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After Joining The Lujan Clan, Luis Mellado Jr. Realized His Drag Racing Dream In His 1991 Ford Mustang GT

Mild To Wild

After joining the Lujan Clan, Luis Mellado Jr. realized his drag racing dream in his 1991 Ford Mustang GT

Written by Ainsley Jacobs
Photography by Kevin DiOssi


 
It took Luis Mellado Jr. nearly 50 years before he ever made a pass down the dragstrip but now the man from Miami, Florida, is living it up by blasting 8-second runs with his street legal 1991 Ford Mustang GT in two of NMRA’s hottest classes.
 
Inspired by his late father, Mellado always had a wrench in his hand while growing up and could often be found in the garage working alongside his namesake. “My first car was Camaro Z/28 and worked on it to make it faster, but when all the Mustangs started coming out, I couldn’t beat ‘em,” Mellado reminisced of his first encounters with the Fox platform. “One day, I saw the light and bought a used ’88 Mustang GT from a local Ford dealer and never looked back.”
 
In his early 20s, Mellado worked for the Super Shops automotive performance chain and would go out street racing with friends around Miami. Eventually, he wound up selling the Mustang and didn’t have a “fun car” for a while, but picked up his latest 1991 Ford Mustang GT around 2005.
 
The Wild Strawberry-hued Fox served as Mellado’s daily driver for several years until he eventually parked it and purchased a replacement. “I loved drag racing, but it was always meant to be a street car,” shared the man who had transitioned into a career working as a Harley-Davidson technician.
 
Over the years, Mellado’s Mustang transitioned away from its factory form. Mellado always loved drag racing and watched as much as he could on TV. He found inspiration in seeing what parts other racers were running and decided to dabble in drag racing and give his Mustang a “drag car” look.
 
At first, a supercharged small-block Ford engine lurked under its hood, but inspired by the abundance of turbochargers he saw while attending an NMRA Spring Break Shootout season opener at Florida’s Bradenton Motorsports Park around 2014, Mellado took the turbo route instead. 
 
To prepare for the quicker elapsed times, Mellado enlisted Tig Vision to fabricate and install the roll cage that would keep him safe to 8.50-second passes. “I had a roll bar in the car before and it wasn’t safe to go that fast,” noted the self-described “safety guy” of why he went with a little overkill for his intended 9-second zone. “Plus, a 25-something cage costs a lot of money and you have to cut up the floors — I don’t want to do that to this car.”
 
Mellado eventually struck up a friendship and working relationship doing some fabrication work for William Lujan, owner of Lujan Motorsports, around 2018. “I had known of Willie [Lujan] and asked him a few questions,” Mellado explained. “I was grateful that he gave me the opportunity to be involved with the cars I love instead of just Harleys, which was my business.”
 
By then, Mellado wasn’t driving the Fox much but didn’t want to destroy its street car heritage. “I decided to take it to another level, and Willie helped me,” he affirmed of what began a big transition in his life.
 
From the complete UPR Products suspension system (that includes front a K-member and A-arms, rear upper and lower control arms, anti-roll bar, and Strange coilover shocks) to the TBM brakes at all four corners, Mellado began acquiring parts and components little by little.
 
Having watched Lujan racing and having fun at the NMRA Spring Break Shootout every year, Mellado and his wife, Jasmine, decided he should get in on the action, too. In 2020, he got on track during a test-n-tune night at Palm Beach International Raceway and put his single-turbo small-block to work. “I ran 9.40s and it was awesome,” Mellado recalled. “And… then the engine blew on the fourth pass.”
 
Having to hit the brakes after just getting feet wet, and with the trouble popping up just one week before the NMRA season opener which he had hoped to attend, Mellado and Lujan got to work building a replacement.
 
Unfortunately, despite outfitting his GT with high-quality items, Mellado ran into a lot of engine issues. “I kept blowing them up,” he said, surprisingly calm despite the defeat. “It blew another engine in March of 2021, again just before the Spring Break Shootout.”
 
Frustrated, Mellado told Lujan he wanted to give up on the small-block and put a more modern Coyote powerplant in the Mustang instead. So, from then on through January of 2022, the men worked together to make the change and enable Mellado to fulfill his longtime dream of racing in competition.
 
“We put the Coyote engine together at my house. My friends were jealous that Willie would come here after work or on weekends, but it’s because my shop is air conditioned,” laughed Mellado. The two spent many hours turning wrenches in the space in which Mellado now operates a private Harley-Davidson repair service for his longtime clients.
 
The engine, a low-compression Ford Performance 5.0-liter Coyote Aluminator crate engine, was lightly upgraded with a set of PAC 1234X valve springs and miscellaneous timing components from Modular Motorsports Racing. He added a Holley Sniper intake manifold to the DOHC V8 powerplant, and then the men dropped it between the frame rails of Mellado’s Fox GT before wiring up the Holley Dominator EFI system for a super-clean installation.
 
With the engine situated, Mellado fabricated the turbo kit to work with a larger, single Precision PT8385 “Street Fighter” ball-bearing turbo. He enlisted the help of “a local kid” to help make some of the other pieces on the car, such as the fender-exit exhaust.
 
Earlier on in his ownership, Mellado had run the Mustang with a five-speed manual transmission but later swapped to a three-speed Rossler Turbo 400 with a PTC torque converter. He kept the latter setup in place to use with the Coyote but installed a complete Moser M88 8.8-inch rearend housing with 3.55 gears.
 
On the dyno at Lujan Motorsports and with E85 fuel in the tank, the street car produced 1,038 horsepower to the rear wheels on roughly 22 pounds of boost. With the CO2 bottle controlling the boost shut-off for the street, though, the Mustang makes a much more drivable 500-600 horsepower.
 
Although the number was certainly impressive, Mellado’s favorite part of the car is that it still has air conditioning, electric windows, and a mostly stock interior save for the two Kirkey racing seats. “This is the most beautiful Wild Strawberry GTs I’ve ever laid my eyes on,” he confessed of his favorite ride, even though he has a beautiful, lowered black Fox coupe in the garage next to his GT.
 
With the build buttoned up, Lujan asked Mellado how quick he wanted to go. “I just wanted to break 8 seconds. Even 8.99 would have been fine. Willie said I might go faster and I said ‘OK, then that will be a gift,’” added the owner who has a true passion for racing. 
 
During a private track rental test session at Bradenton in early 2022, Mellado got his wish — and then some. “My first time out with the new combination, I went 8.26!” he exclaimed of the unexpected new personal best. “It scared me a little but I wasn’t afraid of it. I’m still learning and have only been doing this a short time.”
 
After years of patiently waiting and working through blown engines, Mellado made his competition debut at the 28th Annual NMRA Spring Break Shootout on March 4-6 at Bradenton and selected his competition number, 2146, in honor of his late father’s February 1, 1946 birthday.
 
Mellado considered his options when it came to selecting a class and decided on the newly created SunCoast Performance 8.60 Street Race category. Racing with a heads-up start and a breakout index, he knew he had plenty of power to run the number without having to cut up his beloved classic.
 
With his Mustang detuned and the boost level lowered to roughly 17 psi to ensure it stayed safely above the disqualifying 8.50-second barrier, Mellado completed his initial qualifying burnout and pulled into the beams alongside a competitor for the first time.
 
“I was nervous, but Willie reminded me to relax, focus on the bulbs, and take my time,” shard the 50-year-old rookie who was late on the tree and ran in the 8.80-second zone. “Then, we went 8.50-something so I took a pound of boost out. I went 8.609 at 154.07 mph and was the number one qualifier for all of two minutes before Willie [Lujan] ran 8.605 at 158.93 mph right behind me.”
 
When the run order finalized, Mellado qualified second overall while Lujan, the former NMRA JDM Engineering Limited Street contender, nabbed the top spot with his Vortech-supercharged Fox; both men were smiling ear-to-ear afterward for having had so much fun. “It was cool to be doing this with my friend. I didn’t care if I was last, I was just happy to be there and finally racing,” added Mellado.
 
Eliminations began and Mellado ran his first round against Terry “Beefcake” Reeves. Although he spun the tires and slowed to a 9-second number, Mellado was pleasantly surprised when he learned he had been awarded the win and advanced to round two. There, his Mustang spun its 255/60/15 Mickey Thompson tires once again and although the driver hit the scramble button to try and catch up, he wasn’t able to close the distance before the stripe and gave the victory to Randy Thomas.
 
“All I wanted was to be a part of this... for someone to take a picture of my car going down the track so I could buy it... to have fun with my family,” said the newly minted class racer who had his “Lujan Clan” family of friends, as well as his wife Jasmine and their beloved 5-year-old daughter, Olivia, cheering him on all weekend long.
 
Completely hooked on the feeling and thrill of acceleration, Mellado made plans to attend the 14th Annual Scoggin Dickey Parts Center NMRA/NMCA All-Star Nationals Presented by MAHLE Motorsport in April at North Carolina’s Rockingham Dragway.


 
Unfortunately, his beginner’s luck came to an end as tons of traction trouble plagued the Wild Strawberry Mustang. “I had a limited-slip unit in the car and kept spinning the tires. I called my tuner, Los Vasquez, and took some timing out and it was better but slower,” lamented Mellado who qualified third with an 8.811 at 157.45 mph best effort while Lujan was first once again.
 
Mellado relied heavily on his scramble button throughout the weekend but didn’t have enough time to test with the new timing settings and exited early on in eliminations. He decided to solve the issue after the race, though and added a spool to keep both wheels more in sync.
 
Given that the SunCoast Performance 8.60 Street Race class was only slated for four NMRA events in 2022, Mellado’s next event was the 22nd Annual NMRA Ford Performance Nationals in May at Summit Motorsports Park in Norwalk, Ohio and the track certainly made an impression on the man. “It was beautiful, like Disney World,” he joked. Mellado’s own family wasn’t able to make the trip, but he was joined by his friend Danny as well as Lujan and his crew, along with Rolando Garcia and his family.
 
He decided to up the ante a little for the weekend and also entered the TorqStorm Superchargers True Street category. After completing the required 30-mile cruise, Mellado’s street car hit the track for three back-to-back laps and had some minor yet surprising issues.
 
“I spun every run and had a lot of bad tire shake, so I had to use my scramble button again but lost both tail lights, a side view mirror, and my rear-view mirror,” laughed the man whose car succumbed to the violent vibrations. With everything duct-taped back on, though, he completed the event and finished as the overall runner-up with a three-run average of 8.853 seconds, second only to veteran competitor Mike Jovanis whose average elapsed time was 7.813 seconds.
 
Meanwhile, Mellado also ran in SunCoast Performance 8.60 Street Race qualifying and settled into the number-six spot with an 8.667-second pass in the field of 16 cars. Fortunately, his problems were behind him by the time eliminations started and he scored a first-round win over Reeves when they both had trouble getting down but Mellado pulled through.
 
In round two, Mellado was once again victorious and turned the win light on in his lane by way of an 8.960 at 165.54 mph pass while Paul Seinkiewiicz in the opposing lane ran 9.072 at 157.96 mph. Having made it to his first-ever semi-final round, Mellado was excited and ran his best pass of the weekend. 
 
Ultimately, his 8.624 at 154.37 mph trip was no match for Dan Ryntz whose 8.601 at 158.50 mph pass put Mellado on the trailer. “I didn’t want to lose, but it sure felt good to get that far and to get a couple hundred dollars to put gas in the tank going home,” he said, grateful for the amazing outcome.
 
Despite not running for a season points championship, Mellado committed to running all of the 8.60 Street Race class events for 2022 so that he could check the experience off of his bucket list. He plans on attending the 24th Annual Whipple Superchargers NMRA World Finals Presented by Competition Clutch Featuring the Holley Intergalactic Ford Festival where he will wrap up his inaugural drag racing season at Beech Bend Raceway in Bowling Green, Kentucky.
 
“To prepare, we changed the plugs and the oil and gave the car a nice wash and that’s all… that’s the beauty of the Coyote — we don’t have to adjust valves or anything,” joked a joyous Mellado, who is having a blast traveling to different tracks with his Lujan Motorsports team with his pristine and street-legal 1991 Ford Mustang GT.
 
For him, racing is all about having fun with the people he loves and making memories. “My in-laws were at Bradenton and they want to come to more,” mentioned Mellado, who often can be found relaxing in the Lujan pits, grilling, and having a great time. “Willie has become like a father to me and has taken me under his wing. Until the day comes that I can’t do it anymore, I’m going to keep racing.”








 
The Details                                                
Owner/Driver
Owner: Luis Mellado Jr.
Driver: Luis Mellado Jr.
Hometown: Miami, Florida
Occupation: Harley-Davidson technician
Class: NMRA Suncoast Performance 8.60 Street Race and TorqStorm Superchargers True Street
Crew: Lujan Motorsports
Car Make/Model/Year: 1991 Ford Mustang GT
Powertrain 
Engine: 5.0 Coyote Gen 2 Aluminator
Engine builder: Ford Performance
Displacement: 302ci
Block: Stock
Bore: Stock
Stroke: Stock
Crank: Stock
Rods: Stock
Pistons: Stock
Heads: Stock
Valvetrain: PAC valve springs
Cam type: Stock
EFI system: Holley Dominator EFI
Power-adder: Precision Turbo 8385 Street Fighter
Fuel brand and type: E85 pump gas
Headers and exhaust: fender exit
Transmission: Rossler TH400 three-speed w/ transbrake
Transmission Builder: Rossler
Clutch/shifter/torque converter: Precision Performance shifter/PTC converter
Rearend: Moser M88 complete 8.8-inch housing w/ 3.55 gears
Chassis 
Body and/or chassis builder: 
Suspension (Front): UPR Products
Suspension (Rear): UPR Products
Brakes (Front): TBM
Brakes (Rear): TBM
Wheels (front): RC Components 17x4.5-inch
Wheels (Rear): RC Components 15x10-inch
Tires (Front): Mickey Thompson 
Tires (Rear): Mickey Thompson 255/60-15
Aftermarket body modifications: Boss Inc. hood
Safety equipment: 8.50 cage, Kirkey seats, window net
Vehicle weight: 3,095 pounds
Quickest ET: 8.26 seconds
Best 60-foot: 1.21 seconds
Fastest mph: 165
 

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