From the first moment I met him, it was clear to me that Rodney Ragen is a competitive person. He’s come out of nowhere to find himself at the top of the heap in the ultra-competitive Ultra Street class, and that type of achievement doesn’t happen by accident. But his involvement in Ultra Street wasn’t planned; in fact, it wasn’t even on his radar when this Mustang entered his field of vision back in 2015.
Ragen always had a nasty street car in his arsenal, but the responsibilities of fatherhood took precedence and he stepped up to the plate.
“I got into this because my buddies were all building 8.50 Index cars,” he says. “For the last ten years, I was busy coaching my daughter and traveling to softball tournaments. She has since been accepted to college and is now playing collegiate ball. I needed something to fill the void I had in my schedule and decided to build an 8.50 car as well.”
At the same time, Billy Pedus (left, below) of BP Racing—who sold Ragen his first car 20 years ago—was planning out the build process on this ’89 Mustang chassis for his father, Bill, when Rodney (right, below) stepped in and offered to purchase it to satisfy his thirst for speed.
“I gave Bill carte blanche with the car and told him to build it like it was his own car. As the build progressed, I had him build it in such a way that if we wanted to go faster everything was already in place,” he says.
With Duck X Productions’ Lights Out 7 race approaching quickly at the beginning of 2016, Pedus realized that a few more late nights would get the car completed in time. Although they didn’t finish it, the decision was made to load the car into the trailer and head south from their Long Island, NY home base. Showing up to a race with an untested, unproven car isn’t always a smart course of action, but it worked out—to a point.
“Billy said we probably wouldn’t even qualify, but the race would be an experience. This was my first time ever driving a race car competitively, and I decided to try my luck at the Super Bowl of radial drag racing. There were over 40 cars trying to qualify. We qualified 29th with a 5.34 and went two rounds,” says Ragen.
Above photos courtesy E3xtreme
A solid showing, but remember where he mentioned wanting to go faster? On the ride home, he made the decision to outfit the car for the Ultra Street class instead, which turned into a phone call to Jon Bennett of Bennett Racing Engines/KBX Performance in October of that year. Three weeks later, the car was delivered to KBX partner Pressurized Solutions, where Derek Fannin and Drew Sims spent the winter getting Ragen’s new Bennett Racing 400U engine installed, plumbed, and wired up to KBX’s specs.
The engine uses a Dart Iron Eagle block, Callies billet-steel crankshaft, GRP connecting rods, and custom Bennett-designed pistons. Bennett’s experience with the Trick Flow High Port cylinder head shines through in the performance of this supercharged engine, which has been quite successful under the hood of Ragen’s machine.
Other notable components on the car include the Menscer Motorsports custom-valved double-adjustable front struts and rear shocks, and the combination of TBM (front) and Aerospace Components rear brakes. The car rolls on RC Components’ Exile wheels and Mickey Thompson tires. The RPM-built transmission relies upon a torque converter from Joe Rivera at ProTorque to transfer power through a carbon-fiber driveshaft to the custom-built BP Racing 9-inch rearend housing.
At the very first race with this combination—Lights Out 8 at SGMP—he was able to run through a tough field of Ultra Street racers, setting the class record in the semifinal and going all the way to the final round, where he lost to Tony Alm (also featured here on Front Street). With tuning advice and assistance from KBX’s John Kolivas, the successful outing with the combination was just a hint of things to come.
Photo Courtesy E3xtreme
That first full year in Ultra Street competition (2017) wasn’t without its struggles, though. As a new heads-up racer in a difficult class, Ragen had his issues.
“It was a rocky first year for me behind the wheel. We had a shot at winning every race we went to, sometimes being a tenth faster than the field, only to lose to something dumb, like a redlight or rolling the beams. Even so we managed to pull out two wins, the record and a bunch of runner ups and number-one qualifiers,” he says.
He learned hard lessons during the course of that season, each stumble setting up the next level of success, and in 2018, Ragen hit the track running, with a goal of crushing the competition at every event. In a year’s time, his opponents hadn’t waited for a beating; they stepped up to challenge his dominance. But with more time behind the wheel of the car, he was able to be far more comfortable when the pressure was on at the starting line.
One thing he has learned about heads-up racing is that there’s no such thing as standard parts. Every piece of this build is custom, and since the rules are always changing, he has to keep changing the parts on the car in his attempt to run at the front of the pack.
Capturing a win at one of the Duck X Productions races—Lights Out or No Mercy—could be considered the pinnacle of a racer’s career, as these events could be considered the equivalent of the playoffs for a drag radial racer who has spent a season toiling at local races.
He explains, “I’ve been cutting pretty good consistent lights, and managed to go the whole season without fouling. The car has been really good but the field has caught up. Every race has been very competitive. We managed to win both of Duck’s races; from what I understand it’s never been done in Ultra Street before. “
Additionally, he also captured the Ultra Street win in his first try at one of the Cecil County Outlaw Street Car Shootout events in 2018, coincidentally on his wife Tavia’s birthday and with his whole family in attendance.
The above feat is even more impressive when you consider that in the middle of the season, he switched from the ProCharger F-1A-94 to the company’s F-1A-91 supercharger to take advantage of the weight break, and continued to work on the racing program. Ultimately, he finished off the year with a personal-best pass of 4.68 at 153 mph, which lands him as the fourth-quickest car in the class behind KBX teammate Joel Greathouse, Brian Keep, and Mike Thompson—a solid showing for the sophomore racer.
“I have a great car and the best crew on the planet. With Billy Pedus and John Kolivas, it just doesn’t get much better. It’s been an amazing two years, and I wouldn’t change any of it!” he says.