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American Iron—John Kolivas forges championship-winning horsepower and competes with it in NMRA Renegade

Posted By: Steve Baur
Written by Ainsley Jacobs
Photography by Kevin DiOssi


From a career of crafting iron to a passion for crafting horsepower, the commonality between all of his successful endeavors in life all links back to John Kolivas. Starting at the age of 15, Kolivas worked at his Iron Crafters company making custom residential ornamental and iron security doors.
 
Located on his family’s several-hundred-acre property in Ashland, Mississippi, where he also resides, the business remains at the forefront of Kolivas’ focus. It was that business that netted him the paychecks to go drag racing, and being at the track is undeniably his true calling.
 

Also on his property, is Kolivas’ workshop, where he can take his time with his projects. Like many others, Kolivas was drawn to fast cars in his teenage years and then purchased his 1995 Ford Mustang Cobra around 2001.
 
“It was a mint-condition street car, and I basically destroyed it in a good way,” laughed Kolivas of the iconic SN-95 he campaigned in the early 2000s. “Back then, if you wanted to race in a heads-up series, the NMRA and NMCA were where you went.”
 
Kolivas’ Cobra was transformed with a small supercharger kit at first, and then later a turbocharged system. He raced locally around the Southeast area and worked with Wade Hopkins at Southern Speed Racing in the early days.
 
“Wade’s a great tuner, and we’re still good friends,” reminisced Kolivas of how the two had teamed up to run in the Drag Radial class.
 

In 2005, Kolivas finished fifth overall in NMRA Drag Radial championship points. The following season, he scored six incredible wins (and two runners-up) in the class to capture both the season championship title and Sportsman of the Year honors. He continued his domination of Drag Radial again in 2007 with a second, back-to-back title, then made it a three-peat in 2008 with his third in a row.
 
“I was getting burned out doing it nonstop, day and night, trying to make all these races. For a while, I thought the sun wouldn’t rise or set if I missed an NMRA race—my mindset was that I had to be there,” he firmly stated of the hardcore hustle that helped him rise to glory.
 
The 2009 season saw Kolivas take a slight step back, as he moved to Super Street Outlaw. He picked up the win at Route 66 Raceway in Joliet, Illinois—one of his favorite places to race—while running on 275 radial tires, then took a break until 2011. Kolivas picked right back up without skipping a beat, though, and immediately earned another victory at Route 66 again, but did so on slick tires instead.
 
“I’ve had a lot of great memories with the NMRA over the years,” Kolivas stated of the formative time of his competitive career. “With all the racing we were doing, we started having friends asking for help with their cars. Soon, we were showing up trying to race, but also trying to help five, six, seven, or eight other guys and it was just too much.”
 

With his program taking a backseat to his friends and customer cars, Kolivas wasn’t getting the results he was used to. He decided to sell the exceptional SN-95 Cobra in 2013 to Daniel Pharris and focused instead on serving his rapidly growing client base.
 
Kolivas had been working with engine builder and Fun Ford Weekend Pro 5.0 veteran Jon Bennett for years prior, as Bennett Racing was Kolivas’s primary choice for putting together his horsepower. In 2014, the two teamed up and KBX Performance was born.
 
Specializing in providing performance parts and tuning services to racers around the world, both on-site and remotely, as well as setting up cars, offering consulting services, and building complete engines, the two quickly turned their talents into success.
 
In less than a decade, KBX has helped huge names including Joel Greathouse, Jared Johnston, Shane Fisher, Rodney Ragen, Charles Hull, John Keesey, and numerous others to finish in the Winner’s Circle at huge events such as Donald “Duck” Long’s No Mercy, Lights Out, and Sweet 16 races, Tyler Crossnoe and Jason Rueckert’s Ohio Valley Prize Fight, Monty Mikho’s YellowBullet Nationals, and many more. From X275 to Ultra Street and any other heads-up class, KBX’s customers also earned an impressive number of championship titles.
 

Right from the beginning, Kolivas and Bennett had the help of tuner and jack-of-all-trades, Justin McChesney.
 
“He’s always here helping me. Ordering parts, taking the car everywhere, on the road with me… if you want it done, and done right, give it to Justin,” said Kolivas of his trusted cohort, whom he met through their shared connection with Greathouse. “I had let Joel [Greathouse] drive my car a few times back in the early 2000s, and Justin was always there. We’ve been buddies from then on and he’s been with KBX since day one.”
 
Similarly, Shawn Pevlor had been in Kolivas’ circle for years as well.
 
“Shawn ran his nitrous combination in Ultra Street and was always trying to beat us, and vice versa,” Kolivas laughed of the friendly feud the two developed over the many seasons of racing together. Pevlor, a talented driver, had plenty of his impressive finishes, including the 2019 NMCA Street Outlaw championship in Tony Bischoff’s nitrous-assisted Mustang.
 
Over the years, KBX has mastered boosted combinations both in supercharged and turbocharged configurations. Forced induction has been the men’s focus since the company’s inception, but when Long announced the creation of his new DXP Street class in 2019 for the following year, Kolivas and Bennett knew it was time to branch out and shake things up in the world of nitrous oxide.
 

An in-house project car and testbed was the perfect opportunity to get creative and enjoy a fairly repercussion-free learning curve. So, the men began their search for a suitable chassis and ultimately settled on working with Ragen to purchase John Cipolla’s Calypso Green 1990 Ford Mustang.
 
A big-block Ford engine on nitrous was already in the notchback, so starting with the platform would make for a straightforward conversion instead of having to start with something from scratch. The Fox Mustang had formerly competed in X275 and featured a robust construction.
 
The Mustang was originally built by Billy Pedus of BP Racing in New York, and Kolivas had Tin Soldiers Race Cars fit the new KBX-built, small-block Ford engine in it and convert the car to DXP Street trim.
 
“They built the headers and adjusted the suspension a bit since our shop was so busy and I didn’t want to throw our stuff in front of customers’ cars,” noted Kolivas. “The Tin Soldiers guys did a great job and knocked it out in just a couple of weeks.”
 

Backed by an RPM Transmissions three-speed Turbo 400 and ProTorque converter, the Blue Oval powerplant is one of Bennett’s brilliant creations as the 445 cubic-inch Ford Windsor-based 400U series crate engine is the same platform that KBX offers to customers. Based around a Dart Iron Eagle small-block, the engine was then fitted with GRP connecting rods and Diamond pistons that rotate around a Callies Magnum crankshaft.
 
“We can build a small-block Ford on a budget for the weekend warrior who wants to spray a 300-shot and make 825-horsepower for around $20,000, or you can step it up, level by level, to an all-out version, which is what we run in Ultra Street and makes over 900 horsepower on the motor alone,” explained Kolivas of the Trick Flow Specialties High Port-headed version. “You don’t need to spend $50,000 or $60,000 on a billet block-and-head deal. Our top-of-the-line 400U is in the mid-$30,000 range and not nearly as expensive, comparatively, to run similar numbers.”
 
An extremely flexible, durable, versatile, and affordable platform that can be run with a blower, with a turbo, or on the bottle, KBX’s 400U has set the Ultra Street record several times over and carrier many drivers to big wins in the 4.30-second zone. In X275, KBX’s customers have pushed the 400U even further down to the 4.20s.
 
For DXP Street, competitors are limited to a single 4150-style nitrous plate (NOS PN 12500), which cannot be modified in any way, along with a single, conventionally mounted, cast-body carburetor. To keep a level playing field, the rules are even written to allow tech officials to swap plates from one competitor’s car to another if they choose to do so. However, KBX opted to add an NLR nitrous controller to manage their Nitrous Express system and worked with both Book Racing Enterprises and SP Carburetors to come up with their creation.
 
Menscer Motorsports four-way adjustable struts are found in the front and the rear of the KBX Fox Mustang, while Racecraft components keep the chassis and arms working well. Complementing the Racecraft rearend are Weld Racing wheels framing TBM brakes, and the front wheels were recently upgraded to a spindle-mount setup.
 

When it came time to choose a driver to field KBX’s newest flagship Fox, though, the choice was simple—Pevlor.
 
“He does a great job and is always entertaining,” interjected Kolivas. “He’s been a lot of help with this car, too, on his own time and his dime.”
 
Racing on Mickey Thompson 275 drag radial rubber at the DXP Lights Out 11 race at South Georgia Motorsports Park in February of 2020 in DXP Street, Pevlor qualified the KBX car second overall. He got a first-round win in eliminations with a 4.991-second hit, but red-lighted in round two, and the inaugural weekend ended early.
 
One short year later, though, the KBX crew was back on top. Pevlor rocketed to the top of the Lights Out 12 DXP Street qualifying order with his 4.941 at 149.96 mph blast during the first session and improved—while also resetting the class elapsed time record—to 4.877 at 141.74 mph. When qualifying had concluded, he was still the man to beat.
 
Eliminations began and KBX’s powerhouse team got to work. Pevlor maintained his advantage and wrapped up the prestigious event with a well-deserved trip to the Winner’s Circle where he partied with Kolivas, Bennett, and the rest of his racing family.
 
Kolivas eventually bought out Ragen’s half of the entry for complete ownership, and, after a handful of DXP Street outings with solid results, he began to think about alternative avenues for competition. Hungry for more challenging classes and faster cars, Kolivas and crew opted to jump into the Ultra Street waters.
 
“We made some changes to the engine and decided to test it at the NMRA race in Kentucky,” stated Kolivas, happy to get back to his roots.
 
The Whipple Superchargers NMRA All-Ford World Finals presented by Competition Clutch & Holley Intergalactic Ford Festival at Kentucky’s Beech Bend Raceway Park on October 1-3, 2021, welcomed KBX and its many cars and customers. Pevlor qualified sixth in NMRA Edelbrock Renegade after having run 4.679 at 149.96 mph, but didn’t make a pass in the first elimination round.
 

After the event, the crew headed back to South Georgia Motorsports Park for No Mercy 12 in mid-October and ranked fourteenth in the massive thirty-four car field on a 4.642 at 147.44mph effort. Considering it was a new combination and trim for the car, it was a big step forward.
 
“We’ve got some things to work on, including changes to the engine and camshaft, to handle the extra horsepower we can throw at it now,” Kolivas said calmy. “We’re hoping to run in themed 4.50s with it and plan on racing at the U.S. Street Nationals in January 2022, at Bradenton.”
 
As DXP Street’s restrictive rules are now solidly in the Mustang’s past, the car has been since been rewired by Michael Bunton and converted to run on a FuelTech FT600 EFI system.
 
“To say I’m not an expert with a carb would be a vast understatement,” laughed Kolivas, humble to a fault. “I’m just so used to fuel injection and taking care of tuning and power management… I’m way more comfortable with EFI and can keep a better handle on things, especially in Ultra Street where we can spray all the nitrous we want.”
 
Also going from DXP’s minimum weight of 2,950 pounds to a lighter 2,625-pound requirement for Ultra Street meant the guys were able to pull out significant poundage and rework the weight distribution. Changes to the rear gear to better acclimate to Ultra Street competition, too, are designed to get the program on track in a hurry.
 
“You don’t see that many small-block nitrous cars anymore, it’s almost a dying breed,” lamented Kolivas who knows he’s fighting an uphill battle against his boosted and blown big-block brethren. “Rulemakers have tried to get some weight off the small-block nitrous combinations, and, hopefully, we can make some headway. But, if we’re burning it up every pass, I have no idea what our future plans will be.”
 
Knowing he doesn’t necessarily have to have the quickest car to still be in the fight, Kolivas is happy being competitive and confident he’s mixing it up with the best of the best. Between fielding the KBX nitrous Fox as a research and development platform, managing multiple customer cars, running the day-to-day operations of KBX, and overseeing his door business, Kolivas was just about maxed out on man-hours, and something needed to change.
 
After 35 years in the iron industry, Kolivas, now 50, sold Iron Crafters in early 2021 and opted for early retirement.
 
“I had been ready to get out, but business was good and I was consumed by it,” he added of the surprising relief he felt when he finally did relinquish ownership of his lifelong enterprise. “It’s still on my property so I can watch it grow without the stress involved in ownership.”
 
To have so many successes across multiple endeavors and in such vastly different industries and enterprises, Kolivas has shown time and time again that he’s the common denominator making it all come together like clockwork. And, although he may be the thread linking it all together, Kolivas knows he couldn’t have done any of it without having first assembled a fantastic team of friends.



The Details
Owner: John Kolivas
Driver: Shawn Pevlor
Hometown: Ashland, MS
Occupation: Retired
Class: DXP/Ultra Street/Xtreme Street/Renegade
Crew: Justin McCheseney, Shawn Pevlor, and I
Car Year/Make/Model: 1990 Ford Mustang
Powertrain
Engine: Bennett Racing 400U
Engine builder: Jon Bennett
Displacement: 445 cubic inches
Block: Dart Iron Eagle                   
Bore: 4.155 inches
Stroke: 4.100 inches
Crank: Callies Magnum
Rods: GRP
Pistons: Diamond
Heads: Trick Flow/Bennett Racing 265R
Valvetrain: Jesel
Cam type: Bennett Racing
Carburetor or EFI system: FuelTech EFI
Power-adder: Nitrous Express
Fuel brand and type: VP Racing Fuels C25
Headers and exhaust: Built by Tin Soldiers Race Cars
Transmission: Turbo 400 three-speed automatic
Transmission Builder: Rodney Massengale at RPM Transmissions
Clutch/shifter/torque converter: Pro Torque
Rearend: Racecraft
 
Chassis
Body and/or chassis builder: BP Racing
Suspension (Front): Racecraft/Menscer
Suspension (Rear): Racecraft/Menscer
Brakes (Front): TBM
Brakes (Rear): TBM
Wheels (front): Weld Racing
Wheels (Rear): Weld Racing
Tires (Front): Mickey Thompson
Tires (Rear): Mickey Thompson
Aftermarket body modifications: Fiberglass hood, doors, and decklid
Vehicle weight: 2,600 pounds
Quickest ET: 4.64 seconds
Best 60-foot: 1.05 seconds
Fastest mph: 150
Sponsors: KBX performance, Bennett Racing, RPM Transmissions, Pro Torque Converters, FuelTech, Nitrous Express, Afco, and MJB Performance


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