A general interest in machinery led Frank Pacheco into the world of HPDE. His friends and family knew little of motorsport, but Frank’s fondness for tinkering and his love for speed shaped him into a front-running competitor in just a few years. From casual car guy to Time Trial standout in such a short span of time is remarkable — so we chatted with him to try and understand his rapid rise through the racing ranks.
Frank’s Mustang received a round of go-fast modifications that whetted his appetite for a little while. Eventually, as his tastes changed, his tuner recommended he try tracking. By that point, Frank was getting fast enough to try and explore the edge of adhesion, so he began setting his S550 for lapping days.
However, like so many without much track experience, he vastly overvalued horsepower. The supercharger and engine mods might have given him 600 horsepower, but the attendant heat soaking and wheelspin presented real issues he was struggling to solve.
“After a couple days, it was easy to see that I’d taken the wrong path. There were guys there who were way, way faster—and they had something like half the horsepower I had,” he recalled. After getting beaten by a handy driver in a narrow-tired Fox body, he realized that the Paxton supercharger and all the overheating it brought might be getting in his way. Wisely, he didn’t seek out more power.
No longer misled by big numbers, he instead invested his time and money into brake pads, decent tires and seat time. He was beginning to understand that racing is as much an athletic event as it is a science experiment. After a few months of research and conversation with more experienced drivers, he was fully committed to seeing his visions realized, credit card ready at his hip like a gunslinger’s revolver.
Soon thereafter, his intuition and information seeking helped him clear another hurdle — well, partially, anyways. Though he deserved praise for this new path he’d started down, his experience and exuberance misled him into the inside wall after Laguna Seca’s Corkscrew. The Mustang was scrapped, and he was badly shaken. He had some thinking to do.
Rather than throw in the towel as many would, Frank decided he’d get back on the horse by selling what was saleable from his twisted Mustang, switching to a new platform, and advancing to the next step in track-day preparation.
His regular attendance at the race track opened a few doors to him — literally. One friend was kind enough to loan Frank his Camaro 1LE for a few laps, and the seed was sown. Frank knew what would replace the old Ford — a heavier Chevrolet with a little more grunt. In fact, he liked this particular one so much he made his friend an offer.
After the two shook hands, Frank went home with a smile. The Camaro was proven. It already had lapped Buttonwillow 13CW in respectable times with only Hawk DTC-60 pads, a Rotofab cold air intake, and a tune for E85. The fact it was already fast and reliable with relatively little work done to it was the selling point for a man looking to spend more time lapping.
He added a set of wide 19-inch x 12-inch and 19-inch x 11-inch Apex ARC-8 wheels wearing 325 and 305-section Supercar 3Rs, respectively. In place of the Hawks, he opted for a set of Ferodo DS1.11 brake pads at all four corners. Footwork sorted out, he started setting personal bests and driving to and from the track with little to worry about.
Sadly, that honeymoon period didn’t last too long — the motor popped after a few weekends. Thankfully, Frank had already accumulated an array of spare engine parts by that time, so he bolted a makeshift motor together over the winter.
Since he wasn’t in the mood for experimenting much, he simply replicated the original engine build, more or less. With the goal of 525 horsepower, he added a set of ported heads and a mild cam from Pray Performance, an MSD intake manifold ported by BA Performance, 1 7/8-inch catted long-tube headers from ARH, and from the headers back, a 3-inch exhaust from the same company. The power plant provided the right amount of shove, but making the most of that power at corner-exit took a change in his driving technique.
Compared to the Mustang, the Camaro required a slightly different approach to most corners. It simply didn’t have the grip at the front axle his Mustang had, so he shifted his emphasis to the corner exit.
As his Garmin revealed, getting the car pointed in the right direction earlier and driving off the corner in a straighter line resulted in a massive increase in pace. Essentially, minimizing wheel-spin allowed him to capitalize on the Chevrolet’s grunt.
As his confidence in the car increased, he fitted it with a racing seat and a set of MCS two-ways. Unfortunately, the MCS lacked compliance over rougher surfaces. “I found the car wasn’t too cooperative on rougher tracks, and so a friend suggested I get the external reservoirs. Even though Frank had no intention of endurance racing, his friend was adamant.
“Because it’s not just about extra fluid volume — MCS completely revalves them as part of increasing the capacity,” he said. A couple months later, he no longer felt that the high-speed damping was a limiting factor.
No ambitious track project is ever really that simple, but Frank has managed to do relatively little work to get this Camaro in fighting shape. Following the dampers, he went on to add OE ZL1 1LE front and rear bars, as well as SPL’s front lower control arms, front tension arms, rear toe links, and rear upper arms.
Frank went on to run his car competitively in the Super GT Muscle Cup, a Southern California-based time attack series. The occasional camber change aside, the Camaro was didn’t really require any tweaking to grab firsts at Buttonwillow and Big Willow as well as a second at the Streets of Willow.
Setting his Sights Higher
As grippy as the pre-existing setup was, Frank knew that he wouldn’t be competitive at the NASA Championships without more grip. To give him the necessary stick, he fitted a set of Signature Wheels SV501s measuring 18 inches x 11 inches and 18 inches x 12 inches front and rear, respectively. After wrapping them in a set of 315-section Hoosier A7s, he had the stick needed — nearly.
The reality was that, especially at a fast track like Laguna Seca, certain aerodynamic improvements were needed. In keeping with the spirit of this build, Frank kept it simple. In addition to following Alessandro Sensoli’s lead and installing a pair of Race Louvers fender vents to the front flares, he added a splitter and a rear wing from RS Future. He increased the spring rate to handle the aero loading, but it was otherwise ready for the NASA Championships.
Frank set off to Laguna to get a feel for the Camaro wearing slicks and wings. After the injectors failed on the first day, he went home. When returned to the track a couple of weeks later, the rear wheel bearing let loose. The resulting “dynamic alignment” made steering the Camaro nearly impossible. He remedied this little issue before the big weekend, but he’d only squeezed in a dozen laps in four days.
Thankfully, a little sim preparation helped bolster his confidence if it’d been damaged by the discouraging test days. Unfortunately, the general level of confidence dipped to pre-test levels after having his progression hampered by Thursday traffic. While Friday looked promising, his best attempt was blocked by an oblivious driver in the Corkscrew.
Without any definite lap time to rely on, he went into the Saturday filled with uncertainty. His experience at WeatherTech Raceway Laguna Seca up until this point had been far from fun. Still, his engineer’s objectivity helped him keep his head up. He had not yet demonstrated what he and his Camaro were capable of. Additionally, Alessandro Sensoli stepped in to offer some support.
“Don’t overthink; drive,” Alessandro began. A former rugby player and practitioner of meditation, Ale had several tips to get Frank into a performance mindset. They spent 15 minutes warming up with some stretching, then established two points to remember while driving — something to focus on amidst the frenzy of Championships.
The first: Practice patience at the corner exits.
The second: To keep focused throughout the lap, remember to take a deep breath every time a bridge passes overhead.
Careful to give himself adequate space to the car in front, Frank waited until that car had made it halfway down the front straight before he attacked Turn 11. Coming over the crest of Turn 1, he realized he’d judged the gap well, but he didn’t think that he’d set his best lap that weekend on his first flyer.
His worry evaporated then and there. A 1:33.65 demonstrated that the potential was there all along.
Of course, the Camaro is a heavy car and it wears its tires fast, but Frank felt there was more in it. In searching for a few more miles an hour, he out-braked himself into Turn 3 and found himself on the marbles, took a sandy excursion, and ended the session. Unfortunately, that meant his fastest lap from the session was invalidated.
The following session was less fruitful, but at least he could keep a lap 1:34.594 for the officials. Tailed closely by Ben Grambau only a few tenths behind, he had to keep a cool head. Ben is quick. He podiumed at Daytona last year with a broken car, so he definitely threatened Frank’s chances. However, Ben couldn’t quite close the gap — meaning Frank clinched third in TT2.
“Nationals brought out a lot of really fast cars from all over the country, and the competition was really tough, but after the past couple of years of competing in Super GT Cup against fast guys like Kevin Burke and Alessandro, I’ve become pretty used to going up against more experienced drivers in cars with way more development.”
“The pressure or nerves didn’t come from that really — more from the fact that Laguna Seca hadn’t been good to me, and I didn’t know where I stood. Being back at the track that I crashed the Mustang at didn’t really inspire confidence to push the car to its limit, but I’ve also come a long way as a driver since that happened.
“I decided I wasn’t going to let that hold me back. Scoring a podium finish at a track that’s beaten me every other time felt like a huge accomplishment, especially competing against the fastest cars and time trials drivers in the country,” he concluded. Wise words.
Though he made many rookie errors, Frank has shown an ability to adapt and a resilience to press on when encouragement is in short supply. Due to his analytical nature, he might not always have enjoyed as much confidence as some more optimistic drivers, but there is a place for pessimism and doubt in motorsport. His refreshing objectivity helps him distance himself from biases and comforting illusions, and that precisely is why he’s made so much headway in a short span of time.