In the cold darkness at Englishtown, N.J., under the lights at Old Bridge Township Raceway Park, “Mustang Mike” Modeste is standing with his arms raised and outstretched, like some tall, willowy, charismatic preacher.
He has a quirky smile on his face as he says, “They call me Black Jesus. I’m glorified.”
Carrying on with the theme, he laughed as he said his X275-class-dominating driver and crew chief, Rich and Nick Bruder “have to go with my beliefs, because I will take you to the Promised Land.”
Although Modeste wasn’t exactly exhibiting much . . . well . . . modesty, he is a significant factor in the Bruder brothers’ streak of 11 straight X275 victories, 12 if counting Englishtown’s incomplete Shakedown Nationals in which Bruder had to share the payout with finalist Sean Ashe.
The perfect season came to an upsetting end Saturday evening at Atco Raceway in New Jersey, as Dean Marinis, of Whitestone, N.Y., sailed to an outstanding 4.733-second, 153.18-mph winning pass in the Super Saturday Drag Radial 275 final. Rich Bruder clocked a 5.198-second elapsed time at 132.35 in his wounded Mustang as runner-up. Bruder did qualify No. 1 with what turned out to be low E.T. and top speed at 4.651 / 161.59.
That final run of the season notwithstanding, the Bruders and Modeste combined for a smashing season — smashing records and expectations — and Modeste claimed no small contribution.
“I’m pretty confident in what I do. I’ve been doing this for nearly 20 years,” Modeste, the six-time National Street Car Association champion, said. “These guys came with me racing. These guys came all over the country. So I’m just giving back now.”
These guys came with me racing. These guys came all over the country. So I’m just giving back now. – Mike Modeste
According to Nick Bruder, “ninety-nine percent of the work is done by my brother and myself, at our house [at Edison, N.J.], in our trailer. He drives. He’s a great driver. He bails us out plenty of times. I tune with Mustang Mike. We keep him [Rich] playing, and Me and Mike are the ones who modify the tune-up.” He called Modeste “a very valuable guy.”
Rich Bruder said, “Watching him race, traveling with him, just being around other racers and [seeing] how they’ve succeeded drove us more to doing this. We just got more addicted to it.” The former 8.50 bracket racer said, “We had to get our name out there better and let people know we’re out here and we’re going to race.”
Everybody knows it now. Today the ’88 Mustang they field is the world’s fastest ProCharger X275 race car and one that Modeste labeled as “the most feared 275 car.” He said, camping up the rhetoric a bit, “Guys don’t even want to come out to the track sometimes to these events because we’re here. Bunch of cowards, yes, they are . . . bunch of cowards.”
Brother Rich said, “We’re working on this car four to five days a week after a race to get ready for the next one. It takes a lot of time, and without your family standing behind you, it’s impossible to do. You’ve got to get everybody into it and enjoying it. It makes us work that much harder, too, to be successful. It just takes dedication and heart.”
Their father, mother, sister, sister’s boyfriend, spouses Tiffany and Angela, and children do everything from scouting their rivals to working on and fueling the car to driving the tow vehicle and lot in between.
“These brothers are totally dedicated to what they do,” Modeste said, “and the family is totally dedicated.” Their formula for success, he said, is no real secret: “All it is is just working hard.”
We’re working on this car four to five days a week after a race to get ready for the next one. It takes a lot of time, and without your family standing behind you, it’s impossible to do. – Rich Bruder
But if “adopted brother” Mustang Mike plays a unique role, it would be that of tweaking the competition. He said of the opponents, “I give them just a little at a time. If they go 4.70, I’m going to go 4.68, just to tease ‘em a little bit. When we need the power, we just turn it up when it counts.”
Then when curfew restrictions at The Shakedown Nationals forced a final-round draw with Ashe, Modeste immediately said, “We’ll probably take the check and give him [Ashe] the trophy. We’ve got tons of trophies.”
Cheeky? Yes. So what? Modeste can say that because, as Nick Bruder said, “We had to change our combo five different times this year because of rule changes. Different racers wanted to come after us. A lot of racers came after us this year, so we had to change our combo five different time. We won the majority of races, though.”
He said he felt sorry for John Sears, the East Coast outlaw radial class-guidelines guru who crafts the rules for the various series, because Sears has to try to keep parity. That’s particularly necessary because the X275 class is rooted in its relative affordability and tight racing.
“We’ve been racing this car for almost 10 years now,” Nick Bruder said, “and we’ve kept finessing it. We keep modifying stuff and going faster and faster and faster. Probably the past six years we’ve been racing some kind of X275. It was never as popular as it is now. Before, it was just local racing, racing for your entry fee.”
But the Lights Out III race in February at Valdosta’s South Georgia Motorsports Park changed everything. Rich Bruder drove his Mustang to the X275 elapsed-time record with a 4.65-second pass at 151 mph.
“That’s when everybody started freakin’ out,” he said.
Bruder lowered it to 4.55 (at 159 mph) in September at Maryland’s Cecil County Dragway. By then, the target on his back was clearly visible.
“A lot of drivers want to play head games with you,” he said. “You’ve got to block that out and just concentrate on what you’ve got to do behind the wheel. After you do it for awhile, once you start the car up for your burnout, everything goes away. It’s just you and the tree. It doesn’t make a difference who’s beside you.
“That puts more fear in a team, being consistent, than going up and throwing a Hail Mary pass, or a fast pass. Being consistent scares more drivers.”
That puts more fear in a team, being consistent, than going up and throwing a Hail Mary pass, or a fast pass. Being consistent scares more drivers. – Rich Bruder
Nick Bruder agreed with his brother: “You can’t worry about what people say about you. You can’t let it faze you. I just try to pick up my team, no matter what happens. I always try to stick up for my team if someone’s beating us up. I’m over the Internet. I try not to let our team get too bashed. I give it back to people sometimes. There are people who just try to tick you off, so it is what it is. When you break down, they got to you and they’ve won. You want to try [to keep] from getting your name too bashed. Besides that, whatever everyone else says, they say.
One thing people say about the Bruders that they want to correct is that they are twins. Rich Bruder is 31 years old, Nick 29, but Nick said, “My brother and I are best friends. We work at a commercial heating and air-conditioning company, along with our dad. Everybody thinks we’re twins. No one believes it when we say we’re not. People don’t believe it until we show them our [driver's] licenses.”
That’s a minor point. What they truly want is for people to think that they’re the team to beat at every event they enter. And that means their work, their attention to detail, never stops.
“There’s no time to sit back and relax, no matter how fast the car is,” Rich Bruder said. “Anything can happen. You’ve always got to be on your game.”
Being on their game has been the hallmark of this team. Even before the disappointing season finale at Atco Raceway in South Jersey, Rich Bruder said the group planned to regroup and prepare the car for another dominating season. But can they repeat a season such as this one?
“We’re going to try,” Rich Bruder said. “It’s a full plate to try to do what we did this year. You never could imagine [it]. We won 11– that’s a lot. It was definitely a good season. It’s definitely going to be hard to repeat. It puts a lot of spotlight on us. Just a lot of work to do.
“We’re going to go next year with the same attitude. We’ll see if we can get the  season off to a great start in February at South Georgia Motorsports Park,” he said.
So did Modeste take them to the Promised Land? In one sense, yes, he helped lead the way. His hyperbole, his showmanship alone made others take notice: “I am the boss. What I say goes. That’s what we’ve been doing from Day One, and we’ve been winning. So why would you want to change?”
His passion spills out: I’m kind of a hothead. You question my words, I’m going to bark back at you.”
Nick Bruder said Modeste doesn’t always win the tuning disagreements. “Nah. Nah. It’s whatever’s best for the car,” he said. “That’s all that matters. As long as the car goes ahead, that’s all that matters. All that other stuff is B.S.”
That’s Nick Bruder’s hymn to teamwork — teamwork that produced a divine season of record-setting and improving, of 12 victories in 13 races. And that collective work was what really was glorified.