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.

Sutton's Stang was originally black, but Chad Kurth saw to it that its racing nature was reflected in its bright-red paint scheme. The hood is a carbon-fiber piece, while the Ed Quay rear wing offers adjustment to keep the rear planted at high speeds.

Project 505 got a makeover, starting with Chad Kurth of Goldies Autobody in Beecher, Illinois. When the spray gun was set down for the last time, the Mustang had been changed from black to vibrant Torch Red with white Shelby-style stripes, while a carbon-fiber hood and Steeda front fascia were also added.

The car was then dropped off at Aaron's Fast Forward Race Cars shop where a rollcage was welded in. Aaron also fabricated the tubular front and rear suspensions, the fuel cell, the parachute mount, and the exhaust headers that feature 2-inch primary tubes.

At the time, the Three-Valve motor was brand-new, and the knowledge base and parts availa-bility were limited. Wanting to be competitive out of the gate, the Sutton crew thought it best to start with a powerplant they were already familiar with and that would make enough power.

At the car's debut during the '06 NMRA season opener in Bradenton, Florida, the stock Three-Valve short-block wore a set of Four-Valve cylinder heads and a Vortech YSi supercharger. Anxious to get the car out, the team put together this mild combination, yet it produced a 9.43 at 146 mph.

Florida didn't pan out race-wise for the team, but it showed what the modular motor was capable of. For the NMRA Maple Grove event, the Sutton Stang showed up with a Bennett Racing- built bullet between its fenders, and they stepped up in a big way by finishing in the runner-up position in Pennsylvania and in Joliet, Illinois, at the Super Bowl of Street Legal Drag Racing.

Aaron Stapleton, driver of the Sutton Mustang and owner of Fast Forward Race Cars, handled the rollcage installation, among other mods. Kirkey, Stroud, and RJS also provide driver safety.

Despite the unbearably hot and humid weather in Joliet, the Sutton boys wanted to make a statement at their home track and took the number-one qualifying spot. Unfortunately, the mod motor suffered one of a few valve-seat ejections that had plagued it all year long. Pay dirt, however, came in Martin, Michigan, where the Sutton Stang qualified number one and took home its first victory. It was also the first time a modular-powered Pony won in the EFI Renegade class.

Towards the end of the year, the mod motor started having numerous block issues. The cylinders became out of round on the Teksid-based block. A switch to an Explorer aluminum block helped, but the team noticed that the main bearing webbing was cracking on both blocks.

Working with Ford Racing Performance Parts, the Sutton High Performance Mustang has been using a prototype iron-based Modular block for the '07 season. The extra 60 pounds of weight up front has been worth it, as there has been no signs of main webbing problems. They also quelled the valve-seat issue on the cylinder heads, something the team chalked up to excessive cylinder heat generated by the nonintercooled combination.

Many of the motor's internals are closely guarded team secrets, but here's what we can tell you. CP Pistons milled the pistons, and the connecting rods are from GRP. The cylinder heads are FR500 pieces from the FRPP catalog and use Ferrea valves and Jesel cam followers. If you want the cam specs, you'll have to call Sutton High Performance. Chances are, they still won't tell you, other than it fits the 0.550-lift class limits.

On top of the cylinder heads is a '99 Cobra intake manifold that's been modified slightly to employ a billet spacer to increase the plenum volume. Another piece borrowed from the '99 snake is the factory throttle body, which uses a Granatelli Motor Sports 80mm mass air meter to measure the boosted charge. Pressurization of the intake charge now comes by way of a Vortech V-7 YSi supercharger, and while the exact amount of boost is, well, secret, we can tell you that a Weldon fuel system, 150 lb-hr injectors and MSD coils work at the behest of the Big Stuff 3 engine management system to provide internal combus-tion of EFI Renegade magnitude.

Sutton High Performance is on the fast track to modular-powered success, having claimed Third Place in the fiercely competitive and primarily pushrod-dominated EFI Renegade championship for 2006. The uphill battle continues in 2007, with the team qualifying number one at least once this year. Evidently there are a lot of people who believe these guys are on to something, as companies like Ford Racing Performance Parts, Steeda, and Pro Power Engine Parts have all joined on as sponsors.

Dynamic Racing Transmissions of North Branford, Connecticut, was sought out for one of its Dynamic C4 Mighty Mite three-speed automatic transmissions, and a 9-inch torque converter with a-you guessed it-top-secret stall speed. At the aft section of this quarter-mile missile is a Chris Alston Chassisworks Fab9 9-inch-style rear housing that's been fitted with Mark Williams Enterprises 40-spline axles and spool.

The Sutton High Performance team contin-ues to sort out the weak links in this Mustang, having had a water pump failure and a couple of supercharger-belt failures that put them behind in the points for the '07 season. They're looking to improve upon their Third-Place finish of last year, and as seeing they posted the number-one qualifying time at the NMRA Reynolds event in 2007, it looks like they're headed in the right direction. To date, the Sutton Mustang's best run has come in at 8.56 seconds at 160 mph. Depending on how the season turns out, Jerry says the team may be back to defend the championship, or they may look to step it up a bit and run NMCA Xtreme Street or Drag Radial.

"Our team is our performance edge and what makes the car fast," Jerry says. "Andy July and Bill Vanderlinde are part of our hard-core team that never gives up, even until the last breath. We knew we had to change a cylinder head in Bowling Green, Kentucky, last year, and most guys would have packed it in and called it a weekend. These guys were waiting with air tools in hand when we got back to the pits." Now that's factory service that only the Sutton Speed Machine can deliver.