Wes Distefano’s Passion For Fast Cars Leads Him to PDRA’s $hameless Racing Pro Outlaw 632
Growing up in Michigan just outside Detroit, it’s not hard to gain an appreciation for cool, fast cars at an early age. For PDRA $hameless Racing Pro Outlaw 632 racer Wes Distefano, it was the striking image of a ’67 Camaro launching on the cover of Hot Rod that inspired him to build progressively cooler, faster cars. Eventually, he had to start taking them to the racetrack.
“I’ve always loved cars,” Distefano says. “As I started building faster and faster cars, primarily for the street, they started getting a little too fast for the street. As a kid, I went to a lot of races – drag racing, circle track racing – so I was always interested in racing. The two kind of just came together: The interest in racing and the interest in cars and the cars getting too fast for the street. That brought me to the track.”
[Editor’s Note: This story originally appeared in DI #162, the 30 Under 30 Issue, in November of 2020.]
He eventually found his dream car, a ’67 Camaro, that ran low 9s in the quarter-mile with a 509ci engine with one kit of nitrous on 295 drag radials. After a couple seasons and various upgrades, Distefano had the car running high 4.90s in the eighth-mile in Outlaw 632 competition. He even dipped into the 4.70s, but it was a handful to drive. He wanted more.
Through some mutual connections, Distefano linked up with engine builder Pat Musi. Distefano was looking for a newer, purpose-built car to step up his game in Outlaw 632, but he wanted an engine first.
“Again, I wanted to be ridiculous with the power,” Distefano says. “I wanted everything I could get out of it. I told Pat I want the baddest 632 on the planet. Can you build it for me? Of course, he accepted the challenge.”
Musi also helped Distefano find the right car for the engine. After a few conversations, Distefano purchased Henry Dogay’s “Cajun Nightmare” ’68 Camaro, which was one of the quickest cars in PDRA Top Sportsman at the time. “We knew it was a good car, but we didn’t know how good of a car it was,” Distefano admits.
Distefano and the Camaro, now known as “$hameless,” came out swinging in 2019. He went to two finals in his first three races in PDRA Pro Outlaw 632 competition. He earned his first low qualifier award and event victory at Darlington late in the season. He had some fierce battles with two-time world champion Johnny Pluchino, ultimately coming up just a few rounds behind him in the championship chase.
“At the end of the day, I just feel I’m a competitor,” Distefano says. “I like to compete. That’s one thing that I didn’t really know going in, but [the level of competition] kind of sucked me in with the PDRA. I had quite a few close races that were separated by less than two thousandths of a second. It’s about the challenge for me.”
Coming that close to a championship in his first PDRA season motivated Distefano and his $hameless Racing team for the 2020 season. He went to the finals at the season-opening East Coast Nationals at GALOT, then added another runner-up finish at Darlington. Then another at Virginia. Yet again, a runner-up finish followed at the second Virginia race. When he fired up the Musi 632 for the DragWars final round at GALOT in early October, he was bracing for the sight of another win light in the other lane.
“We were really fortunate, but by the time we were going into our fifth final there at GALOT, it was eating at me pretty badly,” Distefano says. “I didn’t know how I was going to take another runner-up. We were really fortunate to be in the finals at every race, but to not seal the deal, it was eating at me.”
Distefano’s luck finally turned around, as he defeated two-time world champion Dillon Voss on a holeshot. He added another two round wins at the Proline Racing Brian Olson Memorial World Finals, giving him enough points to claim the 2020 PDRA Pro Outlaw 632 world championship.
“I’m so proud of what my team and I did,” Distefano says. “First and foremost, I have to thank my parents, David and Brenda Swallow. Without their support, I couldn’t do any of this. Troy and Shawne Russell – Troy is my crew chief and Shawne’s right there on the line, right there beside Troy in the pits. Their commitment to the car is second to none. Their passion and their drive for it is never wavering. That’s something that you can’t buy and you can’t teach.”
Distefano and his usual crew were assisted by fellow Michigan-based Pro Outlaw 632 competitor Vinny LaRosa and his crew members, Aaron Cashwell and Clyde Lovett. They decided to help Distefano while LaRosa’s Duster is undergoing an overhaul by Russell.
“Especially towards the last few races, we had a really good chemistry going,” Distefano says. “When we had to change engines or transmissions, there were a lot of hands busy and it really made it go a lot faster.”
Distefano also professed his appreciation for the sponsors and manufacturers that not only provided quality products and service, but also provided financial rewards through the PDRA’s contingency sponsor program. Those companies include Pat Musi Racing Engines, Jerry Bickel Race Cars, Hoosier Racing Tires, Brisk Spark Plugs, Jesel Valvetrain, Lucas Oil, MagnaFuel, Meziere Enterprises, ProFab Headers, Race Star Wheels and S&W Race Cars.
Next season, Distefano plans to defend his championship. Beyond 2021, it’s hard to say where Distefano will end up. His drive for continuous improvement suggests he could move up to another class like Pluchino, who moved up to Liberty’s Gears Extreme Pro Stock after winning two Pro Outlaw 632 world championships.
“Different people use the class for different things,” Distefano says. “For me, I feel like it’s a stepping stone. For other people, maybe it’s a good budget class. Kids coming out of the Jr. Dragsters might be coming into the 632 class. It is kind of that entry level to the pros, but at the same time the competition is so fierce. You’re not going to find 632 racing that’s any more competitive anywhere else but the PDRA.”