Horse Sense: The battle for power-adder supremacy in our own Real Street class is proving to be one of the hottest head-to-head fights of any other NMRA heads-up category this season. In addition to their boost-versus-jets rivalry, Tim Matherly (supercharged) and Bruce Hemminger (nitrous) are in a seesaw battle for the Real Street points lead and, ultimately, the ring and jacket that an NMRA class title brings.
Many of you may be newcomers to the Mustang hobby or are simply too young to know much about Mustang drag racing's deep history. Younger 'Stangbangers-let's say those of you between the ages of 18 and 24-might feel that hard-core 'Stang racing at the track began with the creation of the National Mustang Racers Association and its inaugural event held in Maple Grove, Pennsylvania, in 1999. Those of you with a few more years under your belts may cite Fun Ford Weekend as being the founding sanction for organized, all-Ford drag racing, with Bradenton, Florida, being the host in the early '90s.
For us, the nostalgic thoughts were strong prior to arriving at this year's NMRA event-the 7th Annual Keystone Ford Nationals presented by Downs Ford Motorsport. The little-known fact about sanctioned Mustang drag racing is that its true point of origin is the Garden State of New Jersey. Atco Raceway (the fifth stop on the NMRA's 2007 tour) is actually one of the first venues to host events held by what may arguably be the first Mustang-racing sanctioning body ever: the now-defunct American Mustang Racing Association.
Although Atco's famous "teeth" (starting-line traction that was once notorious for annihilating Mustangs' rearends) weren't as sharp as we've seen in years past, and unfortunately there was no Friday-night qualifying session this year, it was cool to see there has been no major change in the track's mineshaft-like, sea-level air, as evidenced by Mike DeMayo's quick 8.77 in Hot Street and the 8.09 that John Kolivas posted as Drag Radial's low e.t. in qualifying. Atco's low altitude has always been held in the same high regard as its hook.
'Stang fans and the employees of NMRA's title sponsor, Keystone, enjoyed great Ford drag racing in every category. The action included Quick 8-style shootout events thrown by Nitto (Drag Radial, won by John Kolivas), Carnivore (EFI Renegade, won by Bart Tobener), and Edelbrock (Hot Street, won by Mike DeMayo), which were held during Saturday's qualifying sessions.
With two events remaining and the points gaps closer in several categories, we're fairly sure points leaders and championship contenders will be throwing out all the stops in Columbus and Bowling Green, racing with a vengeance to determine who will join the elite fraternity of NMRA class champions.
With spotty traction throughout the weekend, Atco Raceway didn't quite live up to its House of Hook reputation, but the track's near-perfect atmosphere produced some of the best August performances we've seen in a few years.
Before Tim Matherly and Bruce Hemminger met in the Real Street final at Atco, the two staged yet another classic 1,320-foot brawl in the Nitto Tire Real Street Shootout. Bruce got the edge on Tim in this contest (9.81/136 to 9.85/135), adding $2,000 to his win total for the weekend.
Since your California-based tech editor's trip to the East included a week of shop and manufacturer visits after the Atco race, this sporty '07 Mustang Shelby GT was a more appropriate mode of transportation than a basic rental car. The special edition 'Stang received plenty of attention from Mustang enthusiasts at the race and throughout the New York, New Jersey, and Connecticut areas where KJ racked up miles.
Our friend Henry D., editor of Chevy High Performance, told us Brian Zaid's stealthy '89 Fox coupe is one sick piece; seeing it run in person confirmed his endorsement. The transplanted 'Stang (Brian is originally from San Diego, and his Pony still sports current Cali tags) is motivated by a 427-inch Windsor and a ProCharger F-2, coupled with a street-inspired Lentech AOD transmission. The unassuming 'Stang blitzed the clocks at Atco with consistent mid-9-second e.t.'s in True Street. Check out the heavy 17-inch wheels at all four corners, and the seats are covered in gray sheepskin. Sleeper!
Mike "Junior" DeMayo's Roush-powered '95 GT took full advantage of Atco's killer atmospheric conditions (unseasonably mild temperature and density altitude just a shade above sea level) and put down a record-setting 8.779 e.t. in qualifying. Mike also ran the table in the Edelbrock Hot Street Shootout, driving around Andy Schmidt in the final (8.78/154 to 8.83/154) of the race-within-a-race to capture the two extra Gs.
It was cool seeing drag-radial legend Dwayne "Big Daddy" Gutridge (with microphone) back on the NMRA scene after a long absence. Big Daddy was a guest analyst for PowerTV's coverage of the Atco event, interviewing racers and offering insight on the action that could only come from someone with his knowledge and experience in 'Stang racing.
We counted five fans (in addition to the radiator fan) blowing cool air on the Schmidt brothers' engine. If cooling like this is really needed between rounds, "Hot" Street is truly a more-than-fitting name for the class.
Tony Bischoff figured out a way to navigate his '02 Cougar through the slippery sections of Atco's usually sticky racing surface and captured his second Pro 5.0 win of the season. "Both lanes had a spot in the middle that you simply could not run power through," says Tony. "We calmed it down enough to make clean passes without sacrificing speed too much (208.39 in the final), and it worked out well." Tony's victory takes a huge bite out of current champ Michael Hauf's points lead going into the final two events of the season.
Who is Mike Balvsir? That was the million-dollar question by the time the Pro 5.0 final came around. Despite horrendous performance from his recently purchased '99 Probe, the Pro 5.0 rookie landed himself a spot in the final against Tony Bischoff after Tim Essick redlighted in the semifinals. Mike fouled out versus Tony but says he plans to continue his reintroduction to drag racing by competing in the remaining events on the NMRA schedule. This was Mike's first time at the controls of a drag car in 20 years.
Super Street Outlaw
For Don "Burndown" Burton, a fresh car and familiarity with the racetrack proved to be all that was needed to run the table in Super Street Outlaw. Don arrived at Atco with his '80 hatchback in 100-percent "new" condition thanks to extensive engine and chassis updates. He went into the Keystone Ford Nationals on the heels of a successful finish (he won) in one of Atco's Quick 8 showdowns a few weeks prior to NMRA's arrival. "Racing in the Quick 8 definitely helped us in terms of gaining data about this track," says Don. "We were determined to overcome Joliet. The win this weekend opens the door to a dogfight with John [Urist] for the championship, and we're going for it."
As the season progressed, we kept tabs on the stout performance of Yanni Papakosmas' '04 Terminator (right), and predicted a final-round appearance was just a race or two away for the Super Greek. A long-awaited trip to drag racing's Promised Land (it was Yanni's first final round ever) finally came, and fittingly, his excitement would make you think he won a championship. "We changed three turbos, front springs, three sets of tires, and made a bunch of suspension changes," says Yanni. "We didn't win, but I have to thank Granatelli Motor Sports, Miller Race Cars, LaJoie's Recycling, Merkel Race Engines, and especially my family and crew for helping me so much this weekend. Getting to a final has been a long time in the making, and I'm happy we finally did it."
"They were all good ones," says Tony Orts of the three drag races he won en route to his final-round meeting with Aaron Stapleton, in which he also finished on top. "There were no byes, no gimmes, nothing like that. I was literally door-to-door with [Brian] Tuten in the semis. After qualifying last and having to fix a broken wrist pin in the engine Saturday night, we busted our butt and earned this win." While Tony is a multi-time winner and former champion in NMRA's Xtreme Street class, the triumph at Atco is his first victory in NMRA competition.
"If it ain't broke, don't fix it" is the motto that the Sutton High Performance team lived by at the Keystone Ford Nationals, and adhering to the credo nearly earned Aaron Stapleton a victory in EFI Renegade. "We didn't change the tuneup or anything all weekend," says Crew Chief Jerry Van Der Linde. "The car worked perfectly and Aaron drove his butt off every round." A slipping blower belt appears to be what cost The Shark the win. Aaron left first on Tony Orts (0.015 to 0.027), but nitrous oxide prevailed on the big end when the Sutton 'Stang's boost fell off at crunch time.
Charlie Booze Jr. bagged his second-straight Hot Street victory of the year, after Justin Curry fouled in their final round at Atco. "This is a rough, rough class," Charlie says. "But the cream always rises to the top. We were off to a crappy start at the beginning of the year, but now we're rolling and I'm sure it's going to be a dogfight between us and the Roush cars for the championship." A dogfight indeed! Charlie's quarter-final win over Mike DeMayo's Roush-powered 'Stang came courtesy of a holeshot and Kuntz horsepower, as their cars were separated by only 0.003 at the stripe.
Justin Curry's crew burned the late oil Saturday night, repairing the extensive front-end damage sustained in a hard landing after a spectacular wheelstand in qualifying on the SAM team's '95 Cobra. Thanks to great help from one of the Roush teams (front wheels) and Matt Wirt (wheel alignment), Justin answered the bell on Sunday and proceeded to click off low e.t.'s in the class for each round, including the final. A foul start against Charlie Booze Jr. spoiled all hope of a fairy tale ending to what could be called one of the best comebacks of the season.
John Kolivas continues to do big things with the "little turbo" in Drag Radial. His lighter 'Stang/front-facing 85mm turbo combination led the field with a low-qualifying 8.09 e.t. on Saturday, but a cracked cylinder head had the team thrashing into the wee hours in order to make first round. Sometimes you just have to accept being lucky more than being good. John's '95 Cobra slipped and slid its way to wins in the first two rounds, "then we took all of the power out of it and finally got down the track in the third round [a win over Chris Evans]." John took advantage of Chris Tuten's handling woes in the final round and maintains a 100-point lead with two races remaining.
While Chris' run to the final round seemed smooth on the surface, he and Crew Chief Big Mike found themselves once again performing various surgeries on their '87 LX between rounds in an effort to keep its turbocharged small-block together. "I spun the tires badly in that final," Chris says. "I saw John was gone, so I got off the gas to keep the motor from blowing up. We didn't tell anybody that my engine was hurt for most of the weekend. I've been fighting my car since April. I told John that whoever wins Bowling Green is going to win the championship in our class, and there's no way whoever doesn't win can say the champion didn't earn it."
When speed is the force that's needed, Bruce Hemminger seems to always find a way to coax massive mile an hour with nitrous from his '86 Real Street coupe. Once again, his muscle (9.84/139.21 in the final) somehow overcame a huge holeshot by Tim Matherly (0.026 to Bruce's 0.080 at the Tree), and outlegged the supercharged competitor to the stripe. "We just try to be consistent with everything we do," says Bruce, citing his between-rounds maintenance routine as one of the keys to his success. "[My girlfriend] Deb has caught on quickly and has been a tremendous help. I've learned from Billy [Glidden] that you have to do the same thing every single time. By repetition, we've just gotten better and better at it. Hopefully it will all pay off with a championship this year."
After establishing yet another new Real Street e.t. record during qualifying and a points-lead-padding, top-qualifier spot with a super-quick (given the limited drivetrain/ power-adder combination, spec fuel, and weight package) 9.795, Tim Matherly spent his 20th wedding anniversary (happy anniversary, Mrs. Matherly) removing the Two-Valve bullet from his 'Stang at the request of NMRA's tech lord, Thom Bates. The engine proved to be compliant with rules and regs for the class, and Tim went on to finish Second in the final against Bruce Hemminger on Sunday in a race that was actually their second final of the weekend. The two also battled for a $2,000 bonus in the Nitto Tire Real Street Shootout.
While Jim Breese escaped qualifying without sustaining any engine damage-a feat he seemed pleased about when we spoke with him on Saturday night-the destruction bell rang for his '04 Mustang's supercharged 4.6 in eliminations. We didn't get the specifics on what went wrong, but Jim's 123.4-mph speed in his runoff against teammate Tim Matherly in round two is a sure sign that the engine is coming out before Columbus.
Mike Washington's Capri is finally showing signs of improvement after a slow start this season. He posted his first 9-second Real Street e.t. (9.91) during qualifying and proved it was no fluke in round two by lighting the scoreboard with a 9.96 in a losing effort against class winner Bruce Hemminger.
Although Don Bosley's '89 coupe left the line hard, a late light (0.122) dashed his hope of keeping up with Bruce Hemminger's old-school trunk in round one.