They may be spread from coast to coast, but the drag-race community is really a pretty tight group. That's why when a racer makes news, it doesn't take long for the cell phones to start ringin' and the Net to start buzzin'. That certainly happened last year when Brian Robbins crashed in the preseason, an unknown named Vince Budano started kicking butt, and when Troy Coughlin made his debut. In the shadows of all that, a certain racer quietly made some quantum leaps in his program to become bad news for some other better-known racers. That guy was Chad Morgan, and this is his story.

"I guess you could say I've been racing off and on since I was in high school," Morgan said about his start in the sport. "I started off with an AMC Javelin. I used to go to Memphis every year and did more street racing than anything else. Eventually I got into a Chevy S-10 with a big-block Chevy, and then into a '78 Malibu. In 2002, I drove a car in a Heavy Street that was owned by my brother-in-law, Mike Hammond. We qualified eighth and made it into the third round before we lost. We bought this car about a month after that."

What the two came home with was an '01 Camaro that had been built by Todd Beavis of the now-defunct Beavis Built Race Cars. The car had been running on the West Coast in NHRA competition eliminator and needed a lot of work to convert it into a Pro Streeter, but it was available at a good price. Morgan, who was working as an Auto Tech, added a mid plate, double framerails, and strengthened the four-link.

"We ran the car with a nitrous combination at first," Morgan said. "We tried everything to get it into the 6s, but the best we could ever do was a 7.10. That's when we decided to go with a Rodeck 526 blower motor. We ran a string of 6s right after that."

The team was running well enough to start making some events, but after finishing 13th in Denso Pro Street points in 2004, Morgan was definitely a dark horse. At the beginning of the 2005 season, however, he was right there when qualifying ended with a best of 6.809 at 216.65, which placed him solidly in fourth out of a field of 15 cars. In what was later attributed to sand on the track, Morgan got out of shape during the first round of eliminations, but managed to let the chutes go before he hit the wall. While that incident knocked him out of the race, the damage wasn't as severe as the racer who barrel-rolled his car immediately following Morgan's run.

Crashing a car at the very first race of the year would have been devastating for anyone wanting to run the whole circuit, but fate smiled upon Morgan and crew when the very next event was cancelled due to weather. That left them two months for them to fix the car. In what was initially thought to be a major surprise, Morgan grabbed the first pole of his career at Bowling Green when he carded a 6.719 to lead a 12-car field. That feat was repeated at Cordova when he went even quicker with a 6.668 at 212.43.

Although the car was starting to qualify well, consistency proved to be a stumbling block. Morgan lost in the first round at three of the six events in 2005, which cost him dearly in precious points. The toughest loss came at Martin, when Morgan came up just short against former series champ Steve Miller. Both cars ran side-by-side 6.67s straight down the track, but it was Miller's .062-second holeshot that sent them home early. Even so, this was the team's first full season on the circuit. There was no logbook to consult when they had to cope with varying track and weather conditions. Morgan was learning his lessons from the school of hard knocks. "We went through a lot of pistons and four broken wheelie bars trying to keep up with everybody last year," Morgan said, looking back over the 2005 season. "That, coupled with the crash at Bradenton and too many first-round losses, gave us some lows, but we had some good highlights as well."

There should be more of those highlights in 2006.

Run What You BrungGreg Zoetmulder Gives A New Look To An Old Racing AdageEver have a hot rod you didn't know where to race? That's the situation Greg Zoetmulder has found himself in. Part of that is because hardly anybody runs a truck in a Heads Up class, much less a Jeep. Even so, Greg has become a familiar face on the NMCA scene, and is likely to become more so.

"I just had a love for cars for as long as I can remember," Greg said about his start in racing. "I had a friend who was really into racing and I caught the disease from him. When I went down the track for the first time ever, I knew that was it."

Greg got his '80 Jeep from his family when he was just a kid, and he didn't like it. What he really wanted was a '67 Camaro, but what he received was a CJ7 with a straight-six and an automatic. He drove his Granny Jeep for about two years until he started with some serious modifications. The first step was to yank the six banger and drop a 350 into it. That gave way to a 406 and, all of a sudden, Greg was running in the high-11s. A nitrous kit from a local swap meet later found its way onto the engine, and then it was off to the races again.

"When I started racing it in 2000, it didn't fit into any kind of class because it had fiberglass fenders," Greg said. "So I ran Pro Street Outlaw. I didn't care what people thought. Winning didn't mean much to me. I just enjoyed going down the track. The fact that I was the only retard out there racing in a Jeep made it even funnier."

It wasn't long before Greg was running some 9.90s, thanks in large part to Tony Schroeder of Automotive Engine Specialties, one of Chicago's premier engine builders. He was a regular at his local track for a test 'n' tune, and also ran in NMCA's True Street and Truck and Lightning classes. Recently, Greg carded a career best with an 8.96 at 147 mph. Greg did that with a 400 Chevy small-block with a Dart block, a Cola forged steel crank, Manley rods, and CP pistons making up the bottom end. Dart Sportsman heads ported by Nostalgia Pro Street racer Mike Radnis are used with an Edelbrock Super Victor intake with a single carb prepped by Carburetor Solutions Unlimited. Jim Summers of ProCharger helped spec out an F2 centrifugal blower, which develops approximately 800 hp at the tire at 28 pounds of boost. Precision Turbo provided the specially made air-to-air intercooler. Backing that combination up is a Turbo 400 automatic tranny. MagnaFuel Systems and Automotosports got the nod for doing the fuel system and dyno tuning respectively.

"People move on," Greg said simply when asked if he planned on running any of the same classes he had run before. "It's like growing out of a pair of old shoes. Bob Curran is trying to talk me into running Xtreme Street, but that's one of my favorite classes. I'd be embarrassed to run that class because it is so competitive." Running that class would require a smaller blower and more money in the engine program to get him deeper into the 8s, but that just gives Greg another goal to focus on. Until then, Greg's hot-rod Jeep has brought it to the local guys-and getting ready to bring even more!