The NMRA’s Top Ten Most Memorable Moments

Over the course of more than a decade of operation, the NMRA has become the world’s foremost doorslammer Mustang racing sanction, outlasted several prominent competitors, and created countless great moments in drag racing. Today, the series continues to introduce new fans to the sport, with categories ranging from six-second Pro Outlaw 10.5 to the “Why aren’t you out there racing your car instead of sitting in the stands?” Open Comp, Modular Muscle, and True Street classes. Though there are thousands of stories through the years, we sat down and came up with a list of the Top Ten moments in NMRA history.

A 37-Car Field in SSO – National Trail, 2000

The opening race of the first “full” season of NMRA competition took place at Columbus’ National Trail Raceway, and the fledgling series got off to an amazing start with an actual bump spot in the Super Street Outlaw class. SSO was far different then – today it’s a true-10.5 class, but in 2000 it was a melting pot that pitted full-race Mustangs against legitimate street driven cars. All told, there were no fewer than 37 cars vying for 32 spots (bumped up from 16 originally) in the program, and no less than 17 cars running 8.99 or faster in qualifying.

Pole position went to Chris Derrick with an 8.439 at 172.43, and sped up to an 8.282 at 173 in the first round. The win eventually went to Tim Lynch, but the ladder for that race reads like a who’s who of NMRA racing – Notables included Leo Johnson, Brian Sorby, Bruce Hemminger, Dave Hopper, John Urist, Carlo Catalanotto, Lou Proto, and Joel Howard. One interesting DNQ – Mike Murillo, and his 101mm, 1700 hp Star Car in its first turbocharged incarnation. Traction problems kept Murillo out of the show, but like many others running in that seminal race, he’d go on to big things in NMRA competition.

Job Spetter, Jr. Makes the First Seven-Second Pass In SSO – Bowling Green, 2000

Columbus was literally and figuratively just the beginning for SSO – by the end of the season, there were hints of things to come, and there was no better example of what the future would look like than Job Spetter, Jr’s championship-winning Fox notch. Winning 5 out of 6 races in 2000, Spetter capped the season off with a 7.97-at-177 MPH pass at the finals at Beech Bend Raceway that would capture a long list of firsts: First SSO car in the sevens, first car to run 7’s on a true 28 x 10.5 tire, first “stock” suspension Mustang to run sevens (and still one of a short list with that on the resume, even to this day). Spetter and the car would go on to take another two tenths off that record-breaking performance at the 200o NMRA finals and pick up another 9 miles an hour before they were done in competition, but that’s the thing about firsts – somebody else may go faster, but they’ll never be able to say they did it before he did.

Steve Grebeck Shatters the Pro 5.0 Record with a 6.77 – Maple Grove, 2001

By the second full season of NMRA competition, the premiere Pro 5.0 class had made a huge leap in performance, heralded by Steve Grebeck’s unprecedented charge deep into the sixes. At the 2001 Fun Ford Weekend season opener, Grebeck made the first 200 mile per hour pass in a Pro 5.0 car, running a best ET of 7.01, and followed up with a 6.83 in NSCA Outlaw trim at the Rising Sun Shootout in Maryland. All eyes were on Grebeck for the NMRA Maple Grove round, where the debate about whether a six was possible at full weight would come to an end. Grebeck and his team wouldn’t just rewrite the record book – a 6.77 at 208 would tear it to confetti, and he would go on to run as quick as 6.65 and 213 in the car that would define Pro 5.0 for the rest of its existence in NMRA competition.

Tragically, less than a year later, a catastrophic top-end crash at the FFW 2002 season opener in Orlando would end Grebeck’s life far too soon at age 36, but his legendary accomplishments in Pro 5.0 in such a brief span can never be overstated or forgotten.

Charlie Booze’s Perfect Season – Hot Street, 2004

The naturally-aspirated, no-wheelie-bars Hot Street class is a brutal test of man and machine, which makes Charlie Booze, Jr.’s undefeated 2004 season in the NMRA a remarkable accomplishment, but what’s even more amazing is that he also managed to pull off the 2004 championship in Hot Street’s sister class, NMCA Pro Street, as well. Between the two series, Booze won 13 events that year, had three runner-up finishes in Pro Stock, and was 55-and-4 in round-wins.

Booze continues to campaign the same ’92 hatch he’s run for the past eight seasons, and was the only Hot Street racer to dip into the 8.50’s in 2009. With a slew of new cars out or on the way, Booze is still the man to beat in the NMRA’s premiere all-motor class.

Mike Washington ‘s (Almost) Perfect Season – Factory Stock, 2003

NYC firefighter Mike Washington notched his first NMRA Factory Stock win at the 2002 Bradenton season opener, and went on to finish fourth that year. In 2003, he almost beat Charlie Booze to the punch in the “perfect season” category, getting all the way down to the last round of the last race of the year in Bowling Green still undefeated. In that matchup against Jamie Holten, Washington’s clutch pedal caught on the overtravel stop designed to keep it from going all the way to the floorboard and wouldn’t come back up, costing him the race and the no-hitter for the season.

Though the 2003 championship was his by a mile, 2004 wasn’t nearly as easy, and Washington finished second in points. “We had built a brand-new engine program for Factory Stock, came out, and had our asses handed to us by the four-valve Modular cars,” Washington admits. “We decided that we were done with Factory Stock racing at that point, unless there were major rules changes.” After taking 2005 off, Washington returned to FS in 2006 but subsequently moved up to Real Street, only to once again return to FS where he runs today.

Mike Hauf Wins $20,000 – Pro 5.0, Bradenton 2007

In a bid to encourage car counts and reward the top finishers in each class, for the 2007 season the NMRA unveiled a new ‘shootout’ format that created a race-within-a-race during Saturday qualifying. The first shootout, for the Pro 5.0 class, happened at the Bradenton season opener, and featured $5,000 to win, with Vortech doubling-down and offering a $10,000 bonus if the same driver won Saturday’s shootout and the subsequent regular elimination rounds on Sunday.

Defending class champ Mike Hauf did just that, despite having to run against Tony Bischoff (who had appeared mid-season in 2006 and won every Pro 5.0 round he’d ever been in up to that point) in the shootout finals. A holeshot win in the shootout and a victory over David Schorr in the money round on Sunday meant that all told, Hauf would pocket almost $25k in regular purses, bonuses, and contingency.

The End of Pro 5.0 – Beech Bend, 2007

For seven years, the top rung of Mustang doorslammer drag racing was the NMRA Pro 5.0 class. Over that span, the cars evolved from back-half outlaw style to purpose built tube frame chassis, and elapsed times fell a full second from top qualifier Billy Glidden’s record-setting 7.679 at 174 at that first Columbus race. Racing at the highest level is never inexpensive, but by 2005 the cost of entry – a Pro Mod style roller, competitive engine program, and a rig to haul it around – could easily top a half-million dollars, and in a down economy, the car counts had begun to dwindle.

Another factor in the downturn was the death of Fun Ford Weekend, which had previously provided another venue for top-level teams, but had devolved into a “Battle of the Brands” series before finally ceasing operations at the end of 2008. With as few as three Pro cars in the lanes at some 2007 events, the NMRA had little choice in the matter and quietly ended the class by simply omitting it from the 2008 rulebook, making the World Finals at Beech Bend in 2007 the class’ last hurrah. Some Pro 5.0 racers moved over to the still-viable NMCA Pro Street class, others went ADRL racing, and a few downsized their tires and switched to the up-and-coming Outlaw 10.5 format, which offered numerous one-shot big money events that made better economic sense. Today, Pro Outlaw 10.5 is the NMRA’s top class, and interestingly enough, elapsed times and trap speeds are fairly comparable to the heyday of Pro 5.0.

Jarrett Halfacre Disqualified – Super Street Outlaw, Atco 2008

After wondering out loud how Halfacre could be neck and neck with him to the 330, then put three tenths on him to the stripe with a smaller turbo, Richard Lelsz and his crew dropped the hammer and filed an official protest after Saturday qualifying. Tech inspection revealed a line coming off a CO2 bottle leading to a nitrous-type solenoid concealed in the fender. When asked to remove the body panel so that the “object” in question could be identified, Halfacre refused, packed up the car, and left. The result was a two-year competition ban (subsequently shortened to a single year), and the forfeit of what was, up until then, second place in SSO points for 2008.

The official protest form for Halfacre’s car.

While Halfacre was never explicitly caught cheating (the NMRA was very careful to point out, “There was absolutely NO proof established to support the statement that this driver and vehicle were illegally using nitrous oxide in conjunction with a turbocharger. The basis of this action is based solely on the refusal to cooperate with a formal protest and teardown request.”), the incident polarized the racing community. The silver lining coming out of the Atco suspensions (which also included Brian McCormick’s RS car for valve spring pressure “grossly in excess” of the allowable limit, and Steve Gifford’s FS entry for ported cylinder heads without the applicable added weight) was the clear message that the NMRA tech department wasn’t kidding around about keeping a level playing field.

Tommy Godfrey Breaks into the Tens – Factory Stock, Bradenton 2010

NMRA Factory Stock is the “entry level” heads –up category in the series, but being competitive in the strictly limited, naturally-aspirated class requires pro-level commitment and deep pockets. The holy grail of FS competition has been a ten-second pass, and while several competitors have been brushing against that barrier last year, it would be Tommy Godfrey who would finally break through. He did it in a convincing manner at the 2010 season opener, too, running 10.96 in the third round of qualifying to capture the top spot, then proving it wasn’t a “timing error” with an even quicker 10.89 in the first round of eliminations on Sunday, and yet a third ten (this time with a .92) in the finals against John Leslie, Jr.

What’s even more amazing is the back-story – Godfrey had to work on Friday and sent his crew chief Eric Holliday ahead with the truck and trailer, and he almost didn’t make it to the track. A snow storm in North Carolina and an errant driver crossing over from the other lane damaged the driver’s side of the truck, but left it still rolling. Never let anybody say that the guys in the NMRA’s heads-up rank and file aren’t every bit as dedicated as the big boys.

John Urist Runs 7.29, Sam Vincent Tops it With a 7.28 – Super Street Outlaw, Bradenton 2010

You knew we weren’t going to get all the way through a NMRA history top ten list without mentioning five time Super Street Outlaw champ John “Fireball” Urist, but out of all the many war stories we could pick, perhaps his battle with Sam Vincent at the 2010 season opener is the most appropriate. True champions are defined by their competition, and nowhere is that competition as intense as it is in SSO. Nitrous racer Sam Vincent has been battling the blower and turbo cars for years, and in Bradenton he proved that spray is here to stay in SSO. After Urist laid down a record-eclipsing 7.29 at 194 in Friday’s qualifying, Vincent responded by one-upping him with a 7.28 at 192 the next day to snatch top qualifying honors away from Urist.

In eliminations, a broken converter ended Urist’s day in the first round, and Vincent went out one round later in a 7.38-to-7.34 loss to John Macdonald, but once again the bar for SSO had been elevated and the war between bottle and boost rages on.

Still Counting…

That brings our Mustang drag racing history lesson up to date, but this is a story that’s still being written at every race, and we wanted to give you a chance to share your own NMRA moment here in the comments. Mustang racing is about participation, so don’t be shy – let’s hear what you would nominate to your own NMRA Hall of Fame!

About the author

Paul Huizenga

After some close calls on the street in his late teens and early twenties, Paul Huizenga discovered organized drag racing and never looked back, becoming a SFI-Certified tech inspector and avid bracket racer. Formerly the editor of OverRev and Race Pages magazines, Huizenga set out on his own in 2009 to become a freelance writer and editor.
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