Tom Hammonds has been there and done that in drag racing circles. He even has the t-shirts to show for it.

Once a superstar power forward in the National Basketball Association, Hammonds did his time on the grand stage as a Pro Stock driver. And while driving a Pro Stock car was fun, the experience of fielding a team left a lot to be desired in the fun department. 

"I always wanted to get back and involved in racing again," Hammonds said. "And man, I mean, I remember my old days when I first started racing with my old, old, old 69 Camaro that I had. I was running in NMCA Series. I started looking around at where I'd like to race. To me, NMCA resembles as close as you can get to an NHRA event."

Hammonds is back, and with a steel-bodied 1969 Camaro that chassis builder Jerry Bickel describes as "Having more engineering than we've ever put in a car."

Why on earth would anyone want to make an all-steel classic Camaro into a drag racing car these days?

"Am I crazy or what?" Hammonds asked. "It's crazy, but you just have a love for the sport. I've always had an affinity for 69 Camaros. I just went ahead and did it. Man, and I love it. It's a beautiful car."

Hammonds revels in the fact it's the real deal. 

"Real 69 Camaro," Hammonds added. "Real VIN number. Real everything. I was just putting around town. It had a Pat Musi 540 in it."

Hammonds just wasn't satisfied with riding around town. He needed the rush of competition. 

"Don't get me wrong, I was having a good time with it, and the bug just hit me that I wanted to do more," Hammonds admitted. "The first person I called was Jerry Bickel."

Bickel is accustomed to building purpose-built race cars from the chassis up. A project like Hammonds wanted was a different pathway. 

Once Hammonds set his sights on NMCA's Xtreme Street, he instructed Bickel to build him the ultimate machine within the parameters of retaining a factory dash, factory interior with carpeting, and working headlights. The '69 Camaro even had a factory-installed eight-track tape deck, but for Hammonds, his unit had a basic radio. 

"I'm so proud that my 69 has hideaway lights, and they work," Hammonds said. "It's like a watered-down X275 ride."

Bickel added some gray areas, some of them on the dark gray side.

"We pushed the rules to the limit and even had tech officials here to double-check as we built the car," Bickel said. "The car is 100-percent legal; it's on the dark gray side. Tom wanted to put his toes on the edge but not go over."

Hammonds engine plays to the rules as close as one can get, with a 364-inch, LS-based centrifugally-supercharged powerplant from Steve Morris. 

Hammonds, who stands at 6-foot, eight inches, says the driver's compartment retains measurements as close to stock dimensions which don't always favor a driver of his stature. 

"Jerry did a good job, and I'm well protected in the car," Hammonds said. "I feel safe in the car; there are some rules in NMCA that we have to follow as far as NMCA's concerned, as far as seat location and those types of things. I'm within the rules as far as that's concerned. 

"I actually do fit comfortably in the car. And the biggest thing is I feel safe in the car, despite my height. and I'm just looking forward to going out and having some fun again, and being able to also compete at a high level."

Hammonds' car will run in the mid-four second range in the eighth mile. 

"That's a good competitive car, and that's what we're looking forward to doing," Hammonds said. "Hopefully, we can bring more exposure to the class, and we can build the class. That's what it's all about, man. Going out and having fun and racing.

"Being in a situation where NHRA was such cutthroat. Where obviously, you had friends, but you didn't have friends. And for what I've done so far with the NMCA, it's like a family-type atmosphere where everybody. We walk around; we talk to everybody."

And for Hammonds, nothing strikes up a conversation much like his blue 1969 Camaro.