The Grubb Worm: Jonathan Atkins’ 1,800 RWHP LT1 Chevy Camaro

At some point, as a car enthusiast, most have heard of Tick Performance. They specialize in GM high-performance parts and builds. The LSX platform changed the game since making its first appearance back in the late ’90s. The story of Tick Performance, Jonathan Atkins, and his father, Johnny Atkins, begins here.

As a child, Jonathan grew up racing anything from go-karts to four-wheelers with his dad’s support the whole time. Following his father’s footsteps, once Jonathan acquired his license, the love of cars and racing set in from there. Jonathan bought a brand new 1999 Pontiac Trans Am and fell in love with the platform to the extent of wanting to build a business around it. In 2003, the two Atkins generations came together, and Tick Performance was born.

“The Grubb Worm” name originated from the car’s original owner, Randy Grubbs. He bought the 1997 30th Anniversary LT1-powered Chevy Camaro new and began adding go-fast goodies over a short period. Randy was primarily taken advantage of by another shop before Atkins got his hands on it. The Worm was entirely apart, motor and all. It was a 383ci LT1 with hand-ported cast heads by Jonathan, along with a healthy shot of nitrous. Bored with the car, Randy wanted to switch to a turbocharged setup. Jonathan set him up with another LT1-based motor, ready for turbocharging. Tick Performance completed the engine work in-house, but Matt Goins, the master fabricator, put together a custom kit for Randy. Once he grew tired of the racing scene back in 2017, Tick Performance acquired the car, and “The Grubb Worm” name was created.

It was around this time that I began seeing it make its appearance at local events. Namely, a half-mile event held on a small private airstrip in Albemarle, North Carolina. At first, I wondered why such a car came to an event like this — aimed at high-end car owners who want to go fast and could care less about a timeslip. At full-weight street trim, the Camaro ran 179 mph. An impressive speed for any car, let alone one powered by the forgotten LT series of GM engines. From then on, Jonathan set out to prove to the world at the LT1 was worthy of being recognized, steering away from his LS-based roots.

Begining in 2018, Jonathan stripped all the weight out of the car he could before going to Steven Eades and his right-hand-man, Joey Anthony, at Rock Solid Motorsports (RSM). During this time, a large sum of fabrication work took place on The Grubb Worm. RSM started with an SFI 25.5 cage, then progressed to cutting the front end off for a tubular replacement. They also carefully handcrafted the turbo kit just for Jonathan. Matt Goins took care of miscellaneous fabrication. Simultaneously, Daniel “Boone” Jones completed the plumbing and the mounting of all the body panels and doors in-house. From this point, The Worm took a sharp turn from an impressive street-legal car towards becoming a heavy hitter in the stick shift world.

In the beginning, the LT1 turbo build stayed untouched, and to this day, many of the same parts are still in use. Shooting for the sky, though, requires beefy components. Jonathan has rebuilt the already stout short-block into a forged billet-filled masterpiece, which retains the stock LT1 block. At 329 over-square inches, the powerplant sees more than 60 psi of turbocharged boost and over 8000 rpm of the rev range. Forcing all of the boost through the aluminum Trick Flow heads is a Precision Turbo Pro Mod 102mm turbocharger. Tick Performance, being a frontrunner in its industry, produces its camshafts. Jonathan spared nothing when it came to the unique design — a key to how well his LT1 performs. Having the background that he does, there’s no surprise everything is pieced together himself. This particular combination produces an astonishing 1800 wheel horsepower and 1650 lb-ft of rear-wheel torque. Numbers like these are insane for any application, let alone the ancient and unused LT1 of the 1990s. With boost pressure cycled and regulated by Turbosmart products and everything else under the control of a Holley Dominator ECU, Jonathan tunes the car to the surface and conditions he’s facing that day.

Everything about the 30th anniversary Camaro chassis was built around it being a stick shift car capable of racing the eighth-mile, the quarter-mile, and the half-mile. To achieve this, a slew of components from Midwest Chassis and Burkhart Chassis became a part of the build. Keeping the Worm planted is a suspension composed of parts from AFCO and Menscer Motorsports while Aerospace Components slow the 1800-horsepower monster down.

The look is somewhat subtle; the Camaro sits on Weld Racing wheels wrapped in Mickey Thompson tires. A wing from Racecraft along with a STROUD Safety parachute hangs off the rear of the Chevy. One of the first things I noticed about The Grubb Worm’s most recent version is the very clean white pearl wrap with its orange stripes. Depending on the angle, I can see some gold flake, an excellent addition reminiscent of the OE Arctic White paint, and Hugger Orange stripes. Fog lights? Who needs them when you have a Pro Mod 102mm turbocharger along with a bumper-exit exhaust to showcase instead.

Peering inside, the average weekend warrior would smirk at the simplicity of the interior. True gearheads like myself see what needs to be there, from the cage and safety gear to the Holley digital dash and Kirkey Racing seat. My favorite piece inside is the trick shifter made in-house at Tick Performance that Jonathan uses.

I’ve stated many times that the sole purpose of this car has been stick shift racing. Tick Performance got its name based on that fact; it builds and produces the best T56 transmissions on the market. Anything from mild to wild, it will do for you. Being the owner, Jonathan gave his Camaro the works package. This included a six- to four-speed conversion, a G-Force gearset, and billet shift forks machined in-house. The best trait is that everything can be purchased through Tick Performance!

Getting a stick car to work on a bias-ply slick has its challenges, but getting one to work on a radial is even worse. With clutch advancements like the slipper unit, those difficulties are fading into the past. The team will admit that this has been the most challenging thing to get working. They’ve spent many hours and passes tuning it to work seamlessly with the rest of the combination. The result? How about Jonathan and Team Tick holding the record globally for the Quickest Domestic Stick Shift Car, with a blistering 7.28 at 196 mph set during 2020’s TX2K event! For me, it was a very memorable moment photographing The Grubb Worm break the record by three tenths at World Cup Finals in 2019. At that point, he had only bested his own time by going 7.30 at 196 mph. Seeing a local, you’ve known for many years not only own a successful business but then back their product up is a humbling experience.

Without Amy, his wife, and Johnny, his dad, along with all of his hard-working employees, Jonathan wouldn’t be in the position he is now. For that, he gives thanks. They will continue to push Jonathan to the next step he desires. For him, it’s setting records, and for the company, it’ll be making a more significant jump into producing and machining its parts.

Jonathan has many memorable moments with the car, but his favorite is the week leading up to TX2K 2019. They’d been thrashing all week to it ready for the race. Come to find out there was a small hairline crack in the block near a head fastener hole. With the new motor not prepared, a choice was made to make the race anyway. They patched up Randy’s original engine with some Rokblock filler and slapped it back together. Not knowing if it would hold, they made some pulls on the dyno, and off to Texas they went! After a tiresome 17-hour drive, a sleepless week straight of getting ready, the time had come to make a pass. While the first pass didn’t go so well, the second produced an 8.17 at 172 mph. Jonathan and The Grubb Worm have become a household name comparable to the Tick Performance name, and he’s not done. If 2020 will allow it, there will be another record broken. Who knows? The Worm could be the world’s first six-second stick car!

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