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.

You have to like Ross Stomp, if for no other reason than he picked 1320 for his NMRA permanent number. At Atco, Ross looked to be on the way to giving fellow ProCharger racer Don Walsh Jr. a run for his money. Ross, driving the former Pande Talevski machine, posted the number-two qualifying run with a 6.98/204 blast. Not only did Skinny Kid Race Cars' Keith Engling build this car, but he's also taking it on as his own personal tuning school. While Keith doesn't need chassis-tuning school, he is adding engine-tuning skills to his bag of tricks. Jim Summers set up Keith with a base program, saying the Skinny Kid has an aptitude for tuning. Unfortunately, hardware gremlins have given Ross' car fits. Look for big things when they get the whole package dialed in.

John Urist had planned for Atco to be one of the races to miss in 2003, but a family function back East gave him an excuse to load up Burnie and his Judas Priest Painkiller CD [hey, the metal god is back after all-Ed.] and make the pilgrimage to the Mustang Mecca. If Burnie's tongue was hanging out at Joliet, it didn't show any ill effects at Atco by qualifying in the third spot with a 7.90 at 177 mph behind Flyin Todd Fluman and Bryan Sorby. In eliminations, the Fireball torched the Tree and handed it to every opponent, with his worst reaction time being a 0.496 light against Don Burton. On his third-round bye run, John busted out a 0.436 light and combined it with a 7.97 at 175 mph. Then John took out Mike "Punk" Trimandilis with a 0.441 light and a 7.89 at 175 mph. In the final, John used a 0.462 light and a 7.94 at 174 mph to down Outlaw upstart Manny Buginga.

Manny Buginga had a great weekend at Atco, and it began by qualifying in the sixth spot with an 8.09 at 176 mph. He ran into a few suspension problems, but crew chief Pat Burke dialed it in to enable the car to go consistent 8.0s when needed. In the first round, Manny tried something and it didn't work, but he still won. He lifted at the top end in the second round for an 8.28 at 173 mph, and he ran into ignition problems in round three-but he still won. On the bye run, the car smoked the tires, so Manny took out a lot of power everywhere (hence the "low" 172-mph trap speed) for the final round against John Urist, where an 8.08 wasn't enough to take it to the house. Along with thanking his sponsors, Manny is grateful to the Spetters for meeting him at the shop Friday morning at 5 a.m. to get a new ACCEL Gen 7 box.

After becoming intimate with the Joliet wall two weeks prior, Chris Little summoned the help of UPR, Every Last Detail's Brian Bossone, and Outlaw racer Chris Ketler to get the car straightened out. The front clip had to be cut off and a new front end welded on. The car was finished in time for Chris to make a race the weekend before Atco (which he won as well), and it obviously became a paint-waiver candidate at Atco. For qualifying, Chris began with a safe tune-up in the car. He ran an 8.84 at 160 mph, but with only one round he wasn't able to improve on that time until the first round of eliminations.Once he put the usual tune-up in the car, the result was a much better-and usual-8.59 at 156 mph, which bounced Shane Jennings from competition. Chris then began saving components, only pushing the issue when needed, which was in the final against Phillip Clemmons. However, he hurt the rearend against Jimmy Byrne the round before, chipping off a couple teeth on the pinion. This slowed the car to an 8.73 at 161 mph, but Chris' holeshot was still able to hold off Phillip.

If they weren't sure before, the rest of the Renegade gang saw its chances at a championship disappear into a cloud of black smoke-the way Kurt Gallant's car does at the top end. Not only did Kurt reset the e.t. and mph records at 8.90 and 152.12 at Atco, but he also nabbed the number-one qualified position and won the event, giving himself an insurmountable 900-plus-point lead heading into the World Finals. Kurt's commitment to testing has obviously paid off. He met his first challenge in round two versus Renegade legend Bob "The Flyin' Hawaiian" Kurgan, but not even a good light could save Bob. Kurt coasted one round before clashing with the new threat in racing-Scott Lovell and the Swill Racing team. They busted out of the paper bag to lay down a .16, but Kurt showed 'em the eights and the trailer. In the finals, Kurt leaned on it a little harder and left Jeremy Martorella watching the teacher from the back of class.

After getting some unexpected Renegade practice in at the Bristol FFW, Jeremy "Pimp Shades" Martorella headed into Atco by way of Jimmy LaRocca's dyno. His UPR Products-backed ride (formerly driven by Bart Tobener) picked up enough power and torque to slide up to the number-two qualified spot with a 9.05/ 151.07. With tongue planted firmly in cheek, Jeremy said the UPR squad was simply racing for second at Atco. He says if the weather cooperates, they might just have something for KG in BG. At Atco, however, Jeremy didn't really field a worthy challenge until our old friend Dan Jaynes busted out a 9.19. But Jeremy had done his usual job at the Tree, and it was over before it began. With a bye into the final, Jeremy had time to cool his car for the clash with Kurt Gallant, but something let go on the pass, so he watched Kurt cruise to the win.

Phillip Clemmons brought his ATI-ProCharger F1R-powered '88 GT to Atco to do battle with the turbo and nitrous guys. He knew the car would run strong, but he's been plagued with engine issues all year long that he just recently solved. In qualifying, Phillip clicked his Dynamic Powerglide into high gear and into the top spot with an 8.72 at 164 mph, a speed he didn't really expect. At Atco, he detuned the car to make it leave well, but he was fighting it during eliminations and while finding the right time to dial in the power. Phillip's happy to have his engine issues behind him. Now he just hopes to be out in front of that green car sometime soon.

Is this Hot Street a tough class or what? The top five qualifiers ranged from 9.19 to 9.27, but it was Kenny Compton who put himself at the head of the class with the 9.19 at Atco. Who Killed Kenny now runs a Glidden 400 under the hood of his flamed South Park special, and he obviously has a handle on the new combo, perhaps thanks to a new TCT converter with almost no slip at the top end. He didn't really need to lean on it until round three, as he had a bye in round one and an ailing Duane Busch in round two. The third round found Kenny, who had his dad helping him between rounds, clashing with the dominant Hot Street racer of recent history-Charlie Booze. Charlie got the jump, but Kenny managed to reel him in downtrack to advance to the final. There he met the always-dangerous Shane Long, who also got the jump, but it wasn't enough, and Kenny scored the win. It couldn't hurt that Kenny had the car back to Billy's shop to find more power, and that he had Skinny Kid Keith Engling lining him up all weekend, could it?

Have we mentioned we love the look of those polished Welds on the front of Shane Long's sweet '87 coupe? Now we have. He got the first set off the production line and-boy-are they sweet. Anyway, Shane has always been a threat to win in the all-motor rpm fest that is Hot Street, and he did so back in the Ennis heat. In muggy New Jersey, Shane scored the fourth-place qualifying spot with a solid 9.24/147, but he was having trouble finding the right converter for his Bennett Racing 400ci combination. Fortunately, the fellas at TCT helped him out, and he thinks he's onto something headed into Bowling Green. After two easy wins and a bye, Shane didn't really have a close call until the final, but close it was. He left just ahead of Who Killed Kenny, but a 9.24 wasn't quite enough to take another win.

Well, well, well. Shortly after bemoaning the dripping humidity at Atco, Bruce Hemminger turned the Real Street world on its ear with the qualifying shot heard 'round the world. He busted off a 9.88 at 138.31. Bruce said curing his fuel-system problems allowed him to tune on the whole car, and it showed. He said he was simply trying to tune around the air to get the car to run as well as it did at Joliet. Whatever he did worked. Bruce had a fairly easy run to the finals. He busted out the 9-second whooping stick on Mike Wesley in round one, but off-pace efforts from Jason Hoots and Paul Wiley allowed Bruce to take it easy on the equipment. Once he hit the finals against Chris Tuten, he wasn't about to let him slip by. Chris cut the light of his life, but it still wasn't enough to handle Bruce, who got out of it at the top end to edge Chris 9.98/127 to 10.14/136. Bowling Green is gonna be a wild one with Bruce, Chris, and Robin Lawrence all in striking distance of the championship.

Atco was the first race Chris Tuten attended without his pals to help him out, and his back was up against the wall in the championship points race. Chris knew Robin and Bruce were looking to pull away, and he had to be on his game. After qualifying second with a 10.11/134, Chris was fighting traction problems and a mysterious power loss. In round one, he drew a wake-up call against Craig Baldwin, who chopped down the Tree and made it a close race. In round two, Chris drew Robin, and there was a big swing in points on the line. It was time to step it up, so he loaded the killer tune-up into the EPEC, knowing he had to cut a light. He caught Robin napping and won the tightly contested race, despite his slower e.t. After another win against a resurgent Justin Burcham, Chris was a little too focused on the race, and his hood flew up on him in the lanes. After patching it back together, he clashed with Bruce Hemminger, who busted off another nine for the win.

Paul Wiley has his ride making power, but putting it to the track has been the problem thus far. He's enlisted Kurt Gallant to help, so watch out. He had another problem at Atco-a severely blown head gasket and a chunked cylinder head-thus he qualified only in the 11th spot with an 11.01/127.56. Ron Sharp of Advanced Airflow told him he could fix the head, but "it wouldn't be pretty." He sent Paul away and went to work with a hammer, a punch, and JB Weld. With the newly epoxied head and 100 lb-ft of torque, Paul made it to the third round before falling to Bruce Hemminger.

It's been a difficult year for Justin Burcham, who last season tore it up in Factory Stock. So far, the road to Real Street glory has been paved with broken equipment, which is frustrating and expensive. Justin spent two solid nights repairing the damage from Joliet-one of which was at the home of Billy Laskowsky to get the car properly set up. "We watched the sun come up that day," Justin says. Still, he persevered, and if Atco is any indication, he has his program pointed in the right direction. In addition to repairing the K-member and oil pan damage from Joliet, Justin added a new Hanlon tranny and a new clutch. He then headed to LaRocca's for more dyno time. The result was qualifying in the fourth spot thanks to a 10.14 at 136.51. After breezing through the first two rounds, Justin assumed the underdog role against the consistently quick Chris Tuten. Justin got the jump in his ProCharged ride, but Chris powered by him. As it turned out, Justin blew out his rear axle and twisted his driveshaft yoke on that pass, so the expenses continue-at least they're now a tax write-off for his new venture, Justin's Performance Center.

This is what Real Street is supposed to be about. Despite every race being a long haul from Massachusetts, Mike Dezotell has simply been enjoying himself in the class. Heck, he even made the race after moving his entire shop to a new location. But-and there's always a but-that hasn't kept him from stepping up his program. After running forever with a stock block and crank, Mike has finally stepped up to a race-prepped short-block. He headed to Atco with a safe tune-up, but now that he has some durability, he won't be afraid to turn up the wick. Set on safe, he qualified eighth with a 10.44/130.29. After an easy round one when Chris Fillyaw broke, Mike headed into round two against Justin Burcham. Despite cutting nearly identical lights, the two ProCharged racers were worlds apart on the top end, where Mike's 10.39 just wasn't enough.

To validate his Joliet victory in Pure Street, Rich Groh came to Atco and held his own instant replay show. Rich qualified in the top spot with a 10.60 at 128 mph. Yes, you read right-an amazing 128 mph. In between trading jabs with fellow Pure Streeter Gene Hindman, Rich ran a couple more 10.60s (one against Gene in round three), and then a 10.70 at another 128 mph against Darin Hendricks in the final. Rich said he would be just as content tuning on his car and watching someone else drive it down the track. We'd do it, but we're too busy working on bringing the race coverage to you. Any takers?

Since Rich Groh got his car going 10.60s, Darin Hendricks has had to work hard to stay in the same zip code. At Atco he was right there with his own 10.69 at 125 mph to land the second qualifying spot. From there he ran a 10.71 at 126 mph and a 10.67 at 126 mph against Teddy Weaver. He then took it easy in a bye run prior to the final, where he ran into mechanical problems.

With Jamie Holten at home for the Atco race, Michael Washington had a relatively easy time of it. After thrashing to get the car ready for the race, it all paid off with 11.88 at 114 mph to garner the top quali-fying spot. From there, the only time Michael had to put the gas to the floor was against Jeffrey Schmell in the final, when he ran a 12.13 at 114 mph to Jeffrey's 12.27 at 110 mph.

The modular-motor guys have been searching for power with the Mach 1s, and Jeffrey Schmell has been lobbying hard for rules changes to enable the Four-Valve cars to compete with the pushrod guys. He had to remove his Bassani Mid-Length headers, but the car still runs plenty strong with times in the low 12s. Jeffrey qualified in the second spot with a 12.18 at 111 mph, and then had to battle John Leslie and Brad Carroll before getting a shot at Michael Washington. However, Jeffrey could've used a couple rules changes in the exchange because his 12.27 at 110 mph wasn't quite enough to down Michael.

Usually the quicker cars aren't the most consistent, but Ed Hicks proved otherwise after qualifying in the top spot of Modular Muscle with a 10.83 and picking his way through the 19-car field for the win. It wasn't that tough, though, thanks to a bye run and a couple of ailing competitors. In the finals, however, Ed clashed with Mr. Mod Motor, Lupe Davila. Both were close to their dial-ins, but Ed did his lumberjack work at the Tree to take the win.

Sal Mennella came into Atco with the slowest freakin' truck in competition by some 3.5 seconds, but in open comp-style racing, speed doesn't matter. Sal was slow 'cause he snapped the crank on his fast Lightning, so he rented this hulking 4x4 to collect some points. With it, he made his competitors sit with plenty of time to figure out exactly how to catch him, which none did. Sal ran just about right on his dial (using a sun dial, no doubt) every time, and took advantage of other people running into problems. Sal proves you don't always have to have the faster truck to win Truck and Lightning.