$10K Drag Shootout 3 – Episode 5: “Fire In The Hole!”

The final quarter, the final couple of innings, is do-or-die time for a team in the sporting world…coaches often throwing caution to the wind to close the game out. Well, building a vehicle on a deadline is no different, and with the teams of the Horsepower Wars $10K Drag Shootout presented by Lucas Oil Products down to the final two and a half days, it’s all about keeping the pedal down on your progress, or going all-in to make up ground to get the car running and rolling before the deadline.

Villain Squad’s Comeback Effort

While the other teams are doing their final fabrication and wiring work, Villain Squad is just now dropping its engine into the Firebird.

Of course, it’s often easer to defend a big lead than it is to come from behind, and no team in this year’s $10K Drag Shootout personifies the latter more than the Villain Squad. As has been documented from the very beginning, Geo Ramos’ team has trailed by a wide margin since prior to its arrival, joining the lineup in the eleventh hour without any parts or strategizing to its credit. While the team has been a victim of circumstances and endured its share of bad luck and misfortune, its competitors are of the belief that much of its troubles are self-inflicted.

A difficult week was made worse when the team's turbocharger fell from its mockup location in the engine bay and struck the concrete floor. But this group has refused to give up despite all the obstacles.

Regardless, Villain Squad enters the final couple of days well behind the other teams — its engine and transmission were both late arrivals — the latter requiring an all-night road-trip by a friend of the team from Texas to California to get it in the team’s hands on time. The group is still building its rear end, setting up and installing the suspension, positioning the engine, and fabricating the turbo system, as its competition across the build center put fire in the pipes. Its struggles were perhaps no more well displayed than when its brand new turbocharger fell from the engine bay and struck the concrete floor, providing the team and everyone in the shop with a scare. Fortunately, an inspection of the turbo proved the fall wasn’t fatal, and Villain Squad carried on with its all-hands-on-deck effort to get its Firebird finished.

MAK Is First To Fire

Team Mid America Kustomz (MAK) has been chugging along like a well-oiled machine to this point, earning the first vehicle choice in the build, winning the first challenge and the Weld Racing wheels that went with it, and making impressive progress day in and day out, putting it on track to finish as quick as any team ever has in this show’s history. There are still questions about the ability of the turbo to spool, given its position above the cab of the S-10, but team leader Adam Hodson is confident in his proven junkyard LS engine and the team’s combination.

MAK making final preparations for firing its turbo LS engine.

But MAK hasn’t been entirely immune to challenges — the team was the first to fire its engine, but fuel leaks and incorrect connectors for its injectors made them work for it.

Infighting Out Front

Out In Front tuner Karl Pritz dialing up the numbers on the Holley EFI software.

Team Out In Front has been making great progress with its build, despite challenges of its own — like receiving the wrong roll cage and being forced to delay the chassis work a couple of days to procure new tubing for a custom cage setup. But its struggles throughout the middle and latter part of the build have been among the members of the team itself; its tuner, Karl Pritz, arrived several days into the build and immediately broke up the team chemistry with a different view on how the car should be built. Pritz felt the car should be functional but not aesthetically pleasing, while team leader Marcus Thompson and his gang, with their Philly flair, wanted a car they would be proud to show off — leading them to put the full interior back in it for a true street car look.

Just as it intended, Out In Front has assembled a race-worthy street car, with full interior, BMR suspension, and its turbo LS powerplant.

The team seemed to have hashed out its differences, but it all came to a head when Pritz, the dedicated tuner for the team, burned up the Powerglide and torque converter in an attempt to get the turbo to spool. Thompson and Pritz battled it out, on camera and off, and Pritz was canned from his role with the team.

Home Grown

Team Home Grown has faced some uphill battles of its own to this point: smelly rats stuck in the frame, a modified transmission it tried to sneak by tech director Lonnie Grim to no avail, and now, challenges with getting its mechanical fuel injection setup — one its opponents said would be troublesome — to function as intended. While not a setback per se, Home Grown failed to win a single challenge in this build, meaning other teams gained a little edge on them by saving money from its cash budget. Home Grown even placed wagers against its budget in the second challenge, so it has needed every bit of its work ethic and knowledge to keep up with the other teams.

And part of that knowledge, team leader Jim Howe, Jr. believes, lies with Pritz; Howe’s team drafted the newly-minted free agent tuner to help it get the El Camino running at full song, giving the team a boost and Pritz a chance to redeem himself.

For all of its effort, Home Grown earned the distinction of being the first team on the chassis dyno — driver Amanda Howe climbing behind the wheel for the moment of truth.

MAK's Adam Hodson lent Home Grown in hand in lining out its tuneup before firing the engine and heading to the dyno.

With the engine spooling up to par, all seemed well as Amanda laid into the throttle in the El Camino, but things turned sour with a bang and a shower of hot fluid emanating from the bed as well as under the car. The quick diagnosis was not a good one: a torched cylinder head. Upon further inspection, Home Grown realized a minor but pivotal oversight…a sensor for the wastegate rubbed against the grille and lost signal, and because safeguards had not been built into the tune to put the engine into limp mode or cut timing, it commanded all of the boost, burnt the cylinder head, and likewise overpressurized the coolant and blew it out the radiator.

This is not what you want to see as the clock ticks down to the final hours before raceday.

And with that, Home Grown has a lot of work to do. But so does everyone else.

Lucas Brings The Goods

Lucas Oil Products isn’t just the presenting sponsor of this year’s $10K Drag Shootout, but it’s also the exclusive supplier of lubricants, grease, and even the hand sanitizer that teams are using to combat the spread of COVID-19.

As the teams tore down their engines, transmissions, and rearends, Lucas’s Brake Parts Cleaner was a highly sought-after product in the shop. Then, as the engines went together, they utilized Lucas’s Racing Assembly Grease, and then its L9 Racing Gear Oil for their differentials and Semi-Synthetic Automatic Transmission Fluid for their Powerglide and Turbo 400 transmissions. Once everything was buttoned up, the teams filled their LS engines with Lucas 10W-40 Racing Oil.

Wiring It Up With Ron Francis 

Wiring a race car is rarely headache-free, and even when it is, it’s never a quick job. If you get in a rush, that’s usually when things go sideways. But these teams have a matter of days to get their cars wired from front to back, and there isn’t a lot of margin for error should they find issues after the fact and need to re-wire it. So a solid starting point is a must.

For that, the teams turned to Ron Francis Wiring, which has everything one could need for the electronic side of their vehicles, from daily drivers to hardcore strip warriors.

The most visible part of the package is the Pro Race version of Ron Francis’s Express Series switch panels — these are compatible with the Express and Bare Bonz Wiring Kits, and feature race-ready toggle switches and green indicator lights. The faceplates have silkscreening with clear coat for durability.  The Pro Race panel includes one momentary on/off switch and five maintained on/off/on switches.

Ron Francis then included a grounding terminal strip, insulated power stud/positive grounding accessory, a ground junction block, firewall stud insulator cap, and enough raw wiring and connectors to finish out an entire race car.

B&M’s Shifters

Renowned brands B&M and Hurst makes some of the industry’s finest shifters, and their use automatically (no pun intended) elevates the functionality of these four machines. Hurst supplied the teams with its popular Pistol-Grip Quarter Stick Race shifters, which are compatible with GM Powerglide and TH250, 350, 375, and 400 transmissions.

These shifters provide positive gear change control for street and race applications, and their compact size fits easily in race cars with limited space; plus, they only weigh 2.5-pounds. As well, they feature a black oxide coated steel construction, a 1018 hardened steel gate plate, and an ergonomic billet aluminum shift handle that incorporates a momentary switch which can be used to activate a transbrake or a nitrous system.

They also come with a factory-installed neutral safety switch, chrome-plated trigger, and spring-loaded reverse lockout mechanism to comply with NHRA/IHRA regulations.

Start ‘Er Up!

The team at Proform has jumped into the $10K Drag Shootout again this season, proving each of the teams with powerful and reliable starters for their LS engines.

Team Home Grown, Villain Squad, and Out In Front have selected a 2.2kW, 15:1 ratio (up to 15:1 compression ratio) gear reduction-style starter for their engines, featuring a billet aluminum mounting plate, and an offset design for extra oil pan clearance. This starter is specific to GM LS1, LS2, LS6, and LS7 engines. Team MAK chose a starter that is likewise specific to LS engines; this piece is also gear-reduction type with 1.4kW cranking power, (for 11:1 compression engines) and also sports a billet aluminum mounting plate and offset design.

Teams are required, per the rulebook, to have a running car before the end of the 10 build days in order to be eligible to race, so every team is aiming to crank their Proform starters before the final bell.

Just because these cars are built on a budget doesn't mean corners should be cut in regards to safety. Summit Racing hooked all of the teams up with its SFI 4.1 rated transmission blankets in order to meet NHRA regulations.

Tune in next week as the team’s push to the finish, make their final checks, and load up to the head to the dyno to make some hay. And then…we race.

Horsepower Wars Season 3 is made possible by its title sponsor Lucas Oil as well as ARPBMR Suspension, Comp Cams, Dyna-Batt, E3 Spark Plugs, Holley, Kooks Header, Lucas Oil, MAHLE Motorsports, Moroso, Moser Engineering,  NOS, PROFORM PartsPRW IndustriesQA1Ron Francis, Summit Racing, SpicerTotal Seal, Victor Reinz, Tuff Stuff Performance, Mickey Thompson Performance Tires & Wheels, B&M, Impact Race Products, and Weld Racing.

About the author

Andrew Wolf

Andrew has been involved in motorsports from a very young age. Over the years, he has photographed several major auto racing events, sports, news journalism, portraiture, and everything in between. After working with the Power Automedia staff for some time on a freelance basis, Andrew joined the team in 2010.
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