Photography / Jenna Kuczkowski, Greg Jones & Patrick Roberts
For us, it started with a big, bright orange windshield sticker that read, “Sick Week 2022.” We saw it plastered on several cars during the 2021 PRI show as we walked the floor of the Indiana Convention Center back in December. After about the third one, it left us asking ourselves, ‘What is Sick Week?’ It wasn’t until we stumbled upon Tom Bailey’s 1969 Camaro named Sick Seconds 1.0 with a Steve Morris Engines-built twin-turbo big block Chevy that we came to find out what Sick Week actually was.
We were told by Tom Bailey himself that Sick Week was the newest drag-and-drive event to hit the scene, and it would be the premier racing event associated with Sick the Magazine’s debut – all of which Tom Bailey is responsible for as event promoter and publisher. He told us we should be there, and when he mentioned that the country’s fastest street cars would be racing and cruising across Florida in early February, we were sold on coming along for the ride. It obviously didn’t hurt that a few of us Ohioans could ditch the snow to soak up some much-needed sun.
“This whole thing is not even a year old,” Tom Bailey told us of Sick the Magazine and Sick Week. “When the event went on sale, we had 350 spots and we thought it would be great if we could get 200 cars for the first one. Well, we sold 350 spots in three minutes. It literally sold out faster than any [drag-and-drive] event has ever sold out, and for an inaugural event, it’s kind of crazy.
“One of the biggest things we tried to do with Sick Week was make the checkpoints and the route and everything fun. Don’t just make it about the gruel of racing.”
While fun was meant to be had, the week-long drag-and-drive event was also billed as the ‘hardest vacation you’ll ever take,’ and if you ask most of the competitors, Sick Week delivered on that promise. You’d be hard pressed not to find a competitor who didn’t encounter some sort of car/engine issue during the week. However, it was also filled with tons of quality drag racing, tons of fun, camaraderie like you’ve never seen, and the joys of seeing the drag-and-drive community in action everywhere you turned.
The event drew nearly 350 of America’s quickest street cars to Florida’s tropical playground to race at three of the state’s drag strips – Bradenton Motorsports Park, Orlando Speedworld and Gainesville Raceway – including a stop at Valdosta, GA’s South Georgia Motorsports Park. Sick Week raced these four different venues over five days (Bradenton twice), driving between each track on public roads where competitors needed to stop at checkpoints along the way and post photos of their cars as proof they followed the route. It was the ultimate test of a street car. Entrants couldn’t use transporters or support crews. Rather, they had to race with what they could tow in a small trailer.
“With a drag-and-drive event, there’s no support vehicles,” Bailey reiterated. “You have to bring everything with you. You can pull a little trailer – a 4’x8’ trailer – behind your race car with everything you need in it. We race at the track. We pack up. We change to street mode. Then, we hit the road. Once we get to the next track, we do it all over again. It’s basically rinse and repeat.”
In addition to the roughly 350 competitors, were another 150 participants and passengers joining the fun as part of the Sick Ward, a VIP experience for folks who wanted to share in the week’s events outside of actually racing down the track. The entire event was livestreamed for free on YouTube and paying spectators were welcomed at each of the tracks.
“The Sick Ward is awesome because that’s the Power Tour version of Sick Week, and our VIP experience,” he says. “They get to do the whole event, just not go down the track. They get some other perks though.”
Three of us from Engine Builder joined for the week as media members to capture the racing action, the hard work going on in the pits, to get event interviews, competitor interviews, and to experience this first-time event firsthand. In addition to promoting the event, Tom Bailey was also one of the week’s top overall contenders (He’s won Drag Week twice).
Competitors were split into one of three groups (A, B and C) based on expected 1/4-mile ETs, and then split into one of 14 classes. Group A was for cars 8.49 and faster, Group B was for cars 8.50-9.99, and Group C was for cars 10.00 and slower. Classes included: Unlimited; Unlimited Iron; Modified; Pro Street; Stick Shift; Naturally Aspirated, Sick Week Freaks; Gassers vs. Hot Rods vs. Beetles; 235 Outlaw Street Race; 275 Street Race; Sick Street Race; Pro Dial Your Own (DYO); DYO; and Bulls Eye Challenge.
Each group got one session each day, followed by an all-run session. However, competitors were allowed to make as many passes as possible on a first-come, first-served basis until lanes closed.
“For each one of those classes, it’s an accumulative average at the end of the week,” Bailey says. “They turn in one time slip a day. They’ve got to turn that in to get the route to the next spot and get checked off. Then, at the end of the week, you score based on your average. The one with the best average wins.”
Having three main groups and 14 different classes to compete within also meant Sick Week would give opportunities to a wide variety of cars, and we certainly saw that.
“We have anything from a street legal Pro Mod to a Franklin that runs 30 seconds, because there’s classes for everybody,” he says. “That’s the great thing about it.”
Each of the class winners, as well as the daily Bulls Eye Challenge winners, would receive custom-painted RaceQuip helmets as trophies. So, how did it all shake out?
Day 1 (Bradenton Motorsports Park)
Folks got started bright and early on Monday, February 7, but the temperatures weren’t as quick to warm up. The day began around 50 degrees, warming to the mid-60s. All eyes were on the A group as they kicked off the action on the track.
For a number of competitors, that first 1/4-mile pass was a solid one. A total of five A-group competitors recorded ETs in the 6s, including Stefan Gustafsson and his C4 Corvette, Steve Morris and his 1993 wood-paneled wagon, Rick Prospero and his 1990 Mazda RX-7, Mikael Borggren and his 1987 Volvo 240 wagon, and Tom Bailey and his 1969 Camaro (Sick Seconds 2.0).
In fact, Bailey had the fastest time of the day with a [email protected] mph. He has a successful track record of winning events like these and averaging strong ETs all week. His goal was to average in the 5s for Sick Week, but during the first drive of the event from Bradenton to Orlando, he dropped a valve, and by the end of day 1, it was clear Tom would have to bow out of the competition.
“We were 70 miles into the drive and out of nowhere, just cruising along at 2,200 rpm and 60 mph, a tulip came off the valve,” Bailey says. “We’re not entirely sure what happened. These valves had 70 miles on them. I could have probably continued to run on seven valves, but I was worried about the rest of the valves because if I had that problem with one of them, then what’s going on with the rest of them.”
Another notable day 1 dropout was fellow drag-and-drive veteran and 2021 Drag Week winner Dave Schroeder and his 2019 Corvette due to torched pistons. Day 1 certainly had some early casualties. However, the day largely saw a ton of strong passes. For the day 1 drive, competitors had to visit the California Zephyr railway carriage and the Old Town amusement park before winding up in Orlando. Sick Week was well underway!
Day 2 (Orlando Speedworld)
That is, until Tuesday rolled around, promising a lot of rain throughout the day sweeping across the middle of Florida. Given the time of year, Sick Week would have been extremely lucky to avoid any weather all week. In response, event organizers made a timely decision to cancel racing in Orlando the night before, which was absolutely the right call.
The competitors were required to still make a stop at Orlando Speedworld Tuesday morning to get a photo with either the tower or the staging lanes before they moved on to Gainesville Raceway. For some racers, this was merely a pit stop. For others, this additional “free time” was what the doctor ordered, allowing for repairs and diagnosis of mechanical issues from the first trip.
The day 2 drive up to Gainesville included a tour along Daytona Beach with Atlantic Ocean views and a stop for ice cream at Hoot Owl Farm House, both of which were popular among the Sick Weekers.
Day 3 (Gainesville Raceway)
As competitors prepared for racing at Gainesville, the Florida weather again started cool, as well as foggy, delaying any racing for an extra hour on Wednesday. Once the weather warmed and it became a sunny, clear day by mid-morning, racing was set to begin. This time, Sick Week organizers called up the larger C group to hit the track first, followed by A and B groups.
Gainesville Raceway is home to the NHRA Gatornationals, so track prep was on point for the Sick Week competitors. As such, day 3 saw some great passes and solid racing from all. Amongst the A-group competitors, the day saw four 6-second passes made – Stefan Gustafsson, Shawn Fink and his 1955 Chevy 210, Steve Morris, and Rick Prospero.
However, that didn’t mean the racing and several street drives hadn’t taken their toll to this point. By the morning of day 4 in Valdosta, GA, a little more than 60 competitors had called it quits. The drive from Gainesville to Valdosta included checkpoint stops at Ivey Memorial Park and the Farm House Restaurant.
Day 4 (South Georgia Motorsports Park)
If you ask most of the Sick Week faithful, day 4 was THE day. It offered up the best weather and solid track conditions. As you pulled into the grounds, it was obvious that South Georgia Motorsports Park was going to be lit.
Now more than halfway through the week, racer attrition was a factor. The 280 racers still in it had certainly overcome the drama of a drag-and-drive, but it wasn’t done yet.
Again, the day’s racing began with C group, followed by A and B groups. Several A group drivers recorded 6-second passes, including Stefan Gustafsson, Nicholas Taylor and his 1991 Chevy Camaro, Rick Prospero, and Mikael Borggren. Steve Morris, who was having himself a good week, ran into some transmission issues. He would remain in the competition, but his ET average took a plunge after recording an 11.771 on the day.
One of the coolest things to happen on day 4 came from the Bulls Eye Challenge class. The day’s Bulls Eye was a .48, so class competitors had to get as close to that number as possible, regardless of how many seconds (9.48, 7.48, 11.48) it took. Of all five days, only Adam Malleck and his 1969 GMC C10 hit the number dead on with a 13.483
After racing concluded Thursday, Sick Week competitors got to choose their own routes down I-75 toward Don Garlits Museum of Drag Racing in Ocala, FL, where they had to take a photo with the museum billboard, and hang out with Don Garlits, of course!.
Day 5 (Back to Bradenton Motorsports Park)
After traveling over 800 miles, the Sick Week competitors had been through the ringer – rain, repairs, long days, sleepless nights, rebuilds, and more. They now found themselves back at Bradenton Motorsports Park for the finish.
For some, this was the night to go for broke and see what happens. For others, mere thousandths of a second still mattered. The majority, however, were just elated to have made it through the week. Events like Sick Week are not for the faint of heart.
For example, our pal Stefan Rossi of ACE Racing Engines, can attest to that. He and his team experienced just about everything a drag-and-drive event can throw your way. During day 1 at Bradenton, we spoke with Rossi just a minute before his first pass, which resulted in his 1966 Chevy SS Nova going sideways at the top end of the dragstrip after the lower radiator hose blew off. Water got under the rear tires and Rossi contacted the wall.
All things considered, Stefan was merely shaken up afterward (thankfully) and the car had minor cosmetic damage – nothing he deemed would keep him from finishing the week. However, it put Rossi well behind the eight ball. Most of us would have put the car in the trailer and called it quits, but his team continued.
They also had issues during a drive or two and found ways to keep making the checkpoints and the next track. The week’s effort earned Rossi the “Sickest of the Sick” award. Admittedly, that honor wasn’t what he was after, but it was a more than worthy conciliation prize for enduring the week he had. He certainly wasn’t alone in suffering! Overall, 82 competitors didn’t finish the week.
Tom’s own son Aydan, who was competing in a 1957 Chevy 210 named Shitbox, also ended his week leaving it all on the track. Unfortunately, that meant flipping his car on its roof as he attempted to run a 7-second pass on the final day. Aydan thankfully walked away uninjured.
Of those who did finish, only three cracked off a final day 6-second pass – you guessed it, Stefan Gustafsson, Rick Prospero and Mikael Borggren. That meant Stefan Gustafsson and his 1989 C4 Corvette would take the overall Sick Week win with an average ET of [email protected] mph. Those results were thanks to his 118mm turbocharged big block Chevy engine capable of more than 2,000 hp!
Rick Prospero and Mikael Borggren also finished with average ETs in the 6s to round out the Sick Week podium, which earned them custom guitars courtesy of Gear Vendors. Prospero runs a twin-turbo 540 cid big block Chevy, while Borggren runs a 388 cid single 98mm turbo LS engine setup. Prospero’s average ET was [email protected] mph, which earned him top honors in the Modified class and 2nd overall, while Borggren turned in a [email protected] performance, which put him in 2nd behind Prospero in the Modified class and 3rd overall.
For Bailey and his Sick the Mag team, Sick Week 2022 proved to be a big success. The caliber of the cars were excellent, the tracks were excellent, the sights and sounds were excellent, and the racing was amazing. What more could you ask for, except to do it all again next year!
A Sick Week competitor explained the whole week best on Facebook, “I think a lot of us needed Sick Week. A lot of us love drag racing, and I’m sure a lot of us love it more than ever after spending a week burning up and down the highways and byways of Florida and Georgia experiencing virtually everything awesome that drag racing has to offer. Innovation. Ingenuity. Determination. Camaraderie. Talent. Teamwork. Independence. Passion. Performance. Speed. Perhaps more than anything else, Sick Week was freaking fun.
“Everyone involved, even while beating their cars to death, trying to repair them on the side of the road or in parking lots, seemed to be having an absolute blast from start to finish. That’s what the drag-and-drive community is all about, and Sick Week encapsulated it. There was an air of adventure at this event. There was a festival vibe at the dragstrips. The scenic drives were just that. The checkpoints were off the beaten path. The brotherhood. The cars. It’s as cool of a deal as any I’ve experienced in drag racing.” EB