Of all the things considered exciting in drag racing, giant wheelstands rank at the top, and it’s great when you capture a nice one on camera or video. It’s kind of a rite of passage for a drag racer to say he (or she) has lifted the wheels.
Project Stocker, my NHRA 1993 Ford Mustang Cobra clone, has carried the skinnies a few times, but I’ve never been in “the danger zone.” That’s when the nose keeps going up, and up, and up, to the point where the driver must lift to save it.
We all know “going big” is not the quick way down the track, nor is it good for keeping header tubes round—especially if you don’t have wheelie bars. Just ask racing announcer Bret Kepner, who thinks wheelie bars should be outlawed. Wheelie bars can still allow for big wheelies, but they keep things from going really bad.
Few can control a bumper-dragger better than NMRA champion Charlie Booze Jr. When Booze lines up his red Kuntz-powered Fox, photographers haul ass to the wall. While he’s gone really fast with all four paws on the ground, he has a knack for launching high, and snapping the power on and off quickly to get the nose down clean. I’ve seen guys go up and dump throttle; that leads to major damage most of the time. The trick, as I gathered from watching Booze, is to quickly blip the gas (sometimes multiple times) just at the point of no return, then get back to full power for the landing.I’ve often wondered if I could handle one of those monster wheelies, and I got my chance to find out when I tested the 2014 Ford Mustang Cobra Jet for Ford.
I’d driven the previous CJs, both NA and blown, but wheelstands were not an issue. Nevertheless, the conditions were right at South Georgia Motorsport Park (Valdosta, Georgia) for a power wheelstand—the likes of which I’d never experienced.
Strapped to the supercharged 5.0 rocket, I made run after run, testing the effects of different launch rpm, shift points, and other things. The Ford Racing engineering team had the CJ data logged like the Space Shuttle, and I did my best to produce consistent passes, following their instructions for burnout, launch, shift, and chute deployment.
The first day was amazing and we started to learn what the CJ liked—and what it didn’t. Then it happened—I completed a short burnout and foot-braked the CJ on the line to just over 2,000 rpm. Once the lights flashed, I traded feet and shoved the throttle to the mat. The CJ’s launch was furious, and I was thrust into the seat. The front wheels were certainly up, to the point where I could no longer see the track—no biggie, right? Then bam, the nose shot up into the sky
My instincts took over. I cracked the gas once, but it stayed up. The engine revved, indicating the back wheels had left the tarmac. I cracked the gas again, then again… then I went back to wide-open throttle, still staring at the sky. Despite the chaos, the nose was finally on the way down. Thankfully, I was going straight, and I had total confidence in the chassis and cage should the worst happen. I was also sporting my new Simpson fire suit, Voyager Evolution helmet, and, for the first time, a HANS device from Summit Racing Equipment.
Amazingly, the Stang wasn’t damaged—the K-frame wasbarely scraped. Knowing the run was a bust, I coasted to the end. The engine had oil pressure and the steering wheel was still straight. After returning to the pits and inspecting the car (and going full tight on the front struts), we ran our quickest pass of the test, then two more that were even better.
So Ford gathered the necessary data on the lastest CJ, and I feel bad for the competition (well, not that bad). I experienced a a monster wheelie first-hand, and while it was fun (once), I’d be happy to keep the nose closer to the ground. I’m sure landing smooth was part skill and part luck, so I’m hoping for wheelie bars the next test. Besides, the car will go quicker without pointing straight up.