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.
Very little was done to the cast-iron block 302 powerplant. All the major players came from the Ford factory, including pistons and pins, connecting rods and the crankshaft. Stock heads went on the shelf to be replaced with lighter Trick Flow aluminum units housing Trick Flow valves, Crane 1.6:1 roller rocker arms and Ford Motorsports roller lifters - all of which are now stored under Trick Flow valve covers. One of Trick Flow's street-grind camshafts was ordered and installed. Mickey went with ARP main bolts and head studs and Fel-Pro composite gaskets to button everything up. One of Ron Davis Racing Products' aluminum high-flow radiators keeps everything cool, but is tucked out of sight by Mickey's handbuilt cover.
A fan-shaped Trick Flow intake manifold sits atop the stock block and works with a 70mm Ford Motorsports throttle body. The fuel system was beefed up with a Holley 255-liter-per-hour pump and Ford Motorsports 42-lb injectors. Mickey's real find was a used Paxton SN 2000 supercharger still wearing the stock pulley. On the other side of the block, long-tube 1 3/4-inch MAC headers flow into a 2 1/2-inch collector and into Flowmaster mufflers. Miscellaneous shiny bits decorate the engine compartment here and there.
The electrical system was upgraded with an Interstate battery in the stock location (Mickey fabricated his own battery box out of aluminum), an MSD Blaster 2 distributor and in the passenger's footwell - a tried and tested 6AL ignition control box. Sparkplug wires are Taylor 8mm cables.
The powertrain was finished off with a stock Mustang flywheel, Centerforce clutch, Tremec TKO five-speed transmission, Ford Racing driveshaft and drive axles.
The suspension and chassis are remarkably stock at the moment, a status the owner will eventually be changing.
"People are surprised to find out that I haven't lowered it and made some serious modifications under there," Mickey said. "The way it sits and those big tires in the back make it look like it already has the good stuff. I have installed a set of Summit ladder bars to help with traction, but that's about it for now. It's got a lot of power, but I don't drive it hard enough to need more suspension work yet."
The "big tires" are BFGoodrich 275/50R15 T/A street radials wrapped around 15x8-inch Centerline Telstar rims in a high-polish finish; up front are a pair of 185R15 Kumho radials on 15x3.5-inch rims, also Telstars. The heavier-duty rolling stock was made possible by a five-lug conversion; but brakes remain stock-style Fox-body equipment with discs in front and drums in the rear.
Inside, Mickey has created a serious but comfortable driving environment around a pair of black-and-gray bucket seats trimmed in leather and tweed. The color scheme flows along the custom door panels and ends up in the back seat. From his chair Mickey is "gauged up" with a veritable catalog of AutoMeter product: boost pressure, water temperature and voltage on the A-pillar; white-faced speedometer, factory tachometer straight ahead - a 10,000-rpm tach off to the right; and oil and fuel pressure readouts that perch like a pair of canaries on the cowl panel, just under the lip of the raised hood.
Only a small amount of billet accessories found their way into the cockpit, including the Tremec shifter's knob and a set of pedal covers. Of course, the race car fabricator couldn't resist making his own set of aluminum sill plates. Tunes are delivered by a Sony Xplod CD player and speakers.
Mickey applied his street machine-on-a-budget philosophy to the coupe's exterior too, where only one absolutely necessary modification was made.
"I wanted to keep the outside as stock as possible," he told us. "I think the notchback looks great the way it is, and you see too many running around with spoilers and fancy graphics. The only thing I spent money on was the Harwood fiberglass hood and only because I need to have that three-inch rise in order to clear the engine."
Apparently, Mickey isn't the only one to feel this way, because his Red Pearl Pony has taken home 10 first-place trophies from car shows, plus four Best Engine awards, the 2003 Mustang Brand Team honor from Atlanta Dragway and Best of Show from Fun Ford Weekend at Rockingham. Unwilling to settle for success, the fabricator is eager to fire up his welding equipment once again and get busy with some more modifications.
"I haven't done a lot to the Mustang since I got it looking as it does in these pictures," Mickey said; but my next project is going to be building my own four-point rollbar. After that, I have a few more engine mods in mind. Then maybe it'll be time to do something to that suspension..."
Looks like that snowball is still rolling - fast.
Interior / Exterior
Mickey Dixon's 1990 Mustang LX
Harwood fiberglass 3" cowl hood
Autometer gauges: boost pressure, water temperature, voltage, Monster tach, oil and fuel pressure; Custom door panels; Sony Xplod CD player, speakers
Summit ladder bars
Wheels And Tires
Front: 185R15 Kumho, 15" x 3.5" Centerline Telstar wheels; Rear: BFGoodrich 275/50R15 T/A Street radials, 15" x 8" Centerline Telstar rims, (high-polish finish)
Mickey Dixon's 1990 Mustang LXEngine
Ford Iron block 5.0-liter V8
Trick Flow aluminum cylinder heads, valves, valve covers, intake manifold, street-grind camshaft; Crane 1.6:1 roller rocker arms; Ford Racing roller lifters, 70mm throttle body, 42-lb injectors; ARP main bolts, head studs; Fel-Pro composite gaskets; Ron Davis Racing high-flow aluminum rad; handbuilt radiator cover; Holley 255-lph fuel pump; Paxton SN 2000 supercharger; MAC long-tube 1-3/4" headers; Flowmaster mufflers; MSD Blaster 2 distributor, 6AL ignition controller; Taylor 8mm wires
Centerforce clutch; Tremec TKO five-speed transmission; Ford Racing aluminum driveshaft, axle shafts with 5-lug conversion
6.90 @ 120 (1/8 mile)