$10K Drag Shootout 3: Episode 6: “Minutes Left”

This is it: do or die time in the Horsepower Wars $10K Drag Shootout presented by Lucas Oil Products.

We’ve arrived at the final day-and-a-half of this 10-day buildathon, and blood, sweat, tears, and nearly some punches have been thrown to get each of the four teams to this point. In just a few hours, the final bell will ring on the last of two grueling 16-hour days, and what’s done is done. The teams will have an off-day and then they’ll head to the Barona Dragstrip in Southern California, where they will then have a day-and-change to test and dial in their cars, get qualified, and then it’s game-on for $10,000 and a pink slip. The losers? Well, they go home with their tail between their legs and the clothes they brought with them.

When we left off last week, two of the teams — Out In Front and Mid America Kustomz (MAK) — were making final tweaks to get their machines dyno-ready. The Villain Squad, behind before they ever showed up 10 days ago and the victims of both circumstance and their own disfunction, were fighting to clap their way back into the race. But it was Home Grown that delivered the big drama, as they hurt the engine–in devastating fashion–in driver Amanda Howe’s first crack at the chassis dyno.

Everyone’s close, and yet everyone is seemingly so far away, and as Home Grown has already proven, 10 days of work can be derailed in an instant.

Is Home Grown’s Goose Cooked?

In what proved to be a simple but costly oversight, Home Grown — after evaluating its El Camino after the dyno debacle — found that the grille, butted up against the dome pressure sensor, had caused the sensor to lose signal, forcing the wastegate to stay open and pushing all the boost into the engine. Subsequently, the dead cylinder was filled with water, evident by the fluid gushing out of the spark plug hole. The good news in all of it, however, was that the El Camino pumped out a very healthy 965 horsepower to the tires with its Renegade Race Fuels Pro E85 fuel. The only question now is whether they can repair those 965 horses and get them to the track in less than 48 hours.

Team leader Jim Howe, Jr. and his crew quickly got the car back to the build center, pulled the damaged cylinder head, and found the damage to be repairable — a melted MLS head gasket was the worst of it, and a little massage work to the ports and fresh hardware has the team back in business. In just three hours, the team has turned the car around and is ready to go racing. With no more dyno time, Howe, wife Amanda, and the team will go to the track with a running but not entirely tested car.

Kooks Headers & Exhaust

To get their engines complete and turbo systems buttoned up, the teams have needed headers and a gaggle of plumbing for the hot and cold side of the turbochargers. To alleviate that costly part of their budgets (and the considerable time it would take to build headers from scratch), Kooks Headers & Exhaust has supplied each team with a set of pre-made headers, and a range of raw material tubing for customizing the configuration to the Nth degree.

Team Out In Front and Home Grown used 1-7/8- x 3-inch stainless-steel upswept turbo headers for their builds; Out In Front likewise used 3- and 4-inch 90-degree bends and 180-degrees bends, along with O2 sensor bungs. Villain Squad was forced to settle with factory exhaust manifolds, but did scrounge up some 3- and 3.5-inch V-bands and 3.5-inch, 90-degree bends from Kooks. As part of its game-plan, MAK chose factory manifolds for its build, but with its long-winded turbo configuration, it used a whole array of Kooks products, including an inlet reducer, inlet flange, and several 2.5- and 3-inch 45- and 90-degree bends.

Tuff Stuff

The team at Tuff Stuff has hooked each of the four teams up with high-quality alternators for the LS engines. 

Tuff Stuff’s alternators are hand-built using 100-percent new components and tested to meet or exceed OEM specifications. Its alternators are available in chrome plated, polished aluminum, powdercoated, and plain as-cast finishes.

Home Grown is using a 120-amp, one-wire factory GM-style unit; Villain Squad a 15-amp one-wire/OEM wire unit specific to LS engines; MAK a 150-amp, OEM wire; and Out In Front a 175-amp one-wire piece.

Out In Front

Out In Front has faced relatively little adversity through the first nine days, other than some differences of opinion among its members, but now down to the wire, its very street car-like Mustang is giving them fits in achieving proper spool. After firing their tuner and shipping him across the shop to Home Grown, team leader Marcus Thompson and his gang have gone to work addressing both the existing problem and the one created by its tuner. The first: an uber-tight torque converter unmatched to the combination — a looser setup is necessary to get their desired result, so they’re back on the prowl for parts. And second, the transmission — overheated and cooked while spending entirely too much time up on the converter attempting to spool the day prior — needs a once-over.

Down to the wire, Out In Front gets the driveline bolted back in, and while a little slower than it would have liked, got the turbo to spool. With that, the Philly team is back in business. The team rushed over to the dyno, and with just 30 minutes to strap the Mustang down, make preparations, and stretch the turbo-LS’ legs, netting 590 peak horsepower on Renegade Race Fuels Pro 120+ fuel. Like Home Grown, it will not have a chance to dial-in its tune-up before the big race.

Dyna-Batt And Moroso Provide The Power 

These cars certainly weren’t going to make it far without a battery powering its systems and delivering the energy to the ignition coils, so a good battery was a must — as was a safe electrical system. And so, in continuing with tradition, the gang at Dyna-Batt (a division of Performance Distributors) stopped in to provide each of the teams with its 13.5-pound dry-cell unit, featuring the cranking power of wet cell batteries three times its size, thanks to the extremely low internal resistance which allows faster, more consistent starting. These batteries have been tested to crank engines with compression ratios as high as 15:1, and the reserve capacity is 16 Amp Hours. A 12-volt charger is all that’s needed, and corrosion-resistant terminals make it maintenance-free.

The batteries are all housed inside sealed battery boxes from Moroso Performance Products, which are NHRA and IHRA approved and are perfect for relocating your battery to the rear of a vehicle. For safety, the teams will use Moroso’s Battery Disconnect Switch, with a quick-twist operation, and a four-terminal, 20-foot Battery Cable Kit designed for use with its battery box.

Before the global pandemic derailed things, Australia’s Team Enemies Everywhere was set to come back to defend its $10K Drag Shootout title this season. Unable to do so but still fully invested in the show, leader Jamie Farmer shipped all four teams a set of its sleek and lightweight titanium lug nuts for their cars. The Villain Squad is also using EE bead locks on its Firebird.

Team MAK 

Team MAK was the first to fire its engine, but team leader Adam Hodson and everyone has been methodical in their approach to wiring and plumbing, believing they have the vehicle to beat and choosing to leave nothing to chance. With everything finally wrapped early on day 10, MAK is the second team to head over to the dyno to put the S-10 and its wild top-mounted turbo setup through its paces.

On its first hit, Nick Taylor gave it a rip but netted a disappointing 331 peak horsepower — a sure sign the boost wasn’t there. After addressing known issues with its wastegate, Taylor made another pull, jumping to a still-paltry 551 horsepower on their Renegade Race Fuels Pro E85 fuel. Out of its allotted time, though, MAK — for all of its precision efforts — will also head to the track with question marks remaining.

Villain Squad Battles To The End

The Villian Squad has finally put its many struggles behind it — it has the parts, an engine, a transmission — and now it’s all a matter of making up for lost time. Geo Ramos and his crew have pushed harder than any team have needed to get the Firebird close to completion, and if you ask their competitors, that they may have a running, driving car at Barona is a victory in and of itself. 

With 30 minutes to go in the build, Villain Squad has buttoned up its wiring and plumbing, poured the Renegade Race Fuels Pro 120+ in the tank, and all that’s left to do is put fire in the pipes. But will the engine in this car, built not in 10 days but in five or less, run at all? And can they get it going to make the call for round one at Barona? We’ll find out the answer to that and a whole lot of other questions next week, as the teams, at long last, trek to Barona for a fiery-hot couple of days of hardcore no-prep racing to lay it all on the line. And if what transpired today is any indication, this thing is still anyone’s 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 Headers, 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.

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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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