Muscle Mustangs & Fast FordsEvents
2016 Drag Week Day Three: A Hail Mary Pass Keeps Us in the Game
We run quicker and faster after a long day of hard work
Drag racing is a rather unique sport/hobby—all it takes is one pass down the revered quarter-mile to restore faith. To put it mildly, Mike Jovanis and I were beat-down, demoralized, and scratching our heads after making three passes on Day Three of the world-famous Hot Rod Drag Week, presented by Gear Vendors. We had come off two days of running quickly, using just one pass on track and tackling the 250 or so miles to the next location with relative ease. Maybe we should have expected it, but Day Three reminded us that this is truly a test of mental and mechanical mayhem.
It should have been a sign, but we didn’t see it; we got to sleep a little later than normal and we actually sat down to eat breakfast. We learned quickly that Drag Week is a humbling experience that even the most hardcore and dedicated racers have struggled with. Up until Day Three that wasn’t the case for us, as Mike Jovanis’ NMRA True Street car had been rock solid through anything that was thrown at it by the Hot Rod officials. The morning started off properly with us taking our place in the Impound Yard, which is a badge of honor for the top three in each category.
After looking at the track, we made the decision to take the right lane and got in line so we could be ready as soon as the track went live. A brief sprinkle forced the officials to hit the pause button just before race director Lonnie Grim was going to pull the cars into the burnout box. We ran into last year’s Super Street Small-Block Power Adder winner and NMRA’s first 7-second True Street racer, Cal Hayward so we chatted awhile before getting back to business. That is when the car didn’t do what it is supposed to do—it left hard but in less than one second into the run it sputtered and Jovanis wisely lifted.
Running back to the pits I was on the same page as Jovanis thinking maybe the fuel filters were clogged from the pump gas. As he grabbed his timeslip and drove back to impound, I was already pulling the jack, the tool bag, and grabbing a set of back-up filters that we brought with us—special thanks to Jim Craig at Weldon for that one! A quick inspection of the filters showed they were dirty and had some small debris, but it was nothing that had raised any red flags. Jovanis put it all back together and we chose to use a special white dot to go right to the front of the line for our second run. That is one of the perks of the Impound Yard.
At this point I felt comfortable that the car I’ve watched for years run nearly flawlessly was going to go right down US 131 Motorsports Park and we would be getting on the road before noon. I was wrong again—the car launched, sputtered, and rolled slowly down track. Jovanis pulled up the data log again and had a small crowd looking over his shoulder at the screen. Our traveling partners, Willie Lujan of Lujan Motorsports and Alex Corella scratched their heads, Pro 5.0 legend Wild Bill Devine of Bullseye Power was stumped, and even Hayward had a look. The data log showed smooth and even EGTs, however there was a major dip in the fuel pressure that spiked down quickly without changing the air/fuel; though, the correction factor was dumping more fuel into the engine.
Our week went from working hard to keep pace with the daily grind to wondering how did this happen? Rather than stepping backwards through what we changed and did, we threw parts at the car. Our trailer box, which has been effectively nicknamed “The Garage” by Jovanis, is stacked with lots of spares including a fuel pump. Did we fry the fuel pump? To get right to it—no, but that didn’t stop of us from swapping in a brand-new one despite Dan Saitz of Hyperformance Motorsports telling us that would be a waste of time. We even bypassed the controller to eliminate another variable.
Run three of the day proved Saitz was right as the problem persisted and we were quickly running out options and more importantly time. Hot Rod officials made the call that 2pm would signal the close of staging so we had to get in there before that time. Jovanis and I began to focus on what happened from Day Two to Day Three. The look in his eye and the confidence in voice was all I needed to see and hear to know that he had the most logical solution.
The laptop was reconnected to the Haltech Elite 2500 engine management system and he added the Day Two back into the ECU. Normally, Jovanis’ changes are made directly to the ECU with the laptop hooked up, except for Day Three when he modified it in the hotel room the night before. With the Day Two tune installed, he was ready to roll and pulled into the lanes. We were one of the last group of cars still at US 131 Motorsports Park and hoping the fix was in. One more change was made as a precaution, on the advice of Hayward and Jovanis swapped in a new 02 sensor. It takes less than one minute to install in the exhaust downpipe, which sits high in the engine bay, making it a quick swap.
Lujan guided him into the beams while keeping the Mickey Thompson ET Street Radials lined up in the track’s grooves. The moment of truth, we were either heading to Indy in a bad mood or moving on with a solid performance. The lights dropped and the car hooked up, moved out, and kept going and going…the scoreboards lit up with an 8.101 at 172.74 mph! Was it the tune or a bad 02 sensor? We have no clue, but it didn’t matter, we regained the wind in our sails and onward to Indy for Day Four!
Lujan and Corella stuck around an extra four hours after they ran their best time of the week too—8.544 at 161.58 mph, the quickest run of the day in Street Race Small-Block Power Adder. The drive through the cornfields of Indiana was fantastic and the enthusiasm for Drag Week in the small towns was pretty darn cool. We arrived at the hotel at a reasonable time and grabbed a few cold ones to kick back and bench race for a bit.
The standings were released and we did get bumped down to third place in Super Street Small-Block Power Adder. Our three-day average sits at 8.2067, which is calculated using only the quickest run of the day. Normally getting bumped down from second to third would be disappointing but let me put this in perspective. The two cars ahead of us are pro-built rides with some very big shops backing the efforts. The class leader had Steve Morris Engines build an amazing twin turbocharged Fifth-Gen Camaro and the support system this week for them is amazing. They have bounced back from a blown head gasket and some other troubles. Real Street Performance’s Jay Meagher drives the Toyota Supra that jumped over us as he ran a jaw-dropping 7.719 at 179.50 mph in Michigan, putting his three-day average at 8.110. He is a talented car builder and a premier tuner.
We are pretty proud to be in the top three behind two exceptional racers and cars, especially when you consider Jovanis built his Mustang in his garage and only farmed out the chassis work and the engine build. As the week moves forward, it has been fun to get back from a run and literally have dozens of text messages and too many to count FaceBook private messages from friends and family with words of encouragement and cheers for when we do well. We feel like the underdogs just trying to make it through the week and stay close to those fast guys.
The Lucas Oil Raceway at Indianapolis is hallowed grounds in drag racing and we are hoping to show the racing spirits of Indy that Drag Week is more fun than driving around in a circle on Memorial Day!
Cooling a 1,400hp Mustang through 750 miles
I’ve gotten a few questions asking about how Jovanis manages to maintain sub-200 degree water temperatures on the street drive. I would put the average water temperature at 190 degrees in the first two days. It was running 180-185 degrees on Day Three because we did leave the track later in the afternoon rather than mid-day, so the ambient air was cooler. Credit True Street for forcing Jovanis to find solutions to cool temps because of the closed hood policy and three consecutive runs.
The system is pretty basic which consists of a direct-fit Ron Davis aluminum radiator, a pair of Spal electric fans (draw-through fans), and a Meziere water pump. The system is also diverted to a unique Meziere transmission pan. Jovanis uses engine coolant to run through the pan to help cool down the transmission fluid as well. The Meziere water pump is run off an on/off toggle switch. The manual use of the fan allows Jovanis to run it while we make gas stops and shut the engine off, keeping the water circulating.