Clash of the Titans: The NMRA/NMCA Super Bowl of Street Legal Drag Racing

Photos by Mike Pryka

In America, one sport has withstood the tests of time. A sport that was created on American soil, whose rules have remained basically unchanged since its creation. I’m talking about drag racing. Lining two cars up against each other for the ultimate battle of reaction time, grip, and speed. Two particular competition series showcase the elite homegrown racers of this sport, the National Muscle Car Association (NMCA), and the National Mustang Racers Association (NMRA). Each with their separate brand loyalties, only one massive event surfaces onto both of their calendars each year, the NMRA/NMCA Super Bowl of Street Legal Drag Racing at Route 66 Raceway in Joliet, Illinois.

Those familiar with American football will know the Super Bowl is it. One game, there is no tomorrow. It’s for the whole megillah, for the whole ball of wax, for the whole kit and caboodle, for the whole enchilada, for the whole shooting match. It’s for all the marbles—okay, I’m done with movie quotes. It’s the ultimate reward for supremacy in the sport, and the stakes are no different at Route 66 when the two drag racing series collide for one spectacular weekend.

Racers from all over the world pledged their devotion to their racing organization and competed against their domestic rivals not only for the definitive bragging rights of whom is fastest in a straight line, but also for the prestigious Nitto Tire Diamond Tree Rings. A glimmering piece of jewelry, which includes ruby, emerald, and diamond stones, formed into the shape of drag racing’s legendary starting line light tree.

In 2016, the NMCA walked away with the coveted win, taking home majority of class wins. However for the 12th annual running of the event this year, the NMRA were eager to take home the rings for their series. With perfect weather forecasted for the entirety of the event, records would be prime for breaking, which only added to the pressure of the Super Bowl.

The weekend started with enormous brackets, which the NMRA and the NMCA ran through separately. They work individually through their respective classes until the fastest from each series are matched up against each other at the end of the weekend. With identical rulebooks in play for matching overall classes, the cars’ setups are all basically similar, which adds to the lust of the championship even more.

John Urist and his Turn 14 Distribution S550 platform seem to be more ironed out with each pass down the strip. Throughout the weekend he ran his personal best of 4.51 with a 165 mph trap speed. Not only good enough for Urist’s enjoyment, but also a Coyote record in SSO. We thought he was going to edge out Andy Manson and keep progressing, but ended up losing by .019 of a second.

You might remember our story on Nick Bacalis’ wild engine setup, well it’s operational and running quite well in his BES Racing Mustang. If you thought it would be hard to see with the gigantic carbon scoop sticking out of the hood, how about if the nose of the car is hoisted into the air?

Starting with the VP Racing Fuels Street Outlaw class, which contained more than twenty cars altogether from the combined series. Manny Buginga, from Bridgewater, Massachusetts pushed his 2003 Mustang through eliminations on Saturday night, and into the final race against Rob Goss in his Challenger. Buginga’s Mustang wheelied out of the gate, and sped down the strip for a victorious pass at 4.504 and 167.41 mph. He not only won the class for himself but also earned the NMRA camp an all-important tally.

Edelbrock Renegade saw a new record eclipsed early in competition with Frank Varela’s 7.396 pass at 180.52 mph in eliminations. However, it would be Alton Clements’ 1989 Mustang later in the weekend that chased down Tony Hobson in the finals to take the class win.

In ProCharger Coyote Modified, Tommy Annunziata worked his way through the entire list of competitors in his 2014 Cobra Jet. Annunziata was able to beat Haley James-Schneider with a 7.818 at 175.39 mph trip down the strip.

Charlie Booze, Jr. dominated the G-Force Racing Transmissions Coyote Stock class. He drove the “Gold Dust” Mustang to a blistering 10.210 pass with a trap speed of 128.81 mph to earn the number one qualifier spot. The gold Mustang met up with Drew Lyons in the class final, but the pair’s elapsed times meant nothing, as the winner was decided at the tree. Both drivers tripped the beams before the green light, with Booze, Jr.’s early leave just slightly better than Lyons’ giving him the class win.

On the NMCA side of things, the Mickey Thompson Radial Wars class win went to Marty Stinnett in his Mustang who pressed through the field all weekend. In the finals he ran a 3.97 pass ahead of Isaac Preston’s Camaro at a 4.07.

Jeff Rudolf led qualifying in the ARP Nitrous Pro Street class by taking his Chevy Nova down the strip with a 7.29 second pass. He would stay at the top of the class, cruising his Nova—cleverly named Rudolf’s Sleigh—into the final round where he took the win with a 7.77 over Jill Hick’s Avenger.

David Theisen and his Firebird, which squeezed a 7.91 pass for his first number one qualifier spot in that category, ruled the Boninfante Racing NA 10.5 class. He continued that streak to get into the finals against Leonard Long’s Mustang. Unfortunately, the streak would end there, as Theisen had to lift, giving the win to Long.

A Camaro and a Corvette were unstoppable in Edelbrock Xtreme Street, as Jessie Coulter and Camren Massengale each worked their way through the class to the finals. Coulter qualified number one with a 4.71-second trip. He matched that pass in the final against Massengale, where he ran a 4.74 over the Corvette’s 4.77.

David Barton driving Scott Libersher’s COPO Camaro set the number one qualifier in Holley EFI Factory Super Cars with an 8.21-second pass. Continuing the Camaro’s success, Libersher took the win in the finals over Chuck Watson’s Cobra Jet.

The Drag’n Wag’n continued to run the ATI Performance Products, Inc. Nostalgia Super Stock class, with Doug Duell wheelstanding into the finals. Duell’s Plymouth Fury faced off against Danny Jones’ Coronet in a double breakout race, where the Fury took the win with a 9.48 on a 9.50 index.

Kings of the old school, the Detroit Truetac Nostalgia Muscle Car class saw former champion Andy Warren tack on another win, by running two hundredths off his dial with a 10.27 on his 10.25 index. While in Magnafuel Open Comp, Ricky Pennington wheeled his Chevelle SS to a win in the finals by running a 10.75-second pass on a 10.75 dial—now that’s some driving.

As the 12th annual Super Bowl of Street Legal Drag Racing came to a close, it finished with all of the NMRA class winners facing off against their NMCA counterparts. Fans of both series cheered for their favorite side, but ultimately the NMRA folks took the overall win, by claiming victories in 9 classes, while the NMCA only won 5. Each member of the NMRA team will receive his or her own special ring commemorating the victory at this massive event.