Before getting into drag bikes, Al Papitto was an SCCA Rookie of the Year in 1978, a Regional Champion in 1979, and he finished Second in points in the South Atlantic Championship series that same year. To get started, Al attended two race schools behind the wheel of an MG Midget. When he entered the SCCA competitive ranks, it was at the helm of a B/Sedan Toyota Corolla, which is the equivalent of a current GT3 car.
If you've followed the Pro Stock bike ranks in the last couple years, then you know the big names-Dave Schultz, Steve Johnson, John Myers, Angelle Savoie, Matt Hines, and Antron Brown, to list just a few. One racer you may not have heard of-but not for his lack of trying-is Al Papitto of Vero Beach, Florida. Al raced side by side with the top names in Pro Stock bike, but without the financial backing enjoyed by those listed above, he wasn't able to regain the success that rewarded him with back-to-back International Drag Bike Association championships in 1996 and 1997.
Frustrated with mounting rules and sanctions (we thought that only happened in Mustang drag racing), Al lost the desire to race competitively by March of last year. Prior to hanging up his leathers, he ran a best of 7.26 at 188 mph in the quarter. He just didn't believe Pro Stock bike was the right direction to go in anymore.
These days, Al's '97 Cobra is always pointed in the right direction, and it doesn't take long to get where he's going with a Navigator Four-Valve 5.4 under the hood.
If any Cobra qualifies as...
If any Cobra qualifies as a sleeper, it's Al's, with the lone variations being a Cobra R hood and American Racing Le Mans wheels. Even with the car's sleeper status, Al will make known its real power on the unsuspecting at a moment's notice.
"The whole thing started when my wife found this car sitting on a used-car lot, abandoned like a rabid dog," Al says. "One hour later I drove it home and began to clean it up." One of his friends had been racing a nitrous'd Cobra and wanted Al to build an engine for the car. "I was drawn to the Cobra because of the technology," Al says. "The Four-Valve, in many ways, resembles a motorcycle engine. If the cars still had 302s in them, I probably wouldn't be into Mustangs."
After retiring from racing bikes and becoming bored with the Cobra, Al decided it was time to spice up things. After constant prodding from his wife, he started working with Paul Stefansky on his 5.4 Navigator engine. Seeing what was available for the modular motors, Al knew just what to do. Once he had his own 5.4, he decided the widely held belief that there were no modular parts out there was untrue.
Al began cooking up a combination. He started by having the block bored 0.020 over and filling it with the stock forged crank, Manley billet rods, and custom JE pistons. American Cylinder Head handled the machine work, while Al sourced Pro Power for the rods and pistons.
With the bottom end transformed, Al set his sights on the Four-Valve heads-the most modified part of the engine. His motorcycle background made the modifications come easy. "The Four-Valve's tumble-port design looks a lot like a Suzuki Hayabusa head," he says. Cope Racing Engines' (which built and prepared the engines for the late Dave Schultz's three-time championship Suzuki and Al's two-time championship Suzuki) Buddy Ordway spent many hours on the valve seats and ports, while Al was busy making the valves from Ferrea blanks initially designed for Kawasaki engines. Kawasaki Z1 valvesprings and titanium retainers, along with Crane Cams' reground cams, complete the valvetrain.