If you’re going to kick off the start to a race season in style, it would be accurate to say that the NMCA gave Buzz Lightyear a run for his money at its 2020 season opener in Bradenton, Florida. Records were broken thanks in part to great weather and a dedicated track crew that maintained a consistent racing surface over massive swings in conditions. The stands were packed for qualifying and eliminations, and the safety team and staff displayed unrivaled professionalism in response to multiple on-track incidents. Muscle Car Mayhem at Bradenton Motorsports Park was an intense beginning to the NMCA’s 2020 season.
With each call to the lanes, the fans gathered in masses to the bleachers of BMP to watch VP Racing Lubricants Xtreme Pro Mod make a hit. Of the seventeen cars that made battled to make it into the field, one of them was unique in that it was street-legal. These 4,000-plus horsepower behemoths are usually temperamental alcoholics chewing through ethanol.
But Tom Bailey and his engine builder, Steve Morris of Steve Morris Engines have managed to assemble a Pro Mod capable of qualifying in the field, while also retaining the street-going manners to lead the 30-mile True Street cruise over the highways and byways of Florida. Bailey is best known for his multiple victories on Hot Rod Magazine’s Drag Week and 5-second capable Camaro’s performances in that arena, but this weekend he was looking to make an upset of the Pro Mod field. The car relies on SME’s revolutionary SMX engine, which is a 4,500-horsepower-capable twin-turbocharged billet engine that incorporates water jackets into its architecture to ensure the engine stays cool on the torture test that is Drag Week. Bailey’s ride was certainly in the ballpark of being competitive—astonishing in its own right—but he was unable to shake a few mechanical bugs that prevented him from leaving the line in round one.
Another surprise appearance in eliminations was Jeff Rudolph’s Camaro, cut down a tire on the top end, which forced him into a foam timing block and demolished the nose of his beautiful car. But his crew—along with many others like Mark Woodruff, Craig Sullivan, their teams and a few other good samaritans—thrashed to ensure the black beauty was back on track for Q3, albeit a little less beautiful. Jeff held the top speed of the weekend, cresting 215 mph.
The Pro Mod semi-final on Sunday at Muscle Car Mayhem introduced an unwelcome bit of excitement when Keith Haney’s “Black Mamba” Camaro took a flip on its lid after throwing the chutes against Andrew Handras. Haney was thankfully unharmed during the incident, but it was determined that his run was disqualified for crossing the centerline.
This decision put Handras back into the race to meet the number one qualifier and quickest car of the weekend—Eric Gustafson’s ProCharged Camaro—in the final round. Handras took the starting line advantage, but it wasn’t enough to best the fourth pass in the 3.60s in a row by Gustafson’s white ProCharged Camaro, which rightfully occupied its place in the winner’s circle after a super-consistent performance all weekend.