Photography By Kevin DiOssi and the FSC Staff
Street cars come in countless forms, from amped-up daily drivers to tamed-down racecars. Regardless of the build, though, the intention is always the same—to have something capable of cutting killer times at the track, then driving home to take the family out for a spin. For Larry Thomas, his 2004 Ford Mustang Terminator Cobra expertly integrates the best of both worlds.
Although Larry Thomas grew up in Ohio around cars, he didn’t get started with racing until a little later in life.
“My dad, Mark Thomas, is a mechanic by trade and owns his own shop. As long as I can remember, I’ve been working on cars,” recalled Thomas, whose father wasn’t really into racing himself, but often shared stories of his younger days spent street racing that piqued his son’s interest.
Around 2003, Thomas acquired an ’03 Mustang Mach I and started racing. Although it was primarily a show-car with some mild bolt-ons, he would often take it to the track and beat on it a little. In 2007, the addition of an ’04 Mustang Terminator Cobra compelled Thomas to start building something more race-oriented. Eventually, the complexities and time required to maintain both a show car and a streetable racecar prompted Thomas to make the decision to sell one.
“I wanted to focus on only one, and put all the money from selling the Mach I into the Cobra to make it go faster,” he explained of how he parted ways with the Mach I in 2013.
Having purchased the Cobra with a 2.4L Kenne Bell supercharger and return-style fuel system already installed, along with a built independent rear suspension, Thomas already had a fairly quick and competitive street car.
“I had it probably two or three months and shattered the transmission tailshaft,” said Thomas of why he soon switched to a solid-axle rearend. With some nitrous on board, eventually the Cobra’s engine sustained a little damage, too, but Thomas kept moving forward.
A mildly rebuilt short-block bored 0.020-inch over was fitted with a set of Diamond pistons, stock connecting rods, a stock crank, stock cams, and ARP hardware. Next, Thomas bumped up the Kenne Bell supercharger to a 2.8L unit, and progressively changed to smaller and smaller pulleys trying to find more power from the 8.5:1-compression engine. With the original six-speed transmission still in place and a six-point roll cage from Pro Tree Race Cars installed to keep him safe, Thomas’ personal best with the setup was 9.91 at around 138 mph.
Towards the end of 2013, Thomas decided he was ready for a change. Working with his friends, Ben Stoner, Jeremy Howell, and John Lucas at Fathouse Fabrications in Martinsville, Indiana, the Cobra headed in for surgery and came out of the operating room with a fresh twin-turbo setup in place of its previous nitrous-assisted, supercharged one.
“Fathouse had a lot of experience, and I like the way the turbos look under the hood—especially with the symmetry of twins. Plus, I was spending a ton on ice at the track with the supercharger, and with turbos I could just run an air-to-air intercooler on the same boost without hurting the motor,” clarified Thomas of why the snails were selected. “Fathouse custom-built the turbo kit and installed the twin 62mm Precision turbos, still on the same motor.”
The car was then set up to run on E85 fuel—quite fitting considering Thomas is a resident of the corn-producing state of Indiana—and the stock ECU was tuned through SCT by Bob Kurgan of Kurgan Motorsports.
“It made about 1,040 horsepower through the six-speed, and I kept it that way for about two years. The real challenge was with building boost on the two-step at the line with the stock ECU,” Thomas noted. His 60-foot times suffered as a result, and though he could produce times to the tune of 9.51 at 155 mph, the short times were in the abysmal 1.55-second zone. Knowing a change was needed, Thomas did his research and decided it was time to swap to an automatic transmission. He purchased a used TH400 and did the conversion at home in his garage, laying on his back with only a floor jack and a few tools.
“My mechanical engineering degree really helps when it comes to understanding how to upgrade things,” he added with a laugh.
With a PTC torque converter also installed, Thomas’s first full pass on the new setup yielded a drastic improvement in performance. Running at the Street Car Takeover race in Indianapolis in May of 2016, Thomas went 8.86 at 154 mph with a 1.32-second 60-foot with no changes other than the transmission. His wife, Rachel, christened the car “Maized” as a double-entendre intended to pay homage to the fact that the amazing beast is fueled by corn (“maize”), and is also yellow like the grain itself.
Over the years, Thomas’s Cobra has received many more upgrades that have all been planned with precision and methodical attention to detail. Thomas also took the time to make sure his Cobra was just as clean on the inside as it was outside. The black and yellow exterior is complemented by a somewhat-Spartan interior with minor, subtle touches of red on the steering wheel and shift knob. There’s no chrome to clean, and the blacked-out color scheme hides any slight imperfections, while also maintaining the Cobra’s mean and menacing appearance.
“I’m a little OCD about these things—I didn’t want it to look like a full-on racecar, but I wanted to clean up the stock-style interior,” elaborated Thomas, who fitted the dash himself and admittedly spent way too much time cleaning up where the A-pillar roll cage bars slip through the dash. “I took the air conditioning, heat, and radio out for weight, so I made the delete panels myself and put in a couple of gauge mounts to clean it up.”
“One day, Tim Donathen said to me, ‘with your times and your mph, do you not love your family?’ He was indicating to me that I should be taking care of myself so that I can walk away if anything goes wrong, and it really hit me hard,” said Thomas somberly. “If the car rolls over, or if I wreck or whatever, I need to be able to make it home after.”
Since then, safety has been paramount for Thomas. He installed a matching set of Kirkey racing seats with Corbeau five-point harnesses, a Donathen Racing parachute mount, and a Stroud Safety parachute out back.
“The car ran mid-10s at one point with nothing but a seat belt. Then I was in the upper 8s with a 6-point bar and a fire jacket and helmet. This year I went to a full Sparco jacket, pants, gloves, boots, helmet, and everything. I’m planning to get a HANS device next year, too. You can never be too safe,” he asserted. “I even worry about what I put on under my suit, because I don’t need it melting even if my suit itself is flame retardant.”
Now, with a solid street car in his stable, Thomas is focusing mostly on pulling weight from the car wherever he can and maximizing the power that “Maized” is producing. Pro Tree Race Cars upgraded his roll cage to an 8.50-certified install during the offseason between 2016 and 2017, and even with running about 26 psi of boost still on stock internals, save for the pistons, his mild build has proven to be a consistent and reliable one.
The work didn’t come together without help, though, and it’s thanks to Fathouse’s turbo kit, fabrication, dyno runs, and more, along with Kurgan’s eight-plus years of failsafe tuning work that meant the Cobra was able to come to fruition. Donathen, too, has done more than just steer Thomas in a safe direction—he’s also helped with scaling the car and with setting up the suspension.
Through his Cobra’s progression, Thomas has always stayed true to his original street car vision.
“I don’t have time to drive it on the street as much as I would like, but I still take it to work, drive it to dinner, and cruise around with my boys. I can’t wait to teach them like my father taught me and share this hobby with them,” said Thomas, whose sons, Gage, 5, and Easton, 3, are quickly becoming his garage buddies. “My wonderful wife, Rachel, supports my habit, and she is a true blessing.” The couple already has plans to add two more Mustangs to their fleet for their boys, of course.
Any good street car worth its salt needs to also be able to prove itself at the track, and Thomas has had no problem doing just that. He used to run NMRA True Street back when he stilled owned his Mach I, and the car made for a fun 13.0-second category contender as its best elapsed time was in the 12.70-range.
“When I got the Cobra, I ran True Street with it as well and actually won the 11-second class back in 2010 or 2011 at Bowling Green,” he recalled of the car’s earlier days. When NMRA introduced the VMP Superchargers GT500 vs Terminator Shootout heads-up category, though, Thomas knew he had to give it a go and started running there as well. Although he hasn’t picked up any wins just yet, Thomas has been getting noticed and making waves. Most recently, his Cobra caught the attention of fans and racers alike with a little stunt at the 19th Annual Nitto Tire NMRA World Finals at Bowling Green, Kentucky’s Beech Bend Raceway Park.
After struggling through some issues with the transmission slipping in first gear and then grabbing, Thomas made an adjustment to accommodate the issue prior to the race over the last weekend of September in 2017.
“Well, the suspension was too soft because it hadn’t been hooking hard before, and with the awesome Bowling Green prep, away she went!” shared Thomas, who went sky high and wheels up when his Cobra reared back onto its bumper during a pre-race test pass. “We dented the oil pan a little, bent the intercooler, scuffed up some wastegate dump tubes, tore up the parachute strap and banged up a few other things, but we were able to continue.”
Ultimately, Thomas qualified number two overall in the highly competitive class with an impressive 8.512 at 159.44mph hit, then went on to get a win over Caleb Emberson in round one and took a bye in round two before going out in the semi-finals when his car pushed through the beams as he bumped it in.
“It was a great weekend overall. We had a lot of friends there, including the Fathouse crew and my crew chief, Tim Holt, who helps me with so much and I couldn’t do this without him” added Thomas, whose qualifying run was also a new personal best for the driver.
With his 2017 racing season wrapped up, Thomas has plans for the winter including replacing the components that were compromised during his massive World Finals wheelie, and having his TH400 refreshed by the experts at Proformance Racing Transmissions. As he’s reached the upper limits of his current E85-based fuel system’s capabilities, too, Thomas also expects to upgrade to larger injectors in order to squeeze out a few more horses.
“We’ve also been seeing some tire rotation on the rim, so I’m looking at getting double beadlocks on the back as well,” he continued.
Looking to 2018 and the future beyond, Thomas will definitely be sticking with NMRA and wants to run as many of the GT500 vs Terminator events as possible. With that being a specialty class that’s not run throughout the full calendar, Thomas is also toying with the idea of adding other NMRA races to his schedule so he can compete in his original stomping ground, True Street. With a goal of eventually getting down to the 8.20-second elapsed time range, Thomas will need to do some work to make it happen, but he’s never shied from a challenge before and the temptation of success will be all the inspiration he needs to get it done.
Owner/Driver: Larry Thomas
Hometown: Indianapolis, Indiana
Occupation: Product Development Engineer
Class: VMP Performance GT500 v. Terminator Shootout and QA1 True Street
Crew: Tim Holt, Crew Chief
Engine: Ford 4.6L DOHC 4V
Engine builder: Short-block assembled by Schmidt Automotive
Displacement: 283 ci
Block: Ford Teksid
Crank: Stock 2004 Cobra
Rods: Stock 2004 Cobra Manley forged
Pistons: Diamond Pistons, 20 over, 8.5:1
Heads: Stock 2004 Cobra, four valves per cylinder
Valvetrain: Stock 2004 Cobra
Cam type: Stock 2004 Cobra
EFI system: Stock Ford ECU
Power-adder: Twin PTE 6266 turbochargers
Fuel brand and type: Renegade E-85
Headers and exhaust: Custom FatFab forward facing headers, hot side, and bumper exhaust
Clutch/shifter/torque converter: PTC 9.5-inch converter, B&M Shifter
Rearend: Ford 8.8 with 9-inch ends, Moser Spool, and Moser 35-spline gun drilled axles
Body and/or chassis builder: Stock Ford Chassis, ProTree Racecars 8.50 cage and subframe connectors
Suspension (Front): UPR K-member and A-arms, UPR coilover kit, Strange 10-way struts, MM Caster-Camber Plates
Suspension (Rear): UPR Extremel Upper Control arms, Baseline Suspension Lower Control arms, Baseline Suspension Anti-Roll bar, UPR coilover kit, Strange 10-way shocks
Brakes (Front): Stock 2004 Mustang GT calipers, Power Slot Rotors, Hawk HPS Pads, Goodridge braided lines
Brakes (Rear): Stock 2004 Mustang GT caliper, pads, rotors
Wheels (front): Billet Specialties Street Lite II 15×3.5
Wheels (Rear): Billet Specialties Street Lite II 15×10
Tires (Front): Mickey Thompson Sportsman
Tires (Rear): Mickey Thompson Radial Pro 275/60/15
Safety equipment: 8.50 cert cage, Corbeau 5-pt harness, Kirkey Seats, Stroud Parachute
Vehicle weight: 3,420 lbs with driver
Quickest ET: 8.512
Best 60-foot: 1.24
Fastest mph: 160.14
Sponsors: Fathouse Fabrications, Kurgan Motorsports, Donathen Racing
Shoutouts: My wife, Rachel, for all the love and support and my voice of reason; Crew Chief, Tim Holt, for all the help at the track and brainstorming/trouble shooting away from the track; Fathouse Fabrications, Jeremy, Ben, John, for the baddest turbo kit in the land and all the additional support with parts, fabrication, dyno time, etc.; Kurgan Motorsports, Bob, for the tuning assistance, advice, and parts as well; Donathen Racing, Tim, for the bumpers, chute mount, chassis adjustment, scaling, etc., and also all the support answering my questions, calls, and texts.