In the world of heads-up drag racing, it’s not uncommon to see those with the most bucks make it big. Having good funding can provide for better parts, more testing, professional assistance, and more, but as Jason Terrell and Brad Schnieders of Tin Soldier Race Cars have shown, it’s completely possible to go fast and be competitive for not a lot of dollars. In fact, the engine in their race car has pushed the SN95 Mustang chassis to a best elapsed time of 5.00 seconds, with a total investment in the engine of just $4,500.
To put that eighth-mile, elapsed time into perspective, the Limited 235 class’ number-one qualifier at the recent Lights Out 11 race clocked the exact same time, and went on to win the event. Terrell and Schnieders qualified 4th with a 5.29 and improved throughout the weekend until running their personal best 5.00-second time.
It should come as no surprise that $4,500 doesn’t buy a whole lot in the way of engine parts, and this combination uses a stock LS-based castings. Keep in mind that Chevrolet Performance uses stock casting heads and blocks in its 1,500-horsepower COPO Camaros, and does so with great reliability, thus proving the performance of the LSX family of factory parts.
Engine aside, the Tin Soldier Race Cars crew did put some money into places where they felt it was best spent, and they also put in a lot of sweat equity into the car as well to save even more money.
The Mustang itself, which had already been brought to a 25.5 chassis certification, was acquired through a trade for some turbo fabrication on another car.
We liked that the chassis was done already,” Terrell told us. “We had everything here to make it roll and were going to sell it at first, but we liked it and we didn’t have to put much into it. The car saved time, too.”
The class they had their eyes on was the Limited 235 class, along with some local no-time races that it would also fit into.
“We get tons of people that come in and complain that there is no budget-friendly class that exists,” Terrell said. “We thought, ‘Let’s just see how cheap we can put one together and run this entry level class.’”
Terrell had already built a suitable LS-based engine for his street car, and used that as the foundation of this build. While Mustang and Ford purists won’t like it, Terrell made a good case for the combination.
“For the money, the LS is hard to beat,” Terrell told us. “Once you build a race engine, they’re all going to be nice and expensive, but if you’re using stock parts, the LS is the best bang for your buck.”
The engine consists of a 2004 6.0-liter block that Terrell purchased off of Craigslist for $150. The cylinder heads are stock 799 castings from a newer 5.3, and Terrell sent them to BES Racing Engines.
“They do a CNC port and valve job for $1,100,” Terrell said of the expenditure. All-In Racing Engines machined the block and Schnieders handled the assembly. For the rotating assembly, it was decided to de-stroke the combination to make the best of the turbocharged combination.
“Being turbo-limited in the class, the smaller you can make the engine, the more efficient it is,” Terrell said. “We had already seen people have a lot of success with the bigger bore, smaller stroke combo. Us and Lil John all liked the idea and it turned out to be an awesome one to run.”
To accomplish this setup, Terrell had to procure a stock crankshaft from a 4.8-liter, LS-based engine which, as he explained, a good one can be rather difficult to come by. Still, he was able to procure one off of a parts dealer on eBay, and wrapped it with Callies Comp Star connecting rods and off-the-shelf Wiseco pistons. The cylinder heads received Brian Tooley Racing (BTR) valve springs and pushrods, which actuate Johnson short-travel lifters that allow Terrell to rev the engine to 7,800 rpm.
Over the course of 2019 season, the team used three different custom camshafts from Lil John’s Motorsports in it. Towards the end of the season, they dropped in an off-the-shelf BTR stage 4 turbo cam as they ran out of time to get another custom one ground.
Topping the little mouse motor is a Holley High Ram and throttle body to supply the air and the Renegade K16 fuel is provided by a Holley fuel pump and injectors and operated by the company’s Dominator EFI system.
The Limited 235 class rules allow for certain turbochargers and the team started out the 2019 season with a Precision Turbo & Engine 76mm turbo with a cast impeller and one of Tin Soldier Race Cars’ air-to-water intercoolers. In keeping with the budget theme, the turbo hot side starts with stock cast iron truck manifolds. After a recent rule change was made, Terrell swapped out the Precision turbo for a Borg Warner-based unit from Forced Inductions that features a billet impeller.
Backing up the budget engine combination is a Powerglide transmission that, as Terrell told us, Schnieders built using a book he bought online. It was stuffed with a PTC torque converter and sends power back to a Tin Soldiers Race Cars Battle-Ready 8.8 axle.
One area where they didn’t skimp was the shocks and struts.
“We’re good friends with Mark Menscer and used his parts on the front and rear,” Terrell said. “I think a lot of times people see Menscer Motorsports and think that we blew our budget, but it’s important to know where to spend what you do have.”
With the $4,500 engine bolted between the front fenders, the Mustang ran a best of 5.16 at 137 mph at a race weight of 3,400 lbs. last year. That’s with 500 lbs of ballast in the car and no boost controller. For 2020, the rules were adjusted and the Tin Soldier machine gets to weight 3,200 with the new turbo they are using.
With that combination, and a new RPM Transmissions Powerglide that they got from their buddy Krusty Ramsey, they headed to the Lights Out 11 race.
“Martin [Connelley] thought we wouldn’t go faster than 5.30s,” said Terrell, who qualified 3rd with a 5.21. “Brian Tooley was on the starting line when we went 5.00 and he said that we were flying with junk and we needed nicer stuff, so he’s working on a set of Trick Flow heads for us, and BTR is working on a custom cam. We’ll test after that. It went 1.17 on the 5.00 run—I was pretty stoked.” That 5.00-second run also set the record for the quickest turbocharged car in the Limited 235 class.
Terrell and Schnieders ran the whole Limited 235 season in 2019, and are planning to do it again for 2020.
“We might sell it at the end of the year, but that thing is better advertisement than a really nice car because people can relate to it—it helps us sell a lot of parts.”
As the basis for this article came from a lengthy Facebook post that Terrell had made about the low-buck engine-building approach, he had included some additional advice that he had come to learn through this endeavor.
“Know what you can spend—be realistic— and stick to it.”
“Build something that you can afford to build, maintain, and enjoy more than once a year. Don’t worry about the latest and greatest parts coming out. When you race, you learn, and that is far more valuable than having a car in the garage with all the nicest parts that you cannot afford to finish.”
“Buy books, ask questions, and do not use the words I CAN’T.”
“Don’t ask the opinion of everyone. Pick your team of influencers and ride with them.”
And lastly, he includes a quote from Kevin Neal.
“Racing is fun, but is also one of the most challenging things in the world. You’re not going to win at this level right off the bat. The people that are winning; it took them years to be an overnight success.”
BES Racing Engines
Brian Tooley Racing
Lil Johns Motorsport Solutions
Performance Torque Converters
Tin Soldier Race Cars