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Matt Caldwell’s Sky-High, Wild Wheelie in True Street at St. Louis

Posted By: Ainsley Jacobs
Although longtime NMRA True Street competitor Matt Caldwell had already earned his NHRA competition license, he tried to score his pilot’s license, too, when his 1986 Ford Mustang GT took flight and lifted all four wheels off the ground during an epic wheelie at the NMRA/NMCA Super Bowl of Muscle Car Drag Racing on May 4-7, 2023.

Caldwell, who purchased his Fox from the guy parked next to him at a 2002 World Ford Challenge event, has been running with the NMRA since around 2010. Over the years, he picked up five wins in the 9-second category of NMRA True Street, one in the 11-second section, two overall runner-up honors, and even earned a coveted Nitto Tire Diamond Tree Ring for his victory at the 2015 NMRA/NMCA Super Bowl of Street Legal Drag Racing.

“I loved all the wheel stands I’d see from the NMRA in the late 1990s and early 2000s when the technology to keep the front end down just wasn’t there. It was so cool to see guys shifting with their wheels in the air,” noted the 40-year-old racer who finally got to experience the sensation firsthand.

The wheelie – which made for great photos but not much else, unfortunately – occurred during the weekend’s official pre-race test session at World Wide Technology Raceway. At the time, Caldwell’s data logger wasn’t running so he wasn’t able to definitively nail down a cause, but he suspects a boost spike at the launch, coupled with the car dead hooking on the track surface, resulted in four-eyed Fox going airborne.

As the Mickey Thompson 275 drag radial rear tires came off the ground and the bumper scraped along the track, picking up plenty of rubber as it went but surprisingly sustaining no other damage, Caldwell was stunned and hung on once gravity took over.

“When it came back down, the drop links on my anti-roll bar flipped forward so it locked up the rear suspension,” he explained of what caused the incredible impact upon landing as his car’s shocks weren’t accessible to absorb the force. “It went 1.30 seconds in the 60-foot. My rear tires were off the ground, so it was my bumper that tripped the beams!”

While he’s grateful the resulting destruction wasn’t more extensive, Caldwell’s car certainly got banged up as a result of the fantastic photo op; the list of damaged parts included bent front struts, a bent K-member, bent front subframe, a scraped-up bumper, and a crushed oil pan.

“Fortunately, the K-member and engine diaper took a lot of it so the engine didn’t lose oil or oil pressure,” noted the driver. “My rear suspension parts are from Baseline Suspension, and I’m thankful I spent time sorting everything out with Kevin Slaby to keep it from having been worse.”

Back in his pit area after the incident, Caldwell was amazed by how many people came by to offer their assistance. “Some I knew and some I didn’t, but everyone wanted to help,” said Caldwell. “There was too much front-end damage and I wasn’t comfortable putting new shocks on and trying to run, but I appreciated it a ton that the racing community was supportive of me.”

Back home in Edelstein, Illinois, Caldwell quickly began making repairs and ordering items from Mustang Parts Unlimited. He replaced all of the damaged front-end components with new components from UPR Products and a set of Strange shocks. “The shock towers were bent up and in, so we straightened those out,” he added. “My transmission had been acting funny since then and I recently found that I twisted the output shaft. I suspect I have a bent or twisted axle or two, too.”

Despite his jaw-dropping pass not producing the performance numbers he had hoped for, Caldwell still has his sights set on breaking into the 8-second zone. So far, he has run a quarter-mile personal best elapsed time of 9.01 at 149.5 mph with a best 60-foot time of 1.24 seconds.

“There’s still a lot left in the car. I may run methanol injection to get the air temps down, and will eventually step up to a bigger turbo,” noted Caldwell. His tuner, Mike Post from DynotuneMP, will surely make that happen once he dials in the Holley Terminator X standalone engine management system a bit more.

Under the hood, Caldwell runs a “pretty simple combination” consisting of a Ford 408 cubic inch Windsor engine with a bottom end built by Jon Carls of JDC Engineering, Trick Flow's legendary Twisted Wedge cylinder heads on each side of cylinders, and a single 75mm turbocharger to add plenty of compressed air to the mix.

Over the winter, Caldwell will add a front-end limiter kit from UPR Products to calm his Fox body, then he plans to get right back to doing what he loves in 2024: racing in NMRA True Street and attending local cruises with his friends.

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