NASCAR technology for the street sounds counterintuitive, but in reality the realm of ultimate pushrod race engines holds the secret to rejuvenating one of the best head designs ever created for the small-block Ford: the Cleveland. That’s because prior to the release of Ford Racing’s magnificent clean-sheet FR9 race engine in 2009, Ford’s NASCAR program had overt muscle car roots. For the three decades preceding the FR9, the engines powering every Blue Oval racer were essentially 351 Windsor blocks topped with 351 Cleveland-derived heads.

Thirty-plus years is an extraordinarily long time to go between racing engine changes for a manufacturer, but you know what that gets ya? A lot of time sorting out and fine-tuning to create fully optimized engines. For example Carl Edwards, driver of the No. 99 Ford for Roush Fenway, finished the 2008 season with a series-high nine victories. Not too bad for a platform considered archaic by NASCAR standards.

That extended life also brought forth dramatically revised and near perfected versions of the original Cleveland heads, thanks to the efforts of Ford Racing, Roush Racing, and Robert Yates. The A351, B351, C302, C302B, C3, C3H, SC1 (Sprint Car 1), and finally the most radical, the D3. That last head was worked so well that it was used right until the FR9 bowed. Even cooler is the fact that all of them will technically bolt right onto any Ford Windsor or Cleveland small-block.

When NASCAR banned the use of canted valves on cylinder heads (the Cleveland’s signature design) in 1990, Robert Yates stepped in to revise the C302 head. The intake valve cant was removed and the angle was altered, but the traditional stagger arrangement remained. The new heads colloquially became known as “Yates.” Notwithstanding, Ford used recycled part numbers on some of the intake manifolds so there are Yates and C302 intakes that carry the same part number. That did lead to a bit of an issue with identification among those seeking the ultimate heads for their small-block Fords, since the pre- and post-Yates heads were quite similar looking to the untrained eye.

Of course all of those iterations were very specific application race parts designed for ultrahigh rpm use and regular maintenance. What the Ford world really needed was a head that took all of those lessons learned from decades of NASCAR competition, and put them into a street-friendly head—one that makes massive power, of course.

That’s where Troy Bowen at Ford Performance Solutions (FPS) saw a gap. There were updated Cleveland-style heads on the market, and Cleveland-headed Windsors are nothing new, but he felt there was power left on the table. His first iteration, known as the Avenger XTC 351, worked well, but a newer version, dubbed the Avenger XTC-R, blends original Cleveland and the best bits of NASCAR design into a head. That brings everything full circle—street to race, and back to street. That’s perfect for a car like Max Effort that’s a little bit Pro Touring, a little bit road race, and touch of NASCAR thrown in for good measure.

The craziest part of this build isn’t the awesome power production; it’s that this combination we threw together is designed to run on premium 91-octane pump gas. Read on to see how FPS makes it happen.