Steve Turner
Former Editor, 5.0 Mustang & Super Fords
January 1, 2004
Contributers: Michael Johnson Photos By: Michael Johnson

Horse Sense: There are many places in New Jersey where you can't make a left turn. If you're from another state, it can be a pain getting used to taking a right turn and going around the block just to take the left turn you take for granted back home. These space-inefficient turning routes are known as "jug handles" by Jerseyites.

After the coming-out-of-the-rain party at Joliet, the NMRA racers were looking forward to the night qualifying at Atco and the anticipation of phenomenal performances. The theory was that since the track is closer to sea level, it would provide blower-friendly barometric pressures. Combine that with the cooler night air, and the blower guys in Real Street were looking to lay down 9.80s. Meanwhile, in classes such as Drag Radial and Renegade, the boosted boys certainly looked to level the playing field with the dominant nitrous cars.

So much for theories-the intermittent rain caused delays, limited quali-fying, and turned the air into a wet rag. But not all the boosted cars suf-fered. Don Walsh Jr. and John Urist continued their dominant years, and in the naturally aspirated ranks, Michael Washington continued his unbeaten streak in Factory Stock, while Rich Groh picked up where he left off in Pure Street. In all, the racing was great and the performances were impressive. But only Phillip Clemmons seemed to take advantage of the barometer with his record-setting mph in Drag Radial.

Atco proved a pivotal points event in many classes, but a few teams already have First-Place jackets stitched up with their names. We expect the finals in Bowling Green will see everyone laying it on the line to grab points. Guys will be blowing up their junk just to stay in the top 10 and get on stage at the PRI awards ceremony. If you missed Atco, we have all the triumphs and screw-ups. Check out our photos and captions for the bottom line.

After his wheelie antics at Joliet, Drag Radial racer Jimmy Byrne knew he had the power-he just needed to keep from dragging the bumper down the track. No, Jimmy, that's not why they call it "drag" racing. To get a better handle on the suspension, he wanted to test a pair of Santhuff front struts along with his TRZ Motorsports-suspended rear, but since there was only one round of qualifying, he stayed with his Lakewood struts for eliminations. Jimmy was still sneaking up on the tune at Atco with his 9.09/153-mph qualifying effort, but his first-round opponent Big Bob McDonald ran into problems in the burnout box, so Jimmy took it easy down the track. In the second round, Jimmy got out on Walter Pfister and held on with a 9.02 to Walter's quicker 8.98 thanks to a quicker reaction time. Chris Little had his car fixed in time for Atco, so Jimmy was the unlucky one in that exchange, especially after blowing off the tires upon nitrous activation. Jimmy will be testing his butt off (mostly with the Santhuff struts) prior to Bowling Green to try and finish second in points.

Jimmy Byrne's fellow Drag Radial racer Spence Hart has taken most of the year off to rest and redo his car. Working with a new top-end combo that includes a Reichard Racing upper and a TFS R lower, Spence added an NMRA-legal Vortech X-Trim and a Spearco intercooler out of Mike Murillo's maroon car. At Atco, Spence's car had its own set of gremlins, the major one being a worn distributor gear. In testing after Atco, the car ran 9.37 at 152 mph (its third pass on the new setup), but Spence will be working on getting more low-end torque out of the car before Bowling Green. He will be focusing on tuning, pulley combinations, and launch technique to get the car back in the 8s. However, the big news from Spence was the car's new paint. Designed and painted at his employer Rhodes Custom Auto Works in Townsend, Delaware, Spence sends out thanks to Mike Hanna and Tyler Simmons for the killer flame design. The color combo begins with Mineral Gray flames over a Candyapple Red base, and the flames are accented with blue, yellow, and purple highlights.

OK, we'll admit it. Pro 5.0 hasn't been the most hotly contested class at the NMRA this year, but you have to admit it probably wouldn't have mattered. Don Walsh Jr. is closing out the season in championship fashion. After winning the first event and faltering in the following two, Don has turned it all around, winning the last three events, including Atco. He says he didn't make many changes to his combo before Atco. The Walsh Motorsports team simply tore the whole car apart and put it back together to ensure everything was in tip-top shape. Considering there were only two weeks between Joliet and Atco, that shows you Don has his eyes on the prize. Naturally, he qualified in the top spot, set a new mph record at 211.83, and took a first-round bye. He then took out fellow ProCharger racer Doug Mangrum (who's moved back to a beltdrive). Then it was another ProCharger-versus-ProCharger battle, as Don laid four tenths on Ross Stomp for the win.