Jules Winfield
May 1, 2009

In the high tech world of NHRA Comp Eliminator racing, where each of more than 80 different classes are tightly governed by a complicated set of rules designed to equalize competition, the cold, hard truth is that Ford-powered cars win races only slightly more often than the Detroit Lions win football games.

Unlike the heads-up ranks where Fords dominate, Comp is Bowtie heavy and that's where most of the R&D has gone. But never one to shy away from a battle, even an uphill one, die-hard Ford lovers Travis and Trent Gusso are more than happy to carry the flag for the blue oval crowd with his 2001 Mustang Cobra.

Starting with a body-in-white obtained from Ford Racing, the twin brothers Gusso, who hail from Sioux Falls, South Dakota, worked nights and weekends in their home garage, dubbed Dakota Speed Lab, for nearly two years to complete the car. During the build, the biggest help came from his brother Trent, who handled the fabrication and welding. Travis, a long-time NHRA racer, decided to build his Mustang to fit one of the Comp Super Modified classes, which meant the Mustang had to retain a mostly stock front suspension, steel floors, glass windows, and all of its original steel body panels, except for a fiberglass hood and scoop. The car also had to have some semblance of a stock interior, although the rules allow for aftermarket seats and a few other safety related items.

"I raced in Stock eliminator for a couple of years and had a lot of fun and we even set a national record, but my car really wasn't very fast," Gusso explains about his former, high 11-second LX. "I wanted something quicker and this seemed like the best way to do it. Even though it's very difficult, I enjoy NHRA Comp Eliminator racing. It took us a bit longer than expected to build this car. That's because it's not a full-tube chassis so we couldn't just weld up a frame and then mount the body. We had to bend all tubes and then make them fit inside the car. If we had it to do over again we probably would have cut out the floor and then welded it back in when we were done but we'll know better next time. Still, I'm pretty happy with the way it turned out."

The chassis was completed using a set of Koni double adjustable coilover shocks, a set of AJE springs and a steering rack from Flaming River. The 9-inch rear end houses a set of tall Dewco 6.50 cogs, a Dewco spool and Mark Williams axles.

In order to be competitive, Gusso needs to run elapsed times in the mid-to-high 8-second range, and in order to do that (in a 3,000 pound car), he needed an engine producing something in the neighborhood of 850 hp. With today's technology, that normally isn't a problem, but the catch here is that Super Modified cars are not allowed to use power adders of any kind. To make a tough task even more difficult, Gusso's engine is limited to just 318-cubic inches, two valves per cylinder, and a single four-barrel carburetor. Without a turbo, blower, or nitrous, the only way to compensate for a lack of cubic inches is with lots of compression and rpm. Amazingly the small-block packs over 15:1 compression and on a typical pass, Gusso dumps the clutch pedal at 7,600 rpm, hammers each gear at 9,700 rpm, and by the time he hits the finish line, the tiny small-block is screaming for mercy at over 10,500 rpm.

Looking for an engine builder who could deliver the kind of power and reliability he needed, Gusso turned to Jim Kuntz of Kuntz & Co. in Arkadelphia, Arkansas. Kuntz, who also built the engine for Gusso's record holding Stock Eliminator Mustang, assembled the engine using a Crower crankshaft, GRP aluminum rods, Diamond pistons, a Comp Cams roller cam and T&D Machine rocker arms. The Ford Racing V-351 aluminum cylinder heads have been modified to a 15-degree valve angle, well within the NHRA rules.

Powering this Mustang is a 318-inch small-block that makes in excess of 800 hp. The key components are having excellent induction flow, lots of compression and lots of rpm, as this monster screams well past 10,000 rpm.

The transmission is a G-Force GF-2000 clutchless five-speed hooked to a 7-inch ACE dual-disc clutch, pressure plate, and flywheel. "It's funny, when people look at this car, they just assume it's a Pro Street car and it should have a turbo or nitrous and be running in the 7s," Gusso says. "Yes, there are a lot of rules in Comp but that doesn't really bother me. It's a challenge to make a car like this go fast and stay within the rules and I really enjoy that challenge."

Once the engine and chassis were finished, Gusso and his brother completed the car by adding a set of American Racing wheels and Mickey Thompson tires in the front and a pair of Bogart Pro Stars supporting a set of 14.5 x 31.5-inch Goodyear slicks in the rear.

With everything ready to roll, the Mustang was sent to Landmark Frame and Body where it was painted an eye-catching shade of Dodge Viper-Blue Pearl. The Gusso boys then brought the car out in mid-2006, and after some initial teething pains, have made steady progress, running as quick as 8.8-seconds at over 150 mph. This is quite a step up from their previous race car, which rarely topped 115 mph.

High RPM small-blocks take some maintenance and so Trent checks the valve spring pressure after every pass.

One of the things that Travis is most proud of is that in two years, he has yet to abort a run, which he attributes to his brother's chassis tuning ability. "When I made my first runs, I had never driven anything that was even close to this fast," states Travis. "First of all, you sit down low and you have to look around the hood scoop. It feels like a real race car. Going down the track, the engine revs so fast that you've really got to be on time with your shifts. By the time I hit high gear in my other car, it was starting to nose over, but this car pulls all the way to the finish line. I haven't had to use the parachute, but at 150 mph, you've got to get on the brakes pretty quickly when you pass the finish line. It really is a fun car to drive."

For 2009 Gusso will be back on track with more power and lower times. "If we can get the car to run just a tenth quicker, we can be competitive in our home division," he says. "It sounds simple but I know it's not going to be easy. I know I could have probably built something else and not had to work as hard, but this is more fun. Besides, I've become attached to this car so I think I'll keep it around a while longer."