Graham Jones Has FastTimes Motorworks in the Street Outlaws Spotlight
It’s not often that engine builders get to shine in the spotlight of national or worldwide fame. That honor is typically (and maybe rightfully) bestowed upon the racecar drivers, as they are the ones who do what it takes out on the track to get to the winner’s circle week in and week out. They spend the
time in front of the cameras and the media. Engine builders usually operated behind the scenes – yet they deserve their time in the limelight as well. After all, a driver can’t win if he isn’t even on the track with a running car!
One engine builder getting more and more attention is Graham Jones, owner of FastTimes Motorworks, Inc. in Rolling Meadows, IL. We recently caught up with Graham to talk about his heightened recognition among Discovery Channel’s Street Outlaws fan base after he joined forces with driver “Kamikaze” Chris Day, two years ago.
It was during the 2015 PRI Show that Jones was first introduced to Kamikaze Chris by mutual friend Nick D’Agostino.
“Chris is super easy going and he’s a down-to-earth person,” Jones says. “The way you see him on the show is the way you see him in person – he’s really no different. He’s a goofball on set and he’s a goofball off set. When he’s in race mode, he’s in race mode – just like everybody else in that position. Being able to hang out with him was a cool experience.”
At the time Jones and Chris first met, Kamikaze had another engine deal going with a shop out of Texas. Jones had told him if he could ever help out to just let him know, and the conversation was left at that.
“I never heard anything from him until later that summer when he was in need of parts. A friend of mine from Dart referred him to me,” Jones says. “His previous engine deal didn’t pan out, so he came to me for pricing on parts and engine work. We just hit it off.”
FastTimes Motorworks, Inc. was founded in 1986, and is a full machine shop focused on mostly domestic performance and racing engines. Jones started working there in 2004 and has been there ever since – minus a 3-year stint as Spiro Pappas’ crew chief that began in the middle of 2008. After 2010, Spiro quit racing and Jones returned to FastTimes. He became manager of the shop in 2011, and took ownership of FastTimes in 2013.
Jones and Kamikaze Chris have been working together for two seasons now, and FastTimes is the only shop working on Kamikaze’s infamous El Camino.
“It’s definitely been an experience being involved with the show because it’s something that a lot of people just don’t get to see in terms of what happens behind the scenes and behind the cameras,” Jones says. “Everybody obviously sees what happens on TV, but there’s a lot of backstory that a lot of people don’t get.”
According to Jones, Street Outlaws is more or less a regional show despite it being televised to a national audience. A majority of the guys on Street Outlaws are working with shops out of Texas and Oklahoma. Now, Kamikaze Chris has FastTimes and Jones to help him with his engine.
“As far as people knowing that we’re behind Chris’ engine, I think that there’s more and more recognition that’s getting out there just because of the stickers on the car and they’ll see my t-shirts on the show,” Jones says. “I’ll get phone calls or emails or messages from people saying they saw the sticker or they saw the t-shirt. It’s neat being recognized for it.”
Jones and FastTimes are pretty involved with Kamikaze Chris’ program in terms of not only engine work, but showing up out on the street to try and get the El Camino to go as fast as possible.
“Chris is going to be in a position now to where he can actually race for the top spot or top five spot on the list,” he says.
The engine that is setting him up so sweetly is a 566 cid big block Chevy. The engine was displayed at the 2017 PRI Show, but has been completely redone by Jones and FastTimes Motorworks for this season.
566 cid Big Block Chevy
“The only thing that’s the same from the engine shown at PRI is the head castings, the block and the oil pan,” Jones says. “Basically we’re building a brand new engine for this setup. We did have to work with some of the external components that Chris was running last season, but everything’s been upgraded inside. It’s a different size engine now. We upgraded the valvetrain and upgraded a lot of stuff along with all the components required to switch it from nitrous to a turbo engine.”
Most of the engine work needs to be done in between filming, which runs through October, and Jones has to accommodate Chris’ many appearance obligations.
“You’ve got a very short window in order to be able to tear the car apart to switch everything,” he says. “The previous engine in the El Camino was a very good engine. It ran really well for what it was, being basically all shelf components except for the custom aluminum rods. It kind of surprised both of us that that engine could run with those guys and what they have.”
Kamikaze Chris allowed Jones to pick what he wanted in terms of engine size and parts for the new 566 cid big block Chevy.
“There was really nothing that he demanded other than it just make a bunch of power,” he says.
To start, Jones tore apart the old engine and found the block and heads had moved a bit due to being run. The engine got a full compliment of everything as far as machine work goes. The only thing that wasn’t done was surfacing because the deck height was set already.
The Chevy got line honed, re-honed and everything on the block got a full prep again. The crank got balanced and rods got fitted (big end and small end). The pistons were hand profiled to clean them up. The cylinder heads were surfaced and FastTimes did a valve job. The shop also touched up the hone on the guides and then a full prep went into it before it got washed and ready for assembly.
“The engine is based off of a Brodix block,” Jones says. “It is a tall deck aluminum block with the hip process done to it. It’s got a Lunati Signature Series crank, Bill Miller forged aluminum rods and pistons. It’s got a COMP 55 millimeter billet cam that has my profile and they ground it for us, as well as COMP lifters. It also has Brodix Head Hunter cylinder heads, a full Manley valvetrain – valve springs, locks, retainers, and all their ancillary parts – Jesel rockers, Total Seal M2 tool steel rings, Trend Performance pushrods, Moroso covers and oil pan, a Plazmaman billet intake, and King Racing XP bearings.”
Jones anticipates the 566 cid engine should make somewhere in the neighborhood of 2,400 hp. However, Kamikaze Chris dyno’d the engine recently and got numbers closer to 3,000 hp!
“We’re going to be about 1,000 hp up over what we had before,” Jones says. “It’s definitely going to be a different animal in every regard compared to what was in there before.”
Working with a TV Star
Kamikaze Chris and Jones hit it off because they share a similar personality. They are both down-to-earth, real guys.
“I think [Chris] realized that I’m a real person just like he is and I wasn’t looking to try and extort anything from him in terms of publicity or anything,” Jones says. “I told him I’ll help out as much as I can.”
Jones says that the relationship he has with Chris works well, but it wouldn’t be any different if Chris was harder to work with than he is.
“I’ve dealt with difficult people in the past and I think people are difficult because they’re very opinionated and they want things a certain way, whether they know what they want or they don’t,” he says. “During my tenure as crew chief for Spiro, that was pretty much what it was. Dealing with him for three years taught me how to deal with people who are like that.
But having somebody like Chris where he puts his faith in what you do as your profession makes it much easier. There are plenty of discussions back and forth between us about what he wants and what I want. He ultimately just put his confidence in me and it worked out from there in that respect.”
As mentioned earlier, Jones has to work quickly when Chris comes calling for engine work due to the Street Outlaws filming schedule and Chris’ own obligations. Luckily, Jones lives up to the shop name – FastTimes.
“Most people who are involved with this stuff treat it as their hobby – this is what they do for fun,” he says. “Chris is different in that he’s constantly traveling to events and constantly racing. This year they’ve even gotten more aggressive with the filming schedule. Last year, they were filming basically once a week. This year, they’re filming twice a week. So it really makes it much more difficult to make things happen when he’s many states away. When he’s filming twice a week and on top of that his travel schedule, it really makes it tough. And for those guys who don’t have spare engines, like Chris, it really makes it even more difficult.
“As far as on my end, I’m just trying to get work done as quick as humanly possible and get it back to him. The more that he’s down, the more that he misses and when he misses filming and he misses opportunities to be at a track or something for an event, then he’s going to miss out on his paycheck. That’s not something that I want to have to worry about or have hanging over my head because you never want to affect somebody’s livelihood. And right now that’s his.”
If something goes wrong on the 566 Chevy engine or something needs to be tweaked, FastTimes operates with all hands on deck, Jones says. Depending on what parts are needed, the turnaround time for the Elco engine is about four or five days at the most.
On Set and
Behind the Scenes
The first time Jones went on the set of Street Outlaws he said he had no idea what to expect. Up until that day, he was just like any of us “regular” guys and gals tuning in from the couch. But when he got there he was impressed.
“It’s not just something that somebody’s filming with a couple of Go Pros on some backstreet somewhere,” he says. “It’s an entire production and it’s a very impressive production. They show a fair amount of everything that goes on in terms of the racing and the back and forth between all the guys. But, at some point during the filming of the show or over the course of the years they’ve had to get permits to be out there because of what it is and insurance because it’s a televised show. You’ve got police that guard where they race so that you don’t have everybody in the world coming out to watch.
“On the production side, there’s something like four crews of camera guys and there are mics and soundboards and all kinds of other stuff to catch everything that’s going on. If I had to guess, there’s probably 50 or so people out there for the production crew, if not more, who are putting this on. It’s impressive because you see these guys running around back and forth to different drivers.”
At the beginning of the show where they pan over everybody’s trucks and trailers – they’re on a real street. It’s not on a racetrack. It’s not staged or fake, according to Jones.
“It’s on a real street in the middle of a business park,” he says. “You can see the buildings behind where they’re parked and where they race. The misconception with the show is that everything is staged and everything is scripted. That’s a 100 percent false statement.
The races that you see are the races that really happen. The show is just how it is – they don’t script anything. They’ll push somebody to talk to somebody, but as far as what comes out of their mouths, it’s completely off the cuff. They’re not getting fed lines or anything. It’s an experience to be out there to see what happens, and of course, the racing is pretty cool. Whether you like them or don’t like them, it’s impressive where they race because it’s pretty sketchy on the other end, and for as fast as they’re going, all those guys do a great job being able to get down the street like that.”
Since Chris sometimes needs Graham to help out on the street, Jones has been on camera quite a few times now. He says it’s a strange feeling seeing the first camera stuck in your face, but you get used to it.
“When you’re getting ready to race, they have a crew filming everything you do,” he says. “We’ve had discussions in the trailer where there’s Chris and myself and a couple of the other guys … and you see out of the corner of your eye a boom mic being stuck in there trying to get everything they can. It’s hilarious seeing something like that because you don’t expect it and you’ve got to keep it together.
“The first time I was on the show, I was talking to Chris and I think there were four cameras pointed at me. It registers in your head, but then you forget about it and then they’re just part of the crowd at that point.”
Jones says two of his favorite moments from the show thus far were when Kamikaze Chris beat Ryan Martin’s Fireball and when Chris beat Doc.
“Beating those guys was really cool because nobody expected it,” Jones says. “It really makes you feel good being a smaller shop and being a guy that’s not at the top of the list, beating somebody like Ryan Martin, because those guys really do work hard.”
While Kamikaze Chris is a Street Outlaws celebrity, Graham says he has certainly gotten more recognition and the shop has been busier since joining up with Chris and the El Camino.
“I can’t quantify it, but there’s been a lot more phone calls than what I was originally getting,” Jones says. “There has been quite a bump in social media following and I would attribute a lot of that to Chris because he does a real good job at promoting the people who help him. I do believe that the show has increased exposure for me and anybody else involved with it because you’re in front of such a large audience that it’s almost impossible not to.
“I think anytime you’re on a TV show or anything in that respect it gives you exposure that you would never be able to afford. I couldn’t afford to advertise with Discovery. It gives you a different level of recognition and all that comes with it. Being on the show and being involved with Chris has certainly done something.”
While the show has helped Graham and FastTimes Motorworks, Jones believes Street Outlaws has also helped the sport of drag racing.
“There’s a reason there’s a lot of these races,” he says. “People like what they see and it really hits close to home. You can’t relate to Top Fuel or Funny Car. It’s neat to see and it’s an experience in itself, but it’s hard to relate. But Chris’ El Camino or Ryan’s new Camaro or Justin with his car – people can relate to that stuff. You’re racing on the street and there are people who follow this stuff with cars that have done it. That’s not to say that it’s right or wrong, but the level of exposure for the sport of drag racing and being able to relate to it is what has done a lot for everybody.”
Fast Times in the Elco
With the engine ready to go for this season of Street Outlaws, Chris and Jones have already had talks about what’s next – possibly a different engine altogether – something completely different than what he’s got currently.
“As long as things keep progressing with everybody getting faster and everybody making more power, I think it’s kind of a forced progression,” Jones says. “If Chris didn’t put turbos on this newest engine he couldn’t be involved with the show. Who wants to be last? It’s one of those things where you’ve got to keep up and it’s the same with any type of racing. You’ve got to do what you got to do to keep up, and if you can’t, then you get pushed out of it.”
Kamikaze will be running the 566 big block Chevy for awhile, and at 2,400 – 3,000 hp he should be a true competitor setting his sights at the top of “The List.”
“He’s going to have the power to be able to compete,” Jones says. “Before it was, ‘Don’t get outrun by the El Camino.’ Now it’s going to be a legitimate contender. The playing field has definitely gotten much more level over the past season or two.”
Both Jones and Kamikaze Chris are looking forward to seeing how others react to this new engine.
“It pisses everybody off when the El Camino beats somebody,” says Kamikaze Chris Day. “That’s the whole point of the car. No one wants to get beat by an ugly, black, thrown-together El Camino.” ν