Paul Rosner
May 22, 2015
Photos By: Paul Rosner

Bradenton Motorsports Park is in the heart of the Sunshine State. Warm weather, palm trees, gorgeous sunsets over the gulf—and the opening act of the Keystone Automotive National Mustang Racers Association! Probably the event most commonly referred to as “the vacation we all just can’t wait to get here,” the 21st Annual Nitto Tire NMRA Spring Break Shootout aimed to please racers and fans alike. Steve Wolcott, the president and CEO of the NMRA, and his crew are always dressed to impress with a fun-packed weekend of parties, shootouts, giveaways, and lots of heart pounding quarter-mile action.

After everybody got a taste of VHT in their first time run, the collection of racers, family, and friends gathered at the SCT & NMRA Racer’s Appreciation Party. Mass quantities of pizza and cold beverages were consumed as SCT shirts and even SCT X4 Power Flash tuners were given away. Designated drivers then made the trek to Hooters, always a wild time. Just look for the smoke rolling and the flashing lights.

Entertainment then shifted Saturday to the dragstrip, when the Ford Racing Cobra Jet Showdown presented by Watson Racing put on a bumper-cover-scraping spectacle of Ford’s finest and fastest factory hot rod race cars in between heads-up and Open Comp style qualifying rounds 2 and 3.

Eliminations started at sun-up on Sunday for all classes, with rounds of the VMP Superchargers Terminator versus GT500 Shootout special event mixed in.

The success of any racing event is its entertainment value, and there’s nothing that adds more to the experience than being able to get right down on the playing field and mingle directly with the players and their machines. Here’s an overview of the winners lineup from the 21st Annual Nitto Tire NMRA Spring Break Shootout in Bradenton Motorsports Park.

The UPR Products car show boasted over 250 participants from around the country: a few nostalgias, lots of new gens, some powerful, and others very rare, but all Bluebloods. The Mustang Club of West Central Florida was gracious enough to host the event, making it a warm and personal experience for all.
Anytime you start your weekend eliminations with the NHRA Stock/Super Stock dominating Cobra Jets, you’re guaranteed lots of 8-second, wheelstanding, down-to-the-stripe, fender-to-fender action. The Ford Racing Cobra Jet Shootout presented by Watson Racing did not disappoint. Last year’s champ, 1999 IHRA Pro Stock champ and Stock Eliminator record holder Chris Holbrook, almost repeated, as he rode the bumper most of the way down the quarter-mile in a standing-room-only final on Saturday night.
It’s no wonder John Calvert is the man to beat early on in 2015. He has more experience in the factory Ford Cobra Jet than anyone, piloting Brent Hajek’s first production run Cobra Jet to its first win back in 2009. Calvert’s blown Coyote 5.0L–powered CJ, factored at 10.10, faced off against Holbrook’s 10-flat run, making it about as close as you can get to a heads-up drag race in the final. Calvert took top honors in the Ford Racing Cobra Jet Shootout presented by Watson Racing with a string of deadly consistent low 8.60s.
The Carl Tasca Sr. versus Roy Hill drag racing rivalry spans many years, and today’s Trojans were suited in Outlaw Cobra Jets. The two match-raced their 7-second Cobra Jets for winner-takes-all bragging rights. Tasca ran a sick 7.60 with his current setup, winning the best of three exhibition runs.
Johnny “Lightning” Wiker is a legend among SCT tuning aficionados, specializing in Kenne Bell combos, so it was only fitting that a 2013 Cobra Jet would eventually be on the menu—but a Coyote 5.0L version? Wiker, owner of JLP Performance, slayed its potential by the 2014 year-end with a blistering 8.11 record run in Edelbrock Renegade. In 2015, he made the switch to ProCharger Coyote Modified with his JLP-built, 3.6L Kenne Bell–boosted Cobra Jet. It didn’t take long to pay dividends; he qualified No. 1 at 8.295 and won a tight battle against Hellion’s rookie sensation, Haley James, in a tight 8.288 to 8.298 contest.
For the 21st year, Bradenton Motorsports Park continued packing them in. Standing room only at the Nitto Tire NMRA Spring Break Shootout, presented by Muscle Mustangs & Fast Fords magazine.
Former Pure Street bridesmaid Steve “Farmer” Gifford has been blogging about the gaining popularity of the Strange Engineering Coyote Stock class since its inception several years ago, or maybe you should call it plotting. He pushed his Brian Campbell’s Finishline Performance revamped Coyote 5.0L crate engine pony out of the barn late last season and just in time to trailer the field at the World Finals in Bowling Green. Now picking up where he left off, Gifford rowed his Tremec TKO-500 through the field to face former Factory Stock champ Michael Washington in the final. Gifford was a blink quicker on the tree, edging out the former champ 10.488 to 10.549 for the Strange Engineering Coyote Stock trophy.
JPC Performance owner Justin Burcham made the trip from Maryland to lay down what appeared to be exhibition runs in the Fluid Turbo Concepts Turbo Coyote class, where he had the field covered by more than a second and a half in a “streetcar callout.” His 85mm Precision Turbo–boosted, RGR Engines–built, Coyote-powered 2011 Mustang “streetcar” laid down an amazing 7.598 at over 183 mph in the cool conditions on Saturday evening.
Former NMRA Exedy Racing Clutch Mod Motor Champ Gary “Hollywood” Parker couldn’t get out of his helmet with the huge smile stuck on his face after his first wheels-up pass during qualifying. He swapped the ’ol docile, consistent 4.6L Four-Valve Glide setup for a high-winding MV Performance–massaged, 5.0L Coyote powerplant to assault the heads-up American Racing Headers Factory Stock fraternity.
Matt Amrine won his first American Racing Headers Factory Stock Championship in 2013. Even though the champ wasn’t able to make the 2014 season opener, his BES Engines–built Two-Valve stormed back, winning every event until losing one of the closest races in NMRA history, by James Meredith’s Coyote 5.0L–powered pony at the World Finals in Bowling Green. In that race, Meredith made history by putting the first Coyote in the winner’s circle while securing a runner-up finish in the 2014 championship chase, to Amrine. A rematch of the two fighters was inescapable, and electricity filled the air when fate put them side-by-side at the season opener finale. Amrine got the holeshot and the win, 10.73 to 10.86, Coyote goes home, Two-Valve heads for the Winners’ Circle.
There’s no better place to buy products, explore new parts and technology, or speak to the professionals about your hot rod and race car needs than the Manufacturer’s Midway at an NMRA event. There were 59 venders on-hand in Bradenton Motorsports Park to help with any Mustang and Ford needs.
When it’s your day, it’s your day. Sunday was definitely Jason Henson’s day. He qualified number 1 in Exedy Racing Clutch Modular Muscle with a perfect light .000 and continued with another perfect light .000 in a Round 1 bye with his bone-stock 2003 Mach I to send fear in the eyes of the country’s elite Open Comp style racers. 2014 class champ Susan McClenaghan, who qualified No. 2 with a .003 light, took out fellow Team Roush racer Donnie Bowles in the semis as Henson marched through his side of the ladder to meet the Roush LP gas 9-second terror in the final. McClenaghan got the redeye minus .007, giving the win to Henson’s .088 12.195 on a 12.12 breakout to her 9.454 on a 9.46.
We’ve heard of folks taking a break from racing, but a 45-year break? Louis Fernandez’s wife, Patty, convinced him to get back into racing so he had something to do with his five grandsons. Fernandez and his crew put together a 363-cube carbureted 351W for his old Fox-body to get back into racing. It’s a shame the boys had baseball tournaments because Grandpa slayed ’em with a dead-on 9.94, two 9.95s, and a handful of great lights on route to the final where last year’s No. 2 man Wesley Dalrymple went minus .024 red, giving the Flex-a-lite Open Comp big check to Fernandez.
Bart Tobener has been racing since he got his driver’s license, piloting everything from superbikes to SCCA and drag racing Mustangs. He switched to an 88mm turbo and stepped up to Street outlaw in 2013, then midyear he went back to his supercharged setup and the class he has competed in for more than two decades. In 2014, Tobener and his MV Performance–built ProCharged 5.4L 1992 coupe was the one to beat, collecting three wins, the first to bust into the 7-second zone and the Edelbrock Renegade championship. He qualified No. 3 at 7.85 and went to the semis.
Arguably the hottest controversial topic of 2015 is the addition of the 76mm turbocharger in Renegade. Brian Devilbiss’ L&M Race Engines–built 5.8L, Evolution Performance GT500 has proven to be a deadly quick combo, conquering all in the VMP Superchargers Terminator/GT500 Shootouts. They were a shoe-in to move into the class; their 2013 GT500 landed solidly in the second spot on the ladder with the first couple passes on the car in Renegade legal trim. Devilbiss fought all the way to the final dance in his inaugural appearance in the class—he is the one to watch this season.
New Mexico native Frank Varela is a seasoned veteran with a long history of Outlaw Drag Radial racing dating back to the old Fun Ford Weekend days at Firebird Raceway. He claimed the 2014 ProCharger Coyote Modified Championship driving for Dwayne James and the Hellion Turbo crew in their 1993 coupe with a nasty turbocharged combo. They qualified No. 1 at all but one event and won three times. However, in 2015, Team Hellion decided to make it a three-car team, fitting the championship-winning car for Dwayne James daughter, Haley. Frank had his old 1989 coupe updated by Behind Bars Racecars and suited it with a stepped-up version of the Hellion-turbocharged, MMR-built Coyote 5.0L combo for assault on the Edelbrock Renegade class. The Hellion crew of veterans was unstoppable, topping the field with a 7.75 and claiming the event win over Brian Devilbiss. They never ran slower than 7.78 in their maiden voyages down the quarter-mile with the hot new Hellion Turbo setup.
If there’s one thing reigning nine-time VP Racing Fuels Street Outlaw champ John Urist has learned, it’s “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” The Hellion Power Systems 1993 coupe retains the same championship-winning 94mm Precision Turbo–fed, 430ci, Keith Neal powerglide–driven setup. They topped the qualifying ladder with a record-breaking 6.86 e.t. and downed contestants one-by-one with a sickening string of consistent runs between 6.903 and 6.911, picking up where they left off last season and taking the win.
When it comes to colorful characters, there is none better at the game and more into the part than Ronnie “The ModFather” Diaz. The crew is decked out in gangster bunny attire with “What’s up Dohc” insignia to personify their Acors Performance Racecars–built, turbocharged UFC Machine Shop 358ci Four-Valve motor. They had the smallest and lone modular engine in the class but still managed to claim the No. 5 spot on the ladder with a 7.19. Dan Saitz turbocharged red coupe advanced to the second round with a stout 7.01 as Diaz lost traction at the 60-foot marker.

Photo Gallery

View Photo Gallery
Florida native Tony Alm is used to getting down a hot and slippery racetrack, but the cold conditions during qualifying had him wowing the crowd with a three-quarter-track wheelie that still put him seventh on the qualifying grid with a 7.91 at only 134 mph. He, his wife Patti, and crew, field an unorthodox but always fast 8.2-inch deck MPR Race Engines–built, Precision-turbocharged, 363ci powerplant motivated by an ATF powerglide transmission. They made repairs to the car and ran a solid 7.14 to event Runner-Up Phil Hines’ sick 6.88.
Delhi, Ontario, Canada, natives John and Heather Mummery thrashed to get their 2.6L Kenne Bell blown Three-Valve Stang ready for the annual trip to escape winter and head for warmer pastures at the Nitto Tire NMRA Spring Break Shootout in Bradenton. Unfortunately the car wasn’t cooperating. Tuning problems left them pushing the car in the trailer and wondering if it was worth the 23-hour trip. They struggled the first day just getting the car top idle, but on Friday it came around, and Mummery topped the Roush Super Stang ladder with a .001 light then rowed through the field with his Exedy Racing Clutch, 3650 shifted pony to face Marvin Knack in the final. Mummery was just getting his second wind, putting down a sick .016 bulb, 11.015 on 11-flat package to Knack’s .084, 12.04 on 12.02.
Johnny Wiker’s business, Johnny Lightning Performance, was birthed from his tutelage in Lightning truck performance. His 1999 Lightning displays their potential, featuring a Kenne Bell gargantuan 4.7L-topped 380 stroker, a Rozzler turbo 400 trans, and Neal Chance converter. Wiker qualified No. 2 with a .009 light and drove his mid-8-second grocery hauler through a 21-truck field to face Greg Bagwell’s 1970 Ranchero for the cash. Bagwell went red as Wiker went an 8.65 on his 8.59 with a great .054 bulb. Wiker took top honors in both Detroit Locker Truck and Lightning Class in his truck, and took ProCharger Coyote Modified in his even quicker 2014 Kenne Bell–topped Cobra Jet!