The NMCA Celebrates 50 Years of Cobra Jets With Action in Ohio!
Text and Photos by Kevin DiOssi
As the 2018 NMCA racing season nears its final chapter, the next page was ready to be written in Norwalk, Ohio at Summit Motorsports Park. The highlight of the race was easily the celebration of the Ford Cobra Jet’s 50th Anniversary—a milestone which brought many historic vehicles to the track. After invitations went out to owners, over 200 Cobra Jets heard the call and showed up in droves to attend the event. This included the 1968½ Cobra Jet winner of the Winternationals, in addition to countless other priceless pieces of rolling history. But this wasn’t an all-Ford event—it was the NMCA All-American Nationals, and there were plenty of awesome machines from big, small, and obscure manufacturers in attendance at the massive race and car show.
Friday morning opened with the sweet and smooth vocal tones of the one-and-only Brian Lohnes in the announcer’s booth. The voice of the NHRA jammed on the mic with Evan Bader, SMP’s normal announcer and self-proclaimed dollar ice cream advocate. For those who don’t know, the Bader family (owners of SMP) have offered a killer deal for years at their concession stand: a pound of ice cream—in the flavor of your choice—for one thin Washington.
The duo provided plenty of comedic relief and, of course, quality information on all the cars and drivers. A quick look over to the staging lanes and they began to paint the picture of how it was shaping up to be an eventful weekend of racing, starting with the Cobra Jet classes.
These were broken down into Modern CJ, Vintage CJ, and a Cobra Jet Exhibition for the guys just looking to make a few historic passes. It’s truly incredible to think that after 50 years, many of these cars are still in race-ready trim and many of them are still regulars at the strip. The Cobra Jet festivities included a banquet dinner and award ceremony at the Sawmill Creek host hotel, located roughly 25 minutes north of the track. On hand at the gala were over 500 hungry gearheads ready to listen to the speakers share stories about the legendary nameplate.
After the Modern and Vintage CJ races were concluded, Mike Pustelny and Steven Hall won their class, respectively. They duked it out on Sunday in the King of CJs where Hall’s ‘68 went down to Pustelny’s ‘14 Mustang, passing the torch to the next generation of Ford performance vehicles in the process.
A favorite of attendees and race fans of the NMCA is the series’ premier class, VP Racing Fuels Pro Mod. In Ohio, the NMCA enjoyed its largest field of Pro Modified cars of the season with 34 teams chomping at the bit to get the data on their cars necessary to make the tight 16-car field. This meant over half of them were going home without a chance to make the dance. Probably the biggest disappointment of the weekend, however, was at the conclusion of the race. The top dogs—Don Walsh, Jr. and Jason Hamstra—made mincemeat of the competition through qualifying and elimination rounds. The two hot rods showed incredible consistency as they traded spots for quickest elapsed time of the weekend several times. Unfortunately, Walsh broke his transmission on his semifinal pass and didn’t have the parts on hand to make the necessary repairs. This conceded victory to Hamstra in a non-climactic fashion of breaking the beams solo—everyone wanted to see these racers go head-to-head in winner-take-all competition.
Perhaps my favorite story of the weekend was that of my friend, Nick Bacalis (shown above), who took home his first-ever victory in NMCA Street Outlaw on a holeshot victory over hotshot driver Daniel Pharris. Tears of joy could be seen rolling down his face as he hooted and hollered at the tech scales so loudly, it could be heard from the media tower. A well-deserved victory—and the first for a nitrous-assisted car in Street Outlaw since 2014. You might remember our Front Street article on the construction of Nick’s one-of-a-kind engine, built by himself and the rest of the team at Bischoff Racing Engines. Since that article was released, Bacalis has updated the engine with a different induction system and leaned on the BES team to receive an education in racing with nitrous oxide. With this win, it’s obvious that the results offer proof of success regarding the team’s Herculean task of building a competitive nitrous car for this class. And the best is yet to come, as they are still learning what the car likes on the track.
While many people will tell you their favorite class is Pro Mod, Xtreme Street, Street Outlaw, or Radial Wars, my favorite has always been Factory Super Car. These cars should be competing on a much larger stage, as my personal feeling is that they should be the foundation for today’s NHRA Pro Stock class, but that’s a story for another day. An enormous field of 27 cars racing in qualifying ties the NMCA’s season-opening race at Bradenton Motorsports Park for car count.
A pleasant surprise was seeing retired NHRA Pro Stock driver, Mark ‘The Cowboy’ Pawuk, at the helm of another Mopar—this time a 2015 Drag Pak Challenger. This was Mark’s first NMCA race and his first appearance in competition with the Challenger. He worked his way through the field and sent all the Cobra Jets home, leaving only Leonard Libersher’s ‘15 COPO Camaro opposite him in the final round. Libersher—perhaps intimidated by the former professional racer—cut a -.001 red-light and handed Pawuk a trip to the winner’s circle by the slimmest of margins. This meant the Aerospace Winner’s Circle was littered with cowboy hats and fake mustaches! A celebratory sight to be seen for sure.
With one race left in the NMCA season, James Lawrence—in his Radial Wars ‘18 Corvette—has walked away from the field in points, most of the class championships are still up for grabs. In Nitrous Pro Street, Jennifer Rice holds the lead, but Matt Salminen and Tricia Musi are both in contention if they can send her home early in Indianapolis. Xtreme Street and NA 10.5 are wide open, and Street Outlaw is still undecided after Shawn Ayers couldn’t go rounds in the Fletcher Cox’s Golddust Mustang.
After a long and occasionally wet weekend in Norwalk, I left with two pounds of extra weight from dollar ice cream, and many memories. This was truly a historic race, in large part thanks to the marriage of the NMCA and Ford Performance organizing such a classy celebration of the Cobra Jet’s winning pedigree. Next month’s final race at historic Lucas Oil Raceway in Indianapolis is going to be exciting!