The gamble paid off. For this year's Fords at Englishtown event, Old Bridge Township Raceway Park management took a chance and moved this monster east coast event from the sticky month of July to the much cooler days of late October. The change was implemented to allow racers to take advantage of the great weather and track conditions found later in the racing season, not to mention giving it a date that wouldn't conflict with other major races on the ever-tightening Ford schedule. They hit paydirt, as the event was a big hit with racers, many of whom recorded career best elapsed times and speeds.
Because Fords At E-Town is an independent race, the organizers needed a rules structure that was fair to all competitors. Since many of the heads-up competitors were the same as you would find on the NMRA and Fun Ford circuits, the folks at E-Town decided to use a combination of the pair's rules where the heads-up classes were concerned. Pro 5.0 and Outlaw were run as separate classes, while Hot Street/Street Bandit and Renegade were combined to run as one class. Renegade cars ran at their respective legal weights, while all naturally aspirated cars in Hot Street and Bandit raced at 2,900 lbs. In addition, the E-Town gathering also featured separate Modular Motor, Radial Tire runners, Ford truck and Open Comp classes.
Ford racers filled the park on the opening Friday night for time trials and the Mustang vs. Camaro vs. Firebird challenge that paid a cool $1000 to the winner. The final came down to the '85 Mustang of Paul Guenther and the '79 Camaro of Brian Brown. When the tree went green, it was Brown out of the gate first with a .516 light to Guenther's .609. With nearly a tenth to make up, Guenther broke out, handing Brown the win and the beans.
Friday night also served as a test and tune for many of the top Mustang racers who wanted to dial in for the weekend. Dwayne "Big Daddy" Gutridge displayed his new single-turbo drag radial wonder car, a Reef Blue LX with all the trimmings. On its maiden run, the LX tore from the line with the turbo screaming and almost instantly the left rear axle broke sending the newly built LX sideways and out of control. Big Daddy did all he could to keep the car on track, but with only the passenger-side wheel driving the car, the LX moved hard to the left and tagged the retaining wall, first with the back of the car and then with the front. Gutridge was fine; too bad the same couldn't be said for his once-fresh LX.
Just hours later on Saturday morning, the Real Street, (modeled after MM&FF/FFW's popular True Street class), competitors piled in. Some 60 racers prepared for the 30-mile road tour and drag race event. With gas tanks full, and the driver's meeting complete, Sgt. Rich Maxwell of the Colts Neck Police, along with Monmouth County Sheriff officers Jimmy Doyle and Glenn Engelken, led the train of Mustangs (and one Lincoln) out of the track and through beautiful Monmouth County, N.J. All but one car made the entire trip and after returning to the track, the cars got their mandatory 30-minute cool down, before their trio of quarter-mile runs.
When racing began, fans in the stands paid close attention, throwing a cheer every time a Mustang clicked off a quick ET. In the first set, Alex Vrettos, in his bright orange GT, laid down a 10.88, the quickest pass of that session. Vrettos was followed closely by Connecticut's Duncan Milne, who ran 11.03 with his '93 LX. In round two, Vrettos slowed to an 11.00, while Milne drove to a quicker 10.78. With one run to go, the battle was building between the pair.
In the final run, Vrettos went first, but he slowed to a 11.12, giving him a final average of 11.005 seconds. After about 30 more cars had run, it was Milne's turn to play. The black LX with a large rose sprayed on the hood launched hard, but much like Vrettos, the Connecticut runner was unable to dip into the 10s and slowed to an 11.15. Despite the drop off in ET, Milne's final average remained in the 10s with a 10.990, just .005 seconds over Vrettos, the closest margin of victory in the four year history of the class at E-town.
With the Real Street show complete, the track unleashed the rest of the cars for qualifying and bracket time trials. After a fine showing at the J&P Shootout, Dino Erickson of Long Island blasted to the Pro 5.0 pole, running a 7.40 at 189 mph with his single turbo 5-speed LX. However, it was discovered that his LX did not have the proper chassis certification so the run was disqualified and Erickson was told not to run quicker than 7.50 for the remainder of the event. The next-best qualified car belonged to ELD's Brian Bossone at 7.62, so he was given the top spot, which changed the ladder and gave Bossone the all-important first round bye run. Behind Bossone came Jim Briante and Anthony DiSomma, who were both in the 7s. The lone 8-second car belonged to Norris McKoy.
With 10.5-inch tires and over 1,000 horsepower, the Outlaw cars are some of the most exciting hot rods to grace the strip. The class brings with it some controversy due to the wild overpowered cars, yet there is no lack of them wherever they run. In Englishtown, the top qualified car belonged to Mike Jones of Hollistown, Mass., with a quick 8.34 at 167 mph. Hot on Jones' heels was the LX of Shawn Gallagher at 8.45 and Bryan Sorby at 8.62. The exciting action continued throughout the day with the most wild ride, taking place for Joe Troiano behind the wheel of his '91 GT.
Just after crossing the stripe with a 9.35 at 146 mph, fans and race officials first heard a screech and then turned to watch Troiano's GT skid and then smack the left retaining wall, at well over 100 mph. After hitting the wall the GT got airborne and barrel-rolled numerous times before finally coming to rest on the driver's side. The emergency crew rushed to the scene and thankfully Troiano was out of the car and unhurt. Apparently the car went into reverse in the shut down area, which caused the rear tires to lock and make the driver lose control. Upon exiting his GT, an uninjured Troiano thanked Kenny at Webber Engineering in North Stonnington, Conn. for constructing such a safe car.
The Saturday night fever continued with a real fan favorite, the tire-frying Burnout Contest. With a new set of racing slicks on the line, five Ford guys burned rubber as the crowd cheered them on. The insanity lasted just as long as the tires did and in the end it was Chris Costanzo and Anthony Cavicchio who drew the largest applause. A showdown ensued and it was Costanzo, also known as "Big Bug," who outlasted Cavicchio with his Ford Ranger to take the win in tire-popping fashion.
In the first round of eliminations, Bossone took the bye and pulled out the stops. He spooled his single turbo and ripped to a 7.63 at 159 mph. McKoy got past a struggling Briante and then it was DiSomma vs. Erickson. When the light flashed green Somerset, N.J.'s DiSomma jumped first (.460 to .710) and put his '85 GT way ahead of the quicker qualified '92 coupe of Erickson. The reaction time advantage and outstanding 7.75 at 169 mph was enough to give DiSomma the win over the hard-charging Erickson, who ran 7.76 at 189 mph.
Bossone cruised past McKoy in the next round with another 7.63 and Disomma eased down the track on his semi-final single. In the final Disomma grabbed the holeshot (.478 to .482), but it was Bassone, who used bracket race consistency and big power to run 7.57 and take the stripe over DiSomma's respectable 7.81.
The 8-second Outlaw show continued in eliminations, first with Jones taking his bye run and running 8.94, then with Sorby defeating Jose Lauzardo (8.55 to 9.33). Greg Davies handled Ozzy Licer with a 8.46, while Lou Proto got by with a 9.82. Tom Kasper beat Rob Westlund and Tommy Trotter blasted past number two qualifier Gallagher with a round-best ET of 8.25 at a whopping 170 mph. In round two Sorby continued his march, beating Davies (8.61 to 8.82) and Jones, who idled down to beat Proto.
Then came Trotter, who was looking like the man to beat. Trotter left the line first, but his teal GT quickly went into a wheelstand the likes of which we've rarely seen. The GT climbed higher and higher and then went straight up, all four tires lifting off the track. With no rubber hitting the track, the car spun backwards, twisted in the air and came back down on the roof. It skidded for another 100 feet upside down and caught on fire. The flames grew quickly and in a minute or so the car was engulfed. Since the car came to rest near the wall, no one saw Trotter escape and they imagined the worst. But he was able to free himself from the inverted car and make his way out by smashing the side window. The car was totaled, but the driver emerged unscathed.
With Trotter's 8.25-second missile out of commission, the door was left open for Jones and Kasper who made it to the final. It was Jones' day as he nailed a .452 light and marched to an 8.79 against Kasper, who slowed to an 11.21.
As we mentioned before, Raceway Park combined the popular Renegade class with the naturally aspirated cars that normally run in NMRA's Hot Street or the FFW's Street Bandit. And while most figured the class would be owned by the LaRocca gang, that was not the case. Surprising to all, there was not a single LaRocca Renegade car in the park, or even a single Renegade car, that could match the performance of Anthony "Shakes" Galimi's 9.60-second Hot Streeter, which, interestingly enough, was driven by Outlaw standout Carlos Catalanotto of New Orleans. In fact, the second quickest car, driven by Mike Curcio, was also a dedicated Hot Street/Street Bandit racer.
With names like Ed Smith, Bob Hanlon, Catalanotto and Curcio in the show, the road to the title round was not gonna be easy. All the top runners made it past round one and even round two, save for Smith, who was ousted by the Briante Racing-built GT driven by Catalanotto.
In the semi-finals Curcio got the bye and Catalanotto squared off against the tough Hanlon. Catalanotto fired the shot, left first (.489 to .576) and then blasted to an event best-of 9.43 at 142 mph to beat Hanlon's 9.83-effort. This set up the final between the pair of big-inch Windsor Hot Street/Street Bandit race cars. Both Catalanotto and Curcio were poised cutting identical .499 lights, but it was the power of the Briante-built 408 that pushed Catalanotto to a winning 9.44 over the 9.76 of Curcio.
With such a great variety of Blue Oval breeds to chose from it can be said that Open Comp was probably the most varied of the classes at E-Town. Mustangs like the 9.15-second 4-speed equipped GT of John Vilardi and the 8-second LX of Scott Osani made the races interesting and quick. Open Comp also takes great concentration on the driver's part because the .400 tree comes mighty quick.
And no one was more consistent than Old Bridge's Stan Bachonski driving his wheelstanding '86 GT. Running off his 10.06 breakout index, Bachonski cut repeated lights in the .400 range all day. He got past the '87 Mustang wheeled by Bill Gammond in the opener, Joe Grant's '86 Mustang in the second round, and then he won a close one against Vilardi in round three. Bachonski singled in the semis and that set up the final match between he and Osani. Bachonski left first with his slowest light of the day (.552), but it didn't matter because Osani couldn't wait for green. Osani came up .353, giving Bachonski the instant Open Comp win.
It's no secret that Gutridge has been the class of the Drag Radial tire racing class since its inception. He's been a promoter of the class and has run darn near the 8s when no one though it could be done. But after wrecking his new ride on Friday night, it seemed someone other than Big Daddy would claim gold at E-Town.
However, with $3500 at stake, the hard-working owner of Outrageous Performance quietly loaded his machine and headed back to his nearby Jackson-based shop. With his crew helping out, Gutridge disassembled the injured car and worked to place the "good" parts back in the popular black LX he raced earlier in the season. Amazingly, Gutridge finished the job and rolled back to E-Town with a rebuilt car and an obvious lack of sleep.
Despite missing the first two qualifying sessions, Gutridge strapped in and shot right to the top of the 16-car heap with a 9.63 at 147 mph, topping the Mustangs of Nick Bazil at 9.87 and Chris Little, who ran 10.06. Gutridge then worked his way through eliminations with ETs of 14.55 (on a single), 9.62, 9.41 and 9.55 for the win. The 9.55 came in the final against Maryland's Ed Thomas, who placed a set of BFG tires on his FFW, championship-winning Renegade Mustang and ran an impressive 9.85. Though he came up short against "Big Daddy" in the final, his 9.90 against Dwayne was nothing to laugh at, and is sure to make him a heavy hitter in the class in the future.
Despite a nice payout of $750 to win, Mod Motor attracted only eight Ford racers. Wayne Yarnell qualified in the top spot with a quick 11.81 from his sharp '98 convertible Cobra. He was followed by Inkster, Michigan's Barry Shepard in a Cobra, and by Muscle Mustangs & Fast Fords' John Hedenburg, driving the Paxton-supercharged "Barely Legal" project Mustang for editor Jim Campisano. Other notable racers were Ron Diaz, Bill Hull and "Rockin" Randy Stinchcomb.
Racing off the .400 Pro tree and with a one-tenth breakout rule in effect, Mod Motor eliminations kicked off with Hedenburg defeating Stinchcomb in a close race, Shepard beating James Buras and Hull and Diaz taking wins in their respective rounds.
With four cars to go Hedenburg nailed a 12.45 on his 12.40 index to trailer Hull, while Shepard knocked out Diaz, who broke out of his 12.58-second index by running 12.55. This set up the much-anticipated final between the Mod rookie Hedenburg and veteran Mod Man Shepard. With a slightly slower index, Hedenburg got the green first and the flamed Paxton car left with a whoosh. Shepard followed with a good green in his '97 Cobra, which is backed by Ford Racing Parts and features parts from the FR Mustang. Shepard rowed through the gears chasing and then catching Hedenburg just before the stripe. The Michigan racer then touched the brakes to tighten the gap and not breakout, but Hedenburg laid into his brake harder. When they crossed the stripe, both racers broke out, but it was the flamed GT breaking out less and taking the victory-the first of many, said wishful-thinking editor Jim Campisano.
With the second generation Lightning trucks hitting the streets in force, its no wonder the Ford Truck class was such a success. A total of 35 entered (the class was open to any Ford truck), the quickest belonging to Sal Mennela, who ran 12.88 with his '99 Lightning.
By round four, notable racers including Staten Island, NY's Harvey Jones and our own Evan Smith had bowed out, leaving the door open to the rest of the field. Canton, Mich.'s Gordon McLachan advanced into the semifinals where he received a bye run, while Downs Ford's Joe Amato squared off in his daily-driven Lightning against Johnny Wiker Jr., AKA Johnny Lightning, in a '99 model. "Lightning" grabbed a quicker light and defeated Amato, which set up the all-Lightning final. Unfortunately, Mr. Lightning's day ended with a .477 red light, handing the much-deserved win to McLachan, who ran a 13.61 on a 13.55 dial in.
Fords At E-Town 2000 certainly brought with it some highs and lows. The weather was great on all three days and the Mustangs ran very, very fast. Hopefully in 2001 the rules structure will include more of the popular NMRA and FFW classes, but it will take the support of racers to make it happen. Englishtown is one of the few tracks that has hosted Mustang races since the start and we hope the tradition continues in '01 with more cars and more record ETs.
|Pos.||Name||Hometown||Car||Best ET||Avg. ET|
|1||Duncan Milne||Hamden, CT ||'93 Mustang LX||10.785||10.9906|
|2||Alex Vrettos ||Columbus, NJ ||'91 Mustang GT||10.889||11.005|
|3||Steve Critchlow||London Ontario, Canada||'93 Mustang LX||11.355||11.363|
|4||Mike Mohring||East Brunswick, NJ||'88 Mustang||11.324||11.377|
|5||Art Henniger||S. Toms River, NJ||'88 Mustang||11.058||11.436|
|6||Stephen Barone||Slatington, PA|| n/a Mustang||11.618||11.683|
|7||James Snyder||Hellertown, PA||'87 Mustang||11.652||11.760|
|8||Andrew Sivori||Matawan, NJ|| n/a Mustang||11.478||11.807|
|9||Owen Phillips||Flushing, NY||'93 Mustang LX||11.814||11.918|
|10||Steve Dolzani||Fairfield, CT||'97 Mustang||11.814||11.947|
|11||Robert Gonzalez||Brooklyn, NY||'88 Mustang||11.903||11.954|
|12||Tino Miranda||Lacey, NJ||'89 Mustang GT||12.107||12.322|
|13||Paul Helm||Jackson, NJ||'87 Mustang GT||12.424||12.476|
|14||Ed Crouch||Scotch Plains, NJ||'91 Mustang||12.485||12.661|
|15||Oris Williams||S. Plainfield, NJ||'93 Mustang||11.958||12.713|