Fulfilling Desires: Justin Cyrnek’s Tangerine Dream ‘04 X275 Cobra

Although I’ve only known him for a short time, when I talk to Justin Cyrnek, it’s like talking with a long-lost brother. When I interviewed him for this article, it was interesting to hear his background with respect to cars and racing, and how he got to where he is today from where he was as a teenager looking to go out and have fun in his Fox body Mustang on the back roads of the Chicago area with his buddies. Our paths have been different, but the beginnings are much the same, and I have a great deal of respect for his current standing in life.

Today, Cyrnek has not one but two highly competitive Mustangs. One, the 2004 Cobra seen in these photos, was recently completed by Larry Jeffers Race Cars for competition in the X275 class. I found the car on its maiden voyage in competition at the Duck X Productions Sweet 16 race, where Cyrnek performed quite respectably.

In what has been called the most competitive X275 field ever assembled, he qualified with a 4.405, and although it placed him 38th in the field, there were 21 cars bunched up between 4.348 and his qualifying position, a spread of .057-second. Then, in the Second Chance race on Saturday, Cyrnek was able to pilot the Mustang to the final eight cars in competition, an incredible showing for the first race out with a brand-new car.

Since I’ve known of him, he’s had three high quality race cars: the green 2013 Mustang he built that is currently owned by Brad Medlock (and also raced in X275), his own silver 2014 that was raced in MX235 and is now a grudge-style car (seen below), and the new Cobra. But the real story starts a long time ago, long before the dream of X275—and even the class itself—existed at all.

You see, Cyrnek has been playing with cars for his entire life, drawn in by his father in the early ‘90s.

“My first car was a 1992 Mustang GT. At 15 years old, me and my dad were searching, and going through the Auto Trader trying to find a really clean white GT. It took us six or seven months to find the one we wanted. You know how it goes, man. As a kid, you buy a car, you wax it every day before you go out for the night, and you’re street racing, and you’re going faster. It was like seven days a week, we’d go to work during the day, come five, six o’clock, you’d get off work and come home and maybe work on the car, then go out cruising the whole night looking for races. And getting really bad tickets,” he laughs.

By the time he turned 21, though, he decided to take a long layoff from cars to get his life straight, and it’s that layoff which has paid off in spades today, by allowing him the financial freedom to chase his racing dreams.

“I started my career and didn’t really have time to mess with it—and I couldn’t afford to do it the way I wanted to do it, so I said ‘screw it, I’ll work my ass off for the next 10-15 years and when I can actually afford to race competitively, I’ll do it.’ But until then, it was work 7 days a week, 20 hours a day, and try to make as much money as I could while I built my company,” he explains.

The company, founded along with his dearly departed father, drew upon his father’s lifelong experience in the industrial equipment business—think forklifts and man-lifts—and was founded in the early 2000s. Although his plan wasn’t complete, in 2007, he took a small bite of the performance pie, going in with his father on the purchase of a pair of brand-new GT500s to play around with.

That stoked the fire for a little bit, and by 2012 he felt secure enough with the position of the business—Chicago Industrial Equipment—to dive back into racing wholeheartedly. It’s taken him a few years to get here from there, and some of that is attributed to the time commitments of the business, which truly is a seven-day-a-week endeavor. In fact, in recent years he’s opened more stores; one in Pennsylvania, one in North Carolina, and one in California, all of which require his attention as the business grows.

He considers himself extremely lucky that his wife, Julie, fully understands how much time it requires along with the demands of the race program—which is also a full-time second job that often keeps him in the shop until the wee hours of the morning. It’s not surprising to me that the maintenance on the car is performed by Cyrnek himself after a big event, when between-races maintenance needs to be done. For major maintenance he’ll call upon his team for assistance.

“It’s definitely not easy to balance the whole thing of family, racing, and work. It’s what will always be the biggest challenge. Thank God my wife is super cool. She gets it. She does her thing with our girls; they’re involved in cheerleading and stuff like that, so a lot of the weekends I’m gone, they have stuff going on, they’re traveling for cheer, so that actually works out pretty well,” he says.

The Cobra seen here was a true body-in-white, never-titled chassis from Ford; it was originally built by Chitown local Nick Rusnak and had a small-block Ford in it. The chassis was sold to local racer Gino Cavallo who raced it once or twice, then sat on it for several years. He subsequently offered it up to Cyrnek for a killer price, and Cyrnek jumped at the chance to own such a clean example of one of the most iconic Mustangs ever. Then it sat in Cyrnek’s shop for a year while he figured out what to do with it.

“I just really like that body style. I decided to take it to Larry’s and do a 25.2 cage with a double framerail in it, and it started the snowball effect. Then I decided to put a Coyote into it because I thought that would be cool, and then I decided to make it an X275 car. Nine months later, voila!” he says.

Jeffers and his team did the chassis, the rest of the list of people involved in this deal reads like a Who’s Who of Chicago-area heavy-hitters from the drag racing world. Longtime Pro Mod racer and noted tuner Steve Summers wired and plumbed the car (and handles tuning duties at the track) while Tony Schroeder of Automotive Engine Specialties (AES) assembled the horsepower-maker from one of MMR’s billet Coyote blocks and other top-shelf pieces.

Not only does Cyrnek have these two cars, he’s also enlisted Jeffers to build a 2015 Mustang, which is currently under construction. One of these cars will be for sale at the end of the year, and he hinted that it would likely be the silver car.

“Having one racecar is a bunch of work, and it’s hard to keep up with everything. You have to run them hard, and be prepared to put an engine in the car at night. The days of having 80-100 runs on an engine are long gone. Everyone is in the same boat,” he says.

During the conversation, we reminisced about the fact that today, the quickest X275 cars are running in the 4.20s, and just four years ago almost to the day that the drag racing world was shocked when Kevin Mullins went 4.11 in his Radial Vs. The World car. Today, the quickest RvW cars are in the 3.50s in the eighth-mile. Technology marches on; he noted that the time—and financial—requirement it takes to keep a top-flight program going is massive. We also talked about where he sees X275 going in the future. Now that the class is down into the 4.20s, how much quicker can it go in its current configuration before racers tap out?

“When does it stop? No one knows. I don’t think John [Sears, X275 rulesmaker] wants to see it be a 20s class. You’re not only fast because of money, you’re fast because of knowledge and the people around you. But there’s only so much that a guy who makes $100,000 a year can afford to do to race at that .20s and .30s level, because you will tear stuff up. You have to test a lot. Testing costs a lot of money, so for the average guy, this is turning into out of control expensive. You’re going to lose guys midseason because they’re going to be out of money, taking out a second mortgage, maxing credit cards, their wives are going to be pissed, and that’s what’s going to happen. He has to reel it back to where it’s not going to be everyone’s running .20s because you won’t have any people left to do it,” he says.

Justin Cyrnek has the people involved in his program, and the equipment and the means to run at the top of the class. With such an impressive showing after one event, we can’t wait to see where the performance of this car ends up.

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