Wes Duenkel
August 25, 2014

Drag racers are a competitive lot—and sometimes they get so wrapped up trying to go faster than the next guy that they lose sight of life's most important things: fun, family, and friends. For Michael Newton, it's the relationships that make the Mustang hobby enjoyable.

Growing up in Dalton, Georgia, Michael's first car was a '78 280Z. The 16-year-old thought it was pretty fast . . . until Michael rode in his friend Tony Welch's Fox-body Mercury Capri with a cam, 3.55s, and exhaust work.

"I realized the Z-car wasn't quite what I thought it was," Michael stated with a smile. "The ride in the Capri put me on the road to being a Mustang fanatic."

While in college in the early '90s, Michael picked up a job at a local Mustang performance and salvage shop, Mathis Mustang, where he worked with Tony Welch pulling parts and cutting his teeth on performance heads, cam, and intake installations. His first Mustang was an '88 coupe that was a former Georgia State Patrol car. While working at the shop, cruising around town, and hitting the local dragstrip, he met like-minded gearheads. He progressed through several different Mustangs and engine combinations over those years (including '87 Saleen No. 193) before he graduated college, got married, and "got out of Mustangs for a while," as Michael describes it.

After life settled down, he got the itch for another Mustang. He found an '88 LX that was the same color as his '88 Georgia Highway Patrol car: Bright Regatta Blue.

"The car was a little rough paintwise," Michael comically recalls. "For a while we called it the Blue Turd." Michael and his longtime friend, Lamar Clark, started fixing up the coupe and adding go-fast parts. Michael reminisces about the many memories and photos he has of he and Clark knee-deep in engine swaps, grease-stained and dripping with sweat. "Lamar and I have been friends for a long time. He's one of those people that you can't remember when you weren't friends."

After stepping through several different combinations, Michael set his sights on NMRA's EFI Renegade class. He focused on a supercharged combination that, by the time it was complete, became uncompetitive for the class.

The temperamental, high-maintenance powerplant took the fun out of it and that's when he discovered MM&FF's True Street. "I liked it because the rules were minimal. You could build any engine combination you wanted, use any size drag radial street tire you wanted, and you still have a place to run. You don't have to worry about the rules changing in one season and making your car uncompetitive."

Another thing friends love to do: Spend each other's money! "Lamar found a Vortech ‘igloo' intercooler setup online that he convinced me would be perfect for the turbo setup we wanted to build, so we planned the road trip and drove up north to get it."

Michael liked the Jekyll and Hyde nature of turbocharged combinations: quiet on the street, but fast on the track. Top-End Fabrications near Chattanooga, Tennessee, helped make Michael's boosted dream a reality by creating the turbo setup. Top-End hand-fabricated all the exhaust and intake plumbing, including the cold-side inlet tubing to the aforementioned air-to-water intercooler. Michael had only one stipulation for the turbo build: "It had to have the signature LX exhaust tips out back."

Not only did they meet his expectations, but they also fabricated 3-inch exhaust tips with V-band clamp connections so Michael could remove them to cut down on the cleanup time at the track. Michael gushes about the work that Jason Harvey and Shane Brown did at Top-End Fabrications: "I have beat on the car for several years now and the fabwork has stood the test of time."

Michael then took the car to Mark Biddle at Panhandle Performance for final work and tuning. His new turbocharged setup was making a lot more power than the old supercharged EFI Renegade setup, which uncovered the coupe's existing 308-inch short-block's power limits on the dyno. Michael authorized Panhandle Performance to transform the Ford Racing "R-block" into a 347-inch mill capable of handling the 1,000-plus horsepower they expected from the small-frame Precision Turbo T88 snail.

They topped off the "R-block"-based short-block with TFS Twisted Wedge street heads ported by Total Engine Airflow, and fed the Vortech Igloo intercooler with an Accufab 90mm throttle body. Biddle then tuned the combo using the first generation of FAST's DFI system.

Just as Michael prefers, the car is extremely quiet on the street. During our photo shoot, the '88 coupe behaved better than some bolt-on cars with a mere fraction of the power. The turbine soaks up a lot of the noise, and the full exhaust and Borla XR1's take care of the rest. The loudest thing is the fuel pump, which Michael plans to swap with a quieter one. Besides the pump, the only other hint of the car's potential is the parachute. It's always fun taking it to a track that isn't familiar with the car, as Michael explains, "In the pits most people don't pay much attention to the shiny show car. But after we make a pass it gets lots of attention."

A Glenn McCary–built Pro Glide transmission deals with the unenviable task of living behind Michael's monstrous powerplant, but Michael uses an AMS-1000 system to control the boost off the line so the drivetrain isn't hit with all 29 psi when the light goes green. Moser 33-spline axles and 3.55 gears transfer the power to Bogart Racing 15x10 wheels and drag radials.

Michael credits Lyons Custom Motorsports with scaling the car and helping dial in the suspension, which includes a tubular K-member and A-arms, Strange adjustable struts, and QA1 coilovers up front. Metco double-adjustable upper control arms, Wolfe Race Craft double-adjustable lower control arms, and a HP Motorsport antiroll bar comprise the rear suspension. Aerospace brakes were installed to bring the car to a halt and so far they've been able to stave off the need for pulling the parachute.

Mike Garland whipped the body back into shape and sprayed the car with its original hue—though we doubt any Regatta Blue Fox looked this good from the factory.

Other than a few race car–oriented gauges, switches, and boxes, the interior is pretty stock. The car's original shifter boot was modified to try and keep the stock five-speed appearance, and the factory armrest/cassette holder is used to conceal the AMS 1000 boost controller.

Michael does have to climb over an MV Performance–built rollcage, the rear seats were tossed to make room for the necessary rear X-brace. However, it's a small price to pay for safety when Michael is running 8.67 at 160 mph down the quarter-mile.

In 2008 Michael had the privilege of taking home the NMRA Bowling Green "True Street" trophy and crown. In the 2009 edition, Michael was runner-up with a jaw-dropping 8.883-second average. After that, life got busy with work and a growing family so the car spent the next three years away from the track.

But in 2013 Michael decided it was time to blow the cobwebs out of the car (as well as himself) and make another appearance at NMRA Bowling Green, where he ended up taking home the 9-second class win with a 9.016 average. "After being out of the scene for those years, it definitely felt good to stretch the car's legs!"

What does the future hold for Michael Newton and his 8-second True Street winner? "A larger/quieter fuel pump, an up-to-date fuel injection and ignition system, larger fuel injectors, and maybe nitrous would be nice for those grueling hot/humid summer events," he states. Then more seat time and leaving with more boost off the line."

In addition to the already-mentioned shops, Michael has many people to thank. First and foremost: his wife, Denise, who not only understands—but shares his passion for cars. His 10-year-old daughter Amber and 6-year-old son Chance are by far his biggest fans. They are always eager to help wrench or cleaning up the "blue coupe" and take it out to the weekend cruise-ins. His parents Donald and Ann, who supported him in all his interests from an early age; even if those interests required a parachute! And, of course, Michael thanks his friends Lamar Clark, Tony Welch, Ricky Millard, Jud Stansell, Eric Gulas, and Jeff Shular.

Through the support of his friends and family, they all share in the fun of this fantastic street car. It's this humble nature that helps Michael Newton keep things in perspective: "Keep your family and friends first. The car hobby brings us together, but it's the friendships that make it worthwhile."