A lifelong fascination with drag racing has parlayed itself into a second career of sorts for one Mark Woodruff, of Arnold, Missouri. Woody, as he’s known to friends, foes, and fans alike, cut his teeth racing a nitrous-injected Chevrolet Nova in the Midwest before branching out to other venues to become the nationally-known racer he is today.
Back in the 2000s, Woody found himself starting to travel in search of tougher competition, ultimately touring quite a bit with the Outlaw Racing Street Car Association (ORSCA), which covered the eighth-mile dragstrips all over the Southeast corner of the United States.
“We would always try to go to Huntsville, and Brainerd Optimist, and went into Reynolds a couple of times – that’s when we really just started traveling,” Woodruff explains.
“Jackson Dragway in Tennessee used to have three big Limited Street races a year. They would race Memorial Day, Labor Day, and July 4th. They’d do a $5,000-to-win race, and there were racers like Jeff Cooner, Darren Hoyle, Bruce Johnson, the Poindexter Brothers, the people that started and ran the ORSCA deal – it all kind of started in Jackson.”
Popular opinion says that ORSCA’s Outlaw 10.5 racing action gave rise to the Radial Vs. The World (RvW) class, where he competes today with this amazing ZR1 Corvette. But Woody’s story goes deeper than just this car.
“When I started racing, my initial car was my street car – a 1969 Nova – that I had driven back and forth to work after high school. I ran it for years, ultimately with a 706 cubic inch Charlie Buck engine on nitrous. That car finally ran 4.70s in the eighth-mile and was a player in Limited Street for a long time,” says Woodruff.
“Back then, if you went 5.00 in the eighth-mile, you were unbelievably fast. The Outlaw 10.5 cars were running 4.90s back then. My drug habit for racing got progressively worse, and we tried going faster and faster, and improving equipment, and it’s all just evolved from that.”
Stepping Up His Game
A number of years back, the opportunity presented itself to purchase the gorgeous 1967 Corvette stunner that Woodruff has raced in various classes over the years, and he jumped at it. He had always wanted one, and was never in a position to make the purchase until that point. His business – Midwest Collision Equipment – had taken off, which freed up a fair bit of disposable income to step up the racing program.
Prior to purchasing the ’67, Woodruff had raced against it for years while behind the wheel of his Nova. The ’67 was midnight black and had the nickname of “The Rolling ATM”, as it had won dozens of races in the Midwest. When Woodruff purchased it, the car had been racing locally in Outlaw 10.5. He raced it a couple of times, then had an issue on-track at Eddyville, Iowa, where the throttle hung open and nearly caused him to wreck the car; he subsequently realized that the car needed to be redone in order to compete at the level of competition he wanted to pursue. Once he got it home, the entire car got ripped apart, the chassis was redone, and the exterior returned as close to factory specs as possible.
The ’67, once repaired to his liking, served him well for years and years, and was eventually fitted with a twin-turbo powerplant; Woody found himself moving into the fledgling Radial Vs. The World class, where the 315-wide Mickey Thompson ET Street Radial tire became the weapon of choice.
And then came the fateful night that changed his racing career, with a race against noted grudge racer Tony Bynes just prior to the Lights Out 5 race held at South Georgia Motorsports Park.
“We switched the car over to alcohol fuel, and two injectors per cylinder, then went a week early to get the car set up,” says Woodruff.
“We were just going to run the car on the wastegate spring, and we were trying to get some tuneups on it for the fuel map – we weren’t even trying to go fast. I entered the grudge event because it was free and $5,000 to win. I knew that we had the chassis and the power, as we had already been 4.25 with it at that point.”
As the old saying goes, he was in the wrong place at the wrong time in the third round of the event. Bynes, driving the well-known “Hammer” Camaro, got loose in the right lane, ultimately crossing in front of Woodruff, catching the right front of the immaculate Corvette, and sending Woody and the ‘67 into the wall as Bynes himself ended up on the lid.
Thankfully, both Bynes and Woodruff were OK with nothing more than bumps and bruises, but the demolished racecars told a different story. Sadly, Woodruff didn’t have any insurance on the racecar; one can only guess at the impact wrecking such a beautiful car had on his wallet. He says he won’t go down the track anymore without on-track insurance, which he gets from fellow racer Bill Lutz of Central Ohio Insurance Services. It protects both him and his opponent for a fraction of the replacement cost of his racing program.
So with a smashed-up car and no prospects for replacement, Woodruff decided to stick out the weekend and hang out. While sitting in the restaurant at the end of the day – licking his wounds and drinking margaritas with Jamie Miller, DeWayne Mills, and some other racer friends – a phone call came in from none other than legendary tuner Steve Petty, who had heard about the accident. Coincidentally, Petty had recently encountered issues selling the 2010 ZR1 Corvette you see here, which had in its own right become famous at the hands of Petty and renowned hotshoe Tim Lynch in the heyday of the Outlaw 10.5 class, setting records and striking fear in the hearts and minds of anyone in the other lane.
“Long story short, the ’67 got totaled, Petty had a guy back out on his car, and between the time I threw mine in the trailer, left the track, had dinner, and finished my last margarita, I owned a 2010 ZR1 Corvette,” says Woody.
Although the ‘67’s shell was no longer useful as a racecar, many of the components aboard could be salvaged, including the engine and many other ancillary components. The engine itself has an interesting history, having come from the Troy Coughlin/Jegs NHRA Pro Mod program a few years ago.
The 522 cubic-inch powerplant is based around a CN billet 5.0-inch bore-space engine block, filled with a Sonny Bryant 3.920-inch stroke crankshaft, a set of GRP connecting rods, and Wiseco pistons. On top, a set of Sonny’s Semi-Hemi big-block Chevy cylinder heads combine with a Visner Engine Development billet intake manifold, a COMP Cams camshaft, and a pair of Precision Turbo 102mm huffers to make an estimated 3,500-plus horsepower. A HyperKontrol boost management system from Hyperaktive Performance Solutions helps to manage the boost.
One intriguing concept to consider is that this engine is not a cubic inch monster like the previous engine in the car, which displaced 670 cubic inches, and Woodruff says there’s a good reason for that.
“The 670 was a big torque-monster engine; in the Outlaw 10.5 world back when Petty and Lynch dreamed this car up, the cars ran on gasoline, and the torque converter technology really wasn’t there at that point in time – to make one fast you had to run a really tight torque converter. And the only way to overcome that was to put a big engine behind it,” says Woodruff.
“The downfall to the big cubic-inch deal is that you don’t rev it very high. In today’s Radial Vs. The World class, with the converter technology is where it’s at today, this 522 cubic-inch engine will run to 10,000 rpm where the 670 was done at 7,600 rpm. This Hemi is more of a race engine than the 670 Wedge-head engine was – that’s the bottom line.”
By making the engine package more usable, Woodruff opens up the number of adjustments he can perform to the car. Transmission ratio adjustments, rearend ratio changes and shift point changes have more of an effect in the power-management game that is RvW competition, especially when it comes to the ability to get the car down any track and still run the numbers to be competitive against some of the toughest racers in the world.
There’s an interesting aside to the racing program put together by Woodruff. Several years ago, he ended up working together with fellow Missouri residents Mark Micke and Jason Carter doing some development work on the ATI Racing Turbo 400 transmission platform.
A quick friendship and mutual respect developed between the three longtime racers, and they’ve subsequently paired up to run under the M&M Transmissions banner. M&M Transmissions is owned by Micke and has a huge portion of the customers at this level of racing; Micke himself drives Carter’s blue Malibu in the Radial Vs. The World class – a car that has its own significant history as one of the longtime, well-known players in the small-tire wars of the 21st century.
By working with Micke and Carter, along with long-time engine builder Kris Nelson of Nelson Competition Engines in Florida, the team is able to gather twice the data to help make both racing programs successful. Woody’s ZR1, along with Carter’s Malibu, shares as many components as humanly possible, with the exception of the engine. This way, something the team learns with the Malibu is easily transferred to the Corvette and vice versa.
Woodruff’s car relies on one of M&M’s two-speed Turbo 400 Pro Radial lockup transmissions and torque converters, which has been proven in numerous cars over the last several years.
One relatively recent change they’ve made to the car is to install one of FuelTech’s FT500 engine management systems; with support from the team at Pro Line Racing and FuelTech USA to get the tune lined out, Woodruff raves about its simplicity and scalability.
“The beauty of the system is that you can buy every component for it a la carte. It’s a modular system that gives you the ability to use it in a multitude of applications,” says Woodruff.
The chassis was originally built for Lynch and Petty by Skinny Kid Race Cars out of Michigan, and today any necessary chassis work is performed by Rob Matheis at Matheis Race Cars in Missouri.
The fuel system consists of a 33 gallon-per-hour Little Bertha fuel pump from Waterman Racing Components and sixteen 700 pound-per-hour Billet Atomizer fuel injectors, as the car requires an astronomical fuel volume when running 3.90s on alcohol.
Surprisingly, although the car features a four-link rear suspension originally designed by Skinny Kid around a Toms billet 10-inch differential and 3.89:1 gears inside a Skinny Kid fabricated hours housing, it uses a stock-style front suspension with upper and lower A-arms.
Menscer Motorsports shocks are at all four corners; the expertise of Mark Menscer has been instrumental when it comes to learning how to manage the power in the car. Mickey Thompson tires and wheels are at all four corners, with beadlocks on the front and back sides of the rear wheels to hold the 315/60/15 ET Street Radial Pro tires in place when the power comes on, which it quickly does. Woodruff tells us that every RvW competitor has all of the power in by the 300-foot mark on the racetrack; it’s getting to that mark without smoking the tires or seeing monster tire shake that’s the difficult part of this style of racing.
So far, the ZR1 has been down the track to the tune of 3.92 in the eighth-mile at 200 mph. And without the help of his sponsors, wife Denine, and crewmembers Brent Sansoucie and Chris Gherardini, Woodruff wouldn’t be able to compete at this level.
The car is brutally simple, yet amazingly complex, just like the task of managing the monstrous power it makes while racing on the radial tire. It’s a challenge that Mark Woodruff will never shy away from – he’s in it for the long haul.