There's just something about understatement in a race car. Remember Dan Millen's graphically unembellished white Fox Outlaw? Disarming because of its basic Frigidaire paint scheme, that denuded little notchback ran like a gazelle on amphetamines. Then there was Lee Howie's plain black '93 turbo hatchback that stole the Wild Street show at WFC5 in May 2002 by going low 8s at more than 170 mph while wearing the innocent "who-me?" appearance of a 13-second commuter.
Whether you think of these cars as strip sleepers, quarter-mile Q-ships, or some other designa-tion that recognizes their sartorial subtlety, they are automotive personifications of the speak-softly-and-carry-a-big-stick philosophy favored by Teddy Roosevelt. Their performance-instead of their paintwork-does the talking.
Well, we think we've found another example-this one out of the Southwest Motorsports stables belonging to New Mexico's Mike Keenan. Sure, its New Edge factory tin is accented by some Saleen-esque bits and a cowl hood, but there's nary a sponsor decal to be found on its subtle silver skin and not a flame or tear-away graphic in sight. Now don't go taking this as a condemnation of fluorescent colors and the talented imaginations of graphic artists. We love those cars too-especially for our cover. It's just that you expect such brightly feathered birds to have speed to match their plumage, whereas the dressed-down sleepers just sort of sneak up and wallop you with their unexpected performance.
As an example, the first time on a track in competition in May 2003, Mike's freshly minted silver bullet immediately became top qualifier and set a record in World Ford Challenge Wild Street with an attention-getting 176.72-mph trap speed. This was a heady velocity for a car licensed and insured for the street, and that had just completed a 30-mile cruise to prove it. Swap out its Bogart-mounted track footwear for some more roadworthy counterparts, and this '99 coupe would look right at home cruising the streets of Albuquerque, Mike's hometown. OK, maybe the drag 'chute might raise a few eyebrows, but the silencing effect of the 91mm turbo from Innovative Turbo Systems assures it would be quiet enough to pass a drive-by noise test-as long as the Kooks mufflers were in place downstream of the headers Mike bent up himself.
And it all came from such humble beginnings. Mike found the basis for the project-in bone-stock, six-cylinder form-for sale on the Internet, flew to Kansas, and drove it back to New Mexico in July 2002, having recently sold his previous Fox-bodied street and strip racer. He makes his living as a used-car dealer, so these sorts of vehicular comings and goings are undoubtedly routine. Awhile later, he trailered the '99 to Arlington, Texas, to have Wolfe Race Craft fit a cage and work some suspension magic. Race Craft installed its rear control arms, bushings, and adjustable antiroll bar, as well as the FAB 9 rear axle. Back home, after Mike finished the rest of the car mostly by himself, David Wolfe came by, scaled it, and completely set up the suspension. This chassis care and nurturing have resulted in 60-foot times as quick as 1.27 seconds from a car that weighs a hefty 3,540 pounds without driver, and that still uses its stock six-cylinder rear springs and shocks.