Dale Amy
November 23, 2006

Horse Sense: What's in a name? Every race car Don Bowles has campaigned has carried the nickname "Coal Digger" across its doors. Don is a coal miner by trade, so the handle he uses seems more than appropriate. The car featured here is Coal Digger VI and, with Don still going strong as the wheelman, we're fairly sure Number Six won't be the last one of its lineage.

When we cover NMRA events, we keep our eyes and ears open for sightings or reports of new racers and, of course, new race cars. It never fails-we're usually asked by a fan, racer, or a Mustang-media brother if we've seen so-and-so's new car. This question is usually followed by "It's insaaaane" or "It's off the hook." If we haven't yet seen the car, we make it a point to find out what all the excitement is about.

With the exception of a pair of Kirkey race seats, a Long Vertigate shifter, a custom rollcage, and dual window nets, the cockpit of Don's ride maintains all the general factory amenities such as steering wheel, horn, carpet, dash, radio, power windows and mirrors, dome light, and headliner.

The beautiful Screaming Yellow 'Stang featured here is Don Bowles' brand-new, Modular Muscle '06 Mustang GT. While the novelty of S197 race 'Stangs has worn off a bit since the debut of Uncle Robin's Real Street ride, Mark Van Meter's former 10.5W car, and the Renegade screamer of Sutton High Performance, Don's Mustang is, in a word, unbelievable.

Timing is definitely everything. While cruising the property during the relative quiet of Friday's test-and-tune session at the NMRA's Martin, Michigan, event, we spotted Don's "Monster Mustang" (more on that name later) just as he and Crew Chief Dennis Corn of Roush Engineering were removing the hood for tech inspectors to get a look at the car's oh-so-special powerplant-a 650-rear-wheel-horsepower, supercharged 5.4 from the soon-to-be discontinued Ford GT super car. Naturally, the totally unexpected sight of this exceptional bullet and the car's overall killer looks pegged the needle on our interest meter; by the end of Saturday's qualifying session we were off in a far corner of the property, shooting many of these photos and finding out all the details on this awesome specimen of modular-powered Mustang.

Don's Monster Mustang is, in a sense, the fruition of a project idea that came about in 2004. Dennis Corn, Bob Corn (Dennis' dad), and other members of the Roush Engineering Group, Ford's Special Vehicle Team, and the representatives of the Monster Garage television program were engaged in talks about producing a new versus old "build-off" that would showcase an SVT-prepped '05 Mustang powered by the heralded Ford GT engine and a 427-powered '67 Mustang that Jesse James would develop for the show.

Don Bowles' Monster Mustang at full boogie at the 3rd Annual Toyo Tire NMRA Ford Nationals. A perfect reaction time of 0.500 netted Don the low qualifier spot in this debut event for the car. Consistent nine-second e.t.'s gave fans a look at the drag-race potential of the Ford GT supercar's bullet.

The TV show concept fizzled, but Dennis and Ben Mens forged ahead with an idea that would hopefully generate business for Roush Engineering. That's right-Ben Mens is the same guy who campaigned Jack Roush's Falcon in NMRA's Open Comp class and currently runs in Hot Street. The idea centered on building a grassroots drag car that would showcase some of Roush Engineering's capabilities. Dennis has known Don his entire life, thanks to the 40-year friendship that Don, Jack Roush, Bob, and Uncle Doug Thompson have shared since the '60s. Dennis suggested that Don's mothballed '79 Mustang, a.k.a. Coal Digger IV, become the car for this new Monster Mustang effort. This also didn't happen. Instead, a black '01 supercharged 'Stang was offered by the Roush front office as a "race car" for Dennis and Ben to use at the '04 NMRA World Finals. A schedule conflict for Ben landed Don in the driver seat for that race, and after reaching the quarterfinals in Modular Muscle it was clear he'd have that position for as long as he wanted it.

The rest of the story is a bit long, and we suggest you ask Don or Dennis to take you through the entire saga the next time you see them at a race. Suffice it to say, Don's first-gen Fox never became the monster 'Stang of Dennis' dreams. Instead, nearly three years after the initial idea of a super-bad Mustang was discussed with the folks from TV, the S197 you see here-the lead horse in a stable of three Roush Performance S197s competing in Modular Muscle-is the car that finally bears the Monster Mustang code name. It's a real-world, moving dyno/testbed for new mod-motor concepts and products being developed by the engineers at Roush and sold through Roush Performance (www.roushperf.com) and its distributors.

Don is a lucky guy. He and Jack Roush experienced the golden age of drag racing-the '60s through the late '70s. It was a time when Thunderbolts, Cobra Jet, and Boss 'Stangs-even a Maverick and a class-dominating Fairmont-were the Ford vehicles the duo campaigned to numerous victories on the dragstrip. When asked, Don is quick to tell you how much fun those days were.

With this new age of Ford-only drag racing and Jack's return to the action (he served as the Grand Marshal of the inaugural '06 NMRA/NMCA Super Bowl event at Joliet), it appears the two longtime buddies, their families, and several close friends are having fun once again at the drags, with a nine-second/140-mph, modular-powered, stick-shift Roush test-car that is perfect, as you'll see in the photos.