Written by Ainsley Jacobs
Photography by Kevin DiOssi
Growing up in Indiana not far from the racing capital of the world, there was no doubt that Clair Stewart II would follow in his father’s motorsports footsteps with a racing career of his own. A dedicated drag racer who has been actively involved in the sport for over twenty years, Stewart recently capitalized on his experience by earning his first long-awaited and much-deserved championship title.
In the early days, Stewart rocked a ’70 Oldsmobile Cutlass with a big block.
“I got my ass handed to me by an ’86 Mustang GT when I was about 17 years old,” laughed the man, now 47, of his teenage years spent street racing. After graduating from high school and with a little bit of disposable income in hand courtesy of a factory job at an automotive supplier, he purchased an ’88 Mustang GT of his own. “I realized after a couple years that it wasn’t smart to race on the street and started going to the local drag strips instead.”
As Stewart learned the ropes at the track, he also worked on progressing his career. While holding down a day job, he made a serious effort to further his education and attended Ivy Tech State College to focus on business management. Over the years, Stewart progressed from shop floors and warehouses to his current role as an Executive Vice President in charge of purchasing and logistics for a $2.4B company that builds complete frames and underbodies for some well-known American-made vehicles.
Before his current success, though, Stewart had a humble start like so many others. He had picked up his current NMRA G-Force Racing Transmissions Coyote Stock entry, a ’91 Mustang LX coupe, from a seller in Indianapolis.
“I bought it as a black coupe, virgin street car with five-spoke wheels, black cloth interior… it was my utopia,” explained Stewart, who daily drove the car in ’97. Unfortunately, the Mustang’s days as a street vehicle didn’t last long thanks to an encounter with a whole herd of deer, but Stewart was able to find the silver lining in the accident. “I took the insurance check and turned it into a race car instead.”
The unexpected turn of events enabled Stewart to go racing and his first real event was the World Ford Challenge in Bowling Green, Kentucky, in ‘98. He raced there with his red ’83 Ford Mustang GLX convertible — not an ideal race car, but it was all he had and he made it work — and returned the following year in ’99 with his ’91 Mustang.
“I ran in the Corral.net Open Comp race and I won!” Stewart recalled of the members-only special event. “I figured, hey, I can actually do this, and made a decision with my partner on the car at the time to build it into an EFI Renegade entry.”
Racing in NMRA Renegade in ‘00 with Tim Donathen as his crew chief, Stewart and his ’91 Mustang had a lot of success and finished third in points to big names like Bob Kurgan and Brian Meyer.
“We were doing everything with a .550-lift, hydraulic-roller cam pushrod motor with a little blower on it and went 9 seconds in the quarter mile,” shared Stewart. “We had a PMS on the car, for God’s sake!”
He decided to push a little harder in ’01 and had to put 32 pistons into the motor that year as a result.
“Basically, that was the year everyone figured out that we found the breaking point on the Renegade motors. Everyone had their cars set on kill all the time and either blew head gaskets or burned pistons,” he reminisced. As a result, Stewart didn’t finish in Renegade’s Top 10 for the season, but he did come back to end up ninth in points for his ’02 season instead.
In ’04, Stewart ran his first 8-second pass and right after, sold his Fox Mustang to Russell Stone and Dwayne Barbaree.
“They raced it for a few years, then let it sit for a while, and, eight years later, I bought the car back,” Stewart added of the car that had been christened “Stizzy” by the late Ricky Best, as he had jokingly nicknamed his friend “Clizzy Stizzy” during the Snoop Dogg “Fo’ Shizzle Dizzle” days.
While “Stizzy” was out of his hands, though, Stewart raced as a hired gun for another owner, but when things slowly headed south with that deal, he started building his own NMRA Real Street ride. A blue ’99 Saleen lookalike carried Stewart to a 10th-place finish in the category for both the 2010-2011 seasons. When the class was jettisoned, Stewart sold the Saleen and resumed his relationship with his former Fox.
“That was where it got fun,” said Stewart, who had built the car back into a Renegade car with a whole new drivetrain, Vortech YSi blower, and a Powerglide transmission. He took it to Tim Donathen to put a Holley EFI system on it, and the plan suddenly changed course. “Tim had just finished a Coyote swap for another guy, took me for a ride in that car, and I said I wanted that.”
And so, the drivetrain came out and a Coyote went in, and Stewart started in NMRA G-Force Racing Transmissions Coyote Stock at the end of the ’16 season with the NMRA All-Ford World Finals back at Bowling Green.
“We went, like, 10.50s… we sucked,” laughed the man who now resides in Michigan.
Stewart ran the ’17 season and finished out the year respectably in ninth. He had improved by leaps and bounds, and his car was gaining speed.
By the end of ’18, thanks to runner-up finishes in Florida and Georgia, respectively, Stewart had advanced all the way to third by the year’s end.
“That was the year of the Gen 1 [Coyote] and we did everything we could to put a Gen 1 car in the front of the pack,” he explained of his underdog position. “We busted our asses and looked for every ounce we could find to make the Gen 1 competitive — ceramic bearings, titanium or aluminum and lightweight everything — but it still wasn’t enough.”
Facing the inevitable, though, Stewart conceded and decided he if he couldn’t beat ‘em, he’d join ‘em. During the off-season between ’18 and ’19, Stewart installed a Gen 2 Coyote engine, but the joke was on everyone else — all the little creative tweaks he had made with the Gen 1 were translated to the Gen 2, too, and wound up giving him a competitive advantage over the rest of the class.
“It really just boils down to driveline efficiency,” explained Stewart, who can’t make modifications to his factory-sealed, stock engine. “You gotta take apart every little thing and find every bit of power or reduce restriction to get the darn thing moving, and that’s exactly what we did.”
It has been a collaborative effort getting “Stizzy” in championship trim over the years, and Stewart credits his friends and crewmen, Tim Donathen of Donathen Racing and Eddie Bennett of Bennett Performance, for being the brains of the operation. Together, car builder and engineering guy Donathen and chassis guy and crew chief Bennett make up what the guys call “Team Tiddy” – a humorous mashup of their first names.
“Those two guys figure out how to make Coyote Stock and Factory Stock cars fast and efficient,” said Stewart gratefully. “A lot of the stuff we learned came from Drew [Lyons], as he was really the first one to make big progress.”
Still rocking the same old, mild-steel roll cage from back when Stewart had his deer accident, the car has proven to be a capable contender and much of that has to do with the team and manufacturers behind the build.
While the VP Racing Fuels-fed Gen 2 Coyote engine itself must remain untouched, there’s plenty of other parts that are fair game and a JLT Performance cold air intake was added in conjunction with an American Racing Headers manifold and MagnaFlow exhaust.
The G-Force G101-A transmission backing the engine is the same that most of the other racers in the class use, however, Stewart knows the clutch is the key factor in his success.
“We use a Fidanza six-puck organic disc that’s actually a street car clutch, but the ClutchTamer device makes it good for racing and we can even get a whole season out of it,” he shared.
A good suspension setup is crucial for any drag racer wanting to set the pace, and Stewart uses Strange Engineering shocks and struts.
“We’ve had a lot of luck with their products, it’s good stuff,” he continued. The Mustang’s control arms are by Team Z Motorsports, while Stifflers supplied the stiffening kit system, subframe connectors, driveshaft loop, and other premium products.
Out back, a Ford 9-inch rearend built by Wayne Henderson of Indy Gear has a bit of hidden heritage.
“Wayne is actually my cousin, and Indy Gear does a lot of Factory Super Cars and Pro Stock stuff. I’ve always wanted to run his products and I’m finally in a class where it makes sense,” Stewart proudly detailed of the family connection. He then paired the rearend with a Moser spool, a set of Moser axles, and a Precision Shaft Technologies aluminum driveshaft.
TBM Brakes, which Stewart calls “a new age work of art,” are framed by a very VIP set of new Race Star Wheels wrapped in Mickey Thompson Rubber. “They flew one of their first sets of their prototype 63-Series Pro Forged wheels to me so I had a set for Bradenton in 2019,” Stewart shared.
Electronics are kept light, with only a Racepak datalogger monitoring the car’s vital signs and Lucas Oil Products lubricants are flowing through all of its veins and arteries.
Lastly, Scott Rod Fabrications interior panels keep the inside of Stewart’s Fox coupe looking fresh, as any winning race car requires critical attention to detail in all areas, and an Optic Armor safety glass windshield protects Stewart in case of the unexpected.
Stewart lucked out having Watson Racing located less than 10 miles from his house, and his relationship with Chuck Watson ensures he’s always got a place to dyno his car. Once “Stizzy” was deemed ready for ’19, the guys loaded up and headed on down to do some damage.
Starting off in Florida for a fresh NMRA G-Force Racing Transmissions Coyote Stock season, Stewart came out strong and qualified second with a 10.189 at 130.02 mph hit. His first race with the Gen 2 engine was a good one, as he made his way to the final elimination round to face off against Tim Matherly. There, Matherly won on a holeshot. Stewart’s elapsed time was quicker, but he “didn’t have everything dialed in and got distracted,” and even though he overpowered the competition, he ultimately lost the show.
Moving on quickly to the next race in Georgia, everything went right for Stewart. His 10.184-second pass in qualifying earned the top honors heading into eliminations, and he had even run a career-best 10.09 during testing.
“We rode a lot of big wheelies at the track, but had the suspension dialed in,” noted Stewart, who worked his way through the rounds to take on Darin Hendricks in the finals. Although his reaction times were a touch slower than ideal due to the ClutchTamer softening things at the hit to ensure a consistent and correct launch, Stewart was still able to get the job done and took the win with a 10.209-second run over Hendricks’s 10.445 effort.
In St. Louis, Missouri, Stewart once again captured the top spot in qualifying, this time with a 10.195 at 129.88mph trip. A win in the first round enabled him to take a bye in the second, but Stewart went out with an uncharacteristic red light in the semi-finals on what otherwise would have been a winning pass.
Undeterred, Stewart moved on to Pennsylvania where he was the number-one qualifier for the third time in a row, adding a 10.219 at 129.838 mph to his string of quick hits. In eliminations, Stewart defeated Charlie Rankin Sr, Chad Stephens, and Kevin McMullin before Carlos Sobrino returned the favor in the last round of the weekend. Stewart had the advantage at the tree, but Sobrino’s quicker 10.229 at 130.99 mph run over Stewart’s 10.313 at 129.22 mph sealed the deal in favor of the Joker.
Stopping in Illinois next, Stewart had a bittersweet weekend as he qualified number two, then got beat by one of his teammates in the very first round.
“Randy Soper had a brand-new New Edge car and wasn’t quick during qualifying, but out of nowhere went 10.30 to my 10.25 — he’s gonna be pretty darn tough to beat next year,” said Stewart, always a good sportsman.
With the competition in Coyote Stock winding down, Stewart arrived in Kentucky for the final race of the year with a good shot at securing the championship. His 10.264 at 128.90mph run during qualifying was only good enough for fifth, though, but he rallied in round one and defeated Drew Lyons. Even though Chad Stephens put Stewart on the trailer in round two, he wasn’t upset as Darin Hendricks had also suffered the same fate and the points swung in favor of Stewart for the 2019 season.
After more than two decades of trying, Stewart had done it! He had earned his first championship and taken the title in NMRA G-Force Racing Transmissions Coyote Stock.
“It felt so good to finally get the monkey off my back! Quite frankly, it was a blast,” he said, thrilled to have been able to share the accomplishment with his teammates. Ironically, for a man who talks in front of hundreds of people all the time at work, Stewart was admittedly “scared to death” to deliver his championship speech in front of his peers at the 2019 Performance Racing Industry Show in Indianapolis – although it was still a great feeling for him overall.
“I really love the mini-Pro Stock aspect of Coyote Stock racing; anyone can win at any time because it’s so close,” stated Stewart, who has developed a camaraderie with his fellow competitors that more closely resembles a brotherhood. “It really is like a big family and no other class I’ve raced in compares to this. All the guys are out there doing more with less — we live for finding a hundredth of a second here and there.”
Ironically, after all his years spent chasing a dream in the class he loves so much, Stewart is ready to step back, slow down (temporarily), and head in a different direction for 2020. Having always told himself that if he earned a championship in NMRA G-Force Racing Transmissions Coyote Stock he would step up to a faster car, Stewart contemplated building something more modern.
He hasn’t firmly decided on a specific chassis or category yet, though, because his heart remains in Coyote Stock and he is waiting to see if something can be done to help progress the class to include newer models as well.
“How do we get the cars of the future into this class to keep it going?” contemplated Stewart. “There’s always going to be Foxes, but we want to make sure the class appeals to newer generations, too.”
With the Gen 3 Coyote engine about to make its splash in the class, and the S550 chassis Mustangs finally gaining traction at the track, Stewart wants to see a rulebook update to ensure parity and open the door to allow new and old to compete on a level playing field.
“I’m lobbying for that to happen, but, if it doesn’t, I’ll most likely end up in something like, or similar to, Limited Street, with an S550,” he proclaimed. “I say I want to go faster, but it’s not about speed anymore – it’s about the competitiveness of it and the talent it takes to put something together.”
Stewart also knows that his racing endeavors have required quite a significant investment of his time and now, having done what he set out to do, he knows it’s time to address other responsibilities and put his focus back on his family and his career. “I’ve gotten away with this for three and a half years now,” laughed Stewart, “and you’ll still see me around at a few races, but there are some personal and business life decisions that need my attention more.”
Instead of letting his Fox coupe sit dormant, though, Stewart has generously offered the ride to his friend, fellow racer, and two-time Coyote Stock champion Drew Lyons.
“Drew’s car needed some updates, and my car already had those, so I think by teaming up together in 2020 that we can put my car in the championship position again,” added Stewart, who will use his time off from driving to work through his new build — which will be contracted out to a select group of top-tier professionals — instead.
While he’s finalizing his own course of action, though, Stewart has respectfully discussed the decision with his sponsors and cleared the change with them. As such, he will continue to work with Watson Racing, Lucas Oil, G-Force Racing Transmissions, TBM Brakes, Race Star Wheels, Stifflers, and more while Donathen will continue to manage the chassis side of things and Bennett will stay on as crew chief.
With no time for testing prior to the season’s start in sunny Bradenton, Florida, the 2020 NMRA G-Force Racing Transmissions Coyote Stock class is shaping up to have even more excitement, drama, controversy, and good times than ever… all thanks to guys with passion for faith, family, and drag racing – just like Stewart.
Owner: Clair Stewart II
Driver: Clair Stewart II
Hometown: Milford, Michigan
Occupation: Vice President, Purchasing & Supply Chain
Class: G-Force Racing Transmissions Coyote Stock
Crew: Eddie Bennett – Crew Chief, Tim Donathen – Engineering/builder, Amy Stewart, Ed Bennett Jr., Frank Paultanis, Kevin McMullin, Randy Soper, John Leslie Jr., Andy Ransford, Matt Hargett
Car Make/Model/Year: 1991 Ford Mustang LX Coupe
Engine: Gen2 Coyote 5.0 sealed crate engine
Engine builder: Ford Performance
EFI system: Stock with Ford Performance calibration
Power Adder: naturally aspirated
Fuel brand and type: Spec VP C-10
Headers and exhaust: American Racing Headers, and Magnaflow Mufflers
Transmission: G-Force Racing Transmissions – G101A manual
Transmission Builder: Paul Long/Sean Scobee
Clutch/shifter/torque converter: Fidanza
Rearend: Indy Gear center section with Moser axles and spool
Body and/or chassis builder: Donathen Racing + ProTree Racecars
Suspension (Front): Team Z Motorsports
Suspension (Rear): Team Z Motorsports
Brakes (Front): TBM Brakes
Brakes (Rear): TBM Brakes
Wheels (front): Race Star Pro Forged 63 Series
Wheels (Rear): Race Star Pro Forged 63 Series
Tires (Front): Mickey Thompson
Tires (Rear): Mickey Thompson
Aftermarket body modifications: HO Fibertrends 4-inch cowl hood, Saleen front lower valance
Safety equipment: Optic Armor safety glass windshield, RJS camlock five-point harnesses, Simpson fire suit and neck brace
Vehicle weight: 3,105 pounds with driver
Quickest ET: 10.09
Best 60-foot: 1.30
Fastest mph: 130.5
Sponsors: Lucas Oil, Stifflers, Fidanza, Watson Racing, Race Star Wheels, Indy Gear, TBM Brakes, Donathen Racing, Bennett Performance, Mickey Thompson, Ford Performance, Weldon High Performance, Optic Armor