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The inaugural race of the NHRA’s Factory X presented by Holley class has been a long time coming. First announced back in November of 2021, Factory X was originally set to make its debut as an exhibition-only eliminator in the middle of the 2022 season, but the timeline was eventually pushed into 2023 due to supply-chain issues.
Organizers then intended to run an eight-race schedule this season, which included exhibition events at the NHRA Four-Wide Nationals in Charlotte on April 28-30 and the NHRA Thunder Valley Nationals at Bristol Dragway on June 9-11, but further delays scrapped those plans as well. Now, after nearly two years of anticipation, Factory X has finally made its debut at the Dodge Power Brokers NHRA U.S. Nationals at Lucas Oil Indianapolis Raceway Park. And the action delivered by the competitors in the fledgling class proved to be well worth the wait.
Enthusiasm for the new category has remained high despite the initial challenges it has faced. And when you take a closer look at the formula, it isn’t hard to understand why. Factory X is reserved for 2019-model-year and newer cars like the Chevrolet COPO Camaro, Dodge Challenger Drag Pak, and Ford Mustang Cobra Jet. The rules mandate factory-stock dimensions for all bodywork, steel construction for the roof and quarter panels, and a tube chassis that meets SFI 25.1, 25.2, and 25.3 specifications.
Factory X’s rule set also stipulates that the doors must follow OEM dimensions and be operable from inside and outside the vehicle, and the car must maintain a stock appearance – right down to bumper covers, grilles, headlights, and taillights – that’s consistent with the make, model, and year claimed.
The format also requires the cars to be equipped with five-speed manual transmissions with eight-inch clutches, driven by boosted factory-supplied powerplants like the COPO Camaro’s Magnuson-supercharged 350ci LS engine and the Dodge Challenger Drag Pak’s Whipple-supercharged 354-cube Gen III Hemi. Although there’s some fuzzy math involved when discussing the official output numbers of these race-spec mills, the combinations are estimated to deliver somewhere in the neighborhood of 1500 horsepower in the real world.
Notably, with a minimum weight of 2,650 pounds, Factory X cars are nearly 1000lbs lighter than those used in Factory Stock. This, along with the new class’s use of a wider 33x10.5-inch tire, equates to performance potential that could see these cars running high 6-second quarter miles at over 200 mph before long.
And as NHRA national tech director Lonnie Grim pointed out during a sneak peek at Geoff Turk’s Blackbird X Dodge Challenger at the PRI Show in late 2022, Factory X presented by Holley is not a class for the faint of heart. “There are no trans brakes, no automatic transmissions. [The rule set] makes it very exciting, but this class is not for everybody,” he explained. But it is for anybody who wants to step off of a third pedal and start rowing gears down the race track.”
Grim also noted that while the Factory X chassis is similar to what’s used in Pro Stock, the new category’s suspension package avoids some of the sophisticated – and costly – technology used in the latter, which should make Factory X accessible to a wider range of racers in turn. Organizers are also offering racers some potential perks that up the ante even further.
Foremost among those incentives, the winner of the new class will receive the category’s first-ever Wally. Named after NHRA founder Wally Parks, the highly coveted trophy was first awarded to racers back in 1969 and remains an incredibly elusive prize in the drag racing world today. Additionally, NHRA officials have announced the “Jesel 200 MPH Club.” The first driver to make a 200 mile-per-hour run in the new class will be awarded $10,000 for the achievement, while seven additional drivers will earn a cash payout for hitting the 200-mph mark as well. Each of the eight drivers will score a trophy along with a “Jesel 200 MPH Club” jacket, too.
The U.S. Nationals has played host to numerous historic moments in drag racing history over the years, so it seems fitting that Factory X ultimately made its debut at the annual week-long affair. Four cars were officially entered for the event, and each entry brought tremendous talent along with it, as well as some remarkable backstories.
The most dramatic of those stories came from Turk. While testing earlier this year at Beech Bend Raceway Park, his Dodge Challenger made a hard impact with the wall during a 7.24-second, 194-mph pass. He said the crash was the result of a “comedy of errors” set in motion by the sub-optimal placement of a parachute deployment switch. An accomplished racer with a long history of success in the NMCA’s Factory Super Cars class and elsewhere, Turk luckily walked away from the incident largely unscathed despite the ferocity of the impact. The freshly built 2021 Dodge Challenger Drag Pak was not as fortunate, though.
Undeterred, Turk immediately set to work dismantling the car with chassis builder Dave Zientara, and the team managed to get the Mopar back to fighting shape in record time. After the incident, Turk also understandably chose to bring in 2012 NHRA Pro Stock world champion Allen Johnson to pilot Blackbird X, which is motivated by the aforementioned combination of a 354ci Gen III Hemi with a 3.0-liter Whipple supercharger.
Facing off against the Blackbird X team were NHRA Super Stock champion Greg Stanfield and his son Aaron, a rising star in Pro Stock and a two-time Factory Stock Showdown champion. The Stanfield team’s weapon of choice is a 2023 COPO Camaro with a 350-cube LSX motor that’s paired up with a Magnuson 2.65-liter supercharger. The team worked with Jerry Haas Race Cars in Missouri to get the machine dialed in. This meant coming to grips with some of the unique class-specific aspects of the car’s configuration, such as the engine being located further forward in the stock-wheelbase chassis compared to Aaron’s Pro Stock car.
Veteran Ford racer Chris Holbrook is also in the mix. Over the years, Holbrook has found success in classes ranging from Super Stock to Pro Stock, but he says his new Factory X Mustang may be the coolest race car he’s ever owned. Outfitted with a 327ci Ford Coyote V8 that’s topped with a 3.0-liter Whipple supercharger, Holbrook says the 22-month build was completed just a few weeks before the U.S. Nationals and was an immediate hit with fans when the team brought the car to an NMCA event in late August to make some shakedown passes.
Rounding out the field is longtime Competition Eliminator racer and chassis builder Jim Cowan. Working with his son Kyle, the team’s COPO Camaro was built from the ground up at American Racecraft, their Surprise, Arizona-based shop. Former Pro Stock racer Tom Martino, who has worked with the Cowans on a number of competition engine builds over the past few years, was tasked with putting together the Camaro’s powerplant. Like the Stanfields’ entry, Cowan’s Camaro runs a 350-cube LSX mill, but it’s paired with a Whipple instead of Magnuson supercharger. Precision Racing Suspension provided the bits and pieces that help the Cowans’ Camaro put the power to the ground.
With the entire field still figuring out their setups and dialing in brand-new cars, Factory X presented by Holley got off to a somewhat tentative start at the Dodge Power Brokers NHRA U.S. Nationals. After the first round of qualifying, Johnson was leading the pack with an 8.02-second pass at 169 mph in the Blackbird X, but things quickly ramped up from there.
While Johnson would run a significantly quicker 7.689 at 179.28 mph in the second round, it wasn’t enough to hold off Holbrook’s 7.442 at 188.38 mph. Holbrook would outrun Johnson again in another close race during the third round of qualifying, but after struggling in the first two rounds, it was Greg Stanfield who put down the fastest Factory X time of the day with a 7.236 at 190.83 mph.
Stanfield would also deliver a similarly quick performance in the first elimination round, defeating Cowan with a 7.241 at 191.95 mph, while Holbrook bested Turk with a 7.344 at 186.95 mph. Stanfield would go on to take the win, with a 7.254 at 191.73 mph pass against Holbrook’s 8.047-second pass in the final race.
Although Grim’s performance estimates for the class seem to indicate that all of the Factory X teams still have some work ahead of them to extract the full potential from their cars, it’s refreshing to watch this new category develop without a preordained playbook. Setups and race techniques will inevitably be refined as time goes on, and dominant forces will likely begin to emerge as a result. For now, though, the playbook is being written in real time, and that should make for some thrilling competition as the season continues.
Factory X racers will get their next chance to mix it up at the Carolina Nationals on September 22-24 at Charlotte Motor Speedway, followed by the Midwest Nationals at World Wide Technology Raceway in Madison, Illinois the week after. The new category’s final event for this truncated initial season will be at Las Vegas Motor Speedway, October 26-29, during the Nevada Nationals.