A name and a word most famously recognized in global pop culture as the fictional superhero in the Marvel Comics Universe series and brought to life by Robert Downey Jr. on the silver screen, it’s also a term utilized by the World Triathlon Corporation to describe what’s arguably the most intense physical test of a man or woman on earth as an endurance competition unlike any other that stretches the bounds of the human body. And it just might be the only term suitable enough to describe a drag racer who sets out on an unheard of journey that exploits the capabilities of man and machine.
57-year old Randy Seward may not wear a suit of gadget-infested armor or run, bike, and swim ungodly distances in succession, but what he’s accomplished is nothing short of surreal in the drag racing world.
Although a plan hatched long before being shared with the online community that would ultimately find itself glued to his adventure through their computer screens, Seward unveiled his mission to drive his eight-second Ford Mustang from his current home in New Mexico all the way to Bradenton, Fla. to compete in the Nitto Tire NMRA Spring Break Shootout at the Bradenton Motorsports Park – an 1,800-mile, one-way drive from his departure point. The sport has seen some impressive displays of street-ability escapades, but nothing quite like this.
For a scrapbook of images from Randy’s three-week adventure, check out the large gallery of images located at the bottom of the story.
Image courtesy: Race Pages/NMRA
Seward purchased the Mustang that completed the long haul adventure in 2007, beginning as a four cylinder coupe for the bargain price of just $1,800 on eBay. Immediately, he set out building a high-powered engine from scratch and overhauling every part and piece necessary to make it a quarter-mile screamer and a capable daily driver to boot.
A result of evolution over a number of years, Seward’s 1991 Mustang LX features a 363 cubic inch powerplant, outfitted with a Prime 1 crankshaft and rods bolted to CP pistons with a 9.0:1 compression ratio, TFS high port aluminum cylinder heads prepped by Champion Racing Heads with Ferrea valves and Crane Cams rocker arms, and a custom mechanical roller COMP Cams piece. The engine is topped with an Edelbrock Performer II intake with a Haltech fuel injection setup through a BBK 75mm throttle body, fed by a pair of Garrett GT3582R turbochargers and fueled by two Aeromotive Pro fuel pumps drawing from the stock fuel tank.
The power is delivered through an automatic overdrive transmission built by FB Transmission mated with a PTC converter through an aluminum driveshaft to a nine-inch housing with 3.25 gears sporting axles and a spool from Strange Engineering.
The entire package rolls on a set of Weld Racing Draglite wheels, stopped by a set of a Strange four caliper brakes up front and Baer dual calipers on the rear, and riding on Strange front struts and shocks and adjustable rear shocks. Other modifications to the suspension setup have included TRZ upper and lower front and rear control arms and a custom anti roll bar. TRZ also mini-tubbed the car to allow for the transition from a 295 radial to a wider 315 for added road and street-going traction.
A Ford aficionado and enthusiast dating back to his teenage years, Seward’s 1991 Mustang is the second such pony car he’s had the pleasure of owning, driving, and transforming from a four-cylinder weakling to a twin-turbo sleeper. In 1992, as the Fox body Mustangs were in their heyday, Seward ditched his plan to put a stroked 427 side-oiler in the Cougar he had, and in his own words “stole” his wife’s 1985 four cylinder Mustang coupe to convert it into a street and strip car. Seward built a 302 short block with TS heads and the works, upgraded the rear end, added a pair of Garrett turbos, and went racing. Unfortunately in late 1994, shortly after being featured in MM&FF Magazine, the ’85 was stolen and later stripped of its parts; some of which Seward was able to recover. For the first time in 20 years, the car buff was without a performance vehicle, and another 13 years would pass before the itch came to take on this new project.
Basically, it’s just more fun to drive the car to the track, bring a few essentials along, adjust the air pressure, go fast, and drive it home.
A Florida native who’s called New Mexico home for the last year as part of his work as an engineer and project manager at the Holloman Air Force Base, Seward won True Street at Bradenton back in 2010 in the LX with an 8.66 average and shortly thereafter, set off one of his first long distance treks to the Atlanta Dragway in Commerce, Ga. – roughly 1,000 miles round trip – where he garnered runner-up honors with an 8.87 average elapsed time. That trip was followed by another 1,000-plus mile trip to the zMax Dragway in North Carolina. Seward garnered a frenzy of media attention around the Ford Mustang enthusiast community for what he’d accomplished, setting in motion the goal of navigating even further distances.
What motivates such adventures that others wouldn’t even attempt with their own cars?
“I never really wanted to have a trailer and a truck available, because that’s the only thing they’re used for is going to the track and back,” said Seward. “And to add to that, it’s a lot of work to have to load the car up, unload it, make a couple passes, and go through it all again. Basically, it’s just more fun to drive the car to the track, bring a few essentials along, adjust the air pressure, go fast, and drive it home. It’s a challenge, but there are things you can do when you build the car with long distance driving in mind to make it drivable.”
Long Distance Preparation
Seward cites choices in camshafts, the size of the intake manifold, using turbos rather than a naturally-aspirated combo with a large cam, a strong rear end housing with an overdrive transmission, and other elements. “It’s really a combination with a dual purpose as a race car and a street car.”
He also utilizes a redundant ignition system with both a crank trigger and dual-sync distributor and an MSD 6AL for the street and a Digital 7 for race use that can be switched on going down the highway should one fail.
Seward devised his plan in December of possibly driving the car to Bradenton to compete in the NMRA season opener, and while the idea of such a trek had always been in mind, he admits there were certainly some things to address before hitting the road. With a career best 8.49 carded last November in Houston, winning certainly wasn’t one of the issues.
“It wasn’t like I’d never considered driving the car a long distance before, it was just a question of, you know, that’s a lot further than any distance I’ve driven before, and how hard will I run it when I get it there. One of the biggest questions in my mind was how I was going to manage the situation, being 2,000 miles from home.”
Putting his problem solving skills as an engineer to work, Seward set about figuring out what he needed to do to make the trip a success and how to accomplish it in the time frame he had to work with before the event. If everything could be checked off the list in time, the trip was a go. At that point, the transmission was pulled and rebuilt and the engine gone through with a fine-tooth comb to ensure everything was ready for the grueling test ahead.
A Google Maps view of Randy's 1,800-plus mile route from his home in Alamogordo, NM to the Bradenton Motorsports Park in Florida.
A week and a half prior to his planned departure, Seward spent four consecutive 18-hour days in his shop getting his Mustang put back together and ready for the trip to the Sunshine State. This left roughly one week to drive the car around town and to make some laps at the local track to ensure that everything checked out and was functioning properly. “I put about 250 to 300 miles on it just driving around making sure it didn’t overheat, that the transmission was fine, and things like that,” he said.
A visit to the El Paso Motorplex revealed an issue with a solenoid in the transmission that was quickly repaired the same day, but a subsequent 120-mile trip to the small Arroyo Seco Raceway in Deming, NM – with a gravel return road and all – netted a handful of off-pace but solid runs without any breakage or mechanical issues. Following that outing on the Sunday prior to departure, Seward was confident his twin turbocharged machine was ready for the drive and that any on-track performance issues could be diagnosed and rectified upon arrival. The Hoosier radials were swapped for a set of Mickey Thompsons for the drive, and the coupe was ready.
Bradenton Or Bust
And so it was, on Tuesday, February 28 – two days prior to the opening of the gates in Bradenton – Seward nestled down into his Kirkey race seat, rolled the engine over, pulled out of his driveway in Alamagordo, NM, and set off for Bradenton or bust. The proverbial 10 pounds in a 5 pound sack, Seward had armed himself with a survival kit and essentials including a small flashlight, extra plugs, wires, a cell phone charger, laptop power adapter, and a small Craftsman toolbox with the tools to complete nearly anything the car might need.
The sign of a true old school road warrior, Seward also packed his sleeping bag so that he could pull over to the side of the road each night and sleep on the ground next to the car. “The big factor with me when I take the car on the road is that if its not with me, it can get stolen or vandalized. If I stop at a hotel and go inside for a few hours, my car is vulnerable to theft, and so I’d rather sit in the car and sleep upright or on the ground then ever leave it for any extended period in a parking lot.”
The big factor with me when I take the car on the road is that if its not with me, it can get stolen or vandalized.
Seward headed east on I-20 towards Dallas, Tex. and made it clear to Mississippi on the first day before pulling over at an exit to sleep at around 1am for roughly four hours, before climbing back into the seat like a seasoned truck driver. He then picked up I-59 toward Mobile, Ala. and onward to I-75 toward Tampa. An uneventful trip, Seward arrived at his destination in Orlando by 5pm on Wednesday afternoon with 1,800-plus miles in his rearview mirror. Once there, he changed the oil and repaired the solenoid in the transmission and got the car on a local chassis dyno, as had been previously planned. Once on the dyno, Seward packed up and made the relatively short drive down to Bradenton late Wednesday night, where he slept overnight in the spectator parking field outside the track gates.
In the days prior to leaving for Florida, Seward had posted on the Yellow Bullet forums of his intentions and it didn’t take long for the story to whip into a frenzy. “The Bullet” has a reputation as the most raucous of online message forums for drag racing, but it’s also a tight-knit community of folks that will bend over backwards to do a fellow racer a favor, and right away, Seward received countless offers of places to stay or seek help – should he need it – along his route.
Back Home Yet Far From Home: The NMRA Spring Break Shootout
With all of the attention that his adventure had already received by way of the internet and Yellow Bullet in particular, Seward awoke that Thursday morning and hardly made it into the line and through the gate before he was met by interested spectators, journalists, and other members of the media who had caught word of this extraordinary effort.
“I was sitting in line outside of the track waiting to get in for about five minutes, and the NMRA crew came over and interviewed me, asking about the trip and how everything was going. Once I was in the gate, a lot of people that I’d never even met came over and congratulated me on making the drive. As far as everyone was concerned, the fact that I’d completed the drive and just made it there was a victory in itself.”
The only snafu in a relatively uneventful drive to Bradenton was a broken alternator support bolt that gave up the ghost just 50 miles outside of Orlando. Nothing a few zip ties can't handle for a short time.
While the trip to Bradenton had been rather uneventful, the weekend didn’t go quite as smoothly. Not at first anyway. Seward fought an issue he had difficulty diagnosing, first focusing on the spark plugs and then the wires believing one or both to be faulty. Everything checked out, but a comparison of the fuel maps between a prior race outing and this one on his laptop displayed some vast discrepancies. Seward keyed in the fuel numbers from that tune from last season and instantly cracked out an 8.9-second lap, followed by an 8.70 aided by some added boost percentage. Following the obligatory 30-mile cruise and back-to-back-to-back passes required of True Street competitors, the undisputed all-time Long Haul award winner ceremoniously topped off his incredible story with the overall title with an average elapsed time of 8.93 seconds.
A Last Minute Double-Dip
I found myself champing at the bit to get back out there and finish the whole trip. I kind of felt like I’d left it undone.
Seward had planned from the outset to compete in True Street that Saturday and begin the journey back to New Mexico on Sunday morning. However, after the exceptional outing at the NMRA event, the last-minute decision was made to leave the car in Florida, fly home for two weeks, and return for the NMCA season opener there on March 15-18. This was made possible in large part to family in the Orlando area, who assisted in making airline reservations and provided a safe and secure place to keep the car during those two weeks.
Perhaps more-so than the outcome of the True Street competition itself, the focus of this trip was simply surviving, bringing himself and his race car home safely and in one piece, and proving that such an undertaking could be done. Now back in New Mexico without his car and his round-trip mission postponed, Seward found himself full of anticipation during those two weeks to complete the journey for which he had started.
Don’t Eat The Crawdads – The NMCA Season Opener
Seward arrived back in Orlando on March 15th and returned the car to the dyno at Real Street Performance in Longwood, Fla. before heading to Bradenton. There, a crack in the intercooler was discovered and quickly repaired. Much as he had two weeks before, Seward made a late night run down to Bradenton and set up his one-man camp in the field outside the gates at the track.
Randy won his second straight outright True Street title at the NMCA opener with an off pace 9.51 average elapsed time.
There’s always a point where the story turns interesting, and Friday night following time trials at the NMCA event was that point. “On Friday, I made a couple of great passes and the car ran fine, so I decided to leave it alone and relax and get ready for the competition the next day,” said Seward. That night, they had a cookout over at the GM tent with barbecue and crawdads and I had myself a pretty good meal. I woke up in the middle of the night not feeling too well and by about six in the morning, I was really sick. I spent the rest of the day recovering from food poisoning and didn’t eat anything but a banana and a breakfast bar the entire day,” Seward said with a laugh. “Nobody knew it, but I was sick all day during and after the race.”
A second consecutive overall True Street victory with a 9.51 average elapsed time following consecutive passes of 8.89, 9.45, and 10.19 surely served as an antidote for a day that could be summed up as an anecdote. But the story gets more interesting yet.
Finishing What He Started
Right after filling up the tank and getting back on interstate, the engine went silent.
Seward began his journey home that evening with his True Street hardware in tow headed down the long road back to New Mexico. Before he could even make it out of the Bradenton area however, he found himself driving back to the track with a small “miss” in the car traced to the distributor. But without a spare, the trip went on in hopes that it wouldn’t fail entirely.
Seward made it as far as Tallahassee on Sunday morning before, as he jokes, “thing really got interesting.” Right after filling up the tank and getting back on interstate, the engine went silent.
“I couldn’t figure out why it wouldn’t start. It wouldn’t even communicate with the laptop. I thought I had it solved and made it down the road about eight hours and at around midnight, I pulled off an exit in Louisiana and the car died again. I tossed out my sleeping bag and slept right there on the side of the road and got up early in the morning and realized the fuel pressure diaphragm had a leak in it and was letting fuel into the sensor line between it and the intake.”
That afternoon, Seward made it just beyond Forth Worth, Tex. before running smack dab into a line of heavy rain and thunderstorms that brought his trek to a crippling halt. Because as you can imagine, four figures in horsepower, drag radial tires, and rain don’t make for a great combination. “I drove as long as I could but eventually it was raining so hard that it wasn’t safe to keep driving down the road with the drag radials,” explained Seward. “But honestly, it wasn’t any safer on the road with cars zipping by at 80 miles per hour as it was just driving the thing. I limped it down the road to a parking lot and almost got the car stuck in the mud it was coming down so hard.”
By this time, after more than three weeks as one of the most talked-about threads on the Yellow Bullet forum, Seward’s journey had developed a huge following of supporters urging him on – as if urging a runner trying desperately to make it to the finish line of a marathon – and the assistance came pouring in around the clock. Forum members jumped to offer their support, using weather maps and traffic cameras situated along the route to provide Seward with information regarding the weather on the road ahead.
On Second Though, Radials Can Do Everything
Surprisingly, the car actually had some traction in the snow.
But the closer he got to the end, the more challenging things became. Any by challenging, we mean traversing through late winter snow in New Mexico as he neared the mountain city of Cloudcroft.
“There’s a webcam set up in Cloudcroft that’s pointed at some of the businesses and roads in town, and I got some of the forum members to tell me what they saw. There was snow covering the ground and it was actively snowing at the time.”
Seward pressed on through the mountains until the wee hours of the morning, but the combination of the treacherous road conditions, a lack of cell phone reception, and dangerous sub-freezing temperatures should the car break down provided him his one and only hotel stay of the entire trip in the town of Artesia – just two hours from home – which was graciously paid for by a forum member.
Randy stopped to wave to all of those following on the internet via the webcam located in the small snow-covered town of Cloudcroft, NM on his return home.
“Pushing through under the circumstances was not only uncomfortable, but borderline dangerous, so I got to stay in a nice bed for free that night thanks to this gentleman.”
On the return trip, Seward made it within a couple of hours of his home before encountering late-winter snow that slowed his progress but proved that drag radials can do more than previously thought.
If you’ve had a good adrenaline high, now you’re coming off that high and you’re disappointed that it’s all over.
“Surprisingly, the car actually had some traction in the snow. I don’t think it’s much different than a regular tire in the snow, because almost any typical tire tread gets packed with snow and you basically have whatever the rubber can do by pushing the snow out of its way. I had to drive up a small hill and back down in Cloudcroft in the snow and really didn’t have any problems.”
Seward arrived back where it all started in Alamogordo the Monday following the race, feeling full of accomplishment yet longing for the open road once again, “It was a combination of a relief because I made it like I said I was going to do and I was very successful in winning both races, and I could finally relax, but if you’ve had a good adrenaline high, now you’re coming off that high and you’re disappointed that it’s all over.”
Seward had thrived on the cult-like following his escapade had created and the encouragement of those following his progress, and as stated in a forum post during the return trip, “…it was almost like they were all there with me.” Any time that he had troubles, a handful of Yellow Bullet members in the area were ready at the drop of a hat to lend their assistance. All told, Randy used in the neighborhood of 50 to 90 gallons of fuel each way while averaging a rather impressive 16 to 20 miles per gallon depending upon the driving conditions.
“I’ve Got Something Much Bigger In Mind”
Having just completed one of the most impressive feats this sport has ever seen, you might wonder if and how it could be topped. Randy Seward has already done the wondering, however.
The how, the when, and the financials of it all are nearly as fresh as these words on your screen, but Randy shared with us with his vision for something much more extraordinary: a 72-day cross country trip up the west coast and across the nations heartland to the northeast and down to Florida, with stops at some 30 to 40 dragstrips along the way. Not a trip for the faint-hearted, and a test of man and machine beyond anything most of us can comprehend.
“Last year, I drew up the itinerary and planned on doing it this year, but finances caught up with me and those plans changed. But throughout this extended adventure, I want to visit as many tracks as I can, intermingle with the local racers and do some good-natured heads-up racing, offer a chance for followers in different areas to come out and visit, and really get everyone involved to a much higher degree. But it really comes down to whether I can financially swing it.”
Whether this true outlaw with an unorthodox yet refreshing approach to the sport is able to pull off such a vision, his mark has already been made with the successful completion of an adventure approaching 4,000 total miles that captivated tens of thousands of followers and re-wrote the very definition of what a street and strip machine is and what it should be able to accomplish.
There are no villains here, but if drag racing ever had its own unpenetrable Ironman, it’s certainly Randy Seward.