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Ace in the Hole—Colin Smith’s NMRA 8.60 Street Race Terminator runs fast down the 1,320 fairway

Posted By: Evan J. Smith
Ace in the Hole—Colin Smith’s NMRA 8.60 Street Race Terminator runs fast down the 1,320 fairway
Written by Ainsley Jacobs
Photography by Dr. Rudy Rouweyha and Steve Turner
Although golf is his primary passion, Colin Smith needed something to fill the void when he’s not on the fairway. So, the 34-year-old financial advisor from West Chester, Pennsylvania, decided to honor his late father by building a drag car.
Smith’s father, Richard, passed away in January of 2023 but the man was responsible for instilling in his son a love of racing that has stood the test of time. “He was a mechanic in the army, and when he got out, he restored classic Corvettes as a hobby,” recalled Smith, who remembers holding the flashlight and extra wrenches in his early years growing up in suburban Pennsylvania. “I cut my teeth on his cars, and when I was about 13 years old, I got a 1985 Chevrolet El Camino.”
The Chevy had a small-block under the hood, and Smith added a supercharger. “I blew that motor, but was hooked since then,” he laughed. “I miss my dad like crazy, and that had a lot to do with me hooking up my truck and trailer and driving 1,000 miles to Florida with an untested car… He would’ve thought it was pretty cool.”
A lot happened between Smith acquiring his first car and his latest 2003 Ford Mustang Cobra Terminator, though. After graduating from high school, Smith attended Florida Southern College where he played on the collegiate team and double-majored in business administration and economics. Upon completing his dual degrees, he moved to New York City to work in the financial industry at J.P Morgan’s Chief Investment Office but returned to his hometown in 2018 to take a position at Wealth Enhancement Group in Malvern, Pennsylvania.
Smith’s stint in the Big Apple didn’t afford him much time (or space) to play golf or work on cars, so he was excited to have the opportunity to be involved with both hobbies once again.
“I came from the Ford Lightning world,” explained Smith, who had a Bright Red 2001 model while in high school and often snuck out to nearby Cecil County Dragway on Friday nights for test ’n tune sessions and small grudge races. “As it got more serious over the years and became a 10-second car, I had to switch wheels and tires and take off the big tonneau cover and take out the radiator and heat exchangers and add ice tanks, and it drove me nuts because I had so little time.”
Smith loved his Lightning, but was tired of feeling like he was scoring double bogeys; he knew he needed to build a real race car to minimize frustrations and maximize fun. He also wanted to be able to put something in his trailer and head to the track without first spending a week switching it over from street-car configuration. So, he sold his beloved Lightning and began hunting for a new mulligan machine.
A fan of the Mustang Cobra, Smith began his search in 2017. He located a 2003 Terminator model in Naples, Florida, and although it was yellow — not his primary, costly choice of Competition Orange — he decided to give it a shot. He flew down to inspect the ride, and although it was a low-mileage model, it had previously been stolen and was in slightly rough shape.
“I didn’t care, since it was going to be a racecar and I figured I could sell off some of the good parts on it,” affirmed Smith, whose father had a place in Naples and he felt an immediate connection to the car as a result. Together with his best friend and NMRA True Street regular Andrew Pierce in Pierce’s 2013 Mustang GT500, the men inspected the Terminator and confirmed via the VIN that it was a legitimate piece of Ford history. “I handed the guy a check, we drove off to have some beers and watch the U.S. Open, and I figured I’d ship the car back to Pennsylvania the following day.”
The car drove perfectly on the 15-mile trip back to Pierce’s place, but when Smith tried to get it running the next morning, the Terminator began spewing fuel and simply wouldn’t start. After trying multiple things and feeling the niggle of buyer’s remorse creeping in, the guys conceded defeat. 
Smith had a flight to catch, so he left the New Edge Cobra with Pierce and returned to collect it a few months later with his truck and trailer instead. “We winched it into the trailer, I got home to Pennsylvania, pushed it into the garage, and started stripping it down the very next day,” Smith explained of how he wasted no time in getting going with his newest project in late 2017.
He spent the better part of the next two years tearing the Terminator down to its bare shell and rebuilding it to his liking, as he was still working in NYC and would often take the train back to Pennsylvania to wrench on the weekends.
The previous owner had added a six-point roll cage, but Smith improved upon the safety and structural rigidity by having Tom Brush of Tom Brush Chassis in Forest Hill, Maryland, upgrade it to an 8.50-second-legal 10-point installation instead. 
In addition to an RJS Safety parachute, Brush also narrowed and installed the Ford 9-inch rearend. “It’s using 35-spline Strange axles and has an aluminum center section with 3.55 gears,” Smith shared of the straightforward setup.
Once he received the updated roller from Brush, Smith took over and handled practically every other piece of the build himself, excluding the engine work. “Everything went well until we tried to start it, and it wouldn’t start again,” said Smith, who purchased a used, “old-school” 5.0-liter Ford Performance Gen 1 Coyote engine and learned his lesson the hard way. “It ended up taking six months and several people smarter than myself to get it running.”
Hoping the frustrations were solidly behind him, Smith returned to Cecil County Dragway and went 10.0 right off the trailer. He was satisfied initially, knowing he had left the starting line fairly easy and stepped it up for his next few runs. Surprisingly, the Terminator kept printing 10-second time slips like it was a bracket car, staying strangely consistent in stark contrast to all of Smith’s adjustments and feeling like it was missing hundreds of horsepower.
“I pulled the three-speed Turbo 400 transmission, which I bought used, and took it to Transmission Specialties in Aston, Pennsylvania, and they refreshed it but said both the trans and converter were basically perfect,” noted the frustrated driver. After reinstalling the gearbox and a Transmission Specialties 10-inch, sprag-less torque converter, Smith headed back to the track where the Terminator continued on the 10-second trend. So, he pulled the engine and decided to go in a different direction.
“Coming from the Lightning world, all I knew was Kenne Bell superchargers, so my plan was to use the Coyote motor with the 3.6-liter Kenne Bell,” he explained. JB’s Auto Machine rebuilt the entire engine and was only able to salvage the bare block, crank, and one single cylinder head. JB’s also sleeved the 302-cubic-inch DOHC Coyote, then outfitted the engine’s heads with COMP Cams Stage 3 camshafts and a complete catalog of COMP’s valvetrain components, while the factory block was filled with the stock crankshaft and matching Manley rods and pistons.
To supply fuel, a complete Aeromotive Eliminator system was added and paired with Injector Dynamics 1,000cc fuel injectors flowing VP Racing’s finest C16 gasoline which is specially formulated for supercharged engines and drag racing applications.
Smith also installed one of Kenne Bell’s trick Big Gun dual 106mm throttle bodies and that single piece alone has since become his favorite element of the entire build. “It sits at the base of the windshield and is really eye-catching since it’s pretty rare. I had thought about switching to a ProCharger at some point, but I really love the way the Kenne Bell blower sits on the Coyote and fills up the engine bay in the Terminator body,” shared the diehard gearhead golfer.
As he was thinking he would join his best friend, Pierce, in NMRA True Street competition, Smith chose to keep the bulk of the build straightforward and simple. Thinking proactively, he added an alternator and a large cooling fan. He also opted to run Strange Engineering double-adjustable shocks and struts in the front and rear, Strange brakes, and a Strange driveshaft all to complement the existing Strange rear end.
Smith wired the car himself, and was especially grateful for the help of BigStuff EFI’s founder, John Meaney, as he worked through the kinks of understanding the complexities of a standalone engine management system. The entire project itself was very much a learning opportunity for Smith, as he used the experience to educate himself on what he didn’t know as he took the next step up from his old Lightning.
Finally, after dealing with Covid-19-related delays, Smith was ready to test out his handiwork and fire up the car in early 2022. It sounded great at first, but he couldn’t get it to run well at speed, even with a tried-and-true old tune-up in the BigStuff system.
“It would lose signal and wouldn’t drive around. I tried to figure it out on my own, but didn’t have much luck,” lamented the owner, who eventually gave up fighting and took his Terminator to the experts at JPC Racing. There, owner Justin Burcham and tuner Eric Holliday sorted out the BigStuff engine management system, added an external crank trigger to sync with the cam signal, and returned Smith’s Terminator in peak condition just a few months later.
“It was finally running great, but it sat for six months after that because I was busy golfing,” confessed the experienced and avid player whose 3,000-pound vehicle sat forlornly on its Billet Specialties Street Lite wheels. Smith let the SN-95 rest in his garage throughout the winter, but when spring rolled around, he was ready to finally take it out for its big debut in his father’s honor.
Although Smith had originally intended on running in NMRA True Street and built the Terminator just to be faster than his old 10-second Lightning, he soon had second thoughts about the outing. “Having to do the 30-mile cruise made me a little nervous,” he admitted. “Since I built the car myself with only the skills I learned from my father’s part-time car education, I wasn’t confident in leaving the property of the track in case something went wrong.”
Armed with knowledge regarding the Terminator’s weight and how much horsepower it produced on the JPC dyno, though, Smith did the math and realized the NMRA SunCoast Performance 8.60 Street Race class would be a surprisingly perfect fit. So, he adjusted his plans and set off for Florida in late February of 2023 with his Terminator safely ensconced in his 28-foot enclosed trailer.
Smith arrived about a week before the NMRA Spring Break Shootout Presented by Nitto Tire was set to take place on May 3-5 at Orlando Speed World. “That time of year is a great time to get out of Pennsylvania, and I’ve got about a dozen snowbird clients in Florida so this was a great opportunity to visit with them,” noted the enterprising finance professional. “Plus, I got to hang out with my best friend, Andrew.”
Having only ever run in test-n-tunes and private track rentals before attending the NMRA season opener, Smith put his first real pass on his project Terminator during pre-race testing on Thursday. “It was my first 9-second pass but the best feeling was that it actually stopped at the end of the track,” joked the man, as he had installed and bled his own brakes and was not entirely sure they would get the job done. Smith was able to successfully obtain his 8.50-second competition license, too, as he completed his solo passes with ease. 
On Friday morning, rolling on a set of Mickey Thompson 275 street radial tires and competing in his first-ever organized event with a true sanctioning body, Smith used his two-step rev limiter for the launch for the first time and had a blast. He ripped off an 8.80-second hit and was also able to pull the parachute for the first time — another ‘race car bucket list’ item he checked off his list.
Smith continued and qualified well in the NMRA SunCoast Performance 8.60 Street Race group with an 8.668 at 159.34 mph hit, just 0.068 seconds over the 8.60-second standard, to land seventh in the order.
When eliminations began, Smith was as thrilled as if he had shot a hole-in-one when I realized he had run a new personal best quarter-mile elapsed time of 8.630 at 157.19 mph. He was pulling away from Casey Flora in the other lane, but Flora’s black Mustang reeled him in and the two were nose-to-nose at the stripe. Ultimately, the win light went to Flora thanks to a huge holeshot as Smith had a sluggish 0.176-second reaction time.
“That was actually my best reaction time of the weekend since I’ve never really tried to leave off the tree before,” he laughed. “But the car was running great all weekend and I didn’t have to do anything other than open the hood to let it cool off. My dad would have loved to have seen it.”
Despite the loss making him feel like he had sunk a shot in the bunker, Smith had a blast hanging out in Orlando with his best friend and crew. Pierce, too, did quite well as he finished sixth out of 72 cars in NMRA Circle D Specialties True Street with a 9.629-second average from his 2018 Mustang GT.
Despite not yet having been able to attend another NMRA race, due in part to his work and competitive golf tournament schedules, Smith is looking forward to bringing his 2003 Mustang Cobra Terminator back to the track for a few more events when he can. “My first experience with the NMRA was fantastic. I will likely only be able to race two or three times a year, but I’m having fun with it,” he explained. “Hopefully, I’ll be able to run at the NMRA race in Kentucky. I bought my enclosed trailer so I could go to events further away.”
No matter how many races Smith does or doesn’t attend, he’s enjoying being able to honor his late father by using the skills he learned alongside him, while the process of putting together his pony car has helped to keep his memory — and his legacy — well within the green.
The Details
Owner: Colin Smith     
Driver: Colin Smith
Hometown: West Chester, PA
Occupation: Financial Advisor
Class: NMRA 8.60 Street Race
Crew: Andrew Pierce
Car Year/Make/Model: 2003 Ford Cobra
Engine: Gen 1 Coyote 5.0-liter
Engine builder: JB’s Auto Machine in Rosedale, Maryland
Displacement: 302 cubic inches
Block: Ford Performance Gen 1 Coyote
Bore: Factory
Stroke: Factory
Crank: Factory
Rods: Manley
Pistons: Manley
Heads: Factory Ford Castings
Valvetrain: COMP Cams
Cam type: COMP Cams
Carburetor or EFI system: Big Stuff 3 EFI
Power-adder: 3.6-liter Kenne Bell
Fuel brand and type: VP Racing Fuels C16
Headers and exhaust: Kooks Stainless
Transmission: Three-speed TH400
Transmission Builder: Transmission Specialties in Aston, Pennsylvania
Clutch/shifter/torque converter: Transmission Specialties 10-inch sprag-less torque converter, B&M Rachet shifter
Rearend: Strange 9-inch w/ 35 spline axles and aluminum center section w/ 3.55 gears
Body and/or chassis builder: Certified 8.50 chassis built by Tom Brush of Tom Brush chassis in Forest Hill, Maryland
Suspension (Front): Strange Engineering double-adjustable struts
Suspension (Rear): Strange Engineering double-adjustable shocks
Brakes (Front): Strange Engineering drag race brakes
Brakes (Rear): Strange Engineering drag race brakes
Wheels (front): Billet Specialties Street Lite
Wheels (Rear):  Billet Specialties Street Lite
Tires (Front): Mickey Thompson Sportsman front runners
Tires (Rear): Mickey Thompson 275 Street Radial Pro
Aftermarket body modifications: VFN Fiberglass cowl hood
Safety equipment: 8.50 cage, RJS harnesses and parachute
Vehicle weight: 3,000 pounds
Quickest ET: 8.630 seconds
Best 60-foot: 1.244 seconds
Fastest mph: 162.13
Sponsors: None

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