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Exclusive First Look: Craig Sullivan’s “El Mero Mero” 1949 Mercury


NMCA Pro Mod Mercury Craig Sullivan

Photos by Kevin DiOssi

It could be said that Pro Modified has matured over the last 30-plus years from its unique signature looks to more cookie-cutter and refined appearances with most racers picking from a list of three or four body types. Craig Sullivan is looking to bring style back to NMCA VP Racing Lubricants Xtreme Pro Mod with his latest creation—El Mero Mero, a 1949 Mercury. It isn’t the first one to enter the ranks of drag racing’s most prolific category, but it is definitely the wildest themed version of the famed classic car.

The Indiana-based racer refused to build a cookie-cutter Camaro or any other popular body style for a good reason.

“My father had a 1949 Mercury and my godfather currently owns one, plus a lot of friends have 1949-1951 Mercurys,” Sullivan explained. The body selection wouldn’t be the only aspect to wow the crowds, but more on that later.

NMCA Pro Mod Mercury Craig SullivanHeading down the road less traveled in drag racing can be difficult and expensive, and this adventure was no different. Sullivan knew there was one shop that could handle his dream car and that was Larry Jeffers Race Cars. The team was ready to tackle the custom body with its in-house composite shop and Sullivan began working on a sample body. He grabbed a fiberglass body that is popular in the street rod world and he started cutting and modifying it. The first order of business was to reconstruct the rear window area and deck lid before tackling other aerodynamic modifications. Jeffers and his team used the sample body to create molds and replicate it in carbon fiber, which is now available to anyone else who wants a similar body.

The Mercury body went into production and the chassis began taking shape at the fab shop, so Sullivan revealed the theme that he kept a closely guarded secret for some time.

“Every Mercury is a solid color with flames or done in two-tone, but I get to go to some cool trade shows and began appreciating the LA-style Cholo cars as I got older. The details and the craftsmanship are incredible on those cars and I knew that was the theme I wanted for this racecar,” said Sullivan. He continued, “Jeffers was a bit apprehensive on the theme, but once he saw the finished look, he really got into it.”

Sullivan turned to Kryptonite Kustomz—the same company that designed the wrap for Sullivan’s previous and equally wild, rat-rodded, Richard Petty Plymouth Superbird stock car-themed ride—and their capable artists and wrap technicians for the final design. Chris Davis, the owner of Kryptonite Kustomz explained, “I expect this out of Craig; he doesn’t live in a box. He sent a lot of inspirational ideas and simply told us to just go with it.”

The final look earned the Mercury its nickname, El Mero Mero. The statement carries a few meanings such as the one and only or the big boss man. Sullivan’s buddy and well-known radial racer Mark “Woody” Woodruff affectionately named it. In typical Kryptonite Kustomz fashion, the wrap not only looks incredible, but the installation is flawless as well with hidden seams and wrapped door jams! As time went on, the more the various groups involved pushed hard to elevate even the subtlest details. Observers quickly notice the little effects like the custom door handles and the “show” steering wheel that is a chain wheel they found on Amazon for $12.

The custom chassis is unlike a typical Pro Modified setup due to the wider-than-normal Mercury body, but it does carry the normal stuff like double frame rails, rigid structure, and a long wheelbase. The team did step up to a massive 11-inch rear housing from Chrisman Driveline Components.

The theme under the hood is consistent with Sullivan’s efforts over the last six years of NMCA competition. A Brad Anderson Hemi is bolted to the chassis and sitting on top of it is a DMPE-modified, PSI twin-screw, C-rotor supercharger setup. A FuelTech FT600 and FTPSPARK-8 control the ignition timing and power management, while Joe Oplawski of Hyperaktive Performance Solutions handles the tuning and crew chief duties. The M&M TH400 is carried over from the previous racecar, but now features a lock-up torque converter.

The team attempted to test El Mero Mero a month ago, but an unusual pop on the first hit off the trailer caused serious front-end damage. The car went back to Larry Jeffers Race Cars for chassis and body repairs, and Michael Bunton at MJB Performance Wiring for electronics. Working with Kryptonite Kustomz and Menscer Motorsports, the car was back in action in just three weeks!

“Mark Menscer is awesome and a huge supporter. We have his shocks at all four corners and he did the four-link and chassis setup before we got on track,” said Sullivan as the team prepared for the second outing at US 131 Motorsports Park, prior to the Arrington Performance NMRA/NMCA Power Festival Presented by Force Engineering.

The Mercury made its presence known right off the trailer, when the team carded a .961 sixty-foot time and it only got better from there.

“I knew the car was going to be quick when I loaded up a tune that went right down the track without any issues. That tune wouldn’t even go down the track in the Barn Burner or Rent-A-Racer,” stated Oplawski. A few more runs dropped the short times to the .950s and Oplawski gave him the green light to run the new car all the way to the finish line.

Sullivan left the starting line smoothly and the car got into high gear as the pair marched towards the finish line under power. The boards lit up with a 3.74 at 199 mph and the team (Tommy Radloff, Andy Smith, and Joe Oplawski) went wild. The group came up an hour later and unleashed an even quicker 3.73 at 200 mph to end the day.

“It is probably the fastest reacting car I’ve ever driven,” he said, which carries huge credibility given’s Sullivan’s decades of success in Top Dragster, Stock/Super Stock, and other fast-paced categories. Each time Oplawski tossed more power at the car, the Mercury responded better and better, showing the effectiveness of the car’s setup. The famed Barn Burner Superbird ran a best of 3.67 at 203 mph, a number they feel confident in exceeding using the same powerplant. The goal is to run low 3.60s once the team learns more about the capabilities of their new toy.

The year began with a borrowed racecar from Chip King, one they called the Rent-A-Racer, but they eventually parked it to concentrate on finishing the Mercury.

“I am grateful for Chip to lend me that car to start the year—it means the world to me.” Sullivan came off a six-year run with the Barn Burner that stunned the crowds with its looks and eventually became a featured car in a video game. As we show off El Mero Mero for the first-time with its out-of-the-box performances and incredible looks, we think the popularity and performances will quickly eclipse Sullivan’s previous racecars.

NMCA Pro Mod Mercury Craig Sullivan

The Details

Owner/Driver: Craig Sullivan
Hometown: Plainfield, Indiana
Occupation: Sales
Class: VP Racing Lubricants Xtreme Pro Mod
Crew: Tommy Radloff, Andy Smith, Joe Oplawski

Engine: Brad Anderson Hemi
Engine builder: DMPE/Wild Irish Racing Engines
Displacement: 521ci
Block: Brad Anderson billet block
Bore: 4.500
Stroke: 4.150
Crank: Callies Performance Products
Rods: MGP Connecting Rods
Pistons: Wiseco
Cylinder heads: Brad Anderson Hemi
Valvetrain: Manton
Camshaft—Brand: DMPE, flathead firing order
EFI system: FuelTech FT600 and mechanical injection
Power-adder: DMPE-modified PSI C-rotor screw blower, One-Track Solutions blower belts
Fuel brand and type: Extreme Products, Alcohol
Spark plug brand: Brisk
Headers and exhaust: Custom headers by Larry Jeffers Race Cars
Transmission: Turbo 400 lockup
Transmission Builder: M&M Transmission
Clutch/shifter/torque converter: M&M torque converter
Rearend: 11-inch Chrisman Driveline Components
Differential: Chrisman Driveline Components Spool

Body and/or chassis builder: 1949 Mercury by Larry Jeffers Race Cars
Suspension (Front): Menscer Motorsports Struts
Suspension (Rear): 4-link with Menscer Motorsports shocks
Brakes (Front) Brand: Strange Engineering Disc/Drum: Carbon Disc
Brakes (Rear) Brand: Strange Engineering Disc/Drum: Carbon Disc
Wheels (front) Brand: Lindsay Racing Products Size: 15×3.5
Wheels (Rear) Brand: Lindsay Racing Products Size: 16×18
Tires (Front) Brand: Mickey Thompson front runner Size: 26×15-4.0
Tires (Rear) Brand: Mickey Thompson Size: 36×16
Fiberglass/Carbon body components: Custom carbon body by Larry Jeffers Race Cars
Safety equipment: Stroud Safety Equipment
Vehicle weight: 2,625 lbs
Quickest et: 3.73
Best 60-foot: .950
Fastest mph: 200
Sponsors: Clevite, MGP Connecting Rods, DMPE, FuelTech, PST, Stroud, Hyperaktive Performance Solutions, Extreme Oil Products, Brisk, M&M Transmission, PSI Valve Springs, Firecore Wires, Strange Engineering, Menscer Motorsports, Manley, Lindsay Racing Products, House of Pain, Manton, Wiseco, Wild Irish Racing Engines, Sullivan Equipment, Larry Jeffers Race Cars, MJB Performance Wiring, Kryptonite Kustomz, Woodymart

Mike Galimi
Mike Galimi is the Director of Content & Marketing at ProMedia Publishing and Events with nearly 20 years of experience in motorsport writing and photography.