A snaking bolt of heat lightning screwed itself into the ground with a grudge, the flash illuminating the interior of the truck I was driving. The thunder took a minute to bounce off the far wall of the canyon and back across the moonscape right outside of Reno, Nevada. I drove on. In the distance was a shimmering horizon of gleaming glass and white rectangular boxes that seemed to hover over the dust. The chain of trailers was the only clue to the existence of Top Gun Raceway in Fallon, Nevada, and John Calvert's Stock Eliminator Cobra Jet Mustang was waiting there for me to drive it.
Up until that exact moment, I thought I had earned the creds to drive the beast in competition. Roy Hill had tried to bring me to tears in his driving school, Funny Car champion Jack Beckman had shown me how to look past the horizon on a 9-second Pro Gas blast, and even Bob Tasca III had schooled me on how to tiptoe through the 133⁄8 inches between the start beams.
I was no virgin in Calvert's car. Ultra-traction Famoso in Bakersfield had used her charms to give me a precious string of wheelstanding passes on her sacred flanks. But now in the desert waste, with the graybeard heroes of Division 7 waiting to see what I could do, I didn't feel so confident. The stress was audible.
There are more unwritten rules in Stock Eliminator than the couple of pages in the NHRA Rulebook let on, and I was about to learn them one excruciating step at a time. My mistakes were to be made in front of an unsympathetic crowd of regulars and an NHRA photographer who could smell a newbie from 1,320 feet. I had my Super Gas, Super Stock, and ET licenses, but my degrees reflected book learning and racing schools, not combat scenarios. It wouldn't be enough.
As I stood in the tech trailer, my mind began to wander. "What class are you in?" I didn't answer. "What class?" I snapped out of my reverie and stared at the tech inspector who was now in my personal space. He repeated, "You know, A, B, C, D?"
John Calvert runs the '10 Mustang and his '64 Ford Thunderbolt both in the A/SA class. The first A represents power to weight, and here's how it works: The manufacturer, in this case Ford, comes up with a factory horsepower rating for the engine and weight for the car that is agreed on by the NHRA and posted in the Official NHRA Stock Car Classification Guide. The car needs to be showroom available and have a minimum run of 500 cars or, in the case of the Cobra Jets that have no VIN, have a minimum of 50 cars for sale.
The '10 Cobra Jet came from the factory with a 3,310-pound/375hp rating, making it what is called a natural 8.82 B/SA index car. When the car is new, you can move up or down one class or stay at the natural class and run the minimum weight. Calvert chose to run the car in A/SA, or A weight class, Stock eliminator, with an automatic transmission. The factor is 8 pounds per horsepower, plus 170 pounds for the driver.
These cars are NHRA classified on a national scale by engine family. The '10 Cobra Jet was offered with one of five optional engines approved by the NHRA. Two are supercharged 5.4L V8s (the difference being the type of supercharger), and three naturally aspirated versions: a 302-based 352-inch engine, a 4.6L 3V, and a 351 Windsor-based 428. Calvert chose the 428 because he believed the weight required to run a big supercharged engine would make the combination high-maintenance.
The 428 cars were rated from the factory at 375 hp, and as they went out and raced, the NHRA noticed that the e.t.'s were much lower than this power-to-weight ratio should be and started to do what racers refer to as adding horsepower. The 428-powered A/Stock Cobra Jet horsepower factor crept from 375 hp to 416 hp, bumping the minimum weight to 3,498 pounds.
Before the race, you make the decision regarding what class you want to run. Then you can adjust the weight of the car using a maximum of 100 pounds of lead ballast that goes into a box into the trunk, or add or remove fuel. Once you are through tech, however, you are going to race the class you chose.
In addition to the national standard for power to weight, there is also a national index that is corrected for each track. For race day, the index was to be 11.44. To be competitive, I needed to run 0.900 under that number, a concept that had eluded me until race day.
The script on the hood says NOHC or No Overhead Cams. The engine for this Cobra Jet uses a
The rear wheels are 15x10 Weld AlumaStars. Ford Racing offers a Goodyear 30.0x9.0-15 Dragw
The front wheels are AlumaStar 2.0 15x3.5s with Hoosier 26.0x4.5-15 Drag Fronts. The Stran
This tidy setup is a Jones Racing Products lightweight alternator, pulleys, and a billet b
Except for a bank of switches and the shifter, the interior looks like a stock GT. A close
The log book and weather station tell you everything you need to know about the dial-in. O