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!

Leaving Georgia On Their MindsNew Winners Emerge As 2005 Season Nears Its EndThe NMCA's first visit to South Georgia Motorsports produced several first-time winners during the 4th Annual Barnett Performance NMCA Hot Rod and Muscle Car Nationals, the seventh race of the NMCA Edelbrock Drag Racing Series. At an event with 101.6 degree temperatures and high humidity, racing in itself was an accomplishment.

Despite the less-than-ideal conditions, the new surface at SGMP produced several record runs highlighted by an incredible 195-mph run by Dan Millen in Nitto Tire Super Street in his first final-round win of the year over Bryan Markiewicz. Millen's win was from start to finish as he left before Markiewicz and drove his turbocharged Mustang to a 7.68 over a slower 7.88 run by the nitrous-assisted big-block of Markiewicz. It was Millen's first win in the class in nearly a year because he has spent most of this season trying to get a handle on a new combination. The emotional win was dedicated to fellow Michigan racer Tofie Haddad, who was killed a few weeks earlier in a non-racing accident near his home.

Another first-time winner came in the ranks of Pro Street as veteran racer Troy Coughlin added another event win to his list of accomplishments after capturing his first Denso Pro Street win. Coughlin and his Sonny Leonard-powered Cavalier ousted Terry Duffy and Ryan Hargett before facing Kevin McCurdy and his blown-injected Alan Johnson-powered Trans Am. McCurdy advanced to the finals with a semifinal win over Vinny Budano after Budano's engine broke a connecting rod a little past the eighth-mile.

The supercharged versus naturally aspirated mountain motor final never materialized after McCurdy had trouble with his line lock, forcing the car to lurch forward before the tree was activated, allowing Coughlin to take a leisurely 6.77 at 205 mph jaunt down the quarter-mile for his first win.

Tony Nesbitt continued his domination of Flowmaster Nostalgia Pro Street by qualifying on top of the field and then beating Mike Radnis, who had a great weekend in the final. The Lombard, Illinois driver posted a 7.72 at 183 mph in his Corvette, while Radnis pushed his all-steel '67 Camaro to a 7.82 at 177 mph.

Vortech Xtreme Street was a roller-coaster ride for several drivers, but it was Tony Orts who emerged with his second win in a row after defeating Jimmy Byrne for the second time in as many races. "That was a huge win for us," said the Oswego, Illinois driver. More important than the win was what happened before. In the first round, points leader Cameron Coble lost an engine in his race against Fred Brunn, and could only muster a 9.42 at 121 mph against Brunn's 9.20 152-mph charge. Brunn, despite running quicker and faster, was handed the losing timeslip by virtue of a horrible .351 reaction time to Coble's .123. It was a bittersweet win for Coble. Yes, he won, but at the cost of an engine. With a championship at stake, Coble and Co, along with help from countless others, took on the challenge of swapping engines between rounds-a huge task. Considering that street cars aren't designed for quick engine swaps between rounds, it was amazing that they still pulled it off in little more than 90 minutes. They were assisted by an on-track oil-down, which bought them an extra 30 minutes of time, but when the lane call came, they fired the car, and were ready to race against Jimmy Byrne. With so much time consumed swapping engines, Coble and Crew Chief Tyree Smith didn't have enough time to dial-in the tune-up. The end result was too much power at the starting line, resulting in an up-in-smoke run as Coble's Nova overpowered the track.

With Coble out of competition, both Orts and Curran needed to win in order to keep pace with Coble, the points leader. The two met in the semis with Orts coming out on top, running the low ET of the event (8.27) to Curran's losing 8.41. In the final against Byrne, Orts drilled an 8.28 to Byrne's slower 8.49. "The car was great-just like a Bracket car. The win against Bob (Curran) was huge. Not only did I tree him, I also ran low ET of the event, what more can I say? It was a huge weekend for us," said Orts.

In TCI/F.A.S.T. Pro Stock, Jamie Stanton put the squeeze on his fellow competitors after beating Steve Cagle in the final. Stanton qualified second behind a hard-charging Neal Owens, who took the top spot after pushing his big-block Firebird to a 8.99 in the oppressive heat. The pair met in the second round in what should have been a great race, but Owens overpowered the track and his run went up in tire smoke before the car reached the 60-foot clocks. Cagle was able to oust John Langer on a holeshot win, earning him a trip to the final. Cagle took a gamble on the tree in the final and lost after cutting a -.002 light, giving the win to Stanton, who cruised to a 9.05 win.

Jimmy McDonagh finally earned his first win in Car Craft Street Race after beating Mike Dezotell. McDonagh, from St. James, New York, capitalized on Dezotell's "tweaking" of a new engine combination. "Dez" qualified his Mustang on top of the short field with a 9.52 at 147 mph. "This is a brand-new engine in this car and I'm trying to figure it out. It has a lot of power, but I need to get it all to the ground. I'm still figuring it out," said the Seekonk, Massachusetts driver. In the final, Dezotell got out of the groove with his car and ended up taking the long way to the finish line, which allowed McDonagh and his Chevelle to motor to the win with a 9.74 to Dezotell's losing 9.82. "I've been waiting a while for this one," said McDonagh. "It feels good to get it," he added.

Gabe Large has known that Jeff Swanson is one tough competitor, considering Swanson's NHRA roots. Until the race in Georgia though, Large has been able to keep Swanson at arm's length. This time around it was Swanson who out-gunned Large, getting his first win of the year in the highly competitive BFGoodrich Mean Street. Large, who qualified first with a 10.56, was followed by Swanson with a 10.62, which put them on opposite sides of the ladder, resulting in the final-round showdown. In eliminations, Swanson defeated Randy Tull in the first round after Tull's engine expired in qualifying. In the second, he ousted Danny Shemwell to advance to the final. Large took out Gary Duncan in round one and then had a single to the final. Swanson scooted to a 10.61 win in the final over a 10.67 posted by Large.

In MSD True Street Competition, Brian Anderson's '64 Rambler Classic made a lot of jaws drop as he drove the twin-turbocharged car to a 9.09 average to claim the King of Georgia crown. Chris Escobar followed him in his '86 Mustang, which also ran an impressive 9.79 average. The 10-second winner was Jason Rollins. Other class winners were: David Bradford, 11-second winner; Chip Rollins, 12-second winner; Angela Zamboni, 14-second winner; and Mike Zamboni, 15-second winner.

In the Nostalgia classes Donnie Wilson took the final round win over Larry Martin in Hamburger's Performance N/SS. IN DTS Nostalgia Muscle Car, Heath Shemwell won a double breakout final over Jim Barr.

In Superchips Open Comp, Jamie Rickman used consistent reaction times and ETs to get another win and all but seal his first class title after beating Jimmy Harrell, Jr. in the final.

In Motive Gear SuperTruck action, local racer Todd Sapp ousted number-one qualifier Randy Shearin in the final after Shearin fell two-tenths off his 9.63 index. In other action, Bryan Markiewicz grabbed another ATI ProCharger Top Dog Shootout win and Phillip West won the burnout contest.

In the Stuf Surface Care Auto Show, Richard Lasseter and his '70 Buick GS won People's Choice, while Rich Gregorski won another Best of Show with his radical '41 Willys.

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