Michael Galimi
September 19, 2016

Just one quarter-mile pass stood in our way of finishing one of the most grueling street car shootouts of the year. The 1,000-miles of street cruising was a distant memory as twelve hours after completing it; we were back where it all started on Day One—National Trail Raceway. Hot Rod Magazine’s Drag Week, presented by Gear Vendors, was quickly coming to a close as we completed 250-or-so miles per day and made a minimum of one pass down the quarter-mile.

Lest you think that completing the 1,000-miles meant we could back off a bit. Race officials weren’t opening the gates until 11:30AM. That gave us plenty of time to prepare the car in the hotel parking lot for the last day of competition. Never stop working, that is the unofficial mantra of Drag Week and we were living it along with the rest of the competitors at the hotel. Our buddies Jeff Sias and Tim Flanders actually converted their Super Street Small-Block Naturally Aspirated entry from gasoline to E85 overnight as they were just .01 out of first place.

Wrapping up the week with an 8.157 at 173.18 mph on Day 5 at National Trail Raceway put our weekly average at 8.18. Jovanis walked away with the runner-up finish in Super Street Small-Block Power Adder. The final speed calculation of 171.708 mph ended up being the highest average in the class.
Our crew for the week (left-to-right)—Mike Jovanis, Willie Lujan, Jeremy Stelford, Alex Corella, and me. Missing from the photo was Jeremy’s dad, Rodney Stelford.

Heading into the final day of competition, Mike Jovanis stood third in his category (Super Street Small-Block Power Adder) with two very quick cars ahead of us. Jovanis had a four-day average of 8.1858. Both of our competitors have battled serious issues. Lucas Oil Raceway in Indianapolis was not kind to Clark Rosenstengel or Jay Meagher, the two racers ahead of Jovanis in the standings. Rosenstengel was on top with a 7.9943 while Meagher was listed with an 8.0630. Each one torched a cylinder head requiring repairs before embarking on the final 244-miles back to Columbus, Ohio. Our week was relatively easy compared to those two guys but they were both in it and had significantly quicker cars. The only hope of moving up in the standings was if Rosenstengel or Meagher broke on Day Five.

Our trip from the hotel to National Trail Raceway was quiet as we both went over a mental list of chores to complete and also the strategy on the track. Day One was our slowest pass, an 8.325 at 168.43 mph, and we wondered if the track surface would be in as good condition as what we ran on at Lucas Oil Raceway, US 131 Motorsports Park, and Summit Motorsports Park. The motto all week has been play it safe, the Mickey Thompson ET Street Radial tires (315/60-15) have been rock solid for us. They have served us both on and off the track, as it was the only pair of tires we ran all week.

The tune-up in the Haltech Elite 2500 was finely tuned each passing day as we dropped the initial Day One run of 8.325 down to an 8.194 for Day Two. Our best pass of the week came in Michigan with an 8.101. We followed that up with an 8.123 on Thursday. Hindsight is always 20/20 as we probably could’ve run quicker than 8.325 on the opening day but with 1,000-plus miles and four more days of drag racing starring back at you, the decision to pack up and rollout for the next location was an easy one. Also to note, the weather was getting warmer each day so our changes kept the car consistent despite the deteriorating weather conditions.

Some people have asked about our trailer, which the box was nicknamed “The Garage” and we carried four jugs of fuel, our luggage, and a cooler. Jovanis got it from veteran Drag Week racer Frank Saponaro. The base is a Harbor Freight foldable motorcycle trailer.
The Garage is simply an on-site job box that allowed us to lock it up as it housed most of our equipment. We brought parts that we thought we would need like gaskets, spare Meziere water pump, extra Weldon fuel pump, fuel filters, oil and filters, funnels, an assortment of tools to perform all acts of repairs and maintenance, and an extra set of trailer tires.

Here we were four days later and feeling confident that our finely tuned boost controller curve was capable of delivering us to a consistent run. As a side note, Jovanis only manipulated the boost curve of Haltech’s internal controller. He analyzed the air/fuel ratio, timing curves, and general engine parameters on the data logs, but didn’t see any cause for change. Credit Brian Friedentag and his pre-race tuning both on the street and on the dragstrip for our trouble-free week in the engine calibration department.

We also went into Drag Week committed to not chase after a performance on track that the car may or may not be capable of running. The best time to date was an 8.05 at 175 mph. We were willing to accept anything close to that number. In our opinion, that is why our week went smoother than others on the mechanical side of the engine. Our only slip up was either a user-generated error in the ECU or a bad 02-sensor. The culprit is yet to be determined and quite frankly, the car is running very well so it is irrelevant until our post-race evaluation.

In typical drag racing fashion, it was hurry up and wait on Day Five after we rightfully took our place in the Impound Yard for the final day. As a refresher, the Impound is a collection of racers who are both top three in their category and run quicker than 8.50. This is so officials can keep a watchful eye on the cars as well as keep the quicker cars grouped together for the fans to checkout. The gates opened at 11:30AM while racing began at 1:30PM, the program started off with the Street Eliminator cars as they needed to wrap up their weekly average in order set a field for a special Open Comp style race. That meant the other class cars, including us, weren’t scheduled to run until after 3:30PM. The four-hour wait enabled Jovanis to add a half-a-quart of oil, which isn’t bad oil consumption as the oil was changed on Tuesday night after 500 miles. We had traversed another 500 miles and made five more dragstrip runs, which is why the engine was slightly down on oil.

As we called our trailer the Garage, Dan Saitz brought along the Garage-Mahal as his spare parts and equipment list was quite extensive. To his credit, he won his category and ran as quick as 7.57 at 186 mph, which requires a lot of maintenance as his engine, easily makes 400 hp or more than Jovanis’ setup.
We lived off Monster Energy drinks and they should sponsor this event, nuff said.

As the mid-afternoon hours flew by, our chance for one more pass down the track finally came up. Our staging lane routine stayed the same all week—set tire pressure at 15 psi, remove the parachute flag (which prevents accidental deployment), and open the C02 bottle that is used to control the wastegates. The Haltech Elite 2500 uses solenoids to regulate the C02 pressure on both wastegates, which in turn manages the boost pressure as commanded by the user-generated boost curve.

Jovanis rolled out to a stellar 8.157 at 173.18 mph, solidifying our consistency and marking an unofficial end to the competition. Jovanis took longer than normal to get back into the pits due to a small oil-fueled fire as he pulled off track. It wasn’t major but enough to get the NHRA fire/safety crew to take a look. The oil fill cap was loose and flew off in the middle of the run, causing the engine bay to be coated in oil. Our plan was to make a second run as the staging lanes were open for another two hours. The rags came out and we began cleaning. After finding an oil cap that wasn’t quite the right fit, Jovanis made the decision to bust out the duct tape for some trackside engineering.

After the temporary fix was in, he busted open the laptop to start adding more timing and get more aggressive with the boost controller. We threw caution to the wind as the only place the turbocharged Mustang had to go was back into the trailer at the end of the day. Don’t get me wrong; this was hardly an engine-frying tune-up. A few degrees were added in the mid-range, which should make the car accelerate quicker through the middle of the track. High-gear boost wasn’t going to change but the curve became flatter earlier in the run. With the final minutes of competition approaching, we rolled into the lanes and right up to the starting line. Would it work and could we go quicker than 8.101, our best from Tuesday’s competition? I instantly got the answer as Jovanis let go of the transbrake on his Hughes Performance Powerglide and the tires immediately went up in smoke.

One of the unique elements about Drag Week is the large foreign contingent as seven countries were represented in competition.

It didn’t matter, we locked into an 8.18 average and coming up was Rosenstengel for his final run. He showed up late in the day, adding to the drama, and we watched Meagher destroy the engine in his Supra a few hours earlier as he rolled to a 9.134, putting his final average at 8.2772 and no chance at bettering it. If Rosenstengel’s LS engine stayed together and the tires remained glued, then he would lock up the win. The 2010 Camaro SS left the starting line clean and he got it into high-gear as we watched from the stands—7.991 at 170.45 mph locked up his class win.

We didn’t hang our heads low, the goal was to merely finish the week and do so with an acceptable average elapsed time. Call it mission accomplished and the bonus was a runner-up finish along with top average speed of the category with a 171.708 mph.

The tally of six days of Drag Week, including tech-in, was finished as we looked back at well over 1,000-miles on the street with a 1,400hp Mustang and a final average of 8.18. Ironically, that is a quicker average than what Jovanis has run in nearly twenty NMRA True Street events. As a 7-time winner and 9-time runner-up in True Street competition, Jovanis can now add a runner-up in Drag Week to his list of accomplishments. Of course during the eight-hour ride home, with the car safely tucked in the trailer, the question came up—could we win Super Street Small-Block Power Adder in 2017?

I spotted this sticker late in the day on Friday and it seemed so right for my week with Jovanis and his 1,400hp Mustang.