Mike Yoksich
November 1, 2008
Keeping the front wheels down and getting the quickest 60-foot time possible has been challenging at times. The rules for the All-Motor class don't allow wheelie bars. Darren runs the wheelie bars on the first few practice runs on tuning days. The rear suspension is a ladder-bar setup with a custom antiroll bar. The shocks are Strange double-adjustable coilovers. The rear wheels are 15x12-inch Bogarts with Mickey Thompson 29.5x10.5 slicks.

Horse Sense: Darren Mag races a rare '95 Cobra R, 91 of a run of 250 special 'Stangs. One of the differences from a '95 Cobra is the 5.8-liter engine that makes 40 more horsepower than the 5.0 it replaced. The main visual difference is the fiberglass hood that has a raised cowl to clear the taller engine.

Darren Mag races in Milan Dragway's Aeroquip Heads-Up Series, which is a local program that regularly outdraws the national events. The Liberty Gears All-Motor class is one of the hottest classes for engine builders to display their talents. It runs small-block cars at 2,950 pounds or big-blocks at 3,350 pounds. The engines must run a single carburetor or a single throttle body mounted on a cast intake manifold. Other limitations-on clutchless transmissions, tube chassis, one-piece front ends, and so on-keep the racing close.

With all the engineers and race shops concentrated around the Motor City, a class featuring heads-up racing without power adders is a big deal. The lines between Ford, Chevy, and Mopar fans are drawn in bold ink. A lot of the fans at these races are third- and fourth-generation autoworkers. Those with a father who wouldn't let people park a Brand X car in his driveway know what I mean.

Darren raced a '68 Mustang coupe from 2005 to 2006, and he had his fair share of Second Place finishes. Unfortunately, the level of competition required drastic measures: The '68 had to be replaced by the '95 Cobra R. The difference in the aerodynamics between the two cars helped on the second half of the track. Of course, the increased engine output of 1,080 hp didn't hurt, either. Getting those kinds of numbers with a small-block on one carb without power adders takes talent that can't be learned in one generation.

Chris Holbrook learned about engine building while growing up from his father, legendary Ford Cobra Jet engine-builder and racer Carl Holbrook. Besides being a world-class engine builder, Chris won the IHRA Pro Stock World Championship in 1999 by winning five races and qualifying number one at seven events. He knows what it takes to win. All that experience is condensed into one really mean small-block Ford.

Rich McCarren's shop, Pro Race Craft Engineering (313) 525-0666, is responsible for getting all 1,080 hp to the ground. Rich also shows off his welding and fabrication talent on custom-made headers. He's easy to find at the track; look for him behind some of the best handling, fastest cars in the class. Rich and Darren are always at the heads-up practice days. Milan does the same track prep as on race day, so racers can get a lot of useful data.

For Darren's car, Holbrook Racing Engines [(734) 762-4315; www.holbrookracingengines.com] started with a Dart Comp iron block and performed its typical race prep to it. The iron block was selected because its dimensional stability will better withstand the rigors of a high-rpm stroker. The crank, which provides the 4.090 stroke and 4.185 bore, is from Sonny Bryant. Carillo got the nod for its aerospace-grade, 4340-steel, 6.125-inch rods, fastened with 3/8-inch SPS-CARR rod bolts. Precision Products' cadmium-coated wristpins connect the 16:1 Diamond aluminum pistons, while Total Seal rings are used to keep all that compression in its place. A Dailey Roots-style, dry-sump oil pump with Stef's 9-quart, dry-sump tank and scavenging oil pan handles the lubrication.

Blue Thunder's 4.3 heads could make a story by themselves. They're the work of Carl Foltz Engineering [(586) 773-6310; www.cferacing.com]. The list of CFE racing champions on the company's Web site illustrates Chris' reasoning for using these heads. CFE does heads for NHRA, IHRA, and NASCAR; its long list of winning customers reads like a who's-who of racing champions.

Blue Thunder heads provide Pro Stock technology at Sportsman prices. The splayed-valve heads feature 2.25-inch Del West titanium intake valves and 1.60 exhaust valves, with Manley NexTek springs and titanium spring and valve retainers. The valve seats are copper alloy just like CFE's NASCAR and Pro Stock heads.

Darren uses a Precision Products shifter on a Jeep 727 trans with 904 internals, built by Joel's on Joy (313) 581-6266 and adapted to fit a Ford. There's a complex valvebody that varies the pressure for each gear. The internal components are all 7075 machined-aluminum, straight-cut gears. None of the internal components share anything with the OEMs. There are two converters that Darren uses with the trans: Both are A-1 Chevy torque converters, 6,400 and 7,200 rpm. The aluminum Dynatech driveshaft sends the power back to the Ford 9-inch Strange Ultra Case with 40-spline, gun-drilled axles. With the 5.0 ring and pinion, the motor screams through the traps at 9,400 rpm.

The rocker arms are shaft-mounted, 1.8:1 Jesel rocker arms. Chris uses Jesel Lifters and Trend 1/2-inch-diameter, 4130-case-hardened pushrods to handle the abuse dished out by the custom-ground Competition cam with over 0.900 lift. You'll have to torture or bribe Chris to get more info on the cam.

The rules for Milan's All-Motor Class require a cast manifold, but they don't eliminate creativity. Chris cut the cast manifold into 24 pieces, ported it to match the Blue Thunder 4.3 cylinder heads, and welded it all back together. The phenolic spacers in the plenum and on top of the manifold increase the plenum volume and dissipate the heat. The manifold wears a sheetmetal shroud to keep prying eyes away. We can't blame Chris for trying to keep some secrets.

Less secret is the carburetor on top of the jigsaw puzzle Chris calls a manifold, rated at 1,600-cfm carb and done by Dale at CFM Carburetors. Rich McCarren at Pro Race Craft Engineering fabricated the headers featuring three steps: 2-, 2 1/8-, and 2 1/4-inch with a 4-inch collector. The mufflers are Flowmaster Outlaws.

Darren bought the R as a roller from NMRA/NMCA star Jim Blair, who already had the SFI 25.5 'cage certified to 7.50s. Darren and his friends went through the car from front to back and put money only where it would result in speed. The paint job is basic white with a black stripe-and with nicks that give it character. A lot of sweat and $80,000 was what it took to make this car run 8.36 at 161 mph.

That's why Darren is a true working-class hero; he didn't inherit a ton of money or have a rich uncle to fund his racing. Darren runs a small landscaping business and keeps his overhead low and productivity high. Raising their two kids, John and Julie, alongside his wife, Gail, who works at JNL Industrial, they're one of those great families that make drag racing such a cool sport. Building and maintaining a race program on this level while taking care of your family is almost impossible in Michigan's current economy. With the auto companies laying off so much of the workforce, Darren is proof that you can do it yourself.

The grass will grow and Darren will race. Those are two sure bets.

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