use the whole track, and it was fun. I did it for years, and then I tried truck-pulling with the same truck. It was like a tug-of-war with my truck strapped to another driver’s truck. Whoever could pull the other driver across the line first won. I was constantly blowing trans fluid out because the trans would get so hot. Then I got into sled-pulling, and that was the most fun of all. I dominated in the small-block class there, too.
DO YOU STILL HAVE THE TRUCK, WHICH MUST BE PRETTY FABLED AT THIS POINT?
Yes, I still have it, and there’s a story behind it. After going to the World Street Nationals at Orlando Speed World as a spectator about 15 years ago, I decided that I wanted to build something to drag-race, and at the time, I was influenced by Pro Stock Truck, so I got an extended cab S10 pick-up, and Dan Neumann built up the chassis, and I used that to start drag-racing on drag radials in Real Street with an engine I built. It was mostly in Florida, at Duck’s races and John Sears’ races. Then, I tried X275 when it came out, but I couldn’t keep up with the progress, so I backed out of it when Ultra Street was born about ten years ago.
DID YOU FIND SUCCESS FAIRLY QUICKLY IN THE ULTRA STREET RANKS?
When I joined, the class was running 5.30s-5.50s in the eighth-mile, and it was progressing quickly. I was able to become the first person to get into the 4.90s in Ultra Street at Orlando Speed World, about five or six years ago in my S10 with a small-block Chevy and nitrous. Then I had the fastest 60-foot in the class with a 1.13, which wasn’t bad for a truck with leafsprings under it. I stopped running the truck when my best friend, Skip Bennett, passed away the day before Father’s Day in 2015. He had done everything with me, and he had painted the truck and would line me up, and when he died, the truck became very sentimental to me, and I didn’t want to risk anything happening to it, so I stopped racing it, but I still have it.
WHEN DID YOU FEEL COMPELLED TO GET THE CAMARO THAT YOU CURRENTLY CAMPAIGN?
It was several months after Skip died, in January of 2016. I knew that Justin Smith had two Camaros, and I bought one. It’s the car that he ran with a blower in X275. It was parked in his garage, and it wasn’t for sale, but I called him and we made a deal, and I drove from Florida to Virginia to pick it up the first week of January of 2017. The chassis was built by NRC Motorsports, and we put everything from the truck into the car, including the engine, the nitrous and the transmission, and we wired it. I had Big Stuff 3 at the time, and three weeks later, we made it to the U.S. Street Nationals at Bradenton Motorsports Park.
WAS THE CAMARO IMMEDIATELY COMPETITIVE IN ULTRA STREET?
Yes, and at that first race, I went as fast in the Camaro as I had gone in the truck, and got faster from there, even though I was still working out the bugs and getting used to the car. I remember thinking that the car sat so low to the ground compared to the truck that when it picked up just two inches at the starting line, it felt like it was off the ground. I ran it with nitrous for another year before moving to a ProCharger, and moving from VP Racing Fuels C23 fuel to alcohol.
WHAT RESULTS DID YOU HAVE AFTER MOVING TO A PROCHARGER AND ALCOHOL?
We had good results. I went 4.82 at 146 mph, even though I had the heaviest car in the class at 3100 pounds. The Ultra Street races I had been running were mostly in Florida, and one of the reasons I changed to a ProCharger was because my nitrous engine required a lot of work between races, and was burning pistons and pinching ring lands, and I wanted to start traveling to out-of-state races, and I wanted a combination that wouldn’t require quite as much maintenance as the combination I had.
HOW DID IT GO AS YOU BEGAN TO TRAVEL TO TAKE PART IN RACES?
Very well. Within two or three races, I was in the bottom 4.70s in the eighth-mile, and I was confident traveling further distances to races because I knew I could keep my combination together. ProCharger and Diamond Pistons have been behind me, which I appreciate.
THESE DAYS, YOU’RE RUNNING A 427 CUBIC-INCH SMALL-BLOCK CHEVROLET WHICH HAMEETMAN RACING ENGINES MACHINED AND YOU ASSEMBLED, ALONG WITH A PROCHARGER F-1A-91. WHAT ELSE WILL YOU TELL US ABOUT YOUR COMBINATION?
It’s built on a Dart block and has Diamond Pistons, R&R rods, Manton pushrods, Total Seal engine rings, a Bryant crank, All Pro raised-runner 245 heads and T&D rockers, and I have a Dart intake, and a ProCharger gear drive to go with the ProCharger. I run VP Racing Fuels M1 fuel, and have an RPM Transmissions Turbo 400 and Ultimate Converter Concepts converter, and I use Haltech software to tune. They are phenomenal to work with. And, Menscer Motorsports shocks are a key part to my success.
WE’RE GLAD THAT YOU DISCOVERED THAT YOUR CAR FITS NICELY IN NMCA EDELBROCK XTREME STREET AND HAVE COMPETED IN THE SERIES SEVERAL TIMES NOW. HOW WOULD YOU COMPARE EDELBROCK XTREME STREET WITH ULTRA STREET?
It’s nice that I don’t have to change from Ultra Street trim to compete in Xtreme Street, and the categories are actually pretty similar. I would say the points system between the two is different, and you see different cars between the two, but it’s great to be able to compete in both.
YOU HAD A WICKED WEEKEND OF RACING AT THE 18TH ANNUAL NMCA MUSCLE CAR MAYHEM PRESENTED BY HOLBROOK RACING ENGINES AT BRADENTON MOTORSPORTS PARK IN MARCH, WHERE YOU SET RECORDS WITH A 4.525 and 154.05 MPH, AND WON. WHAT DID THAT TAKE?
The air was incredible, and that made a huge difference for us. I have the car set up to leave the line very hard, and it has gone 1.05 in the 60-foot, pulls 2.9 Gs and runs hard through the 330-foot marker, and at that race, I was tweaking the tune for the middle of the track.
YOU’VE MENTIONED THAT YOU DO MOST OF THE WORK TO YOUR CAR AND COMBINATION ALONE. WHO DO YOU RELY ON WHEN YOU DO NEED A HAND?
Because I live on five acres and there are not many racers around, I work on the car alone. In addition to that, I’m anal about certain things, and if I do them myself, I can’t blame anyone else if they’re not how I want them to be. I’ll put the engine and transmission in by myself, study the graphs and design the tunes myself, and I think that’s when I can do the best work. But I still have a lot of help from Tim and Eddie Travis, who are fabricators and welders, and I appreciate them.
WILL WE SEE YOU AT EVEN MORE NMCA EVENTS THIS YEAR?
Yes, absolutely. I plan to travel to as many as possible.
(Interview in the July 2020 issue of Fastest Street Car)