Ford Racing's Annual Media Event - Motor City Minute - NMRA Milan, Michigan '09
The NMRA Runs Quicker At Milan Dragway
From the December, 2009 issue of 5.0 Mustang & Super Fords
By Michael Johnson
Photography by Michael Johnson, Paul Rosner
It's been a long time coming,...
It's been a long time coming, but John Leslie Jr. finally did it-he got his first Factory Stock win at Milan. After stepping up with a Rich Groh Racing power plant, John steadily ran quicker and quicker. He's inched closer and closer to victory, and at Milan, his efforts came to fruition. John qualified Second with an 11.26, then it was on to eliminations, where Jay Dold rolled through the lights in Round 1 to make that an easy win. John then had a second-round bye. Matt Amrine redlit in Round 3, but John ran it out to get lane choice. In the final round against Jim St. Charles, John had the lead right out of the gate, and he extended it as the two racers went down track. Final tally: John ran an 11.29 at 118 mph to Jim's 11.33 at 119 mph.
As you can imagine, having a Ford event in the shadows of the motor-city means there's lots of potential automotive competition in the area. From cruise nights and open-track events to street action and NASCAR races, the gasoline-fueled distractions are myriad. As such, the NMRA wisely decided to truncate its event. The main reason for the short event was NASCAR had rolled into town on the same weekend, so the NMRA thought it best to give motorsports fans an opportunity to enjoy the NMRA race on Friday and Saturday, and the NASCAR race on Sunday.
It was a fine plan. However, to pull off an event in roughly a day and a half, we knew the Milan, Michigan, NMRA event was going to be tighter than a magazine budget. If a spec of rain would've rolled into town, the event would've been tighter than a Hot Street engine at the top end. Keeping things more interesting was the annual Ford Racing Invitational, a bracket race amongst members of the media. This event within an event not only allowed Editor Turner to showcase his lack of driving skills, but also put yet another run group in the mix of the tightly scheduled event. Almost everything went off like a hitch, and Editor Turner didn't even hit the wall-not that he apparently didn't try.
Along those lines all the media types also got a shot in the heralded Ford Racing Cobra Jet, which added yet more passes to the mix. All tried to hit second in the Ford Racing Cobra Jet, but few were able to execute a smooth pass. The event, despite the short window and extra events, went smooth as glass, which meant we got home a day early for a nice change of pace. Tune into the captions for the rest of the details and check out Editor Turner's sidebar for a full report on his harrowing Invitational experience.
Ford Racing Invitational
Prior to the Milan race, Ben...
Prior to the Milan race, Ben Mens' Hot Street racer had its suspension reworked by Team Z Motorsports, and the headers reconfigured to exit just fore of the front wheels to ease torque converter and transmission maintenance. In Round 1 of eliminations, though, the suspension worked too well as the car did drag racing's version of four-off by getting all four wheels off the ground. Unfortunately, Ben really stuck the landing, damaging several mechanical components in the process.
Over the past two years, the NMRA's stop near the Motor City has become a favorite event of mine for purely selfish reasons. That's because I've been fortunate enough to be invited to Ford Racing's annual media event. This is no standard ride-and-drive press event either-this one is pure insanity. The crew at Ford Racing rounds up as many of it's hot-rodded Mustangs as they can and turns the media loose in a bracket race.
They are certainly braver than we are, especially considering these street-tire rides are packing way more power than their stock brethren. Couple that with a bunch of drive-it-like-they-stole-it media members with various levels of driving ability, and it makes for an unpredictable and entertaining event for all. For me, it's fun to actually get to feel like I'm participating in an NMRA event without all the pressure or any conflicts of interest.
All that said, I usually don't do myself any image favors at the event. I'm an average drag racer at best. While I can occasionally pull a rabbit out of the hat and make one quick run, repeating that feat has never been my specialty. I've said before that this event has given me new reverence for the bracket and open-comp competitors that nail those numbers pass after pass.
Of course, it doesn't help that thus far I've been selected to drive some of the most powerful cars in the bunch. The first year I landed a TVS-blown GT500 pushing 600 hp. Last year I was in an unfamiliar Factory Five coupe with a stout 347. Both presented challenges, but were lots of fun.
If I'm going to lose a bracket race I'd much rather do it in a fast car so I can enjoy all the passes. So I wasn't too disappointed when I scored another TVS-blown GT500, the white-with-blue-stripes Poster Child seen doing burnouts in the FRPP catalog. It featured the blower, tuning, an FRPP handling suspension, and some Toyo tires born for drifting. Inside it had a 'cage and no radio, so it was a bit on the racy side, but still fully streetable.
We're jealous of every Cobra...
We're jealous of every Cobra Jet owner, but Matt Stanford seems like a pretty cool guy. He has a PHD (Papa has a dealership) from Varsity Ford, and he's using his Cobra Jet as intended. And it seems Matt isn't too bad at drag racing, either. He made it to the final in Super 'Stang by running close to his 10.70 dial, along with taking advantage of competitors' misfortunes and mistakes. Matt's luck ran out in the final against Don Justus, and he would have to settle for a runner-up finish.
Since Milan is in Ford's...
Since Milan is in Ford's backyard, Ford Racing had a big presence at the track. The Ford Racing Invitational pitted members of the automotive press against each other in a bracket-style drag class. Driving a mixture of stock and hopped-up Mustangs from Ford Racing's fleet, our own Editor Turner made it out of the first round this year, but fell in the second round to become a spectator the rest of the way. Ford Racing's Brian Wolfe, Jesse Kershaw, and many others were on hand to showcase new products like the Boss 351 block, the new Three-Valve intake, and the '10 Mustang body-in-white program.
Prior to heading over to Milan...
Prior to heading over to Milan for the NMRA race, we visited Paul's High Performance to check in on Editor Steve's Fox 500 project car. We shot some video of Steve's car, did some bench racing, witnessed Shawn Johnson's Pure Street car on the dyno, and had a good lunch. However, the highlight of our visit was being able to take Paul's GT500 out for a spin. This is the car Paul took on 2008's Hot Rod Drag Week. The car had an automatic for that event, but a stick was once again behind the big 5.4. Our last instructions from PHP tech Mike Sears, who was scheduled to race the car in True Street was, "Don't break it!" Well, we didn't break it. As a matter of fact, we treated the car a lot nicer on the street than Mike did at the track as he was the 11-second winner by averaging an 11.018. In a word, the car was simply awesome. Couple a TVS supercharger with 4.56 gears, and what you have is no communication failure between your right foot and whiplash.
Pro Outlaw 10.5
Pro Outlaw 10.5
As genuine fans of Mustang drag racing, we know everything's right with the world if Mike Murillo is back in a race car. And no matter what the stock market is doing, when Mike and Dan Millen are lined-up against each other, life doesn't get any better. We were really looking forward to the Murillo/Millen matchup in Round 1, but after performing his burnout, Dan was unable to get the car into Reverse, and our dreams were dashed. Mike sealed the top qualifying position with a 6.81 at a monstrous 220 mph, so we know he was on his game. After his first-round pass, he had a second-round bye to the final round, where Mike's twin-turbo big-block simply had too much for Jim Monson.
One of our favorite racers...
One of our favorite racers is Super Street Outlaw stalwart Don Burton. However, he's hardly ever in a good mood, so maybe his nickname should be changed from Donnie Burndown to Grumpy Don Burton. At Milan, Grumpy made his third final round in a row, but the tires went up in smoke right out of the gate against John Urist, which surely did nothing for his sunny disposition. We know his goal is to win the 2009 Super Street Outlaw championship, and he started out the year in grand fashion, but he'll have to keep his nitrous-guzzling Gene Fulton big-block engine together and the tires stuck to the track in order to bring that plan to reality.
Super Street Outlaw
Super Street Outlaw
Having a rough go of it according to his standards, John Urist got his first win of the year at Milan. John was up to his usual consistency with several runs into the 7.40s, but the Outlaw class is so balanced that many other racers were also in the 7.40s at Milan. John's ProCharger-huffed coupe is capable of running 7.40s in its sleep, but these days the 10 1/2-inch Tire Freak Show is decided at the tree. As such, John is known for cutting a light, but the tree hasn't always been his friend. At Milan, the tree was nice to John, and he was able to exact a little revenge in the final on Don Burton. John turned the tables on Don by taking the win with a 7.48 at 194 mph.
Jim Monson doesn't make it...
Jim Monson doesn't make it to every NMRA race, but he's local to Milan, so it was a no-brainer to attend. Jim enjoyed the home cooking as he had one of his better race weekends of late. Jim qualified with a 7.29, and wins over Keith Neal and AJ Powell earned him a spot in the final against Mike Murillo. However, Jim's consistent 7.20s-7.30s were unable to outdo Mike this time. Jim's coupe ran well all weekend, posting his best time in Round two with a 7.25 at 194 mph, and he plans to keep fine-tuning his combo for better showings in the future. At Milan, it was his consistency that allowed him to go as far as he did.
Score one for...
Score one for the nitrous guys. Dan Rawls won EFI Renegade at Milan against his supercharged competitors. Dan drives Wizard 1, Brian Mitchell's former EFI Renegade car, but with a judicious amount of the spray. Dan owns Cleveland Performance in Tennessee, and he's been doing the engine work on Brian Mitchell's cars for quite a few years. Likewise, Dan's been racing for a long time as well, and his hard work and intelligence paid off at Milan. His reaction times were consistent and quick, especially in the final against Bart Tobener with a .426 light. Dan didn't look back, either, running an 8.43 to get the win.
We admire Enzo Pecchini's...
We admire Enzo Pecchini's "stick-to-it-tiveness" since his dramatic wreck in 2008. This year he came out with this really nice coupe with help from Tim Lyons. Enzo has been sneaking up on the tune in his car and getting comfortable again, and that comfort is starting to show. Enzo was able to take out Matt Bell and Dave Guy, but Dave wrecked his car in the process, which is never good. In the final round against Jason Lee, Enzo got rather anxious to get the show on the road and redlighted.
Jason Lee has...
Jason Lee has had a great year in Drag Radial. He was the first to run in the 7s, and Milan was his third victory in a row to start the year. It wasn't without troubles though as he encountered an electrical problem during qualifying. Jason was able to fix it and go rounds. In the final round, Enzo Pecchini left last Thursday with a -0.300 redlight to hand Jason the victory.
Knowing the Poster Child would be a handful, I decided to attempt to take it easy on my first pass. So much for best laid plans. After a brisk burnout I staged, taking care not to redlight, and dumped the clutch at about 1,800 rpm. Nothing. The car didn't move an inch. I pushed in the clutch and tried to ease it out. Once it did move, the tires were spinning uncontrollably. I should have aborted the run right there, but I'd never had less traction. I thought for sure the car would eventually grab. It didn't. Instead it was moving toward the wall. Finally I snapped out of the tractionless trance, hit the brake, brought the car under control just inches from the wall, and put it down the track.
I was embarrassed, but I didn't crash. Determined to get back on the horse, I first checked the rear-tire pressure. Not that I could blame it all on the tire pressure, but there was a lot of air in the rear tires for the dragstrip. After adjusting them down to 20 psi, I went out for a second hit. I was rewarded with a 12.05 at 125-not the 11.69 I ran with the other TVS GT500, but still a nice pass. One, of course, that I could never duplicate. I managed some 12.50s and 12.30s during my practice runs, but I was chasing myself.
Once eliminations rolled around, I had one goal-not to redlight in the first round like I had the past two years. After a nice 12.16/126 practice hit, I was feeling good going into my first-round fight with Liz Miles of Popular Hot Rodding. It didn't start well. I spun and she beat me over the head with the Tree. I didn't, however, redlight. Goal achieved! It looked like I had lost the race, however. Once the car found traction, I hammered it hard to try and catch Liz. She thought she had the race in the bag, so she let off on the top end to avoid a breakout, which gave me the opportunity to drive around her for the win with a 12.75/122 to her 14.58/96.71.
Alas things didn't go as planned in the second round. I lit the red bulb again trying to get the jump on a slower but more consistent competitor, Sam Abuelsamid from Autoblog. It was silly, but the adrenaline was pumping. Still I had made 11 passes in a quick GT500, and I didn't have to worry about breaking it like I do with mine. It was a great time, but I think it's time to pass the baton and let one of our hardcore staffers give it a shot next year. It sure will be hard to pass up seat time in another FRPP ride, however. Well, I have time to change my mind before next year's Milan event ... -Steve Turner
Even though Bart Tobener rolls...
Even though Bart Tobener rolls with his employers, the MV Performance crew, he was the lone wrencher on his car for Milan. That fact kept Bart from hanging it all on the line. He just wanted to make sure the car would live to see the final round. Along the way, Bart had some good luck when Alton Clements slept at the Tree, and then Brian Mitchell left too early in Wizard II for a redlight start to enable Bart's final-round appearance. However, Bart's car ran into electrical gremlins in the final round, stopping the car from putting put up a fight for the win.
It's been a while...
It's been a while since Bangin' Bob Hanlon has seen an NMRA victory ceremony. To his credit, it's not like he's been sitting around doing nothing-the man's been busy. He's had his mitts inside the transmission of every other NMRA stick car, and quite frankly, the Hot Street class is probably one of the toughest classes in which to maintain a competitive edge. Bangin' Bob took advantage of Ben Mens' huge wheelie in Round 1; then took a holeshot victory to get past Robbie Blankenship and into the final round against Mad Max Gross. Max is known for instant reaction times, but the Tree would hit back at Max with a redlight start, giving Bob the victory.
We usually find...
We usually find Tim Matherly (far lane) rebuilding or replacing something during a race weekend, but Milan was a little friendlier to him from a breakage standpoint. He was able to concentrate on helping his fellow racers get down the track instead. Tim is usually good at the Tree, and his first-round opponent Kevin Scott knows that. Kevin knew he had to get out on Tim, but he redlit instead. With six cars in Real Street, that meant Tim would go to the final. He would meet his fellow MV Performance running mate in Jim Breese. As usual, Jim got the jump, but Tim was able to make up the difference and more to take the win.
Jim Breese's son Travis is...
Jim Breese's son Travis is a fixture at more and more events. We remember Jim and Travis celebrating their hometown Pittsburg Penguins taking the Stanley Cup over the Detroit Red Wings. If memory serves, Travis had his Penguins jersey on during the event at Milan, which had to please the locals. And Mr. Breese had to be pleased with the weekend since he qualified second with a 9.75 and raced to a spot in the final round against Tim Matherly. However, Jim's performance was off a bit, and Tim was able to overcome the slight holeshot advantage at the Tree.
Mad Max Gross is a Hot Street...
Mad Max Gross is a Hot Street veteran. Recently though, he stepped into the seat of Team Powerhead's LX hatch. The team had its hands full after a fire damaged the car at the Atco race, but Max and the team were able to get the car back to 100 percent for Milan. They secured the second qualifying spot with an 8.74 at 151 mph. Max took a Holeshot win over Don Bowles in Round 1 and a competition bye into the final against Bob Hanlon; then a bad thing for Max-he pushed the Tree a tad too hard, giving the win to Bob.
At Milan, there were six Real...
At Milan, there were six Real Street cars in attendance, three pushrod cars, and three modular cars. Kevin Scott, one of the pushrod cars, qualified fourth with a 9.88 at 135 mph, roughly 0.25 off Tim Matherly's 9.62 qualifying time. Guess what? Kevin had to race Tim in Round 1. Kevin, utilizing a stock short-block, knew he had to be on the Tree to even have a chance, but as happens a lot at Milan, Kevin left too early and redlighted, ending his weekend.
The Milan race is probably...
The Milan race is probably the closest for Wisconsin's Dave Ginter, but that didn't help any during qualifying. He was way off pace, and things weren't looking good for a solid showing. However, Dave got his groove back with a 9.76 hit against Paul Wiley, who was once again back in his neck of the woods for the event. What looked to be a really good race between Dave and Jim Breese in Round 2 ended when Ginter mixed mustard with ketchup by redlighting, allowing Jim to move into the final.