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First Fox—Tim Donathen carves up G-Force Racing Transmissions Coyote Stock in his 1978 Ford Fairmont beach cruiser

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

Tired of seeing the same ol’ Fox Mustangs day in and day out, Tim Donathen was inspired to do something a little different while still staying within Ford’s Fox family and built up a beachy behemoth to race in NMRA G-Force Transmissions Coyote Stock instead. His 1978 Ford Fairmont wagon racer stands out from the crowd.
Donathen, now 50, always had unique tastes, as his first car was a bright orange Plymouth Arrow minitruck that he purchased when he was 15 years old. Through the typical teen years, he chased speed and made modifications, and studied machining while in high school. He obtained his degree at Ivy Tech Community College in his home state of Indiana and began a career that ultimately grew into something more than he initially planned.
Currently working as a utilities engineer at a pharmaceutical company, Donathen carries major responsibilities related to ensuring the health and safety of the company’s customers and is adept at troubleshooting. The extreme quality assurance that’s required for his work translates into all areas of his racing programs.

Around 1999, Donathen purchased a gray notchback 1987 Ford Mustang. “I took it to the Groovy Tuesday races at Indianapolis Raceway Park [now Lucas Oil Raceway at Indianapolis] and met a guy named Clair Stewart,” recalled the budding racer of the friendship that wound up spanning decades.
Between Stewart having Donathen tag along to help out with his program and Donathen building his Fox into a competition vehicle of his own, he learned a ton in a short period. “My Mustang had a 25.5 chassis with a small-block Ford engine, mini-tubbed, and the whole nine yards — it was like a smaller version of a Renegade,” he mused of the ProCharger-equipped pony car. “It was too much to go to the track with by myself and it was hard to find reliable people to help.”
Although he only raced it for about a year, Donathen shaved nearly a second off of the Mustang’s elapsed times from when he had first purchased it and started gaining local recognition. 

In late 2008, a local racer contacted Donathen about building a 1993 Mustang LX to run in NMRA Renegade. That project marked the official start of his business, Donathen Racing, which he jokes has been in existence since 1971 — the year he was born.
“I was a heathen and wanted to go fast, faster, and fastest,” laughed the entrepreneur who specializes in builds, suspension setup, and fabrication with the same intense attention to detail that’s required by his day job. “I run Donathen Racing out of a large pole barn at my home and do anything Mustang-related for racing except cage work.”
Ten years later, Donathen wanted a project of his own. Buried within the classifieds section on Craigslist, he found a pristine, rust-free 1978 Ford Fairmont station wagon with 62,000 miles on the odometer. “People told me I was dumb and it was ugly. They didn’t see my vision!” he recalled of the unconventional acquisition which, based on a little detective work, he suspects was used as a city service vehicle in its prime.

Having built a few cars for NMRA G-Force Racing Transmissions Coyote Stock already, including projects for his friends such as Stewart, Randy Soper, and Kevin McMullin, Donathen decided to get in on the fun himself. His Mustang morphed into an X275 car, which he had won a few classes with but was too extreme for the class, so he focused his attention on the Fairmont instead, excited by the fact it wasn’t “just another Mustang.”
In 2019, Donathen had the 8.50-certified roll cage put in by Two-Lane Performance and asked that they sand and clearcoat the chrome-moly instead of painting it so that it looks cool in the car. “They did a great job. I’m very picky and meticulous and it’s integrated very nicely so that the doors still function and I can even still fold down the seats,” Donathen shared. “We also added cross members and subframe connectors from Stifflers.”
He purchased a Gen 2 Coyote engine, but because he was so busy working on his customers’ cars, by the time he was ready to do something with the wagon, Ford gave birth to the Gen 3 Coyote. So, Donathen purchased the newer V8 through Stewart by way of Watson Racing in late 2020, along with a JLT inlet tube, and retrofitted his preexisting work to accept the updated powerplant with help from Spaghetti Menders to make the wiring easy peasy.

Donathen also selected a G-Force Racing Transmissions G101-A four-speed manual gearbox, the transmission of choice in Coyote Stock, and had some modifications made to his specs. “I had it MicroBlue-coated to reduce friction and it can shift clutchless,” noted Donathen, who runs a Fidanza clutch and flywheel. “I also made my own CNC program to lighten the flywheel.”
Next, Team Z Motorsports supplied the 9-inch rearend housing and Donathen set up his center section. Although he’s still using the stock rear springs from 1987, most of the other major suspension components including the K-member, upper and lower control arms, and torque boxes with integrated anti-roll bar all came from Team Z as well. “This allows for a good instant center setup, although it was a little hard at first since the lower torque box location was about an inch lower than a regular Fox body,” he said, adding that he had to go “back to the drawing board” to re-plot and re-calculate all of the suspension geometry.
The difference between his Fairmont’s Fox platform and the traditional third-generation Mustangs is something that Donathen truly loves. “The Fox body Mustang didn’t come out until 1979, so this 1978 Ford Fairmont was actually the first Fox!” he excitedly explained. “The majority of parts are interchangeable but it’s not quite a perfect fit most of the time.”

Donathen discovered the discrepancies while trying to convert his wagon from automatic to manual. This necessitated adjusting the pedal assembly and steering column holes so that they would line up properly. He also encountered an unexpected issue when putting in the shifter hole in the transmission tunnel, as he quickly realized that the front bench seat conflicted with the shifter.
Inspired by his friend and fellow racer, Chad Stephens, Donathen did what any reasonable person would do — he took the seat to an upholstery shop. They customized it with a notch to fit around the shifter just so that Donathen could keep the stock seats in place.
Other than the seat and the roll cage, Donathen did all of the work, including the alignment and squaring the rearend at his shop.
There are a ton of other neat little “Easter egg” special touches that Donathen took special care to include, too. He had his friend, Kevin Scott, laser-cut a custom fuel tank which Donathen welded up so that it could fit inside of a 1970s-era steel cooler so that it fit the “classic beach cruise” theme of the car. 

Scott also gifted Donathen a period-correct picnic basket, which Donathen intended to use as a battery box, but it wasn’t big enough. So, he simply chose to use it as a prop instead to hold a blanket and bolted it down in back where it is accompanied by a few requisite beach towels.
Under the hood, Donathen’s dedication to the theme is also evident as an aluminum Budweiser beer bottle has been repurposed into an overflow tank with a custom holder. “I wanted this car to be interesting and wanted a bit of me in there to make people laugh,” he affirmed.
The two-knob old school radio still functions, and although it would make more sense for the Beach Boys to be blasting as Donathen drives down the drag strip, he prefers to jam Ozzy Osbourne instead with a hula girl on the dash rocking out with him.
Weighing in at a fighting weight of 3,000 pounds, the Fairmont is surprisingly balanced and scales out with nearly perfect distribution. The doors have not been gutted, and the only two main lightweight aftermarket items are the hood, which is from H O Fibertrends, and the windshield. Donathen also employs lightweight titanium fasteners wherever he can, along with TBM brakes, which reduce unsprung mass. As a result, Donathen’s wagon runs an impressive best 60-foot time of 1.33 seconds and 3.99 seconds to the 330-foot mark.

After having helped his friends for years, Donathen was finally ready to “do his own wheelies” and enjoy the gear-banging excitement of NMRA G-Force Transmission Coyote Stock heads-up racing in May of 2021. He was ready to make his driving debut at the 16th Annual NMRA/NMCA Super Bowl of Street-Legal Drag Racing Presented by HPJ Performance at World Wide Technology Raceway in St. Louis, Illinois, but pressing medical matters meant he would have to wait just a little bit longer as shoulder surgery kept Donathen out of the driver’s seat.
Still wanting to shake down his project, though, Donathen asked Bob Cosby of Sherman, Texas, to do the honors instead. “I had never even driven the car down the street or anything. We took it right to the track and Bob fired it up, burned out, and damn near stood it on the bumper the first pass,” stated Donathen, who spent four hours loading the car and had to transport his trailer to the race while driving one-handed. 
As if the wheelie itself wasn’t photo-worthy enough, the guys accidentally forgot to remove the “shark bitten” customized surfboard which Donathen temporarily attaches to the top of the car with hook and look fasteners to add to its ambiance. Incredibly, the board remained in place for two full 135-plus mph runs and definitely gave onlookers something to laugh about.

Cosby qualified the car in 12th with a 9.868 a 135.37 mph and the group worked to sort through the usual new-car blues. “It was a good weekend overall. The only thing that didn’t work quite right was the shift light, but Jacob Lamb helped get that fixed up,” Donathen added, happy despite the fact his entry didn’t advance past the first round of eliminations.
Donathen’s doctor hadn’t cleared him to race by the following event in June in Ohio, so he sat out the Inaugural NMRA Ford Performance Nationals but was ready to rip by the time the Inaugural Arrington Performance NMRA/NMCA Power Festival Presented by Force Engineering at Martin, Michigan’s US 131 Motorsports Park rolled around in mid-July.
Soper and McMullin both generously took time off to help Donathen test the wagon and get it dialed in. “I looked like a newborn giraffe out there, it was horrible,” laughed the Coyote Stock rookie. “I wasn’t using the clutch right and was startled by the wheelie. Maybe I was worried about my shoulder being newly repaired, but it was a little more of a fiasco than I expected.”
Fortunately, thanks to the support of his friends, Donathen made great strides and qualified 11th with a 10.054 at 133.21 mph trip. “I was not last!” boasted a proud Donathen, who also has not forgotten to remove the surfboard since its two unauthorized trips. “I blew the tires off against Clair [Stewart] in round one of eliminations but am glad I got to christen the car.”

With only one more opportunity to enjoy his first year as an NMRA racer, Donathen headed out to Beech Bend Raceway Park in Bowling Green, Kentucky, in early October for the 23rd Annual Whipple Superchargers NMRA World Finals Presented by Competition Clutch Featuring the Holley Intergalactic Ford Festival.
There, despite the intense heat, he qualified 11th in a field of 20 cars with an impressive new personal best of 9.895 at 134.35 mph. Donathen had made a few changes after his last outing and the wagon was significantly happier. However, he forgot to bring his clutch cooler and struggled a little with engagement consistency.
“A warm cutch engages sooner, so, when it was cold I could perform well but after that, I couldn’t get any data because it would just blow the tires off and I would abort the run,” lamented Donathen, who attempted to work through the trouble by loosening the front end of the Fairmont and taking some hit out of the clutch itself.

Rain prompted a shorter schedule of the event, so eliminations were contested on Saturday. Donathen’s goal was to get down the track first and be fast second, and a big wheelstand right at the start of round one of eliminations made him prove his words with a three-gear wheelie that was wild enough to even make the FloRacing highlight reel. Although he still ran a sold 9.993 at 133.61 mph pass, Donathen couldn’t get around Frank Paultanis in the opposing lane.
Donathen hasn’t collected a round win yet, but he knows it’s coming. He plans on tackling four or five of the six Holley NMRA Ford Nationals drag racing series in 2022 and absolutely loves the Coyote Stock class.
In addition to being able to hang out with all of his friends, he enjoys that it’s a “thinking class” and appreciates the challenge of applying his knowledge and skill. “It’s not just about making power, but rather about setting the car up and shifting – it’s a driver’s class,” Donathen explained of the differences between Coyote Stock and his previous power-hungry time spent in X275.
Even though he built the vast majority of his wicked wagon on his own and each run is an opportunity to win, Donathen knows he couldn’t have done any of it by himself and credits his friends and family who make up his “Team Timmy” for helping make it all possible.
“Special thanks to Chad Stephens, Kevin McMullin, Randy Soper, my sidekick Drew Lyons, and my helper, Keith Withem, for everything – you guys rock!” said Donathen, who is also assisted by Dustin Hiday at Simple Machine with the use of their dyno, Sean Scobbe who freshens up his transmission (and reportedly will work for beer),Automotion parts suppliers, and Brandon Stoner for helping find hard-to-get pieces. “Also, thanks to my wife, Jae, for being so supportive and encouraging me to chase my dreams...”

The Details

Owner/Driver: Tim Donathen                   
Hometown: Mishawaka, Indiana 
Occupation: Utilities/Facilities Engineering Tech        
Class: NMRA G-Force Racing Transmissions Coyote Stock   
Crew: Team Timmy
Car Year/Make/Model: 1978 Ford Fairmont Station Wagon

Engine: Gen 3 Coyote 5.0-liter
Engine builder: Ford
Displacement: 302 cubic inches  
Block: Stock  
Bore: Stock
Stroke: Stock
Crank: Stock
Rods: Stock
Pistons: Stock
Heads: Stock
Valvetrain: Stock
Cam type:  Stock
Carburetor or EFI system: EFI
Power-adder: I wish
Fuel brand and type: VP Racing Fuels C10
Headers and exhaust: Kooks 3-inch
Transmission: G-Force Racing Transmission G101-A four-speed manual
Transmission Builder: Paul Long and Sean Scobe
Clutch/shifter/torque converter: Fidanza
Rearend: Team Z 9-inch

Body and/or chassis builder: Two Lane Performance
Suspension (Front): Team Z          
Suspension (Rear): Team Z
Brakes (Front): TBM Brakes
Brakes (Rear): TBM Brakes
Wheels (front): Bogart
Wheels (Rear): Bogart
Tires (Front): Mickey Thompson front-runners
Tires (Rear):  26x10-inch Mickey Thompson ET Drag
Aftermarket body modifications: HO Fibertrends Ultra Light Hood!!
Safety equipment: Seat belts        

Vehicle weight: 3,000 pounds
Quickest ET: 9.89 seconds
Best 60-foot: 1.33 seconds
Fastest mph: 133.5

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