On Saturday afternoon, second-generation and multi-talented racer Lizzy Musi stormed to the quickest 1/8-mile nitrous oxide-assisted Pro Mod pass in history during the second round of eliminations at the PDRA Fall Nationals in Darlington, South Carolina. Musi, in a winning effort, clocked a 3.615 at 208.62 mph, and nearly equaled it a round later with a 3.618 in the quickest side-by-side Pro Nitrous race ever, opposite of Jim Halsey (Halsey’s 3.623 defeated her on a holeshot). For her father and renowned engine builder, Pat Musi, it was the latest in a series of record-breaking performances by competitors relying on his horsepower to dominate the headlines in the latter half of the 2019 season.
In fact, Lizzy’s lap wasn’t even the only nitrous Pro Mod record set with Musi power that day.
For Pat, a legend in his own right who has earned as much of a reputation for his engine building and tuning prowesses as he did as a champion driver, that success has been the result of equal parts teamwork and old-fashioned hard work.
“We’re lucky that we work with customers who really work on their combination. We had some guys who moved to the superchargers who were saying it’s the engine, the engine, the engine. It’s not always the engine; the engine is a proven combination and I couldn’t be prouder of what we’ve got, and we’re going to get better,” Pat says. “Over the winter we’ve got some stuff lined up to R&D and dyno, and it’s just going to keep getting better. The engine that all of us have is the latest and greatest, but we’re working on the cars, and it’s all of it — I mean from the front bumper to the rear bumper.”
We’re just working on the cars, working on the tune-up, just nitpicking it. We‘re not going to quit….we’re going to keep at it and keep creeping up on it, because we’re really on to some stuff.
At the same time Lizzy was resetting the 1/8-mile marks, four hundred miles North of Darlington, another Musi customer, Harry Pappas and his driver, Dean Marinis, were shattering the 1/4-mile record book with their 1969 Camaro at the Superchargers Showdown at Maryland International Raceway with an incredible 5.57-second, 255 MPH blast. Lizzy’s and Marinis’ marks came just one week after longtime Musi-powered racer Rickie Smith claimed his latest NHRA Pro Mod victory at St. Louis, and two weeks after radial-tire racer Marcus Birt clocked the quickest 1/8-mile nitrous run in history and Tommy Franklin reset the 1/8-mile nitrous Pro Mod record, both at the Shakedown Nationals in Virginia. To say it’s been a whirlwind would be an understatement, but despite all the public pessimism in the offseason about nitrous cars, Pat’s confidence never wavered.
“It takes a while to get everything together, and the gains that we’ve made are marginal, because they’re a hundredth at a time, but they add up. I was talking to Dean this morning and he’s already asking when we’re going to test over the winter. We’re not done yet. You watch: in Virginia, we’re going to get into the 3.50s. We’ve heard from the other teams that they’re all coming loaded…well all I can tell them is they better, because we are,” Musi says matter-of-factly.
Musi and his staff in Mooresville, North Carolina are working on development of new in-house cylinder heads and camshaft profiles for the 959 cubic-inch engines that, in time, should help propel customers to performances even greater than those established in 2019. But beyond the numbers, it’s the impeccable reliability of the engines that gives Musi pride.
“That’s part of my work as an engine builder. Everybody asks me if I read plugs — I don’t. They want to know how I come up with my tune-up….well I come up with the tune-up when I disassemble the engine and fix the things that I think are a weak link and constantly evolve and work on it. I think that’s part of our success: that we don’t have to worry about the motor. I’m not saying we can’t go out there and hurt a piston, but something pretty well has to go haywire. We’re just really able to keep our stuff together, and I couldn’t be happier about that part of it,” he says.
“Our motor came back in one piece,” Musi goes on to say. “We went two .61’s in a row and we’re ready to go to Virginia with it. Other teams have reached their edge and they’re trying to jam nitrous in them, and that’s not the way to do it, because they’re blowing them up trying to keep up with us. We’re just working on the cars, working on the tune-up, just nitpicking it. We‘re not going to quit….we’re going to keep at it and keep creeping up on it, because we’re really on to some stuff. You’re going to see a fifty in Virginia, and I hope it’s us.”
You watch: in Virginia, we’re going to get into the 3.50s. We’ve heard from the other teams that they’re all coming loaded…well all I can tell them is they better, because we are.
Beyond the continual development of the cars and engines, Musi cites the people he has in his corner that make the difference, noting how Justin Elkes of Modern Racing has taken to Lizzy’s no-prep Camaro “as if it were his own,” and Pro Mod racer Chad Green offering the use of his hauler so that Lizzy can attend an upcoming No Prep Kings filming as recent examples.
“We have strong teams and everyone pulls together. We all work together — me, Chad, Dean, we all pull for one thing,” Musi says, noting how his core group of customers work in unison for the greater good of the nitrous combination, from Pro Modified to Radial versus The World and Lizzy and Kye Kelley’s No Prep Kings efforts. “That’s what makes a good team: surrounding yourself with good, reliable people,” he says.
The high of these fall months haven’t been without their lows, however.
In September, Green, for whom Musi serves as crew chief, was injured in a high-speed crash at the NHRA U.S. Nationals that brought his season to early conclusion. Green is recovering from his injuries and plans to return in Gainesville next spring. And following back-to-back No. 1 qualifying efforts and his aforementioned victory at St. Louis, the NHRA controversially penalized Rickie Smith and the rest of the nitrous cars a whopping 75-pounds — a topic that quickly changes Musi’s tone.
“What they did to Rickie Smith was a punch at him and a punch at me as an engine builder. How in the world can you penalize our nitrous combination and not penalize the blower cars, when they were dead even? Everyone saw it, everyone knows it. I mean how can you explain it? Rickie and Mike Castellana were back and forth, within a hundredth of each other…how much closer can you get? So you penalize us and don’t touch those cars. Without using any curse words, I was really nice to Ned [Walliser, NHRA Vice President, Competition], I’ve been a gentleman, I’ve been trying to work with him to get some 959 guys to come over. But I called him up and said, ‘you’re going to hear the Pat that you’ve heard about now.’ He said, ‘well what do you mean?’ And I said, ‘what in the [expletive] are you looking at?’ ”
“Can you blame me for being pissed?” Musi goes on to say. “This was a direct hit at Rickie and at me…that’s how we feel about it. We’ve had it with NHRA. I don’t give a damn what they do…I’m not interested in going to that circus. Chad is going to run over there next year and I’ll help him all I can, but me bringing Lizzy over there…no way. I’m predicting now that they’re going to ruin this class now that they’ve taken it over. That’s my prediction and I hope I’m not right, because I love Pro Mod with all my heart, but I won’t race the rulebook.”
Those challenges, however, cannot possibly overshadow a season marked by incredible — perhaps ‘stunning’ is the proper terminology — performances in the face of increasing cynicism from the outside. It’s redemption at its finest, as Pat Musi and those he surrounds himself with have, in short order, removed any doubt as to the ongoing vitality of the nitrous oxide engine combination. And if it gets better from here, you’d better hang on to your hats.