Paul Rosner
April 1, 2008
Photos By: Jerry Heasley

Horse Sense: Among the trick gadgets on Mike's Dark Star is a dual-bottle fire-suppression system that is set off by either the driver or a crewmember via a remote switch at the rear of the vehicle, next to the power off. Additionally, the steering wheel has three buttons: One is for the transbrake, one deploys the parachutes and dumps the boost from the engine at the completion of a run, and the third deploys the chutes when Mike needs to straighten up the car if the Mickey Thompsons spin faster than the race car is traveling. With 10.5W meats and close to 2,500 hp, it happens often.

Twenty years ago, nobody would have believed that a small crew of Mustang racers would grow to become a self-sustaining entity large enough to support several heads-up racing series or countless magazine titles. Its worldwide fan following is hungry for the next superstar personality whose newest nasty Pony innovation blows away creations from the past.

Longtime readers may recall one of the most flamboyant racing personalities to have his corral of prize Ponies grace our pages on many occasions: Texas superstar Mike Murillo. Each of his sick street stalkers were given pet names such as Silver Bullet, Nightmare, and Cracker. Overshadowing them all was Star Car, the icon of Mike's racing career.

The engine compartment in Mike Murillo's new ride is devoid of any indication of a power adder, a supercharger, or a turbocharger feeding rear-facing headers. The venerable small-block was replaced with a Kotzur-built, 541-cube big-block with Trick Flow aluminum heads. The small fuel cell carries more than enough for a couple burnouts. A full-throttle, 6-second pass down the quarter-mile, as well as a radiator and fan assembly that Vintage Air squeezed next to the cell, aid in displacing some of the weight gain from the big-block powerplant.

Mike won five FFW Outlaw 5.0 championships from 1994 to 1999. He is absent only the '97 title because of another one of the sport's pioneers, the Cajun Kid Carlo Catalanotto. In 2001, Team Murillo broadened its sights to the NMRA Super Street Outlaws, finishing in the runner-up spot in the first season and conquering the field in 2002 for the team's sixth national championship. In addition, the Murillo freight train powered its way to two Clash of the Titans Championships and a WFC title before retiring from competition in 2003.

Most of the people we feature are racers who have nurtured their prize Pony into showcase form with years and years of upgrades and alterations while plummeting down the proverbial e.t. ladder. However, sometimes the performance jump requires a fresh start. This is one of those cases.

For those who never saw Star Car, let us introduce you to its evil twin, Dark Star. Mike bought the Chuck Samuel-wheeled Tommy Z chassis that narrowly missed becoming the first 200-mph Pro 5.0 car. For two years, the sight of an empty shell deteriorating in the corner of the shop tormented Mike-he still swears he could hear ghost blow-off valves sneezing in the night during late dyno sessions. His wife, Lisa, finally insisted that it would be best if Mike were to get back into racing-she was tired of him pacing around the house every weekend as his passion for competition ate away at his sanity.

The oiling system comes from a Peterson Fluid Systems wet sump with the oil and vacuum pumps stacked together. Mike made a custom filler cap for the valve cover with a built-in vacuum gauge to monitor the engine's internal pressures during dyno runs.

In his search for a viable builder, Mike stumbled upon a small shop in Austin, Texas. Bill Buck Race Cars displayed equal enthusiasm to revive the Murillo championship legacy. The outdated and fatigued 25.5 chassis needed to be upgraded to meet the SFI 25.2 chassis specs, good for e.t.'s down to 6.30 in the quarter-mile. Some of the chrome-moly tubing that required new crossbars or gusset bars to be welded were replaced, and extra floor tubing was added. Bill Buck went beyond just adding the SFI upgrades to the passenger capsule: He fabbed new A-arms for the Santhuff front-spindle assembly and Strange carbon-fiber brake bracketry. The Tommy Z rear four-link suspension was retained except for the custom antisway bars and rearend housing. Buck's unique rearend housing accepts dual sets of twin-piston Aerospace calipers to keep from rolling through the beams when the boost shoots to the moon during prelaunch.

Mike says he is quickly learning that all his experiences in the sport will be rewritten. The 8.2-deck, 359-cube turbocharged setup that he used to conquer the world went to the wayside, and a monster RDI 460 block, bored and stroked to 541 cubes by Kotzur Racing Engines, now fills the fender wells. A Scat crankshaft was cross-drilled for added oiling, and nitrided to help it survive the volatile pressure the of 25-plus pounds of twin-turbocharged boost. A set of GRP connecting rods with low-compression JE pistons, an Innovators West dampener, and a JW flywheel complete the rotating assembly. A Comp Cams solid-roller crankshaft actuates a bulletproof Jesel valvetrain in the Kotzer CNC-ported Trick Flow A460 heads.