Horse Sense: Mark this season as the first one in NMRA history with no Pro 5.0 class. Born out of the likes of Super Ford magazine's 5.0 Shootout events, the Pro 5.0 class had long been the top-dog class at every all-Ford race on the calendar. With class fields dwindling, the NMRA made the brave decision to replace Pro 5.0 with a full schedule of Outlaw 10.5 races.
When I was a kid, Pro 5.0 was...
Whoosh! An arctic blast rushes by, the air chills, and moisture starts to form, but it wasn't the influence of an Outlaw 10.5 'Stang's air-to-water intercooler on 40-plus pounds of boost. Instead it was the cold front that seemed to hitch a ride on the trailers of all those northern racers trekking down for the NMRA Spring Ford Nationals, the kickoff for a season of wheels-up Ford drag racing, held at Bradenton Motosports Park in Bradenton, Florida.
While the cool temperatures and the threat of torrential rain served to make promoters and spectators nervous, the racers still showed up in droves, proving that a bleak forecast-weather or economic-can't keep a hardcore Ford racer away from a sticky quarter-mile surface. In the end, the rain began after the first round of qualifying on Friday and ended well before the second round fired up on Saturday. We were left with some wind and downright cool temperatures on Saturday and Chamber of Commerce weather for Sunday's eliminations.
We think the records set in Bradenton are going to be tough to touch until the weather cools off again at the end of the season. If the racing competition is as hot and heavy as it was at the first race, we likely won't notice.
Even though many Hot Street racers were at the Bradenton NMRA opener with a different car or combo, Tim Eichorn raced his usual '89 Mustang coupe. Tim owns Mustang Performance Racing in Pompano Beach, Florida, and specializes in anything to do with Mustangs. He builds his own engines with help from Kuntz and Company and Wilson Manifolds, and Matukas Motorsports Race Cars built the car, which Tim debuted in 2005. He hooked up with Kuntz and Company during the off-season between 2005 and 2006. Tim runs a 400ci engine with an Arnett Transmissions Powerglide and an Ultimate Converter stall converter. He says the car has been working well, so he'll stick with it. He takes it back to Steve Matukas every six months or so to get checked out. At Bradenton, Tim had a good start to the race by qualifying in the fourth spot with an 8.75 at 154 mph. However, he relaxed too much in the first round of eliminations against Keith Courtney, and he paid the price with an early exit from competition.
A newcomer to our beloved Real Street class, Dave Ginter came calling with a '98 Mustang Cobra packing ProCharged Two-Valve power. We've always liked yellow '98 Cobras, and we love Real Street, so it's great to see the combination together. En route to the event, Dave enlisted the help of MV Performance's Tim Matherly. Tim says Dave was down on power compared to his own Real Street ride, and he'll be building a new bullet for Dave, so watch out for another mod-motor player in the class.
Chris Tuten has once again changed power adders. He ran nitrous in Real Street and won a championship there. Then he moved up to Drag Radial with a turbo and won another championship. He's still racing in Drag Radial, but now he's doing it with a ProCharger F-1R underhood. Proline Racing Engines is still doing the engine work, while a Torque Converter Services Powerglide lives in the tunnel. Chris says the biggest difference between running a turbocharger and a supercharger is that the latter requires a lot more fuel because of the increased power it requires. "Your tuning window is more narrow with a supercharger," Chris says. "I'm going to make it work." He usually does. He showed up at Bradenton without dyno time and still ran 8.20s with a 1.34 60-foot time. Not only did he change power adders, but Team Z Motorsports also redid the chassis to 25.2 specs. The only thing left from last year is the wheels, front brakes and struts, and the body. Chris says there's more in it, but he must make it live at the same time. We asked if Hot Street was his next class, and Chris responded, "You'll never see me run all-motor."
Bucking the trend of body-in-white race cars, Robbie Blankenship brought this former six-cylinder car to Bradenton to do battle in Hot Street. Outfitted with last year's freshened-up Roush 400ci combination, the car was built by Matukas Motorsports Race Cars. Even though Robbie has had the car for a few years now, Steve Matukas began working on it in June 2007, and it was finished just after the first of 2008. Though Robbie qualified third with an 8.73 at 151 mph, he was unable to make it past Charlie Booze Jr. in the second round of eliminations. Robbie and Steve will be busy testing new converters from Ultimate Converters, doing some suspension tuning, and playing with different induction setups. Look for Robbie to be a hot Hot Street player again this year.
Brian Mitchell won the EFI Renegade championship again in 2007 for maybe the 12th time in a row. OK-that's a slight exaggeration, but it feels as though he's won it that many times. Proving he's not one to rest on his laurels, Brian debuted this new car at Bradenton, and with a few passes under his blower belt, he ran in the 8.40s. Demon Race Cars built the car for Brian, and he still has the Vortech YSi-Trim combined with a Cleveland Performance 310ci. Matt Wirt Race Fab helped tune the suspension before and during the race to line things up. Showing Matt knows a thing or two about setting up a car, Brian ran an 8.47 on the car's fourth pass, but it got loose about 200 feet in the semifinal round against Chris Van Gilder, so Brian got out to save the car for another day. Brian and Matt aren't sure why that happened, but Brian says a lot of it is because he's not yet totally comfortable in the new car. Once he's comfortable and the loose condition is rectified, this thing is really going to haul the mail.
NMRA newcomer Conrad Scarry wasted no time making his presence known at the Nitto Tire NMRA Spring Nationals. Thanks to great help from the Auwarter brothers, the Fun Ford Weekend convert got the attention of the entire Pro Outlaw 10.5 field with a 6.96/202-mph blast during the test 'n' tune session on Thursday. He continued to impress those who aren't familiar with his Kenny Seeger Motorsports '04 Mustang GT by taking out Mike Brown, Mike Murillo (broken), and Dan Millen on race day and earning top honors in the season opener for the NMRA's newest elite class.
Although Dan Millen's return to NMRA competition got off to a shaky start thanks to chassis and clutch issues that were never fully resolved by race time, the Livernois Motorsports crew used a few old-fashioned racer tricks and the insights of Billy Glidden (on the property) and Skinny Kid (on the phone) to get Dan's '02 'Stang to the final round. "We were really fortunate," Dan says. "A mistake in the first round against Ed Rice cost us a head gasket. It's amazing we made it this far, but I'm really glad we did." His trip to the last round included an upset semifinal win over low-qualifier Brian Carpenter, who until then appeared to be well on his way to being the season's first winner in Pro Outlaw 10.5.
Leave it to the frenetic John "The Fireball" Urist to shelve a championship car and secretly build a completely new race car to take on the '08 season. John believes the Fox body has an on-track advantage over the New Edge he previously campaigned. He kept this thing under wraps for the big reveal at Bradenton, going so far as to leave the engine hanging over the old car while he worked on the new one. Though the new-car blues found John in an unfamiliar fifth qualifying spot due to a 7.70/190-mph pass, he silenced the critics by climbing the ladder like a champ. His first real test came in round three against Jarrett Halfacre, but John put half a second on the turbo Fox. When he squared off against Richard Lelsz's '04 Cobra in the finals, John got the jump and the race was over as soon as it began.
We met Richard Lelsz when he was running his '03 Cobra with streetable but insane power. These days he has the car on true 10.5s with a turbo 385ci motor underhood and it's flat-out flying. He nestled into the fourth qualifiying spot with a 7.59/189-mph blast and found his first challenge in round two against Don "Burndown" Burton. Richard left first and got to the stripe first. After A.J. Powell had problems in the third, Richard lined up with John "The Fireball" Urist in the final, and his hopes for a storybook ending were dashed.
When we saw the head-scratching in John Kolivas' camp during test 'n' tune and heard John's father, Vern, mutter, "It's going to be a long weekend," we wondered what was up. Then we saw John's Cobra in the pits with the hood up, and we found the source of the head-scratching: Over the winter, John switched to a Bennett Racing-built 5.4 with a Precision single-turbo still out front. During test 'n' tune and much of qualifying, the car was off-pace and up on jackstands in the pits. However, once eliminations rolled around, John and crew had it figured out, and 8.0s were once again the norm. In the final, John started the race with a holeshot, and when Bob Kurgan lost grip, John coasted to victory.
Bob Kurgan tested at Gainesville, Florida, just prior to Bradenton and ran 8.12. He was hoping for at least 8.15s at Bradenton, but it again ran 8.12. Bob thought about trying for the 7-second record and $5,000 during the first round, but he didn't want to take the risk of blowing up his stuff and killing his chances of winning the event. Bob still runs a Vortech X-Trim utilizing a D.S.S. Racing Engines powerplant with Trick Flow High-Ports, a TCI Powerglide and converter, and an AEM engine management system. Bob ran as quick as 8.10 during eliminations, but he lost grip in the final against John Kolivas, allowing John to take the win.
Holeshot Dave Guy used killer lights in the semifinal and final rounds to nab his first-ever NMRA Renegade victory after three years of trying. "Two round-wins in a row with holeshots is just amazing to me," says Dave. "That made the weekend." He put Randy King away to reach the final; then used a 0.059 reaction time to keep his supercharged, Two-Valve-powered '96 GT in front of Chris Van Guilder's raging 7-Up ragtop at the stripe.
Chris Van Guilder's road to the Renegade final was highlighted by a huge third-round win over defending class champion Brian Mitchell, but an engine stumble and subsequent late reaction time in the final against Dave Guy ultimately thwarted his chance of earning his first NMRA event win. The engine "popped for a second when I put it on the transbrake, and it didn't want to rev," Chris says. "By the time I let off and got back on it, the light was green. It's on the timeslip. I had him covered by the eighth, but can you do?"
Charlie Booze Jr. capitalized on awesome race-day weather conditions at Bradenton and fired the first salvo in this year's Kuntz/Roush War in Hot Street. He jockeyed his red machine to a number-one qualifying spot, posted a new e.t. record (8.62), and beat David Murray and Robbie Blankenship in early rounds before running away with a win over archrival Ben Mens in a thrilling Hot Street final. "We have to hit these guys in the mouth early this year. We didn't win a lot of rounds, but we set a record and got the win. I'm dedicating the first one of the year to my 4-month-old daughter, Anna Katherine, and my wife, Kate," says Charlie.
Immediately after the Hot Street final, defending champ Ben Mens had a smile on his face and was full of optimism about the rest of the season despite his Second Place finish to Charlie Booze. Bradenton marked the debut of Ben's "new" Lucas Oil-sponsored ride (a '91 LX owned by Robbie Blankenship), and due to a lack of testing, everything about the 'Stang's performance was completely unknown going into the Nitto Tire Spring Nationals. "We came down here thinking that if we could be among the top five qualifiers and go rounds with what we have, that would be great," says Ben. "Making it to the final is huge. I was late on the light and the car got into something just past half-track, but I was definitely making a race out of it."
Tim Matherly told us at Bowling Green last year that he'd finally found an elixir to fend off the burned-up parts he suffered through early last season. In the off-season, he simply changed the ratio of his rearend gears and First gear to best make use of the wide-open-axle ratio rules this season. Tim says the gear change has made the car more consistent down low, which is bad news for his competition. The cool, below-sea-level conditions were good news for all the boosted RS racers and helped them all, but Tim made the most of the weather to blast off a 9.74/132 pass to claim the top spot. After a first-round bye, he got a real challenge from Brian McCormick, but Tim's axemanship at the Tree ended things from the jump. In the end, Tim bested teammate Jim Breese to claim yet another win.
When we asked Jim Breese how extensive his off-season program was, he replied, "I put a new clutch in the car." After fighting burned plugs and broken parts, along with his teammate Tim Matherly, this modest off-season maintenance program was a welcome change. Like his teammate, Jim picked up right where he left off last season-right on Tim's heels. He clicked off a 9.74/140 pass to land in the second qualified spot. Running up the opposite side of the ladder, Jim picked off modular madman Shawn Johnson in the first frame and Michael "Bubble Boy" Washington in the second. That thrust Jim into another final-round battle against Tim. Jim chopped down the Tree and got out front early, but Tim was able to run him down on the big end.
If you're a longtime follower of Real Street, Brian McCormick's ride probably looks familiar as it was formerly raced by Craig "The Blocker" Baldwin. The car was in familiar territory at Bradenton-right in the thick of things. A newcomer to our class, Brian was working to get a handle on the grippy Bradenton Motorsports Park surface as he made laps. His wheelstands stole the show, and as the number-three qualifier, his 9.75/139.59 blast showed he had the stuff to challenge the MV posse. Brian trailered Real Street stalwart Pizza Paul Alfeo in the first round with a few tenths to spare, but he moved up the food chain to clash with the defending champ in round two. Tim got the jump and Brian couldn't run him down, but we have a feeling these two will meet again.
After heeding his sponsor's advice to stay in it when the car wheelstands, Michael Washington ended up cracking up his Real Street ride after it made a sudden left turn into the wall during a test pass. Of course, Team JPC racers are nothing if not resilient. Michael was fine, but the car needed too much work to be repaired in time for the season opener, so they swapped Michael's Vortech-boosted combo into JPC mainman Justin Burcham's old, blue Fox and headed south. With no laps on the car, Michael jumped right into the fray thanks to a 9.85/136 qualifier, which was good enough for the fourth spot. Michael took out new guy Dave Ginter, but Jim Breese put a half second on him in the second round.
Of the 11 Pure Street racers at Bradenton, there were 3 competitors with modular engines underhood. Of those three, two of them, Victor Downs and Brandon Alsept, made it to the semifinal round. Unfortunately for the modular faithful, they were lined up against each other. Victor and the Modular Depot team were struggling with new suspension components and a class-mandated extra 100 pounds. The guys kept working on the car, and Victor took advantage of other people's mistakes to get to the final round. He was solidly in the 10.30s, but other racers had run better so he had his work cut out for him. Speaking of which, Victor had Teddy Weaver for the final, but ol' Grandpa Victor jumped out to a holeshot lead to beat Teddy to the stripe with a 10.36 to a quicker-but-losing 10.34.
Teddy Weaver obviously has the suspension setup down with his Pure Street Mustang. A McKeown Racing Engines 310ci mill is still under the Mystichrome hood, but an Anderson Ford Motorsport PMS is Teddy's new tuning toy, which he added a week before Bradenton. Teddy didn't have any real issues at Bradenton except for trying to calm down the wheelies. That changed early Sunday morning after eating lobster tail for dinner Saturday night. It was good thing he had Jimmy Wilson and Paul Foster to maintain the car because Teddy spent his time between rounds in the trailer saving his strength. That explains the sleepy reaction time in the final against Victor Downs.
Steve Gifford's dad lives near Bradenton, Florida, so he spent some quality time at Bradenton getting his Factory Stock car tuned up for the NMRA opener. Steve has returned in 2008 with a Two-Valve underhood, and he looks to continue wringing everything he can out of this combination. With 120-plus-mph trap speeds, we'd say serious power is being made. Combine that mph with consistent 11.20s, and you have the makings of a winning Factory Stock recipe. Steve says his goal is to win the Factory Stock championship for 2008, and his Bradenton win has him on the right track to do exactly that.
Look for Factory Stock racer John Leslie Jr. to go rounds in 2008 because he's now rolling a Rich Groh Racing Engines powerplant underhood. Hopefully for John's sake that means we won't have to see him reenact his pit scene from Joliet last year when he basically had the whole car torn apart. When qualifying was finished, John was still worlds apart compared to number-one qualifier Tommy Godfrey and number-two qualifier Steve Gifford, but at least he was third. His 11.48 qualifying effort was 0.2 off Steve's qualifying time. On Sunday, John's times were right there with his qualifying time. A semifinal-round bye enabled him to get to the finals, but Steve had him by more than 0.2 at the stripe.
With a stout 0.012 reaction time, Reggie Burnett Jr. qualified in the seventh spot behind a six-pack of lightning-quick mod-motor maniacs. Reggie and Susan McClenaghan seemed to be on a collision course, clicking off wins round after round. The two met in the finals, Susan getting the jump on Reggie at the Tree, but the Roush entry broke out and Reggie took the win.
Matt Schlein really snuck up on the Open Comp field. After qualifying his '89 Mustang in only the 23rd slot thanks to a 0.321 reaction time, Matt kicked off his race with a bang by getting past coal miner Don Bowles, who ran into mechanical troubles. Matt stayed the course and ended up in the final, where he got lucky again when Jimmy Harrell Jr. tripped the red bulb.
C.J. Cigarran didn't have any idea that his weekend at the '08 Nitto Nationals in Bradenton would turn out the way it did. While other racers were unloading their cars/trucks from trailers, he parked his race truck, bolted on a pair of slicks, and proceeded to snipe his way through the Detroit Locker Truck field. "I couldn't get good reaction times all weekend except on my free pass. I'm used to racing at Sunshine (Dragway) and getting killed on the Tree. But that weekend, it seemed like I was beating everyone at the line." In fact, C.J. felt things were going too easy. The truck was dialed-in perfectly, consistently running its 12.69. He had to tap the brakes through the lights on every pass to keep from breaking out and having to reset his dial-in. Being an unknown in the class, C.J. couldn't help but feel like he was sneaking up on all the other racers-he kept seeing the win lights coming on in his lane. After taking the unexpected win at Bradenton, C.J. is planning to race at the Bassani Exhaust Nationals at Reynolds, Georgia. If he wins again, racing the whole season could be in the works.