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Drag racing champion Dennis Ramsey has made the leap into open track racing
Dennis Ramsey made a name for himself in the '90s as a drag racer and owner of Ramsey's Performance.
He took over his dad's business, Ramsey's Auto Service, in 1993, and by 1996 made the transition into the performance business. He built and wheeled his bumper-dragging '89 Mustang GT to a Pro 5.0 championship the same year, with the nitrous-eating 420ci Windsor going a best of 8.17 at 175 mph.
By 1998, he had teamed up with Chuck Fest with another Stang on spray. The SN-95 driven by Dennis won the Stormin' Norman Invitational and qualified Number One at the World Ford Challenge with one of the first timeslips in the 7.90s for a Pro 5.0 production-based Mustang.
So how did someone with drag racing roots end up with a NASA American Iron road racer? Well, it didn't happen overnight.
By the early 2000s, Dennis had built yet another drag car. This time, though, it was a 10.5 Outlaw turbo New Edge. He made some waves in the up-and-coming big-boy class, but had an engine failure during the Fun Ford Weekend Atlanta race in 2002. He parked it with plans to rebuild the engine for the following season, but began building a new house instead, and the race car was put on the back burner—where it still sits today.
Meanwhile, Ramsey's Performance was thriving. Dennis was building and repairing all sorts of street and race Stangs. Many of his customers would bug him about getting back into racing—drag racing. But one customer in particular would always hassle him about open track racing—something Dennis had never tried.
"I had a customer, George Csanadi, who bugged me about trying road racing," Dennis told us. "I had always wanted to do it, I just never pushed myself to try." Then (former MM&FF feature owner) Eric Walker, another customer, had his open track car in Dennis' shop. "I went down to Sebring to help Eric and took a ride with instructor Mitch Sirlin, and I was hooked."
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At the time, Dennis' street car was an '07 GT that he bought from a customer in 2007 after the customer upgraded to a new GT500. It was a street/strip Three-Valve with a built engine, a 2.8L Kenne Bell, and a modded stock 5R55S. It made 615 rwhp at its peak and went 10.50s at 136 mph. Believe it or not, that is the same car seen on these pages.
When the open track bug bit Dennis, he swapped the brakes, wheels, tires, transmission, seats, and suspension for road race-friendly components; dialed in a milder SCT/Ramsey tune (learned from his work on Walker's car); and began going to open-track events. It turns out Dennis is just as good at road racing as he was at drag racing. Go figure.
Being competitive and after not racing in almost a decade, Dennis was ready to get on track in competition with his S197. He decided on NASA's American Iron class, stripped the GT down to a bare chassis, and started from scratch. He installed all of the necessary safety components, like a Grand Am-style rollcage, fire suppression system, and harnesses.
When it came time for a powertrain, Dennis turned to the Ford Racing Coyote crate engine, and a Tremec TR-6060 backed by an Exedy flywheel and McLeod clutch. In order to be competitive in the handling department, he opted for a full Kenny Brown GT4 suspension, a Fay's 2 Watt's link, and AST 5200 coilovers front and rear. He also upgraded to a Detroit True Trac differential, 3.73 gears, and Strano adjustable sway bars. Brembo 14-inch Pro Series brakes allow Dennis to dive deep into the corners before applying the binders.
Once out on the circuit, Dennis snagged three podium finishes his first three race weekends—he even finished Third in his very first race. Dennis doesn't take all the glory for this himself, though. He credits the guys at Ramsey's Performance, Andre Headrich for all the help on the weekends while building the car, and Joe Donnelly for being the one-man crew.