April 4, 2006
It was a good year of racing for the Buginga clan--five wins, one runner-up, and five Top Qualifier awards earned them the NMRA Super Street Outlaw championship. Manny also laid claim to the world record on real 10.5-inch tires when the coupe unleashed a 7.37 performance at the World Ford Challenge 8 event. He earned the Pro Street Outlaw title in the process.

The announcer in the tower calls it the 10.5-Inch Tire Freak Show, and he couldn't be closer to the truth. "It" refers to the NMRA's Super Street Outlaw category. This type of race car is truly a freak of nature by drag racing standards. On any given weekend during race season, there are a group of Mustang racers who take to the track in search of mid-7-second glory with little more than a set of 28x10.5-inch slicks. You know--slicks that are like what's on the back of your Pony. These maniacs make it look easy when wrestling a car down track with over 1,600 hp under the hood.

Oftentimes, winning and losing are decided in the opening seconds of the race. What separates the men from the boys is not just the horsepower, but the application of that power thanks in large part to the smallish sized tires. The difference is sometimes as little as a few degrees of timing in the customized ignition-timing curve. A chassis can be set up perfectly, but if the tuner gets too aggressive, these cars put on a smoke show instead of a mid-7-second, 180-plus-mph display of speed. The real 10.5-inch slicks are that temperamental and sensitive.

The leader of the 10.5-Inch Tire Freak Show in 2005 was Manny Buginga, an unassuming and dedicated racer from Brockton, Massachusetts. His efforts rewarded him with the coveted NMRA Super Street Outlaw class championship and a title from the prestigious World Ford Challenge extravaganza. Manny's performance rivaled few in the history of the category. A large part of that success is due to former NMRA SSO champion and legendary tuner Job Spetter Jr. of Turbo People, who handled the crew chief duties.

The turbo gets stuffed with air thanks to a hole in the front bumper. Kooks Custom Headers designed and built the turbo system.

In addition to the two titles, Manny set a world record with a 7.37 at 194.04 mph at WFC 8--the quickest pass ever on real 10.5-inch tires. He has his sites set on capturing the speed record as well in 2006. It is a feat that will require him to top the magical double-century mark.

"I want to go 200 mph next year," Manny says, usually a laid-back and humble guy. But the talk of records and glory gets his competitive juices flowing. If you think his success is a result of coming from the loins of a longtime drag racer or due to family wealth that he used to buy his way to the top, then you would be greatly mistaken. He works at the family's construction company and replaces extravagant vacations abroad with working hard on weekends at the strip. In between digging ditches and pouring cement, he is on the phone with all sorts of manufacturers, tuners, and racers talking racing. For Manny, the main job is racing, although he has a second one to pay for that addiction.

His workplace is a 3,120-pound Mustang LX coupe that has been fitted with only the bare essentials for safety and performance. DMC Racing recently updated the rollcage to the strict SFI 25.2 specifications. A series of rollbar tubing now surrounds the driver on the top, the bottom, and the sides. The 25.2-style cage also stiffens the unibody to withstand the 1,600-plus horsepower under the hood. Stock framerails are in place and have been modified to fit the rear tires. The hood and front bumper have been replaced with carbon-fiber ones from Skinny Kid Race Cars, and all other body components are factory supplied, as is the OEM safety glass.

Best time to date has been a 7.37 at 194.04 mph. That was done with a 94mm size turbocharger at WFC 8. NMRA Super Street Outlaw rules require a maximum turbo size of 91mm. Manny has run a best of 7.61 at 188 mph at those events. All runs have been done at a race weight of 3,120 pounds.

How does this car perform so well with so many stock components? The answer lies in the details. The front suspension utilizes a lightweight, tubular K-member with tubular A-arms by Skinny Kid.

The front struts came from Strange Engineering, and the rear shocks are coilover units, also from Strange. The factory rear sus-pension has been ditched in favor of chromoly ladder bars. Their length and angle is kept secret, though. The shock and strut adjustments vary based on track conditions. Strange lightweight brakes sit at all four corners and utilize dual calipers. These help Manny hold the car with the footbrake when he brings up the boost before he bumps into the staging beams.

A 9-inch rearend replaced the 8.8-inch piece. An interesting fact is Manny had to turn to a fabricated 9-inch housing after the season. He started the year off with an iron 9-inch from a passenger car, which was braced up, but the hard launches took their toll, and by year-end the housing was bent. One call to Skinny Kid solved that problem. The new rearend is standard equipment in Pro Street cars and should hold up just fine in this application. It has been filled with a lightweight third member and the gear ratio is a highly guarded secret. It all goes back to the part about the details making all the difference between winning, losing, and setting world records.

It isn't a secret that this Mustang has a turbocharged engine that rests between the framerails. Merkel Racing Engines (Hauppauge, New York) created it, and displacement checks in at 362 ci. An RDI aluminum 8.2-inch-deck engine block is the basis for the horsepower. The usual internals like a billet crankshaft (LA Enterprises), Oliver billet rods, and Ross pistons fill up the RDI chunk of aluminum. Up top, a set of Edelbrock Victor cylinder heads and a Reichard Racing intake manifold are responsible for moving air into the engine. A custom Turbo People-grind camshaft controls the Jesel valvetrain. The only cam spec Manny admitted to was that it was a solid roller camshaft.

Turbonetics is responsible for building the NMRA-legal 91mm turbocharger. The peanut gallery said that size turbo couldn't run mid sevens, but Buginga & Co. proved them wrong. For WFC competition, a larger 94mm turbo is utilized, and that jumps the horsepower output by 250 or so. A Dynamic Racing Transmission Powerglide is employed, as is a Neil Chance torque converter. Torque converter stall speed and slippage are two key factors in turbo cars. It took several different designs to find what worked and what didn't in this combination.

Da crew--from left to right: Jen Buginga, Manny Buginga, Job Spetter Jr., and Chase Spetter. Manny's best friend and crew guy Pat Speer was unavailable at the time of the photo. Pat's the guy who gets the dirtiest at the events thrashing on Manny's race car and keeping it in seven-second form.

Electronics play a big part in keeping the 10.5-inch tires glued to the track, and Manny has quite a collection of goodies. The major control systems in the car are a DFI Gen 7 ECM, an MSD ignition, and a Turbo People seven-stage boost controller. Job oversees each system and keeps the information closely guarded. The team spent a lot of time testing in Florida and on chassis dynos during the '05 preseason to make sure everything was dialed in properly. Their idea of setting up the ECM program and boost controller is to test in bad, good, and great environments. An Auto Meter data logger gathers information from 34 different sensors. Armed with that info, Manny and Job know how to change their tune-ups in all weather and track conditions. "Job can work miracles on bad tracks," Manny says.

The coupe hasn't always provided a 7-second rush for Manny. The car spent most of its life on the street, dating back to the mid '90s. "I drove this car in high school when I met my wife, Jen," Manny says. Evolution took him from 10-second times with a supercharged engine to 9-second runs in drag radial competition. Things got serious when he ran in the 8s, and he finally went on to the 7-second zone that he has comfortably hung out in over the past few years.

In 2005 alone, that coupe delivered Manny to five victories, one runner-up, and a quintet of UPR Top Qualifying awards in NMRA competition. The WFC Pro Street Outlaw title was just icing on the cake. With credentials like that, it's no wonder Toyo Tires signed Manny to a multiyear sponsorship deal. The relationship has helped push Toyo's drag racing tire development forward. Both groups spent 2005 testing various compounds and styles of tires. This past winter, Toyo released a new line of drag racing tires in various sizes.

As of this writing, testing for 2006 is underway, and Manny has his sights on defending the SSO title in NMRA competition. A new engine program has been in the works at Merkel Racing Engines, and there are grumblings of a new 383ci engine with Yates heads. With a field full of supercharged, turbocharged, and nitrous-injected competitors eyeing the 7.50 zone, this team will be working hard to stay ahead of the competition in 2006.