Michael Johnson
Associate Editor, 5.0 Mustangs & Super Fords
December 1, 2007
Photos By: Paul Rosner

Horse Sense: Many of the car haulers owned by NMRA racers feature what's called "landing gear." Landing gear allows the trailer owner to jack up the front of the trailer so it can be disconnected from the truck. Some racers, Tony Orts for one, have an electric landing gear, but our boy Mike Zamboni's is manual. Since Mike was under the weather when we arrived at Joliet, yours truly had to manually lower the landing gear using the hand-crank mechanism.

The storyline for the Inaugural Super Bowl of Street-Legal Drag Racing was previously dominated by the event's intense heat. Thankfully, that wasn't the case for the '07 Super Bowl. If you didn't know, the Super Bowl of Street-Legal Drag Racing is the meeting of the NMRA and the NMCA racing sanctioning bodies at the same event. Instead of seeing a sea of Mustangs at Joliet, there were all kinds of makes-from an eight-second Jeep to hordes of Camaros, Chevelles, Novas, and some Mopars and other GM iron thrown in the mix. One thing we found out is those NMCA racers have some nice cars, and they're fast, too.

The Super Bowl keeps the NMRA and NMCA separate, but the brand-versus-brand excitement ramps up when NMRA class winners square off against NMCA class winners to decide the Super Bowl Shootout. Class winners are paired against each other using a staggered Tree according to each racer's elapsed time. Since we're used to only seeing Mustangs race other Mustangs, it was good to see them beating up on other makes for a change. You'll be happy to know Mustangs won the overall Super Bowl Shootout last year, and this year the NMRA again took the overall victory by winning 7 of 11 championship classes.

Besides the Super Bowl angle, what stole the show was the level of carnage. Sure, NMRA racers were letting it all hang out while running for championship points. Joliet is usually a track that delivers records, helping in the points chase. Furthermore, the prestige of being a Super Bowl Shootout champion had racers reaching for an extra tenth.

As such, guys were blowing up their junk all weekend. Fireball John Urist and his camp were working on his car constantly. The Pro 5.0 class went from five to three racers because of terminal mechanical damage. Jarrett Halfacre flattened the side of his car after going through the traps at 190 mph. Real Street racer Michael Washington broke a driveshaft right off the line. Factory Stock racer John Leslie's red coupe was on jackstands most of the weekend. Shawn Johnson was one of many racers doing the clutch swap boogie at the track. Pure Street racer Ryan Hecox went from a carburetor back to EFI on his car. There was never a dull moment at Joliet.

FYI
To reiterate the fact that Joliet is only a stone's throw from Chicago, Thursday's test and tune session featured some strong crosswinds. Racers reported that everything was OK until they cleared the stands, and then it was a game of "hold on." Super Street Outlaw racer Jarrett Halfacre couldn't quite hold on to his Fox GT after going through the traps with a 7.51/190-mph pass. The wind grabbed the chute and pulled the Roscoe, Illinois, racer right into the wall, pancaking the passenger side of the car. Thursday evening the car was sent to a local body shop to check all the angles and measurements and get the chassis back to square. The repairs worked because Jarrett came back to qualify in the top spot with a 7.45/195-mph smack in the face. He made it to the semis, but eventual winner John Urist whipped out a 0.404 light and made it stick all the way to the stripe for the win.

When we took this photo, we knew Brian Tuten was on a pass. The car leapt out of the hole and completely caught us off guard. Good thing we were shooting from the stands and not down at the line, or we would have a nice, blurry photo of Brian's quarter-panel. What he did was blast an 8.65 at 152 mph to land in the top-qualifying spot of EFI Renegade. Nitrous has recently shown real promise in EFI Renegade, thanks to Joel Howard, Brian, and his BMF Racing stablemate Brent Weston. Brent's combo has yet to be sorted out, but at Joliet, Brian's showed promise with the 8.65. That pass hurt some parts, but thanks to his first-round competition suffering severe damage and a second-round bye, Brian was still able to go a couple of rounds Saturday night and Sunday. Bob Cook ran just fine and was able to end Brian's weekend for good in round three.

How would you like to drive more than 20 hours only to blow up your junk? Just ask South Florida's David Beyer. He was able to get his '05 Mustang GT running again before the Joliet race, and he was going to the race, no matter what. With a single 76mm turbocharger stuffing air into a built Three-Valve engine, a charging system malfunction resulted in blown head gaskets, burnt pistons, and a torched head. Not wanting to give up, a call was made to Justin Burcham for an aluminum Cobra short-block, which David thought wouldn't hold up to the power. When Real Street racer Tim Matherly torched a head, the short-block out of his race car instead took residence under David's existing-and repaired-top end. When it came time to get the car running, it was discovered the charging system malfunction also took out the Big Stuff 3 engine management system, leaving David with no more options but to begin the long trek home.

Seeking more excitement for our trip to Joliet, we chose to ride with Zamboni Speed and Custom's Mike and Angela Zamboni. Their Riverview, Florida, location is mere minutes from our Tampa office, and when we found out they were racing both their Mustangs at the Super Bowl, we decided to hit the road. On the way to Joliet, we found out Mike shouldn't eat McDonald's fast food while taking ginseng energy pills and pain medication for his knee. He was better by race day, which helped him go rounds and finish runner-up in Modular Muscle in his ProCharger-blown '05 Mustang GT (shown). Meanwhile, Angela raced her own '05 Mustang GT, also featuring a ProCharger underhood in the form of a P-1SC. She was going for the 12.0 index in the True Street class, but finished with a 12.174 average, which was a few spots down from the index winner.

A sign the apocalypse is upon us: Justin Burcham's '05 GT featured-gasp-an automatic transmission. Specifically, the JPC Racing team leader's war horse had a Turbo 400 in the tunnel for a run at the eight-second zone, but the transmission had other ideas after going south during the first test-and-tune run. The weekend didn't get much better for the JPC Racing crew. Of the dozen or so JPC-sponsored racers, Real Street racer Bruce Hemminger was the lone JPC-stickered entry to take it to the house.

Jack Roush was once again the Official Grand Marshal of the Super Bowl of Street-Legal Drag Racing. In addition to shaking hands and kissing babies, he signed autographs and cheered on his sponsored race cars, including his daughter Susan in the Modular Muscle class. Freelancer Paul Rosner caught this rare image of a hatless Roush, but it was during the National Anthem. That must be the one instance when the Cat in the Hat removes the lid.

PRO 5.0
Michael Hauf ran a 6.63 at 211 mph, but he still found himself at the bottom of Pro 5.0's qualifying sheet. Number-one qualifier Tony Bischoff posted a 6.60 at 208 mph, so he was right in the mix. In round one, Michael squared off with David Schorr, but David went 0.388 red, handing Michael the round win. In the final, Tony turned it up with a 6.58, but it didn't matter because this time it was Michael going red, giving the uncontested win to Tony.

We counted five Pro 5.0 cars on the property, but when qualifying was over, three were left standing. Tony Bischoff's Cougar was at the top, David Schorr's Escort was second, and Michael Hauf's Mustang was third. Though they were few, the three were close to each other in qualifying times. In round one, they all ran 6.63s, but David redlighted against Michael, and Tony had a bye. In the final of Pro 5.0, Michael saw red against Tony, handing the BES Racing chief another victory. In the Super Bowl Shootout against Randall Haynes' '41 Willys, Tony's 646ci nitrous combo started to eat itself toward the top end. It slowed to a 6.71 at 175 mph, allowing Randall to come around him for the win.

Super Street Outlaw
What a weekend it was for Super Street Outlaw racer John Urist. First off, he burned another piston-his nickname is "The Fireball," after all-in the third round of qualifying Saturday afternoon, a problem that's plagued the New Mexico racer all year. Most racers would be done at that point, especially since round one of eliminations at the Super Bowl was Saturday night. It's a good thing John was scheduled to race Hellion Power Systems teammate Dwayne James. Dwayne took one for the home team in round one by not going up to take the Tree so John could stay in competition. A late-night/early-morning thrash took care of the burnt piston. When they started the car Sunday morning, out popped a freeze plug, so 30 minutes from lane call, the transmission was out of the car. More drama came in round two when AJ Powell rolled through the lights, but the auto-start must not have been set or he rolled through a nano-second prior to John staging his car because it didn't signal a redlight start. Even so, John thought for sure he was the automatic winner, but AJ quickly backed up to stage once again. John began to back up his car, but suddenly it was three yellows and a green-time to go. He slammed the shifter down into low, hammered the throttle, and still ran a 7.51 to beat AJ's 7.66. John had problems again in round three, but his opponent, Kentucky Sam Vincent, broke right off the line, allowing John to coast down the track for the round win. In the semis, John relied on a holeshot to get past Jarrett Halfacre, who had his own problems at Joliet. In the final round, Zach Posey redlighted, handing John the victory. In the Super Bowl Shootout, however, Billy Glidden ran the number to keep John from completing the sweep.

Zack Posey's weekend can be best summed up by the old phrase "Sometimes you're the windshield, other times you're the bug." Case in point, the 13th qualifier in Super Street Outlaw drew Donnie "Burndown" Burton in round one. Zack had struggled in qualifying, so he had to lay it all on the line just to make it out of round one. With a stellar reaction time, he had a tenth on Donnie right off the bat. On that pass, Zack had enough ProCharger to survive with a 7.63 to Donnie's quicker-but-losing 7.53. It was that close. Quick reaction times got Zack past Billy Laskowsky and Filthy Phil Hines in rounds two and three, respectively. Knowing he needed another quick light in the final against John Urist, he pushed the Tree too hard with a 0.380 light, handing John the win.

Drag Radial
The Drag Radial class has been up in arms all year concerning class parity, so the NMRA adjusted the rules by adding 100 pounds to competitors utilizing an 88mm turbo. One guy the adjustment was aimed at is John Kolivas. Instead of hitting the donuts, though, John dropped down to an 85mm turbo and still ran 8.0s with an 8.09 at 173 mph to qualify number one. With perennial contender Chris Tuten struggling with wheelstands and Tony Akins getting used to his new turbo combination, John had a relatively easy time during eliminations, and he doubled-up by winning his shootout race against NMCA Extreme Street racer Bob Curran.

At Joliet, Kevin Fiscus showed it will be more than a two-car race for the rest of the year. Kevin's '02 Mustang utilizes a Fig Performance-built 360ci with a Precision Turbo 88mm hair dryer, a Steve Petty (Proline Racing Engines) tune-up, and head and intake porting by Kris Starnes. Kevin's 8.10/177-mph blast in Saturday afternoon's first round of eliminations was his fastest of the year. He said the car worked perfectly all weekend until the final round against John Kolivas when he ran into tire shake, forcing him to momentarily back out of the throttle and watch John drive away. "This is our rookie season and our biggest challenge is adjusting to the different track conditions," Kevin says. "We're learning what works and what doesn't with each pass." Kevin also says a huge challenge will be beating Chris Tuten and John at the same event, but he's going to give it his best effort.

EFI Renegade
We know several things about Tony Orts. First off, we think he could race just about anything. Second, he loves his car hauler's electric landing gear. He told us so right before we had to manually drop the landing gear on Mike Zamboni's trailer. For those keeping score at home, that's not fun to do. Third, Tony is down a battery charger because he loaned it to a fellow racer and left before getting it back. Back to the actual racing: Because Joliet is an NMRA and an NMCA race, he pulled double-duty racing in the EFI Renegade class on the NMRA side in an '05 Mustang GT, and in the Extreme Street class on the NMCA side in his '68 Firebird. He did well in both classes, but he was more successful in the Mustang and made it to the finals of EFI Renegade against Brian Mitchell. A redlight start handed the win to Brian.

Always one of the more competitive NMRA classes, EFI Renegade was up for grabs at Joliet. Brian Mitchell rose to the top once again thanks to consistency and quick reaction times. Though Brian Tuten and Bart Tobener out-qualified the defending EFI Renegade champ, Brian methodically carved his way though eliminations until he met Tony Orts in the final. Tony, obviously knowing he needed a good reaction time, lit the red bulb, handing Brian the victory. Brian still relies on Vortech Superchargers, PT Race Engines/Cleveland Performance, Dynamic Converters/Pro-Formance Transmissions, UPR Products, SGS Automotive, and especially his wife and crew.

Hot Street
Making time to race at Joliet paid off for Charlie Booze Jr., as he was able to get back on the winning track and add a second shootout ring to his collection. In a class quickly becoming dominated by Roush Performance powerplants, he continues to fly the Kuntz and Co. flag. He qualified in the fifth spot with an 8.85/152-mph effort, but longtime Hot Street followers know this class is decided by thousandths of a second almost every round. As such, number-one qualifier Ben Mens wasn't far ahead of Charlie with an 8.80/152-mph time. Running a 400ci engine, Charlie wasn't showing it in eliminations if he had any more power because he ran consistent 8.80s every pass. Good for him. Charlie possessed the reaction times needed to keep going rounds; he was outrun each pass, but his reaction times kept him out front. In the final against Ben, Charlie was the recipient of a gifted redlight start by Ben to get him back in the winner's circle.

Being an engine builder for a major NASCAR team, you have to figure Ben Mens has a leg up on his fellow Hot Street racers, but just like the left-turners, this class comes down to hundredths of a second between winner and first loser. Ben used every ounce of horsepower to qualify number one. Similar to eventual winner Charlie Booze Jr., Ben seemingly had his reaction times right on the money combined with consistent runs in the low 8.80s. Working with fellow Hot Street racer Mike Demayo, Ben's program has really thrived, but he ever-so-slightly jumped the gun in the final against Charlie Booze Jr., handing the defending champ the victory.

Real Street
If the Real Street class seemed boring before Joliet, that wasn't the case after. Due to rule changes, nitrous cars received help to even out the racing field. Combine the changes with Bruce Hemminger's testing regimen and you have a recipe for one fast Real Street car provided attrition doesn't rear its ugly head, which has been the case for Bruce on several occasions. At Joliet, his biggest issue was clutch-related. We caught Bruce and his girlfriend, Debbie Pifer, swapping a new clutch at the event, and Bruce says one way he gauges clutch life is by studying his 60-foot times. As soon as he notices a slip, he knows the clutch is probably the culprit. Obviously, he had it figured out at Joliet. He qualified at the top with a 9.94/133-mph pass, and he continued that momentum through eliminations to take the victory over Jim Breese in the final and win the Super Bowl shootout. Bruce's final-round pass was the one that had everyone wondering if the track's timing equipment was correct: He ran 139 mph against Jim. Some say it was a timing-equipment malfunction, but as of this writing, Bruce already ran that number again. To be continued...

Aside from the occasional clutch swap, the Real Street pit of soft-spoken Jim Breese is usually quiet. On our regular Mountain Dew hunts, there wasn't much going on with Jim's car. That's not to say he wasn't busy helping other racers, because there was plenty of that at Joliet. Besides Bruce Hemminger's qualifying effort, Jim was the only other Real Street racer to find the nines during qualifying. He made it to the finals against Bruce, and everyone knows Jim can cut a light. He did his best with a 0.448 to Bruce's 0.490, but it wasn't enough to keep him out front.

Tim Matherly had several problems at Joliet. He had transmission issues during qualifying, and then he hurt a cylinder head, necessitating an engine swap. By now, swapping an engine is like plugging in a DiabloSport Predator. OK-it may not be that easy, but Tim has done it so many times, he could probably do it in his sleep. Something else he is able to do in his sleep is have quick reaction times, but even that talent wasn't able to get him past Bruce Hemminger in the semis.

Ever the experimenter, Michael Washington [far lane] is always looking for ways to lower his '88 Saleen's elapsed times. In the search for more power before the Joliet race, he blew two slicks on the dyno. Then his car took over the R&D department during qualifying, thinking it wouldn't need a driveshaft to make a full pass. The car didn't go far that time, but a driveshaft isn't a big deal these days, and he was able to make eliminations. Michael was close to making his first Real Street pass in the 9s, but a 10.0 wasn't enough; nor was it enough to make it past Tim Matherly in round two.

Pure Street
Joliet is one of the races usually attended by Pure Street racer Ron Anderson. He qualified right on the heels of Brad Meadows with a 10.37, but at only 124 mph. We say "only" because every racer on the qualifying sheet was up around 128-129 mph and change. That trend continued in eliminations when the wily racing veteran seemingly toyed with his younger competitors. We wouldn't be able to say that if Ron had to race Victor Downs, but we like Ron and Victor, so we'll leave that alone. It didn't appear anyone would've been able to take out Ron unless he made a mistake, which he didn't.

Pure Street racer Jimmy Wilson also played the clutch-swap game at Joliet, and the changes he had made there didn't seem to go the way he had in mind. His 10.40s in qualifying came around to 10.30s for eliminations, and he ran 130 mph just about every pass, so the power is definitely there. Unlike Jimmy's favorite team, the Florida Gators [Yuck! -Associate Editor Johnson], he was unable to take it to the house at Joliet. He was well on his way to racing glory, but a hair-too-quick reaction time in the final against Ron Anderson kept him from getting the win.

Factory Stock
Jeffrey Schmell's Factory Stock car was up on jackstands a few times during the weekend, but that's to be expected with a class that relies on the fine line of traction and clutch slippage. Steve Gifford and Jeff had a tenth on the class when qualifying was over, but Jeff made the least mistakes and kept up the quick times in eliminations. In the final against Alan Cann, Jeff ran another 11.50-something pass at 117 mph to take the event win. He also won the Super Bowl shootout for some extra cash.

Among many racers with a rabbit's foot or some kind of good luck charm in his pocket, Factory Stock racer Alan Cann was almost a half-second slower than top qualifier Steve Gifford, but his journey to the finals against Jeffrey Schmell is another example of why we line it up. In round one, Alan made it past John Leslie, whose car was apart most of the weekend. In round two, Alan got the jump on Tommy Godfrey, and he never looked back, barely staying out front for the win. Alan survived the semifinal round against Steve for a chance at Jeffrey, but his fairy tale race didn't feature an event win this time.

Modular Muscle
Even though Brandon Peterson's '99 GT wasn't even close to being the quickest Modular Muscle competitor, it doesn't really matter since the class is decided by reaction times and running closest to the dial-in. Modular Muscle qualifies by reaction time, and Brandon proved he had what it took to get the job done by coming in with a 0.511 reaction time (0.500 is perfect). His worst light during eliminations was in the final to keep Mike Zamboni from getting the win, and that was 0.562 light. This time Brandon's reaction time didn't matter because Mike redlighted, handing the Peoria, Illinois, resident the win.

Open Comp
With no bracket classes at Joliet, many racers entered the Open Comp class instead. Eventual winner Andy Blackmon [near lane] qualified in the Fourth spot with a 0.504 reaction time. Similar to Modular Muscle, Open Comp also qualifies according to reaction time, and the top three qualifiers had perfect 0.500 lights. The interesting thing is that Andy didn't come close to that reaction time during eliminations, but he still won the Open Comp class. In the Super Bowl Shootout, he was unable to take out Vince Brown and his big-block '68 Camaro.

Truck And Lightning
Dave Cole ran the table in the Truck and Lightning class by qualifying number one in his Ranger, and his was the only one to race in the class at Joliet. Cole and his 347-powered Ranger ran over the Truck and Lightning class by doing exactly what made him number-one qualifier: quick reaction times. That, and running on his dial allowed him to take home the cash, but he left some cash on the table when he was unable to take out Heath Shemwell in the Super Bowl Shootout