At just 29 years of age, Missouri native Daniel Pharris has already accomplished more in life than many twice his age, disproving, at least in his case, that millennial-aged adults don’t understand the value of hard work. Not only does Daniel own and operate one of the nation’s largest and most successful auto salvage businesses, but he also has become one of drag racing’s elite small-tire racers. In fact, he’s the youngest driver to date into the three-second zone on drag radials.
Just a couple of days prior to the Christmas holiday, Daniel was still hard at it, putting in long, tireless hours at his Sikeston-based repairable vehicle salvage yard, 74 Auto. Business is as good as it’s ever been, and he’s looking to expand the operation into Texas, one of his highest volume regions in the country. At the same time, his familiar white Radial vs. The World Mustang is undergoing some significant weight reduction work at KTR Customs in preparation for what he hopes to be a truly breakout season of racing. Indeed, big things lie ahead for this entrepreneurial young man with maturity well beyond his years — but then, that’s really nothing new for him.
Before he had even graduated high school, Daniel was already laying the foundation for what would become a multi-million dollar operation, that today employs himself and 11 others. “When I was young, my dad would buy a wrecked truck and fix it, drive it for a little while, and then sell it. We hardly ever bought new vehicles. When I was 17 or 18, I started buying and selling wrecks myself, and it evolved into a parts business,” he says.
Eventually, he realized that a viable business could be made of flipping vehicles, starting out with three or four vehicles and gradually adding to the inventory as business allowed. “It just kept getting bigger and bigger, and I eventually bought a piece of property here in town, took out a loan, and bought 10 cars here, 10 cars there, and was even buying them in bulk. I started advertising real hard online, and it’s just been growing ever since. I started with four cars, and now we’re up to 180 cars in our inventory right now. It really started to take off when I was in college — the only thing I had to do was sit in my dorm room and sell cars on the Internet,” Daniel says.
“The business I’m in is really a trust game more than anything,” he continues. “You gain customers’ trust and they’ll keep coming back and buying vehicles. Ninety percent of our business is based off internet sales; it’s really just a large customer base that knows who we are and what we sell.”
Indeed, 74 Auto now sells 1,500 to 2,000 vehicles each year to customers all over the world, and the inventory reads like a neighborhood in the Hamptons: Maseratis, Porsches, Corvettes, Mercedes, Jaguars, BMW’s, Dodge Vipers, and many other high-end muscle and sports cars.
While still just toiling with wrecked vehicles as a teenager, Daniel was also getting his feet wet in the sport of drag racing. At 16, his father purchased a 1968 Chevelle for him at auction, complete with a big-block, Flowmaster mufflers, and an old school set of Draglites. The car ran 8.70s in the 1/8-mile at the time. In short order, he and his father found the car with the rods scattered out of it during an outing at the track, effectively ending its drag racing days, but certainly not Daniel’s.
It [the business] really started to take off when I was in college — the only thing I had to do was sit in my dorm room and sell cars on the internet.”
With the seed planted, Daniel got more involved in racing, buying a 1972 Chevrolet Nova to bracket race, before taking the leap to heads-up racing in Jackson Dragway’s Cheap Street class in Tennessee for limited nitrous jet, plate system small-block cars. He followed that up a couple of years later with a silver Mustang with a small-block Chevrolet for True Street-type racing, before going all-in and purchasing a turbocharged SN95 Mustang from Brad Medlock. He repainted the car and ran it in X275 and in Outlaw 275 with a large frame 114 mm turbo with a Panhandle Performance motor under the hood with some success.
“I ran that car until we really started getting into the rules of X275, with weight breaks and everything. That car was kind of heavy and I didn’t really want to cut it up any more than it already was. It would make a great car for someone that didn’t care about weight,” he says.
It was in November of 2013, while at a crossroads in his racing program, that Daniel had the opportunity to buy one of the most iconic drag radial cars the sport has ever seen: the white SN95 owned and driven by John Kolivas to three NMRA championships and a whole host of wins and records in NMRA Drag Radial and Super Street Outlaw, and in the Outlaw 275 classes during the 2000s. A deal was struck between the two friends, and Daniel now had the car he needed to be competitive in arguably the toughest class in all of drag racing.
“John’s car was a little bit lighter, had a better chassis design, and had some other things that were just a little bit nicer than what I had,” Daniel explains. “Plus, I’m all about the cool factor, and I like buying unique things. I thought it would be cool to own that car, which was actually bought originally by Joel Greathouse as a brand new 1995 Cobra. It only had 20,000 original miles on it before they cut it up to make a race car, and it won a bunch of championships, so it certainly had sentimental value. It was cool to be able to own that thing.”
With a 363-inch, single turbo Ford mill built Jeff Burns Racing Engines out of Mississippi for power, Daniel and crew chief Tyler Crossnoe ran X275 extensively in 2014, leaving the car virtually untouched as it was bought, other than moving the seat since it was “damn near to the dash.” Daniel ran a best of 4.59 and was consistently in the 4.60s in X trim that year, winning several races along the way. He suggested though, that in the latter half of 2014, a mixture of things led him to take on a complete transformation of the car over the impending winter for a jump to Radial vs. The World.
“Politics are politics, and I’m not going to say it had nothing to do with my decision — it’s just a part of this kind of racing,” Daniel says. “But the way the [X275] class was going, to be a top contender, for just a little more money I could go 4.0s at 200 mph. The top running X275 motors were getting close in cost to what I could build a 481X for, and everyone was running the expensive lockup transmissions and converters. In my opinion, technology would run away from an X275 car a lot faster than it would a Radial vs. The World car.
But the way the class [X275] was going, to be a top contender, for just a little more money I could go 4.0s at 200 mph.
After hurting their small-block engine in the late summer months and rebuilding it in time to finish the season, the Mustang was completely torn down to begin the six-month-long makeover at Southern Speed Racing (where the car was originally built for Kolivas), under the guidance of Wade Hopkins and his team. All told, only the body rear of the firewall and the roll cage itself remained of the car that Daniel had purchased. The chassis was converted to a double framerail from the nose on back, a completely new rearend and suspension setup was installed, all-new front suspension, carbon fiber interior, and a laundry list of other changes were made to turn it into a lean, mean, radial tire machine.
“We wanted to make sure the car was a top contender, as it always was,” Daniel says. “That’s why we spent the money on it that we did, and went with the people that we did. It was a no-brainer with the combination that we chose for it.”
The combination that Daniel alludes to is a 570 cubic-inch 481X engine, once again built by Burns. Burns’ team utilized Alan Johnson Stage 3 cylinder heads, a Hogan billet intake manifold, and parts from BME (rods), Diamond (pistons), Sonny Bryant (crankshaft), Moroso (oiling system), T&D (shaft mount rockers), Smith Brothers (pushrods), and ATI Racing (harmonic balancer) to complete the build. A FuelTech FT500 fuel injection system and MSD Pro Mag manage the fueling and ignition, with boost provided by a pair of 98 mm Precision turbochargers with Tial wastegates and blowoff valves.
The 25.3-spec chassis sports a Racecraft reared housing and Strange Engineering third member, with new Mark Menscer four-way adjustable shocks on the way. The front suspension is also courtesy of Racecraft, with Santhuff front struts. Strange brakes provide the stopping power on all four corners.
Daniel and Tyler debuted the car in June of 2015, making an impressive run of 4.23 on the first full 1/8-mile hit at Holly Springs, Mississippi. “Everything just started falling into place at that race, and we ended up winning the thing, going 4.13 in the final against DeWayne Mills. I thought right then and there that this was going to be a great season, and it really was,” Daniel says.
In August, he came up just short of winning the 315 radial class at the Street Car Super Nationals in St. Louis, going a then-career best 4.10. Just a handful of days later, Daniel was testing the car in Memphis at a private test session when an injector O-ring pushed out at the conclusion of a monster 4.04-second, 199 mph run, causing significant fire damage to the front half of the car that nearly derailed the promising season.
“We were pretty bummed out that it caught on fire, but were also happy that we’d finally gotten the car to come around and go as fast as we knew it could. We licked our wounds and moved on. I was calling people the next morning on the way home ordering parts for it,” he says.
Not to be deterred, the car was quickly repaired in time to close out the year on a high note. While under repair, Daniel was tapped by Andrew Alepa to drive his top-flight Mustang at No Mercy VI in South Georgia, where he became a member of an exclusive club of drivers to record a three-second run on radials, going a career best 3.99 at 204 mph. At the Fall Brawl at Holly Springs, he was back in his own, freshly-rebuilt car, where he was runner-up and went 4.02. Then, at the Radial Fest in Huntsville, Daniel made his dream a reality with the first three-second run of his own, qualifying No. 1 at 3.99 at 202 mph.
This year, I don’t see any reason that we can’t go 3.80s. We’ve got the power to do it.
“This year, I don’t see any reason that we can’t go 3.80s. We’ve got the power to do it,” he proclaims.
Daniel and his team, which this year will include assistance from renowned tuner Josh Ledford behind the laptop, will be on track in January for testing and plan to hit the ground running for a full season of blower and nitrous car hunting. In particular, they’ll be chasing the championship in the NMCA’s Radial Wars class, while checking off all of the high profile, big money radial races along the way.