Robert Patrick's 2007 Shelby Ford GT500 IHRA Pro Stocker
There are many forms of motorsport that involve Mustangs or Mustang based creations and this magazine, in all its infinite wisdom, attempts to cover as much as it can that relates to them. When it comes to Drag Racing, the Fun Ford Weekend and National Mustang Racers Association meets are well know by the faithful, but one category that may not be entirely familiar with some of us involves the International Hot Rod Association, or more specifically the Pro Stock class within that sanctioning body. Here, Ford powered machinery is dominant and if you've been to a few of the FFW or NMRA events in recent years, or the World Ford Challenge, you might have seen more than a few IHRA drivers competing in the Pro 5.0 ranks at these events. One of them in particular made a splash at WFC 9 in his new 2007 GT500 based ride - none other than Robert Patrick. Now strapping yourself into a low six-second projectile, especially one that does the job on displacement alone is no picnic and it can be downright scary at times, even for seasoned veterans like Patrick, but pushing the limits can be both exciting and rewarding, something that Robert knows only too well.
Patrick comes from a drag racing family, having grown up around the strip and fast quarter mile thrashers, so it's fair to say he's got racing in the blood. "My dad, Eli, was a racer back in the '60s, but by the time I was born he decided to take a break and concentrate on the family and also building his business, the dealership. When I was about 10 years old, he decided to get back into racing again. I remember he bought this 1970 Mustang - a Super Stock car and went racing. I used to help him at the track. We would go as a family and everybody would do their part." A few years later, in 1987, Robert was now getting the itch to follow in dad's footsteps. "We bought a 1969 Mustang Super Stock car and we ran it in the eighth mile - it would go 6.80s - for me it was a real learning curve."
Not long after, things started cranking up a few notches when the Patricks got their hands on a former Super Stock Staff car in the late 1980s (see side bar). In 1990, the Patricks decided that it was time perhaps for young Robert to run in IHRA Sportsman, but that required a suitable machine with which to compete. "After running that '84 1/2 Mustang GT Super Stock car with a 1985 front end, dad decided that we should run in the Sportsman and Top Sportsman class. We purchased a chassis from Jerry Haas. I went to Roy Hill's drag racing school and it was a big step. We'd run off a dial-in in that class. My car was great. It was a genuine Pro Stocker chassis and it had a 500 cubic inch wedge up front and a Lenco transmission. Quite a few of the other guys I ran against were using all kinds of high tech stuff - they had state-of-the-art automatic trannies and delay boxes - I was running a four-speed, but still it was a great learning experience. I got [the car] running 7.60s in the quarter mile and went to as many IHRA meets as I could."
Things were clearly progressing for Robert in the early 1990s, and with some success under their belt the Patricks decided to try their hand at IHRA Pro Stock. "It was early 1992. I had just run at the Winternationals in Top Sportsman - I was hooked so we decided to try out the Pro Stock class." That opened up a whole new avenue and required, among other things, a new engine to get down the 1320. "We had to get a Hemi motor to run Pro Stock, so we managed to get our hands on a 672 cube engine from Roy Hill. Once we had it and had the car assembled, we drove up from Virginia to Norwalk for our first full-on Pro Stock race. We didn't make qualifying that first time, so after that event we took the motor out and sent it down to builder Lee Edwards for some work. When we got it back and dropped it the car - man, things started happening. The car was definitely quicker through the gears - I started making the semis and it was hanging in there with the top three cars at IHRA meets." At that point in time, the younger Patrick was on cloud nine. "Once the car was competitive it was just amazing - there I was, running against some of my heroes like Roy Hill - I could not believe it. My dad would drive us all the way down to Gainsville, Florida to the NHRA race down there and also to the IHRA meets. It was a great time and it was cool that we did the whole Pro Stock thing as a family, dad, mom - everybody was there. It was great having all that family support."
Robert took another step forward when the Patricks decided to campaign a new ride for 1993. "We built this Thunderbird Super Coupe car - John Kasse built the motor for this one and Lee [Edwards] did a bunch of stuff on it too. It was a real challenge at first, because the car was so different, it took a while to get the hang of the clutch and all the computers." However, by the time Norwalk came around that year, things were looking up. "That was when it all came together," says Robert. "We went to the finals in Norwalk, won that race and then went to Epping and won there to. Overall that year we finished eighth in the points - it was good, especially considering that we didn't have the resources to go to each race. We were still basically a bunch of kids, working on and tuning the car, racing it when we could."
For 1994, Robert made the transition to a new, Mustang based car. "Back then, the Pro Stock chassis had to be within an inch of the wheelbase found on the stock production car, so the setup was quite different from the T-bird." Still, Patrick did a lot of testing over the off season and it paid off. "We did a lot of prep and we had a small sponsorship through Ford Quality Care via the family dealership. I was able to race the entire season and finished second overall in the points, right behind my friend Billy Huff." Robert put in another impressive season for 1995, racing neck and neck with Billy right to the end and after transitioning back to a Thunderbird based car built by Jerry Haas for '96, ended up winning two races. It was at this juncture, that Robert figured now was the time to take the plunge and commit to running in NHRA if he was going to do it.
"We tried out the NHRA beginning in 1997. I started off campaigning a Probe based car and had Sonny Leonard do my motors - eventually I went to the New Edge Mustang style. We were one of the first teams in the NHRA to run the new Mustang body." But although he had some success, running in NHRA Pro Stock was quite a challenge at times. " We had some highlights - I remember going to Las Vegas in 2000 and qualifying eighth, but it takes big money and lots of resources to compete successfully at the NHRA level and we had a hard time getting sponsorship. The funding really wasn't there to take it to the next level, so in 2003 we decided to pull out."
In fact Robert almost decided to take a break from racing completely. "Those last couple of years in NHRA were frustrating. I'd gotten married [to Crystal] and had a daughter, Presley by that point. I though it would be good to maybe just stop racing all together and to just spend time with the family, but it was my mom, Bonnie who convinced me to get back into it. She's nuts about racing and I think she knew that it was in my blood too, but if we were going to do it, the approach would be different."
That approach, meant going back to IHRA and running Mountain Motor Pro Stock again, using his 2000 Mustang based car as the starting block. "When I got back to running IHRA events it was a bit strange at first. I hadn't driven a Mountain Motor car since '96 - so I was on a bit of a learning curve, but I kind of felt like I was coming home. It was even better now that Fords were dominating the series, as opposed to GM when I left." Things went well for Robert during his first season 'back' so to speak. "We finished nineth in the points standings for 2004, won one race and got into the 6.40 club - I was really happy."
For 2005, Robert and his team came out swinging with a new powerplant. "Bob Ingles in New York built a new engine for us - he'd done a lot of work on the Jim Yates motors in NHRA during 1996-97. He built us a monster. We came out of the gate in '05 and a set the national record just like that - the car ran a 6.42 at 217 mph. It was making a lot of power. We had some great races that year - making three finals, with two runner up finishes and one win. We had some wiring issues with the car that cost us a couple of races, but we still ended the season in third place." To cap it off, Robert even managed to set another record before the season was out. "We reset the record at the last race of the year by going a 6.36 at Rockingham, North Carolina - it was even quicker than Steve Spiess who ran a 6.38!"
So, with a good season behind them, the Purvis Ford team look forward to 2006. At the start of the year, running with the 2000 Mustang based car, Robert did well in testing, but struggled a bit during the first couple of races, in San Antonio and Rockingham, but by that stage a new car was already well on its way to completion. "We had been through a lot with the existing car and it had done well, but Jerry [Haas] had built a new one for us and Bob Ingles had done up another 820 inch Hemi head mountain motor. We finally had the car ready for World Ford Challenge 9 in St. Louis, so we brought it out there to do some testing." With its Harry West '07 GT 500 body, replete with racing stripes, the car was a big hit at WFC and also made waves when it was rolled off the trailer at its first IHRA race at Grand Bend, Ontario. "We got it up there and it was running great. I ran a 6.409 in qualifying, giving me the number three spot and in the first round of eliminations it ran a 6.39 - I was the only driver to break into the 6.30s." Clearly Robert was happy with the results. "It's showing a lot of promise - in the last race we went to (at press time-Ed), which was Milan, Michigan, it all came together. We put it on the pole and won the race - it ran a 6.39 right off the trailer."
Although Robert is clearly happy with his new steed, he'd still like to see the IHRA bump up their racing schedule. "It would be great to see more races on the calendar again. Currently the series run about 11-12 races, we'll have 11 in total this year. I'd like to see a full season with about 15 races as I think some of them now are a little too spread out. A few more events might make it tough for some of the smaller guys running in Sportsman but I think it would be great to see that kind of calendar - Fords are dominant in IHRA Pro Stock and the motors work so well that even GM engines are based on the original Ford design, in order to try and make the series more competitive. Not long ago, the Shotgun Mountain Motor Fords simply walked over the competition, but having the other guys use some of that technology is bringing racers back to the series - guys like Rickie Smith who used to run Fords - he's now coming back with a GM engine. Rickie's a really good racer and it's good to see him back in the series. IHRA rules still require the GM teams to run completely different heads, but still it's nice to see it become more of a level playing field - having guys like Rickie around can only serve to make our sport better." But even though IHRA Pro Stock is clearly where Robert feels at home, he'll still likely be found at FFW or WFC from time to time. "I like running those events - it's different. There are some of the same guys who run in IHRA that show up and some other guys who don't but are really, really fast." So whether its in IHRA or FFW, as far as Robert Patrick is concerned, being behind the wheel of a Mountain Motor Pro car clear makes for Fun Ford Racing.
The Fox Super Stocker
It would probably be fair to see that this here car had a lot do with Eli and Robert getting back into the Pro drag scene during the 1980s. And our very own Francis Butler, then Associate Editor at the former Super Stock Magazine, remembers this car from the day it was picked up. "It was a 1984 1/2 Mustang GT project car that we got directly from Ford. We picked it up in Michigan and drove it down to Maryland and straight to Dick Estevez's shop. Dick tore it down, gutted it and it became a dedicated race car. Dickie put a front end on it and we liveried it up with a Super Stock paint scheme, courtesy of Brando and would test parts on it and take to meets. Dick drove it mostly but Dyno Don [Nicholson] got behind the wheel a few times - it was a lot of fun that thing." Now the car was eventually sold on, and it was from that person that Eli and Robert Patrick got their hands on it. Dick had been a big part of getting Eli back into drag racing and built his 1984 Cougar Super Gas car, so it almost seemed fate when the Patricks got their hands on it. "We got the car and Dick was a big part in getting us back racing, so we told the guys at Super Stock that we would keep their paint scheme," relates Robert. The car had a worked 302 with Roush prepped heads and intake among other things, but it ultimately became a 500 cubic inch powered wedge monster. "We ultimately changed the paint scheme to all white," remembers Robert "but to this day I remember what a neat car it was. It went 9.20s but it had power door locks and windows. We hadn't run anything like it before - that was a neat car - it weighed around 3,000 lbs and those speeds were a big deal back then."
Robert Patrick's 2007 Shelby Ford GT500 IHRA Pro Stocker
820-cid Ford 'Hemi' V-8
820-cid CNC aluminum block (based on Ford 429 Shotgun); CP forged alloy pistons, forged crank and rods, with four bolt mains; Comp Cams camshaft (specs undisclosed), CNC aluminum 'Hemi' cylinder heads, Jessel valve lifters, Jessel rocker arms, Moroso valve covers, ignition wires, oil pan, Dave Hughes HRE racing high riser intake manifold; Bob Cook twin four-barrel carburettors, Tek exhaust headers, MSD distributor, coil, 7530T ignition control box; Turbo Start 16-volt battery, Autolite spark plugs, Cometic metal head gaskets, aluminum radiator, electric cooling fans, Earl's hoses and plumbing
Lenco five-speed transmission, Stroud trans blanket, RAM drag racing clutch, LAMB differential
Four-link rear suspension with coil springs; Koni drag shocks, strut-type front suspension with tubular K-member, control arms; coil springs; Lamb drag shocks
Best Et To Date: 6.39 @ 219 Mph
Interior / Exterior
Robert Patrick's 2007 Shelby Ford GT500 IHRA Pro Stocker
Jerry Haas 2006 IHRA Pro Stock tubular frame chassis; LAMB carbon disc brakes (front and rear), Jaz fuel cell, Stroud twin braking parachutes
Harry West (Hairy Glass) 2007 IHRA Pro Stock, Shelby GT500 body, Custom Performance Red paint with white racing stripes by Jim Hooker and Son
Custom racing seat, Stroud harness, Grant steering wheel
Wheels And Tires
Weld Dragstar wheels; Goodyear skinnies (front) Weld Dragstar wheels; Goodyear 22 x 10" slicks (rear)
To check out Robert's Progress in the IHRA Torco Fuels Pro Stock class and to see big inch Fords thrash the competition down the 1320, log on to www.ihra.com.
Special thanks to Chris Bell, Rich Purdey, Jason Dring, Bonnie Patrick, Eli Patrick, Crystal and Presley