If one had to sum up the NHRA’s Competition Eliminator category using just two words, they would likely be “unique,” and “expensive.” With the level of competition in the class necessitating one-off exotic pieces and Pro Stock technology, the costs of entering and being competitive are astronomical and not for the faint at heart of those light in the pocketbook. But don’t tell that to the father and son team of Bob and Tony Niemczyk.
The Niemczyk’s campaign one of the most unique – and certainly one of the hardest-to-miss - cars in Competition Eliminator, and they do it at a fraction of the cost of the vast majority of their peers.
Hailing from Langhorne, Pennsylvania, Bob, the family patriarch, pilots an I/Dragster powered by a turbocharged, Mitsubishi powerplant in the NHRA’s Division One to elapsed times in the sub-seven second range at nearly 200 MPH. But it was son Tony, who tunes the dragster and will step into the drivers seat next season, that set the entire project into motion.
“Tony raced a Mitsubishi Eclipse in the NOPI Import Series, where he actually did quite well,” Bob explains. “He finished second twice and won the World Finals in 2007. I’ve been a bracket racer since the 80′s and he always went along with me, so I’d go with him to the import events and give him some advice and things. I really got into the NOPI thing and I was very impressed by the power that he was making with this little dinky motor, and I just got hooked on them.”
As Bob explains, while his son was making impressive amounts of horsepower from a factory four-cylinder engine, the car would break driveline parts left and right; from transmissions to differentials, axles, driveshafts, and everything in between. “Obviously, Mitsubishi didn’t make those cars sturdy enough to make 800 to 900 horsepower, which is what he was making.”
At the time, NOPI had a category for dragsters, known as Extreme Dragster, that caught the attention of the Niemczyk’s. Only one car, that of Don Nase Jr., was competing in the class.
“I told my son, we should build one of those,” says Bob. “We knew it would eliminate the driveline issues, because parts are virtually bulletproof these days in a dragster, so it would eliminate that issue. And then we’d have something we could really out some power to and go fast.”
The Niemczyk’s decided to move forward with the dragster project, and after Bob and his brother sold the business that they were partners in, allowing Bob more time to invest in racing, the father and son duo went full steam ahead with their new racing venture.
Per the NHRA guidelines for I/Dragster, both the engine block and the cylinder heads are original factory 2.0L Mitsubishi parts, just like those from a first-generation Eclipse circa 1991-92, as is the crankshaft. Measuring just 125 cubic inches, the little straight-four assembled by Bob and Tony features a short block composed of CP Pistons and custom GRP aluminum connecting rods, along with the aforementioned OEM crank. The combination also sports custom valves, valve springs and retainers, a SparkTech Ignitions coil-on-plug setup, and a dry sump oiling system with a Petersen oil pump. The oil pump drives a mechanical fuel system. Aside from a custom front engine cover that removes the factory oil pump, the engine is largely original.
An AEM computer setup controls the methanol-fueled electronic fuel injection system, which is fed by a 76mm BorgWarner turbocharger. DVDT Fab crafted the custom intake manifold. The fuel system involves 14 injectors in all, with four in the factory location, eight more on the intake manifold, and two more upstream near the turbo. By itself, Niemczyk estimates the engine produces around 100 horsepower, which quickly becomes roughly 1,000 courtesy of some 50 pounds of boost.
Says Bob, “the engines are very reasonable to build, because we get the blocks, heads, and crankshaft from junkyards. You can get them really cheap.”
How cheap you ask?
“I wouldn’t think that we have but about $5,000 in the engine. We wouldn’t be able to race if we had to spend $50,000 on one,” Bob says emphatically.
The power from this might Mitsubishi is transferred through a GM two-speed Powerglide transmission to a 9-inch torque converter to a Holeshot wheels wrapped in Goodyear rubber.
The traditional rear engine dragster chassis was put on order at Ken Kissinger’s Ken’s Kustom Chassis in Leesport, Pennsylvania after seeing an I/Dragsrer chassis that Kissinger had already constructed for himself. Kissinger and company developed a Top Dragster-esque chassis with some modifications in mind specific to the small inline four cylinder engine and it’s horsepower and torque capabilities, with input from Niemczyk. The bare chassis was delivered in April of 2009, and a year after first devising their plan to stuff a Mitsubishi four-banger in a dragster, Bob made his debut with the new car.
“The biggest challenge we’ve faced with this car has been trying to get the turbo to spool up, and therefore cut a good reaction time,” Bob explains.
So what is it like, exactly, to drive a car so dependent upon boost?
“The burnout isn’t like a normal burnout,” Bob says. “With 100 horsepower, you can’t spin those large tires, so you have to keep the tires in the water. When I start the burnout, I engage the transbrake and start building boost, and as soon as I get up to about 5,000 RPM, I have enough boost to get the tires spinning to do the burnout. At that point, the boost ramps up incredibly fast and you have to feather the throttle and out it in high gear.”
For the staging process, the car has a three-step system with two different rev limiters: one for staging and one for fully staged. The first is engaged by a switch on the brake pedal, which activates a rev limiter to about 4,500 RPM. The engine is then in a place where it can begin to build boost. While on the torque converter through, it doesn’t always build boost, so a timing retard shoots high pressure exhaust into the turbo to spool it up.
Bob continues, “I basically have the gas pedal on the floor this whole time. As I bump into the bottom bulb, I engage the transbrake button and release the footbrake, which activates the second limiter that holds it at our starting line RPM. Right now we have that at 7,000-7,500. The engine then has enough RPM to build the boost we need to run fast. It’s quite an involved process.”
“This car a lot of work – we put a lot of hours and time and effort into it, but we had a lot of cooperation from a lot of people.”
At the NHRA U.S. Nationals at Lucas Oil Raceway in Indianapolis in September, Niemczyk, with the tuning assistance of AEM’s Devin Pierce, recorded his best quarter mile pass to date in the opening round of eliminations at 6.955 seconds at 193.57 MPH. Then at the Pennsylvania Dutch Classic at the Maple Grove Raceway in mid October, the Niemczyk’s captured the I/Dragster eighth-mile national record with a lap of 4.56 seconds at 155 MPH.
Who says it’s not possible to race in Competition Eliminator on a working man’s budget?