$10K Drag Shootout 3: Episode 2: "Smells Like A Rat"

$10K Drag Shootout 3: Episode 2: “Smells Like A Rat”

The $10K Drag Shootout is always a torrid affair out of the gate, like a lineup of thoroughbreds being unleashed at the Kentucky Derby, as teams strip the guts out of their respective machines to get them down to a bare shell and a fresh palette upon which to build. The interiors are removed, the engine, driveline, rear suspension, core supports, and so on.

The teams stripping their respective machines down for a fresh canvas.

Bendpak’s Car Lifts

Bendpak’s QuickJack BL-5000SLX mobile lifts.

The teams this year are utilizing Bendpak’s QuickJack BL-5000SLX mobile lifts to assist in their builds as the Horsepower Wars build center moved to a new location. These versatile, portable, lightweight, and rugged 5,000-pound capacity lifts feature a 21-inch rise, 3-inch lowered height, and measure 70-inches in length. Urethane wheels make it easy to pick the lifts up by hand and glide to your next destination. And because each frame operates independently, fluid pressure is controlled by a flow divider to ensure equal pressure in each frame. The lift pumps are being powered by Dyna-Batt batteries — we’ll see more of these in future episodes as teams install Dyna-Batt units in their vehicles. And since they run off the single 12-volt source, that means they can also be taken to the track. This will come in handy as you’ll see later!

The El Camino was emanating a putrid smell in the build center, the source of which wasn't immediately known. But as Home Grown tore the car apart, knowing there was an unwanted prize somewhere to be found, it finally discovered a dead rat sandwiched in the front suspension.

Staying Safe With Chassisworks

To ensure the safety of the drivers and do so separately of the strict budget, each of the four teams has also been supplied with pre-bent 8.50-certified, mild-steel roll cages from Chris Alston’s Chassisworks, built specific to the lines of each of the varying vehicle makes and models. 

These include pre-bent main hoops and upper door bars; a stock of straight tubing in varying diameters and lengths was also given for teams to fabricate bracing and other items on their cars and trucks. Each kit is a 10-point style with an X-brace, and is readily available from Chris Alston aside from the Firebird that required some measurements for a custom order (main hoop, cage sides, and windshield to be exact).

The roll cages, of all things, have become an early source of drama in the Horsepower Wars build center. Team MAK, ignoring instructions from the Horsepower Wars staff to fit by hand and confirm each of the pre-bent roll cages to ensure they were given the right kit – cut, fit, and fully welded the roll cage into its S-10 by the second day of the build. As Team Out In Front went to put the cage in its Mustang, it became evident what they had was not intended for a pony car…but rather, something more akin to an S-10. 

Roll bars being first in Villain Squad's Firebird (left) and Home Grown's El Camino.

Tempers flared as Out In Front took MAK to task for its mistake, but a plan was hatched to get Out In Front some raw mild-steel tubing so that it could bend the upper door bars to fit its vehicle. That, of course, put the team behind on its progress.

Team MAK took heat from Out In Front when they final-installed the roll cage intended for its Mustang in their S-10. Out In Front was relegated to procuring raw mild-steel tubing and bending new bars to fit.

The Engine Combos

As the teams make the transition from tearing down to building back up, they’re also lining out their engine combinations. As we’ve seen play out in years past, GM’s venerable LS engine platform is really hard to beat — they’re cheap, they can take a lot of abuse (especially if you only need one to survive for a few passes on boost), and because they were put in millions of production pickup trucks, SUV’s, and cars, you can literally find one anywhere. Each of the last two seasons a team has built a nitrous-fed big-block, and last year the extra effort nearly paid off with a near-win by Team Bigun…but this year, all four teams have chosen the LS engine. But they’re not all using the same iteration.

Team Home Grown, which was relegated to — but admitted they ultimately wanted — the 1979 El Camino, procured a 226,000-mile 6.0-liter which they’ll be disassembling to install new MAHLE pistons, Total Seal rings, and performing other massage work to improve its ability to handle boost. That boost will be provided by a BorgWarner 80mm cast turbo, with Renegade E85 in the tank. Home Grown is using a Turbo 400 transmission in its build.

Villain Squad was a last-minute entrant into this year’s competition, and as such, they didn’t have time to plan for and acquire an engine and turbocharger before they arrived. That left team leader Geo Ramos and company scouring southern California for an engine well after they had begun working on their 1999 Pontiac Firebird. The team finally found a 5.3-liter in good shape, that came minus the cylinder heads. They then bought a set of GM 862 heads from the junkyard, and a BorgWarner Turbo S480 80mm turbo to pair with it. Villain Squad has chosen a Turbo 400 transmission and 3.55 rear gear to move its car.

Team MAK, on the other end of the spectrum from Villain Squad, not only had an engine, but it had run the guts out of it for over a year in another car. Team leader Adam Hodson pulled the proven, aluminum 5.3-liter from he and business partner Nick Taylor’s street/no-prep car known as “Mountain Dew” and shipped it to California. When it arrived, Hodson joked that it had two bent rods — the result of 150,000 miles on the road and over 150 passes at over 30-pounds of boost. Only he wasn’t joking…the rods really were bent. Like the two previous teams, MAK has selected a Turbo 400 transmission and a 4.10 gear.

Because it was technically a damaged engine, the Horsepower Wars staff gave Team MAK a break on the “street value” of the engine, which allowed them to fit into the budget a pair of new rods to replace those that were bent. MAK, like other teams, bought a BorgWarner S480 turbo.

Team Out In Front, led by Marcus Thompson, snatched up a gen III 5.3-liter and a set of mismatched heads (243 and 799 castings) and an 80mm cast turbo to power its 1999 Ford Mustang. In a departure from its competition, Thompson and company have opted for a Powerglide transmission, noting that it’s cheaper, lighter, and can still handle the power they want to throw at it. They’ll be using a 3.73 rear gear.

Stopping Power From Wilwood

Since most of the teams are keeping the factory front control arms on the cars for the sake of budget, one of the first items to go on many of the cars is the brakes. Each year, front brake kits are provided to the teams as a safety measure, and this year, the team at Wilwood, one of drag racing’s leading brake system manufacturers, has supplied its Forged Dynalite kits 

These kits feature forged billet, five-lug hubs with direct-mount 10.75-inch steel rotors and aluminum calipers and hat, that all combine to provide an average weight savings of over 30-pounds over stock drum or disc brakes. Kits include all new hardware, wheel bearings, seals, and extra length lug studs. Wilwood highly recommends upgrading the rear brakes, too. According to Wilwood, since the contact patch is so much larger on the rear tires, the rear can often do more work than the front in a drag car.

Weld Racing’s Practice Tree Challenge

Horsepower Wars official Lonnie Grim introduces the rules to the practice tree challenge.

The end of day two of the build also brought the teams their first challenge. The folks at Weld Racing sponsored this mano-e-mano battle between the drivers of each of the four teams in a best-of-three practice tree competition, with the winner given the choice of any in-stock set of Weld Racing wheels from the catalog at Summit Racing Equipment. Not only would winning this competition make someone’s car look super-fly, but it would also mark a line item off the budget the team would need to use on its build.

This year’s race, of course, will be a no-prep affair, and no-prep racing is traditionally an instant-green start — meaning there are no amber lights, only a flash of green. This style tree mimics the flashlight start common in street racing, and it really presents an opportunity for gamesmanship and risk-taking, as one can take a guess at the tree and potentially turn it into a huge advantage…or, they can go red.

MAK's Nick Taylor took two of three from Home Grown's Amanda Howe in the first pairing.

Putting a little extra skin in the game, for the first time in the $10K Drag Shootout, teams were allowed to bet their actual cash build budget — out of the $3,000 they began with — up to $500 on their driver. Nothing quite like putting your already thin budget on the line to ratchet up the drama.

After a tense and drawn-out burn-down to start their match, Geo Ramos of Villain Squad beat Out In Front's Marcus Thompson in their pairing.

Using the results of the Hot Rodders of Tomorrow engine building challenge from day one as the ladder, of sorts, Team MAK’s Nick Taylor was paired with Team Homegrown’s Amanda Howe in the opening stanza, while Out In Front’s Marcus Thompson faced Geo Ramos of the Villain Squad. In their matchup, Taylor and Howe each took a winning tree in the first two runs, and in the third and final match, it was Taylor taking the win and advancing to the finale.

Team leader Adam Hodson (left) and Taylor celebrate their challenge victory over Ramos.

The other pairing was full of excitement out of the gate, though. With a little bit of side cash put on the line, Ramos and Thompson were intent on getting in one another’s head. On the first run, the two sat there, and sat there….and sat there, neither wanting to light the stage bulb first. This went on long enough that Horsepower Wars tech official Lonnie Grim told the two to stage up…or else. In the end, Ramos took the best-of-three and moved on to the final. There, with a little more cash in the game, Taylor took two of three from Ramos, earned his team a rad set of V-Series double-beadlock wheels, and came away with an extra $100 of cash in its build budget from the bets it won in the competition.

Team MAK with their slick V-Series Weld Racing wheels.

UPS And Totally FedUp

The Villain Squad shopping for parts on the Summit Racing website.

As they’ve done in the previous two seasons of the $10K Drag Shootout, Summit Racing Equipment has graciously provided each of the four teams with $7,000 in gift card credit to purchase any items from its vast catalog needed to build its car. In addition, Summit’s staff is staying on the horn after-hours to get parts off to the teams with next-day shipping so they can keep marching along in the build during this extra-tight 10-day timeframe. The problem, though, is the coronavirus pandemic has caused frequent delays in shipping times across all of the major shipping companies, and teams are finding deliveries much later than intended or hoped. Virtually everyone is waiting on parts and running behind — Villain Squad, in particular, is battling not only with finding an engine and transmission, but shipping delays and even lost shipments are really putting the team further behind the eight-ball. 

Villain Squad leader Geo Ramos spent the early days of the build on the phone and roaming around SoCal in search of parts for the team’s Firebird.

In addition to its shipping challenges, teams are finding it a little tougher than usual to find used parts local — California remains in a little more of a locked-down state, and junkyards and speed shops either aren’t open for business to dole out parts, for the LS engines, and transmissions the way they would if business were operating as usual, or simply have less of a selection. It all adds up to a unique challenge not usually faced in this competition.

Next week, we’ll see how teams are faring with their Summit parts orders and pick-a-part trips as the builds near mid-point, with the big race looming ever-larger with each tick of the clock.

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.

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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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