When I arrive at the dragstrip, I always walk around the pits to chat and shake hands with the racers. More often than not, those hands belong to men, while a more significant percentage of their spouses are there for support and keeping things organized for the racing program. Far less often, I encounter women who take on the challenge of driving the racecar. It’s always refreshing when I do; women bring a unique perspective to the task of driving a drag car and what it takes to be competitive in this harsh environment. For Lauren Eades, that spark came about six years ago.
Her interest formed naturally through her husband, Stephen, owner of Rock Solid Motorsports. Stephen started RSM in the shop behind their house in Statesville, NC, and Lauren, who spent plenty of time in the shop with him, became intrigued by his fabricating skills on his car and those of RSM customers. Lauren would follow him around the shop, asking questions, learning, and soaking up Stephen’s passion for cars and racing. Lauren grew up around horses, caring for them, training them, and jumping them competitively; that was her hobby, while cars and racing were his. After years of asking questions and learning, Lauren got the itch to build a car and trade in one type of horse for another.
One day, Stephen delivered some parts to Tick Performance, and Lauren decided to ride along. Lauren noticed the 1995 Pontiac Firebird sitting behind the shop and told Stephen she thought it was nice and loved the color. Upon entering the shop, she mentioned it to Johnathan Atkins, owner of Tick. He said that it was for sale, and Lauren gave Stephen “the look.” Fellas, we all know what that means — if she wants something, she’ll get it at some point. Stephen didn’t cave in, saying they didn’t need it. Lauren wouldn’t take no for an answer, though, and kept bringing it up. Johnathan even got in a few jabs about how they should go for it. At the time she was still very much involved with her horses, but after a back injury from jumping competitions, her doctor had advised her to stop. Stephen ended up making her a deal; if she sold her horses, they would build her a car. To his surprise, a month later, Lauren had everything sold, and they brought home her Trans Am roller to start building a car.
Overall the car came to Lauren in good shape — minus the drivetrain, of course. With Stephen’s help, Lauren jumped right in with a boosted LS swap. Her goal, like most, was to go as fast as she could with what was available. Also, building the car the first time and trying to retain some semblance of street manners taught them lessons about durability, making it into a full race car from the start would have been best given the issues they’ve faced during its time in the stable.
They ended up going through four engines due to an oil pan issue before letting Kevin at TKM Performance do what he does best. The foundation started with a machined LM7 block that was cleaned up, and in conjunction with the rotating assembly provides Lauren with 329 cubic inches of motivation. A stock crankshaft, Scat H-beam forged steel connecting rods, and Wiseco 10.25:1-compression pistons found their home into the block. A Tick Performance Stage 3 turbo cam finishes out the bottom end. The top end remained untouched other than an Edelbrock Victor Jr. intake manifold. With the powerplant figured out, Stephen built the turbo kit around a pair of reversed stock truck exhaust manifolds and one of Bullseye Power’s S483 BatMoWheel turbochargers.
This engine combination offers enough motivation to push the relatively simple engine — and Lauren — into some impressive time slips. The key to keeping an engine build alive, no matter how mild it may seem, is all in the tune, and for that, the stock computer wouldn’t do. I was there with them attending Donald Long’s Lights Out two years ago when the FuelTech team gave Lauren the only system she’d ever need, the FT500. With the FT500 system on board, Stephen has full control over every parameter he needs to keep the drivetrain happy while Lauren is blazing down the track.
A custom intercooler sources cool liquid from the 7.5-gallon air-to-water intercooler tank, which is combined alongside a 12-gallon fuel cell, all built by Stephen at RSM. The transmission is a stock case Powerglide with a serious PTC converter, topped with a Hurst shifter for control.
Although the engine combination remains extremely simple, RSM did go full tilt on the rearend and suspension to prepare for future endeavors. The factory 10-bolt housing that came in this car won’t cut it at the track, and is typically one of the first things to be replaced for any serious racer. Its replacement came in the form of a Midwest Chassis Fabricated 9-inch housing, complete with a Strange Engineering center section and 40-spline gun-drilled axles. Midwest Chassis rear suspension parts are also in place. Lauren opted to use their lower control arms, anti-roll bar, and Panhard bar, with Viking Performance double-adjustable shocks to help plant the power to the ground. The rear stopping power consists of a drag brake setup from Strange Engineering. Out front everything is quite simple: QA1 single-adjustable coilovers help to distribute the weight. Stephen cut the factory front structure from the car to install the RSM tubular front end kit he designed and manufactures for sale. The tubular front end structure allows much more room for adjustments and visible checks after each run, along with the benefit of weight reduction.
Aesthetically, Lauren’s Pontiac remains mostly untouched. One notable item is the Deters Custom Finishing-polished 4.5-inch fender exit exhaust, which makes for a menacing look on this stock-appearing car. The ‘Bird rides on Billet Specialties Street Lite wheels front and rear, with Mickey Thompson rubber in place. At the tail end, a Rock Solid Motorsports parachute mount holds a Stroud parachute in place. Underneath the ‘chute, Lauren’s plate reads OMGBOOST, which is what she calls her project. Inside, the first thing that drew my attention was the FuelTech dash display, which provides Lauren with the vital signs she needs to know before, during, and after a pass. The interior also includes one Kirkey seat with a Stroud harness and a 10-point cage Stephen designed and installed in-house at Rock Solid Motorsports.
Lauren has come a long way in a short period of time, going from 7s in the eighth-mile to recent personal-best exploits in the low 5-second range, which is a serious upgrade in performance. Of course, she’s always looking for more, and the couple tells me that there’s plenty left in this simple setup before they go full race car. Right after her personal best, a group of guys came by and congratulated Stephen on his run. He just smiled and said, “Sorry boys, it’s not my car, it’s my wife’s.” Their jaws dropped and they immediately started talking to Lauren about her accomplishments. Learning how to be successful behind the wheel of a racecar has given her many hurdles to jump, and Lauren took them all as learning experiences. She never expected to be as competitive as she’s become, but like all racers, she’ll always look for that next step to keep producing personal best performances behind the wheel.
“Although I miss showing horses times, I do love racing as much if not more,” says Lauren.
“It’s been quite the learning experience so far, but I am incredibly thankful for a supportive husband and an amazing group of racing friends that have helped us along the way.”
Lauren Eades' Turbocharged 1995 Pontiac Trans Am
|Engine:||2002 LM7, aluminum 862 truck cylinder heads, 329 cubic inches, stock crankshaft, Scat H-beam connecting rods, Wiseco pistons, Tick Performance Stage 3 camshaft, Edelbrock Victor Jr. intake manifold, Engine design, machining, and assembly by TKM Performance, Denton, NC|
|Transmission:||Powerglide with PTC torque converter, JW Ultra Bell, Driveshaft Shop aluminum driveshaft|
|Chassis:||Rock Solid Motorsports roll cage, RSM tubular chromoly front end kit|
|Electronics:||Complete FuelTech FT500 engine management system|
|Suspension:||Front: QA1 single-adjustable coilover shocks, factory spindles and brakes
Rear Suspension: Midwest Chassis lower control arms, antiroll bar, and Panhard bar, Viking double-adjustable coilover shocks, Strange Engineering brakes
|Power-Adder:||Bullseye Turbo S483 BatMoWheel, flipped truck manifolds, 4.5-inch aluminum downpipe|
|Rearend:||Midwest Chassis Fabricated 9-inch housing, Strange Engineering aluminum center section, spool, and 40-spline gun-drilled axles with 3.50:1 ring and pinion.|
|Wheels and Tires:||Front: 15 x 4 Billet Specialties Street Lite wheels, 26-inch Mickey Thompson Sportsman S/R tires
Rear: 15 x 10 Billet Specialties Street Lite wheels, 275/60-15 Mickey Thompson ET Street Radial Pro tires