Written by Ainsley Jacobs
Photography by Kevin DiOssi
Few names in the Ford crowd are revered as much as Don Walsh Jr. and the late Steve Grebeck. Steve Halprin, however, has had the distinct honor of having spent much of his life with both men, and learned the ropes of racing from them.
Growing up in Michigan not far from Detroit, Halrpin’s father, Charlie, first introduced him to hot rodding. However, when Halprin met and became friends with Walsh, his life would never be the same. He went to the track with Walsh and his father, Don Walsh Sr., and was instantly hooked.
“I had never raced before, but we decided to build a car together,” explained Halprin of how he and Walsh acquired a nitrous-injected ’79 Mustang when they were in their late-teen years. “We cut the back out, fabricated a fuel cell, put the engine in, added a cage, and bolted slicks on, all in my garage.” The men got the rough relic into the 10.80s and the car evolved over the next few years as Halprin had a little fun behind the wheel.
As time progressed, Walsh introduced Halprin to Grebeck and the two got along quite well. Having established a solid relationship, the men campaigned several cars together—most famously, the turbocharged ‘01 Mustang that Grebeck ultimately lost his life in during a horrific on-track accident on March 3, 2002, at the age of 36. Grebeck built a reputation for being a brilliant fabricator and an absolute innovator in drag racing. His forward-thinking approach and constant need to push the limits led to a new era in Pro Mod-style racing.
“He left such a legacy and died doing what he loved,” said Halprin solemnly, getting choked up remembering the impact his friend had on his own life. “Steve [Grebeck] was family. He came to Christmas with me, was always at my house, played with my kids… but he wanted to always be on top. That’s who he was. When I got the phone call that he was killed… it was bad.”
Given that Grebeck was the primary reason why Halprin became involved in drag racing at such a high level, it was no surprise when he decided to take a step back and distance himself from the memories of his mentor.
Halprin stayed away for nearly 20 years, and took the time to focus on growing his family’s business, SuperAbrasives, Inc., in Wixom, Michigan. Specializing in design, manufacture and application of diamond and CBN grinding and finishing products, Halprin’s company deals with GM, Ford, Chrysler, Caterpillar, and more, so he never truly escaped the automotive world.
Ironically, Grebeck was one of the reasons why Halprin dove back into the sport of racing yet again. Halprin had also maintained his friendship with Walsh over the years, and when he decided that his ’12 Dodge Charger street car needed some more power, he took it straight to Walsh’s D&D Performance/Walsh Motorsports.
“It made 550 horsepower, but that wasn’t enough!” laughed Halprin, who immediately sent the car back to Walsh for a massive overhaul and a bump up to 970 rear-wheel horsepower from its ProCharged 396ci Hemi engine. “I loved it, and Donny [Walsh] told me ‘It’s time to go racing again.’”
After carefully consulting with his father, Charlie, Halprin decided Walsh was right. “My dad reminded me that, because of the business and my young age at the time, I had never really gotten to drive,” he explained of how he began searching for a car that would become his new race rocket.
The options were overwhelming at first, but Walsh wanted to wait, knowing the right one wound appear.
“One day, I saw that Brian Wolfe’s car—which I had seen once or twice at Milan Dragway—was for sale,” recalled Halprin, who didn’t want the naturally aspirated big-block engine that was already in the Mustang. At Walsh’s suggestion, Halprin asked if he would separate the car and the powertrain, and Wolfe agreed.
Halprin took ownership of the ’02 Ford Mustang in February of ’18 and let it come together slowly. With an impressive past—thanks to its former owner who made his mark as a famed Pro 5.0 drag racer and celebrated Ford engineer—Halprin wanted to do things right and honor the car’s heritage while starting a new era in his own life that would have also made Grebeck proud.
“I’d lost a lot of my contacts over time,” said Halprin, “so I couldn’t have done any of this without Donny.”
Thanks to Walsh’s guidance, the men decided to focus on the engine first. Choosing an engine builder was tough, but ultimately it was Tony Bischoff’s BES Racing that got the nod.
“Tony built the motor and was phenomenal to work with. I’m very happy with my powerplant,” noted Halprin, who wound up with a BES-built 430ci engine based on a Dart billet block. A Winberg crank, GRP connecting rods, and Ross pistons fill up the bottom end while the top was capped with Edelbrock Glidden Victor SC-1 heads modified by BES, a complete Jesel valvetrain, and a Visner Engine Development custom intake. For the power adder, Halprin selected an 88mm Precision turbocharger.
Next, it was time to address the chassis. Again, it was difficult to choose just the right chassis specialist. Halprin ultimately chose Steve Pennywitt at Weryaat Race Cars, and the man handled all of the fabrication on the Mustang including the intercooler, tubing, headers, and chassis work for the 25.3 SFI certification.
“It had originally been built by Team Z Motorsports and they were very supportive whenever I needed something,” Halprin added of how so many were willing to help.
Once the engine and chassis had been nailed down, Halprin’s next call was to Mark Micke at M&M Transmission.
“Donny deals with them on the Pro Mod things and Mark built us one of his Powerglide transmissions with his torque converter and shifter,” Halprin explained.
Halprin knew to leave well enough alone when it came to the rearend setup, and didn’t mess with the Ford 9-inch and Strange Engineering center section that were already in place. Mark Menscer was tasked with supplying the front and rear shocks, then the car went back to D&D Performance/Walsh Motorsports for final assembly where Justin Haddon also worked on the wiring.
“I was really torn between choosing the new BS3, or FuelTech—and I really didn’t want to hurt anyone’s feelings,” noted Halprin, who eventually went with the FuelTech FT600 electronic fuel injection system (due to Walsh’s current experience with it), which Haddon incorporated.
Finishing touches included a set of Weld V-Star wheels shrouded in the famous Mickey Thompson rubber, then it was full speed ahead as Halprin’s Mustang hit the dyno for a quick tune-up and race-ready approval by Walsh.
“The car was done the way Steve [Grebeck] would have liked. Even though he’s gone, I wanted to take my time and build this as a show-quality racecar, because that’s what Steve and Donny instilled in me,” stated Halprin, who refused to have a “hunk of junk” associated with his name.
Finally, after nearly 20 years of waiting, it was time for Halprin to drive. Given his history and past experience with both the NMRA and NMCA, it was an easy decision for him to come back to his roots and rejoin the organizations. Wanting to run a series, too, also helped him focus on NMRA VP Racing Madditives Street Outlaw.
First, though, he needed a racing license. So, from his home in White Lake, Michigan, the 52-year-old headed down to sunny Florida in January of 2020 for a week of testing at Bradenton Motorsports Park prior to the US Street Nationals event.
“I’ve never been a sleeper-type, so I went all-out and bought a Renegade, too,” laughed Halprin, who sure knows how to make an entrance. “To be around all these people like Stevie “Fast” Jackson and Pat Musi was such a treat for my first time out!”
As expected, Halprin had a case of the jitters from not having driven in so many years, and for having never run a turbo car. Walsh put the first few laps on the Mustang to make sure everything was good to go, and Halprin soon followed his friend’s lead.
“It went right down the track with no problems whatsoever. All the time and effort that Steve [Pennywitt] and Donny and BES put in was well worth it,” Halprin said, ecstatic with how the project had come together. “And, without my dad, Charles, I wouldn’t be doing this again. He’s behind the scenes and doesn’t get as much recognition as he should—a lot of the funding is from him, and it’s been tough worrying about the business at the same time.”
Halprin made several 4.60-second, quarter-mile passes right down Broadway and was able to get his license as expected. The rookie wisely chose to skip the actual race itself, though, so that he could take his time getting comfortable without the added stress and pressure of having a competitor alongside him.
A quick trip back home allowed the Mustang to be serviced and its tune-up tweaked before Halprin and crew returned to Florida for his big NMRA debut back at Bradenton for the 26th Annual Nitto Tire NMRA Spring Break Shootout.
“The NMRA has a great group of people, from the racers to the staff. I like the way the program is run, I’m confident in the organization, and it’s a great atmosphere that I wanted to be involved with again,” said Halprin, who especially enjoyed the warm welcome he’s received from fellow racers as well as the TREMEC racer appreciation party’s pizza and beer. “It’s like I never left.”
Trusting in his team, Halprin hit the track for only his second time ever in the car, this time in NMRA competition. In qualifying, he ran a best of 4.459 at 162.16 mph to qualify sixth of the 10 drivers in the highly competitive VP Racing Madditives Street Outlaw field.
“I was a little lost not knowing how things were run quite yet, but Donny helped and so did everyone else,” Halprin explained of how he was made to feel right at home and how many other racers were eager to meet him.
Next, Halprin strapped in for his first elimination-round match-up and faced off against John Urist.
“I was nervous!” admitted Halprin, who was a touch slow on the tree and went 4.429 at 162.84 mph, while Urist’s 4.400 at 163.41mph pass took the win. “For my second time out, I couldn’t have asked for a better event or a better time. It was exciting, everyone was considerate and accommodating, and the socializing was great!”
While at Bradenton, Halprin’s Mustang received a lot of attention and respect from fellow racers.
“One thing that Steve [Grebeck] did for me was put my son in his car, and he was so good with kids, so I am trying to pay that forward,” Halprin explained of how he welcomed both his pit area as well as his car to onlookers and children. For him, sharing the experience with fans is all part of what makes racing so much fun. “And, maybe by me putting a kid in my car, it’ll spark him to love this sport like I do.”
While the Covid-19 pandemic put the racing schedule into a tail spin, the NMRA series eventually picked back up in June n Commerce, Georgia. Halprin qualified 7th with a 4.59 at 153, a little more than a tenth and a half out off the top qualifier. Unfortunately, he wasn’t able to make it to the elimination rounds at that event, but was right back at it at the Super Bowl at World Wide Technology Raceway at Gateway. There, he qualified 6th in the 13-car field with a 4.54 at 159 mph. in just his third race, Halprin grabbed his first elimination round win after clocking a 4.47 at 168 to defeat David Purlee. In the second round, he faced a tough Alan Felts and while Halprin did his job on the tree, his car fell off the pace, allowing Felts to take the round win.
At the next race in Martin, Michigan, far closer to home, Halprin showed consistency by qualifying 6th with a 4.54 at 164. Ever creeping up on the tuneup and the driver’s ability behind the wheel, the team collected another first-round win after running 4.44 to defeat keith Rhea. They dialed it up again for round two, and Helprin ran a personal best of 4.42, but unfortunately lost to the eventual class winner, Rob Goss, who clocked a 4.36.
Halprin and his team planned on 2020 being a learning year, but collecting round wins while you’re doing it shows real promise. Working with Walsh again has been a blessing for Halprin, who actually made sure to have the Mustang set up so that either man could drive in the future.
“What Donny does for me, and the friendship he’s given me, it was the least I could do,” said Halprin, grateful of the relationship that is more friend-focused than business-oriented. “I can’t give him—or my father—enough credit for bringing me back to racing. Long term, I’d love to set a record and be competitive, and stay in the sport as long as I can,” Halprin mused. He wants to be a racer that his peers respect and enjoy being around, but given that his career comes first, he knows he may have less time than most to go testing. “Without my business, I can’t have my toys.”
Halprin hopes to stick with NMRA VP Racing Madditives Street Outlaw for the foreseeable future, and would also like to participate in larger standalone events such as No Mercy. He wants to encourage more people, especially the younger generations, to get involved with racing whether it’s at the lowest or highest level. Knowing he’s been fortunate to have good people get him where he is, his ultimate goal is simply to give back to the community and be with people he considers family.
Owner: Charlie Halprin & Steve Halprin
Driver: Steve Halprin
Hometown: White Lake, Michigan
Occupation: Superabrasives, Diamond & Con wheel manufacturers
Class: NMRA Street Outlaw, X275
Crew: Dan Oliphint & Brandon Hinman/Justin Haddon & Don Walsh
Car Make/Model/Year: 2002 Ford Mustang
Engine builder: BES
Displacement: 430 cubic inches
Block: Dart billet
Pistons: Ross racing
Heads: Edelbrock Glidden SC1 by BES Racing
Cam type: BES custom
EFI system: Fuel Tech FT600
Power-adder: Precision Turbo
Fuel brand and type: Torco Q16
Headers and exhaust:
Transmission Builder: M&M
Clutch/shifter/torque converter: M&M torque converter and shifter
Rearend: Strange Engineering Ford 9-inch center section
Body and/or chassis builder: Weryaat Race Cars
Suspension (Front): Menser
Suspension (Rear): Menser
Brakes (Front): Lamb
Brakes (Rear): Lamb
Wheels (front):Weld V-Stars, 17×4-inch
Wheels (Rear): Weld V-Stars, 15×12-inch
Tires (Front): Mickey Thompson
Tires (Rear): Mickey Thompson ET Street
Aftermarket body modifications: Carbon Fiber front end
Safety equipment: RJS and Simpson
Vehicle weight: 3,210 pounds
Quickest ET: 4.42 seconds
Best 60-foot: 1.007 seconds
Fastest mph: 162
Sponsors: Superabrasives Inc. & D&D Performance