Michael Johnson Associate Editor
March 1, 2003
Photos By: Steve Turner

If you were to figure the average age of all late-model Mustang enthusiasts, we bet it would hover around the 30-year mark. Of course, Factory Stock racer Robin Lawrence and Real Streeter Jonathan Music do their best to tilt this number in opposite directions. Robin's gotta be pushin' 60 (even Publisher Shiver is younger than that), while Jonathan's basically a kid-or a "young whippersnapper" as Robin would say.

As in past generations that grew up with '28-'32 Fords, '55-'57 Chevys, and '67-'69 Camaros, fans of the 5.0 Mustang define an automotive generation. Rejuvenating the drag-racing scene, the 5.0 Mustang's popularity exploded in the late '80s and early '90s, a time when many of us were in high school and ripe to get behind the wheel. Even as we've "matured," those 5.0s are still in our driveways. They grabbed us at an impressionable age, and they refuse to let go. We wouldn't have it any other way.

One NMRA racer who definitely fits into the 5.0-enthusiast age range is Michael Washington. At 32, he may be in the upper division of our club, but he uses that experience to his advantage in the NMRA's Factory Stock ranks against the likes of Justin Burcham, Robin Lawrence, Troy Carter, Bob Cosby, Tim Duncan, Ian Mullane, and many others.

Growing up in New York and making regular trips to Englishtown Dragway in New Jersey, Michael witnessed the 5.0 boom firsthand and just had to get in on the fun. He did so with an '87 GT that he outfitted with long-tube headers, 4.10 gears, and slicks. Despite the disbelief of those around him, Michael had the car running 12s all day long at E-town-or "the Mecca of the 5.0 world" as he refers to it. The GT continued to become faster, and Michael had a friendly rival with his buddy Sal Arena (a current NMRA Drag Radial racer) to see who had the faster car. The two went back and forth, and when Sal dropped a Windsor between the framerails of his coupe, Michael followed suit. With the Windsor on the jug (which is how Michael refers to nitrous), the GT ran a best of 9.85 at 132 mph while competing in True Street events.

Then Michael strayed from the rest of the class by getting an LT1 Corvette. This time, with the LT1 on the jug, he had the car running in the 11s. The Vette was then replaced with two '87 Buick Grand Nationals that he still owns. One is in pieces after a 30-pounds-of-boost pass that resulted in major carnage, while the other-mostly stock with low miles-still runs 12.50s.

In 1999, Michael purchased the car you see here as a roller. It had already been treated to the Saleen ground effects and the Tony's Metal Craft 10-point cage and through-the-floor subframe connectors. Michael didn't have a class in mind at the time, but Sal suggested he take a look at the NMRA. After checking out the NMRA Web site, Michael once again became obsessed with heads-up racing. He set his sights on Factory Stock "because it was what I knew," he says.

Fast forward to the '01 season. Michael was having a good year-until September 11. As was everyone, he was shocked by what had happened. But while most of us mourned from afar, Michael was in the thick of things. He was one of the New York City firefighters who rushed to the World Trade Center on that frightful day. Although he wasn't scheduled to work, the moment the attack took place every NYC firefighter was called to the scene. "We lost 343 guys in the line of duty in 28 minutes-more than in the history of the NYC Fire Department," Michael says. And, as did every other surviving NYC firefighter, Michael spent the next few weeks digging and sweeping in 24-hour shifts, and attending the funerals of his fellow firefighters-sometimes two a day. "When September 11 happened, Mustangs didn't matter," Michael says.