The NMRA’s Return To Maple Grove Raceway Spoiled By Mother Nature
The NMRA rolled into Maple Grove Raceway – the track where the series held its first-ever race back in June of 1999 – with designs on making a triumphant return to Pennsylvania.
The racers and event staff made valiant efforts to get the event in, but unfortunately Mother Nature had other plans. Despite near-constant wet weather on Friday and an eventual halt to the action at the completion of Saturday’s pushed-up elimination rounds. Maple Grove’s excellent track surface did not disappoint, as it was bolstered by the efforts of Maple Grove’s staff at the direction of the NMRA’s chief starter/track prepper extraordinaire T.J. Bailey – there were a number of record-setting runs crammed into the shortened program.
This was the sight for much of Friday morning, and then again on Sunday, putting a damper – literally – onto the festivities. The weather killed the program on Friday, with only bracket classes and time trials taking place, so the NMRA made the decision to jam two rounds of qualifying into Saturday morning and afternoon, then go right into the elimination rounds in an attempt to beat the lousy forecast for Sunday.
Perhaps the biggest draw of the entire weekend was the much-anticipated return of the Racin’ Jason Betwarda convertible Mustang. This pioneering machine has been restored over the last couple of years by New Yorker and friend of Betwarda, Joe Caldwell. Caldwell discovered the car in a RacingJunk ad a few years ago in the Chicago area and made sure it came home to New York, where he had original chassis builder C&F Race Cars update the car to SFI 25.3 specs in anticipation of running it down the quarter-mile again with original pilot Mike Ragusa behind the wheel.
With the assistance of many people, including Duttweiler Performance, PSI Speed Solutions, and many others, Caldwell was able to return the twin-turbo convertible Mustang to the place where so many Mustang enthusiasts of the 90s saw it set records and win races. For many, this is the car that set the hook, so to speak, and is often considered the most iconic Fox-Body Mustang ever. It was amazing to see it in person, and Caldwell says it will be back in action soon.
Brad Gusler has been hard at work over the last two seasons with his EcoBoost Mustang, trying to stay ahead of the pack and develop unique tuning skills which are relevant to his business, BG Racing. Gusler, who came to Maple Grove with the car simply to enter the Super Stang class and continue to refine his skills behind the wheel, turned in a record-setting 10.39 at 129.53 mph during the first round of class competition. Despite leaving the starting line early and losing the round, he was ecstatic to continue his reign as the quickest EcoBoost Mustang on the planet.
“I just really wish we could have had more passes, but there’s nothing we can do about the rain. That pass was just boost – we didn’t use any methanol injection or nitrous. I’m pretty confident that I’ll go 9s at the Ohio EcoBoost shootout. I couldn’t do it without all my sponsors who assist with our program,” says Gusler.
After the moonshot turned in by Aaron Bates in the Edelbrock Renegade class at the last event, Alton Clements went home and did what any successful racer does – re-evaluated the program of his notchback Mustang. Former class champ and longtime racer Clements came to Maple Grove with the intention of putting the newcomer Bates in his place, and when qualifying was complete, he did just that, clicking off a stout 7.498 at 183.17 mph, nearly a full tenth ahead of Bates’ 7.59 second-place qualifying effort. During the single round of eliminations, Clements simply took the tree and backed out, while Bates fired another shot across the bow of Clements supercharged rocket with a 7.477 blast at an insane 190.89 mph. Renegade has become the new Street Outlaw class, with the racers pushing the capabilities of these super- and turbocharged machines to the limit – and beyond.
The other half of the Clements Racing team, Valerie Clements, has been expanding her racing knowledge over the last couple of years, with an effort on ‘doing it all’ for her program. Unfortunately, doing it all can sometimes come with a price, as Clements found out in her first-round loss to Jim Breese. She says there was an issue with the tuneup, but was very happy to have run a new personal-best pass in qualifying of 7.73, and has plans to improve upon this performance at the next race. With six weeks between events, we’re sure she’ll be testing soon enough.
Curtis Catalon has been an on-again off-again competitor in Renegade, most recently on-again with the help of Craig and Daniel Pachar of Triangle Speed Shop in Texas. The Pachar boys tuned up the ol’ hot rod of Catalon to a new personal-best 7.65 at over 181 mph. Looking over the timeslip after the race, there is still much room for improvement on the short-track, and with the TSS expertise in this style of racing combined with Catalon’s newfound dedication, look for the team to improve even further by the next event.
Three days prior to the event, Florida’s Joe Guertin had an engine on the hoist waiting to be installed into his ProCharger-boosted Coyote Modified machine.
After running well at the Georgia event, but bowing out due to a cracked inlet pipe after a violent wheelstand, Guertin would probably rather forget the three weeks between events.
“We discovered during the Atlanta race that the balancer was loose and wobbly, but not broken. Upon arrival back at home, discovered the balancer and the crank snout to be cracked. The crack carried itself all the way through and into the timing chain gear. Had we won the semi in Atlanta, there’s a good chance the motor would have destroyed itself in the finals, so it seems my round loss was a blessing. As a result of the discovery we had under ten days to remove, repair, and reinstall the engine – along with upgrading it for an ATF gear drive system. It was very stressful. Q1 in Maple Grove was the first pass on all of the new stuff. We turned down the power not knowing what was going to happen,” says Guertin.
At the end of the qualifying sessions, Guertin held the top spot with a 7.803 at 173.36 mph. He then turned in a 7.888 in the first round of competition to eliminate Rebecca Starkey before the action was halted. Since the 7.888 was not quick enough to back up the 7.80 record claim (the backup run must be within 1%), the 7.888 becomes the class record, with the 7.803 used as the backup. Not bad for a car put together and not tested prior to the event.
We haven’t seen Renegade racer Dave Guy at an event in quite some time; his business, DGR Performance has kept him quite busy over the last couple of years, and he’s just now working toward making a potential return to regular NMRA action. His Precision Turbo-boosted machine hasn’t been completely out of commission, though, as Guy has been testing with the car at Mason Dixon recently and has quite the interesting combination underhood.
The engine, Guy’s familiar 324-cube big-bore Modular, wears a set of Ford GT heads and has been treated to a number of tricks. Underneath the sheetmetal inlet manifold rests a 2003 Cobra-style intercooler, which serves a number of functions. Firstly, it requires much less plumbing and weight inside the car, and secondly, it acts as an extremely effective diffuser. Guy says the short runners help the high-winding engine to scream to 10,000 rpm while still providing great exhaust gas temperatures. The off-the-trailer performance of 7.63 and first-round eliminations pass of 7.61 show extreme promise for the Pennsylvania racer. We hear he’ll be attending more events in the future.
Since retaining the services of John Kolivas and KBX Performance to assist with his Street Outlaw program, Ronnie “The ModFather” Diaz has shown serious performance potential form his Modular-engined ’99 Mustang. Four of the top five qualifiers in Street Outlaw fly the KBX banner – Vinny Palazzolo, Diaz, Charles Hull, and Joel Greathouse. During the single elimination round, Diaz recorded a 4.42 in eliminating Phil Hines – and in the process turned in a career-best pass. Diaz is chasing the class championship, but has stout competition from his KBX brethren.
Speaking of the KBX boys, Joel Greathouse shocked everyone in attendance during the first round of eliminations, as he wheeled Jared Johnson’s White Riot machine to a psychotic 4.369 record-setting pass while eliminating teammate Charles Hull, whose own respectable 4.46 would be good enough to win most Street Outlaw matchups.
For comparison’s sake, just a few short years ago 4.30’s were the exclusive realm of Outlaw 10.5 and 315-shod radial tire machines, and now it’s happening on the tiny 275-wide tire. There are no words.
In Florida, this car was piloted by Manny Buginga, who had purchased it from longtime Street Outlaw racer Mike Alwardt. Buginga subsequently purchased another car and sold this one off to New England racer Keith Douglas. Crew chief Eric LaFerriere says the car was on the dyno at DMC Racing in Massachusetts, and Douglas’ goal is to have fun with it, running X275 and NMRA events where possible. A mishap on the track during the final round of qualifying sent him into the left-side wall, and home to face an unexpected body-shop bill.
Bad Bart Tobener has been working nonstop to get this mean machine complete – he had it on display at the recent race in Atlanta but the car wasn’t in race-ready condition. It is now – and he took it down the track in Renegade despite not having a single test pass on the car prior to the event. An easy pass during qualifying told him the car was ready to make a hit, which he did in the first round of competition against Aaron Bates. Although he lost, an 8.37 at only 144 mph says he’s on the right track. This former class champ and longtime racer will be on the pace in no time. And the 2015 Mustang sure is sexy when it has the small-tire drag racing setup – it’s so mellow it could be the street car in the next lane over.
During the first round of Factory Stock competition, Illinois racers Louis Sylvester Jr. (left) and John Leslie Jr. (right) faced off in a battle of longtime friends. During the burnout, Sylvester’s car was acting up, hitting the rev limiter over and over, and Sylvester simply couldn’t get the car to act properly. He elected to pull the car into the beams anyway. On the other side of the tree, Leslie was prepared for battle. The tree dropped, Leslie dropped the clutch, and the driveline decided it had had enough, breaking what appeared to be everything in sight. Meanwhile, Sylvester popped and snorted down the track to a 19-second elapsed time for the win.
Both Drew Lyons and Carlos Sobrino turned in what would have been record-setting passes in Coyote Stock – Lyons with a 10.13 and Sobrino with a 10.15 – only to have them thrown out for failing fuel check requirements. Lyons, to his credit, turned right around and blasted to a 10.15 in the first round of eliminations on a single pass.
Lyons shared with us the complete story of what happened regarding the potential record runs that were disallowed. It seems that the drama is following him around this year, as you may remember from our coverage of the NMRA’s Bradenton event.
“After fighting some minor traction issues the last few passes, we finally got the car to leave the line about as good as it gets get with these cars. Between that, fixing a previously malfunctioning shift light, and excellent weather conditions, it turned the lights on with a 10.132 at 130.43 mph, which is the quickest I’ve ever been in this car,” says Lyons.
“I pulled up to the scales and started the record claiming procedure. Most other competitors had left the area, as they were not checking fuel that round. In order to claim the record though, I had to go through fuel check anyway. After checking multiple samples, the fuel meter read that it was out of spec. Odd thing was, just a couple hours earlier my fuel passed with flying colors. I had not added a drop of fuel to the cell between rounds, so I knew something was up, but I took it on my chin and walked away with a disallowed run. I headed back to my trailer to get my fuel jug and my brand new still-sealed five-gallon pail to bring back and make sure any future runs would be okay.”
“Right after my pass, Carlos Sobrino had just run an also-record-breaking 10.17. He got in line to claim the record in case I could not back up the 10.13. When I got back with my extra fuel to test, I could see that Carlos was also having trouble passing fuel check. Again, they tested multiple times and it came back outside of spec, just like mine did. Carlos mentioned that like me, he hadn’t added fuel after the earlier round that had come back fine.
Because both of our runs technically failed fuel check, they did not allow them to be claimed as record passes. They did, however, allow them as qualifying times. This is where a bit of controversy comes into play, but they were allowed only because the rest of the class was not subject to fuel check this particular round. The fact that the same odd readings came in for both racers may have led to the decision as well.
By the way, we also checked the extra fuel from my pit. The brand new sealed drum was right on the edge of failing before even pouring it into my cell, so I decided not to chance it. We found another racer with an extra pail I could buy. I put this in the car and it passed fuel check the next round when I claimed the record with the 10.15 pass. I just barely missed the backup in the only remaining round that rain-shortened weekend, but I believe I still have the opportunity to back it up during the continuation rounds at the next race,” says Lyons.
With the event called on Sunday due to the weather, the competitors were able to get a head start on the trek home, and will complete the event at National Trail Raceway in Hebron, Ohio, over the weekend of June 9-12, 2016.
“We would like to thank the entire Maple Grove Raceway staff and racers for all of their efforts through the rain and long days,” said Rollie Miller, NMRA General Manager. “It was a great return of the NMRA to Maple Grove and we’re looking forward to 2017.”