Michael Johnson Associate Editor
August 1, 2004
Photos By: Steve Turner

The popularity of Drag Radial racing has reached an all-time high. Our own Dr. Jamie Meyer refers to the NMRA's BFGoodrich Drag Radial class as mini-Outlaw, with its cast of big-name drivers and high-powered entries. Drag Radial racers are running mid-eights in NMRA trim, a mere second off even the most seasoned Super Street Outlaw racers. Take any of the top five NMRA Drag Radial cars and slap a set of 10.5-inch slicks on them, and they'll be right in the thick of Super Street Outlaw. They may not run sevens right off the bat, but low eights aren't out of the question.

One NMRA racer who knows the view from both sides of the tread is Dave Hopper. Dave started out with an '89 convertible that he built for True Street-type competition. Later, after outgrowing the car, he built a '90 LX Titanium hatch wearing true 10.5-inch slicks, which he raced in NMRA Super Street Outlaw. By the fall of 2002, Dave was ready to go in yet another direction, so the Titanium hatch was sold as a roller and the engine was parted out. In exchange for some labor on another car, Dave received the '91 coupe you see here.

No, it wasn't in its current condition when he became the owner, but apart from some busted-up bumper covers, the car was spotless. Dave even drove it home-well, the coupe made it halfway before needing a lift the rest of the way to the house. The car was an original Deep Jewel green, but since it's a '91 it had the black moldings, and Dave had to replace a couple damaged panels. Good thing he's a paint and body man. He then repainted the car in its original color, making the moldings body color as well. Seven months later, he'd completed the underside of the car, the engine compartment, the wiring, the cage, and the engine.

"Once completed, the car was ready to take to the '03 World Ford Challenge [WFC6] for its first race," Dave says. "With a new combination and a new car, we experienced severe tire shake and broke an axle." That happened in qualifying, but by Sunday's eliminations Dave and the crew fixed the car, and in its debut it ran 9.40s. Of course, 9.40s weren't good enough at WFC6, so Dave had to wait awhile to see the car's full potential. He had to wait even longer since he skipped the Texas race, and the NMRA Motorsport Nationals were cancelled due to rain just a few weeks after WFC6.

At the July '03 NMRA Ford Nationals at Route 66 Raceway in Joliet, Illinois, "We weren't sure what we were in for," Dave says. Although he thought the car was ready, he was having trouble with the FAST engine-management unit. He borrowed a spare FAST box from Super Street Outlaw racer Mark Van Meter,and engine builder/tuner Steve Petty threw in a quick tune. Dave acknowledges that Mark's generosity and Steve's killer tune-up allowed him to be the first NMRA Drag Radial racer in the 8.50s, and to go on to win his first NMRA Drag Radial race.

At the NMRA Atco race, Dave qualified with an 8.95 at 161 mph and made it to the semifinal round before runner-up Phillip Clemmons put him out of com-petition. At the '03 NMRA World Finals, Dave once again qualified strong and went rounds. This time he made it all the way to the finals to face the NMRA Drag Radial king, Chris Little. But Chris backfired in the lights, handing Dave his second NMRA BFGoodrich victory in 2003. Dave ended up finishing Fourth in points in 2003. The 8.59 he recorded at Joliet stood the rest of the year as the record in NMRA BFGoodrich Drag Radial.