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Slam Dunk—It’s game on for Tom Hammonds’ NMCA Edelbrock Xtreme Street Camaro

Posted By: Steve Baur
Written by Ainsley Jacobs
Photography by Kevin DiOssi

 
From the NBA to NMCA and so much more in between, Edelbrock Xtreme Street competitor Tom Hammonds Jr. enjoys an incredibly interesting life, but his passion for 1969 Chevy Camaros remains steadfast.
 
Born and raised in the western panhandle of Florida, Hammonds, now 54, was always athletic and competitive. A self-described “Airforce brat,” he moved to Germany with his mother and stepfather as a child.
 
“I started out playing little league football and enjoyed that, but it was way too cold in the winter,” laughed the man of his younger years braving the freezing German temperatures. “I played tight end and, man, I couldn’t even catch a cold!”


 By the sixth grade, Hammonds stood 6’3” tall and knew football wasn’t his thing. He also knew he could take advantage of his height with a future in professional sports, so he turned to basketball after he moved back to the United States.
 
Hammonds soon grew into his height and focused on working hard. He was 6’6” during his sophomore year of high school and started getting noticed by college recruiters in his senior year.
 
“We won the state championship and I was on the McDonald's All-American roster,” added Hammonds, who ultimately accepted a scholarship to the Georgia Institute of Technology.
 
During high school, though, Hammonds pursued another interest—racing. His father, Tom Hammonds Sr., was the one who inspired the young man’s love of motorsports and hot rods.
 
“My first car was a ’55 Chevy two-door hardtop, even though I wasn’t old enough to drive it,” said the enthusiast who did everything he could to get his hands on something fast. “I’m not proud to say it, but I started street racing. It didn’t matter whether it was with my grandpa’s old car or my mom’s station wagon.”
 

Hammonds kept his 1955 Chevy, which had a 454ci big-block engine that was bored 0.060 over, into his college years. He loved the feeling of mashing the gas pedal and working on the car with his father and friends. Even during his career as a professional athlete, Hammonds never forgot that feeling and knew one day he would get back to it.
 
After college, Hammonds was drafted and fortunate to be able to do something he loved for a living. He played with high-profile teams such as the Washington Bullets, Charlotte Hornets, Denver Nuggets, and Minnesota Timberwolves, and won a gold medal at the 1986 FIBA World Championship with the US national team.
 
“I was a sixth man, someone who was relied upon to provide extra energy and spark off the bench,” said the upbeat and enthusiastic man. “To have played for 12 years in a sport where the average lifespan is three, it was a blessing for sure.”
 
Although he loved basketball, it wasn’t his true passion, and that’s where racing came back in for Hammonds.
 
“After racing in middle school, high school, and college with no money to do anything and scraping things together, I was thankful to have my Georgia Tech education paid for, but I had to put racing on hold until I had the money to do so,” he noted. Fortunately, the NBA financial windfall enabled Hammonds to get back to the track in the early 1990s with the NMCA and an old “rust bucket” 1969 Camaro.
 
Hammonds wound up selling the Camaro around 1994 and instantly regretted it. He moved to NHRA Pro Stock around that same time and raced part-time before retiring in 2001. It was tough for him to fit racing into his basketball career, especially with the strict contractual limitations imposed upon high-level athletes, but he had his agreements modified to allow him to race sporadically. 
 
When he retired from basketball, Hammonds moved to the Pro Stock ranks full-time. 
 
“I went to three final rounds, two of which were back-to-back,” he shared proudly of his successful stint. He owned his operation for many years, but, when the economy took a downturn in 2008, he sold it off to Richard Freeman.
 

A year or two later, Hammonds was browsing the classifieds on RacingJunk.com and came across another 1969 Camaro for sale in New Jersey. Still regretting having let go of his previous one, he picked up the black and white beauty and enjoyed the second chance car on the street for almost a decade.
 
“I finally had more time for racing but didn’t want to go full-time with NHRA again, so I looked at different sanctioning bodies and came back to my roots by choosing where I originally started—the NMCA,” he explained of what led him back to his heritage.
 
Hammonds selected the NMCA Edelbrock Xtreme Street category as his target, specifically because he liked how closely the cars still resembled real cars and for the fact that they were also able to be occasionally driven on the street. “Xtreme Street was like what I raced in the early ‘90s, and I liked the class because it’s growing,” added the man of the different cars and combinations, and how he knows there will always be a full field of competitors to keep things interesting.
 
With a goal firmly decided upon, Hammonds called his friend Jerry Bickel to get the Camaro into the Jerry Bickel Race Cars shop for a complete overhaul in November of 2019. The team “did a great job and knocked it out of the park” with the resulting 25.2 SFI-certified chassis, among a whole host of other changes and upgrades for the turn-key project.
 
“Jerry [Bickel] told me this was one of the most complex and intricate cars he’s ever built,” confessed Hammonds of the level of care that was put into the Camaro. Showroom-new features such as functional doors and factory hideaway headlights were all still functional after the build had been completed, and Hammonds even has a horn to honk whenever he feels so inclined. Although air conditioning or windshield wipers are absent, the taillights and running lights are all still intact.
 
“Thanks to Kyle and Ben and Don and all the guys who put in countless hours to make the car the way it is.”
 

For an engine combination, Hammonds turned to a familiar face from his Pro Stock days. Steve Morris of Steve Morris Engines collaborated with Hammonds on what would work best while making the most of the allowed weight breaks as per the NMCA rulebook, and the men settled on a 364ci, LS-based powerplant. The LS block was topped with Mast Motorsports’ Black Label aluminum cylinder heads before being filled with a Callies crankshaft, R&R connecting rods, Diamond pistons, and a Jesel valvetrain.
 
For a transmission, Hammonds once again went with whom he knew from the Pro Stock world and selected Carl Rossler to supply the Rossler three-speed Turbo 400.
 
“Carl is a good friend of mine and has been doing this a long time. He was my logical choice for any transmission work,” stated Hammonds, who matched the gearbox with a torque converter from Marty Chance at Neal Chance Racing. “The transmission and converter have been the biggest key in our improvement with the Camaro since we started running it.”
 
Looking back at the NMCA rule book to help him select a power adder, Hammonds chose to run a Vortech V-30-94B supercharger, as that would enable him a 100-pound weight reduction.
 
He then had a Holley Dominator EFI system wired in so that he could manage the tune-up himself.
 
“That’s been a learning process for sure. I’ve had help from Holley and my friends, but the biggest thing I took from my Pro Stock days is that you’ve got to learn to do things yourself,” Hammonds explained of his hustle to educate himself so that he could better understand how to perfect his Camaro’s performance. “You may struggle at first, but you’ll be better off in the end.”
 

Bickel’s team also installed a four-link style suspension in the rear of the Camaro along with double-adjustable shocks from the shock nerd, Mark Menscer of Menscer Motorsports, along with single-adjustable units in the front.
 
Having topped out at 6’9” meant Hammonds didn’t easily fit in the car, but Bickel had a solution for that, too.
 
“We got some quick disconnects to go on my knees. I just fold in and click myself back together,” joked the comical car owner. “Bickel worked with the NMCA tech department and everyone made sure that the car was safe and functional even with the modifications that were made to accommodate my height.”
 
Finally, the Camaro was ready to roll, but needed one final finishing touch: paint. Blue had always been Hammonds’ favorite color, and while he liked the car’s original black and white motif, he wanted something a bit more eye-catching. Velocity Blue with smoke gray striping was selected and sprayed in-house by Bickel to cap off the turnkey beauty.
 
Eager to get back to his true love of drag racing, Hammonds first had to take care of some necessary paperwork before making a pass, as he had let his Pro Stock license lapse. So, he headed over to Roy Hill’s Drag Racing School to knock the dust off and get the official blessing to get going once again.
 
Hammonds took delivery of his Bickel-built baby just before the start of the 16th Annual NMRA/NMCA Super Bowl of Street-Legal Drag Racing Presented by HPJ Performance in May at World Wide Technology Raceway near St. Louis, Missouri. He was ready to put his first-ever pass on his new Camaro, but would be doing so 100-pounds overweight.
 

Having originally selected the Vortech V-30-94B blower for its associated weight breaks, Hammonds sent it back to get updated at the beginning of the season.
 
“It was changed to a -94C and the rule books hadn’t been updated for that new configuration yet, so I had to run heavier,” lamented the man who still managed to qualify well with a 4.751 at 151.31 mph to secure the number-15 spot in a large field of 26 for the combined NMRA Edelbrock Renegade/NMCA Edelbrock Xtreme Street category.
 
The 15th Annual Chevrolet Performance LSX Shootout was held in conjunction with the event, and the Brian Tooley Racing Real Street Shootout elimination rounds were contested during regular qualifying. As such, Hammonds made it through to the final and took home the runner-up honors for that specialty class, although he ultimately went out in round one of the regular eliminations. Despite the loss, Hammonds was happy to have run a new personal best of 4.744 at 151.19 mph at the time.
 
“Without having any data on the car, to end up where we did and go to the finals in the Real Street Shootout was great. We may have lost in Xtreme Street, but we were competitive, especially being too heavy,” said the upbeat owner who was more focused on shaking down the car than anything else.
 
Moving on to the Inaugural Arrington Performance NMRA/NMCA Power Festival Presented by Force Engineering in July at Michigan’s US 131 Motorsports Park, Hammonds once again faced a large field of combined NMRA and NMCA entries. His 4.945 at 148.17mph blast put him 21st of 28, and once again he wasn’t able to move on past round one of eliminations.
 
“The car slowed down and perfect stepped back because the change I made was the wrong direction,” he said simply and humbly.
 

Undeterred, Hammonds continued to Norwalk, Ohio, where he raced in the 20th Annual NMCA All-American Nationals at Summit Motorsports Park in August. Although he didn’t have much of a chance to test, he had a good idea of where he needed to go. The resulting 4.907 at 149.66 mph effort in qualifying ranked him fifteenth for the start of eliminations, and Hammonds went home still hungry for his first-round win.
 
At this point in the season, however, the updated rulebook accommodated revised blower specs and Hammond was finally able to enjoy his 100-pound weight break for the 20th Annual NMCA World Street Finals Presented by Chevrolet Performance at Lucas Oil Raceway in Indianapolis, Indiana.
 
Unfortunately, Hammonds contracted Covid-19 and not long before the start of the season finale. Although he recovered in time to attend, he made the tough decision to sit it out instead just to be sure.
 
“I also had the jiu-jitsu world championships coming up in November and wanted to make sure I would be able to train the way I needed to without taking a week off from the race,” explained the five-time former champion of his reasoning.
 

Despite only running three of the season’s six events, Hammonds still had a great year and enjoyed getting back to his roots.
 
“I commend the NMCA and its tech department for working with us throughout the build, and for the staff at Bickel for building such an incredible car that I can be proud of,” he affirmed.
 
Heading into the winter, Hammonds planned his big 2022 NMCA season in NMCA Edelbrock Xtreme Street and is ready to focus on chasing the championship—in his spare time when he’s not busy managing his two businesses, Tom Hammonds Enterprises, which focuses on government construction and his indoor gun range Emerald Coast Indoor Shooting & Sport.
 
Hammonds knows his engine makes great power, but that he needs more data to be able to take full advantage of his tuning talents. Plus, finally being able to run at his intended race weight should help tremendously.
 
“We’ll test during the off-season for sure. This year, it was a lot of guesstimating what the car will need, but without consistent and useable data, it’s tough knowing what to do,” he elaborated.
 
Having gotten his feet wet with a truncated 2021 season, though, was a huge deal for Hammonds who was about as excited as a child would be on Christmas morning.
 
“I can’t wait to start in Bradenton and make the car run as best we can. I love having a venue like NMCA to race in, they do a great job running the events with a schedule and structure which makes it enjoyable,” Hammonds concluded. “But, my main gratitude goes to our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Without him, I couldn’t do any of this.”
 

The Details

Owner/Driver
Owner/ Driver: Tom Hammonds 
Hometown: Miramar Beach, Florida
Occupation: Self-employed 
Class: NMCA Edelbrock Xtreme Street
Crew: me, Joe Pena
Car Year/Make/Model: 1969 Chevy Camaro
Powertrain 
Engine: LS
Engine builder: Steve Morris 
Displacement: 364 cubic inches
Block: Dart Iron
Bore: 4.0 inches
Stroke: 3.622 inches 
Crank: Callies
Rods:  R&R
Pistons: Diamond 
Heads:  Mast Cast aluminum
Valvetrain: Jesel 
Cam type: Close, but not perfect 
Carburetor or EFI system: Holley EFI
Power-adder: Vortech
Fuel brand and type: Methanol
Headers and exhaust: Dynamic Racing Headers Stainless Steel Zoomie Headers
Transmission: Turbo 400
Transmission Builder: Rossler
Clutch/shifter/torque converter: M&M Billet Shifter 
Rearend: Jerry Bickel Ford 9-inch
Chassis 
Body and/or chassis builder: Jerry Bickel Custom Chromoly Chassis 
Suspension (Front): Smith Racecraft Chromoly Tubular Front Subframe Kit 
Suspension (Rear): Jerry Bickel Pro 4-Link 
Brakes (Front): Lamb Four-Piston Carbon Fiber 
Brakes (Rear): Lamb Four-Piston Carbon Fiber 
Wheels (front): Weld Alumastar, Hub Mount 
Wheels (Rear): Weld Alumastar, Double Beadlock 
Tires (Front): Goodyear 26.0 Front Runner 
Tires (Rear): Mickey Thompson 275/60-15 Drag Radial 
Aftermarket body modifications: Glastek Front Fenders, Hood, Doors, Deck Lid, Front & Rears Bumpers 
Safety equipment: Stroud Seat Belts, Racetech Composite Seat, Dual Simpson Parachutes 
Quickest ET: 4.744 seconds
Best 60-foot: 1.13 seconds
Fastest mph: 151.19
 

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