The coal industry has been powering American since the 1880s and despite the mainstream media's bashing, this effective source of energy isn't going anywhere anytime soon. Coal mining is part of the United States' culture simply because it is effective and abundant. All it takes is one conversation with coal industry businessman Don Bowles Sr. and you will learn more about the clean energy side of coal than you would ever have imagined. The energy business has been a major part of his life, but one topic that exudes more passion than the topic of coal is the sport of drag racing. Specifically, his 1972 Ford Maverick that was built intentionally for the naturally aspirated, heads-up drag racing wars in the NMRA-Keystone Drag Racing Series.
The Hot Street category is the Ford-only racing series' version of NHRA Pro Stock. However, in the NMRA, the cars are restricted to small-block Ford engines with a single four-barrel carburetor, and true 10.5-inch tires. The NMRA officials make the class more interesting by not allowing wheelie bars, which puts the emphasis on both driver and tuner. The spirit of Hot Street is what attracted Don to the competitive category, as it was a reminder of the early days of the IHRA and NHRA.
Don first began national event racing in the 1970s when he built Coal Digger I, a 1971 Mustang, and he ran NHRA Super Stock from 1971 through 1976. The Mustang was moved aside to make room for a 1977 Maverick that Don entered in IHRA Super Modified that same year. He would earn two national event wins. Little Coal Digger was eventually retired as Don moved on to NHRA Super Modified/A with a Fairmont. It would become his most popular race car. The Fairmont delivered Don to three NHRA national event wins from 1979 through 1982 and etched his name in the record books and memories of hardcore drag racing fans.
At that point, his drag racing hobby took a backseat to raising his family and commandeering the family coal business into the next generation of efficiency and cleanliness. But the passion for drag racing still burned and it was longtime friend, Jack Roush, who brought Don back to the quarter-mile adventures. Jack's daughter and son-in-law were racing NMRA index categories and having fun—that is all it took to convince Don to build another drag race car. He would bring out a slew of Roush Mustangs that were prepared specifically for NMRA competition. Most times, the Roush Mustangs were powered by modular engines, but Don did utilize a factory experimental 427ci next generation small-block Ford. Once the fun of index racing wore off, it was time to get back into heads-up racing. It was the naturally aspirated Hot Street class that grabbed his attention. Hot Street is a throwback to the earlier years of Pro Stock before it became a full-time job with cookie-cutter cars. Don's first year of Hot Street competition was 2009, and three years later, he has one national championship and is off to a good start in 2012 by winning the season opener.
After examining the rulebook, the Roush team decided to go after a weight break for an older body style. A 1972 Maverick was selected for both its nostalgic feel and the generous 25-pound weight deduction for its un-aerodynamic design when compared to the class-popular Fox-body Mustang. The car was sliced and diced into a race car capable of running mid-to-low 8s in a safe and reliable manner. A suitable candidate was found at TA Racing Fabrication where Tom Anderson had begun building the car for a customer. Don acquired the car before it was finished and had the Roush staff reconfigure the Maverick for a dedicated Hot Street effort.
First on the list was an SFI-certified 25.5 rollcage that includes a Funny Car cage and specific floor bars. Once the safety aspects of the rollcage were built, the Roush engineers added more bars for bracing and structural integrity to increase performance. The Maverick was lowered as far down as possible in anticipation of trap speeds of more than 160 mph. A specially designed ladder bar rear-suspension helps plant the 29x10.5 inch Mickey Thompson slicks while Santhuff shocks and struts help weight transfer. The design works well as evidenced by a best 60-foot time of 1.16—sans wheelie bars and at nearly 3,000 pounds minimum race weight.
As one division of Roush Industries was building the chassis, another was working on an engine combination. Roush Competition Engines is well-versed in making naturally aspirated power, as it had won the 2008 Hot Street title with customer Robbie Blankenship. Over his years in Hot Street, Don has used a variety of engines, but each carried a similar theme consisting of Edelbrock Victor cylinder heads (ported by Roush Competition Engines), Edelbrock 2828 intake manifold, and a Quick Fuel Technologies 4500-style carburetor. The team has had everything from 360ci engines to 400ci bullets and even one as large as 420 ci. Each time they were trying to gain a competitive edge due to the various weight breaks for different engine sizes. The Roush powerplants are in the 850- to low 900hp range depending on the engine size, and each bullet sings to over 9,000 rpm to achieve such power ratings. The same strategy carries over into the trans tunnel where on any given weekend, the Maverick utilizes a Proflite 727, Powerglide, or TH400 transmission.
Don won the 2009 championship in his Hot Street rookie year, as he traded barbs with Roush teammate Robbie Blankenship and rival Charlie Booze Jr. His sophomore year was almost as successful as Don was runner-up that season. Last year, the Kentucky racer finished Third as he watched Robbie take home the title for the second time of his career. The 2012 NMRA-Keystone Drag Racing Series has concluded and a second Hot Street title has eluded Don for now. However, don't think that he is slowing down any time soon. The team is ready with engines, transmissions, an outstanding crew, and passion that burns brighter than ever as he chases the goal to be a Hot Street champion once again. Don is not afraid to pour the coals to his Maverick in more ways than one.