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

Horse Sense: "I would like to say a special thank you to my lovely wife, Belinda, and my precious daughter, Nichole," Nick says. "My wife is the biggest reason I am able to do this racing thing." He also notes that the sacrifices he and Belinda make are tremendous. "Anyone thinking of heads-up racing better think long and hard. I've always said I work a full-time job to pay for a second full-time job that doesn't pay."

When asked about the handling numbers on his NMRA EFI Renegade coupe, Nick Trombetta responds with "Is straight OK?" Sure, we can live with that. Slalom numbers aren't that pertinent when going through the quarter-mile at around nine seconds flat and more than 150 mph. Until cones are added to the dragstrips of America, who cares anyway? Nick just wants to make it to the stripe before his opponent does. After all, that's why he built this car.

It all began when Nick attended the '96 Fun Ford opener at Bradenton, Florida. While there, he caught foot-age of Jimmy LaRocca doing his best guardrail dance in his then-Pro 5.0 '86 GT. Jimmy was able to keep the car off the rail after a wicked 300-foot wheelstand caused the car to careen out of control. Nick sent the video to Jimmy and the two began talking on a regular basis.

During the winter of 2002, Nick had Jr's Car Shop in Newport News, Virginia, remove the sunroof and weld on a new top from another coupe. Hytech Auto Body repainted the car in Mid-Atlantic Blue a week before the NMRA Bradenton opener. That left the remainder of the week for Nick to get the car back to race-ready condition. Although he worked 54 hours straight, it wasn't enough to finish the car, but it was time to head to Brandenton. There, Nick and his crew-his wife, Belinda; Brian Sivilla; Pat Grace; and Jason Osborne-worked vigorously to finish the LX.

Nick's '89 LX was still a street car at that time, but Jimmy convinced him to take it off the street and get serious about performance. The coupe was stripped and prepped for a rollcage and fresh paint. At the same time, Nick ordered parts from just about every manufacturer, acquiring an A4 block, a 331 stroker kit, a Vortech J-Trim Mondo, and more.

Six months into the wake-up call, Nick was accepted into NASA's Employee Retraining Initiative in Hampton, Vir-ginia. This meant he was going back to school to complete his Bachelor of Science degree in electrical engineering. "It would be a four-year adventure/nightmare," Nick recalls. "The first two years of school the car sat silently in my garage as I adjusted my lifestyle to focus on school work. It wasn't until a trip to the '99 World Ford Challenge at Joliet, Illinois, that the juices once again started flowing."

As it is today, EFI Renegade was a popular class back then. Nick remembers Chip Havemann shocking the world with the first nine-second Renegade pass. "It was at that point I decided the car would be dedicated to the Renegade format," Nick says. "I [believe] the class is popular because most Mustang owners can relate to these cars."

Typically, a blue interior ranks right up there with red as those most likely to be replaced with gray or black. However, Nick cleaned up the interior and added a pair of Kirkey Pro-Drag seats, Auto Meter gauges in a variety of pods, and a Hurst Billet Quarter Stick shifter. When we photographed the car at the Bradenton NMRA opener, it featured a Dynamic M2 C4 transmission. Always testing the latest components in an attempt to gain an edge, Nick recently tried a Lentech Stage II Strip Terminator AOD. Matt Wirt's Racefab Engineering redid the cage during the winter of 2002.

After returning from Joliet and becoming more accustomed to college life, Nick removed the car cover and began working on the LX once again. Every evening he worked in the garage with his friend Clint Nicholson to complete the car. "Between school, work, family, and car construction, I averaged four hours of sleep per night that year," Nick says.

Since the 331 carried a weight penalty, Nick combined forces with George Coleman of CAMS Race Engines [(804) 693-3632] to build a wicked little 306. "Heads-up racing was new to George," Nick says. "He was familiar with 600-plus-cubic-inch Chevy engines, not little 306s making 800-plus horsepower using factory hydraulic lifters." Nevertheless, Nick and George put their heads together and came up with a good engine program.

The engine was coming together, and the same could be said for the rest of the car. A Dynamic Racing Transmissions Mighty-Mite C4 made a home for itself in the tunnel, with a TCT converter inside. "I have never had a Dynamic C4 fail," Nick says.

Initial construction was completed in December 2000. In January 2001, the car was delivered to LaRocca's Performance for some dyno time, for which Nick was rewarded 690 hp at the wheels. "Not bad for our first effort," he says. After some local track testing, Nick made the trek from his Hayes, Virginia, hometown to the April 2001 NMRA race in Reynolds, Georgia. Nick surprised many in attendance with off-the-trailer 9.40s. He finished seventh in points in EFI Renegade that year.

Pictured are Nick's wife, Belinda, Nick, and Brian Sivilla. The list of Nick's sponsors is as long as that of some top NASCAR teams and includes ATI-ProCharger, LaRocca's Performance, CAMS Race Engines, Hart's Dyno Service, Jr's Car Shop, Thermal Tech Coatings, Matt Wirt Racefab Engineering, Total Engine Airflow, Edelbrock, Dynamic Racing Transmissions, Torque Converter Techniques, Royal Purple Lubricants, JE, GRP, Pomoco Lincoln-Mercury, Hurst, Comp Cams, Dandy Haven Props and Tops, Peninsula Automotive, and Crane Cams. Personal props go to the NASA crew (Dennis, Vince, Chad, Bruce, and Rick), Mike and Travis Butler, Tommy at Jr's Car Shop, Jason Osborne, Pat Grace, Bobby Starcher, Thomas Asbel, Donnie Hastings, Mauro Vitale, Van Parker, Brian Wheeler, and Tommy Greise.

For the majority of 2002, Nick tested and then tested some more. The engine was on and off Hart's Dyno Service's Superflow dyno 10 times, with extensive testing of camshaft designs. When ATI-ProCharger came on board in early 2002 with an F-1R supercharger, Nick was rewarded with a Renegade class win at the Ford Fever Classic at Maryland International Raceway over NMRA regular Brian Mitchell. The LX ran a best of 8.97 at 153 mph and was just 71 pounds shy of NMRA-legal trim. Legal weight testing resulted in a string of high 8s and 9.0s.

Though he was unable to replicate those numbers at the NMRA Bradenton opener (which gave us time to shoot the car for a feature), Nick doesn't plan on having that much time on his hands at future races. As we write this, Nick's in the throws of testing a Lentech Stage II Strip Terminator AOD to see if any performance advantage can be gained. "With the lockup function, we are confident the car will eventually go 155 mph," he says. "Only time will tell."

CAMS Race Engines' George Coleman built Nick's short-block using an A4 block, a Cola 4340 forged-steel crank, GRP rods, and JE custom pistons with Speed-Pro rings. The 7.8:1 compression short-block plays host to Total Engine Airflow-ported Victor Jr. heads and a Holley SysteMAX II intake. The heads feature 2.05/1.60 valves, Jesel 1.62 rockers, and Isky valvesprings. Cam specs are... yeah, right. It's a Comp Cams grind-that's all we know. The 306 utilizes an Accufab 75mm throttle body and a Pro-M 80mm mass air meter for induction, while Jimmy LaRocca handles the tuning of the EPEC. The engine made 1,011 hp on Hart's Dyno Service's engine dyno and 760 at the wheels on LaRocca's Dynojet with the tires smoking the rollers. The car has run a best of 8.96 at 154 mph with a 1.29 short time.

Block Ford Racing Performance Parts A4
Bore 4.030
Stroke 3.000
Displacement 306ci
Crank Cola 4340 forged
Rods GRP aluminum
Pistons JE custom
Heads Edelbrock Victor Jr., Total Engine Airflow-ported, 2.05/1.60 valves, Jesel 1.62 rockers, Isky valvesprings
Camshaft Comp Cams
Intake Holley SysteMAX
Throttle Body Accufab 75mm
Mass Air Pro-M 80mm
Fuel System Weldon 2025 fuel pump and fuel-pressure regulator, Earl's lines, Pro-M fuel rails, FRPP 160-lb/hr injectors
Exhaust Kooks custom headers, Dr. Gas X-pipe, DynoMax Bullet 3-in mufflers
Power Adder ATI-ProCharger F1-R
Transmission Dynamic M2 C4, TCT stall converter, PST driveshaft, Hurst Quarter Stick shifter
Rearend 8.8-in, 4.10 gears, Strange spool and 33-spline axles
Engine Management EPEC
Ignition Crane HI-7, LX-92 coil, Moroso Blue Max/Ultra 40 plug wires, Autolite spark plugs
Gauges Auto Meter
K-Member Anthony Jones Engineering
Struts Anthony Jones Engineering
Springs QA1
Brakes Aerospace Components
Wheels Centerline Warrior 15x3.5
Tires Goodyear
Traction Device Wolfe Race Craft antiroll bar, custom upper and lower control arms
Shocks AFCO
Springs Stock
Brakes Aerospace Components
Wheels Centerline Warrior 15x10
Tires Mickey Thompson 28x10.5
Chassis Stiffening Matt Wirt Racefab
Engineering Funny Car cage, Jr's Car Shop through-the-floor subframe connectors