My how the tides have turned.
Taking full advantage of newly-permitted engine and power adder packages for 2019, namely a slightly larger but significantly more efficient Whipple supercharger, the Ford Cobra Jet contingent turned the Factory Stock record upside down at the NMCA’s season-opening Muscle Car Mayhem event in Bradenton, Florida, setting the stage for what should be a barn-burner at the NHRA’s Gatornationals and the rest of the season to come.
To this point, only Geoff Turk had ever recorded a 7-second run in NMCA competition, and only three — Leah Pritchett, Mark Pawuk, and Arthur Kohn — had done so on the NHRA side. A staggering 15 competitors recorded 7-second runs in Bradenton, and many of them did so not by a small margin, but with all the force of Thor’s hammer.
At least two others who didn’t do so this weekend — reigning NMCA champ Turk and Pro Stock ace Bo Butner — are virtual locks to go into the sevens in the near-term and increase that number.
This of course was not unexpected; pre-season testing numbers had been widely publicized, and even prior to qualifying in Bradenton a number of 7.8-second laps were posted, providing a taste of what to expect when it counted on Friday evening. In that opening session, the Holley 7-Second Club was quickly filled as Scott and Leonard Libersher, Carl Tasca, and Chuck Watson all gained entry. Watson kicked things off with a 7.880 — nearly .05-seconds quicker than the existing national record of 7.929 set by Mark Pawuk — and was followed by the Libersher’s with side-by-side runs of 7.97 and 7.93 and Tasca and Gardner Stone with an incredible side-by-side 7.82 to 7.85 contest. Paul Roderick joined the fray with a sideways, off-the-throttle 7.96, and the hits just kept coming from there.
As impressive as Tasca’s 7.82 was, however, it was merely pedestrian to the efforts of the father-son duo of Bill and Drew Skillman. Bill, driving his Chris Holbrook-powered 2014 model Cobra Jet, reeled off a jaw-dropping 7.731 at 176.47 mph, and was followed two pairs later by his son, a former Pro Stock standout, with an incredible 7.704 at 176.29.
“We got after it last night” Bill told Dragzine. “The weather conditions were good, and Kurt [Johnson] does a fabulous job here. It’s like Disney World. You’re not going to run these kind of numbers at an NHRA event with the totally different prep … it’s just not going to happen, but even here with the little 9-inch tires we are getting wheel spin on the top end.”
Drew added, “I was really surprised … I didn’t think the car ran that good. I knew we were on a decent pass, our fastest pass for sure, but that was only the third run on the car.”
Drew’s 2019 model Mustang sports a four-link rear suspension while Bill’s 2014 has a three-link arrangement, so while the chassis are very different to set up, the engine, tuning and gear ratios are the same.
“It surprised us to run that fast … we were hoping to be somewhere under 7.80, so we didn’t think we were going to run that quick,” Bill added.
The front-running Dodge entries of Leah Pritchett and Mark Pawuk, whose dominant performance advantage a year ago led to late-season rule changes from the NHRA, were mired back in pre-2019 territory: Pritchett at 7.93 and The Cowboy at 7.99.
Drew Skillman’s monstrous run was some .225-seconds quicker than the previous national record. More importantly, consider that prior to calendar-year 2019, no Ford Mustang Cobra Jet had ever gone 7-anything, not in competition and not in testing. As such, a three-tenths—of-a-second jump in performance is both historic and all but certain to result in forthcoming rule changes from the NHRA technical department to promote parity in one of the hottest classes in the sport.
There are currently 32 entries for this weekend’s Gatornationals, and among them are strong-running cars that were not in attendance at Bradenton, including Kohn, David Barton, last year’s championship runner-up Stephen Bell, Dodge runner Allen Johnson, and Randy Taylor.