Michael Galimi
September 1, 2009
Seasoned veteran Don Bowles (near lane) has raced in Mod Motor, Open Comp, and now is an accomplished Hot Street competitor. Bowles declared victory with an 8.66 over defending champ Robbie Blankenship (far lane). Robbie ran the first 8.50 in Hot Street with an 8.58 during the first round of eliminations but broke in the final.

The second stop on the NMRA-Keystone Ford Series was historic Atco Raceway, located in the southern part of New Jersey. Some longtime Mustang enthusiasts hold Atco in high regard as the scene of some of the fiercest battles in the early years of the 5.0L movement.

Fastforward to today, the track served as host to the 9th annual Nitto Tire NMRA Ford Nationals, presented by Downs Ford Racing. Ever-changing weather conditions greeted the racers, showgoers, and fans, ranging from 90 degrees and sunny on Saturday to overcast and in the 50s on Sunday.

The cool weather was complemented by a sticky track surface, which led to broken records and milestones. Of these, three performances stood out-Robbie Blankenship became the first to hit the 8.50s in Edelbrock Hot Street; Brian Mitchell entered the 8.30s in DiabloSport EFI-Renegade; and John Kokinda ran the fastest pass in NMRA True Street at 171 mph. These events are a testament to the racers' dedication to push their Mustangs to the edge and beyond.

The action wasn't only fast, but it was also tight as racers battled for points towards the Race for the Ring Championship, as well a cash purse and contingency. The True Street field saw 62 entries ranging from 8-second rides to a 10-second Ford GT supercar and near-stock Mustangs. John Ashnaufi took top honors with his turbocharged SN-95.

Ashnaufi was a pillar of consistency with a 9.21 average, which was accomplished after running 9.25, 9.18, and 9.20. A DiSomma Racing Engine 347ci bullet with TFS heads and a Precision 80mm turbo powers the sedate-looking ride. The car was always above 150 mph, which shows its potential for 8-second runs, but the DOT tires were tricky off the line. Ashnaufi left softly and then poured on the boost as the M/T tires dug into the track.

Dave Salardino took runner-up with his amazing coupe, nicknamed Sleeper. Jim Chahalis and crew pieced together a perfect LX, with a flat hood and a 347ci engine pumped up with a Vortech YSi-trim blower. It produces 810 rwhp through an AOD transmission. He finished with a 9.37 average.

Many other racers in this class had fun running amazingly quick times.

The NMRA is known for its heads-up racing, and the fields didn't disappoint in Jersey. ACT Factory Stock saw Tommy Godfrey continue to dominate with his JPC Racing entry. The copper coupe took down John Leslie Jr. in the finals, 11.21 to 11.32. Factory Stock is a unique class that is highly restrictive to keep down costs. The racers employ mostly out-of-the-box components and run mid-to-low 11s.

Stepping up to Eibach Springs Pure Street, the cars are a little faster thanks to a maximum of 310ci, ported aluminum heads, 0.500-inch hydraulic roller cams, 26x10.5-inch slicks, and many other parts and pieces. The cars run about a second quicker than Factory Stockers, and nice wheelies are the norm. Ryan Hecox and Steve Gifford went head-to-head, pushrod versus modular. in the big money round. Hecox was armed with a nasty Rich Groh Racing 310ci engine, while Gifford came to battle with a B.E.S. 281ci Four-Valve mill. Weight breaks keep the combinations tight, and Hecox won with a 10.12 at 132 mph to Gifford's 10.20 at 133 mph.

Dave Guy of SGS Auto annihilates a pair of BFG drag radials as he makes his debut in Drag Radial. The SN-95 is equipped with a Four-Valve modular engine and has gone 8.50s-the first time out-with a GT-47 88mm turbo.

Real Street is reserved for stock displacement engines featuring out-of-the-box aftermarket induction components, save for the stock camshaft. The racers also employ nitrous or superchargers under strict guidelines. Tim Matherly has been the racer to beat since the class' inception eight years ago. His MV Performance-built ride reset the national record with a 9.46 at 139 mph. Along the way, he took home the class victory over Dave Ginter, also running a MV Performance-prepared machine.

Larry Horacle went wheels-up in his EFI-Renegade entry. The Vortech-blown ride relies on M/T 275 drag radials. Ed Thomas tuned the car to a best of 8.53 at 161 mph, and he qualified at the top of the field. He lost in the quarterfinals to Chris Van Gilder.

Former Mod Motor and Open Comp competitor Don Bowles was the winner in the naturally aspirated eliminator Edelbrock Hot Street. Bowles had Roush Performance and Roush Racing Engines build a Hot Street entry from a clean '72 Maverick. A Roush 400ci engine powers the unique ride, and Bowles took out defending class champion Robbie Blankenship in the final. Bowles ran 8.66 at 153, while Blankenship rolled to a mid-10-second run when his transmission broke at mid-track.

EFI Renegade was the tightest class of the weekend, with several running in the 8.50s during qualifying. The cooler weather on Sunday helped these supercharged and nitrous-powered Mustangs go even quicker. The supercharger contingent isn't allowed intercoolers in this class. Brian Mitchell drove his Vortech-powered '03 Mustang Cobra to victory over Bart Toebner, 8.55 to 8.89. Mitchell entered the 8.30-zone for the first time in Renegade with an 8.38 at 162 mph during Round 2 of eliminations.

Drag Radial racing is the hot trend right now, and NMRA has its own DR class. There are engine and power-adder restrictions to control costs, but the racers still manage to run in the 8s, all while running on BFGoodrich tires. Jason Lee scored the first 7-second run in the class history at the NMRA Bradenton season opener and found his way into the winner's circle at Atco. Lee eliminated newcomer Ken Evers, 8.10 to 8.42. Evers was packing a turbocharged engine, while Lee relies on a ProCharger F1R supercharger.

The final two heads-up classes are NMRA's quickest-ProCharger Super Street Outlaw and Turbonetics Pro Outlaw 10.5. The Super Street Outlaw ranks were vicious. Chris Tuten knocked out defending champ John Urist in the first round. Both cars ran 7.51, but it was Tuten who got to the stripe first thanks to a lighting-quick reaction time of 0.027 to Urist's 0.105.

The finals, however, came down to the nitrous-powered '81 Mustang of Don Burton and the turbocharged entry of Yanni Papakasmos. Burton was quicker with a 7.59, but Papakasmos got to the finish line first despite running 7.61. The battle was won on the Tree as Papakasmos did his job with a 0.062 to Burton's 0.090 light.

We scoped out this rare SAAC Mustang on the show grounds. These cars were built in small quantity and are one of the more prominent Fox-body collector cars.

In Pro Outlaw 10.5, Mike Murillo made it to the NMRA Winner's Circle after a six-year hiatus from racing and spending last year dialing-in the Star Car 2. Murillo did it in a fine fashion with a 6.77 at 216 as he sped past the wild ride of Tim Esseck, who ran 7.31 at 197 mph.

NMRA hosts several index classes that cover all types of Fords. Steeda Open Comp is a catchall category; competitors qualify on a ladder and then compete using a pro Tree and a 0.1 breakout based on their qualifying time. Roush Modular Muscle uses similar rules to Open Comp but is restricted to only Modular-powered Ford vehicles, as the name implies.

Another category that relies on Open Comp rules is Detroit Locker Truck & Lightning. In the 20-truck field, Bob Cochran and his '48 Ford took out Johnny Lightning and his wildly supercharged Lightning.

Mod Muscle's 16-car field was whittled down to Reggie Burnett Jr. and Zak Harty. Burnett's colorful '00 Mustang GT was tough with a 10.80 performance, and went on to win over Harty's '97 Mustang GT. David Woodside survived five rounds of competition to enter the winner's circle with his '84 Thunderbird, beating Tom DeMalto with a 10.06 on a 10.00 dial-in.

It has been six years since Mike Murillo won an NMRA event. He did it in grand style at Atco by knocking off a stellar 6.77 at 216 mph in the final round despite struggling for most of the weekend. Murillo is a six-time champion in Ford drag racing and is chasing a seventh championship this year.

The final NMRA class was JDM Engineering Super Stang and it's strictly for S197 Mustangs. The new class is unique in that racers don't qualify like the index and heads-Up categories. The 18 competitors spent three rounds of qualifying developing a dial-in. On Sunday, the racers were randomly paired and ran off the dial-in times they chose from the previous day's qualifying runs. Chris Parisi drove his V-6 Mustang to victory with a 15.27 on a 15.27 dial-in over Don Justus (who was pulling double-duty in two different classes) and his breakout run of 11.74 on an 11.80 dial-in.

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