Alex Vrettos' '95 Mustang Cobra is currently the quickest car running radial tires and a s
Alex Vrettos is celebrating his tenth year as a radial tire racer. He's seen and done it all. He and others say there are no secrets to the radial tire game. Like anything else, it all comes down to perseverance and hard work. You don't just bolt stuff on and go fast. It's a minute world of testing and tuning, and as usual, the ultimate factors are the weather and the surface of the dragstrip. According to most denizens of this racing army (all of whom began on BFG radials), the only drive tire that works is the one that more or less revolutionized the repeatable performance of these cars and offered a level playing ground: the Mickey Thompson Drag Radial.
The racing is extremely tight and anyone with a properly setup ride could be the winner on any given day. Remember about the weather and remember that drag racers are notorious sand-baggers. As example, the following journeymen (along with many more) are right in the thick of it. Shannon Wren's Mustang (7.41/200), Brady McNew's Firebird (7.43/188), Jason Auden's Mustang (7.49/201.69), Troy Pirez's Camaro (7.53/186), and Vrettos' (7.37/198) can all run quicker and faster when the need arises to lean hard on the combination. In Alex Vrettos' case, he has made things happen without a single fabricated suspension part, no one-off gigs, just stuff that anyone can buy (a suitcase full of Franklins helps) and apply. Read it and weep.
PHR: Right outta the box Alex, how'd you get so fast?
Alex Vrettos: A lot of hard work and long hours. My crew and I set a goal two years ago, and made a game plan to achieve it. We wanted to flat-out build the baddest drag radial car in the country.
Car owner and driver, Alex Vrettos hails from Springfield, NJ. Equal doses of courage, coo
PHR: What were the intermediate steps that got you there?
AV: I have been racing on drag radials since 1998 and have had the privilege to work with some of the most knowledgeable people in the business. When I started running drag radials, we all ran on BFGs. Now that was racing. You had to work hard and test non-stop to make those cars fly. I have learned a lot from guys like "Big Daddy" (Dwayne Gutridge), the "drag radial legend." He knows the tires and everything you need to put together a winning combination. Job Spetter, from Turbo People tunes the car and is the genius behind the laptop and boost controller. He knows how to get the car down the worst tracks and win races. Gotta love Rick Head, the West Coast wizard who puts all of our turbos together. Joe Newsham is out of J&E Performance and builds all our engines and turbo systems. Joe's a longtime Outlaw 10.5 racer and an encyclopedic source of chassis and torque converter changes.
PHR: Tell us about your first 10-second run, the first 9-second run, the first 8-second run.
AV: All three were in my old '91 orange Mustang GT street car. My first 10-second pass was in 2000 at Englishtown, New Jersey, during a True Street challenge. My first 9-second pass was at an NMRA event in Columbus, Ohio, and my first 8-second lap was during a test-and-tune at Atco, New Jersey.
Rules for "stock suspension" classes allow for aftermarket parts, such as the Anthony Jone
PHR: Alex, what were your "ah ha!" moments?
AV: The biggest "ah ha" realization came after we took two years off and redid the entire car. The first pass we made, it went right down the track and into the 7s. It was then that we realized this car could make some serious power.
PHR: This car is heavy. Why all the weight?
AV: The car was overweight primarily because it still carried a lot of street-legal parts ... plus I'm not the smallest driver in the world. We have since gotten a lot of weight out of the car. We put the ballast in front of the rear tires.
PHR: How far did you take the Mustang while it was still a street car?
AV: My current car was never a street car. I purchased it as a roller in 2002 from Wild Rides Racecars in Farmingdale, New Jersey. The owner was building a Super Street Outlaw car and, you guessed it, he ran out of money. I bought it as a roller.
PHR: Is driving one of these cars as scary on the inside as it looks from the outside?
AV: Nah, my car works pretty damn good, so it's pretty easy to drive.
Here's another view of Vrettos' suspension. Check out the custom subframe connectors, whic
PHR: How big an engine is too big for a radial tire race car?
AV: [laughs] The bigger the better, right? I think that drag radial cars within the next year will be running the same combinations that Outlaw 10.5 runs now. I would build as much power as you can, and then basically use what you need to get the car down the track.
PHR: Would you rather win at the Orlando World Street Nationals or the NHRA US Nationals?
AV: Oh, definitely the Orlando WSN. I've always wanted to win that race.
PHR: Which is best for radial tire car performance, an automatic or a manual transmission? Supercharged, turbo, or nitrous?
AV: An automatic is easier on the tires. As far as power adders, everyone has their own opinion. They are all effective. We each choose our preferred weapon for battle.
Koni coilovers and Afco springs occupy the stock shock location in this low 7-second Musta
PHR: Have you ever thought of driving a Pro Modified?
AV: Nah, not a Pro Mod. Possibly an Outlaw 10.5 car, though.
PHR: What's the eighth-mile, radial tire philosophy?
AV: Eighth-mile racing is pretty tough ... there is no room for error. Speeds are naturally a lot slower, and considering the weight we're carrying, it makes the car safer to drive.
PHR: How high do you rev that twin-turbo 427?
AV: 7,700 rpm.
PHR: How much boost?
AV: We begin with minimal boost, and bring in all 30 psi by the time we're 3.5 seconds into the run.
PHR: Do you build your own motors?
AV: No, I have J&E Performance in Blackwood, New Jersey, build my bullets.
Vrettos runs a full interior in his race car, as required by rules. Note the intercooler p
PHR: What's the drivetrain combination?
AV: Small-block Ford, a Dynamic Racing Transmissions 'Glide (North Branford, Connecticut), a Neal Chance Pro Mod bolt-together converter, and a fortified Ford 8.8-inch axle. Gear ratio specs are not for public knowledge, but the pinion angle is set at zero degrees.
PHR: What do you like most and the least about radial tire racing?
AV: I love it ... it's non-stop action; you never know what's going happen, but I hate the weight requirements and the no-wheelie-bar rule. These cars are way too heavy to be going this fast. Someone is going to get hurt.
PHR: Speak to the evolution of drag radial versus the old radial tires.
AV: No comparison. The BFGs where a real challenge to run on consistently. The Mickey Thompson tires have taken that factor out of the equation. Now, anybody can go fast.
PHR: Are the radials you run the biggest ones they make?
AV: Yes, the M/T 315/60x15s are the biggest.
The 25.2 chassis certification requires a Funny Car-style jungle gym. DMC Racing out of Ha
PHR: Talk a little about a real stock-suspension car versus back-halved ones that don't run as good as yours.
AV: Real stock-style-suspension cars use all the factory mounting points for the upgraded equipment. A back-halved car cuts all that out and replaces it with something thought to work better.
PHR: What have you done to the rear suspension?
AV: I use all Wolfe Race Craft double-adjustable suspension components.
PHR: What things have you tried that failed miserably?
AV: Everything we have tried was for a reason. We learn from every change we have made.
A surprisingly stock 8.8-inch rear does a reasonably good job of channeling 2,000 hp to th
PHR: What parts tend to fail?
AV: We break a lot of transmissions and rearend parts, specifically billet gearsets and ring-and-pinions.
PHR: What do you do to prep the front of the car?
AV: We go through every nut and bolt before every race and we check every suspension setting before every pass.
PHR: Who do you thank for helping? What'd they do?
AV: I couldn't do this with out my crew, CoRuPt Motorsports of dirty South Jersey. They always go above and beyond. Ellas Automotive (Sewell, New Jersey), who does all the upkeep on the car. J&E Performance builds killer engines and turbo systems and Turbo People for tuning my car for all these years. Big Daddy for his invaluable knowledge and DMC Racing for the chassis. Most importantly, I thank my wife and son for supporting my drag racing obsession.
PHR: Considering the suspension and the tire limitations, how much farther can you go?
AV: Ha! The 6-second zone is the next step.
A 427-inch twin-turbo small-block Ford screwed together by J&E Performance (Blackwood, NJ)
PHR: What don't you like about all this?
AV: I think the weight requirements need to be dropped for safety issues and that wheelie bars should be legal.
PHR: Because of the trap speed?
AV: We are going way too fast to be weighing more than 3,400 pounds.
PHR: Any other secrets you want to give away?
AV: Nope. You have to earn those.