If you’re going to kick off the start to a race season in style, it would be accurate to say that the NMCA gave Buzz Lightyear a run for his money at its 2020 season opener in Bradenton, Florida. Records were broken thanks in part to great weather and a dedicated track crew that maintained a consistent racing surface over massive swings in conditions. The stands were packed for qualifying and eliminations, and the safety team and staff displayed unrivaled professionalism in response to multiple on-track incidents. Muscle Car Mayhem at Bradenton Motorsports Park was an intense beginning to the NMCA’s 2020 season.
With each call to the lanes, the fans gathered in masses to the bleachers of BMP to watch VP Racing Lubricants Xtreme Pro Mod make a hit. Of the seventeen cars that made battled to make it into the field, one of them was unique in that it was street-legal. These 4,000-plus horsepower behemoths are usually temperamental alcoholics chewing through ethanol.
But Tom Bailey and his engine builder, Steve Morris of Steve Morris Engines have managed to assemble a Pro Mod capable of qualifying in the field, while also retaining the street-going manners to lead the 30-mile True Street cruise over the highways and byways of Florida. Bailey is best known for his multiple victories on Hot Rod Magazine’s Drag Week and 5-second capable Camaro’s performances in that arena, but this weekend he was looking to make an upset of the Pro Mod field. The car relies on SME’s revolutionary SMX engine, which is a 4,500-horsepower-capable twin-turbocharged billet engine that incorporates water jackets into its architecture to ensure the engine stays cool on the torture test that is Drag Week. Bailey’s ride was certainly in the ballpark of being competitive—astonishing in its own right—but he was unable to shake a few mechanical bugs that prevented him from leaving the line in round one.
Another surprise appearance in eliminations was Jeff Rudolph’s Camaro, cut down a tire on the top end, which forced him into a foam timing block and demolished the nose of his beautiful car. But his crew—along with many others like Mark Woodruff, Craig Sullivan, their teams and a few other good samaritans—thrashed to ensure the black beauty was back on track for Q3, albeit a little less beautiful. Jeff held the top speed of the weekend, cresting 215 mph.
The Pro Mod semi-final on Sunday at Muscle Car Mayhem introduced an unwelcome bit of excitement when Keith Haney’s “Black Mamba” Camaro took a flip on its lid after throwing the chutes against Andrew Handras. Haney was thankfully unharmed during the incident, but it was determined that his run was disqualified for crossing the centerline.
This decision put Handras back into the race to meet the number one qualifier and quickest car of the weekend—Eric Gustafson’s ProCharged Camaro—in the final round. Handras took the starting line advantage, but it wasn’t enough to best the fourth pass in the 3.60s in a row by Gustafson’s white ProCharged Camaro, which rightfully occupied its place in the winner’s circle after a super-consistent performance all weekend.
Something is in the water over at the Ford Performance camp, as the Cobra Jets were dishing out some seriously quick and record-breaking numbers. This time last year we were talking about the potential of an illustrious group of drivers getting into the 7-second club in Holley EFI Factory Super Car. This year, twelve out of the seventeen cars that qualified did so with a 7-second pass. Nobody could touch Chris Holbrook and Tripp “The Chicken Man” Carter with their 7.660 and 7.696 qualifying runs, respectively. It seemed like pass after pass new records were set in a Ford during Factory Super Car competition. By contrast, Danny Condon had the quickest COPO Camaro of the weekend and only managed a 7.808 elapsed time.
In the final round, Holbrook faced off against Bill Skillman and took a clean win from the 2019 defending champion. Oh, and “Mopar or no car” evidently meant no car this go-around as not a single Drag Pak showed up. Hopefully, we’ll get to see one of the new fourth-generation Dodges this season.
The only remaining NMCA radial class at Muscle Car Mayhem, Edelbrock Xtreme Street, was one car shy of a full 16-car field, rewarding the number one qualifier—Brian Keep’s bright red ’98 Camaro—with a bye in the first round. He didn’t waste his solo shot and blasted down the eighth-mile in 4.54-seconds, which was one of the quickest hits of the weekend. Round after round, it looked like Brian was going to be a lock into the finals. Every pass he made in eliminations was within three one-hundredths of a second. That consistency saw a repeat of his round one 4.54 pass and handed him a ticket to the Aerospace Components Winner’s Circle.
Video Footage Courtesy SpeedVideo
Pro Mod wasn’t the only class with its share of carnage this weekend. Round one of ARP Nitrous Pro Street featured Don Baskin’s newly-painted GTO, which experienced some issues during qualifying. Don nearly saved the car from contact with the right wall after crossing the centerline, but the steering column snapped and forced the car into a hard left turn and the barrier. The orange Goat pinballed before finally coming to a stop; luckily, Baskin walked away unharmed. Sadly, the GTO was severely damaged. This wasn’t Baskin’s only wreck of the weekend—or even that day. Early in the run schedule, his Dart NA 10.5 Chevy Cobalt kissed the wall but was able to be repaired. After the second incident, however, Baskin decided it was best to call it a race and head home to rest and start on repairs.
Fittingly, this event carried the Muscle Car Mayhem name into the record books, although we’re sure the racers would have preferred it to be different. We couldn’t have asked for a more exciting weekend of drag racing, but fewer wrecks would undoubtedly have been better for everyone involved. It’s crushing to see beautiful race cars get smashed up; thankfully, there were no reported injuries over the weekend. It’s nice to be back walking through the pits in the morning to watch these teams get their cars ready. We’ll be gearing up for the next stop in the series up in Commerce, Georgia, for the NMRA/NMCA All-Star Nationals for more racing action.