KJ Jones Senior Technical Editor
December 1, 2006
Photos By: KJ Jones
Leo Johnson jockeyed Raggdoll Racing's flagship coupe to the Hot Street title, setting off a celebration we're sure could be heard back in the popular driver's hometown of St. Louis.

Horse Sense: "Night" racing (after 8 p.m.) at US 131 Motorsports Park goes down in near broad daylight during the summer. Martin, Michigan, is roughly 70 miles away from the imaginary line that separates the Eastern and Central time zones, and true nightfall doesn't set in until almost 10 p.m. Eternal light, indeed.

Racers, fans, and even a few dignitaries from Ford Motor Company converged on Martin, Michigan, to take another shot at getting the Toyo Tires NMRA Ford Nationals completed at US 131 Motorsports Park.

A mixture of rain, wind, and snow put a premature kibosh on the second running of the event in April 2005, and our Florida-bred editor, Steve Turner, scrambled back to warmer climates. Hopes were high that bad weather would stay clear of the Martin area during the '06 edition of the NMRA 'Stangfest at the beautiful, small-scale motorplex.

With clear skies, bright sunlight, and low-to-mid-80-degree temps, we had no doubt the race would run in its entirety, and every competitor was ready to prove that the NMRA's decision to reschedule the race to the middle of the summer was a good one. The racing action was exciting, despite relatively small car counts in some of the premier heads-up categories, with first-time (for 2006) finalists and first-time NMRA-event winners in several classes.

Unlike last year, where racers such as Manny Buginga, Charlie Booze Jr., and Gene Hindman were dominant points leaders in their respective classes at mid-season, the same can't be said about competitors in any category at the '06 season's intermission point, which tells us that thus far we have experienced some of the hottest, all-around 'Stangbanging competition and personal-best performances we've seen in a long time.

The madness at Martin was great from start to finish and we're willing to bet the remaining four NMRA events will be even better, as racers and race teams start making big moves toward earning championship jackets and rings.

Don Bowles introduced his new "Coal Digger" '06 'Stang at Martin. The Roush Industries-backed GT is a 9-second player in Modular Muscle, thanks to its Ford GT powerplant and Jerico four-speed transmission and the 67-year-old's driving skills. Don does kick the clutch pedal between shifts, which earned him low-qualifier honors in the always-tough class, with a 0.500 reaction time backed up by two other sub-0.520 lights, proving the double-zero was no fluke.

This awesome assemblage of the latest Mustang and Ford muscle was parked in the midway throughout the course of the weekend, and the Shelby GT 500s were occasionally tooled around the pits by NMRA honchos. Ford's Andy Benedict and John Torvinen also treated race fans to tire-blazing exhibition passes on Saturday and Sunday, that would have fared pretty well in the burnout contest if they had entered.

"We speeded it up a little bit," was the word from Tommy Sanders when asked about the readiness of his Motive Gear-sponsored '03 'Stang going into round one of Pro 5.0 eliminations. Tommy wasn't kidding. Despite a red-light start, driver Joe Morgan's 6.64/212-mph statement (the 6.64 was the lowest e.t. for the class at Martin) put the class on notice that the team's once-struggling big-block/nitrous combination is dialed and plenty capable of leading the Pro 5.0 pack.

Chicago's Darrin Carter rolled his highly anticipated, super-clean four-eyed hatchback onto the property at US 131 and had everyone asking, "Is that a show car or a race car?" Although Darrin's Pure Street debut was somewhat tempered by transmission issues, he was still able to break into the 10-second zone his first time out with the new ride, and he's optimistic that things will only get better with seat time.

While many teams had to put in overtime to fix broken race cars between Friday and Sunday (transmissions were high on the list of broken parts all weekend), the Halfacre brothers won the unofficial Best Thrash award for the Martin race. On Saturday, the intercooler in Jarrett Halfacre's Yellow GT-turned-LX exploded during the second round of qualifying, putting a huge split along a side seam on the tank and blowing a hole in the rear Lexan hatch panel. "It sounded like a gun went off inside the car," Jarrett said. By Sunday morning, the team had the 'cooler repaired and Jarrett proceeded to go three rounds before losing in the semis to John Urist.

A view from the bridge. Here's a rare look at the action inside NMRA Race Control tower. Dr. Jamie Meyer (left) and Tim Johnson (center) provide commentary on the racing action, while Race Director Gene Bergstrom choreographs the entire event via two-way communication with the NMRA staff.

Three-time Pro 5.0 champion crew chief Chris Tumpkin found himself in the seat and behind the wheel of Trilogy Motor-sports' blown and nitrous-injected '03 Marauder, on a mission to make his first-ever 10-second pass. It's hard to believe one of the main shot-callers for Donnie Walsh Jr.'s 6-second 'Stang had never driven anything quicker than his low-11-second Capri, but Chris easily recorded the new personal-low e.t. and probably has his sights set on running in the 9s now. He jetted to a 10.86 in a first-round breakout loss in Bracket 1.

Pro 5.0
If we said, "Tony Bischoff," what would be your immediate response? If you said, "He's one of the top Ford race-engine builders in the country," you'd be only half correct. At Martin, Tony proved he's also a pretty good driver, as he jockeyed his '01 big-block/nitrous Mercury Cougar past David Hance and Chuck DeMory en route to a final-round showdown with Donnie Walsh Jr. "I started off the weekend thinking I had a small chance of winning the race, but after qualifying [number two behind Donnie] I felt my chances were better," Tony said. He can credit his own BES horsepower and three stages of Speedtech nitrous for helping secure the victory, as he needed all of it to overcome Donnie's holeshot (0.407 to 0.454) and drive around the defending class champion.