Evan J. Smith
March 7, 2016

When Ford Performance introduced the 2008 Cobra Jet Ford Mustang, the intent was to create a turnkey race car, capable of winning races off the showroom floor. Since then, the team at Ford has produced over 300 drag race-only CJ Mustangs, and they’ve added to the storied history of the world famous pony car with a multitude of wins in NHRA, NMRA, NMCA and ADRL. While many Cobra Jets have found the winner’s circle, no one had literally taken one completely untested from the showroom to a race win—until now.

Rod Heltzel of Jacksboro, Texas changed that, scoring a win at the 2016 Watson Racing Cobra Jet Showdown this past weekend at the NMRA Spring Break Shootout in Bradenton, Florida. Heltzel, the owner of five modern Cobra Jet Mustangs, picked up his 2016 CJ last week and didn’t even make a pass before heading to Florida.

Rod Heltzel (near lane) nailed a holeshot on veteran John Calvert to win the Watson Racing Cobra Jet Showdown at the NMRA Spring Break Shootout.

“We picked up the car last week at Watson Racing, brought it down here, made a few test runs and then ran qualifying,” said Heltzel. And his mount worked out of the gate, hiking the wheels and running deep in the 8s. “The beauty of these cars is you buy a new CJ and if you can drive you have a chance to win.”

The Watson Racing Cobra Jet Showdown was the first of the year and it offered enthusiasts the very first look at the hot, new 2016 Cobra Jet. In fact, there were four 2016 models in the field, including ones driven by Carl Tasca, Chuck Watson, John Calvert and Heltzel. Racers qualified for the Shootout based on reaction time and the eliminator was run Open Comp style.

Heltzel barreled into the semis where he won a close race against Anthony Bongiovanni’s Micro Strategies-backed CJ to earn his shot into the finals. Meanwhile, the reigning Spring Break Showdown CJ champ John Calvert defeated our own Ken Miele to set up the final round meeting with Heltzel.

Carl Tasca was having a blast with his 2016 Cobra Jet Mustang.

The indexes were just 0.010 apart (8.66 for Heltzel and 8.67 for Calvert), but it was Heltzel who launched first, taking a 0.022 to 0.086 starting-line advantage. The pair of Orange 2016 Cobra Jet Mustangs powered off the line, carrying the wheels past the 60-foot clocks and running side by side as they battled down track.

“It was in my mind that it was [John Clavert] on the other lane, so I just focused and tried to execute,” said Heltzel. “I foot braked it to 3,800 rpm and it liked it,” he added. “It was up and I was smiling. I knew it was on a pass, so I shifted at 7,500 each time and had room to ‘whomp’ it twice so I wouldn’t break out.”

Heltzel crossed first by a mere 0.016 of a second to earn his Showdown victory. “I was pumped when my win light came on. It’s amazing that you can just buy this car, and like I said, if you can drive it, you have the opportunity to win races and this is proof.”

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