Photography by Dr. Rudy Rouweyha
Inspired by his love of going fast, and his passion for flying, Geoff Turk modeled his life around pursuing his interests. Always on the hunt for excitement, Turk garnered worldwide recognition when he officially became the first man to score a 7-second elapsed time in the NMCA Factory Super Cars category and picked up a hefty bonus along the way.
Getting into the record books, though, wasn’t a quick trick. Turk, now 54, has been chasing the thrill of speed ever since he was young and has dedicated his racing career to bettering himself as a driver.
“When I was a kid, I wanted to jump off everything that had a roof or a ramp. Taking a risk was my thing, and the pucker effect of being a little scared was intoxicating,” laughed Turk, whose main focus was actually planes and flying—not cars and driving.
Originally, the Illinois native had hoped for a career in aviation, but his eyesight started to go down hill when he was in his early teens and he knew he wouldn’t be able to pilot the fighter jets of his dreams.
“About the time I was 13, my brother, Don, brought home an old, beat up car and said he was going to go racing. I thought that since I couldn’t go fast in the air, maybe he would teach me to make cars go fast instead,” Turk recalled of how he would follow his brother around and go with his grandfather to the now-defunct Motion Raceway in Assumption, Illinois, to see greats like Shirley Muldowney and Don Garlits.
Growing up in a blue-collar family, Turk took his first job when he was 15 years old.
“I worked 40 hours a week and bought my first drag car before I bought a street car,” he confessed of how he got his hands on a ’69 Dodge Charger that never ran right for its previous owner. Unable to even drive the car home himself, Turk enlisted a friend to do the deed, then quickly got to work exorcizing his Charger’s gremlins. When he turned 16, he started racing regularly on the weekends.
After graduating from high school, Turk studied mechanical engineering at Kettering University in conjunction with the General Motors Institute program. He still raced, and picked up a few local track championships, as well as many bracket racing wins.
Upon receiving his degree and certifications, Turk moved to Bowling Green, Kentucky, and began his employment career at the Corvette production facility.
“I continued to race my Mopar even though I worked for GM,” joked Turk, who worked to support his drag-racing habit as he developed increasingly faster and more competitive project cars of his own.
After nearly 20 years of bracket racing, Turk decided to go heads-up class racing around 1995. About a decade later, he decided he wanted to run with the NHRA.
“I had run Top Stock in IHRA with a ’73 Plymouth Roadrunner, and it got me fired up. I saw a ’68 Plymouth Barracuda with a 426ci Hemi on RacingJunk.com and I bought it,” stated Turk, who ran the 8-second car in Super Stock but soon discovered it was more expensive than he had anticipated. Instead, Turk swapped the car to run a modern Hemi engine.
“I had gone from a car that did big, giant wheel stands and was a handful to drive to a boring bracket car. I wasn’t a great bracket racer because I wanted something other than going slow and being consistent,” confessed Turk of the situation that left him wanting more. “I saw other guys buying supercharged Cobra Jets and running 8-seconds all day long, never touching their cars, and enjoying lunch while I was tearing everything down… I told my wife I would buy a Cobra Jet because I wanted the fun back, but she wouldn’t let me because she knew I am a Mopar guy at heart.”
Thanks to Sandy Olszewski-Turk’s wise words of discouragement, Turk was pleased when Chrysler announced the Drag Pak. He put his name on the list and eventually picked up his 2015 Dodge Challenger Mopar Drag Pak in January of 2016. He took it straight to Mike Roth’s shop, MR2 Performance Race Cars in Lebanon, Indiana.
Unlike the turnkey Cobra Jet Mustangs and COPO Camaros, the Drag pak required a bit more effort from its owner to get up and running. Six months after purchase and dropping the Challenger off at MR2, Roth had installed a roll cage and miscellaneous other items to get the Drag Pak up to Turk’s standards.
“He tuned up various aspects within the rules for NMCA’s Factory Super Cars and NHRA’s Stock Eliminator classes. He took out as much weight as possible, too, since the Drag Paks are heavier than the Camaros and Mustangs,” noted Turk, whose vehicle weighs in around 3,570-pounds with his 215-pound body in the driver’s seat. “While we’re in a deficit going into this being heavier and less aerodynamic, we make up for it with a badass Hemi engine.”
Turk decided to name his beautiful black Drag Pak the “SR354 Blackbird” as an homage to the SR-71 Blackbird, the fastest jet of all-time. He enlisted Tony Bischoff of BES Racing Engines to build a class-legal, 354ci (363 ci in legal over-bore trim) Gen III Hemi engine for the car. Bischoff did his job squeezing every ounce of power out of the bullet that he possibly could, and topped things off with a standard 2.9-liter Whipple twin-screw supercharger.
“Hemis like compressed air and fuel, and with two plugs per cylinder and a hemispherical combustion chamber, it can make the power to keep up with the Cobra Jets and Camaros,” added Turk excitedly.
The magic of the Mopar’s muscle, Turk believes, is actually in its suspension setup. “It’s a fast car, but sometimes it’s boring to watch because it’s so smooth and uneventful. It looks like a motor boat taking off from the dock,” he laughed. Roth was also charged with overseeing the suspension install, which consists of Santhuff Suspension Specialties products front and rear.
“Then, you gotta put all that power from the back of the engine to the axle, and that’s the transmission and torque converter’s job—and Coan Engineering understands how to make that happen,” Turk continued, pleased with how his Coan Engineering TH400 and converter have been working in conjunction with his Strange 9-inch rearend.
Keeping the Blackbird’s flight in check is a Holley EFI system, which has exceeded Turk’s expectations as well.
“Every time I thought there has been a problem with the Holley or the engine, it wasn’t the Holley or the engine—they’ve all been rock solid!” he added jovially.
“We tested at the NHRA Fall Classic in October of 2016, and I went straight up in the air and put it on the parachute bars and rode it out for about 150-feet before I felt it move towards the center line and I lifted to avoid hitting the other guy,” said Turk of his first big time out with the Drag Pak. He went five rounds that weekend and finished up third in his class.
Going into the winter of that year, Turk felt good but soon suffered a rude awakening when things resumed in the spring of 2017 and he realized his iron-truck-engine-based Hemi couldn’t hang with his competitors.
“The Mopar crew encouraged me to run it anyway and push to get the aluminum engine approved,” shared Turk, who was feeling quite dejected at the time. Amazingly, even with his heavy and antiquated parts, he still ran an 8.26-second quarter-mile pass thanks to some great conditions while competing with the NHRA in March.
“I was skeptical that I could do it again, but we did well again at the next race in Charlotte, and the Mopar guys realized if I could make truck engines work, that they would help me out with the aluminum stuff.”
Over the coming months, Turk’s partnership with Mopar developed, and he worked with the team to sort out some of their NHRA Factory Stock Showdown cars.
“We got to the US Nationals, tuned up both cars, and I said ‘they’re going to go 7s now, the aluminum engines are just that much better than the iron motors,’’ said Turk confidently of what he knew was an inevitable progression of performance.
Turk was on the cusp of making his premonition come true in October of 2017 when he ran 8.029 at 170.43 mph while qualifying for NHRA Stock Eliminator at the Fall Classic National Open at Lucas Oil Raceway at Indianapolis, but he wasn’t able to get into the elusive 7-second zone that weekend.
“There was so much confusion around that run because I could have weighed less in the class, but couldn’t get the car down, so it was pretty much the same as when it runs the Shootout,” added Turk. He tried again and again that year in Missouri and Louisiana, but a 7-second time slip just wasn’t in the cards… yet. “We ended the year disappointingly with just the 8.02 and skepticism about whether or not it was real.”
The Blackbird needed to stretch its wings, and Turk needed to prove himself. When 2018 began, though, Turk was hit with an incredibly defeating blow. His incredible wife, Sandy, had been diagnosed with an extremely aggressive form of breast cancer. He knew she needed his support, and his focus quickly turned from going fast to being with his family.
Turk was tempted to put his racing program on hold, but Sandy got upset when he talked about selling the car and instead told him to go to Florida for the start of the season and not to come home until he ran sevens.
“It was just hours before I left to go, and I was still wondering if I should stay home and focus on her getting well and her treatment,” Turk candidly shared, but he knew Sandy wanted him to go to the NMCA season opener at Bradenton Motorsports Park in March of 2018.
Determined to give his wife something to be happy about, Turk was simultaneously a little apprehensive about the race, as he had spent the off-season in treatment, not in testing.
“I didn’t have time to make changes or work on traction, and I wasn’t confident I would do anything,” he said of how his prediction for the weekend of the 16th Annual NMCA Muscle Car Mayhem would go. “Then I went 8.38 and I knew I wasn’t completely off in left field, but there was obviously something going on with the tune up that I screwed up.”
Incredibly, one quick change and a last-minute transmission fix resulted in Turk making history. On what was just his second pass ever for the 2018 season, Turk clicked off an amazing 7.97 at 171 mph run. There was one problem, though—it was during testing, so it didn’t count for the official record.
“It felt so good to be able to call Sandy and give her the news, though!” said Turk, who knew the stars were finally aligning in his favor.
When qualifying began and the race was officially under way, the air was good and Turk’s tune up was on point. A few pairs back in the run order, Turk figured he would run a low 8.0-second hit… so, when he picked up his time slip at the end of his run, he was surprised beyond belief to see he had clocked a 7.996-second blast at 170.10 mph behind the wheel of his beloved Blackbird. The feat marked Turk as the first-ever NMCA Holley EFI Factory Super Cars driver in the 7-second club, and it came with another big bonus.
After close scrutiny from NMCA’s tech team, including Lonnie Grim and Randy Lee, Turk’s Drag Pak was deemed legal and Holley handed over a massive check. Turk was awarded $5,000 for being the first inductee into Holley’s exclusive 7-Second Club, and an additional $5,000 for having a Holley EFI system on his car.
To sweeten the success, Turk held on to the number-one qualifier position as well as the elapsed time record, then earned four round wins in eliminations before going out as the runner up in the finals when Joseph Welch, who was also driving a Challenger Drag Pak, ran 8.024 at 169.33 mph over Turk’s 8.127 at 167.28 mph effort.
“Sandy’s cancer treatment had been a rough road, and two days before the Atlanta race, I had no intention of going. Her oncologist changed the treatment plan, and she got a week off from chemo so she told me to go,” Turk details of how he struggled with the decision to leave his wife in pursuit of his racing endeavors. With no time to prep, Turk took a leap of faith and struck out on his own.
“Everyone helped and rallied around me. The Tascas were feeding me and loaning me ice, Scott Libersher was encouraging me, and everyone in the NMCA Factory Super Cars group was incredibly kind, knowing I was there by myself.”
Turk never anticipated anything other than showing up and just qualifying for the race at Atlanta Dragway in Commerce, Georgia, but he ended up doing way more than that. Qualifying fourth with an 8.164 at 167.70mph hit, Turk worked his way through the first three rounds of eliminations with a win light in his lane each time. Then, in the finals, he took out heavy hitter Chuck Watson in an epic David vs Goliath battle royale.
“I put a 7.99 on the scoreboard, and that was an even bigger surprise,” said the man whose wife was back home cheering for him, and who got to cruise over to the Aerospace Components Winner’s Circle to celebrate his big victory.
As Sandy’s situation progressed, Turk once again tried to make the decision to leave racing. He strongly considered selling the Blackbird.
“So many people contributed to this project, that if I wasn’t out running it, I couldn’t demonstrate their hard work. I wanted to let someone else prove what they had all worked so hard to do, but I couldn’t find a buyer and Sandy convinced me to keep racing,” he said, grateful of his wife’s never-ending support.
And so, as the 2018 race season progresses, Turk’s goals are to simply continue with NMCA, NHRA, and the Mopar crew. He regrets not running more NMCA events in the past and has found a second family with the Factory Super Cars group of racers.
“NMCA embraces the class, and you find hardcore car guys at the races—either in the pits or in the stands. It’s been a great experience for me,” he continued, noting that he also hopes to stay in the championship points chase for FSC and win if possible.
Turk has a rule that he tries to stick by, and that’s to go a second quicker for every decade he lives.
“By the time I’m 90, I’ll be in a Top Fuel car,” laughed the man who succeeded in his goal of running in the 7s before he turned 55. Although his “Blackbird” isn’t the fastest in the skies, his four-wheeled version is the next best thing as it is the quickest stocker in the world.
Owner: Geoff and Sandy Turk
Driver: Geoff Turk
Hometown: Yorkville, IL
Occupation: Business Owner
Class: Holley EFI Factory Supercar
Crew: Sandy Turk
Engine: Dodge Hemi
Engine builder: BES Racing Engines
Displacement: 354 ci (363 CID in legal over bore trim)
Block: Mopar Aluminum
Cam type: Solid Roller
Carburetor or EFI system: Holley EFI
Power-adder: Whipple 2.9L Screw Supercharger
Fuel brand and type: VP Racing Fuels C16
Headers and exhaust: American Racing Headers
Transmission: Coan Engineering TH400
Transmission Builder: Coan Engineering
Clutch/shifter/torque converter: Coan Engineering
Rearend: Strange Engineering 9-inch
Chassis builder: Mopar/MR2 Performance
Suspension (Front): Santhuff Suspension Specialties
Suspension (Rear): Santhuff Suspension Specialties
Brakes (Front): Strange Engineering disc
Brakes (Rear): Strange Engineering disc
Wheels (front): Bogart/Mopar D10
Wheels (Rear): Bogart/Mopar D10
Tires (Front): Mickey Thompson front runners
Tires (Rear): Mickey Thompson ET Drag 30.0/9.0R15
Aftermarket body modifications: None
Safety equipment: Stroud
Vehicle weight: 3,570 lbs
Quickest et: 7.975
Best 60-foot: 1.178
Fastest mph: 170.94