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Direct Results—Turn Key Automotive’s Richard Rinke proves his race-ready COPO Camaro product on track

Posted By: Evan J. Smith
Direct Results—Turn Key Automotive’s Richard Rinke proves his race-ready COPO Camaro product on track 
By  Ainsley Jacobs
Photography by Kevin DiOssi
Born into a racing family, owner/operator of Turn Key Automotive and the COPO COPO Parts Direct, Richard Rinke dedicated his career to crafting perfectly race-ready Chevrolet COPO Camaros on behalf of General Motors to help enthusiasts achieve their drag racing dreams.
As a child, Rinke’s family was involved in drag racing as well as off-road, rally, Baja, and more. He raced motorcycles and motocross in his early years before transitioning into drag racing in the mid-1980s. “I had a lot of experience as a development engineering for several manufacturers before starting Turn Key Automotive when we were contracted by GM to develop the COPO Camaro,” shared the enterprising man.
Rinke set up a dedicated facility to assemble COPO Camaros for Stock, Super Stock, and Factory Stock Showdown eliminators in both the NHRA and NMCA. “From 2012 through the present, I raced about every combination and within a year-and-a-half period, set even national records in Stock and Super Stock,” noted the accomplished builder and driver of his historic endeavors. “I believe it was the highest number of consecutive records awarded to a Camaro.”
In 2016, Rinke picked one of his black and yellow-accented COPOs to become his test-bed and project car. The pristine machine went through extensive testing before its competition debut, and Rinke made a splash when he captured the FS/D Stock Eliminator class win at the prestigious 2016 NHRA Chevrolet Performance U.S. Nationals while also running 9.42 seconds at 142 mph in the quarter-mile.
“We have a lot of knowledge about these cars and how they react, and how they like to perform, but the real key is testing and the ability to refine them before an event,” shared the creator who generally takes only one or two sessions to truly sort out a new package before its ready to compete on a national level. “You just need to find the right converter flash — the slip at the big end should be no more than 4 percent — and the gear ratio between the differential and first, second, and third… it’s all just math.”
Rinke ran the COPO with GM’s 302 cubic inch powerplant under the hood until the 327ci version was released in 2018. “You order the COPO with a 302 but you can create the 327 ‘paper motor’ with genuine GM parts and be able to run it at NHRA events,” he clarified of the larger displacement combination. “When Covid hit, a lot of racing got shut down and we hyper-focused on what we were doing next to plan for the future… and the 572 cubic-inch big-block was born.”
The Turn Key, COPO Build Center, and COPO Parts Direct teams continued their celebrated team efforts to maximize the performance potential of every COPO that left the facility. Thanks to that work, Rinke’s was able to add another victory to its roster with a COPO NA Shootout class win at the NMCA race at US 131 Motorsports Park in Martin, Michigan, in late August of 2020.
Depending on where he races it and whether he’s entered into Stock or Super Stock, Rinke will swap between the 302 and the 327ci engine, respectively. “It’s not a lot of work. We change the engine before going to the track, and it takes less than an hour,” he explained of how the COPO was specifically designed to be simple to work on and serviceable “without a lot of antics” as all the nuts and bolts needed are easily accessible.
The 302 engine itself was quite a fun project for Rinke and his team to work on, as the direct-injected engine’s technology didn’t initially permit running at the higher rpm levels which other EFI-equipped engines were capable of. Undeterred, the brain trust at hand sorted out a way to make it happen and was able to achieve horsepower numbers upward of 700 with the 302ci engine at a 10,000-rpm operating range.
“It’s a DI-based LT engine with an eight-counterweight steel crank in it,” elaborated Rinke, who also has outfitted the V8 bullet with Callies Ultra connecting rods, forged Diamond pistons, a set of CNC ported heads from Carl Foltz at CFE Racing, and Moroso oil pan. Controlled by a Holley Dominator ECU, the 14:1 compression engine also utilizes a custom camshaft developed to withstand such high rpm. 
Fuel is delivered via a complete Aeromotive system utilizing tried-and-true fuel cells, pumps, lines, and componentry while a custom cooling system from C&R Racing featuring a high-pressure-rated, extruded core radiator to improve temperature control with greater consistency.
Data acquisition, a key component of any successful racer’s program, is managed via a Racepak Sportsman Datalogger which keeps tabs on all the essential ins and outs of every run. All of the wiring necessary to have the COPO fire up flawlessly every time, too, is handled by Turn Key’s team and quality controlled in-house from start to finish.
A three-speed Turbo 400 “400-XLT” Xtra-Lite transmission and torque converter with a 7,000 stall, both from Coan, was coupled to the COPO’s engine, and power is transferred out through a 5.40-geared Strange Engineering differential. Additionally, lightweight gun-drilled Strange Engineering half shafts, full ceramic roller bearing spindles, and more, are all on board.
Turn Key and Strange have been working together in partnership since 2012, with the only thing that’s changed being the continuous improvement in each company’s outputted products.
“Strange has the manufacturing capability and processability to give us what we needed with high quality and extremely consistent parts,” detailed Rinke of the collaborative, cooperative effort. Both entities have worked together in the design and layout of the COPO’s suspension as well. “All of the bracketry we needed is welded onto the 9-inch rear axle housing at Strange’s facility and comes to us as a complete assembly so we don’t have to modify anything on our end.”
Not surprisingly, both the fully adjustable front struts and rear coilover shocks also come from Strange, each pre-engineered to perfection for both ride height and compression/rebound, and paired with 4130 chrome-moly control arms. Similarly, Strange supplies every COPO’s brake system with floating rotors and four-piston calipers.
All of the GM factory-approved go-fast goodies are fitted into a bespoke COPO chassis. “The Camaro is extremely rigid and extremely safe in the first place, but we take it further and tie in the six- or eight-point roll cage and convert it over from an independent rear suspension car to a four-link with a Panhard bar,” Rinke shared. The full drag-style rear suspension is integrated into the COPO’s cage, and all of the TIG and MIG welding is done as per NHRA certification and requirements. 
Having to be built to a specific standard for NHRA competition, every COPO Camaro that leaves Turn Key’s facility is certified on-site before being handed over to its lucky owner. COPO roll cages are available in either 8.50-second elapsed time or 7.50-second E.T. (25.5 SFI) double-frame-rail configurations.
From the super lightweight carbon fiber air induction-style hood (weighing in at less than 10-pounds) to all of the other Chevrolet Performance components that make up every COPO Camaro, owners can enjoy a purpose-built drag racing monster with an ultra-responsible, short turn-and-a-half lock-to-lock close ratio manual steering rack.
Incredibly, Turn Key turns out roughly three-to-five completed COPO Camaros every week. With an average build time coming in at a scant 12 days, the system fill configuration ensures there are several cars in each station at all times to keep lead times short and capabilities high throughout the typical production run of November through June or July.
“We build the chassis before we put the engines in, do the full roll cage and suspension work, and then over to paint,” shared Rinke, who is proud of the work his organization puts forth every year. “The COPO has always sold well because you get a lot for your money. They’re a great value, and you can’t build one on your own cost-effectively.”
The COPO Camaro offers a true one-stop-shop for those looking to obtain a turn-key, race-ready drag car in just about any configuration from naturally aspirated to supercharged. “You don’t need more than gas, an occasional oil change, and tires now and then,” laughed Rinke, who especially enjoys seeing sportsman racers stick with the platform for the duration of their careers. “These cars are a joy to work on and don’t have failures. They’re a robust product with reliability and repeatability.”
There’s a certain prestige, too, that comes with owning an authentic COPO Camaro. Given that GM only allows 69 individual cars to be assembled each season, COPO ownership also ensures entry into an exclusive circle and culture; Rinke estimates that roughly 40 percent of every batch is claimed by collectors while the rest end up living out their days on the racetrack as originally intended.
Many of the COPO Camaros that Rinke has had a hand in giving life to have ended up within the NMCA as its racers embrace the incredible platform. Rinke, too, can occasionally be found strapping on a helmet and slipping into the driver’s seat at sporadic events to get a first-hand feel of how his products are performing. 
Most recently, Rinke took his personal LT1-powered 2022 COPO test mule out to Summit Motorsports Park in Norwalk, Ohio, for the 21st Annual NMCA All-American Nationals Presented by Sick the Mag on August 26-28, 2022 — and he won.
There, the short-stroke V8 engine spun to a wild 10,000-plus rpm and the set of custom COPO-branded Weld wheels carried the owner to a victory in the final round of the Scoggin Dickey COPO N/A Shootout; Rinke captured the honors with an elapsed time of 9.094 seconds at 149.30 mph over John Evans whose 2019 model went 9.258 at 145.20 mph.
Rinke was joined in the winner’s circle at the picturesque facility by his wife of 31 years, Lynn, and their son, Jack. “To have my family with me, and to experience this with the people we build these cars for in the first place, made it even better,” stated Rinke. “My father got a ring from Ford Motor Company for selling 500 cars in the mid-‘60s and that says something, so I was happy to get a ring of my own from having won this race.”
The success was bittersweet, though, as it can sometimes be a tough pill to swallow when Rinke competes, and wins, against his customers. As a service provider supplying a pretty cool product, he is selective and delicately balances which races he attends and how often he competes to avoid this tricky situation as much as possible. “It’s rewarding to win after running these cars for so long,” noted the man who has complete confidence in his car’s capabilities, “but the humbling thing is that I have to race against the very people we have sold cars to.”
Fortunately, Turn Key’s customers understand that the group strives to maintain a high level of integrity and that competition is all just a part of the equation that translates into them being able to purchase proven winning machines. He knows that he’s achieving his goals at the expense of others, however, that double-edged sword also means that he’s helping others to achieve their own goals, too.
Rinke’s company doesn’t just build cars, though, as Turn Key Automotive is a proud partner of the NMCA and sponsor of the Chevrolet Performance COPO Camaro Shootout in years past.
Looking ahead, however, Rinke is optimistic about the future of the COPO Camaro program and his team’s innovations to go along with it. “Just recently, we converted over from direct injection to port fuel injection. When you think about what these cars are capable of, well, they’re pretty stout. Just because it’s a 302 doesn’t mean it’s slow,” he laughed.
In addition to the occasional outings, Rinke is determined to set yet another national speed record with his COPO. “Typically, a car that will run 1-second below the index is a real good running car, but this one can go almost 1.5 seconds below,” he shared.
The impressive performance of the COPO Camaro isn’t just his own to revel in, though, as the entire team and staff at the COPO Build Center deserve recognition. “The unbelievably wonderful cooperative relationship that we have with Chevrolet and Chevrolet Performance, too, makes me giddy,” Rinke proclaimed of the unprecedented synergy and 100-percent unwavering commitment to the success of the COPO platform by all involved. “Since 2012, this has been the most consistent and consecutive factory-backed successful racing program compared to any other make, ever.”
However, Rinke firmly believes that the success of the COPO lies in the hands of the customers. Without their support and desire for ownership, sales would slump and the program would simply cease to exist.
Due to that seamless relationship with both General Motors and Chevrolet Performance, Rinke’s hard work and dedicated businesses have enabled countless racers around the globe to experience the thrill of racing Chevrolet’s COPO Camaro drag racing dream car.
“We only sell what we would own for ourselves — it’s gratifying to provide something the customer loves and enjoys,” affirmed Rinke. “And, we’re going to be doing more with the NMCA in the future. Stay tuned, because the best is yet to come.”
The Details:
Owner: Rich Rinke   
Driver: Rich Rinke
Occupation: Owner of Turn Key Automotive/COPO Parts Direct
Class: Stock Eliminator or Super Stock Eliminator
Car Year/Make/Model: 2022 COPO Camaro
Engine: LT     
Engine builder: Turn Key Automotive
Displacement: 302 or 327 cubic inches
Block: GM LT
Crank: GM eight-counterweight steel crank
Rods: Callies Ultra connecting rods
Pistons: Diamond
Heads: CNC-ported LT heads from Carl Foltz at CFE Racing
Valvetrain: COMP Cams
Cam type: COMP Cams
Carburetor or EFI system: Holley Dominator
Power-adder: n/a
Headers and exhaust: COPO Parts Direct
Transmission: Turbo 400 “400-XLT” Xtra-Lite transmission and 7,000-stall
torque converter 
Transmission Builder: Coan Engineering 
Rearend: Strange Engineering
Body and/or chassis builder: Chevrolet
Suspension (Front): Strange Engineering
Suspension (Rear): Strange Engineering
Brakes (Front): Strange Engineering
Brakes (Rear): Strange Engineering
Wheels (front): Weld Racing
Wheels (Rear): Weld Racing
Tires (Front): 
Tires (Rear): 
Safety equipment: COPO Parts Direct roll cage

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