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On A Pass—In the past nine years, the Holley NMRA Ford Nationals hit its stride

Posted By: Evan J. Smith
On A Pass—In the past nine years, the Holley NMRA Ford Nationals hit its stride
Written by Ainsley Jacobs
Photography from the FSC archives
With the NMRA having firmly established itself both as a sustainable single-make series, as well as a powerful player in the drag racing industry throughout its creation and growth phases, the third segment of the sanctioning body’s first 25 years, was focused more on solidifying its development.
By 2015, the NMRA had undeniably made its mark and flourished into a family focused organization that made drag racing available to the masses with sportsman-level competition in a professional environment.
Around that time, the index classes were steadily gathering steam and further strengthened sportsman racing as the backbone of the NMRA. It wasn’t uncommon to see the top 10 or even 20 racers on the qualifying sheets all within a hundredth of a second either of their indexes or with regards to their reaction times. “We would regularly see tons of guys cutting trip-zip lights in qualifying,” recalled Rollie Miller, NMRA/NMCA’s National Event Director and General Manager, regarding the cutthroat competition. “We had a ton of talented, longtime racers and lots of multi-time champions. It was some of the best index racing I have ever seen.”
Although things were looking up for the NMRA, Mother Nature had other plans and spent the next two years or so sending showers and inclement weather to every race on the schedule. It was an extremely unfortunate turn of events, as the repetitive rain wreaked havoc on the weekends’ schedules as well as on participants’ spirits throughout 2016-2017, but NMRA’s staff persevered as always.
“We came out of that period of stagnation with renewed purpose, though,” Miller asserted. The street-car market was also rapidly gaining popularity at the time, and NMRA pivoted to incorporate the shifting trends into its classes.
“The proliferation of turbocharged Coyote engines led to several specialty categories being created, as well as several other pop-up street car-style classes including other shootouts and even the All-Female True Street class,” added Mike Galimi, Network Director, Hot Rod and ProMedia’s former Director of Content and Marketing. “The NMRA reacted to capture the essence of it all.”
From classes like the Turbo Coyote Shootout to the Cobra/Terminator vs. GT500 Shootout, the 2020+ Shelby GT500 Shootout, Stick Shift Shootout, and even no-time grudge racing as well as special X275 Invitationals, the NMRA delivered what the market demanded with regards to both street cars and heads-up, small-tire radial racing.
Meanwhile, the fresh Coyote Stock category accelerated at a rapid pace — both in terms of performance and participation. There were some growing pains, though, as the challenge of ensuring parity when Ford introduced its Gen 2 Coyote engine and jettisoned its original Gen 1.
“A lot of people were used to using the same factory-style, sealed engine forever, so there were some hurdles to overcome during the transition,” Galimi shared of the hiccup that was ultimately sorted out thanks to NMRA’s direct partnership with Ford Performance. “We learned a lot and were able to head off a lot of those same issues when Ford moved to the Gen 3 Coyote.”
It was an exciting period for NMRA as classes evolved. Coyote Modified morphed into Modified Street which slid into Limited Street while Renegade ran rampant. The intention was there to provide a playing field for fast radial tire cars, but rapid rule changes and even more rapid elapsed times ensured a short shelf life for the former while the latter established a firm hold in the NMRA portfolio of racing.
As the performance stepped up, so did the NMRA’s commitment to safety. Spearheaded by Miller, TNT Rescue was brought on board and named the Official Safety Equipment of the NMRA/NMCA Safety Team in 2018 for the exclusive use of its extraction and heavy-duty tools. 
“Our safety requirements are more complicated compared to what many tracks deal with regularly as we have higher horsepower cars than an average test-n-tune,” shared Galimi. Safety has always been front and center for the NMRA, and knowing that the organization has both the proper equipment as well as trained personnel to deal with any emergency helps racers feel safer and more confident every time they strapped in and rolled up to the ready line.
In 2019, the NMRA partnered with Holley to create an event that was unlike anything the world had ever seen. The 21st Annual Nitto Tire NMRA All-Ford World Finals + Inaugural Holley Intergalactic Ford Festival was held on September 27-29 at Beech Bend Raceway Park in Bowling Green, Kentucky, and the event was a sensational hit with racers and fans alike.
“It was a huge breath of life and changed the entire dynamic of the event with greater energy than usual,” Galimi said of the event which took what had once been a closed community of racers and united the entire Blue Oval brand’s fanbase instead. “It wouldn’t have been possible without Holley, and collaborating with them on the project was a blast.”
The first-ever Holley Ford Fest, a celebration of everything and anything powered by a Ford engine, featured not only the quintessential NMRA drag racing action, but also a plethora of other special highlights such as Bob Chandler's original 1974 “Bigfoot” Ford pickup that revolutionized the off-road community as the world’s first true “monster truck,” a tire-shredding burnout competition including YouTube sensation Cleetus McFarland and his “Neighbor” blown Crown Vic, wicked drifting demonstrations by Team RTR’s most famous “Fun Havers” Vaughn Gittin Jr. and Chelsea DeNofa, and so much more.
“Thanks to the addition of the Holley Ford Fest, the NMRA World Finals went from being the biggest Ford drag race to what is arguably one of the biggest all-Ford motorsports events in the world, period,” Steve Wolcott, NMRA Co-Founder and President, proudly noted. “It reawakened the spirit of the NMRA and took on a life of its own.”
Of course, putting together an event as massive as the NMRA All-Ford World Finals + Holley Intergalactic Ford Festival requires a tremendous amount of preparation. Despite the monumental logistics, the event has since become the pinnacle of the NMRA season and a mainstay on the schedule moving forward.
Riding high after the conclusion of NMRA’s big 2019 year, no one was prepared for what would transpire at the start of the 2020 season. 
The 26th Annual Nitto Tire NMRA Spring Break Shootout at Florida’s Bradenton Motorsports Park began on Thursday, February 27, much like every other season opener had in the years prior. On Saturday, the spectator count was stout but by Sunday, the stands were surprisingly sparse and it didn’t bode well for what was lurking on the horizon… that was the weekend that the Coronavirus pandemic hit, and a truly unprecedented predicament halted not just drag racing, but the entire globe.
While Covid-19 certainly caused an unparalleled level of chaos and catastrophe, the NMRA refused to be another casualty. Instead of canceling races, Miller and his team spent countless hours, days, and weeks, working the phones and trying to come up with alternative solutions.
“We had to delay some events and combine others with the NMCA, but we were able to get the NMRA season finished as planned,” confirmed Miller, who was relentless in his efforts to abide by the rapidly changing federal and state mandates with respect to social distancing orders and other policies throughout the tremendous challenge.
Working with politicians, government officials, and even CDC officers, the NMRA was committed to giving its racers a sense of stability during a frenzied and uncertain period in history. Initially, ProMedia’s staff wasn’t sure what to expect regarding car counts and attendance, but in a strange twist of fate, 2020 wound up having some of NMRA’s biggest events ever.
After shuffling events around and relocating due to track closures, the Nitrous Supply NMRA/NMCA All-American Nationals Presented by Arrington Performance was scheduled for late August at US 131 Motorsports Park in Martin, Michigan. “We figured, in the middle of Covid and in the middle of summer, that nobody would come,” Miller shared candidly.
As it turned out, by Friday of the event, there were 676 cars on the property registered to race and it marked a new record high for car count by more than 100 entries. Similarly, the event was restricted to only having 100 spectators and 50 “VIP Sponsors” that were entitled to suite access to maintain social distancing protocols, but participants arrived on the property in droves. Those quickly sold out, however, spectators showed up ready to show out instead; much to the surprise of NMRA staff, the car show also set a record as there were 3,200-plus registered participants.
“This is what we do for a living, so we had to find a way to keep it going whether that was finding locations that allowed us to be there in a time when the country wasn’t friendly to gatherings or getting creative in other strategies,” added Galimi, who confessed that often there were still a lot of variables and unknowns to be sorted out even in the days and hours leading up to an event’s start. “We got lucky that we had two events done [NMRA and NMCA season openers] before the country shut down. That momentum helped us.”
It was thanks to the racers’ support that NMRA was able to make it through. Additionally, Miller’s dedicated diligence and extreme efforts didn’t go unnoticed. “We paved the way for other series such as NASCAR and NHRA to rethink and relocate their events — but NMRA was the first to take the lead on doing so,” he affirmed.
“We blocked off bleachers following social distancing regulations, set up hand sanitizer stations, provided face masks and disposable pens, spaced out lines, and implemented tons of other things that needed to happen,” Wolcott added. “But we were able to crown our champions and people were appreciative that, in an abnormal year, they still had the normalcy of racing with the NMRA.”
Both a challenge as well as a breakthrough year, 2020 was a year unlike any other. The relationships that were formed and strengthened, though, as well as the trust earned from NMRA’s racers, set the stage for the series to flourish in the future.
In 2021, despite lingering aftereffects from Covid-19 and associated supply chain shortages as well as manufacturing delays and spectator restrictions still in effect, the NMRA soldiered on. There was a slight downturn in attendance as parts were still tough to come by and many racers programs took a hit as a result, and several tracks had shuttered permanently, but the NMRA simply picked up where it had left off and continued to grow on the “festival” atmosphere.
Late that same year, with NMRA’s events growing larger and larger, Augustine Herrera was appointed as National Tech Director whose duties included overseeing fair competition in both the NMRA and NMCA drag racing series as well as leading the on-site tech department at all national events.
“We had awoken to the fact that NMRA needed to be more than just a drag race where Blue Oval enthusiasts could enjoy other types of motorsports that they’ve come to love,” said Wolcott. “If we didn’t change, we would be in peril.” As such, for 2023, a new strategy was devised — a focus on festivals.
To celebrate the 25th anniversary of the NMRA, an exciting schedule was devised that incorporated Ford-focused performance diversity. “The backbone of our series is the traveling racer and that won’t change. We’re going to continue to run passion-based, all-Ford events, but for 2023, we’ll see more festival-style things and inclusions for special interest groups,” Wolcott elaborated on the team’s plans.
Perhaps the biggest change for the series, though, was relocating its first race of the year to a new home at Orlando Speed World Dragway in Florida. “We were wanting to grow the iconic NMRA Spring Break Shootout and had maxed out what we could do in our previous location,” explained the Co-Founder.
For 2023, the NMRA Spring Break Shootout Presented by Nitto Tire on March 3-5 will kick things off with the NMRA’s famous hardcore drag racing as well as drifting from RTR’s Gittin and DeNofa, Shane England’s “Big Kahuna” monster truck on display, a wild Australian-style burnout contest, the Fox Body Reunion, and more.
“The Spring Break Shootout in particular has always been a ‘lifestyle event’ but it’s evolved over the generations and is still one of the biggest Ford events in the world,” Miller pronounced.
In honor of its silver season, the NMRA Ford Performance Nationals held at Summit Motorsports Park in Norwalk, Ohio, in June has been retitled as the NMRA Ford Homecoming. The weekend served as the “official 25thAnniversary reunion event” and invitations have been extended to many of the old-school, big-name racers who made major contributions to Ford drag racing.
“From Pro 5.0 to Street Outlaw to Drag Radial, we’ll have all of ‘em on the property,” confirmed Wolcott. “The event will also feature the 55th Anniversary Cobra Jet Reunion, the 30th Anniversary SVT Reunion, 40thAnniversary Saleen Reunion with Steve Saleen… Shelby American has added it to their schedule, plus we’re hosting the Fox Body Reunion and more.”
Additionally, attendees of the NMRA Ford Homecoming enjoyed intense drag racing, thrilling autocross action, awesome drifting, and two Bigfoot monster trucks crushing vehicles in the Ford Off-Road Alley. It will undoubtedly be an epic weekend with a great family vibe in the stands and the pits.
Over the past 25 years, the NMRA has established itself as one of the longest-running drag racing series in history. From promoting street car-style racing to true heads-up rivalries, the well-thought-out rules, great facilities, consistent track prep, fantastic safety crew, and so much more have all contributed to the series’ success.
“So many other organizations with this type of racing — NSCA, ORSCA, and others — were here and gone in less than 10 years,” Galimi explained. Outside of the NHRA, the NMRA has been the only one to stand the test of time. “NMRA was an early adopter of running a sealed crate-engine class, of having a rule committee and implementing mid-season rule changes rather than making constant adjustments… The NMRA is continually paving the path with innovative experiences, and the market has modeled itself after the NMRA.”
It’s the series’ long-running, rich history that adds tremendous meaning and value to the act of winning an NMRA championship title; it is something that’s earned and those who accomplish such a feat enjoy that pride for the rest of their lives.
“The last 25 years with the NMRA have absolutely been amazing beyond my wildest dreams and I’m looking forward to the next 25. It’s been a team effort, and NMRA truly built an outstanding community that wouldn’t have existed otherwise,” concluded Wolcott, whose original idea has gone on to change so many lives for the better and enable countless racers to achieve their lifelong goals where it’s a major milestone or a micro-record. “God bless America, God bless our racers, and God bless the NMRA.”
As it has done since day one, the NMRA continues to grow so that it can stay fresh, fast, fun, and all-Ford, so here’s to the past 25 years and the series will keep the pedal to the floor heading toward its next milestone anniversary.

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