SMALL-BLOCK HEMI EN­TERS GRUDGE RAC­ING

Speed, Adren­a­line and Pure The­atrics

Drag Racer - - Contents - Text by Fer­gus Ogilvy Pho­tos by Moore Good Ink

GRUDGE RAC­ING HAS DOM­I­NATED THE DRAG RAC­ING SCENE IN THE SOUTH­ERN STATES FOR DECADES, BUT IN RE­CENT YEARS, THE IN­TER­NET

HAS CON­QUERED EV­ERY PART OF

ITS FRENETIC LIFE, PAR­TIC­U­LARLY FACE­BOOK POST­INGS THAT HAVE EX­PANDED ITS SOUTH­ERN ORI­GINS (GE­OR­GIA, FLORIDA AND THE CAROLINAS) WESTWARD TO THE MIS­SIS­SIPPI RIVER AND NORTH TO THE SHORES OF LAKE MICHI­GAN.

To its mass of fans, its chief dy­namic is straight­for­ward: bet­ting. There is no max­i­mum amount; when a dol­lar changes hands it’s a grudge race.

The money won and lost, some­times in siz­able amounts, is only sur­passed by the pride or the poor judg­ment of the car own­ers, en­trants, driv­ers and spec­ta­tors—such ad­ven­ture, such po­ten­tial for gain, such drama. Still, in the rapid pass­ing of an 1/8-mile, the prospects of re­turn­ing home $10,000 poorer are ag­o­niz­ing.

A STRICTLY CASH ECON­OMY

In their pre-race ne­go­ti­a­tions, a grudge racer at­tempts to learn as much as pos­si­ble about his ri­val’s rac­ing his­tory and the com­pet­i­tive­ness of the ri­val’s car. They op­er­ate with “stips,” an ab­bre­vi­a­tion of “stip­u­la­tions” that spec­ify what is al­lowed: small-block­pow­ered car on 28/10.5 tires with a cast in­take man­i­fold and a sin­gle 4bl or dual 4bl car­bu­re­tors. If your op­po­nent has a his­tory of swap­ping en­gines, the stips might have a clause that al­lows

you to view the en­gine be­fore the race.

When all is set­tled, per­haps a week in ad­vance of the race, the de­posits of the two op­po­nents are sent to a third party, a neu­tral per­son known as the “DP” man (an ab­bre­vi­a­tion of “de­posit” man). The de­posit acts as a con­tract be­tween two peo­ple who have agreed to race. At the track, be­fore the race, the full wa­ger is handed over to the DP, who is en­trusted with the monies and the re­spon­si­bil­ity of en­forc­ing the stips, and then dis­pens­ing the money to the win­ner.

Grudge-race cars are mostly ni­trousox­ide-as­sisted; they also com­pete in shoot-out events. These are or­ga­nized by a pro­moter who guar­an­tees to pay a sum of money to the racers if suf­fi­cient cars are en­tered into the event. A typ­i­cal ar­range­ment might pay the first four places: $3,000 to the win­ner, $1,000 to the run­ner-up, and $500 each to thir­dand fourth-place fin­ish­ers.

Al­ter­na­tively, they draw chips, like poker chips, that spec­ify a num­ber and a let­ter, “L” or “R,” which sig­ni­fies the “left” or “right” lane. The two racers that draw num­ber one are paired for the first round and sim­i­larly with num­ber two and three and so forth.

These pair­ings in­tro­duce fur­ther po­ten­tial for mon­e­tary gain, which might vary from $500 to $2,500. Dur­ing the driv­ers’ meet­ing, racers will ask the pro­moter if he has any ob­jec­tion to their plac­ing grudge-race bets with their first-round op­po­nents. Usu­ally, there are no ob­jec­tions.

Both grudge rac­ing and shoot-outs op­er­ate as No-Time events, the ob­jec­tive is to shroud in mys­tery as much race-car de­tail as pos­si­ble. Ob­vi­ously, should a po­ten­tially lu­cra­tive match arise, it’s in each racer’s in­ter­est that many of their per­for­mance de­tails re­main un­known.

Both grudge rac­ing and shoot-outs op­er­ate as No-Time events, the ob­jec­tive is to shroud in mys­tery as much race-car de­tail as pos­si­ble. Ob­vi­ously, should a po­ten­tially lu­cra­tive match arise, it’s in each racer’s in­ter­est that many of their per­for­mance de­tails re­main un­known.

At­lanta race car prepa­ra­tion spe­cial­ist

Scott Mil­ner says, “You’d be for­given for think­ing grudge rac­ing at­tracts ques­tion­able in­di­vid­u­als, but of­ten it’s the op­po­site. Their rac­ing world is more or­ga­nized than you’d ex­pect.” More im­por­tantly, their word is their bond. “If you don’t pay your bet,” he ex­plains, “you’re fin­ished. Word gets around, and no one will race you. A stain on your name means your grudge-rac­ing days are over. Most peo­ple do what they say they’ll do.”

DRAMA AND CO­ME­DI­ANS

For some, though, the most an­noy­ing as­pect of grudge rac­ing is the the­atrics of the spec­ta­tors, par­tic­u­larly those crowded around the rear of the cars pre­par­ing to leave the line. Chaotic scenes to some, per­haps, but for those en­gag­ing in the histri­on­ics it is the most en­joy­able as­pect.

Ac­com­plished grudge racer Jonathan May says, “It can be or­ga­nized chaos, but there’s noth­ing per­sonal in their some­times hos­tile ne­go­ti­a­tions. It’s just busi­ness—as they call it. I see it as com­i­cal.” For most of us, trash-talk­ing is a cu­ri­ous en­deavor, and grudge rac­ing, for good or ill, has its share of out­landish co­me­di­ans.

As in most rac­ing cat­e­gories, the grudge game has fos­tered a di­ver­sity of ma­chin­ery, fre­quently in re­splen­dent con­di­tion. There may be some that give the ap­pear­ance of a back­yard spe­cial in a de­cep­tive ef­fort to help bet­ting chances. But heroic fail­ures don’t ex­ist be­cause there is al­ways a car that can be matched with yours.

WIN­NING FOR­MULA

The race car most of­ten lured to the start­ing line, at least in Ge­or­gia, is the Fox-body Mus­tang. Pro­duced from 1979 to 1993, the abun­dance of these ve­hi­cles and their con­ver­sion to race cars has spurred an in­dus­try en­dowed with dyno cells, chas­sis-tuning de­part­ments and spray-paint­ing booths that re­main busy through­out the year.

Supremacy, un­sur­pris­ingly, is the ob­jec­tive, but trum­pet­ing your suc­cess can be detri­men­tal to your rac­ing prospects. None­the­less, in­ter­net bench racers can adeptly cal­cu­late an 80% win ra­tio when they see it.

A visit to Coupe Per­for­mance fa­cil­i­ties in Cov­ing­ton, Ge­or­gia—one of the most suc­cess­ful prepa­ra­tion shops in the coun­try— re­veals around 50 race cars, all with their hoods shut to the vis­i­tor’s pry­ing eye. Founded by Mil­ner in 2001, he ac­knowl­edges the Fox-body has an OEM rear sus­pen­sion that re­sem­bles a com­pe­ti­tion 4-link sys­tem. There­fore, it’s em­i­nently suited to com­pe­ti­tion. The car is also rel­a­tively light with a plen­ti­ful sup­ply of rac­ing com­po­nents avail­able.

ABOVE. Though grudge rac­ing has no for­mal tech in­spec­tion, the racer’s rou­tine checks in­clude fuel and ni­trous lev­els, and spark plugs, which are usu­ally re­placed af­ter each round of rac­ing. Be­fore dis­card­ing the plugs, racers per­form a color check on...

Lead­ing con­struc­tor, tuner and racer Scott Mil­ner (left) and ac­com­plished com­peti­tor Jonathan May stand with a Mus­tang whose own­er­ship has al­ter­nated be­tween them for years.

The cock­pit is en­closed by a chrome-moly roll cage, 1.625x0.083inch wall thick­ness, and car­bon­fiber seat re­in­forced by ½-inch tubu­lar frame. Ra­cepak in­stru­ments nes­tle in a quick-re­lease car­bon­fiber dash­board. Par­tially ob­scured to the right of the...

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