21st ANNUAL NITTO TIRE ALL-FORD WORLD FINALS AND INTERGALACTIC FORD FESTIVAL
Wrapping up another incredible season of NMRA Keystone Automotive Drag Racing Series, the 21st Annual Nitto Tire NMRA All-Ford World Finals at Beech Bend Raceway Park in Bowling Green, Kentucky, was made even more epic as it was run in conjunction with the Holley Intergalactic Ford Festival. The weather was hot and so was the competition as the NMRA racers battled it out for crucial last-minute points as championships were won and lost, records were set, and priceless photos were taken in the Aerospace Components Winner’s Circle.
Attendees also enjoyed a massive manufacturer’s midway, robust swap meet, and UPR Products Car Show. On the Holley Performance Products side of things, YouTube sensation Cleetus McFarland was on site with his Clickbait Patrol car, there was a mind-blowing drift exhibition by Formula Drift superstars Vaughn Gittin Jr, Chelsea DeNofa, and others, and was a huge hit with spectators. A tricky, all-Ford corner-carving autocross course was contested all weekend long, and a mobile dyno from Redline Performance allowed participants to make free pulls. The fun didn’t stop there, though, as the event also hosted the world-famous, first-ever monster truck Bigfoot as well as two of the hero cars from the John Wick movie, a wild burnout contest, and so much more.
Domenic DiDonato and Phil Hines dominated the top two spots in VP Racing Fuels Street Outlaw, with Hines going number one in qualifying and DiDonato right behind him and both in the 4.4-second zone. In eliminations, though, the two men met in the finals and while Hines had a slight holeshot advantage, his ProCharged ’01 Mustang spun and couldn’t hold off DiDonato’s turbocharged surge in the opposing lane. When the men crossed the stripe, it was Delaware’s DiDonato and his C&D Autotech ’08 Shelby GT500 who finished first and snatched up the win with a 4.482 at 164.09 mph final run of the weekend. Along the way, though, Vinny Palazzolo wrapped up his portion of the race with the 2019 championship title newly minted in his name.
NMRA Edelbrock Renegade is always an exciting class and qualifying proved to be no different as Joel Greathouse clinched the number one position with a 4.695 at 156.41 mph blast. Meanwhile, Haley James had a tough time of it and a stuck throttle caused her beloved Fox to careen into the wall – the car was totaled but fortunately James was OK and she had already locked up the championship for the category for the year prior to the accident. Later, in eliminations, it was the number-two qualifier, Tim Knieriem of Shepherdsville, Kentucky, who came out on top. The engine builder pitted his ’95 Mustang against Alton Clements’ ’89, and the men fought all the way to the finish, but Knieriem was the one to get there first and put a 4.754 at 152.68 mph in the books to make his win official.
Bad Brad Schehr from Ft. Myers, Florida, was on fire all weekend long from start to finish in ProCharger Modified Street. Schehr, who runs an ’89 Mustang, qualified number one for the class with his 7.701 at 177.84 mph pass. From there, it was a points chase as Schehr also held the lead and refused to let anyone overtake him. In eliminations, Schehr met with the number-two qualifier, Martin Connelley and his ’86 Mustang, for a battle of the ProCharged Fox Mustangs in an incredibly close final. Connelley was 0.006 on the tree to Schehr’s 0.014-second light, but Schehr picked up the pace and crossed the finish going 7.740 at 177.59 mph over Connelley’s 7.750 at 176.939 mph effort to capture the win and lock up the championship title as well.
Florida’s Bill Putnam qualified number one in Advanced Fuel Dynamics Limited Street when he drove his UPR Products ’94 Mustang through the beams in 8.621-seconds at 159.59 mph. Putnam powered through the eliminations rounds and was paired with Mike Ciborowski, who had qualified third and captured his second consecutive championship for the category along the way, for the finals. Ciborowski had a quicker reaction time, but Putnam motored past and posted an 8.674 at 158.32 mph winning number on the board, while Ciborowski slowed a touch to 9.358 at 127.50 mph and added a cool runner-up bonus to his already outstanding weekend.
Running in Richmond Gear Factory Stock for the first time, Charlie Booze Jr. set the pace in qualifying while driving Justin Fogelsonger’s Fox Mustang and went 10.307 at 129.47 mph. Folgelsonger himself, who hails from Mont Alto, Pennsylvania, was hot on Booze’s heels in second with a 10.353 at 128.90 mph pass in the driver’s seat of his ’03 Mach 1. The two men met up in the finals for an interesting showdown. It was anyone’s guess who would take the stripe as they raced side-by-side for most of the trip, but Fogelsonger edged Booze with a winning 10.356 at 128.05 mph pass and doubled up on the celebrations due to the all-Fogelsonger final. Not to be forgotten, though, was Dan Ryntz who rightfully raced his way to the 2019 Richmond Gear Factory Stock championship title.
Meanwhile, in the always crazy G-Force Racing Transmissions Coyote Stock camp, the crew of diehard drivers enjoyed a raging rivalry all the way to the finish. Topping the qualifying order was the familiar Frank Paultanis who ran 10.185 at 130.38 mph, but his performance was usurped by Nathan Stymiest (number two) and Jacob Lamb (number eight) by the time the final elimination round was contested. Stymiest, who wheels a ’92 Mustang out of Waynesboro, Pennsylvania, was a touch late on the tree but made up for it where it counts and crossed the finish first. The overall championship, however, went to Clair Stewart II who met his match in the second round but had accrued enough points along the way to get the job done.
It’s a numbers game in Exedy Racing Clutch Modular Muscle, and “The Professor” Charlie McCulloch showed he’s got his eye on the money and his mind where it matters. Qualifying at the top of the large list with a quick 0.004-second reaction time, the good ol’ Georgia boy absolutely obliterated the opposition in eliminations. Five rounds later, and McCulloch was pleased as punch to be able to take his ’04 Mustang back home with both the event win and the season championship safe and secure in his possession while Jason Henson had to face the harsh reality of going out on a -0.001-second redlight.
Running the ranks in ROUSH Performance Super Stang, Larry Firestone had qualified 11th with his 0.078-second reaction time, while Pete Espeut took the top spot but went out in round one of eliminations. Firestone was able to hang on, though, and expertly piloted his ’08 Mustang into the finals where his perfect 0.000-second light and nearly dead-on 11.251 at 123.62 mph pass on his 11.25 dial-in translated to a well-deserved win over Robert Ball in the other lane whose ’15 Mustang ran 10.763 at 129.68 mph on a 10.79 dial. Along the way, Firestone was also named the season champion.
ARP Open Comp always has an abundance of entries, and the last race of the year hosted a whopping 51 cars. Proving to be the most consistent of the combinations, Elmer Long from Columbus, Ohio’s ’91 Mustang stayed right on the money six times in a row and the final 11.336 at 113.84 mph pass on an 11.30 dial in did the job to get the win while Dennis Corn came up just a hair short for the runner-up rights, although Corn’s season had been strong enough to christen him the overall champion.
Rolling into the Detroit Locker Truck & Lightning number-one qualifier spot was Jon M Pickering with his ’65 Ranchero and a perfect 0.000-second light, but Mike Motycka from Mattawan, Michigan, was a man on a mission in eliminations and wound up in the true number spot – the Aerospace Components Winner’s Circle. Motycka made it happen when his beautiful ’79 F100 ran 12.186 at 103.30 mph on a 12.13 dial in and defeated Amanda Saad in the finals, while Randy Conway upstaged everyone by collecting his fourth consecutive season championship for the class.
Running just 0.003 seconds off his 13.50 dial-in the Race Star Wheels Ford Muscle index class qualifying was Kevin Sanders, but Lloyd Mikeska was the man of the hour once eliminations got under way. Going the distance, the man from Richmond, Texas, and his ’16 Mustang proved to be unbeatable through five fierce rounds of competition. When Jeremy Smith left before the tree activated, the win light lit in Mikeska’s lane and he cruised to a clean victory while Smith was defaulted to the runner-up spot and Jon Butsko was deemed the champion for the 2019 season.
Ford’s fantastic 10-speed 10R80 automatic transmission is certainly no slouch, and the McLeod by Raybestos 10R80 Throwdown showcases the gearbox’s powerful potential with big money and even a free McLeod by Raybestos 10R80 rebuild kit on the line to the winner. Five of the fastest gave it their best, but Ohio’s own Terry “Beefcake” Reeves was top dog for the day when he defeated Heinz Stock in the Throwdown finals, going 9.183 at 126.55 mph in his ’18 Mustang over Stock’s 10.532 at 92.57 mph trip in his ’19 model.
Boost reigns supreme in the Hellion Turbo Battle and the turbocharged entries went head-to-head over a quarter-mile to see who could get the advantage. When the dust cleared, Pennsylvania-based racer Keith Rhea was on top, having run 7.1965 at 195.00 mph in his ’04 Mustang in the finals while Justin Jordan had an uncharacteristic red light in the other lane and took himself out of the competition. Rhea’s win was hard fought as he had to do a complete engine swap on the Thursday before the event got started, but clearly the extra effort paid off.
The rivalry is hotter than ever, and the Mickey Thompson Cobra/Terminator vs. GT500 Shootout shootout aims to prove which Mustang model is the best of the best. Interestingly, the final showcased two GT500s that are both owned by Dwayne Hickman of West Virginia. Hickman was driving his white 2010, while London Chassis Dyno’s Chad Epperson – also the top qualifier – was driving his new 2010 “Blacksnake” ride. Epperson had the advantage at the stripe and his 7.694 at 181.15 mph gave him the win, while Hickman still had two great reasons to celebrate even though he finished second to himself.
Almost 150 car and driver pairs entered the QA1 True Street class and enjoyed a new checkpoint-based, rally-style cruise, but only one could be named the overall victor and that honor went to multi-time winner Mike Jovanis of Wall, New Jersey. Jovanis’ three-run average of 8.280-seconds was followed by Troy Eaton’s average of 8.614-seconds to round out the runner-up spot. The quickest of the 9-second group was Alex Corella, while Jason Wagoner was the winner for the 10-second category. Meanwhile, it was Jeff Cottrill who found success in the 11-second section, while Mike Moistner, Greg Easrey, Chris Rusch, and Rodney Ward won the 12-second, 13-second, 14-second, and 15-second segments, respectively.
After Saturday’s QA1 True Street, the participants were invited back on Sunday for the Bracket 3 class. Top honors went to the hometown girl and Beech Bend regular racer, Leticia Hughes of Smiths Grove, Kentucky, as she chased down Mike Moistener in her ’18 Mustang with an 11.396 at 123.34 mph pass on her 11.38 dial-in, while Moister went 12.024 at 100.85 mph on his 12.00 dial.
The exclusive IDIDIT King of the Street pitted eight of the baddest QA1 True Street, JLT Performance Spring Break Shootout, and Stifflers Gateway Rumble competitors from the 2019 season against one of antoher in a heads-up style race to the finish. Ultimately, the battle for bragging rights came down to Jeff Bloem of Ontario, Canada, and Mike Jovanis of Wall, New Jersey. The two late-’80s Mustangs lined up and the men were neck and neck down the track, but Bloem got the win with a 7.659 at 182.35 mph time slip to Jovanis’s valiant 7.754 at 180.77 mph retaliation.
TREMEC stepped up to sponsor the Stick Shift Shootout where the eight quickest manually shifted Mustangs in the country got another chance to test their mettle. All entrants received a special shootout plaque and custom TREMEC jacket, but it was Ohio-based racer Mike Niehaus who got the overall win in a double-breakout scenario over Clint Derango in the finals of the “Chicago-style” eliminations. For his efforts, Niehaus also won a McLeod Racing RXT twin-disc clutch and flywheel valued at $1,300
Meanwhile, in the Holley Grand Champion class — which combined results from the Autocross, Drag Race, and 3S Challenge — Michael P Gallagher won the late-model class in his 2016 Focus RS. Meanwhile, John McKissack won the vintage class in his 1966 Ford Fairlane, and nabbed top honors in the truck class.
Congratulations to all of 2019’s winners and champions. We’ll see you back at it next year when the next great Ford drag racing season kicks off with the 26th Annual NMRA Spring Break Shootout at Bradenton Motorsports Park in Florida over the weekend of February 27-March 1, 2020! For more and information and advance tickets, visit www.NMRAdigital.com.