It all started on a whim. The idea was to have an invitation-only shootout of some of the country's hottest Mustangs in order to highlight the potential this new breed of musclecar had. While different enthusiast magazines from all around the country had done project cars of their own, no one had ever invited all of these machines together in one place to battle head-to-head. Organizers of events such as the Stormin' Norman 5.0 Invitational at the Ford Motorsport Nationals soon picked up on the idea, which later spawned the Fun Ford Weekend and then the National Mustang Racing Association series. Parts began to flood the aftermarket as people re-discovered the Ford Mustang as economical and easy to modify. It was among the best of times for Blue Oval enthusiasts.
EVOLUTION OF THE SPECIES
When the near-stock "Mean Mr. Mustang" of magazine editor Steve Collison broke into the 13s in the late-'80s, people were amazed. Detroit hadn't produced a small-block car capable of numbers like that in well over a decade. It wasn't long before enthusiasts began buying these cars in huge numbers, bolting on nitrous kits, and vying to become the first into the 12-, 11-, and 10-second zone. By 1990, one magazine's invitation-only shootout averaged 11.82 seconds between the ten quickest cars. The response was phenomenal. Subsequent shootouts saw the average times dip into the 10s and then into the 9-second range in 1995. Gene Deputy gained fame as having the world's quickest and fastest 5.0 Mustang later that year when he ran an 8.17 at 170 mph. Mike Ragusa was the first in the 7s with Jason Betwwarda's turbo ragtop 5.0 not long after that. Bill Devine lowered that record with a 7.72 at 185 mph in a twin-turbo Mustang in 1998 at Englishtown. While turbo Mustangs were posting all of the big numbers, they were initially not legal for Pro 5.0 action, but became so some years later. Doug Mangrum was the first legal Pro 5.0 to run under 8 seconds in April of 1998. Then, the became the first to reach into the 6-second zone three years later. John Gullet was the first to run 200 mph in one of these cars at the Fun Ford season opener in 2001.
Other names like Stormin' Norman Gray, Donnie Walsh, Sr., George Greco, Jr., Pete Misinsky, Joe and Paul DaSilva, Jim LaRocca, Jon Bennet, Rick Anderson, Ken Boomsa, Craig Radovich, Jim Briante, Donnie Walsh, Jr., and Les Baer all added to the legend of the sport. Of these, only Joe DaSilva and Donnie Walsh, Jr. are still racing today.
THE GOLDEN AGE OF PRO 5.0
By 1998, Pro 5.0 was beginning to replace Pro Street as the most popular category in the world of street-legal racing. Most of the cars were in the 8-second range with nitrous and centrifugal blowers being the power adders of choice. Mustangs with 10.5-inch tires that competed regularly in NMCA Super Street were able to run in Pro 5.0 as well at that point. Although a 5.0 Mustang hadn't been produced since 1995, standardized rules and plenty of media attention from three different enthusiast magazines provided a lot of exposure for both racers and sponsors alike, and popularity zoomed. Unbeknownst to the casual observer, however, was the fact that most of the cars in this class were running larger 351-Windsors, which were bored and stroked to over 400 ci. The World Ford Challenge also debuted that year in Bowling Green, Kentucky, to an overflow crowd of people and cars. This was the first time that Pro 5.0 racers had a chance to compete for big bucks. Doug Mangrum won ten grand at that event and a place in the history books.
By 1999, Pro 5.0 cars were beginning to morph from back-halved machines with automatics to tube frame cars that still incorporated the stock firewall and strut towers in order to comply with the rules. Automatics gave way to Liberty five-speeds and Lencos. Turbochargers, which at one time were only found in exotic road racers and in some dragstrip match racers, began to gain acceptance due to another upstart sanctioning body outside of Fun Ford. While the turbo cars frequently led the field in qualifying, they were often easy prey to slower cars during eliminations because of their slower reaction times.
THE BEGINNING OF THE END
At the close of 1999, occasional 20-car field events with the quickest runs in the 7.80s showed that the state of affairs in Pro 5.0 racing was pretty healthy. Elapsed times had been going downward by about a tenth and a half each season. The 2000 season, however, saw the smaller-cubic-inch turbocharged cars go from pretenders to contenders and then on to owners of the Pro 5.0 crown as Joe DaSilva won a Pro 5.0 title with a 7.39/191.51-mph conquest over fellow turbo racer Bill Rimmer, Jr. While not all of the turbo cars were that quick or fast, the number of entries began to steadily suffer as the fields went quicker and faster at each race. Safety concerns about the advanced e.t.'s and extreme speeds of these 3,000-pound cars prompted a new 25.1C tech spec for cars capable of going under 7.50 seconds. Serious changes were made to the rulebooks between 2000 and 2001 to not only accommodate the new chassis spec, but also to try and even the competition between the blower, nitrous, and turbocharged entries. It was a job that no one really wanted to do but a necessary one nevertheless.
While the initial result was an influx of new cars from racers like Bill Glidden, Brandon Switzer, Donnie Walsh, Brit Floyd, Steve Grebeck, and others, the new rules, revised chassis specs, and tremendous increase in performances, hurt participation. Compounding that problem was the fact that, while Pro 5.0 rules were once essentially the same everywhere, racers began to find that differences between the various sanctioning bodies meant that they wouldn't be able to run both series as easily. The result was that, despite a significant increase in prize money, the number of entries was significantly down.
CURRENT STATE OF AFFAIRS
Coming into the '02 season, there were high expectations for a great season of racing between Steve Grebeck, Bill Rimmer, Jr., Chuck Samuel, and John Gullett. Fun Ford's new revised rules for 2002 promised that this season would offer the quickest and fastest racing anywhere in Pro 5.0. A season of promise began to turn ugly, however, when former Fun Ford Pro 5.0 champ Jim Heavner was injured in a pre-season testing mishap that ultimately ended his career. Serious crashes involving former Pro Street champions Tony Christian and Pat Musi gave Pro 5.0 drivers something to think about, since their cars were running similar numbers. Those unspoken fears were realized in the first race of the season when a crash involving Grebeck and Rimmer resulted in the death of the former and ended the season for the latter. Another crash at the third Fun Ford event of the year happened when Chuck Samuel flipped his car over at Atlanta.
Those incidents coupled with repeated rules changes and the high cost of racing a 6-second, 200-mph-plus car resulted in small fields of just a handful of cars at many events, despite new entries from Randy Eakins and Jim Summer. Rumors that some racers had thrown in the towel and that one of the sport's biggest names would only race if he was paid appearance money left what was once the strongest category of street legal-type racing in disarray.
While Fun Ford attempted to answer that problem by raising payouts and then allowing IHRA Pro Stock cars to be allowed into the class, the response at mid-season could only be characterized as mixed at best. While Pro 5.0 drivers seemed to be split as to whether this was a good idea or not, most privately acknowledged that something had to be done to get more entries into the fields if they were going to keep attracting fans. The World Ford Challenge drew just 11 entries for their event while other independent events began to look for different ways to draw spectators.
Although the handful of teams that are left have done their part to put on a show, their extreme performances have actually worked against them, as it has discouraged others from jumping into the competition and left little in the cars for the fans to identify with. While the bloom may not have fallen off the rose quite yet, there are some thorny issues yet to resolve if Pro 5.0 is going to flower and thrive again.
WFC SMACKS ANOTHER HOME RUN
Now in its fifth year, the annual World Ford Challenge showed no signs of slowing down at St. Louis. Fans were thrilled to see NHRA Pro Stock legend Bob Glidden try his hand at heads-up, street-legal racing when he qualified seventh and then made it to the finals in Street Outlaw. While Glidden seemed set up for a fairy tale ending, Dan Millen's 7.89 at 180.77 mph allowed him to cross the finish line first for the win. Pro 5.0 was won by former NMCA champ Randy Eakins over two-time defending champion Billy Glidden.
Renegade saw an all-star final round between Bob Kurgan and former Pro 5.0 pioneer Jim LaRocca. Kurgan came out as the surprise winner with a 9.16 to a 9.14 victory thanks to a .085-second holeshot. Hot Street was won by former Chevy racer Scott Budisalich with a 9.22 over Kurt Neighbor's 9.20 with another holeshot. Steve Torkelson won Real Street over Paul Wiley. Lee Howie came from the number-one qualifying position to claim the win in Wild Street over Bill Lovelace while Gene Hindman did the same in Pure Street over Dwayne Barbaree. Factory Stock was won by Troy Carter.
In ET Bracket action, Alan Braasch won Mod Motor over Shawn Johnson while John Brady won Open Comp over David Lanman. There were two different Lightning eliminators at St. Louis this year. Johnny Lightning was the winner in Pro Lightning over Shane Landis while the street version of this class was won by Vernon Jones. Willie Figueroa won the diesel truck portion of the event, which was being contested for the first time. Jon Pickering, Jim Winters, Jr., and Mike St. Clair were the winners in the three different ET Bracket Challenge classes.
WELLS and HINES CLOSE IN ON NMCA TITLES
NMCA began the second half of their '02 season in fine style at U.S. 131 Dragway in Martin, Michigan. Mustangs dominated in Limited Street by grabbing the top five qualifying spots with Rob Wells leading the pack with an 8.31 at 166.82 mph. Wells, who runs a '93 352-powered Mustang out of Tampa, Florida, went on to win the event over Cuy Richardson and extend his series points lead. Mustang racer Phil Hines left Michigan with the points lead as well in the EZ Street championship points race with his win over Bob Curran. Anthony DiSomma won his second race in three Super Mod final round appearances in yet another Mustang while Dave Rudisell was the winner in Traction Advantage.
After that, it was Chevys all the way as Pat Musi and Marc Dantoni won Pro Street and Pro Outlaw Street, respectively. In what has become one of the most exciting championship races of the year, Dale Pittman's win over Bruce Poulos moved him to within six points of Darrell Thomas in Nostalgia Pro Street while Jim MacKenzie's win in Pro Nostalgia moved him into contention for the series title. Randy Lambert won his first event of the year in Super Street while Rock Moroso grabbed the Hot Street title.
Brian Merrick climbed to within three points of Nostalgia Super Stock points leader John Gifford with his win at Michigan. Evan Nichols, Bruce Lagory, Jim Johnson, and Clarence Harding were also class winners at this event.
Steve Grebeck's death in the...
Steve Grebeck's death in the very first Ford race of the '02 season stunned many in the Pro 5.0 community. Several people began to openly question if cars had gotten too quick and fast.
After debuting this new car...
After debuting this new car in 2001, Bill Glidden was forced to stretch the wheelbase, add a longer Pro Stock nose, and switch over to a NOS fogger system to keep up with the competition.
Bucking the trend of new cars...
Bucking the trend of new cars in the sport is Tim Huston's Mustang, driven by Jim Summer, that was introduced in mid-2002 with an ATI ProCharger blower combination and all of the latest aerodynamic tricks.
Anthony DiSomma proved there...
Anthony DiSomma proved there is life after Pro 5.0 by running successfully in NMCA Super Modified with this nitrous small-block car. DiSomma had won two events in three final rounds by mid-season.
In an effort to boost sagging...
In an effort to boost sagging fields, Fun Ford opened up Pro 5.0 to IHRA Pro Stock cars such as Jason Collin's 812ci Mustang. Collins has been a perennial top ten finisher in IHRA while also competing at some NMCA events.
One of the most innovative...
One of the most innovative entries ever in Pro 5.0 was J.R. Granatelli's Mustang, which ran half of the '01 season with a 5.4L turbocharged cammer motor. The car was eventually retired when it proved to be noncompetitive.
Rapidly changing rules has...
Rapidly changing rules has quickly outdated many of Pro 5.0's best-known cars. Doug Mangrum (near lane) became the first to run in the 6-second zone last year but now has trouble keeping pace with cars like John Gullett's former Pro Stock car in the opposite lane.
Many racers have simply thrown...
Many racers have simply thrown in the towel. Brandon Switzer put all of his equipment up for sale after hurting more parts than it was worth in an effort to run Pro 5.0 with this nitrous Mustang.
Chuck Samuel's 6.49 blast...
Chuck Samuel's 6.49 blast at 220 mph in Kevin Marsh's Pro 5.0 Mustang at the Fun Ford Weekend event in Richmond made him the quickest and fastest small-block doorslammer anywhere in the sport of drag racing.
Canadian racer Joe DaSilva...
Canadian racer Joe DaSilva has found the going tough after taking 2001 off to rebuild his car to adapt to the new rules.
Randy Lambert of Falls Church,...
Randy Lambert of Falls Church, VA, earned his first career victory in Super Street at Milan, MI, with this turbocharged '98 Camaro SS.