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Crazy about Camaros

Roseville man's passion for Z28s driven by vintage racecar
By: Paul Cambra, The Press-Tribune
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Brett Radanof will never forget that sound. The distinctive roar of a 1968 Camaro Z28 'burning rubber' as it circled his Hollister High School parking lot and fueled his fascination with the classic Chevrolet. "In high school I wanted to own a Camaro more than anything else," said Radanof from his Roseville home, "But my parents wouldn't let me buy one." Instead, he had to settle for what his parents would allow, a 1973 Chevy Nova. It would take Radanof a dozen years before he would buy his first Camaro, and it would not be his last. Currently the owner of two 1969 "survivor" Z28s, so called because of their un-restored condition, Radanof holds a special fondness for the Camaro owned by his uncle, Ken Epsman. "My uncle's car, the 1969 Sunoco Trans-Am Camaro, won the Trans-American Sedan Series Championship in 1969," said Radanof, "He bought it from a collector in 1996, the same year I bought my first Camaro. It took my interest in first generation Camaros to a new level. I've probably bought and sold 12 of them since." Radanof acts as unofficial curator/restorer to his uncle's Camaro, a car he considers "the most historically significant Camaro in existence today." That history begins with the 1966-72 Trans-Am Sedan Series, a race designed to showcase manufacturers' muscle cars. General Motors developed the Camaro to compete with Ford's Mustang, driven by Parnelli Jones. Their efforts paid off, with the team winning the championship the next two years. Epsman's car, owned at the time by Roger Penske and driven by Mark Donohoe, was the 1969 champion. It is one of only three of Penske's 1969 Camaros left in existence. Epsman, who owns several vintage racecars and competes six times a year, prefers to race his 1970 Dodge Challenger. The pleasure of driving the Sunoco Camaro falls to one of his employees, Jim Hague. "I've been racing cars for about 20 years now," said Hague, "I absolutely love driving the '69 Camaro. As a kid, it was my all-time favorite car." Hague's favorite memory in the car goes back to 1999, when he beat Parnelli Jones in a Trans-Am vintage race at Monterey. "Jones was driving his classic Boss 302 Mustang," said Hague, "But the power in that Camaro is awesome, and it has such easy response. I was making every turn and he couldn't catch me." Nowadays, Radanof is content to watch his uncle compete in vintage races, while he takes the car to a couple of auto shows every year, including the Concourse d'Elegance at Serrano in El Dorado Hills. "I detail it top to bottom, show it off at auto exhibitions, get the kids in the car, then return it all cleaned up and ready to race," he said, "I don't think my passion for Camaros would be quite as intense if my uncle Ken had not acquired this car." Any passion for cars he may possess can be traced back to his teenage years, when he worked for his uncle detailing his GT 500 Shelby Mustang convertible. What has grown into a borderline obsession for him is concentrated on a very specific era. "It's all about first generation Z28s with me," said Radanof, referring to the first three years of Camaro production, 1967-69. His current fleet of two are both from 1969, his favorite year, and both are very close to survivor status, each having had a paint job around 25 years ago. "The new paint does not officially qualify them as survivor cars," said Radanof, "But they meet all of the other requirements. Low miles, documented, well cared for. Being untouched actually adds value to a car. You can restore it time and time again, but it is only original once." Radanof, who works for a homebuilder in the area, keeps his Camaro enthusiasm to a hobby. His website, www.taperfresto.com offers advice and assistance to those restoring Camaros, helping find them rare parts and tapping his extensive of the vehicle for answers to their questions. But it all comes back to the sound of that solid lifter 302-ci engine, with its characteristic growl like no other machine on the road at that time or since. "There's no mistaking the sound of a well tuned '67-'69 Z28 Chevy Camaro," he said. "From the first time I heard one, tooling around my school in the early '80s, I was hooked." It may not have been his parent's first choice for a car, but for him, everything else may as well be a '73 Nova. - Paul Cambra may be reached at paulc@goldcountrymedia.com