Drag racer Gary Parker has been a fixture in the NMRA for several years. Gary has been at the forefront of the Modular Muscle class for all but one of those years. For the 2015 season, he tried his hand at heads-up racing in the Factory Stock class with a Coyote/C4 combination, but for 2016 he’s back in a familiar place, Modular Muscle. We wanted to get some racing perspective from Gary, so we presented him with a few questions. Here are his answers. Every person wanting to get into drag racing should give his comments a read.
Q: Give us some history on your drag racing career. What was the first car you ever drag raced?
A: My drag racing career initially started at age 16. I bought a ’69 Mach 1 428 CJ with a blown engine and a C6 behind it. I rebuilt the engine by myself and drove the car on the streets in SoCal with 4.86 gears in it. It had a stock converter in it. I ran it occasionally at the “real Irwindale Raceway,” but mostly street raced it out in the vineyards of Guasti, California and behind Ontario Motor Speedway. I only got busted once.
Fast forward to being married with children, I didn’t have the money or time for car stuff. Plus, all the tracks had closed down. Irwindale Raceway became Miller brewery, OCIR turned into a housing tract and Lions had been gone for a while. Other than NHRA major events, I thought grass roots drag racing was dead. Then I moved to Georgia in 1995 and discovered it was alive and well. Living in the L.A. vacuum kept me out of touch.
After moving to Georgia I decided to buy a ’97 Cobra in 2000. Almost immediately I added a supercharger, gears, and an ignition box. In 2001 I participated in my first race, which was the NMRA Reynolds event in the MM class. I got beat in the first round but had a blast anyway. Now I was hooked. I participated in FFW Atlanta and met Tim Matherly at that race. We have been friends ever since.
Gary Parker carries the nickname ‘Hollywood’ with him to every NMRA event. Could be his movie star looks, but probably has more to do with his SoCal roots. Sorry buddy.
In 2002 I decided to run a few more races. I had a lot of fun driving the car on the street and racing at the track. In 2003 I ran my ’97 Cobra in all the FFW events and placed 8th in points. At the end of 2003 I bought my current car from a friend. In 2004 I placed 3rd in FFW points.
Q: What are the challenges of racing an index class?
A: The challenges of racing an index class are varied. First, you have to figure out how to compensate for the 1/10-th breakout rule. Staging is more critical in index racing. The key is repeatability. Any variance in staging effects elapsed time. It is all about running the same number. Weather conditions are what will drive an index racer crazy. We cannot change our index, unlike bracket racing, so we have to change the car to the ever changing weather conditions. You may have your car dialed in all through Saturday then a cold front moves in and Sunday morning your head is swirling. Or vice versa. Hot and humid conditions turn cool and dry on Sunday. Wind is something that is hard for me to account for. In Bradenton it can really mess with my head. Track conditions and shift points are a concern just like heads up racing.
After you think you have everything set for first round you then have a whole new list of concerns. And you have to address them as you are going down the track in eliminations. Did I hit the tree well? Did the 60’ feel right? Did I hit the shift points? Am I going to catch my opponent? If I don’t catch him/her did I miss my weight call? Is he/she just fast? Do I dump him/her and hope he/she breaks out? Was my light so bad or is he/she on a breakout run? If I catch him/her real soon is he/she just slow and missed the tree or am I way too fast? All these questions go through my head on a lot of runs. If you are being chased, especially by a car that is a lot quicker, you better make the right call and just leg it out. Same thing if you are chasing a car that is a lot slower. Too hard to judge at the stripe.
Q: What was the deciding factor in you leaving NMRA Factory Stock, and going back to index-style racing within the Modular Muscle class?
A: I decided to leave FS and go back to index racing for a few different reasons. Number one reason is the time commitment. I am not able to commit the time and energy to the car that is necessary to run at the front. A lot of experimentation and trips to the track each time. The closest tracks to me take at least 2 ½ hours driving time, each way, without any traffic problems. Another reason was expense. I realized I needed to spend another $8,000 – $10,000 to get near the front. I really didn’t want to do that. I looked at the fun factor also. For years I had a lot of fun in Modular Muscle. I didn’t have much fun last year. It became too much of a chore for me. In Modular Muscle there is no animosity about rules and which combination is at an advantage. No bickering and internet BS. Just set your number and let’s race!
NMRA Modular Muscle competitors will once again have to get used to seeing Gary in the other lane, which we’re sure won’t be a good sight for many competitors.
Q: What advice would you give someone wanting to get into drag racing their own Mustang?
A: If someone wanted to take up drag racing right now I would advise them to look seriously at how much time and money they are willing to devote to it. I love heads up drag racing, but it will require a lot more money and time than running an index or bracket car. Talk to both kinds of racers and look at it realistically. Both are lots of fun. Heads-up racing takes more time and money, but index racing can be very frustrating. So many decisions to make after you hit the tree and hit your shift points.
There you have it, from an experienced drag racer who has been on both sides of drag racing, both from a heads-up, and index standpoint. If drag racing is in your future, Gary gives some great advice here. Whatever you decide, we’ll see you at the track.