As a recovering drug addict, who recently celebrated five years of soberiety, Ronnie Diaz revels in the purity of family, friends, and racing. His adventure began shortly after purchasing his 2000 Ford Mustang GT. Not long after, we met Ronnie in 2000 at Englishtown Raceway Park during one of our infamous MM&FF Modular Shootouts, and we remember his intense enthusiasm.
"Alfredo Bollotta from Valley Performance got me hooked up with you guys, and I drove down with my GT with a 75-shot of nitrous and my slicks in the back seat," said Ronnie with a chuckle. "That's how I got started racing, and I ended up making the car faster and faster."
Unfortunately, with the pressures of life mounting, Ronnie turned down a dark path. "I was going from job to job, and I got mixed up in drugs and alcohol," he admitted. "I was supposed to be the golden boy: I graduated high school at 16, was on the soccer team, and went to college and got a degree in business, and all that. But I was a functioning addict—hooked on cocaine, and it all caught up to me," he says.
"Finally, I found that my car was broken and on jackstands, I was selling parts for drugs—you know, to feed the habit," he explained. "I just couldn't function like that. I woke up one day on the verge of being homeless, I had lost my friends, and even my family didn't want to be around me."
With little left, Ronnie checked himself into rehab. He spent time as a patient, and then continued his effort at home. He's been clean for five years, but it hasn't been easy.
"As an outpatient I was at home on the couch watching PINKS with my dad, and I said I'd like to get back into racing. I saw that PINKS was coming to E-town, my home track, and with the help of my parents and Mustang Magic on Long Island, we got the car running 10s, still in street trim," he added. "I applied to get on the show and made it to PINKS, and even made it on TV. It really helped me," he added.
Using this positive momentum, Ronnie started running the NMRA series in the Modular Muscle class. With help from friends and sponsors, his car was running 9s, and he scored a sixth place finish in his rookie year—still with the Two-Valve.
As you can guess, Ronnie's GT was far from stock. It packed a Paschal Performance-built engine with a Procharger F-1, along with the necessary go-fast parts. Ronnie kept dialing in the combo and dipped into the low 9s, but he only ran half the NMRA season his sophomore year.
"I really wanted to race heads-up, so I looked for the most exciting and upcoming class, and that was Drag Radial. I got help from Tim Matherly at MV Performance and got ready for the 2011 season. We took our lumps, but finished sixth in points; in 2012, we finished second in the class," he added.
Ronnie also picked up the nickname Modfather, which is what he now calls his race team. "I guess being from Elizabeth, New Jersey—with The Sopranos and all, you know—and because I race a modular, it kind of works," he says with a smile.
Not one to sit idle, Ronnie continued to evolve his GT. During the time of our shoot, it was "modded" (pun intended) with a Four-Valve punched to 6.2L, and the aforementioned F-1 was upgraded to a F-1X pumping 30 psi of intercooled boost. The block is now an Aluminator with massaged GT500 heads, Ferrea valves, Jesel rockers, and custom cams from Tim Matherly. Though not shown, the current engine sports a Sullivan intake and a Moroso dry-sump. Other essentials include custom headers by MV Performance, 160-lb/hr injectors, and an Accufab throttle body.
The new DOHC rocket was assembled by Dave Guy of DGR Performance in Dillsburg, Pennsylvania, and it makes roughly 1,400 rwhp thanks to the Big Stuff 3 tuned by Richard Robinson. Robinson and Steven Pocaro serve as Ronnie's crew.
In the winner's circle, everyone hugged me—the track workers, my crew, every one. I even jumped into my crew chief's arms.
Performance has been in the 4.77/150-mph range in the eighth-mile and 7.60s/188 in the quarter. But more power and a switch to an ATF 'glide should have the Stang dancing quicker this season.
The GT also sports a Strange 9-inch rear conversion, with a Team Z rear suspension and Strange shocks and brakes. Ronnie chose Santuff struts along with the Strange brakes, and Dominic Cimino of DC Performance helped with a bunch of mods to the front end. There's also a set of Racecraft front-end limiters.
With a great team behind him, Ronnie has been tearing up the East Coast circuit. "I love NMRA racing, but I've also been running eighth-mile stuff. The competition is great and there are lots of local races."
Hard work paid off for the Modfather team in August 2012, when Ronnie won his first X275 race at Maryland International Raceway (MIR). "I was in the shark tank with 23 other racers," he recalls. "After winning, I was speechless. I jumped out of the car. It was emotional. It was my first event win ever! I had so much gratitude. I had to thank so many people—my parents, my crew, everyone. It was spine-chilling. In the winner's circle, everyone hugged me—the track workers, my crew, every one. I even jumped into my crew chief's arms."
Ronnie Diaz is living the good life now. He's been to the bottom and has risen to prove what determination can do. His hopes are set on more race wins and to become a family man.
"I just got engaged at Englishtown at the Shakedown," he tells us. "I asked my girlfriend, Michelle Capevva, to marry me, and she said yes. It was amazing—I did it at the finish line just as the 230-mph Pro Mods were flying by," Ronnie says, "Life is short."
We're glad he's back in action to liven up the Mustang scene and win a few more races.