Prev Article Next Article

Mercury Rising—Matt Harget’s Fox Capri runs hot in Exedy Racing Clutch Modular Muscle

Posted By: Evan J. Smith
Mercury Rising—Matt Harget’s Fox Capri runs hot in Exedy Racing Clutch Modular Muscle
Written by Ainsley Jacobs
Photography by the FSC staff
Growing up just outside of Detroit, it was inevitable that Matt Harget would one day find his way onto the drag strip. Although it didn’t happen until a little later in life, Harget is now making big moves with his unconventional 1979 Mercury Capri in NMRA Exedy Racing Clutch Mod Muscle and happily growing his friends-turned-family in the process.
In high school in his hometown of Wyandotte, Michigan, Harget showed a tremendous mechanical aptitude early on. His friend, Todd Trombley, was in the same 11th-grade auto shop together and was a big drag racing enthusiast. Trombley wound up with a 1970 Plymouth Duster and the young men started modifying it to compete in the Milan Dragway High School Nationals and Wyandotte’s local burnout contest. After that, Harget — also an avid ice hockey enthusiast — was hooked.
Harget’s first car was one his mother loved for being big and bulky and keeping her son safe, but he admits the 1979 Chevrolet Malibu’s 305ci engine had “no balls” and he wanted more. When he turned 18, Harget enlisted in the United States Marine Corps where he served as a rifleman in the 1st Battalion, 5th Regiment’s infantry for four years. When he got out, though, he wasted no time in purchasing a 1983 Ford Mustang GT.
Stock except for a Flowmaster exhaust system, Harget regularly cruised the car around town. Busy with a career installing commercial fire protection systems at Falcon Fire Protection and growing his family by welcoming his two sons, Tyler and Evan, into the world, though, Harget didn’t have much time to commit to a racing series.
“Eventually, I wound up with a ’91 GT with a 302 that had some bolt-ons, gears, this and that, and I started working more on that car,” noted Harget, who ordered a 345-horsepower GT40 crate engine. “I was driving up to Blockbuster to return some videos, with only like 10 miles on the build, I turned a corner and a rod came out the side of the motor.”
Fortunately, the place Harget got the engine from accepted responsibility for not tightening the bolts on the connecting rod caps and gave him a replacement engine. That engine sat in his garage until one day when his friend, Scott Childers, showed up with a 1979 Mercury Capri RS. “It had slicks, a 302 with ’79 Windsor heads, and a small cam. He wanted something more streetable and I thought it was cool because it was different, so he traded me the car for my crate engine,” Harget explained of how he wound up with his unusual and unconventional Fox body in the late 1990s.
With his Ford friends Mike Hightower and Brian Kuta, Harget began bracket racing the silver Capri. He saved up to purchase a 347-cubic-inch short-block, some Air Flow Research 185cc cylinder heads, added a newer carb, and regularly ran in the 12.70-second zone. “I dropped down to 11.60s and I was content for a while,” said Harget, whose children were getting older by this time and he began to get more serious about racing. 
A few years later, Harget purchased a Ford Performance 302 ci 2013 Gen 1 Coyote crate engine from his friend and the 2020 NMRA Coyote Stock season champion, Frank Paultanis. Paultanis generously took point on upgrading Harget’s Capri to prepare it for NMRA Exedy Racing Clutch Mod Muscle competition, and the guys were excited to get rolling. “I had thought about running heads up in [NMRA Richmond Gear] Factory Stock or something, but the amount of money it takes to keep up is astronomical,” admitted Harget, who prefers to keep his bank account balance available for fun with his family.
Almost as soon as the build kicked off in early 2020, the Covid-19 pandemic struck and quickly halted the bulk of the progress. “Frank was putting the car back together at his house, working on it in the evenings after he got off of work, and I felt guilty for being there because I wasn’t supposed to be visiting people… but part of my family was sitting in his garage!” laughed Harget, who couldn’t stay away from his car despite the social-distancing mandates.
Not only did Paultanis install the Coyote engine and C4 transmission built by Sean’s Transmission Service, but he also plumped and rewired the entire car, then mounted all-new front suspension components such as the K-member, A-arms, front shocks, and more from Sharad Raldiris at UPR Products to enable the modern engine to fit within the classic chassis. Next, an aftermarket steering column, half-size radiator, and set of Strange Engineering brakes were all bolted on.
Paultanis extended his effort to also include the fabrication of an entirely new all-aluminum exhaust system, starting with a set of Kooks headers, extending to the custom-made X-pipe with incorporated V-band flanges, and ending with DynoMax mufflers.
Harget kept the exterior of the Capri as close to its factory form as possible, as he loves having something different than most others and appreciates the unusual Fox-platform machine. His favorite piece of the car, though, is the rear wing. “Everyone asks where I got it and where they can get one, but it’s a one-of-one prototype from Steeda that was on the car when I bought it,” he confessed. “I’m usually one of the only ones with a Capri. You really don’t see them very often.”
Inside, Harget opted to keep the cabin somewhat sparse and utilitarian as his main focus is just getting down the track quickly and consistently. A set of RaceQuip belts hold him safely and securely in the driver’s seat during wild wheelies, and a full array of Auto Meter gauges help him maintain a close eye on the engine’s vitals.
Finally, he also installed a new 1987-1993 dash replacing the 40-plus-year-old cracked original 1979 piece, and Harget had Paultanis’s blessing to get going with the last three races of the 2020 NMRA season.
At the 2019 Performance Racing Industry Show in Indianapolis, Indiana, Harget purchased a new Ultimate Converter Concepts torque converter with a 6,000-rpm stall speed from Gary Parker that the latter gentleman had never used. “I had another unit in the car prior, swapped in the Ultimate converter, and that was it – I’ve never looked back,” Harget detailed of the drivetrain specs.
Despite only running a partial year, and being new to the class, Harget finished 15th overall in points out of 41 drivers. He was enjoying the Open Comp-format category which allows for any year, make, and model Ford using Ford Modular 4.6, 5.4, Coyote, or V10 power, and decided to run the complete NMRA Holley Ford Nationals calendar in 2021. Fortunately, his longtime career at Falcon and an understanding boss enabled Harget, now 50, to do so.
In 2021, Harget got going with good momentum at the year's first two races. Before the third event at World Wide Technology Raceway near St. Louis, Missouri, though, he contacted the 2022 NMRA JDM Engineering Limited Street champion and co-owner of Vector Motorsports, Samantha Moore, to see about putting a tune-up in his 1979 Capri.
“Other than a carbon fiber 2018 intake, my engine was sealed and stock,” noted Harget of his naturally aspirated powerplant. “I went from 10.60s to 10.20s after she tuned it.” Moore’s assistance made a huge difference for Harget, as he went on to score the Mod Muscle class win over Adam Cox at the Inaugural Arrington Performance NMRA/NMCA Power Festival Presented by Force Engineering at US 131 Motorsports Park in Martin, Michigan, in July of 2021. 
“It was amazing to win and everyone in the class has been so supportive. We roll into the beams against one another, but whether we win or lose, we’re still buddies afterward,” shared Harget, whose fellow racers have become lifelong friends. “Guys like Andy Russell, Chris Hammon, Charlie McCulloch, Shane Williams, Adam Cox, Gary Parker, and everyone else have all welcomed me in. I think I’ll stick in Mod Muscle for as long as I can.”
Harget ran his personal best that season, a 10.22-second quarter-mile pass in Mod Motor-legal trim, although he had run quicker in the 9.70-second zone a few years prior with a 347-cubic-inch engine and a 150-horsepower shot of nitrous.
Harget, who finished sixth in points in 2021, especially likes the fact that he doesn’t have to be the quickest to win. “The last four champions have been high-11- or low-12-second cars,” stated the driver. “You’ve got to be able to cut a light. These guys are deadly on the tree, and if you’re gonna play in their pond, you better know how to swim!”
Two races later, at the 2022 NMRA season opener in Florida, Harget found himself in the final round once again — this time, he was up against Susan Roush-McClenaghan. Although he didn’t turn the win light on that time due to accidentally turning on the red light by being just 0.009-seconds too quick on the tree, Harget has been chasing the feeling ever since and his hard work helped him improve to finish the 2022 season in the number-five position for overall points.
“My only goal was to end up in the Top 10,” added the man who both achieved and exceeded his expectations two years in a row. “Frank [Paultanis] has been a tremendous help and he’s always been there for me. He’s very well-rounded in his knowledge and has taught me so much.”
Having made strides over the past two years on his elapsed times, Harget hired David Woodside of Woodside Motorsports to fabricate a new 8.50 chrome-moly roll cage for his Capri over the off-season. Harget had replaced the existing roll bar when he first purchased the car with an eight-point, 10.00-certified cage, but knew it wasn’t enough for where he was heading and acted accordingly. 
Harget was also considering switching to a factory-style suspension system instead of his Capri’s current ladder bar setup, which is managed by Bennett Performance and which has served him well over the years, but ultimately opted to stick with the ladder. “Ed Bennett III helped me get a Team Z rearend; upper and lower control arms; parachute mount; and anti-roll bar,” elaborated Harget, who added a window net and more to finish his overhaul of the car.
He picked up the newly-refreshed Capri from Woodside Motorsports while on his way down to Florida for the NMRA Spring Break Shootout Presented by Nitto Tire season opener in March of 2023 and hopes were high, but the year started unexpectedly rough for Harget. 
At Orlando Speed World Harget ran into some transmission trouble as his C4’s second gear decided it no longer wanted to participate. “Derek Putnam in the tower suggested I stop by Leticia Hughes’s pit, and Bill Anthony of Whatever It Takes Transmission told me he could fix it for me,” recalled Harget of how a frustrating situation wound up being solved. 
With the help of his teammates, Open Comp racer Junior McKenzie, and Super Stang racer Andy Ransford, the transmission was out and ready to be rebuilt in no time flat. Anthony took a look and told him what parts he needed, and fellow racer Clair Stewart II generously drove to WIT’s shop to get parts. “The next morning, Bill [Anthony] was in my pit at 7:00 a.m. and rebuilt it for me. They went above and beyond with service, and he was a Godsend. After that, the car shifted well with no issues.”
That weekend, Harget qualified 19th with a 0.080-second reaction time in the highly competitive category where 0.00-second lights are the norm but wasn’t able to get past the first round of eliminations.
Moving on to Rockingham Dragway in North Carolina for the second stop on the season tour, Harget was met with even more frustration; he spent the entire weekend chasing mechanical problems and wasn’t able to make a single pass down the track as a result.
“I was worn out, physically and mentally, from dealing with it but the two Coyote Stock cars I crew on — doing tire pressures and videoing for Frank Paultanis and Eddie Bennett – met in the finals and it was great to see my friends finish first and second,” added Harget, who is always able to find a silver lining in challenging situations. Undeterred, he headed home with a plan to order the necessary parts and pieces to be ready to race again as soon as possible.
Regardless of how his future races pan out, Harget is happy to finally be racing a car of his own and to be doing so with the love of his life, his fiancée Shannon, by his side. He also is grateful for Shannon’s 14-year-old daughter, Natalie, who is showing an interest in racing and plans to hop into the seat of Harget’s Capri to cut her teeth in NMRA TorqStorm Superchargers True Street soon as possible. “Shannon helps me so much, I wouldn’t be able to do this without her,” said Harget, grateful to have a partner in life and in racing, and with whom he can enjoy road-trip gangster rap car-karaoke sessions.
“I could drive 30-minutes and race Open Comp at home and sleep in my own bed at night, but then I wouldn’t meet people like the friends I’ve made through racing with the NMRA,” affirmed Harget, who wishes he could see his track family more than just six times a year. “Special thanks to my teammates Frank Paultanis, Ed Bennett III, Mr. Bennett, Andy Ransford, Junior McKenzie, Tim Jacobson, and David Woodside for all their help along the way.”
For Harget, being with the people he cares about is more important than scoring another win – although he is still hungry for a follow-up performance and plans to push the issue even harder in the years to come with his Coyote-powered 1979 Mercury Capri. “If I roll up in your pits to say hello, I consider you family.”
The Details
Owner: Matt Harget            
Driver: Matt Harget
Hometown: Flat Rock, Michigan
Occupation: Pipefitter
Class: Modular Muscle 
Crew: Shannon Daugherty, Frank Paultanis, Andy Ransford, Mr. Bennett, Eddie Bennett & Natalie Daugherty
Car Year/Make/Model:1979 Mercury Capri RS
Engine: 2013 Gen 1 Coyote (was sealed until I bought an 18 intake)
Engine builder: Ford Motor Company
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: Stock engine control unit
Power-adder: Naturally Aspirated
Fuel brand and type: VP Racing Fuels C10
Headers and exhaust: Kooks, Paultanis Racing Aluminum X Pipe
Transmission: C4 with transbrake 
Transmission Builder: Sean’s transmission
Clutch/shifter/torque converter: Winters three-speed shifter, Ultimate Converter Concepts
Rearend: Team Z lightweight 9-inch with 4.63 gears, control arms, and Strange axles 
Body and/or chassis builder: Woodside Motor Sports 8.50 cage
Suspension (Front): Strange Engineering, UPR Products
Suspension (Rear): Strange Engineering, Team Z
Brakes (Front): Strange Engineering
Brakes (Rear): Strange Engineering
Wheels (front): RC Components
Wheels (Rear):  RC Components
Tires (Front): Mickey Thompson
Tires (Rear): Mickey Thompson
Aftermarket body modifications: Prototype rear spoiler
Safety equipment: Five-layer pants/jacket, helmet, five-point harness, window net
Vehicle weight: 2,475 pounds
Quickest ET: 10.22 seconds
Best 60-foot: 1.30 seconds
Fastest mph: 128.61
Sponsors: Woodside Motorsports, Falcon Fire Protection, Paultanis Racing, Bennett Performance

join our

email list

You’ll be first to know about Race Pages Digital latest news!