Written by Steve Turner
Photography by Kevin Diossi
A symphony of raw power percolates out of the headers. As the huge billet engine revs and the ProCharger F-1X-12 builds boost, Andy Manson unleashes the fury as he lets go of the transbrake button. The tires dig in and trust his trusty 1996 Mustang covers the first 60 feet in just over a second as over 2.5 g shoves him back in the carbon fiber racing seat.
“When you take off in an airplane, it is not as strong as this,” Manson told us. “When I let go of the button, it is violent. You would never imagine a 10-inch radial tire accelerating that hard. It is unbelievable.”
Perhaps even less plausible is his path to becoming one of the foremost racers in the category. Cars were always part of his being, but racing didn’t come around until much later in life, even though it seemed like a foregone conclusion that Manson’s story would be fueled by internal combustion.
“Being a racer is no different than being a crack head,” he confessed. “Racing one of the biggest addictions out there. People that race are addicted. Fortunately it’s to racing and not something else.”
By sixth grade he knew what every part of an engine was called and what it did. More impressive yet, he could rebuild an engine at this tender age. As you might imagine, Manson’s skill were honed by being around his hero, who just so happened to be his father.
“My dad was a single parent. My dad was my hero and he taught me a lot. In the summer months when I was a kid, he worked at a Gulf gas station back in the day,” Manson explained. “He was a mechanic, and every summer, because he was a single parent, I would go to work with him. His employer allowed that to happen, so I kind of grew up around a gas station, watching gas jockeys and mechanics.”
Being around all things mechanical gave him an appreciation for automobiles, but it wasn’t until much later in life that the thrill of drag racing gave Manson the adrenaline rush that he is still chasing to this day; one that would eventually drive him to the 2018 ProCharger Street Outlaw championship.
However, as difficult as it might be to believe that a 10-inch radial can propel this Mustang to such quick elapsed times, it might be unimaginable that he’s only been racing since 2011 and this Mustang has been his only drag strip steed.
“The day that I ended up inheriting it and titling it, I never would have imagined it would turn into this. I never had any of this in my mind,” Manson reflected.
From humble beginnings, this 1996 Mustang GT changed Manson’s life when his towing company impounded it and the car’s owner decided it wasn’t worth paying the fees to recover the worn SN-95 with wrinkling paint and an anemic 4.6-liter engine. The body was clean and Andy decided it looked like the foundation of a fun car.
“I took this car. It had a decent body. I had the motor rebuilt and a blower put on it,” Manson said. “It was a stick, and it was the first ‘street car’ I ever had.”
His friend Paul Curry, a.k.a. Big Worm, introduced him to drag racing. That meant upgrading his car. Manson turned to local Ford mechanic and NMRA Pure Street racer Teddy Weaver, who began modifying the car for improved performance. It started like many did — with bolt-ons and boost — but quickly evolved from there.
“He put the car together, and with a stick shift, A/C, and everything it would run like 11.20s in the quarter mile,” Manson said. “It went from that to putting in a cage and an automatic trans but that’s the only race car I have ever had. That was the beginning of it.”
Over the years it has seen four major iterations, but this Mustang remained his faithful steed through numerous races, upgrades, and class changes.
“This car, as I’m sure most did, started as a street car and then I built it into a semi-race car and then onto what you see now,” Manson said. “So the biggest challenge was changing it all those different times into what it is now.”
What it is now is an insanely fast, championship-caliber race car that benefits from a consistent and talented team made up of Chris Acors, Jason Lee, Kenny Burns, and his dad, Bill Manson. This team has been with him for a long time, so they know the car almost as well as Manson does. It was, however, his first engine builder, a modular specialist that introduced him to class racing with our championships series.
“In 2010, that’s right when X275 took off. It originated right here in my hometown. John Sears, who started X275, lives 25 miles south of me,” Manson explained. “One of my first drag races that I ever entered was Yellow Bullet Nationals in 2010, which is a big race here a Cecil County Dragway that had X275. I raced X275 for all of 2010, and then in 2011, Dave Guy encouraged me to come race with the NMRA. I did, and as far as I am concerned, the NMRA is professionally organized racing series. I ran Drag Radial and I did it with a mod motor. We did pretty well. I won quite a few races and I raced Drag Radial throughout the years.”
From there Manson continued to upgrade his trusty Mustang. It went from bolt-ons and street tires to boost and a roll cage. Eventually it progressed into real race car territory moving from and 8.50-certified cage to a funny car cage, and Chris Acors has been the only one to put a welder to the car along the way. For all but one pass he stood by this Mustang as Manson raced. And, making passes like this car does is serious business. Manson tries to be deliberate and consistent on every run.
“Me strapping myself into the car as my mind races over the 100 things that might happen during this 4-second run traveling the 660 feet. I’m giving the word to fire up the motor and I’m pulled up to the water box to do my burnout,” Manson explained. “After my burnout, my crew chief backs me into my tracks and pulls me up to the starting line where he most of the time gives me some words of encouragement over the radio.”
As they approach the lanes, his tuner Jason Lee analyzes the situation. He might decide to upload a fresh tune at the last second when the car is about to enter the burnout box.
“At this very moment I must clear my mind to all of the now million of things I’m thinking about and focus on the one thing which is that first yellow bulb as I must cut a good light,” he continued. “After the light goes green there is no thinking only reacting to the car as things happen very fast. I make sure I hit my shift points and being sure to keep the car in the groove and before you know it I throw my parachute and hope my win light comes on.”
Over the years that light shone bright in Manson’s lane on many occasions, but not quite enough times to seal the championship — until the 2018 season.
“There were many years that we runner-upped in the championship,” Manson recalled. “The three times that we almost won the championship, it came down to Bowling Green. It was the last race and we had the opportunity, but we weren’t able to put everything together.”
A couple years back, Manson took an unexpected break from the racing circuit. During that time, he didn’t change his racing budget. Instead of spending thousands on a race weekend, he diverted those funds to upgrading his program with better gear and spare parts — multiple sets of cylinder heads, two torque converters, two transmissions, etc. Those would provide peace of mind, but it was a decision to super-size his combo that might have helped push Manson to the championship.
Knowing the rulebook allowed more displacement, he asked engine guru Anthony DiSomma to take his displacement to the limit using 10-inch-deck billet block built by Charlie Weston.
“I looked at the rules and Street Outlaw said that you could have a 480-inch, boosted application,” Manson said. “Before that we were running 420-430 inches. I went to Anthony and said, ‘I want 480 inches!’”
While there was some trepidation about the massive displacement working with the blower combo, the team proceeded with the plan. To ensure they were ready at the beginning of this season, they hit the track early to verify everything was working as it should. And it was it ever working.
“We went and tested in January before Bradenton and the car was fast. It had a big motor and big power,” he said. “I had the transmission and converter right. I utilized the time off to revamp the program.”
Putting It Together
Those changes made a difference. “We went down in January and tested in Orlando, then came into Bradenton and ran a .30 off the trailer and started running high .20s,” Manson said. “All that does is shake everyone up and make them chase you. When you are doing that, they are doing things that they shouldn’t trying to keep up and go fast.”
It turned out that the competition could rarely keep up. Sure he lost some rounds, but Manson had racked up enough points by the Nitto NMRA/NMCA Super Bowl of Street Legal Drag Racing that he needed only attend the All-Ford World Finals in Bowling Green and tech in. He did more than that and powered to the aforementioned championship.
To do so, things have to come together just right. Manson had a fast car. He didn’t break many parts, and for the most part he out-powered the competition. He only lost on two hole shots and each time his was the quicker car despite the loss. In the end he racked up enough points to take home the hardware, which has only pushed him to want to go faster.
As of this writing he is revamping the combo for even quicker runs in Limited Drag Radial competition. This calls for a conversion to alcohol and an even bigger ProCharger. The new combo will keep feeding that racing addiction, and he expects to have success with the new combo.
“As the driver of the car you can compare it to a field goal kicker of a football team when his team is down by two points and this kick will win or lose the game,” Manson added. “The pressure is sometimes overwhelming and that is the adrenaline rush I think most of us chase.”
Owner: Andy Manson
Driver: Andy Manson
Hometown: Manassas, Virginia
Class: Street Outlaw
Crew: Chris Acors (crew chief), Jason Lee (EFI tuner), Kenny Burns, and Bill Manson
Engine: Ford Windsor, 10-inch deck
Engine builder: DiSomma Racing Engines
Displacement: 470 ci
Block: Weston Machine billet
Crank: Callies billet
Cylinder heads: Edelbrock SC-1
Camshaft: Bullet Racing Cams
EFI System: Haltech Engine
Power adder: ProCharger F-1X-12
Fuel: VP Q16
Spark plugs: NGK
Headers and Exhaust: Acors-built Zoomies
Transmission: Turbo 400 two-speed automatic
Transmission Builder: Performance Transmission
Torque Converter: Neal Chance
Differential: Strange Engineering
Body and/or chassis builder: Chris Acors
Front Brakes Strange Engineering
Rear Brakes: Strange Engineering
Front Wheels: Weld Racing
Rear Wheels: Weld Racing
Front Tires: Mickey Thompson
Rear Tires: Mickey Thompson
Body modifications: Blower inlet and rear wing
Fiberglass/Carbon body components: Harry Glass Doors, front fascia, and decklid
Safety equipment: Roll cage and parachute
Vehicle weight: 3,100 pounds
Quickest ET:4.24 seconds
Best 60-foot: 1.07 seconds
Fastest mph: 176 mph
Sponsors: ProCharger, Edelbrock, Chance Converters, Diamond Pistons, and Performance Transmission