Michael Galimi
September 12, 2016

Hot Rod Magazine Drag Week—if you haven’t heard of it, let me give you a quick idea on perhaps the wildest street-race torture test in the history of hot rodding. Contestants visit five tracks in five days and traverse approximately 1,000 miles to prove the legitimacy of the street car moniker and their dragstrip prowess. Take the best pass from each day of competition and average them together to form a final time.

This year participation was limited to 400 cars, the biggest ever allowed by the Hot Rod staff and I just so happened to get lucky enough to land in the co-pilot position in one of them. I hitched a ride with 7X NMRA True Street winner Mike Jovanis and his 1,400hp turbocharged Mustang. The price admission to be his co-pilot was some free swag and the promise to get my hands dirty in order to experience all that Drag Week has to offer.

Mike Jovanis and I loaded up the trailer and made a 505 mile trip from New Jersey to Columbus, Ohio for our inaugural Drag Week experience.
One of the daily tasks is to remove the parachute and slide in a trailer hitch.

Sunday was the kick-off of the 11th annual Hot Rod Magazine Drag Week, presented by Gear Vendors, but the Drag Week race for Jovanis actually began several months ago. The True Street racer began his Mustang’s “conversion to Drag Week” shortly after the NMRA Super Nationals back in June.

The 1989 Mustang LX was mechanically ready for action but it was the rest of the picture that Jovanis focused on, particularly getting a trailer to carry tools, spare parts, and even a couple of lawn chairs. He secured a storage box and a Harbor Freight motorcycle trailer from a fellow Drag Weeker, Frank Saponaro. As the trailer solution worked itself out, Brian Friedentag helped fine-tune the Mustang for pump gas and sort through some torque converter updates. With weeks to spare, the car was ready for its adventure. Jovanis and I rolled out of New Jersey on Saturday, giving us plenty of time to cruise the 505 miles of the finest interstate highways that New Jersey, Pennsylvania, West Virginia, and Ohio have to offer. Rolling in at the wee hours of the morning we caught some sleep and hit the track early to find a rather lengthy line waiting to get into National Trails Raceway. Once on the property, Jovanis quickly unloaded the Mustang for technical inspection and it took a nanosecond to realize we needed to have the trailer hooked up so Hot Rod officials could inspect its size.

Hindsight, our biggest challenge for set-up day was when our rush job to put the trailer together for tech inspection resulted in a crushed rear taillight wire. It went unnoticed, that is until the race officials made us show them the blinkers and lights. The car passed tech with flying colors but we had to fix the trailer taillight before we embarked on our journey to the next track today (Monday).

A Harbor Freight motorcycle trailer is the basis for which Jovanis built his Drag Week trailer.

With tech inspection clear it was time to finally make some noise and with two hours left in test and tune, there was a good shot at making two runs. We would need that extra hit to sort the first of two issues on Day Zero of Drag Week. A few weeks ago Jovanis had discovered both wastegate diaphragms were torn so he replaced them. The resulting effect, however, was a radically different boost profile.

The car uses a Haltech Elite 2500 stand-alone EFI system with an internal boost controller, which Jovanis has configured to use the C02 pressure on the ‘gates as its reference point. With two perfectly sealed wastegates that weren’t seeping C02 pressure, the Forced Inductions 88mm turbocharged made (momentarily) 38 psi of boost. The Haltech Elite 2500 has a neat boost-limiter that turns on in the event of an over-boost situation, which it so eloquently did right in the middle of the run. The car stuttered, it shuttered, and rolled to a rather slow mid-9 second run. The one bright spot was that Jovanis scored his best 1.29 sixty-foot time in the 3,350-pound tank with the 88 mm turbo.

A quick review of the data log revealed the problem and a quick fix was in order, we had to race against time to make it into the staging lanes before they closed for the night. We had one shot to verify our problem was solved and prepare for Day 1 when these passes would begin to count towards our week-long time average. The safe call was made to back off the C02 ‘gate pressure, which would reduce boost to what we guessed would be around 20 psi.

Here it is with the storage box attached and the fuel jugs mounted.

A rather brisk drive to the staging lanes allowed us to be one of the last cars to make a test hit and the results were mixed, once again. The track was going away and the car immediately blew the tires off. Jovanis simply eased off the throttle and rolled back into it so he could produce the valuable data that he was logging with the Haltech Elite 2500. The car hooked about 100 feet out and cruised to a 9.20 at a staggering 169 mph. The turbocharger showed it made 27 psi of boost on the data log—our guess worked, sort of! Put the two passes together and add a few more pounds of the good stuff and hopefully we run quickly out of the gate on Day 1.

With the car sorted our attention then turned to the faulty turn signal, which cooked a fuse in the Mustang. As the sun went down, the flashlights came out and troubleshooting began. A crushed wire was found and replaced but that didn’t fix the issue. Several beverages and a test light later it was sourced to a connection in a conversion plug that transfers the Mustang taillight wires down to just three for the trailer light plug-in.

Lessons on Day Zero—it pays to have spares and always talk things through before making a change. The trailer is now legal and packed, ready for its trip to Summit Motorsports Park after we make a hit (or more) on Day 1. Check back with us tomorrow to find out how ready the car was for opening day of competition.

You can also follow along with the HotRod.com Live Feed, which is sponsored by Gear Vendors as Day 1 kicks off and we try to hold our own in the competitive Super Street Small-Block Power Adder category.

If we can get these meats to hook up tomorrow the results should show a mid-to-low 8 second run at speeds over 170 mph.