In my first year here at Front Street I’ve been exposed to different facets of the automotive enthusiast world I’ve never encountered before; in the process I’ve met new people, been to new places, and discovered new things to capture my attention. Kyle and I spend countless hours brainstorming article ideas to develop in addition to the planned event coverage we have scheduled during the course of the event season.
Before I came on board here, my exposure to sport compact, Euro, and diesel truck enthusiasts was basically nonexistent. I’m a domestic car guy, focused on drag racing and Mustangs in particular, but I have to say that broadening my horizons has been most enjoyable, even if I still can’t tell you the differences between an E90 and an E92 BMW. Some of the dudes here at the office geek out over those differences like I geek out over the differences in Mustang model years.
The first event of the year for me found me at one of my familiar haunts – Bradenton Motorsports Park – to cover the NMRA’s season opener. As a former employee of the NMRA, many of the series’ racers are like family to me, and it’s always nice to get back to their events to see everyone. Seeing Joe Guertin start off his season in Coyote Modified by becoming the first racer in the class to break into the 7-second zone was awesome; Joe is one of those guys who doesn’t say much, and when he does he’s incredibly humble and appreciative of the opportunity he’s been given to race. He’s fought the car quite a bit, upgrading components as his budget has allowed him to do so after his move up from the NMRA’s Coyote Stock class a couple of years ago. I’ve worked with him several times over the years and it was great to see him do so well, even though he redlit in the final round and ultimately lost the race.
Speaking of the first NMRA race, it was great to see former Street Outlaw Champion Manny Buginga back in NMRA competition. He took off the last decade from racing to start a family and is finally back in a position to get back to the track, this time with the whole family in tow. Little Manny is angling for his spot in Dad’s seat. What better way to learn?
During the Bradenton NMRA event, I ran into Kelly Aiken of BMR Suspension, and we got to chatting. Just a short time before the event, Aiken had just broken into the 8-second zone with an 8.99 at 154 mph in his 2015 Mustang. While a Mustang running 8s isn’t really that big of a deal, the fact that Aiken drove the car regularly – in fact, he’d packed it full of BMR display gear for the weekend and driven it 90 miles to the track – is a really big deal.
I decided to do a feature on the car; we rolled the car down to the top of the track the next morning and got down to business. I realized later that it’s a good idea to have feature cars run through the car wash first, as it took me nearly two days of editing to clean up the photos. Aiken has since taken the car off the road for upgrades, and says it’ll be much quicker when it comes back out.
Joe Palka’s Shadowfax Corvette
Not long after that NMRA event, Kyle and I got up early on a frigid March morning to meet up with Joe Palka and shoot his show-stopping Corvette in a local park. I met Joe in 2015 at Corvettes At Carlisle and saw this machine for the first time not long after it had been completed, and it stuck in my mind as a pristine example of the type of Corvette I’d build given no cost limitations, so I reached out to Joe to see if he was interested in allowing us the opportunity to feature his car.
If I remember correctly, it was about 30 degrees that morning. Joe was chipper as could be and spent two hours or so with us as we dragged him all over the park. The details of this car must be seen in person to be truly appreciated; the car has won awards all over the country in various shows since we covered it. The LS3 engine provides modern drivability, the six-speed Tremec transmission’s manhandle provides driving enjoyment, and the side pipes provide the soundtrack. Joe’s Shadowfax Corvette is truly an awesome benchmark of what a Pro Touring car should be.
Jarod Wenrick At NMCA/NMRA All Star Nationals
Although Jarod Wenrick decimated the competition in Street Outlaw during the NMRA/NMCA All Star Nationals in Georgia, it’s this photo which stuck out to me. I was walking in front of the control tower, and Wenrick was waiting on his call to the burnout box. I quickly snapped this shot of his son waiting to close the door.
In conversation with Wenrick after the fact, he told me how much he appreciated me capturing a moment he’ll never forget. At the time I didn’t think much about it, but after thinking about it from his viewpoint, it certainly is a poignant moment between family members.
Mark Woodruff’s Corvette
While at the All Star Nationals, I caught up with Mark Woodruff and ended up in a conversation with him about his Radial Vs. The World Corvette. This particular car has a ton of history, as it was originally campaigned by the legendary race team of Tim Lynch and Steve Petty. Woodruff crashed his iconic ’67 Corvette in an unfortunate accident in 2014, and subsequently made a deal with Lynch to purchase this car.
We made a plan to shoot the feature before eliminations started on Sunday, which meant that I was knocking on the door to his trailer at 6:45 am. He rolled the crew out of bed, and we took advantage of the beautiful early-morning sky to capture some sweet photos. I never realized until this day how difficult it was to shoot quality photography of a black car.
In May, I was lucky enough to be invited to the Ultimate Callout Challenge, a first-time diesel event held in Salt Lake City, Utah. The three-part event featured a dyno competition, drag race, and truck pulling session in an attempt to crown the baddest of the bad in all the land, and it did. The event was a smash success on all accounts, and there’s already a 2017 event planned to take place in Indianapolis. Watching these trucks spin the dyno to well over 2,000 horsepower was amazing even if it sounded like they were shutting down when the cars I’m used to hearing on the dyno are just getting started.
One thing I found interesting about the drag racing portion of the event is that there was no racing at all – the competitors simply made time runs all day in an effort to record the lowest elapsed time. Even so, the stands were full of people who had made the trip to SLC to be there firsthand to find out which racer would leave the event with bragging rights as ‘The Man’ – which turned out to be Lavon Miller in the Firepunk Diesel entry.
Lavon Miller’s Firepunk Diesel Cummins
Miller cranked off an amazing mid-8-second elapsed time on the strip in his all-wheel-drive Cummins during the UCC, which was a watershed moment for me; it was then that I realized the diesel racers weren’t much different from the domestic drag racers I’ve become accustomed to over the years.
They simply use a different weapon to achieve the same goal – the lowest possible elapsed time on the strip. Meeting with Lavon and his Firepunk Diesel team during the UCC gave me an opportunity to consider his truck for a full feature here on Front Street, and when I had the chance to see him again in Bowling Green, Kentucky just a few weeks later at the TS Performance Outlaw Diesel event, we finalized those plans. Watching Lavon decimate the competition in Pro Street here solidified my view that he’s truly a badass.
My NMRA True Street Experience
As part of the NMRA’s stop at Maple Grove Raceway earlier this year, I ran my personal Mustang in the series’ True Street class, in an attempt to break it into the 10s. In the summertime, I drive it to work just about every day, and for the track all I do is swap on a set of drag wheels and tires and let it rip. So I made hotel reservations, loaded up my wife’s Escape with the drag wheels and tires, and we trekked out to the track, whereupon I proceeded to make just about every rookie mistake possible complete with leaving all of my tools at home, leaving me with no way to change the fouled-out spark plugs.
Regardless, it was a fun time to run in an NMRA event, since I’m always the one on the other side of the camera. Thanks to my wife, Rebecca, and the NMRA’s Mike Galimi for these photos. It was a weekend I’ll never forget. And by next time, I’ll be ready to run the number.
As part of my trip to the NMRA/NMCA All Star Nationals, I also conceived the idea of putting together an article on the NMRA Coyote Stock and NMCA Chevrolet Performance Stock classes. These two heads-up, grassroots racing classes are, in my opinion, the future of cost-effective drag racing as we know it, and it was a pleasure to work with the well-spoken, thoughtful racers in both of these classes.
Rather than break down what we talked about in those articles, I’ll implore you to simply click the links in the title of this segment. It will be worth your time to read them.
John Urist’s All New Street Outlaw Mustang
As one of the most well-known and popular NMRA racers of all time, when John Urist makes moves, people pay attention. Before I started here at Front Street (a part of Turn 14 Distribution), I ran into John in the Indianapolis airport, and he was telling me all about a new sponsorship deal he was working on – which, as you can see, turned out to be with Turn 14 Distribution.
John and I go way back, and having the opportunity to work with him to debut his all-new NMRA Street Outlaw racer was the kind of once-in-a-lifetime experience that ranks right up there with some of the greatest in my career as a journalist. He brought the car here to our corporate office so our employees could get to see the car, and meet him, which in itself was a fulfilling day.
John Kolivas Interview
Years ago I struck up a friendship with then-new NMRA Drag Radial racer John Kolivas, and watched as he not only figured out how to be a heads-up racer but also become a three-time champion of the class.
Since then, Kolivas has pushed himself into a position as a master tuner of small-tire race cars and half-owner of both KBX Performance and Bennett Racing Engines, among other things – but he’s never forgotten his old friend from his NMRA days. He granted me an interview, which turned out to be an engaging read and a lot of fun to put together on my end.
Relationships I’ve cultivated over the years with BES Engines’ Nick Bacalis and Headgames Motorworks’ David Localio bore fruit this year, as each set Front Street up with some excellent content. Bacalis chose us to be the exclusive release point for the build of his one-of-a-kind Outlaw All Motor engine, designed for use in the NMRA’s Street Outlaw class.
Localio worked with me on the ideas and concepts behind his research into 2.3-liter EcoBoost cylinder head development; this particular head ultimately became the first to break into the 9-second zone atop Brad Gusler’s BG Racing-backed 2015 EcoBoost Mustang.
It was new for me to pack up my gear and head off to Old Bridge Township Raceway Park in Englishtown, NJ, and not have plans to cover drag racing. Instead, I was there to capture one of the East Coast’s largest VW/Audi events – Waterfest 22. Although it’s not really my thing to wander around a car show where I’m not terribly familiar with the cars and gear, my day was salvaged by some bracket racing before the rains came in. Fitting, considering the name of the event. Still, it was an interesting experience that gave me a look into how “the other side” does things.
Getting back to the diesel truck side of things, while I was out at the Ultimate Callout Challenge I had the chance to take a tour of Industrial Injection’s facilities, which turned out to be incredibly enlightening for a non-diesel guy. Industrial’s Sterling Harper gave me access to the entire facility, and it turned out to be one of the highlights of my year. Such a cool place!
I had the chance to visit Wiseco Pistons and Cometic Gasket after the NMRA’s Ohio event. Each of these industry titans is well-respected for their contributions to the performance industry, and for good reason. To see the Wiseco gang take a hockey-puck-sized chunk of aluminum and turn it into a piston, then the Cometic team unroll a sheet of spring steel and turn it into a gasket capable of sustaining dozens of pounds of boost pressure was simply amazing. Many thanks to these companies for their hospitality during my visit.
New Egypt Speedway’s Dirt Oval Racing
While I hopped in my car and headed to New Egypt Speedway without any sort of high expectations, by the end of the evening I was thoroughly entertained at the antics of the Sprint cars and Crate Modifieds as they squirted around the dirt oval in the woods of New Jersey. It was hot and dirty, and I loved every minute of it, except the mosquitos!
2016 has been an amazing year for me professionally; I’ve been extremely fortunate to have earned the opportunity to work on Front Street with Kyle and bring all of this content to you – and even more fortunate to have witnessed it firsthand. We have lots of neat content planned for 2017, so stay tuned!