Why The 20th Annual NMRA World Finals is Significant for Domestic Performance

When I made the decision to head to Bowling Green for the 2018 NMRA World Finals, I didn’t realize that it was the 20th annual event. As I sit here after the event thinking about what I witnessed, I’m looking back over many years of covering the NMRA and its racers (this marks year 16 for me from a professional perspective), I realize just how impressive their accomplishments have been throughout that time period. Seeing how the series—and its racers—have evolved over two decades and pushed the envelope of what is possible with every Ford engine configuration, I realize that the Ford market, and the Mustang specifically, is a massive driver for the entire performance aftermarket. Thanks to a vehicle which is designed to readily accept modifications, and a fervent buying public, the Mustang rules the domestic performance game, despite what the Dodge and LS fanboys say.

For the last two decades, the NMRA has been the place to race for Ford fanatics throughout the United States, and as the 2018 season comes to a close, it’s clear that NMRA founder Steve Wolcott and his team are onto something. When I attended the very first NMRA event in 1999—held in conjunction with the Ford Motorsport Nationals at Maple Grove Raceway—I was but a fan in the stands who loved Mustangs, and it’s quite astonishing to me that twenty years later, I’m still just a fan who loves Mustangs and Fords. I now have the opportunity these days to cover the action from the inside, but I get just as excited to go to an event today as I did back then. I guess you could say we’ve basically grown up together.

The significance of the NMRA racers’ achievements over this time period—and how those relate to the speed parts you can buy—cannot be discounted by anyone with a Mustang. It is often these racers who have performed the real-world research and development for new performance parts that the aftermarket simply doesn’t have the resources to do, the results of which show up on the shelves of your favorite performance parts retailer, ready to bolt onto your Ford.

So I headed to Bowling Green last Friday, ready to link up with some of my longtime friends and check out the insanity on the revered Beech Bend quarter-mile. In the process, I saw brand-new parts—which I’ll tell you about down below—that basically blew my mind, and reinforced the concept that Ford performance is truly the driver for the domestic performance industry. Read on for the racing action and more…

Street Outlaw racer Charlie Cooper wasn’t able to attend the event, so he tossed the reins of his pony to longtime Renegade racer Adam Arndt, who hopped behind the wheel of a turbo car for the very first time. With tuner Jason Lee of PTP Racing working the laptop and providing the coaching Arndt needed, he made it to the semifinal round before bowing out to eventual class champion Andy Manson in a close race, 4.39 to Manson’s 4.35.

The NMRA’s track prep team had the Beech Bend surface on point all weekend long, as evidenced by many, many wheelstands from the cars in the Coyote stock class. Notable from this group: Darin Hendricks (second from top) clinched the Coyote Stock class championship, while Steve Kurimchak (third from bottom) took out Jacob Lamb (bottom) in the Coyote Stock final round to win the Bowling Green event—and take home his first-ever class win in the process, putting a fine stamp on his first season in Coyote Stock. It was a strong showing for all of the Coyote Stock competitors, with all but three in the 10.50s or better on elimination day.

My longtime friend Mike Gucciardo made the trip down to compete in Limited Street. Despite being seriously outgunned by the power-adder cars in the class—many of whom had a second or more on him—Goose gave it his best shot. He took the round win over John Keller in the first round when Keller didn’t make the call, earning his very first round win ever in the process. When I went to talk to Goose in the pits, he was on cloud nine, despite getting knocked out in the second round on a redlight start against class record-holder Sondra Leslie. He has some upgrade plans for the winter, with lots of testing on tap.

As one of the few NMRA classes which has been around in one form or another since the series’ inception, Renegade is one of those classes which brings turbocharged and supercharged entries together and has driven a ton of innovation into the Mustang street-car market over the years. At this event, Tony Hobson lit the scoreboards with a 7.40 in his turbocharged 5.4-liter Mustang to take the top qualifier spot over Frank Varela, then went all the way to the finals against Bob Cook before taking the loss.

Speaking of “Titanium” Bob Cook, it’s been a while since we’ve seen him in the winner’s circle, as he typically gets to only a few races per year. We have to go all the way back to the Joliet race in 2014 for his last final-round appearance in Renegade. But Bob’s no stranger to winning, as he won the 2011 Bowling Green race and is the 2008 class champion. In fact, he’s been running the Renegade class for as long as I can remember, and has always been super-consistent on elimination day. He didn’t have the quickest car in Bowling Green, but he did have the most consistent car, which ran 7.58, 7.57, and 7.55 in its three elimination rounds. A nice showing from the OG racer!

Heading into the 2018 season, Mike Ciborowski had one goal: to finish in the Top 10 for Limited Street. Well, with his event win on Sunday, he not only finished in the top ten, but came out on top as the class champion. Heading into the event he was just behind points leader Kelly Shotwell, and when Shotwell didn’t show up it opened the door for him to capture the title—but he needed to win the whole event to do so. A massive holeshot win over Larry Starost in round one set him on the right path, then he took advantage of the competition bye in round two, before eliminating Chad Wendel and Matt Willams to crush his preseason goals.

The NMRA’s Car Show is alive and well. Hundreds of Fords spanned an entire section of the Beech Bend Raceway grounds.

Four wins and two runner-up finishes in six races over the 2018 season means one thing to Dan Ryntz: his first-ever Factory Stock championship. Although Bart Welte took him out in the final round here, his dominant performance this year earned him the title after several years of trying—he’s finished second in the class each of the last two years, and lost the championship to Matt Amrine here in Bowling Green last year after holding 70 points in the bag entering the event. He set out to win the title, and achieved his goal. Nice showing Dan!

Alton Clements (foreground in above photo) had quite the weekend. After picking up this new-to-him car from Manny Buginga, he qualified second behind class champion Andy Manson in Street Outlaw. During qualifying, air got behind the Lexan window on the driver’s side of the car, pulling the window out and breaking the frame right off the door. One $140 trip to the swap meet later, Clements’ team was modifying the steel stock door and remounting the hinges to it so he could continue to race. Then on Sunday, he knocked out Travis Franklin and Nick Bacalis on his way to the final round against Manson. When the tree dropped, a holeshot launch secured Clements’ win at nearly 168 mph by a mere 3.72 feet. Oh, and the swap meet guy made him buy the pair of doors, so I think there’s a passenger side Fox body door for sale in South Carolina.

One car in particular I saw at the show which caught my eye is this sweet ’65 Fastback, which has been completely updated with modern running gear. The classic chassis has been configured to provide a performance level never dreamed of when this car was initially developed over five decades ago. A naturally aspirated 500-horsepower Aluminator Coyote engine, Tremec T56 transmission, and full TCI 4-link/RideTech air suspension make this car a stout performer.

Remember up above where I talked about the proliferation of performance parts and their capabilities, some of which is a direct result of the NMRA and its impact on the Mustang world? This car is the reason. You can’t even tell there are a pair of turbos lurking underneath, and then it goes out and runs a killer number. Nice job by the boys at Hellion Power Systems and Palm Beach Dyno. So simple and so effective, with the type of bolt-on engineering that can only come from tons of track data. The Hellion Street Sleeper turbo system has plenty of options, but in this configuration, is pretty darn simple. If you didn’t know those turbos were there, you’d never know it from looking under the hood of the car. And to think these are cast wheel turbos, not even the good stuff. Combine the kit with the ‘18’s 10R80 transmission and some fuel and look out!

I’ll take mine in Orange Fury, please.

Remember our buddy Nick Bacalis, engine builder at Bischoff Engine Service, and subject of one of Front Street’s most popular articles? Well, the engine in this machine has since been updated with electronic fuel injection and a big whiff of nitrous, and Bacalis has been whacking the throttle whenever possible. He recently won the NMCA’s World Finals event in Street Outlaw, and crossed over here to NMRA to run in the Street Outlaw class here. With Holley’s Dominator engine management system on top of the engine and Induction Solutions nitrous feeding plenty of squeeze, Bacalis has been running solidly in the 4.30s since getting a handle on the car. Interestingly enough, he handles all aspects of engine tuning, and prior to this engine had never run nitrous before. He told me that the car makes so much torque it comes up on the tire and will basically ride the wheelie bars and not come down until after he lifts off the throttle at the eighth-mile. I looked at the data from his logger and will say that he’s not lying.. the graph was pretty wild. He also says there are 4.20s lurking in this car, possibly by the end of this season.

One thing that the fans in Kentucky always love is the NMRA’s burnout contest, where the NMRA tosses a pile of cash to the person most willing to wreck a set of tires for the fans’ enjoyment. I never really got the appeal of it until this weekend, when I spent a few minutes watching how much the fans paid attention. Until the smoke became too thick, that is.

Since the NMRA World Finals is one of my favorite events of the year, held in my favorite place on Earth, I could go on and on and on about all of the great racing that happens there. Instead, I’ll remind you that in 2018, Mustang sales eclipse the Camaro by 54.7 percent and the Challenger by 17.79 percent. I firmly believe the NMRA—and the performance parts which hit the market as a direct result of its classes and racing opportunities—have a monster effect on the performance aftermarket.

Finally, enjoy the photo gallery. See ya ‘round!