A Look Inside Outlaw 8.5 Racing

Outlaw 8.5 is an exciting, growing class of the 1/8th mile small tire wars, predicted to be the next hottest thing in America’s insatiable craze for heads up drag racing. The 8.5 concept started at Ohio Valley Dragway in Louisville Kentucky nearly nine years ago amongst a small group of racers recognizing the need to preserve the true heritage of drag racing for the grassroots racer on a budget. The vision and concept is based historically from a time when racers worked with a factory production car using nothing but home grown ingenuity to make a championship winning race car. It’s about going fast, doing more with less, a very small 26 x 8.5” tire, and a huge challenge of wits.

Outlaw 8.5 is the likely the last class of its type with a purpose-built budget modality written into the rules to keep it in the hands of the grassroots drag racer. Meaning the whole intent is targeted at keeping it from becoming an unlimited class, going the same way as Outlaw 10.5, Limited Street, and Drag Radial where money has split the competition odds.

The Outlaw 8.5 sensation is rapidly spreading through the racing community underground simply through word of mouth and social networking. There are no neon signs or commercial ads and to find Outlaw 8.5 those interested will have to dive into the sub-culture at the heart. In this article we take a look at the rise of Outlaw 8.5, what and who is hot on the scene, and the creators who ambitiously pioneered the class.

Vern House of Vern House Race Cars in Indiana is really the pioneer of Outlaw 8.5 racing. In the early days, the racers did not have a working tire that would run down the track and cars were a bit unstable. House worked extensively with Hoosier to finally come up with a tire stable enough to hold this small tire class on the track. Cars outfitted with the 26 x 8.5” tire are capable of smoking them at 1000 feet and black track their way down the strip, which is why they have been limited to the 1/8th mile. It would simply be too dangerous in the traditional 1320.

The West Coast Hot Rod Association (WCHRA) in California is the number one growing hot spot for Outlaw 8.5, offering a full year points series with payouts. Rigby, who helped start the association in 2007, added the class for the 2010 season. Rigby is himself a champion with a long history of racing small tire categories and is a great promoter. Along with Long’s ORTC and the WCHRA, Outlaw 8.5 racing will gain some much deserved stability. “It’s already a smashing success with high enthusiasm and a growing car count” said Rigby. Eighth mile racing is really relatively new to West Coast Associations, who have typically stayed with the traditional quarter mile. So far nearly 20 competitors have entered the WCHRA Outlaw 8.5 class between two events. Rigby said “We really wanted to have this class and felt it could be successful. I decided after last year to collapse a couple of my other classes to make room for Outlaw 8.5 in our racing venue. Veteran racers have converted and new racers are attending.”

A Look Into the Rules

While the Mustang has been the predominant car of choice, it was originally hoped that Outlaw 8.5 would lend itself to all makes and models of cars. In fact, any type of car can be entered with the defining point being the 26 x 8.5 tire. Outlaw 8.5 lends itself well to racers in other limited small tires categories and is attractive to the factory muscle car owner not yet ready for the torch and welder.

The rules for Outlaw 8.5 are pretty open for engine combinations. Most people run conventional pushrod combinations, but a few like Daniel Pachar run a Modular combination.

The car itself must retain much of the factory design in a stock configuration with limitations to aftermarket performance suspension items. In short, the rules are actually fairly basic. The frame rails, firewall, and basic interior must be retained in the factory condition. The car must remain stock appearing with working lights. There are no wheelie bars. The transmission must be an OEM style and most racers are running a Powerglide. The rules for the engine are really fairly open. Variation of rules may limit the number of power adders. Outlaw 8.5 cars are heavy weights in comparison to drag racing in general. Weight rules max out around 3400 lbs and the average car is about 3200 lbs.

Some of the Contenders

West Coast racer Mark Washington. Photo by Paul Schmitz

The current West Coast front runner in Outlaw 8.5 is Mark Washington. Washington teamed up with John Fields Motorsports to develop a car for the class. Fields is the backer owning the car, Washington is the driver. The team’s car is an 84 Mustang with a 391 cubic small block Ford with a direct port nitrous setup from Induction Solutions. Washington said, “We are really trying to get a handle on the car right now. I believe we can run this into the 5.0 range and definitely in the teens by the time we have to attend the ORTC event.” The biggest challenge is getting the car off the line on a small tire. Hoosier has helped the team quite a bit with a dedicated 8.5 tire for the class. So far Washington and Fields hold the West Coast Record with a 5.26 @ 136 mph. Washington is a long-time veteran of drag racing with a Championship in Street Challenge and is a front runner of Limited style classes.

Daniel Pachar is one of the guys to beat out of the Triangle Speed Shop in Texas.  The motor is a 282ci 2-valve modular combination with a F2 Procharger. This Mustang has seen plenty of use as it has dated back to the World Ford Challenge days where he won the Cobra Eliminator class in 2005 by running a 9.43 @ 141 mph pass.  Daniel even made his way to the 2010 NMRA season opener in Bradenton, Florida where he was seen running consistently in the high sevens in Super Street Outlaw trim on true 10.5-inch tires.  Pachar ran consistent 5.20s in the eighth in Outlaw 8.5 trim. Pachar won the ORTC 8.5 race with a 5.160 @ 143.16 mph.

Daniel Pachar's Mod motor powered Cobra

The London Dragway in London, Kentucky currently serves as the area die hard in the birthplace for the Outlaw 8.5 class running regular events throughout the year. Team Mitchell/Connolly, composed of Eric Mitchell, Martin Connolly, and Connolly’s wife Michelle have been dominating the sport in Kentucky, winning every event in the 2009 season and the first two events of 2010.

The team runs a 434 cubic inch small block nitrous-assisted Ford Mustang. For all practical purposes they are the 2009 Outlaw 8.5 Champions though the London Dragway is not currently running a points series as of yet. While at start, class competitors ran the 1/8th mile in the mid six second range, the Mitchell/Connolly team was the first to run in the 5.60’s and again first in the 5.20’s. Mitchell is the team’s driver and owns the engine, while Connolly owns the car and does all the tuning and maintenance. It’s said that Mrs. Connolly can toss tires with the best and is a great all around working crew member. The team built the car in three months’ time from the ground up in Connolly’s shop. They will definitely be a strong contender at the National War and a team to watch.

Carolee Epperson, also of Kentucky, is the only female racer we could find racing in Outlaw 8.5 anywhere. So far her best time is a 5.43 @132mph. The car is a bright yellow Mustang currently powered by a 327 cubic inch turbo engine. Her husband Charles built the car for her in 2008 as a labor of love following an accident that held the family out of racing the year before. They have been working together on the project to make improvements and are currently trying to get a handle on the turbo setup.

Carolee Epperson is the lone woman racer in Outlaw 8.5

Local Tracks that Make Outlaw 8.5 Racing Happen

Starting right at the top, the hottest thing to hit Outlaw 8.5 is the class invitation to the Outlaw Radial Tire Championship (ORTC) Boost vs. No Boost series seasons finals held at the South Georgia Motorsports Park (SGMP) October 22-23, 2010. Dubbed on the Internet as the National War. The project to include Outlaw 8.5 in the ORTC event is being spearheaded by Tim Rigby of the West Coast Hot Rod Association and John Mattingly in a joint effort with ORTC promoter Donald Long.

Though Outlaw 8.5 was born in Kentucky, the area has struggled somewhat to keep any type of points series alive. The Ohio Valley Drag way has expanded into an Outlaw Street event, which has strayed from the original intent for Outlaw 8.5. Vern House organized many single events at Ohio Valley as recently as 2009. Attempts to organize events in Michigan and other tracks in this region have been short lived. John Mattingly, who has been involved with Outlaw 8.5 for about six years explained, “One of our problems has been a changing of the guard, promoters either unable to follow through or attract enough interest in the class to keep it going. As a result car counts fell off significantly.”

Daniel Pachar was the winner of the Outlaw 8.5 class at ORTC SGMP.

Texas has more liberally organized events for the Outlaw 8.5 racer. While traditional rules have limited the class to no wheelie bars and bolt on factory replacement parts, Texas allows wheelie bars and a full square tube chassis. Events are run through the High Velocity Impact racing series as the Texas 8.5. 2010 lists a full calendar of events slated mostly for the Evadale Raceway near Houston. In the most recent event held on June 26th 2010, Kenny Hubbard ran a 5.38 @ 140 mph to take the win in his Nova. He is noted to be the current Texas racer to beat. Jay Knot is the 2009 Texas 8.5 Champion.

Outlaw 8.5 has been isolated to certain areas of the country with hot pockets that have waxed and waned in success over the years. Races were sporadic single events or short lived series with marginal turnout, though Vern House, a racer himself and small tire enthusiast, worked tirelessly to keep events alive at the Ohio Valley Dragway. In 2009 John Mattingly also a dedicated enthusiast and House as lone activist for the class, picked a grudge war over the internet between competitors primarily in Kentucky and Texas. Racers debated furiously over who had the fastest car, over rules, combinations, and what modifications should be allowable to constitute a true Outlaw 8.5 car.

While Mustangs seem to be the car to have in Outlaw 8.5, there are a few that choose a different route.

The heart of the debate is still to this day who had gone the fastest with the least, which captures the spirit originally intended for the class. All the keyboard talk and debates finally turned into the North vs. South World Finals. House set up the event, found sponsors, did the promotions, and scraped up a purse. The event was held at the Holly Springs Dragway in Mississippi last October, which allowed participants to split the difference in travel time. It marked the first national effort for a battle of Outlaw 8.5 racers. “The racers who participated in North vs. South held nothing back putting whole heart into every round,” said Mattingly. In the end, it was Texas 8.5 that came out triumphant and a new Outlaw 8.5 record was set at 5.23 @ 140.45 mph by Luke Harvey. Mike Buttafuco, also of Texas 8.5, was crowned the winner running a personal best of 5.31 beating the fast guys with a consistent run at the competition.

Outlaw 8.5 Racing is Definitely Here to Stay

As stated in the beginning, Outlaw 8.5 has been promoted in the underground of the grassroots racing culture. The best place for racers to become involved and ask questions about this growing class is in a special Outlaw 8.5 forum thread on Yellow Bullet’s “Let’s Talk Drag Racing” section. Racers, promoters and enthusiast hang out chatting daily about nothing else but Outlaw 8.5.

Outlaw 8.5 is a growing phenomenon that has finally received the push its needs to get into the mainstream of racing. These cars are thrilling wheel standing factory production racing machines built by the ingenuity of the grassroots drag racer. The class offers something for everyone, is comparatively affordable, and is tons of fun for all involved.

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