Steve Baur
Former Editor, Modified Mustangs & Fords
August 28, 2007
Photos By: Michael Galimi

Heads-up racing is no easy feat when you have the type of competition that exists in the current Ford racing sanctions. With the advances in EFI technologies and a pocketful of cash, anyone can go fast, but it often takes more than that to win races. Pushing your ride to the limit has its challenges, and it's how you overcome them that ultimately determines how successful a racer you are.

Sutton High Performance cofounder and crew chief on this muscle Mustang, Jerry Vanderlinde, was quick to point out that the Sutton crew is what has made the team so successful in such a few short years. Its ability to adapt and overcome has proven to be the winning combination when the chips are down.

Four years ago, service director Randy Morhbach and Jerry started performing high-performance upgrades to customers' cars at Sutton Ford in Matteson, Illinois-an authorized Steeda Mustang dealer and no stranger to fast Fords. Randy and Jerry cut their teeth on Randy's son Kyle's '96 Mustang GT. When they were done, the Mustang muscled the dyno rollers to the tune of 675 rwhp-not bad considering how the power-deficient Pony started out.

With a growing speed shop on the grounds of his dealership, Sutton Ford owner Nate Sutton asked the guys to build him a hot rod. The culmination of their efforts was Project 505, an '05 Mustang GT built with a goal of reaching 505 rwhp. Well, they did that and more, reaching 675 rwhp and forging out a high-performance business at the same time.

"We had gone to SEMA and seen the new Mustangs and the blower kits that were coming for them," Jerry says. "I told the guys we really needed to be on the cutting edge of this stuff." Sutton High Performance, the high-performance division of Sutton Ford, has been on that edge ever since, taking Project 505 in all its three-valve-per-cylinder glory and running the first nine-second quarter-mile time with it. At the time, the Pony was black in color and piloted by Sutton's own Tony Vece during its blistering quarter-mile passes.

"When we were done with the car, Nate told us it was too fast for him to drive," Jerry says. Perhaps it was the change to a C4 three-speed auto that took a bit of fun out of the Stang, but it was a necessity given the power that the little Three-Valve mill was making. Highway cruising aside, the stallion retained all of its creature comforts and was mostly an exercise in bolt-ons, as it used a Vortech JT-Trim supercharger, ported heads with stock cams, a ring-and-pinion change, and some exhaust work. Nate wasn't the only one who would have a problem with getting behind the wheel, though.

Someone realized that having Tony-a capable driver but, more importantly, a dealer employee-drive the car at the track was a "workers'-comp nightmare," so Jerry and Randy had to come up with a resolution to that problem.

The Sutton crew was racing Project 505 in the NMRA's Modular Muscle class and at local test and tunes, but this was going to end with-out a driver. During the car's build, however, Jerry had hooked up with Fast Forward Race Cars (Plainfield, Illinois) and its owner Aaron Stapleton.

"I'm really picky and have dealt with chassis guys all over the country," Jerry says. "One of the guys here said his friend Aaron had a chassis shop about 45 minutes away and that he was really good, so I met up with him." As it turned out, their conversation went well.

"It was immediately apparent that we were on the same page," Jerry says. "His work is phenomenal, and he might even be pickier than I am, so I thought it had to be good to have someone check up on myself. It seemed like he was the last piece of the puzzle, and everything came together."

As their effort focused on the '05, Jerry still needed to fill the driver slot and asked Aaron if he knew of anyone, to which Aaron answered, "Yeah, me." Aaron's own ride-a big-block- powered Fox-body Mustang-was sidelined, and Aaron was happy to get behind the wheel of a Mustang whose shape was rapidly changing.

It was time to step up, and the Sutton crew set its sights on the NMRA's EFI Renegade drag racing class. Primarily dominated by pushrod-powered Ponies, EFI Renegade limits contestants to using nitrous oxide or a super-charger, along with a host of chassis and engine modifications. What would seem to be an easy target is actually a competitive field where you need enough brute horsepower to run mid- to high-eight-second elapsed times. It would seem that competing in the class with a Modular engine would be an uphill battle, but the team proved otherwise.