Text and photography by Kevin DiOssi
The NMCA saw some really promising growth with racers and fans in 2018. The attention-grabbing Pro Mod and Factory Super Car classes enjoyed thick fields at every event, and the points race concluded with a final showdown at Indy to crown the series champions. That’s the kind of fun racing the NMCA wishes to promote for all of its classes. It’s also the type of excitement fans and racers alike enjoy talking about. It’s called buzz, and as the NMCA kicked off its 2019 season at Bradenton Motorsports Park, there is a lot of it going around about the series. The season-opening Muscle Car Mayhem event reinforced the notion that the NMCA has killer racing action to offer its racers and fans.
The star of the show is always VP Racing Fuels Pro Mod. They’re loud, look totally badass, and run like hell. Over 20 of these assorted power-adder tube chassis cars were in Florida. Once qualifying began, only 19 of them were able to earn a spot on the ladder due to several cars with mechanical issues having trouble shaking off the winter blues.
Fan favorite Craig Sullivan welcomes a new crew chief this year, as former NMCA Street Outlaw driver Nick Bacalis hung up his racing helmet to assist the team as they dial in their Superbird Pro Mod. His presence is already making an impact, too. The team had a respectable showing last month at the Duck X Productions Lights Out race, which saw the Barn Burner sporting drag radials for the first time. After that event concluded, Nick put in countless hours to whip the car into shape for this race in Bradenton, which required a completely different setup from the Radial Vs. The World configuration. The team was rewarded with a new personal best of 3.79 and qualified fifth in the 16-car field. They advanced to the second round, but a loose starter cable—which didn’t show itself until the car rolled into the burnout box— prevented them from starting the roots-blown 526-cubic-inch mill and ended their shot to win the race. The crew collected some valuable chassis and engine data for the next race and will put that to good use at the All-Star Nationals in Georgia next month.
Above is my favorite photo of the weekend and the most powerful image I captured. On the pass Joe Baker made right after this shot, he was involved in a massive wreck when his car got out of shape and hit both walls, and everyone honestly feared the worst…it was absolutely terrible. So happy to hear he is just bruised up badly. Safety has come so damn far!
Final eliminations for the class offered a battle of old versus new, as the nitrous-enhanced Corvettes of Tom Blincoe and Jim Widener rose to the top of the field. Widener—sporting a brand-new engine from Tony Bischoff and the team at BES Racing—got a bit too aggressive with the tuneup and spun the tires at the hit, giving Blincoe an opportunity to cruise across the finish line in his ‘63 Corvette with a 3.75 eighth-mile blast for an impressive win over some tough competition. Pro Mod racing is alive and well in the NMCA!
The Factory Super Cars were looking to steal a little thunder from the high-octane rumble of the Pro Mods, and arguably put on a clinic in excitement over the weekend. Last year, as the vehicles were beginning to mature into consistent low-8-second cars in the quarter-mile, it was only a matter of time before someone dipped into the 7s. The Holley EFI 7-Second Club was established to reward the first five drivers to light up the towers with the number seven, and Geoff Turk was the first driver to do so in NMCA competition in his Blackbird Drag Pak Challenger. This year, however, there were some rules changes permitted for the Cobra Jets and COPO Camaros that would allow them to become more competitive against the Mopars. Each car saw a bump in power during the offseason and both Ford and Chevy came to play with new-generation body styling. Test passes from Thursday evening and early Friday had some of the quickest runs the class has ever seen. This indicated that qualifying was going to be quite the spectacle of potential 7-second cars.
As the sun was about to call it quits on Friday, the first round of qualifying was set to commence. Run order was established by the driver’s point standings in the previous season. All eyes were on the Cobra Jets and COPO Camaros as they were the first set of four lined up to make their hit. Turk was last year’s champion, but was not behind the wheel of the infamous Blackbird Challenger as he is building a new Mustang which has not been completed yet. Instead, he was piloting Paul Roderick’s older Watson Racing CJ against Chuck Watson Sr.’s blue car, now equipped with the updated powertrain and new nose of the ‘19.
Turk didn’t click off a great pass, but Watson blasted down the track with a 7.88 at 175 mph lighting up the board as he crossed the stripe. This pairing was followed immediately after by the father/son duo of Scott and Leonard Libersher. Lenny beat his dad down the track with a 7.93 at 172 mph while Scott came in with a respectable 7.97, and Carl Tasca joined the fray with a 7.82 at 176 mph to complete the 7-Second Club.
Ultimately, the air was just right and the new power combinations were singing as 13 of the 23 Factory Super Cars that attempted to qualify lit the Bradenton boards with a 7-second run, an incredible performance from a group of impressive race cars. Holley was undoubtedly happy they capped the club off at the first five, as they dished out $1,000 in Holley product certificates with the possibility of an additional $5,000 if the cars were running Holley parts.
The excitement of qualifying wasn’t over after all the seats in the 7-Second Club were taken, though. Drew Skillman debuted the Skillman Racing 2019 Cobra Jet marked #002, the only real ‘19 CJ on hand. Absolutely nobody expected what would happen after Skillman sailed his Mustang down the right lane. The towers lit up to enormous applause and joyous shouting as Drew destroyed all previous class records with a 7.70 at 176 mph!
The Skillman team wasn’t done just yet, as Bill—in the team’s black ‘14 Cobra Jet—duked it out in the final against Mark Pawuk in his Sox & Martin-inspired Challenger. The Mopars were bitten once again and Mark’s 8.01 lost to Skillman’s 7.82 blast. As exciting as the weekend was, it wouldn’t be much of a surprise if the NMCA added a few pounds onto the Fords at the next race to try to equalize the racing action.
By the end of the event, there were some familiar and some new faces in the Winner’s Circle at Muscle Car Mayhem. James Lawrence, last year’s Radial Wars champion, was rockin’ a new-to-him ‘95 Cobra Mustang in Mickey Thompson Street Outlaw and took home the win with a string of consistent 4.44 passes in eliminations. Tricia Musi, a favorite that almost won ARP Nitrous Pro Street last season, had a consistent weekend in the green “Popeye” Firebird that landed her the win over Mark Hoaglund. Leonard Long scored low ET of the meet in NA 10.5, then faced John Langer in the final round and handed Langer’s Pontiac the loss by eight hundredths of a second. Finally, Xtreme Street saw a fresh face with Troy Pirez Jr.’s return to racing after some time away from the track. The ending was sweet as he earned the win in his beautiful ’98 Mustang—over his dad, legendary racer Troy Pirez Sr.—despite giving Pop a nice advantage on the starting line.
[Editor’s note: Kevin was working hard to generate content all weekend long. As the Director of Photography for the NMCA, he has a trackside view of the action… and even created some of his own.]
But there is no doubt in my mind that the story of the weekend centered around the Factory Super Cars class. As the class has gained immense popularity with fans and drivers alike, the NMCA has begun to showcase this old-school battle royale of Detroit iron. All racing fans should sit back and take time to appreciate that it’s 2019 and Ford, Dodge, and Chevrolet are building turn-key race cars to compete against each other in a sealed engine class. It’s just like the good ole days of racing, and is a sign that this passion has a promising future ahead as history is written one race at a time. Next stop: Atlanta Dragway for the NMRA/NMCA All-Star Nationals!