Steve Turner
Former Editor, 5.0 Mustang & Super Fords
November 1, 2003
Photos By: Dale Amy

Horse Sense: The Texas Motorplex began the trend of massive, stadium-style drag racing venues when it was constructed in 1986. The 'Plex features a coveted all-concrete, quarter-mile surface, which has resulted in a number of milestone performances in professional drag racing, including Eddie Hill running the first-ever four-second quarter-mile pass and Cory McClenathan breaking the 320-mph barrier.

What the heck is going on? I know May was a busy race month with Columbus, WFC6, and Ennis. Sure, Ennis, Texas, is a long way from everywhere but Dallas-and, of course, it was hot.But we're talking the first-ever NMRA race at the Texas Motorplex! OK, I have a soft spot for the 'Plex because I organized one of the fabled 5.0 Shootouts there during my past life at Super Ford magazine, but I would have thought that 1,320 feet of concrete would be a big enough lure for any red-blooded Ford drag racer.

Unfortunately that wasn't the case. The weather was blistering and the turnout was lukewarm, but those racers embroiled in points chases showed up to do what they could. In all the power-adder classes but Outlaw, the nitrous cars used the weather to their advantage. The naturally aspirated guys just dealt with it. We melted out by the track for a round, then scurried for A/C and water whenever we could. As it turned out, the racing was really good. Michael Washington continued his streak, Darin Hendricks had his streak snapped, Shane Long scored a win, and Don Walsh and John Urist continued their good fortune.

Next up on the roster to contrast with the dry heat of Texas is the cool air of Joliet, but to see what you missed in Ennis, check out the captions.

Why the heck not? The race was right there in Texas, the Pro 5.0 fields were modest, and Travis Franklin had really been turning up the wick on his FFW-spec Outlaw. So at Ennis he simply strapped on the big shoes and went for it. Amazingly, Travis was actually at the top of the qualifying sheet for one round, as the Pro boys were struggling in the Texas heat. Once the qualifying was over, he still put himself ahead of Pro regulars Randy Eakins and Bill Rimmer. He even took out an ailing Randy Eakins in round one, before Don Walsh busted a full second on him in round two.

It looked as if Mike Keenan had the Ennis Wild Street field locked up. He's fromNew Mexico, so his ride should have been used to the heat. Alas, after surviving the 30-mile tour and running one round, Mike broke his silver Saleen-alike in round two. And, yeah, we did shoot the car for a feature the previous day, so the 5.0 curse might just be back again.

At least the NMRA had the common courtesy to pitch a tent for those unlucky enough to fall under the teardown microscope at Ennis. There one of the lucky winners was none other than Uncle Robin Lawrence. Robin tore his motor down to the short-block and Thom Bates inspected all the measurements. In the end, Robin was declared legal and had to put his ride back together for qualifying. After thrashing late into the night, he did make qualifying, but he also discovered some lingering bent exhaust valves from a free-revving incident at the Columbus race were killing power.

Rick and Linn Erdman of Amazon Racing [(410) 404-1413; www.amazonracing.com] teamed up with Borla Industries for the '03 NMRA season. Linn gets support for her efforts racing an '03 Cobra, and Borla gets some exposure for its products. Rick showed us this new 3-inch system for the '03 Cobra, which features Borla's new Stinger mufflers. He reports the standard Borla system was good for 19 hp on the '03 and the Stinger added another 7 ponies to that rear-wheel total.

This might just be the year for Don Walsh Jr. Hot on the heels of grabbing the $35,000 at World Ford Challenge, Don continued his tear in Texas. After struggling with traction at first, he eventually laid down an impressive 6.93/204 quali-fying pass in the heat. With that he set low e.t. and top mph for the class, and he grabbed the Denso top-qualifier award. Don took an easy bye in the first round but found himself running in the slippery lane against Travis Franklin in round two. After listening to Don Walsh Sr., the crew lined up Don Jr. in his own tire marks. He found traction, and showed Travis the path back to Outlaw. With a bye into the finals, everyone was anticipating a Texas Chainsaw Blower Showdown, but it wasn't to be, and Don won with a single.

Doug Mangrum has had his struggles this year, but we had a feeling the NMRA's first trip to Texas might be kind to him. So much for our instincts. Doug began sorting things out in qualifying with his 7.13/202 pass, good for the number two spot. Despite getting Tree'd, he edged another ProCharged racer, Bill Rimmer, in round one. In round two, it all went horribly wrong for the Mangrum team. All Doug had to do was trip the lights for his bye run and a visit to the finals. Unfortunately, his car wouldn't start. He did take the Tree under power of the starter, but the rules say a racer must take the lights under engine power, so Doug was out and Don was the winner. The good news was Doug's car wasn't hurt. The bad news was it ran out of gas!

While the nitrous cars seemed to have the advantage in most classes, Kentucky Sam Vincent was actually waging an uphill battle against turbo and blown power in Outlaw. Running a 439-inch Windsor and loads of spray, Sam's combo was a contrast to John Urist's small-displacement turbo setup, but both men ended up in the finals. Sam qualified fourth with an 8.19/175 hit. On his way to the finals, he trailered Brad Dinkel and number-one qualifier Joe Morgan. Then, in a race that was settled at the Tree, Sam left Mark Van Meter rolling up his sleeping bag. In the finals Sam left a little late, but it didn't really matter as John turbo'd him downtrack.

It was a short ride to Ennis for John Urist, which was a welcome change for the perennial long hauler from New Mexico. The extra rest must have done him good because the weekend went exceptionally smooth. Loosening up the suspension to adapt to the greasy track, John qualified just a hair behind Joe Morgan in the number two spot with an 8.04 at 174. He continued the string of ohs into the first two rounds with wins over Dan Strezo and David Marroquin. After breaking the beams for a bye run, John squared off with Kentucky Sam Vincent in the final. It was close, but John drove around Sam at the big end.

In case you're unfamiliar with the Wild Street format, it's new to the NMRA repertoire this season. It's basically an endurance race for the quickest street-worthy Mustangs around. In addition to proving their streetability with valid license tags, insurance cards, and the like, WS vehicles must then survive a 30-mile cruise on the streets near the track. After a brief cooldown period, they're required to make three back-to-back passes. These passes are averaged to create a final score. The driver of the vehicle with the lowest e.t. is the winner, but those with the lowest average in each e.t. level-9s, 10s, 11s, 12s, and so on-also receive a trophy.

In Ennis, it was Eric Stubbs who was crowned the King of Texas thanks to his 9.35 average.

After seeing Chris Little dump the laundry at 1,000 feet and still run an 8.70 in the brutal Texas heat, we asked him if he was going to take it easy on his competition and just use the nitrous for half his pass. He responded that as long as the rules are what they are, he's going to keep piling it on. You can imagine the other DR racers waking up in a cold sweat with visions of Chris trashing the whole field like the Hulk-Chris smash turbo cars, Chris smash blower cars. With only two cars in the field, Chris didn't even have to get angry at Ennis, but he scored the top qualified spot with an 8.78/160.51. Then he took it a little easy on Phillip Clemmons, running only an 8.95 to Phillip's 9.25.

You have to hand it to Drag Radial stalwart Phillip Clemmons for not giving up in the face of Chris Little's onslaught. He has always been in the mix, pushing his '88 Mustang into the high 8s with a nonintercooled ProCharger and a 342ci small-block. Unfortunately, the heat was just too much for Phillip's ride at Ennis. Even though he picked up some power from a cam change, he was off his usual pace. Still, he hopes to have something for Chris in Maple Grove. At Ennis, Phillip managed only a 10.37/126 qualifying pass. Even after stepping up to 9.25 in the finals, it just wasn't enough.

If you weren't sure things were heating up in Real Street, all you'd have to do is talk to Chris Tuten. Between Columbus and Ennis, he got his 9-second NHRA license and had his car certified to break the RS barrier. We've yet to see anyone do it in competition, but Chris is right there on the doorstep. In the blistering Ennis heat, he called out all the blower boys with a 10.18/133 number-one qualifying pass. He said the hot track was killing his 60-foots and pumping up the mph, but the e.t.'s were impressive nonetheless. Chris could have taken it easy on a bye run and versus a struggling Justin Burcham, but he ripped off a 10.22 and a 10.15 just to let Brian Meyer know he was coming. In the final, Chris got Tree'd, but Brian missed a gear and handed him the easy win, 10.18 to 15.25.

Brian Meyer couldn't run one of those trick new T5s as he did at WFC, but it didn't really seem to hurt him. Even in the heat, he scored the number-two qualified spot thanks to an impressive 10.22/133. Brian had the easy road to the finals with a free ride thanks to a broken Robin Lawrence and a bye, so the AFM team was able to run the car without heating it up too much. It looked to be a clash of the two most consistently quick cars in RS action. Brian got the early jump off the Tree, but tranny troubles and a missed gear had him loafing to the finish line, while Chris Tuten was already counting his points.

You have to feel for Justin Burcham. Coming off one of the most impressive runs in Factory Stock since his pal Michael Washington took over the mantle, Justin scored Latemodel Restoration Supply as a sponsor and was running his first race in LRS' backyard. However, even after spending considerable time on the chassis dyno, Justin is still struggling to get the engine to rev. He says it's killing him, and we believe it. At least Ennis lasted more than one round for him. In round one Justin squared off against John O'Brien and they held a battle royale of 11-second Real Streeters. Justin Tree'd John and took his first RS round with an 11.10 to John's 11.60. It was a short celebration, though, as Chris Tuten came calling in round two.

It's been a rough go of it for John O'Brien. He jumped into Real Street last season, then pulled back to rev up his program. We think he's tried just about every blower out there. These days he's running Vortech hardware, but he's fighting the rev monster too. After making it all the way to Ennis from Georgia, John landed in the third qualified spot with a 10.79/ 126 pass that shows he's headed in the right direction. But, a missed Second gear in round one let Justin Burcham go by, so John and his crew hit the road to escape the Texas heat.

Brian Booze burst onto the Hot Street scene last year, packing Jim Kuntz power in Joe Morgan's TRZ-built chassis. Brian won the championship, and he must have enjoyed himself, 'cause he talked his brother Charlie into joining the HS ranks. Early on at Ennis, Brian appeared the one to beat. He qualified at the top of the list thanks to a 9.38/146. Charlie was number two. A bye in round one took Brian into round two against the formidable Who Killed Kenny Compton. Brian had the better reaction time and e.t., and it was over. Heading into the final to avenge his brother's second-round loss, Brian just didn't have the beans to hold off Shane Long despite getting the jump off the Tree.

All the classes might have been called Hot Street in Ennis, but the warm air would do no favors for the high-rpm, naturally aspirated crowd. Low 9s had been the norm, but the heat pushed that back a few tenths. We've been told by Jon Bennett that the engine in Shane Long's gorgeous silver '87 coupe made a ton of power. Well, that edge finally paid off on the hot and greasy Ennis 1,320. Shane qualified midpack with a 9.44/144 fourth-place pass. On Sunday, he yanked the Welds in the air and put just enough on each opponent to win. Nick Bacalis fell in round one. In round two, Charlie Booze had already used up his near-perfect light in round one. All that was left was the final versus last year's champ Brian Booze. Brian got the jump, but Shane ran him down and took his first win of the year.

Kurt Gallant has been on a tear this season, winning races, running 8s, and generally having a good time. Kurt credits his team's success to constant testing and R&D. He and Ron Sharp of Advanced Airflow (who does Kurt's engines, heads, and nitrous tuning) hit the strip at least twice a week. From those test sessions, they log how the car performs in different weather conditions. Thanks to all this research, Kurt was easily able to dial-in the car and run consistently in the Texas sizzle. He scored the top-qualified spot with a 9.16/149 pass, which earned him a bye in round one. Then he trailered Mike Post and Scott "Swill" Lovell on his way to a clash with Randy Rogers in the final. There Kurt Tree'd Randy and ripped off a 9.15 to ensure the win.

Nitrous newcomer Randy Rogers injected the EFI Renegade field with a 9.20 consistency that was tough to beat. He landed his '94 Cobra in the second qualified spot thanks to a 9.24/149 pass that was hot on the heels of Kurt Gallant. Once Randy rolled into eliminations, he might as well have taken home some bracket money too, 'cause he ran 9.20s in every round but his bye run. A 9.23 dispatched Brad Sease, a 9.28 edged B.K. Meyers, and then it was a bye to the finals. There Randy ran an 9.29, but he could've used a 9.09 against Kurt Gallant.

Another racer who was actually closer to Ennis than most other NMRA events was Dwayne Barbaree of Eldorado, Arkansas. He has been in the Pure Street chase all season, but his exploits have been overshadowed by the Hendricks/Hindman battles. The shorter drive also allowed Dwayne to bring the whole clan with him to Texas. With the family for motivation, he qualified number one with a 10.89/123. From there it was a fairly easy road for Dwayne. He dispatched Rich Groh in round one and took a bye in round two. In the finals he squared off against the previously undefeated Darin Hendricks. It was a close one. Darin left first, but Dwayne had enough power to make it to the big end first, with a 10.974 versus Darin's 10.990.

The tough thing about streaks is there's always the looming danger they might end. Darin Hendricks set the Pure Street world on fire, mostly using guile and driving skill to best competitors with quicker cars. He's been the nemesis to last year's champ Gene Hindman, but at Ennis they would meet before the finals. Darin qualified Steve Moberly's ride in the third spot thanks to a 10.97/122 hit. Jeff Chandler gave him the win in round one, then Darin and Gene lined up in round two. As has been the case all year, Darin won the race at the Tree, jumping out and holding Gene off despite a slower 10.92-versus-10.91 e.t. Darin must have been distracted not to see Gene in the finals, 'cause upstart Dwayne Barbaree won one for his home team. Despite the loss, Darin still held a commanding points lead heading into the Grove.

Michael Washington is the last NMRA racer to hold a winning streak throughout the NMRA season. He's working to outdo teammate Justin Burcham's '02 FS run. It began a little rough for Michael, however. He busted a T5 in qualifying, but he's used to putting out fires, so the team quickly swapped in a new T5 (it helps to have Latemodel Restoration Supply as a sponsor) and made the next round. He still qualified in first with an impressive 11.92/113 run in the brutal Texas heat. Eliminations couldn't have been easier for Michael unless all his competitors had left the track. In round one he had a bye, and Jamie Holten lit the red bulb in the finals.

Misery loves company, and Jamie Holten might want to give Gene Hindman a call so they can come up with a way to defeat their respective nemeses. Jamie is sick of seeing Michael Washington in the finals, but at Ennis he had to go only one round to get there. After qualifying in the second spot (12.06/113), Jamie squared off against Chris "Noodles" Hemmeter in the first round. Despite getting Tree'd, Jamie was able to run down Noodles. In the final, Jamie tried a little too hard to get the jump on Michael and he redlighted, handing Michael an easy win.

In open-comp style modular racing, consistency-not quickness-is the name of the game. When Lupe Davila is playing that game, he's always a threat to win. After Robert Hindman fell out in round two, Lupe looked to have clear sailing. He easily ran within a tenth of his 12.41 dial-in, and in the finals against Shane Williams, Lupe coupled a killer reaction time with a 12.42 for the win.

Texas is like its own country. Its antilitter slogan is Don't Mess with Texas, but that's taken on a greater meaning for Texas residents. You simply don't mess with Texans or their state. So when Mark Morales rolled in with a big points lead in Truck and Lightning, he seemed the favorite. Not so fast-Paul Gamino of Sweeny, Texas, went rounds and landed in the final, where Mark ran a little too quick, and Paul walked away with the win.

We don't make it to Texas often, so we were scoping out the Auto Show for potential feature cars. We found a few pretty rides, but when we had to select an Editor's Choice award, the easy winner was Larry Couture's '99 Saleen. It features the upmarket BASF paint option, but Larry took the Saleen to the next level with a generous dose of chrome underhood and boom inside. Nice ride.