Mickey Dixon's 1990 Mustang LX
Charlotte, North Carolina, is the healthy heart of the stock car racing world and home to thousands of talented welders, painters and engine builders - most of whom have personal stakes in the success or failure of a particular NASCAR driver each weekend. At nearly 200 miles an hour, the drivers of the Nextel Cup series are famous for torturing sheetmetal and destroying carefully crafted parts on the world's most expensive GM, Ford, Mopar and now Toyota products.
This season, Mickey Dixon will have 36 opportunities to cringe every time he sees the No. 49 BAM Racing Charger take its licks on the track, because under that aerodynamic Dodge body are his upper and lower control arms, spindles, truck arms and rear axle hardware.
"I know it doesn't sound like you could stay busy just making a few parts for a race car," he told us, "but it's a full-time job. Last year we built five to 10 complete cars, each of which needed several spares. When you're starting with nothing but steel, sheet metal and a welder, the hours really add up."
Twenty-nine-year-old Mickey doesn't remember a time when he wasn't interested in cars. He took auto mechanics in high school like most motorheads, and his daily driver was a 1978 Camaro Z28 he restored with a 350-cid V-8, rebuilt transmission, aftermarket wheels and cowl hood. The Brand X street car made many high-speed passes at the Mooresville Dragway 1/8-mile, and it remains a fixture in his garage today.
In 1996 he went to work in the motor room at Jasper Racing Engines to learn how the professionals build competitive V-8 powerplants. A year later Mickey found himself commuting to the small town of Level Cross to fabricate race car parts for Richard Petty's team. His current job with BAM started in 2004.
"I really like what I do at BAM," Mickey said. "I don't travel with the race cars each week, which can get old pretty quick. I usually just watch them on TV to see how we're doing."
As you can imagine, Mickey's free time is devoted to building and modifying cars. He built his stepfather a '65 Mustang pro street car that has been featured in several magazines, and worked on a '55 Chevy and '69 Chevelle for friends.
He considers his strengths to be fabricating, electrical and mechanical skills, but says he just "gets by" on paint and body work. When he bought a low-mileage 1990 5.0-liter LX coupe in 2000 to use as a daily driver and dropped it off with Blackwelder's Body Shop in Concord, he felt the snowball starting to roll.
"I had Blackwelder's spray it with R-M's Red Pearl paint," he remembered, "because I just wanted a nice-looking coupe to drive around. The paint and body were so smooth when it I got it back that the rest of the Mustang looked kind of old. That's when I got serious about modifying it for performance."
Instead of opening the checkbook and letting money fly out of his bank account Mickey worked within a budget. He sought out used parts in excellent condition for his buildup, which he estimates saved him 50 percent compared to buying everything new. Rather than rebuild the car from the ground up, he planned to modify no more than was absolutely necessary for his enjoyment. The result, after one-and-a-half years, was a powerful Mustang for the street that covers the 1/8-mile in 6.90 seconds at 120 miles an hour (when fitted with Mickey Thompson ET Drags in the rear) on 93-octane gas.