Illinois racer Geoff Turk fired the shot heard ’round the factory drag racing world at last weekend’s NMCA season opener at Bradenton, Florida when he broke the mythical seven-second barrier in the Factory Super Cars class — a mark once inconceivable among Stock Eliminator racers . Speculation and expectation have been all the talk since last fall when Turk pulled off an 8.029-second elapsed time during the NHRA Fall Classic in Indianapolis.
“There was no real testing during the winter break,” Turk told us. “We intended to do some testing in February, but my wife and number-one racing buddy, Sandy, was diagnosed with cancer.”
This devastating news had Geoff making plans to sell the car immediately. “She got angry at me, so we didn’t do that. She was determined that I was going to go to Florida here and now and show people the potential it really had. My son, Nigel Burke, flew down to help with the race.”
Turk explained there were many sleepless nights during the winter concerning his attempt to get his “Blackbird” 2015 Challenger into the sevens. “We took our best shot with a mean tune-up in Louisiana in November, but we just spun 11 or 12 times in a row. Converting the fall 8.02 into a seven-second pass was going to be best accomplished with small steps.”
Input from Coan Engineering concerning the Turbo-400 transmission convinced Geoff there were gains to be made. Some slight chassis changes were made by Mike Roth, builder of the Blackbird’s MR2 Performance Race Cars. Geoff and engine builder Tony Bischoff of BES Racing Engines brainstormed tweaks to the 354 aluminum HEMI powerplant to gain some more power as well.
Thoughts of deja vu occurred as Geoff told us of his days working up to making class racing history this past weekend. Now traveling across Florida for the upcoming NHRA Gatornationals, Turk was helping a fellow competitor, retired Pro Stock racer Allen Johnson, sort out gremlins with his own Drag Pak Dodge in a parking lot — a throwback those days in the 1960s when racing teams would have cars spread wide apart in a motel parking lot between events, in a sense.
When Turk rolled into the NMCA season opener, he was still not sure of his current combination. Adding to the tension level was a call from Jason Coan. They had found a couple of last-minute transmission components they wanted to change resulting in an overnight box shipped from the Coan headquarters in Indiana. Jason’s father, Dave Coan, retired and living in Florida, drove to Bradenton to revamp Turk’s transmissions using a five-gallon bucket of tools and a car lift borrowed from another racer’s stacker trailer.
“In a funny turn of events, I don’t think we could have pulled all of this off if I hadn’t needed a bathroom break,” Turk laughs. “ I saw the delivery truck with the driver emptying boxes near the tower and restrooms. The driver was then trying to convince me he did not have my delivery.”
They went round and round with Geoff blocking the truck with his golf cart until he finally found the box from Coan. Yes, still on the truck. Had Turk not needed the restroom run, the delivery truck would have driven away with his needed transmission parts.
Of course, the tension scale was elevated even higher as many of the sports Factory Stock hitters were in attendance at Bradenton vying for the big bounty recently offered by Holley Performance. There were 22 COPO Camaros, Drag Pak Challengers, and Cobra Jet Mustangs who converged to take their shot at history and the coveted Holley EFI Seven Second Club money. The club would pay $5,000 to the first NMCA Factory Stocker in the sevens. The payday would double if the racer was using a Holley EFI unit.
In the Friday test session, Turk ran an 8.38 ET. “I changed the tuning around to accommodate some things and messed up the overall tune,” Turk added. “Our teamwork with Leah Pritchett and the Don Schumacher Racing Challenger helped me figure out the mistake. SRT Engineer and friend Mike Rossey reminded me of a tuning lesson I had shown him in the past. Once I applied the changes, I thought we were ready.”
After that first pass, Turk also learned that Blackbird was still heavier than required. “I rolled over the scales, and it weighed in about 3597, which was about 50-pounds heavy. I knew I was stress-eating a lot of ice cream recently over my wife, but wow (laughs). So knocking off that weight also had me reasonably optimistic as we went into our next test session.” Once he applied the computer tuneup changes and removed some ballast, he went out in the next session and stunned his peers and the world with a 7.97 at 171 mph pass.” While groundbreaking and certainly confidence-boosting, the monster run was unofficial, as any record run is to take place in event qualifying or eliminations.
With the 7-second gauntlet laid down, we asked what kind of race it was to the staging lanes as so many Factory Super Cars wanted their shot at the Holley title before Turk. He says that when it was time for qualifying, the Factory Stock racers moved into the lanes in the order of their points finish in 2017 with the NMCA. He was in the fifth pair in the staging lanes with another of the prime seve-second challengers, David Barton, right in front of him. He nervously watched Barton run an 8.02. With that tension off, he was ready for his shot.
Surprised since the car remained unchanged since his 7.97 pass, Turk thought he had missed the mark as he initially started the historic run. “It was a pretty boring ride,” he described. “It pulled pretty hard but didn’t feel as good as previous runs. After the pass and while waiting in line at the ET shack, there was no excitement.”
Ted Hughes who made the qualifying pass beside me, came over and shook my hand exclaiming congratulations! I say, on what? He told me on my 7.99! He said he had the best seat in the house as he spun on the starting line and was coasting while he saw my 7.996 come up on the scoreboard display.
“I was blown away by the news while at the same time, I was unceremoniously handed the confirming ET slip,urk continued. “I felt like the world probably knew for half an hour before I did.”
There have been some social media naysayers claiming the NMCA tech is less stringent than the NHRA comparison. Turk claims, “My gosh, the tech was the most extensive process I have experienced in my life. It was even more involved than when I got tore down at the U.S. Nationals last year. They tested my fuel with 35 small test tubes as I had never seen before. They even analyzed my data recorder looking for multiple signs like traction control and lock-up converter. They were more than thorough, which I respect.”
Just as important to Turk is being able to accomplish win lights. He did ultimately leave the Bradenton event with a runner-up finish and is looking forward to heading over to Gainesville, Florida this following week and improving on the data learned during his historic weekend.
Putting his record into perspective, Turk noted he doesn’t do this without the support of the important people in his life like Sandy. Spending time on hiking trails with her is as important to him now as making history with his Challenger.