In the high tech world of NHRA Comp Eliminator racing, where each of more than 80 different classes are tightly governed by a complicated set of rules designed to equalize competition, the cold, hard truth is that Ford-powered cars win races only slightly more often than the Detroit Lions win football games.
Unlike the heads-up ranks where Fords dominate, Comp is Bowtie heavy and that's where most of the R&D has gone. But never one to shy away from a battle, even an uphill one, die-hard Ford lovers Travis and Trent Gusso are more than happy to carry the flag for the blue oval crowd with his 2001 Mustang Cobra.
Starting with a body-in-white obtained from Ford Racing, the twin brothers Gusso, who hail from Sioux Falls, South Dakota, worked nights and weekends in their home garage, dubbed Dakota Speed Lab, for nearly two years to complete the car. During the build, the biggest help came from his brother Trent, who handled the fabrication and welding. Travis, a long-time NHRA racer, decided to build his Mustang to fit one of the Comp Super Modified classes, which meant the Mustang had to retain a mostly stock front suspension, steel floors, glass windows, and all of its original steel body panels, except for a fiberglass hood and scoop. The car also had to have some semblance of a stock interior, although the rules allow for aftermarket seats and a few other safety related items.
"I raced in Stock eliminator for a couple of years and had a lot of fun and we even set a national record, but my car really wasn't very fast," Gusso explains about his former, high 11-second LX. "I wanted something quicker and this seemed like the best way to do it. Even though it's very difficult, I enjoy NHRA Comp Eliminator racing. It took us a bit longer than expected to build this car. That's because it's not a full-tube chassis so we couldn't just weld up a frame and then mount the body. We had to bend all tubes and then make them fit inside the car. If we had it to do over again we probably would have cut out the floor and then welded it back in when we were done but we'll know better next time. Still, I'm pretty happy with the way it turned out."
The chassis was completed using a set of Koni double adjustable coilover shocks, a set of AJE springs and a steering rack from Flaming River. The 9-inch rear end houses a set of tall Dewco 6.50 cogs, a Dewco spool and Mark Williams axles.
In order to be competitive, Gusso needs to run elapsed times in the mid-to-high 8-second range, and in order to do that (in a 3,000 pound car), he needed an engine producing something in the neighborhood of 850 hp. With today's technology, that normally isn't a problem, but the catch here is that Super Modified cars are not allowed to use power adders of any kind. To make a tough task even more difficult, Gusso's engine is limited to just 318-cubic inches, two valves per cylinder, and a single four-barrel carburetor. Without a turbo, blower, or nitrous, the only way to compensate for a lack of cubic inches is with lots of compression and rpm. Amazingly the small-block packs over 15:1 compression and on a typical pass, Gusso dumps the clutch pedal at 7,600 rpm, hammers each gear at 9,700 rpm, and by the time he hits the finish line, the tiny small-block is screaming for mercy at over 10,500 rpm.
Looking for an engine builder who could deliver the kind of power and reliability he needed, Gusso turned to Jim Kuntz of Kuntz & Co. in Arkadelphia, Arkansas. Kuntz, who also built the engine for Gusso's record holding Stock Eliminator Mustang, assembled the engine using a Crower crankshaft, GRP aluminum rods, Diamond pistons, a Comp Cams roller cam and T&D Machine rocker arms. The Ford Racing V-351 aluminum cylinder heads have been modified to a 15-degree valve angle, well within the NHRA rules.