Horse Sense: After 10 great years, don't think George Gonzalez is going to rest on his laurels. We have a feeling the mastermind behind World Ford Challenge has something big up his sleeve for 2008.
They say time flies when you're having fun. We must be having a lot of fun, because it seems just yesterday George Gonzalez contacted us about sponsoring his new race, offering an unprecedented $10,000 to the winner of the Pro Mod 5.0 class. In the Super Ford days, Donald Farr and Tom Wilson jumped all over World Ford Challenge, and so did the Ford racing world. From racers and manufacturers to fans and vendors, WFC has long been a can't-miss on the calendar.
This was quite a leap in 1998. George had been a racer and a night club promoter when he hatched a vision for one big race. The existing races didn't have the kind of over-the-top excitement George craved. He wanted to put all the marbles on one weekend and let it ride. Not only was the race a big deal and the purse a huge one, but George also put forth a marketing campaign the Ford racing world had never seen. From flyers, huge ads, post-event videos, and more, it created excitement before the first car even went down the track.
This is the balloon. World...
This is the balloon. World Race Events debuted this giant triangle, which matched its ubiquitous logo from the first WFC in 1998. It was a symbol of what a big deal this race was. It had a traveling circus vibe, especially in the overstuffed environs of Beech Bend Raceway in Bowling Green, Kentucky. The original 1998 date is still under the "2007" patch, and Mobil 1 is no longer the title sponsor. That job was taken over by your favorite magazine. [Yes, this one! -Ed.] It was great to see this enduring symbol live on at WFCX.
We can still remember pulling into Beech Bend Raceway in Bowling Green, Kentucky. The longest line of cars waited to go into the race. Of course, the wait may have seemed longer because the better part of the preceding week was spent on the World Ford Challenge cruise. That's right-only a few years after the Hot Rod Power Tour began, there were Ford-only cruises to WFC. For the first two years, we caravanned to Beech Bend in Bowling Green and Route 66 in Joliet, Illinois, respectively. Those were great times and showed what WFC meant to the Ford world.
We'd love to look back on all the good times from the previous nine races here, but there's only so much space in these pages. For a full WFC retrospective, check out www.50mustangandsuperfords.com.
This year's event marked the 10th Anniversary of World Ford Challenge. Due to scheduling conflicts, there was a big move from its 7-year run at Gateway International Raceway in St. Louis to the home of the NHRA's U.S. Nationals, O'Reilly Raceway Park out-side Indianapolis. It was the first Ford-only event we've ever seen there, and the facility was vast, proving more than a match for the WFC crowds.
The vibe was different at Indy, with the car show and bracket car attendance leading the way. The heads-up classes were solidly attended, and the racing was, as always, competitive with the big money on the line. Moreover, George's mastery of the weather continued, with Thursday's setup day being cold and rainy. The remainder of the weekend was straight out of the Chamber of Commerce guidebook: bright with blue skies and cool breezes. In the end, Chuck Samuel and the Kevin Marsh team drove away with the big check, and Kevin scored the Racin' Jason Memorial award. That probably makes up for all that prime rib he had to buy for the Saturday night party at the track.
Congrats to all the winners, and here's to next year. We think George is going to turn it up for WFC 11. We can hardly wait.
After many years at Gateway...
After many years at Gateway International Raceway in St. Louis, scheduling conflicts inspired a move to a new facility for 10. O'Reilly Raceway Park outside Indianapolis served as a giant stage for the highest-stakes Mustang race in history. Peter Del Pino made the trip from South Florida to race his 800-plus-horsepower, automatic S197.
Here's the man who turned...
Here's the man who turned a wild idea into a race that reinvigorated Ford drag racing. It was quiet in 1998, and George Gonzalez decided things needed a shot in the arm. Debuting a race with an unprecedented purse of $10,000 to win Pro 5.0, he stood the Ford racing world on its head and created the energy that led to the birth of the NMRA and a rejuvenation of the Ford racing hobby. We're happy we've been there since the beginning, and we're even happier George is still at it 10 years later.
From the outset, the car show...
From the outset, the car show has been a huge component of WFC. People often travel hundreds of miles to attend. At Indianapolis, it was set up right next to the racetrack, so attendees could scope out the races, check out the car show, and keep their rides sparkling clean without missing a round of the racing action. That's our kind of car show.
Editor Turner is a proud member...
Editor Turner is a proud member of the hardcore WFC club, having attended all 10 events. Of course it's one thing when you work at the magazine, but there are several Ford fans who make it to all the events for the love of it. One 10-time attendee was Keith Randell of Florissant, Missouri. He made sure to proudly display all 10 WFC stickers on his '92 GT, including the 10 car show plaques in the hatch area. That's dedication. See you next year, Keith.
George introduced us to 26-year-old...
George introduced us to 26-year-old Miranda Quick-nice name for a racer. It was only her second WFC, but she threw caution to the wind and ran her '93 LX in the bracket program because she always wanted to give it a try. She made it through three rounds of competition, which is good for the first time. We suspect she might turn into a regular racer in the future. Her car had only a few bolt-ons at WFCX, but that will probably change soon.
The proverbial "spoils of victory" for this year's Pro Mod 5.0 champion came in the form of a $40,000 check, payable to Chuck Samuel. Chuck topped a field of 11 other drivers competing for the big payday, by scoring round-wins over Randy Eakins (first round), a redlighting Frank Gugliotta (semis), and Team Aruba's Bert Kelkboom in the final round. Chuck says his crew played a huge role in this, the team's second WFC Pro Mod 5.0 title-he also won at WFC 7-by setting up the car for consistency each round on a track that many racers had a hard time navigating all weekend.
Burt Kelkboom slayed a few giants on his side of the ladder, including WFC1 winner Doug Mangrum and defending Pro Mod 5.0 champ John Nobile. But he came up short of winning it all in his final-round showdown with Chuck Samuel. Despite the loss, Team Aruba's WFC showing can arguably be considered one of its best performances since its debut on the Mustang racing scene in 2004. "We underestimated the track in the final and went with a conservative clutch tune-up," says Crew Chief Andre Loonstra. "The track could've held more power, but we didn't put it out there. Despite that, we're happy about our finish at WFC this year, and we're definitely here to stay."
If there was ever a crowd favorite in Pro Outlaw, it's Billy Glidden. Whiteland, Indiana's native son gave WFC fans-many of them fellow Hoosiers-plenty to cheer about with his systematic dismantling of the field. This was highlighted by a seesaw battle with the Keen brothers for Top Qualifier honors and a "blast-from-the-past" showdown versus the '07 WFC Lifetime Achievement Award winners in the semifinals. The final round had Billly's '90 GT-turned-LX paired against Ed Rice's critically wounded 'Stang, with Billy making what amounted to a single pass for the win, and a WFC record low e.t./top mph (in Pro Outlaw) of 6.90/202.
Ed Rice found himself on the lucky side of drag racing, thanks a red-light disqualification of Ray "Hollywood" Johnson's LX in the second round. With a hurt piston making his '85 hatchback a virtual sitting duck at the line, Ed moved on to a semi-final bye-and subsequent final-round appearance-when Ray failed to stage his '93 notch before AutoStart's seven-second staging timer expired. "I can't figure out why he didn't stage in time, because we told them my engine was broken," says Ed. "This runner-up money will help pay for the rebuild."
NMRA Super Street Outlaw racer Sam Vincent put on what resembled a clinic in WFC's version of the always popular "True 10.5" category. With Crew Chief Steve Matukas making chassis calls, Sam's '88 coupe ran straight as a string and busted off mid 7.40 e.t.'s throughout eliminations, while others took the long way to the finish line on the inconsistent racing surface. "There's no doubt this was the biggest win of my career," says Sam, who credits eighth-mile testing as one of the main reasons things went so smoothly.
A veteran of all 10 WFCs, Travis Franklin rolled into Indy as one of the true darkhorse favorites to win it all in Street Outlaw. While he had the ability to get down the track early on-overcoming challenges from Phil Hines and Jarret Halfacre, who battled traction gremlins in rounds one and two-the tables turned on Travis in the final. After grabbing the holeshot, Sam Vincent's green coupe shot by and pulled away as Travis found himself fighting to corral his Pony's wayward rear wheels.
Nick Owens' journey from the war zones of Afghanistan to the winner's circle in Outlaw Drag Radial has to be one of the coolest stories in WFC history. Nick, a military contractor from Louisiana, made the most his leave time; competing in WFC was the first time he had ever driven the car-it was built while he was away. A 7.90/172 in qualifying earned Nick the number-two spot on the super-competitive ladder in the category. "I have to thank my family, friends, and Hellion Power Systems for this," he says. "The car was only a shell on January 1. Without those folks; my crew chief, Matt Case; and engine builder, Earl Schexnayder, there's no way I would've had any chance of doing this."
Corey Berry and Crew Chief Chad Hitt dropped the crowd's-and fellow competitors'-jaws when their twin-turbocharged '03 Mustang posted an off-the-meter e.t. and mph (7.76/192) for the number-one spot in Outlaw Drag Radial. An easy path to the final came courtesy of a first-round win over Dan Zylstra, Jim Mills' DNF, and a bye, but traction woes thwarted the team's chances of running the table. "Believe it or not, we'd been spinning the tires through the traps on every lap," Chad says. "The twins make too much power for our car, so we'll probably go back to a single turbo."
Frank Varela made the most of a long haul from New Mexico to nail down a win over 27 other 30-mile-cruiseable Fords in Wild Street. He showed us a 9.03 at 150 mph in his final-round victory over Damon Dais, but we understand the bad '91 GT is motivated by an intercooled turbo system from HP Performance. It's eight-second capable when it needs to be.
Brian Keiser credits a move to UPR's front and rear suspension and a short shifter handle as the keys to his success in WFC's Cobra Challenge. Brian's '03 Snake is otherwise stock, except for a ported Eaton supercharger atop the Four-Valve 4.6. It carried him to an on-the-brakes 11.64/107 in his win over Mike Furth.
Dave Helser's cool '88 LX coupe runs nines with a ProMotion pro-shifted TKO 500. It boogied to the Promised Land at WFC without any nitrous, turbos, or superchargers and without having a bye round throughout eliminations. "I run it all on the motor," says Dave of the 385-inch Windsor sitting underhood. "My dad and my friend, Dave Senderhauf, kept the car running great, so all I had to do was stay focused and cut good lights (0.009 in the semis) each round."
Janel Hartjes scored one for the ladies at WFC. By taking advantage of a few good breaks in the early rounds and guiding her 12-second '98 GT to a Modular Street win in the final over Brandon Peterson, Janel became the first female winner in any WFC category.
Ray Johnson exorcised the ghost of WFC6 by taking out Johnny Lightning Wiker in this year's Pro Lightning final. The two squared off for all the marbles in 2004 at Gateway, with Johnny prevailing. "I owed him this one," Ray says.
Speedin' Bob Peden recorded another WFC first with his Street Lightning win over John Lipps. Think about it: When has a Harley Davidson Edition F-150 won in this category before? Speedin' Bob cites a unique tire mix as one of his performance advantages. The Harley truck wore its stock street tires in the first three rounds, which were swapped out for Mickey Thompson ET Streets in the semis and final. Why? They're not called "speed secrets" for nothing.
Johnny Lightning narrowly missed out on a chance to double-up as champion in two classes-Ford Diesel Challenge and Pro Lightning-a feat he accomplished in 2004 and 2005. Immediately after finishing Second in the Lightning final, Johnny hopped out of his turbocharged race truck and into his E-350 tow rig, and he sawed the Tree down on Ron Simko (0.061 to 0.255), en route to his third victory in the wildly popular black-smoke extravaganza. "Any time you get to the finals is great," Johnny says. Having been there as many times as he has at WFC, it's safe to say he speaks from experience.