It’s been one heck of a season for many of the NMRA‘s competitors, as the all-Ford drag racing series’ 18th season drew to a close this past weekend at Beech Bend Raceway. The fabled dragstrip’s vaunted surface has seen many of the best battles between the NMRA’s racers over the years as the series championships are decided here; this event was no different, as a number of the heads-up racing classes rolled into the track with the titles still up for grabs.
High drama was the order of business for many of the classes with the points scenarios muddled and convoluted entering the race. Nowhere was this more apparent than in the NMRA’s top-dog class, Street Outlaw, as no less than five racers had a shot at the title entering this event. In Renegade, it was the rookie, Aaron Bates, taking on the seasoned veteran Alton Clements, Jr., while in Coyote Modified there was a blower versus turbo battle entering the season’s final stanza. Other class championships were also up for grabs, each with their own unique situations.
Entering the event, Street Outlaw racer Ronnie Diaz was one of the five racers battling for the class championship, sitting in the second spot. He enlisted Mike Curcio of MCRP to refresh his engine in the days leading up to the race, and here Diaz consults with tuner Craig Pachar of Triangle Speed Shop as he loads a new file into the laptop. With crew chief Richard Robinson leading the charge, ‘The Modfather’ made it into the second round before falling to Charlie Cooper, who derailed his championship hopes with a nasty 4.47 blast.
Entering the race, Pennsylvania’s Vinny Palazzolo was on top of the Street Outlaw points chase and in the driver’s seat for the championship, and then the team unloaded the car to discover an engine problem in the form of a damaged camshaft and lifter. Never one to quit when faced with hardship, Palazzolo sent his wife, Bridget, to Bennett Racing Engines to pick up a new camshaft and lifters. In case you didn’t realize, Bennett Racing Engines is in Haleyville, Alabama – 241 miles away. In the meantime, the R&S Automotive Specialists team set about removing the engine, taking the damaged camshaft out, and working to install the new parts and get the engine back up and running by 4AM Saturday morning. Here they warm it up and check for any other issues.
Coyote Stock racer Nate Stymiest had a heck of a weekend – after making a career-best pass during test and tune on Thursday, he made one more shot during the session, and at the end of the track the engine was hammering away. Remember that Coyote Stock is a sealed-engine class, but the oil pan is not sealed. Stymiest pulled the engine with the help of a number of other racers, including engine builder Tim Eichhorn, replaced the bad bearing, and put it back into the car. When I chatted with him in the staging lanes, I asked whether the crankshaft was damaged at all, and all he said was “it took a lot of polishing” and he was hoping for the best. Despite running a strong 10.36 in the first round, he fell to Drew Lyons’ 10.22 and packed up to go home.
“It was a career best of a 10.217. I went a .25 off the trailer, then made a few adjustments while talking to Charlie Booze, then I went a .21… All while 35 pounds overweight. I knew I was heavy just didn’t think that heavy,” says Stymiest.
I stumbled upon two of the NMRA’s OG racers engaged in deep conversation in the pits – on the left is many-time Renegade champion Brian Mitchell, and on the right is longtime racer and tuner Mike Dezotell, who currently manages the laptop for Renegade racer Aaron Bates. Top secret tuning info, or a discussion about where to eat dinner? I’ll never tell.
Although he was just using the NMRA event for a test session, it was fantastic to see yet another OG Mustang racer, Wild Bill Devine, as he worked to sort out his car in preparation for an upcoming event. When I talked to him, he was battling a computer that wouldn’t start up, which prohibited him from datalogging the clutch. The resulting dilemma had him deep in thought. He gave it a valiant effort anyway to put on a show for the fans, with low 4-second eighth-mile times the result.
This car now has the most NMRA True Street victories of any to ever run in the class, populated this weekend by 139 cars in total. The GT is owned by Illinois residents Belinda and Cliff Moore and has amassed sixteen victories in the 15-second category, with the most recent coming at this event.
But the husband-and-wife team didn’t stop there. Cliff jumped behind the wheel on Sunday in the Bracket 3 category and proceeded to outlast 48 other competitors to take home the title in that class.
“I started racing in 2005 and only do three races a season. Cliff won his first ever Bracket 3 race. We were wondering if we’d ever win in the same weekend,” says Belinda. It looks like they fulfilled that dream. Talk about consistency!
This guy had such a great smile I had to stop his companion so I could ask for a photo.
I remember when Valerie Clements (right) first showed up in the NMRA as a teenager, and wondering whether she’d ever be able to handle the insanity of driving a Renegade class car as she had just stepped up from a junior dragster at that time. She’s proven me wrong, as she was able to continue her season-long string of personal best-passes at every event this season. More so, it’s been fun to watch her grow as a person over the last several years. A smart young girl who started out with the NMRA by trying to hang with the big boys has turned into a brilliant young woman with an industrial engineering degree who just so happens to be one hell of a driver behind the wheel of a seriously-fast Mustang. Oh, and with the help of family friend and longtime heads-up racer Ed Rice, she’s working on learning how to tune the car herself, too.
Chris “BoostedGT” Hamilton from the hit Discovery TV Show Street Outlaws was on hand again this weekend signing autographs for his fans while racing his Mustang in the NMRA’s Grudge Night event, which took place Saturday evening. There’s always a solid line of people waiting to shake his hand and snap a quick picture, and he’s always willing to oblige.
There was no shortage of fans in the stands all day on Saturday; so many, in fact, that cell phone service was basically missing in action. From start to finish, the faithful NMRA fans hung out to watch some of the fastest Fords on the planet.
Although he showed up to Bowling Green with intentions of sitting in the stands, Joel Greathouse jumped into the seat of Charles Hull’s super-quick red notchback when Hull asked him to take over driving duties for the weekend. The switch paid off, as Justin McChesney of KBX Performance tuned the red rocket to a record-setting 4.349 at nearly 171 mph during the qualifying sessions. Greathouse rode the rocket all the way to the final round in Street Outlaw before bowing out – moving from sixth to second in the year-end points in the process.
While walking around the monster car show area, I happened to stumble into this gem – an old-school Paxton Novi 3000 supercharger, under the hood of George Detty’s Ohio-based Fox Mustang. For those Fox nerds like myself, to see one of these up close and personal was a real treat, and George was even kind enough to start the car for me so I could hear the supercharger grinding away.
At one time, the Novi 3000 was the biggest, baddest dog on the block when it came to centrifugal superchargers. Less than 30 of these were ever made, with a 100% failure rate – with the exception of this one. George bought it from Jeremy Martorella a couple years back, and pumping out a lazy 15 psi, it helps 347-cube, TFS-headed small block spin the chassis dyno to 1,035 wheel horsepower. The rest of the car also featured a bunch of old-school technology, including the Anderson Ford PMS engine management system.
Even though the NMRA centers around late-model Mustangs, there were tons of sweet older Ford iron in the car show area. Two vehicles which specifically caught my eye were this pushrod 5.0-swapped F-Series pickup, and the immaculate ’65 Comet Caliente parked alongside.
139 True Street cars for the NMRA in Bowling Green this year. I wish I could have road-tripped my Mustang to race at this track. Maybe next year!
The Pure Street guys always put on a great show with their high-winding small-block machines. This year Teddy Weaver (top) came out of the event with the class championship.
Despite entering the race in the fifth points position in Street Outlaw – a longshot by any stretch – 2015 class champion Phil Hines was not to be outdone. He put together a consistent day on Sunday, running 4.46/4.66/4.44 and 4.48 to take out stout competition. John Urist, Justin Burcham, Manny Buginga, and Charlie Cooper all fell at the hands of Hines as he forced his way to the final round against Joel Greathouse.
The highly-anticipated race was over before it started, as Greathouse rolled the beams after a transbrake failure and gave away the championship to Hines; just five points put Hines at the top of the leaderboard to reclaim his title over Greathouse in an awesome race of two of the sport’s longest-tenured superstars.
Speaking of John Urist, the Turn 14 Distribution-sponsored driver had his work cut out for him entering this event. Just prior to the last event in Illinois, Urist and the Hellion Power Systems team completed the build of this state-of-the-art 25.3-spec 2016 Mustang chassis built by Noodles at Behind Bars Race Cars. At that event, the team never made a pass as they were still ironing out the new-car bugs. By the time they got to Bowling Green, the multi-time champion was anxious to make a pass and show off the team’s hard work. During the qualifying sessions, they were creeping up on the tune with a promising 4.95 at only 141 mph, but in the first round of competition he fell to Hines on a shutdown pass.
The NMRA’s Coyote Stock class has really brought together the best of the best when it comes to budget-minded racing (although I’m sure they’d laugh at the budget term). Realistically, one of these cars can be built for a very reasonable price and raced for years.
The racers in this class always put on a show for the fans. This year, Brandon Alsept put on a killer show to the detriment of the third gear in his transmission.
The Coyote Stock class is attracting even old-school NMRA racers. Astute fans will remember Clair Stewart II, who spent years racing in the old EFI Renegade class before bowing out to raise a family. He’s back with this super-clean silver notchback to take his shot at the class. It’s only a matter of time until he gets into the winner’s circle, as he’s working with Drew Lyons team to get up to speed quickly.
Now this is how you create future racers – and nobody may be more cognizant of that fact than Susan Roush-McClenaghan. The daughter of the Roush Performance namesake met this young lady on Sunday morning and immediately offered her a chance to sit in the driver’s seat of her championship-winning Mustang. The look on her face says it all.
Bill Putnam, driving the UPR Products EcoBoost Mustang, reset the EcoBoost Mustang elapsed time record – set earlier this year by Brad Gusler – down to a 10.24 to qualify at the top of the field in the EcoBoost Shootout. On elimination day, however, Gusler got the last laugh, running the table and taking home the winner’s trophy and cash. It’s amazing to see what these racers are doing with the diminutive 2.3-liter engine platform.
Famed Mustang racer Mike Murillo was also on the premises this weekend making grudge-style no-time hits in his SCT-backed twin-turbo Mustang. During the heads-up portion of the event, he made a few hits for the fans. On this particular hit, massive tire shake was an issue as he tried to find what the track liked; I have to wonder how badly everything in the car rattles when this happens. One racer I’m friendly with wears a mouthguard just to protect his teeth.
It wasn’t necessarily a fun weekend for the NMRA’s Factory Stock racers, as each and every one of them had their engines checked for displacement by the NMRA’s technical department. Here Derek Craft assists Sondra Leslie in disassembling her engine, with engine builder Tim Eichhorn also in on the project.
Brad Medlock. 235mm-wide radial tire. 1.18 60-foot time, and a record-setting 4.623 eighth-mile pass at over 160 mph. Look how skinny it is underneath the car. Need I say more?
This is the smile of a man who has achieved his goal. With the help of crew chief Chet Caminita, Joe Guertin set out to take home the Coyote Modified championship this year with his supercharged notchback. Guertin was in a tight battle with fellow racer Jeff Polivka entering the event, and the racers qualified second and third respectively.
During eliminations, Polivka’s turbocharged Boss 302 Mustang went down to eventual winner Haley James in the quarterfinals, while Guertin moved into the final round before losing to James. In the process, Guertin took the class championship back to Florida.
Although Aaron Bates raced in a few events in the Renegade class last season to get his feet wet, this is his first full year racing in a heads-up class of any type. So what did he do with the opportunity? Win four out of six races and qualify in the top three at every single event. He also set the record at the Atlanta Dragway stop on the tour. Of course, Bates has the luxury of running as part of the renowned Dez Racing team out of Massachusetts, but when the light flashes, the driver still has to do his job. Bates has done exactly that. When it comes to the NMRA’s Rookie of the Year conversation, Aaron Bates must deserve serious consideration.
I’ve been covering the NMRA in some capacity since 2002, and in my opinion, the series has undergone a serious rebirth in 2016. The racing action has been some of the best I’ve ever witnessed, and it’s been a great 2016 NMRA season across the board. I’m already counting down the days until the Spring Break Shootout!