Michael Johnson Associate Editor
March 28, 2011
Photos By: Paul Rosner

During the writing of this article, the NFL preseason is coming to an end, and of course, Brett Favre just now showed up to play football with his Minnesota Viking teammates. Due to the press Brett was getting, several debates broke out about why many professional athletes have such a hard time with retirement. Michael Jordan held on so long because he simply liked to compete. The thrill of competition drove him, and without that drive, he knew his life would be rather mundane.

This is probably the only time NMRA Hot Street racer Robbie Blankenship will be compared to Michael Jordan, but the craving for competition is the impetus behind the Hudson, Florida-resident taking to the dragstrip.

Robbie was always involved in sports growing up–football and baseball. After graduating college from St. Leo University in 1994 with a business degree, he needed something to fill his need for competition. On a visit to nearby Sunshine Dragstrip in Clearwater, Florida, he found what he needed. Watching the drag racing that night provided Robbie with the direction he wanted to go to rekindle that competitive spirit he was missing.

He bought a ’67 Mustang and started bracket racing it. He stepped up to a faster Mustang; then progressed into an even faster Fox Mustang. He started to follow the happenings of the NMRA, and liked what he saw. In 2004, Robbie took his drag racing on tour with the NMRA, competing in the Open Comp class. Though an NMRA rookie, Robbie used his bracket-racing expertise to win a couple races in 2004, and finish seventh in points. The following year he improved to a 6th place points finish, but 2005 would be his last in Open Comp.

While racing in Open Comp, Robbie became friends with fellow racer Ben Mens. Of course, Ben works at Roush Competition Engines, and the two of them started talking, and at the end of the ’05 NMRA season, Robbie ordered a Hot Street engine. That was the last of Robbie’s Open Comp days. For 2006, Robbie dropped the new Roush Competition Engines 400ci bullet into his Open Comp car, making the jump to Hot Street.

Robbie raced that ’Stang in 2006 and 2007 with mediocre success, but he felt an update was needed to take his Hot Street program to a championship level. Prior to the ’08 NMRA season, he contacted Steve Matukas from Matukas Motorsports Race Cars to build him a new car from the ground up. His Open Comp car was a converted street car, so a purpose-built car would definitely take his program to the next level. To that end, Steve Matukas built the new car with a 25.2 chassis certification to make sure Robbie would be legal for going deep into the 8s. Robbie went the New Edge route because he believes that bodystyle offers increased aerodynamics over a Fox Mustang. He would still like to see the proof from that synopsis, however.

No matter, this car made its debut at the ’08 NMRA Bradenton opener, but his work was just beginning. Of course, we all hear about the new car bugs associated with new race cars, and that’s exactly what Robbie ran into as well. We had to re-train ourselves on how to race, Robbie says of himself and his crew, which consists of his dad, Robert, Lee Cowles, Mike Butler, and, of course, Steve Matukas.

The biggest challenge was the chassis was more rigid than the outgoing Fox street car. It hit the tire differently. Obviously, Steve Matukas was integral in helping Robbie with this aspect of the car. Another aspect that became a challenge was Robbie’s height, or lack thereof. He’ll never be compared to Michael Jordan in that aspect, but the new car also featured a lower seating position. Meaning, Robbie sat lower in the car. For the first few test sessions Robbie would pedal it at the launch, but his crew guys would give him a hard time because they could see that the car wasn’t coming up that high. Once Robbie became comfortable with the new car’s launch, he settled in, winning the ’08 Hot Street championship, the car’s debut year. That’s a mean feat by any racer’s standards.

Everyone knows defending a championship is harder than winning a championship, and as such, Robbie would finish runner-up in points for 2009, and third for 2010. However, he’s setting his sights even higher. Thanks to a loosening of the NMRA Hot Street rules, Robbie’s stepping up to a 420ci Roush Competition Engines combination. The NMRA changed-up the Hot Street rules to be more in line with the NMCA Pro Stock rules, which makes it a lot easier for Robbie to cross over the NMCA’s train tracks.

Robbie’s obviously still hungry for competition, as he plans to stick with Hot Street and Pro Stock, and hit the PSCA Street Car Supernationals in Las Vegas as well. If he can remain cool racing in the heat of Florida, surely he can handle it out West, too. After all, it’s a dry heat. 5.0

Horse Sense: It’s ironic a guy that races in a class called Hot Street spends his days as an air conditioning contractor ... in Florida. His family runs Bayonet Plumbing, Heating, and Air Conditioning. Keeping the rest of us Floridians cool from the heat is what pays Robbie’s bills. Plus, Robbie says he keeps Floridians warm during the winter days as well.