Chris Holbrook charges toward small-tire success in NMCA Edelbrock Xtreme Street
Written by Ainsley Jacobs
Photography by Kevin DiOssi
As a second-generation racer, Chris Holbrook practically grew up with a wrench in his hand. His entire life has been shaped by his father’s influence, from his career on the track to his business building engines, and he’s keeping the tradition alive with his own son as well.
Holbrook, now 55, remembers when his father, Carl, first started building engines out of his home garage in Michigan.
“I remember we once had a guy stay at our house for a whole week while they did a magazine article on my dad for Hot Rod magazine in ’75 and nicknamed him Captain Cobra Jet,” reminisced the man. “He raced in Super Stock back in the day and opened his own shop around ’76.”
Those early memories also served as motivation for Holbrook, who went to work at his father’s business right out of high school. He worked his way up and learned the tricks of the trade, but needed something to call his own that he could work on and modify.
Holbrook soon acquired his first set of wheels, a 1963 Ford Galaxie with a 428 ci FE engine that he bracket-raced in the early ‘80s at Detroit Dragway at Milan Dragway.
“I even picked my wife [Holly] up on our second date in that car,” he said joyfully of the woman who has been by his side since 1984. “She cried when I sold it to buy a house, but we’ve been married for 30 years now.”
Things were going well for the Holbrooks, and life was humming right along. As often happens though, circumstances change and necessitate adjustment.
“My dad wound up selling his business to Stu Evans Motorsports, and that’s when we started running IHRA Pro Stock,” added Holbrook, who secured the 1999 season championship. “Then, in ’00, Stu Evans sold the business to Livernois Motorsports.”
Holbrook continued his tenure with his father’s former company at Livernois for several years, but decided to get back to basics and go out on his own again. In 2006, he founded Holbrook Racing Engines (HRE) in Livonia, Michigan, stopped racing to focus on growing his enterprise, and never looked back.
He was so busy working that getting back into drag racing—as a driver rather than an engine builder—simply wasn’t at the forefront of Holbrook’s mind.
“And then… Brian Wolfe comes along and asked if I wanted to race a Cobra Jet Mustang, and it got back to my roots, so I said ‘sure,’” he explained of his rapid reentry into the sport.
With Wolfe’s help, as well as backing from the Varsity Ford dealership, Holbrook started driving again in 2010 and quickly found success. With three NHRA Factory Stock Showdown wins in 2013, 2014, and 2016 at the prestigious Chevrolet Performance U.S. Nationals race at Lucas Oil Raceway in Indianapolis, Indiana, and multiple records for himself and customers, the move proved profitable and business was booming.
He dabbled in the NMCA’s Cobra Jet Showdown at the inception of the category and did well, then transitioned into the NMCA’s Holley EFI Factory Super Cars class on a somewhat sporadic basis. In 2016, Holbrook finished 11th in championship points for the latter class.
By 2019, he had stepped up to focus more on running a full season and using NMCA Holley EFI Factory Super Cars as a research and development opportunity for Holbrook Racing Engines.
“Everyone said, ‘Well, your customers are beating you!’ and I said ‘that’s a win-win, then!’” stated the smart entrepreneur. Holbrook knew that giving his customers better parts than he kept for himself would ultimately result in a growing, thriving company.
Holbrook stepped up his involvement with the NMCA even further in 2020, coming on as the presenting sponsor of the season opener at Bradenton Motorsports Park in March. The 18th Annual NMCA Muscle Car Mayhem presented by Holbrook Racing Engines wound up being a blessing for him, not only in that it helped get HRE even more exposure within his target market, but also in that Holbrook was both the number-one qualifier in Holley EFI Factory Super Cars with a 7.660 at 181.06mph blast as well as the overall event winner for the weekend.
“I really like the NMCA, and the NMRA, and they really take care of the racers,” Holbrook explained of why he chose to get involved with the organizations as more than just a racer. “They treat everyone like they should be treated, with respect, and it’s a good, family-type racing association.”
More solid performances throughout the remainder of the tumultuous season, as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic, saw Holbrook wrap up the year with an impressive third-place finish in championship points. He also reset the class record to 7.626 at 183.89 mph along the way, and also recorded an even quicker 7.565 at 184.35 mph hit that wasn’t backed up at the time.
“By then, we started doing a lot of engines for customers, including Bill Skillman, so I got out of Factory Stock and Factory Super Cars to concentrate on work,” shared Holbrook, who sold his car after the end of his 2020 season. It seems the racing gods didn’t like the decision, though, because Holbrook was soon given another great opportunity to get back at it.
Over the years and during his Factory Stock career, Holbrook developed a working relationship and friendship with Dustin Whipple of Whipple Superchargers. Holbrook Racing Engines would often work with Whipple to provide data and feedback on various superchargers used during their dyno sessions. It helped both companies to produce better products for their customers, and their collaboration strengthened.
“Dustin [Whipple] convinced me to build a Mustang-bodied Pro Mod car with him,” recounted Holbrook of the conversation that took place in late 2020 and led him to contemplate competing in NMCA VP Racing Lubricants Xtreme Pro Mod. “We’re still in progress with that, due to the parts delay from COVID-19, so we’re still waiting on things. I’ve never driven a Pro Mod before—Pro Stock and Top Sportsman, yes, but I’ve never been as fast as in a Pro Mod.”
While waiting on the big-tire platform’s completion, another great opportunity fell into Holbrook’s lap…
One of Holbrook Racing Engines’ longtime clients, Bruce Tronolone, had hired them to put together a Coyote engine for a 2000 Ford Mustang Cobra he was building to run in the NMRA’s ProCharger Coyote Modified. When the class was retired, though, the men discussed moving to NMRA Edelbrock Renegade/NMCA Edelbrock Xtreme Street instead.
Ultimately, Tronolone decided not to finish the project as his daughter was getting married.
“He wanted to sell it, but I thought it would be something nice to run until the Pro Mod gets done,” noted Holbrook of what became his intermediate platform to transition up to the ultimate doorslammer later on. “So, I bought it from Bruce with the only stipulation that he still gets to help me put it together!”
Taking over someone else’s work-in-progress is usually not an easy task, but thanks to the top-quality shops Tronolone had chosen along the way, Holbrook had no problems finishing up the Mustang. Its 7.50-second certified roll cage, done by Team Z Motorsports, also proved to be the perfect starting point.
Holbrook Racing Engines is well known for its powerful Coyote engine builds, so there is a 327ci bullet that sits between the frame rails and no expense was spared in its preparation. A Baer Block Motors 3.700-bore-space, cast-aluminum engine block was filled to the brim with Diamond Racing pistons atop aluminum Bill Miller Engineering connecting rods, both of which work in conjunction with a Sonny Bryant crankshaft.
Ford GT350 heads, custom ported, prepped, and flowed in-house by the HRE team, were then outfitted with a predominately Ford Performance valvetrain and custom Comp cams made to HRE’s unique, proprietary specs before being installed on each bank of the Coyote block.
To ensure the Coyote engine always sees an ample amount of oil, Holbrook also added a Dailey Engineering billet oil pan and dry-sump system. He then selected the latest version of BigStuff3’s powertrain management system, the Gen4 EFI, to manage the tune-up and keep the Weldon fuel system flowing properly and had Tom Frayer at High Voltage Automotive wire it all up.
In honor of his longstanding history with Whipple, it made perfect sense that Holbrook opted for a 3.8-liter Whipple supercharger as his power adder of choice.
A Turbo 400 three-speed from M&M Transmission with a Neal Chance bolt-together converter was bolted to the back of the engine and tasked with transferring all of the Whipple-boosted horsepower out through the 9.5-inch rearend.
“It’s also got a Team Z four-link with Menscer Motorsports shocks and struts, and some other suspension components from Team Z throughout the front and rear,” added Holbrook, who added a set of Lamb Components brakes to his 3,200-pound Mustang. “Except the hood, it’s still an all-steel car and even has working power windows.”
Holbrook made his debut with the car in the NMCA Edelbrock Xtreme Street category at the start of the 2021 season at Bradenton for the 19th Annual Whipple Superchargers NMCA Muscle Car Mayhem.
“We went untested, and we had some new car blues. Whatever could happen, did happen—it was a bad race for us,” lamented the driver who wound up last on the list after qualifying had been finalized with only a 5.390 at 111.94mph pass.
He had been running on a set of 28×10.5 Hoosier slicks at the event, thinking he could get an advantage from the non-standard class tire, and didn’t have the luck he had hoped for.
“We switched back to the Mickey Thompson after that, but even Hoosier said they appreciated us trying and that we needed to run a radial for this class and prep,” he laughed.
Holbrook chose to sit out the next event in Georgia so that he could go testing at US 131 Motorsports Park in Michigan and get his Mustang sorted out. With that mission accomplished, he headed to St. Louis, Missouri, for the third stop of the NMCA tour and his second outing of the year.
Racing at the 2021 NMRA/NMCA Super Bowl of Street-Legal Drag Racing Presented by HPJ Performance at World Wide Technology Raceway, Holbrook enjoyed a significantly better outing. In the large, combined field of NMRA Edelbrock Renegade/NMCA Edelbrock Xtreme Street, he qualified 13th of 26 entries with his 4.658 at 153.95 mph run.
He went on to win the first round of eliminations with a 4.569 at 153.37mph pass which marked a new personal best for the engine builder, but couldn’t make round two due to mechanical issues. Although he didn’t earn a trip to the winner’s circle for the weekend, Holbrook was still elated as his son, Del, cruised to victory in the 12-second category of True Street behind the wheel of Lloyd Mikeska’s ’06 Mustang.
Racing with his son is perhaps the biggest accomplishment that Holbrook has had the honor of enjoying, and he is excited about watching the young man follow in his footsteps. His daughter, Sabrina, also raced in the recent past with a Coyote-powered Fox body Mustang in Open Comp, but she stepped away to get married.
“We’re building a new, naturally aspirated 2016 Mustang for Del, too, and are trying to get him out as soon as possible. Most likely in the NMCA Coan Stock/Super Stock Combo class,” he said excitedly. As Del will soon be graduating from high school, there will be a lot more opportunity for the third-generation Holbrook gearhead to make his own mark on the sport. “He’s done really well with Lloyd’s cars, and I’d love to see him run Renegade eventually and work his way up. I’m getting older, so I wouldn’t mind crew-chiefing and seeing him drive, but I’m not ready to give up control just yet!”
One of the biggest things that his own father instilled in him is the importance of starting in slower cars and progressively getting quicker. Holbrook doesn’t agree with allowing a young kid to simply step into a fast car, as he knows it’s far safer to have them move up in stages, and he wants to make sure he gives his son the best opportunity to succeed.
Balancing a busy life of building engines at Holbrook Racing Engines, campaigning a competitive car in NMCA Edelbrock Xtreme Street, helping his son race in True Street, and preparing to step up into an even quicker car with his NMCA VP Racing Lubricants Xtreme Pro Mod project has been difficult at times for Holbrook, but he always finds a way to make it work.
Sometimes, he toys with the idea of stepping back, but his wife, Holly, is always right there by his side with motivation, encouragement, and support to keep Holbrook going. Ultimately, he isn’t staying in the game just for himself—he’s doing it for everyone he loves–his family, his friends, and his customers so that everyone can live their best lives as fast as possible.
Owner/ Driver: Chris Holbrook
Hometown: Redford, Michigan
Occupation: Business owner/Engine builder
Class: NMCA Edelbrock Xtreme Street
Car Make/Model/Year: Ford Mustang 2000 Cobra
Engine: Ford Coyote
Engine builder: Holbrook Racing Engines
Displacement: 327 cubic inches
Block: Bear Block Motors
Bore: 3.700 inches
Stroke: 3.800 inches
Crank: Sonny Bryant
Rods: BME aluminum
Pistons: Diamond Racing
Heads: Ford GT350 ported and prepped by HRE
Valvetrain: Ford Performance
Cam type: Comp Cams HRE specs
Carburetor or EFI system: BS3 Gen 4
Power-adder: Whipple 3.8-liter supercharger
Fuel brand and type: VP Racing Fuels C16
Headers and exhaust: Custom by ZWN
Transmission: T4 automatic
Transmission Builder: M&M
Clutch/shifter/torque converter: Neal Chance bolt together
Rearend: 9.5-inch with 40-spline axles
Body and/or chassis builder: Team Z
Suspension (Front): Team Z/ Menscer
Suspension (Rear): Team Z/ Menscer
Brakes (Front): Lamb
Brakes (Rear): Lamb
Wheels (front): Weld Racing
Wheels (Rear): Weld Racing
Tires (Front): M/T
Tires (Rear): M/T radial
Aftermarket body modifications: Cobra
Safety equipment: Rear Wing
Vehicle weight: 3,200 pounds
Quickest ET: 4.56 seconds
Best 60-foot: 1.09 seconds
Fastest mph: 153.95
Sponsors: Whipple Superchargers, Skinner Diesel, Columbus Joint and clutch, BigStuff3