Eastbound & Down: BlownZ Heads East To The NMCA Super Bowl!

We may be smoking something. High off the fumes of winning the NMCA Street Outlaw Race at Fontana and taking over the points lead in the NMCA West Street Outlaw class, I decided we should think about taking our Southern California-based 275 race car into the deep waters of the east coast for the NMRA/NMCA Super Bowl of Street Legal Drag Racing at the Route 66 Raceway Joliet, Illinois — the biggest and most prestigious race on the calendar. The guys from the NMCA (Dave W, Rollie, and Steve Wolcott) did plenty of prodding and pushing — but it seemed enticing. We want to do battle with some of the fastest guys in the country in Street Outlaw. It took some beer and a generous offer from our crew member David Lukason who agreed to pilot our rig to Chicago, some 2,000 miles (each way) to Route 66, before we finally decided we should, could, and can do this. 

The day after the Fontana win, I booked our plane tickets for the trip, and then later that week, our crew chief, Sean Goude, got down to get some regular maintenance done on our 400 cubic inch LSX engine built by Late Model Engines, which typically starts with a mandatory leak down and compression check. With only two weeks before we were scheduled to load the car up and head to Chicago, our trusty leak down gauge started getting some healthy taps to it’s face. We couldn’t believe the results, so we tested the No. 2 cylinder about seven times, before confirming that we had over 40% leak down in that cylinder.

The choice at that point was simple — either take a mad thrash at making the race by pulling the engine and fixing whatever lurked inside, or give up, hang our heads, and stay out here on the west coast.

“Once you learn to quit, it becomes a habit.” – Vince Lombardi

We aren’t good at quitting. We got to work with some serious help from several companies along the way. With some troubleshooting from my friend Kurt Urban, it turned out yours truly (me) had screwed up our cooling system by running some additional cooling lines the wrong direction through the Edelbrock LSR heads. Thus, we got some major heat in a few of the cylinders, and hurt the rings in No. 2. We got our engine out and shipped via Fedex 2-day freight to Houston, Total Seal overnighted us new rings, Late Model Engines thrashed over a weekend to get the engine repaired, we got a big hand from our friends at Manton and Jesel who got some some spare fresh pieces, and the engine was back in the crate in a record six days. It wasn’t without it’s share of drama, in some ways this was worse than a day-time soap opera. Twice, Fedex missed it’s ship date giving us an almost cardiac-arrest as our timeline was literally razor-thin. Then, as we were re-assembling the bullet, a pinched electrical line smoked our Lithium Battery and almost lit the car on fire. It wasn’t our finest moment, but that’s what happens when you go racing. Things rarely go to plan, but that’s kind of the point — you have to expect challenges and learn to overcome them.

We are now packed, loaded, and Eastbound and Down on the way from SoCal to Chicago, with 2,000 miles of blacktop ahead. We’ll update you soon and we’re going to blog about this entire experience in photos and updates each day.

Sunday: “Race Day”

Having to go to sleep knowing you are going to face the No. 1 qualifier first thing in the morning is an interesting feeling. On the one hand, we had a lot of confidence in our car and in our team’s ability to adapt and step up. On the other hand, we simply didn’t have enough laps on a good racetrack and with our new ProCharger F1X-12 to dive into our logbook and plug in a proven tune up. It would require — to some level — educated guessing. Our plan was simple – attempt to run as close to a 7.10 as possible and try to get the job done on the tree. Rob Goss had run 7.07 in better air conditions than we had, and in some ways like us, didn’t have a substantial number of runs in that E.T. range with that car. We knew they were capable of 7.0X runs, but that might have been a bigger stretch for us.

The nasty black Challenger and our white Camaro pulled into the burnout box and white smoke quickly filled the air. It was ProCharger vs. ProCharger in the second round and it was about to get nasty. I drove our car into the beams — focused on cutting a laser quick light, and I was rewarded with one of my best ever, an .015,  giving me almost a tenth of a second over Rob who went .124. I could hear him the entire run as his billet-headed Hemi crawled slowly up our backside.

At the stripe, by .06-seconds, we took the win light — 7.16/200.56 to Rob’s 7.12 at 198. The win not only produced our best-ever E.T., but entry into the coveted 200 MPH Street Outlaw club. In fact, it was the only 200 mph run in eliminations.

7.16 to 7.12 didn’t tell the whole story. Our .015 light saved the day. Now THAT was a great drag race.


200 MPH has a nice ring to it.

In the other second round match, feared racer Andy Manson advanced against Tony Alm who experienced some mechanical problems. That meant it was us versus Manson in the semi-finals.

Sometimes everything goes your way. Other times, the bouncing ball doesn’t head your way, but ends up smashing you in your face. Welcome to the big leagues, they said.

In the semi-finals, we tried to lose every possible way.

  • The car wouldn’t start five minutes before our lane call. An o-ring had dislodged itself in the fuel system and the system had lost prime. We had to thrash in a new o-ring and a new fuel-pump and barely made the call
  • The driver (that’s me) managed to deep stage the car by accident. Nice.
  • My lightning quick reaction time (ha ha) combined with the deep stage results in a -.009 red. – 0 0 9. Ouch.
  • We spun the tires anyway to make me feel better

We had an o-ring dislodge from the fuel system and had to quickly swap in some fresh components. Better inspection and maintenance would have prevented this.

Manson ran an efficient, tough 7.12 at 197 to take us out. We were packing up and heading home. Manson ended up in the finals obviously against a nitrous big block-powered F-body driven by Phil Smith, and his own -.004 red light wrecked his day. Smith took the win with a 7.109 at 193.99 to beat Manson who still managed a 7.115 at 198. That’s six thousandths of a difference, and that is some nasty Street Outlaw racing.

I have so many people to thank that I’m not going to try. Great companies, partners, our great crew (Sean, Dean, Dave, Eric), and my family (Melissa and my two amazing kids), and our entire team at Power Automedia — you guys rock and thank you for helping us fulfill our dreams.

We are towing home, and getting ready for Race No. 4 in NMCA West Street Outlaw in Las Vegas. Wish us luck.

Loading up for the tow home.

Saturday: Eliminations Get Underway

With rain still drizzling in about 10 am, over the crackly loud speaker, the NMCA announced that we were moving straight into Round 1 eliminations. Things were about to get real. No more test hits, it was go time. In the first round, the 94mm turbo machine of Gino Cavallo awaited us. Should we get past him, the #1 qualifier Rob Goss awaited. Past that, mostly likely to be Andy Manson, Tony Alm, or Dwayne Barbaree. A murder’s row of Street Outlaw machines. We would only get 1 round of eliminations on Saturday, with Sunday producing the rest of the match ups.

This is what the ladder came down to after 2 rounds of qualifying. Rob Goss on the pole with a 7.07 at 203 mph. We have Gino who managed to run slightly quicker than us in round 1 with a 94mm turbo combination. He is no slouch and ran 7.22 and 7.24 in the round of qualifying. The track was tight this round and we managed a 7.22 at 195 mph, to pair along with a good light, to take out Gino, who had a head gasket issue about 200-feet down track.


Heavy burnout before Round 1 eliminations.


Here is another cool picture. As mentioned, we arose to heavy rain showers this morning that finally pushed out of the area around noon, forcing NMCA officials to cancelled the third and final qualifying session and go straight into eliminations. With our no. 8 spot in the order, we were paired up with Gino Cavallo in round one. We tuned up BlownZ and made our best pass at 7.22 and 194 miles per hour and change to advance after Gino ran into some trouble down track. In the next round, we’ll be taking on No. 1 qualifier Rob Goss. What a great prize!

Friday: Qualifying Day 1

It’s kind of weird when you run your best ever ET but you got your asses kicked. Friday kicked our asses. We ended up qualified in the #8 position with a 7.29 at 199.3 mph, but it was one of those days where nothing seemed to go right and we just had issue after issue popping up left and right. We experienced some issues with a vacuum regulator, an EGT failure, and struggled with the tune up with the good air. The first two test runs were a mixed bag.

In T1, we had what we thought was a low 7.30 tune up in it, but the air was good (1800 ft) and it was about 74 degrees. I lifted off the trans brake button and the car left pretty violently recording 2.4 G’s before striking the tires about .6 seconds into the run. I pedaled it and still managed a 4.84 at 159 mph in the 1/8. That was encouraging, by far our fastest 1/8 mile time. The reality was that was probably a low 7-teen tune up and we just hadnt accounted properly for the air and temperature conditions since the last race in Fontana was 3500+ ft of air. We had only intended to run 1/8 mile on the first run always. So in T2, we soften up the tune up.. but I did what was in retrospect was a pretty poor burnout. We went up in smoke off the trans brake. So we were off to Q1 without much information.


Without a good baseline, we decided to be conservative for Q1 and get a number on the board. A pretty healthy burnout, and the trans brake button release brought the sweet sounds of the engine slightly breaking up in first gear. We were pulling more timing that we ever had, and the engine simply was not happy. The car stayed relatively straight through the groove, and we ran a 4.84/157 and 7.29/199 run. A soft 1.27 60 showed that we may have taken too much out, but the engine being unhappy in first gear was a bigger issue.


We stepped things up in Q2 to run to get into the 7.0s, but the engine breaking up in first gear was still present resulting in a 1.22 60′ not the 1.16-1.17 we were targeting. We did manage a 4.7 1/8 mile at 159, but I had to lift as the car drifted out of the grove and made a decent move to the right on the 2-3 shift. I might have stayed in it if was an elimination round, but it wasn’t worth it in qualifying. It would have been a 7.17 or 7.18 run all out – better – but not the E.T. that we were looking for.

At this point, we’re on the case trying to figure out first gear. We think it’s a rotor phasing issue (we’ve never pulled this much timing in first before) and we’ve made some changed to address it. Rob Goss went #1 with a 7.07 at 203, with John Urist at #2 with a 7.09, and 7.20s aren’t going to get it done most likely. We’ll move on to Q3, or E1 (depending on the rain) with some potential high-hopes. Wish us luck.

Q2 ended up being an aborted run. 1.22 to the 60′ and a 4.7 1/8 mile were slightly better but didn’t address our issues in first gear.


We are struggling with the 60′ here at Joliet. Our tune ups from Cali were 3500-4000 ft of air based, and now with 2000 ft of air they are too hot.


BlownZ looking pissed. It’s a long way to Chicago to struggle 🙂


Getting ready for qualifying round 2 at famed Route 66 raceway.


Prep before the second round of Qualifying.


Front view of the 7.29 / 199 Round 1 Q hit.


Our best ET ever was still a pretty disappointing run. 7.29 at 199.3 mph (recorded 206) in Round 1 put us #4 qualifier at the time. It was not a clean run.


Our first order of business this morning before we hit the track for testing? The local gas station to stock up on 240 lbs. of ice for the intercooler…just enough to get us through the day.

Thursday: Getting Ready

Today was a busy day even though it was a Thursday. The engine in the car is freshened, so we had to go through a break-in process, and then also get a baseline on our valve spring pressures, leak down and compression checks. It’s always important to check the trans brake and tune in new weather conditions just to make sure that your existing tune up doesn’t need to be tweaked too badly. Plus, we went through NMCA Street Outlaw tech. 2 rounds of qualifying await us tomorrow.


We took a nice walk down the famed Route 66 track surface. It’s freshly scraped and super sticky. I even lost my sandal at about 200′.

The Trip

We are here… Joliet, IL… 2,000 miles later and $1500 in diesel fuel means our wallet is hurting and Dave’s butt is sore. 

Beautiful Route 66 Raceway. #letsdothis


Welcome to Chicago. We’re ready to get this hot rod unloaded and go drag racing.


We decided to take the I-40 Eastbound and take a delicious trip through Texas. Everything is bigger in Texas, including the beers. (Disclaimer: we consumed a fat Amarillo beer after we had made camp and stopped down for the evening!) Next step is a romp through Oklahoma and the final stretch to Joliet.


1,993 miles driving almost cross the entire country to go drag racing. Hell yes.

The Thrash – The Week Before Joliet

That sickening feeling when you have no engine and a race drawing ever-nearer.


LME got us our bullet back in literally four days. Completely disassembled, hone, re-assemble, fresh rings and valve springs. These guys kick ass.


Ready, set, assemble. We had one day to install our engine and hit the road.

About the author

James Lawrence

James started working on a Nostalgia Top Fuel drag racing team in 1992, and the rest has been history. A life-long automotive enthusiast, James is in fierce competition to see whether he can collect more cars or cats. Right now, the cars are winning. James co-founded the NMRA and NMCA Drag Racing Series in 1998 and continues to be an avid and passionate fan on everything 1320. He also thinks he can drive. Thinks, is the key word.
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