Evan J. Smith
April 21, 2015

They say a picture is worth 1,000 words. It’s true. A photo from your past can spark a thousand memories and release quite a bit of emotion. Recently, I took a trip down memory lane and dug through my collection of Fox-body Drag Race Ford Mustang photos.

These images of 5.0 Mustang racing pioneers represents a time when Mustang racing was in its infancy. Classes mattered not, it was simply an exercise in who could push a 5.0 Mustang to the limit. These guys, along with many others, took stock Mustangs and made them breathe fire. Most of these photos were taken in the late 1980s, while I worked at Englishtown Raceway Park during Friday’s “Street Night” or during trips to Atco Raceway.

One of my all-time favorites was Lee Rutter’s 1988 LX. Rutter never turned to an automatic, nitrous or forced induction. The early combo was primitive, with heads, cam and intake, but ran 11.19 with stock 19 lb/hr injectors and the stock EEC-IV computer. Ultimately, with a built small-block Lee ran 9.82 at 139 mph.
Even before LaRocca’s Performance, Jimmy LaRocca tore up the strip with his meticulous black 1986 GT. It first had a Vortech A-trim, then a J-trim and ran 8.71 at 156. As the sport evolved, LaRocca tried loads of parts, including a Novi 2000. The performance of his GT dipped in the low 8s and he was very competitive in the Pro 5.0 ranks. Later it wore a ProCharger and ran a best of 8.03 at 173 mph.

Recently, I’ve taken on the laborious task of digitally scanning all my old photos. Fortunately, I keep in touch with many of my old racing buddies, so every once in a while, I’d pop a text with an old shot. Each time the response was “send more!” The texting migrated into phone conversations, and the old stories started flying. With that in mind, I though it would be better to share my photos with the Mustang community.

In the early years I shot negative film, then switched to slide film, which I’ve yet to convert to digital. Of course, looking back, I regret not taking more photos, especially detail shots of the car, drivers, and the engines. As I became less of a hack, I learned the importance of capturing everything. But this was long before the digital age, when film was really expensive—especially on my student’s budget. In those days a roll of film with 36 shots was roughly $6.00 and processing was another $7.00. Imagine having $12-15 bucks wrapped up in every 36 photos? Pricy! I would have shot more, but hey, I needed to eat and have change left over to put gas in my 5.0.

Needless to say, my photography was raw and most of the pictures are still in boxes. This is just a small representation of my collection. Of course, guys like Gene Deputy, John Smith, Joe and Paul DiSilva, Briante Racing, Brian Wolfe, Joe Lonardo, Neil Van Oppre, Mike Sodano, Ed Hohenberg and Tony DeFeo all made their mark. Nevertheless, I think you’ll enjoy what I’ve found. We’d love to hear your Mustang memories, so feel free to comment.

Not only did Stormin’ Norman Gray rip the gears in this nitrous convertible GT, he had a more-lethal black GT and was one of the early promoters of 5.0 Mustang racing. Norman was a wild guy who wasn’t afraid to mix it up. His Mustangs were driven by legends Dave Lyall, Steve Grebeck, and Joe DaSilva, and were often the fastest of the bunch. This is an early shot from about 1988 or 1989 when the GT was street legal.
Craig “Radical” Radovich was another fast runner, who pushed the technology by using twin Vortech blowers! Radovich was one of the first in the 9’s with this combination.
Another hardcore runner was Ed Smith of Long Island, NY. Smith pounded a host of naturally aspirated combinations into the 12’s, 11’s, 10’s and 9’s. He also traveled the FFW series and took home a championship or two.
This is the really early photo of Dwayne “Big Daddy” Gutridge’s awesome GT. While Gutridge later went on to rule drag radial racing, he started with this Vortech, T5 combo that ran 11’s, 10’s, 9’s and 8’s. This is actually the very first car I drove on slicks when Gutridge tossed me the keys one Friday night at E-Town.
Power adders of all types were in their infancy, but that didn’t stop “Nitrous” Pete Misinsky from throwing massive quantities of juice at his LX hatch. Pete was one of the leaders of the 5.0 Movement and was a popular draw wherever he raced.
One of the very first 5.0 Mustangs to make waves was Steve Collison’s Mean Mr. Mustang project car. Collison, who has since passed away, not only edited Muscle Mustangs and Fast Fords magazine, but could powershift with the best, and he often did so wearing flip-flops. His LX was a true test mule for many of the early 5.0 performance parts. If you look behind the car you can see “Ask Bernie” Golick, MM&FF’s long-time answer man.
Speaking of Ask Bernie, he is his son Brian Golick. The team campaigned this 1983 ½ GT that started running 12.20’s with a H/C/I combo. It later went 11’s before it was rebodied as a 1993 Cobra and prepped to run in Pro 5.0. With a bigger tire and a 8.2-deck 355-cube engine, it ran a best of 8.60 at 166 mph using two-stages of nitrous.
Mike Matarazzo’s convertible LX started as a stocker, but was modded with basic bolt-ons and ran consistent 13.30 at 112 with Matarazzo throwing clean powershifts. Modified with a H/C/I combo, performance dipped into the 11.80 at 118 mph.
Dave Zurawlow’s Orange Crush LX was a hard charger. It used a Paxton blower and ran 9’s.
I shot this at the Fun Ford Weekend event at Gainesville, Florida in 1990. It shows Joe Lonardo, Mike Matarazzo and Dwayne “Big Daddy” Gutridge gearing up for action.
The Wegand family produced amazing performance and traveled the circuit with their stick-shift coupe. This photo was taken at one of the Mustang vs. Buick GN races at E-Town.
As performance marched into the 1990’s, Racin’ Jason Betwarda led the way with his twin-turbo convertible Mustang. With Mike Ragusa driving, the GT was the very first Fox-body Mustang to break into the 7’s.