Michael Johnson
Associate Editor, 5.0 Mustangs & Super Fords
January 1, 2009
Photos By: Paul Rosner, Michael "The Weatherman" Johnson

Horse Sense: In talking to recent Super Street Outlaw addition Chris Tuten, he shared with us the benefits of moving up to the 10-inch-tire Freak Show. Chris and the crew enjoy better parking, they can tow to the lanes and from return road, and "We're now one of the big dogs," he says. Chris, ever since you guys came to the Maple Grove race for your first NMRA event, you've always been one of the big dogs. No one told you?

After rain put a premature end to Atco, Columbus became a crucial stop on the NMRA tour, and racers who needed to catch up or gain points down the stretch had to put up or fall behind. For those racers way behind, Columbus presented a chance to get on the stage at PRI and sport some fine, new NMRA winter wear. For racers chasing a championship, Columbus was an opportunity to gain much-needed points and ensure that Nitto would have to start sizing up those Diamond Tree rings. As usual, the races proved a mix of familiar winners and surprise standouts, but the competition was rugged in every class. To see how the stage was set for Bowling Green, check out our caps and snaps.

Dan Paolini usually makes every Columbus race, and he always puts on a good show. This year was no different. During qualifying, the longtime racer put his '93 LX Hot Street racer on the bumper and rode it out well past the 60-foot mark. Shots like this are why we try to shoot every test-and-tune pass, every qualifying round, and every round of eliminations. Back to Dan: He qualified fifth with an 8.90 in his 359ci-powered machine, making his one of the smallest-displacing Hot Street entries. Dan lost in Round 2 to eventual-winner Robbie Blankenship.

Old race cars don't die. They just find other people to race them. The most recent example of this is Dan Rawls, owner of Cleveland Performance. Dan has long built the engines for EFI Renegade stalwart Brian Mitchell, but he's an accomplished racer in his own right. Dan is now behind the wheel of Brian Mitchell's Wizard I. Brian's currently racing Wizard II, his new EFI Renegade racer. Though Brian's new car still relies on boost, Dan's car relies on a healthy dose of nitrous from Steve Johnson's company, Induction Solutions. Dan qualified number one with an 8.57 at 159 mph, but he was unable to replicate that number on Sunday, falling to eventual EFI Renegade winner Bob Cook in the semis.

Pure Street racer Brandon Alsept has had his share of breakage problems in 2008, mostly revolving around transmission problems. A BES Racing Engines Four-Valve with an FR500 magnesium intake makes the tranny-breaking power, while Racecraft suspension components plant the rear. Brandon's car is actually a '98 GT that he bought new, but it's a lot different today. The most interesting part of Brandon's car is his shifter, a conglomeration consisting of a Pro-5.0 base, a Steeda Autosports Tri-Ax handle, and a Hurst pistol-grip knob. Brandon's GT is most often found at or near the top of the Pure Street qualifying ladder, and Columbus was no different with him shifting his way into the second spot. However, Brandon shifted into problems in the second round of eliminations against Mark Anderson, ending his weekend.

Justin Burcham has been busy racing his '05 Mustang GT into the 8s, but he was also at the wheel of this Factory Stock ride at Columbus. Michael Washington owns the car, but Michael, Justin, and Tommy Godfrey fund the Rich Groh Racing powerplant. The engine carries the "Frankenstein" moniker, but it wasn't in a hurry to come to life. After qualifying dead last with a 13.24 at 108 mph and breaking the transmission in the process, a frustrated Justin loaded the car on the trailer. It took the rest of the JPC Racing clan, including Rich Groh, to talk Justin into popping the hood. A weak spark seemed to be the culprit, but Justin was talked into unloading the car and finishing the race. Of course, the transmission had to be swapped out, and exiting after a first-round loss only added to the weekend's heartache. A Sunday afternoon 11.91/113-mph test pass shows promise. We'll see more of this car at future races.

Jim Coger's Real Street program is rapidly becoming faster and faster. Under the tutelage of Dez Racing's Mike Dezotell, Jim's car was competitive at Columbus. Jim qualified in the fourth spot with a 9.80 at 137 mph. The car was responsive off the line, launching wheels-up every pass. We caught this launch in Round 1 when Jim had to race Michael Washington, but shortly after clicking the shutter on this pass, Jim's coupe ran into mechanical problems, allowing Jim to get an early start on his Labor Day holiday.

After seeing Dan Millen work over a Chevelle for sister publication Hot Rod, we thought the Ford world had lost another to the dark side. However, Dan assured us that is not the case, and he was back at the wheel of his Pro Outlaw 10.5W 'Stang at Columbus. Taking advantage of the sticky track surface, Dan and his Livernois Motorsports' crew, who had fought traction issues from time to time, had no such worries here. With just three cars in Pro Outlaw, Dan came in at the second qualified spot behind Conrad Scarry. The key for Dan was that his car kept getting quicker as the weekend wore on. After qualifying with a 7-flat, Dan ran a 6.97 in Round 1; then a 6.84 to get his first NMRA victory of 2008.

Conrad Scarry had a good run going at the beginning of the NMRA season, but the Scarry crew has struggled the last few races. The times have been consistent, but others in the class have recently caught up and surpassed Conrad's times. Conrad was wicked-consistent at Columbus, which proved a double-edged sword. Being consistent is good, but when the competition steps it up, the consistent racer is occasionally on the losing end. That's what happened at Columbus: Conrad locked in a groove, but Dan Millen kept getting quicker to whisk away the victory.

John Urist might as well have been the NMRA support trailer at Columbus. We heard several people had to call on John's talents for assorted performance equipment repairs throughout the weekend. John and the crew welded on several racers' headers and intercooler tubing, but John didn't have any of those issues himself. John, along with his crew, Nate Phillips, and Mike Rousch, kept an eye on the air/fuel ratio by reading spark plugs and making the necessary adjustments. AJ Powell was actually the number one qualifier in Super Street Outlaw. Both AJ and John ran 7.40s in Round 1, but John made it past Perry Santini in the finals to get the win.

If you were to hold a vote for the cleanest square-light Fox in the NMRA, Perry Santini's '86 GT would score near the top of the heap. With a single-turbo Four-Valve under the hood, it's also one of the quickest square-light cars in the NMRA. Perry had a pair of free passes during eliminations when Round 1 opponent Chris Tuten was unable to make the call thanks to a window'd block, and AJ Powell ran into problems and got way out of shape in Round 2. However, Perry's luck ran out in the final against John Urist, a competitor who often trailers his rivals.

One racer ready to enjoy some rest and relaxation is Drag Radial superstar John Kolivas. After several seasons roaming the top of the Drag Radial ranks, John is burned out. And who can blame him? John and crew have worked harder this year to keep their car competitive compared to the last few seasons. After hurting their Four-Valve modular at Joliet, they regrouped and gave the combination another chance. However, just before Columbus, the revamped Four-Valve combination ran into more problems, so John and the guys dropped in the old-standby Bennett Racing-built 357ci pushrod combination. John was starting from scratch on the setup, and with the track not coming to the Drag Radial cars, that added to every racer's plate. However, the track started working better during eliminations and times started to fall accordingly. John used his talent at the Tree, and he got lucky when Tony Akins went slightly red in the semifinals. In the finals against Jason Lee, John had just enough to get out front and stay there to get the win.

Jason Lee had the track and his tune-up figured out during eliminations at Columbus. Like the other Drag Radial racers, Jason didn't have it quite right during qualifying, but back-to-back 8-teens in Rounds 1 and 2 sent the message loud and clear: Jason found something. However, an off-pace 8.34 against John Kolivas in the final wasn't enough to seal the deal at Columbus.

The Renegade ranks were robust at Columbus. With 15 cars in attendance, every round was destined to be a street fight. Dan Rawls was out front when qualifying ended, but Bob Cook was lingering in the shadows in third. Bob was able to run the Sutton High Performance Mustang in the 8.60 range, which if you follow NMRA EFI Renegade, is pretty stout when done consistently. Bob was doin' it, and doin' it well. Bob came back to beat number-one qualifier Dan Rawls in the semis and Alton Clements in the final to get the win.

We all know it's better to be lucky than good. Alton Clements was a combination of both at Columbus. His Round 1 win was solid, but good luck came his way when Bart Tobener ran into problems in Round 2. Then Brian Tuten went red in the semis, but making Alton see red in the finals was the Sutton High Performance Mustang driven by Bob Cook.

Just like every other Hot Street racer, Robbie Blankenship is constantly working on his ride. From carburetors to torque converters to chassis setup, Robbie has been there and tuned that on his Steve Matukas-built New Edge car. Robbie was right on the heels of the top qualifying spot with an 8.87, but he did great work at the Tree during eliminations, which is the name of the game nowadays in Hot Street. He was able to get out on Ben Mens in the final to take the win.

Ben Mens used Roush power to get the top qualifying spot. The Roush engine builder is always in the hunt, but a crash in testing slowed him down a bit at midseason. He brushed that off his shoulder, but he couldn't take out Robbie Blankenship in the final. At Columbus, Ben's problem was keeping the front end down, so the team kept moving weight around to arrive at a happy medium between putting it on the bumper and spinning the tires. The crew figured it out, getting Ben to the final against Robbie Blankenship. Ben's usually good for cat-like reaction times, but he was a little late in the final with a 0.509 light compared to a not-much-quicker 0.479 reaction time from winner Robbie Blankenship. Robbie was able to keep his New Edge out in front on this day.

Throwing a wrench into the Real Street class, Bruce Hemminger didn't join the fray until the battle was underway, but as is his style, Bruce has been doing well ever since. Bruce starts every race weekend with test passes to see where his nitrous tune is at and what adjustments are needed, if any. He also reads 60-foot and 330-foot times to gauge clutch wear and whether a new unit is necessary. At Columbus, his weekend was pretty smooth until he broke a transmission during eliminations. Of course, most NMRA racers can change out a tranny in 30 minutes, and Bruce is one of those guys. He made it to the final round, where he met up with familiar rival Tim Matherly, but Tim didn't have enough to overcome Bruce's 9.59.

Tim Matherly is one of those racers that, thanks to his mechanical knowledge, is able to extract a little more power from his combination. When the NMRA added weight, he changed to a more aggressive gear ratio; at Columbus, he had a Trick Flow intake on the car. Those two changes definitely helped in the e.t. department, but in the final against Bruce Hemminger, Tim blew the inlet tube off his ProCharger supercharger, which kept him from putting up a fight.

The other JPC Racing Real Street entrant, Michael Washington, qualified at the other end of the spectrum from his teammate Bruce Hemminger. As is the case with the nature of the Real Street beast, Michael broke a transmission during qualifying, but a spare transmission is the NMRA racer's American Express card-you don't leave home without it. Michael was able to get the car back together and get past Jim Coger in Round 1 when Jim ran into his own problems. However, Michael's weekend ended at the gear shift of Tim Matherly's ride in Round 2. No matter, JPC teammate Bruce Hemminger exacted revenge in the final.

The other MV Performance racer Jim Breese also boasted a Trick Flow intake on his Two-Valve at Columbus. That didn't keep Jim from hurting his primary engine, but he was able to get the backup engine in the car and keep going. Jim qualified third with a 9.78 at 138 mph, and he used a 9.88 to get past Shawn Johnson in Round 1. In Round 2, Jim knew he had to push the Tree to get past Bruce Hemminger, but he pushed a tad too hard and saw red.

After the engine damage at Joliet, then the Atco rainout, Ryan Hecox was ready to attend a race to do exactly that-race. Columbus presented him with that opportunity. When he wasn't busy trying to see our notes about Brandon Alsept, Ryan concentrated on keeping his car cool and hitting shift points. Ryan's done a lot of testing this year, and it's paying off with more consistency and quicker times. In addition to building the car's engine, Rich Groh is also helping out with the car's overall setup these days, which is paying dividends as well. Ryan was comfortably out front after qualifying was over, and he continued that trend in eliminations on the way to winning the event, extending his Pure Street lead even further.

Pure Street racer Mark Anderson was struggling with his confidence at Columbus. He and the Anderson Ford Motorsport crew were measuring the time it took for Mark to shift gears, and found his times to be longer than his dad, Ron's. However, the car uses a Hurst T-handle knob, and he doesn't like that set-up, but he couldn't do anything about that arrangement at Columbus. He wanted to add a pistol-grip setup but couldn't find a suitable replacement at the event. No matter: Mark's times kept getting quicker during the event. So much so that he was able to make it to the final against Ryan Hecox, but his shift times will need to get quicker to get past Ryan.

Tommy Godfrey looked to redeem his Joliet performance at Atco, but when that event was cancelled due to weather, he missed the chance. Thankfully, Columbus presented him with another chance to do exactly that. Just like Ryan Hecox in Pure Street, Tommy had a cushion at the end of the qualifying, but with Tommy's luck at the Tree, that's a good thing. Running solid 11.20s, Tommy had a relatively easy time of it during eliminations on the way to victory.

The Factory Stock class is one that mixes pushrod combinations with those from the modular crowd. Matt Amrine is one of the modular guys, with a BES Racing Two-Valve under the hood. Matt won Joliet, but for Columbus, he tried ported heads, meaning he had to carry another 225 pounds on his car. Matt was able to dyno the car at Cincy Speed and get it scaled at Rigid Race Cars, but with the class-mandated drag radials, traction is the limiting factory with these cars. Matt's performance was able to carry him through eliminations, but Tommy Godfrey turned the tables on him, exacting revenge for Joliet.

If any other Motycka family members decide to start racing, there won't be anyone left in their Lawton, Michigan, hometown on race weekends. Tom Motycka kept the family name in the winner's circle at Columbus with his Modular Muscle win. Tom qualified number two behind Susan McClenaghan, but he took it to the house on Sunday for the win.

We also had an ultra-clean square-light Fox racing in Open Comp with Johnny Wellen bringing out his '79 hatch bathed in black. Johnny's hatch runs bottom 11s with a little 306, and he does the work at the Tree to get to the next round. At Columbus, he used that talent to take the win.

Paul Gamino was busy at Columbus. Not only was he racing this Saleen truck in the Truck and Lightning class, he was also racing a Saleen Silver Anniversary Mustang out of the JDM Engineering stable in Super Stang. Although he was unable to hit pay dirt with the 'Stang, he won the money in the Truck and Lightning class in a breakout fest at Columbus.