Taking On NMCA Competition With A Holley-Equipped 1,000 Horsepower Mustang Cobra Jet

Author: Evan Smith | 05/25/2021 < Back to Motor Life Home

Drag racing enthusiasts are likely to be familiar with the current crop of factory Super Cars including the Ford Mustang Cobra Jet, Chevrolet COPO Camaro and the Dodge Challenger Drag Pak. Since 2008, the factories have engineered these quarter-mile missiles to be turn-key 8-second cars with upwards of 1,000-plus horsepower. In fact, certain models even come equipped with Holley EFI and intakes.

Recently, your author had the chance to get behind of the wheel, when New Jersey-based drag racing team, Bongiovanni Racing, offered up a seat in its 2010 supercharged CJ at the NMRA Muscle Car Mayhem event in Bradenton, Florida.

Your humble scribe has driven for Bongiovanni Racing in the past, but it’s been a few years since unleashing all that power. So, the plan was to get acclimated with the Cobra Jet, learn the procedures and then compete in the Coan Engineering Stock/Super Stock category at the NMCA race. I'd also utilize Holley’s on-site specialists to fine tune the Holley EFI system that runs the supercharged 5.4L powerplant.

Along with having a fun weekend, car as owner Anthony Bongiovanni was looking forward to consistent runs on our end so he could dial in the calibration. This meant doing perfect burnouts, hitting the shift points (it’s easy to over-rev the engine) and most importantly, remembering to activate the data-logger.

Bongiovanni Racing Cobra Jet Mustangs

Here are the Bongiovanni Racing CJ Mustangs as we prepared for NMCA battle at the NMCA Muscle Car Mayhem event in Bradenton, Florida.

The CJ is powered by Ford’s modular 5.4L (330 ci) DOHC V8 that’s boosted by a VMP 2.3L intercooled supercharged. As the title says, it makes over 1,000 horsepower so it’s no joke. Anthony Bongiovanni is the owner and tuner and also regularly drives the CJ, along with his 2014 Super Stocker, so we really didn’t want to mess up his ride.

“Our 2010 Cobra Jet has been fantastic,” said Anthony. “The engine was prepared by Martino Race Engines in New Jersey and Tom Martino has given us power and reliability. We’ve experimented with a few EFI systems in the past, but the Holley EFI has resulted in excellent performance with tremendous flexibility. I really like the diagnostics along with the multitude of parameters and the level of resolution in terms of tuning. The computer has appropriate speed and the system can handle all the wiring in the car. Because of that I can manage, control and log everything. Lastly, the integration with the dash allows you to have a nice display where you can scroll through a variety of screens and access information quickly and easily."

Backing the 5.4L engine is a TH400 transmission, Ford 9-inch rear and a stock three-link suspension that’s set up by Darrin Breaud of B&B Race Cars. B&B is also responsible for the 7.50 cage and much of the custom fabrication.

Cobra Jet Engine

A VMP 2.3L supercharger force-feeds the 5.4L DOHC V8 the boost it requires to make well over 1,000 horsepower. The rules require that the Cobra Jet has the stock pulleys.

The Cobra Jet falls into NHRA’s FS/A (Factory Stock/A) class in Stock Eliminator, it rides on 9-inch wide slicks and race weight with driver is roughly 3,350 lbs. Driving the car is relatively straight forward. A quick second-to-third gear burnout gets the slicks prepped, and since transbrakes are not allowed in Stock, the driver “foot-brakes” to launch. Shifting the transmission on cue is all that’s left to complete a run.

Despite the simplicity, there’s a huge responsibility when someone hands you the keys to a 1,000-hp race car, so I was hyper-focused on nailing the burnout, cutting good lights and hitting the shift points. The goal was to drive the car perfectly to get the maximum performance from the engine. If I could make all of that happen, winning rounds would be the icing on the cake. Here's how the day went...

Suiting Up

It’s been about a year since I’ve strapped myself to a legit race car, so after passing technical inspection, and before heading to the lanes, I suited up with my full complement of gear and strapped in tight. I adjusted the 5-way harness and made sure I could get in, and more importantly, out of the car in a hurry if needed. I made mental notes and went through the routine of a run a handful of times, from starting the engine and flipping the correct switches, to finishing the run and shutting down.

Before I knew it, Coan Engineering Stock/Super Stock was being called for the first qualifier. My weekend got off to a great start with a perfect (albeit lucky) .000 reaction time followed by an 8.810 at 152.07 mph.

I made that pass with the boss in the opposite lane, as Anthony was driving his Resource1-backed 2014 Cobra Jet Super Stocker. Anthony, a former NHRA national event winner, was right behind me on the tree with a .009 light and he out-performed me at the stripe, running 8.761 at 152.74 mph.

Recalling the run in my head, I was confident that I kept the revs around 6,000 rpm in the burnout (the last thing you want to do with a supercharged DOHC engine is bang the rev limiter as it beats up the timing chains and blower drive belt). I left soft, around 2,800 rpm and I shifted immediately when the shift light flashed. I felt it was a solid pass and the Holley EFI data log confirmed my actions. The acceleration was simply amazing and the car was incredibly smooth. It did a small wheelie and drove straight down the Bradenton Motorsports Park quarter-mile. My first-run jitters went away as soon as I got the time slip and passed over the scales.

Cobra Jet Drive data log review

Anthony Bongiovanni shares critical data with Holley EFI specialists Andy Starr and Rick Anderson. Holley provides racer support at all NMRA and NMCA races, so we took advantage of their knowledge to improve the tune on the Cobra Jet.

Looking to improve my performance, Anthony dissected the run using the stored data-logs in the Racepak and Holley EFI. He took a close look at the fuel mapping, fuel flow, timing curve, shift points and a few other vitals. In addition, he shared the data with Andy Starr and Rick Anderson, two Holley EFI specialists, to get extra input.

“Both the NMRA and NMCA are great platforms for Holley brands including Holley EFI, Racepak, Quick Fuel and Holley carburetors,” said Robin Lawrence, director of motorsports at Holley. “We are deeply involved, in fact, many of us race there [NMRA and NMCA] so we understand the needs of our customers in that exact environment. We’re there to assist and to make everyone more comfortable with all of the Holley and associated brand products,” Lawrence added.

With that, the trio collaborated and Anthony decided to tweak the fuel curve, timing and he had me raise the launch rpm slightly. And despite worsening conditions, I realized improved performance on the next pass. I raised the launch rpm to 3,000 as instructed and my Micro Strategies Cobra Jet clocked an 8.76 at 152.06 mph. That came with a 1.24 60-foot time and a .039 reaction time. “It’s so nice to fine tune the calibration and see it correlate to a change in performance. This really allows you to maximize performance based on the conditions,” said Anthony.

Saturday brought similar weather and two more qualifying passes of 8.74 at 152 mph and 8.76 at 151.71 mph. I was really feeling good behind the wheel with .076 and .024 lights. I knew I missed the first one and was glad it was only .076 and not worse.

Driving an 8-second, 150-plus mph foot-braker is tremendous fun, as the launch plants you firmly in the seat and the engine revs at a fast and furious pace. Shifts come at 7,800 rpm and 7,600 rpm and the beast crosses the stripe at nearly 8,000 rpm! That is just screaming for a 5.4L considering the stroke is over 4 inches. Needless to say, the finish line comes at you in a hurry and before you know it you’re firmly applying the brakes to get the car slowed down. There’s nothing like getting the time slip when you’ve done your job and the car has done its work. After a long day, Anthony and I were happy with the performance and best of all, solidly qualified 7th and 8th respectively in the 34-car field.

With four runs under my belt it was time for eliminations. No matter how many times you’ve raced, there’s nothing like that first meeting. You’ve spent the time to get to the track, tune the car, make the qualifying passes and your hope is that it will come together with a win light.

I was confident that I could cut a good light, and I predicted an 8.72 based on the conditions. My opponent was Dan Condon, a friend of mine who runs a FS/D COPO Camaro out of Wilmington, Illinois. His dial was 10.04. Condon took the handicapped start and left with a .038 light, I also jumped on the last yellow, scoring a near-identical .037 tree.

NMCA Cobra Jet Drive CJ vs COPO slip

The slip tells the tale: Dan Condon's COPO Camaro was only a hundredth off of the Cobra Jet's reaction time and ran a tighter package, a 10.10 on a 10.04 dial to take the win over our 8.80 on an 8.72 dial.

I kept my eye on the Chevy and subconsciously watched for the shift light to flash. I popped Second gear, then third and marched towards the stripe. I looked at the Camaro, then the stripe, all while trying to judge whether I’d get there first or second. I knew it would be tight and decided to keep my foot planted on the throttle. It was over in a flash in what appeared to be a close one, but in my heart I knew he beat me to the 1,320 mark. Still, I glanced to the wall, somehow hoping my beacon would shine, but it wasn’t to be. Condon ran 10.10 and I ran 8.80, both of us predicting too quickly, but he did a better job.

I was pretty bummed, especially after hitting the tree well and considering the fact that I don’t get to race very often I was hoping to go a few rounds to experience the thrill that winning brings. But on this day I’d have to settle for the pure thrill and adrenaline of driving a Holley EFI-equipped 8-second Mustang. I have to admit, every run is a thrill and I hope to get back in the seat and redeem myself before the season is over.

Additional photos courtesy of Kevin DiOssi at Promedia and David Hakim

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