January in the Philadelphia area can go one of two ways. Either it can be miserably cold with snow dropping on the ground seemingly every other day, or temperatures can hover in the low 40s with a teasing 50-degree day here and there. For the most part, the winter of 2016-17 has been the latter. Last Saturday, though, it was cold. Not bone-chilling cold, but cold enough to make me wish warmer weather would hurry up and arrive. This past weekend really drove that point home, as I was surrounded by about 1,000 local gearheads at Dyno Wars IV, a chassis dyno competition put together by the fine folks at Fonse Performance and K&S Race Cars and sponsored by Strange Engineering.
I had the pleasure to make friends with the gang over at Fonse prior to Dyno Wars III, and when they announced that the fourth iteration of the ground-pounding event would take place this winter I immediately added it to the Front Street coverage calendar. Fonse Performance was founded by Alfonse Magliocco, Sr. in 1975, and today has Alfonse Magliocco, Jr. – better known simply as “Fonse” – at the helm making horsepower in the engine shop for street, strip, and marine customers. Rob Shoemaker, Fonse and jack-of-all-trades Dave Godfrey are all capable of working the laptop for EFI tuning services. They are truly a one-stop shop who puts champions into the winner’s circle.
This day was about one thing happening in the Fonse Performance chassis dyno cell – the production of eye-popping horsepower numbers put down at the wheels by some of the area’s heavy hitters. There was also drama, and lots of it! Leading up to the event I saw some trash-talking going on in various social media forums, so when I got there on Saturday I was excited to see who would be able to back up the smack with real performance when it counted.
Although there were 13 competitors signed up to take part in Dyno Wars IV, the drama began when five were missing-in-action before the day even began. Cars that weren’t finished in time or broken before the event cut the field down to eight stout competitors who showed up for the festivities. The first vehicle on the rollers was Nick Eklund’s triple-turbo Cummins pick-‘em-up truck. Right out of the gates, Eklund bettered the 1,085 wheel horsepower figure which won Dyno Wars III by spinning the roller all the way to 1,117 ponies and revving the crowd up in the crisp morning air. This was simply an inkling of what was to come, as there were still seven competitors to go.
Andy Mulherin’s Cummins was next up. I always get a kick out of how diesel trucks are run on the dyno. They usually max out around 3,500 rpm, and just when I feel like they are going to make some serious steam, the pull is over and it’s time to shut it down. Mulherin’s Dodge maxed out the dyno at 889 horsepower, which turned out to be the lowest number of the day. It’s crazy to me to think that 889 horsepower was the smallest measurement from a group of eight vehicles; this shows the caliber of vehicles which showed up to Dyno Wars IV.
Karl Pritz’s KP Tuning-backed single-turbo Mustang was the next competitor to take his turn on the stinky Mustang dyno of Fonse Performance. It’s going to sound cliché here, but even though Pritz mustered up a four-digit result – with 1,019 horsepower – I knew there was still more to come with some of the other vehicles yet to run.
This incredible twin-turbo C6 Corvette is owned by Fran Schatz, proprietor of Race Proven Motorsports in Delaware. Once Fran rolled the car onto the dyno, I heard him say something to the effect of “It made big power on my dyno yesterday…” and at that point I realized that myself and the hundreds of people in attendance were in for a real treat with some of the vehicles left on the list.
But despite his best efforts – including fresh ice in the intercooler tank before each run – Schatz was unable to duplicate the numbers he managed on the RPM dyno. When the smoke cleared, the twin-turbo LSX lit up the monitor with a stout 1,231 horsepower. Another big number, and one that took him to the top of the board at that point in time – but it was only the middle of the day.
“I finished higher than I expected. The dyno was reading super low like it always does. My car made 1,555 the night before on my dyno, but it was a fun event overall,” says Schatz.
The next two spots in the schedule turned out to be no-shows, which was a shame as one of them was a turbocharged Porsche that I was really looking forward to hearing. The bump in the schedule brought yet another turbocharged car to the dyno cell, as local racer Jace Nester rolled out his twin-turbocharged LS-powered 427ci Mustang to take his shot at the Fonse Performance dyno, in what had become a battle of the snails. In fact, every single vehicle that competed at Dyno Wars IV was wearing at least one turbocharger.
Nester, like Schatz, had been on the dyno at another local shop – Matt Hill Motorsports – on Friday, cracking through the 1,500 mark with ease. Although he didn’t break that barrier on the Fonse dyno, it was through no fault of his own, as he spent time tickling the keys on the laptop in an effort to make the big number show up on the board. At the end of his three pulls, he pushed Schatz down by recording 1,389 horsepower and taking the top spot to that point in the competition – but his lead wouldn’t hold for long.
“It was a great event. I had a lot of fun talking smack with friends but in the end the small-block just didn’t have enough for the big-blocks! I’ll try again next year!” says Nester. “I’m looking forward to time at the track so I can smack them around in proper fashion.”
It was starting to get colder, the sun was going down, but the crowd was still anxious to see who would be the winner when all was said and done. I was actually surprised how long people stayed – although there were some who came in and out through the day, it seemed like most people were there for the duration.
The single-turbo Power Stroke of Michael Corsilli – the third pick-‘em-up truck of the day – was the next vehicle in. Corsilli was adding to the turbocharger’s boost with a hit of nitrous, and even though he had made more power previously on another dyno, on this day it was not meant to be. He came close to tickling 1,100 horsepower, with 1,094 horses and a monster 1,693 lb-ft of torque recorded on the Mustang dyno at Fonse Performance, but it wasn’t enough to jump ahead of the other competitors. I heard him make mention of the fact that “this dyno is a heartbreaker”, and based on what had occurred with Schatz and Nester and their results elsewhere, I wasn’t surprised to hear it.
Up until this point, every vehicle in competition had been either a small-block or a diesel, and it was fitting, as Fonse saved the best for last with the big guns scheduled up next. Some of you reading this might recognize this next car, as it’s been all over the internet over the last couple of years. Frank Saponaro’s twin-turbo big-block Chevrolet Nova wagon has competed in Hot Rod Magazine’s Drag Week event and is one of the most noticeable and unique vehicles around. In fact, you’ll be able to see it in all its glory right here on Front Street later this spring, as we made plans to tell the story of its creation with a full photoshoot.
Saponaro, who had never been on a chassis dyno prior to this day, rolled onto the dyno and waited as the Fonse crew strapped it down.
Three runs later, Saponaro rocketed to the top of the leaderboard, besting Nester’s top run – the leader until that point – by over 200 horsepower to the tires, finalizing his performance with 1,595 horsepower from the twin-turbo big-block, a huge mountain to climb given the results from the previous competitors.
“Going in I had no intentions of pushing the car hard. After the year I had last year I didn’t want to start this year with a bang, literally. I’m not trying to take anything away from Serrano by saying that, he crushed it for sure. I just have a lot of testing to do to meet my goal to be the first small-tire car to make a six-second pass on Drag Week this year,” says Saponaro.
“I had a blast at Dyno Wars. It was a fun, relaxing day, and I haven’t had one of those with this car in about a year. The crew at Fonse were great, extremely hospitable to someone that has never been there before.”
And then there was one – the fourth-gen turbo big-block Camaro of local racer Michael Serrano. Earlier in the day, I overheard Fonse tell someone he was talking with that Serrano would be willing to burn the car down to the ground to win Dyno Wars, so I wondered whether we were in for a treat or an oil slick.
Serrano had made a major change to the car that morning – he switched from VP’s C16 fuel to oxygenated Q16, which means a major change in tuneup to take advantage of the extra oxygen provided by the fuel. Of course, with no time to do so before rolling onto the dyno, he and tuner Dominic Cimino were forced to adapt on the fly.
And this is where the drama starts to build – on the first pull, they got the car to make 29 pounds of boost, and make 1,548.5 horsepower. As each competitor had improved their performance from run to run, all those in attendance had to wonder whether Serrano would be able to find another 50 horsepower to take the win.
The air became even more charged after Cimino worked the tunep and was able to get the engine to produce 32 pounds of boost, which upped the power figure substantially. This put Serrano’s second run well within reach of Saponaro with a reading of 1,584.9 horsepower, just 10.2 ponies behind, with one run left to go.
Cimino dragged the laptop back out and the pair spent some time poring over the data, wondering what changes they could make to get over the hump and push Saponaro into second place.
“I was told that no matter what I turned the boost up to on the last pull, it would not make any more pressure,” says Serrano.
The tuneup changes brought the boost in sooner, and the engine made much more boost pressure – 39 psi to be exact – and the onlookers were stunned as the Camaro rocketed the dyno needle to its highest point of the day. In the process, he crushed Saponaro’s hopes by recording a monster 1,781 horsepower and claimed his spot atop the competition to take the win at Dyno Wars IV.
“Turns out it definitely made more power, and we did not hurt anything as the tuneup was very conservative at that level of boost. All the guys in the competition are extremely competitive. I think Frank came to win for sure.”
Serrano’s Camaro, Saponaro’s Nova, and Jace Nester’s Mustang all compete regularly at Cecil Country Dragway in Maryland at the track’s Tri State Street Car Challenge events, which is a once-a-month, Friday night battle to see who has the nastiest street car around. These three are quite familiar with one another, and on this day, Michael Serrano gets to be Champion.
“We wanted to put on a good show so everyone could come out to have a good time in the middle of winter, and I think we did that,” says Fonse. “Dyno Wars V is already in the works thanks to all of our great sponsors. Maybe next year someone will break the 2,000 horsepower mark!”
My guess is that each of these competitors will head back to the drawing board and prove Fonse’s prediction prophetic. An awesome day for horsepower in New Jersey!