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Great Expectations—One thing eluded acclaimed racer Joel Greathouse, so he won his first NMRA championship


Written by Ainsley Jacobs
Photography by Kevin DiOssi

After decades of drag racing success, including five championships and countless wins and records, there was still one big achievement that eluded Joel Greathouse—an NMRA title. Spurred on by some health hurdles, the motivated man rallied to make things happen and came away a winner in every sense of the word.

Based in Kentucky, Greathouse’s storied career goes back decades, as he’s had a longstanding history of success on the small-tire circuit. His passion for drag racing is unparalleled, and his motivation is an integral part of his accomplishments. With victories in organizations like the World Ford Challenge, Fun Ford Weekend, NMRA, and NMCA, Greathouse wins wherever he competes.

“In 2000, we ran NMCA and took the championship in Super Street,” remembered Greathouse’s longtime friend, crew chief, and tuner Justin McChesney of KBX Performance. Racing locally in classes like Super Street and Wild Street, Greathouse earned a reputation for being at the top of his game. In ‘09, John Kolivas invited Greathouse—who was semi-retired at the time—to drive his car in NMRA, as he wanted to focus more on tuning.

“The venture was successful, and we’ve been all together ever since,” Kolivas said. The team also ran Kolivas’ car to become one of the first elite few to run in the 6-second zone in the quarter mile on radials.

Around 2013, Kolivas officially partnered with his engine builder of nearly three decades, Jon Bennett of Bennett Racing Engines, to found KBX Performance, with McChesney on board as well. Also working in conjunction with Pressurized Solutions, KBX shop quickly became known as one of the best in the country for producing (and tuning) winning, turn-key X275 cars. With racers like Greathouse, Charles Hull, Shane Fisher, John Keesey, Rodney Ragen, Shawn Pevlor, Brad Medlock, and more in the KBX stable, it was no surprise that the venture became an instant success.

In 2016, however, Greathouse partnered with Jared Johnston to drive his “White Riot” Ford Mustang in the NMRA series, but wrapped up the season behind the wheel of Charles Hull’s Mustang instead. At the finals in Bowling Green, Kentucky, Greathouse qualified number one in NMRA VP Racing Fuels Street Outlaw and reset the class record, but lost in the finals when the transbrake didn’t hold and the car pushed through the beams.

“We lost the championship that year by five points, even though we originally had no intention of chasing it. We didn’t run for another until 2018 with Ultra Street,” McChesney lamented.

Meanwhile, Greathouse bought his own 1993 Mustang LX back over the winter of ’14 from no-time/grudge racer Wes Whittle, who had Ryan Rakestraw at Bell Chassisworks make the necessary updates to bring it up to 25.5 SFI spec around 2011 so that he could race it in a nitrous configuration.

Once Greathouse got his hands on the car, he worked with KBX to convert it over to a turbocharged combination instead and began racing it in 2015 at various small-tire events including Lights Out and No Mercy at South Georgia Motorsports Park.

“We raced in Ultra Street and over the course of the year, we got 200 pounds added to us,” laughed McChesney of how their winning ways were hampered. “In 2016, we came out with it as a blower car and raced that for the next two seasons.”

After wrapping up his 2017 year, Greathouse decided to sell his operation to get out of the financial side of things and focus more on simply driving instead. Having already had “a couple different retirements” over the years already, Greathouse knew it wasn’t the end of things for him and still had plenty of wheelman opportunities lined up.

As fate would have it, Jeremy Wolf was the lucky buyer of Greathouse’s Mustang and, ironically, Greathouse’s name never even came off the door.

“We switched it over to an 85mm turbo again for Jeremy over the winter so he could run X275, but his driver couldn’t make the first race in ’18, so Joel stepped in and wound up driving it,” McChesney explained of the situation that enabled Greathouse to be done with spending, but not done with racing. “It worked so well that he’s been in the car ever since.”

So well, in fact, that the guys not only captured the Ultra Street championship title in 2018, but also once again in 2019 for back-to-back victories. Most recently, Greathouse put the team in the winner’s circle in the Ultra Street category at the 2020 Shakedown Nationals XVII at Virginia Motorsports Park. “He’s been doing this just about as long as anyone can remember, and his success hasn’t waned at all,” said McChesney, proud of Greathouse’s achievements.

Through it all, though, Greathouse still hadn’t managed to nail down an NMRA championship. After riding the high of the doubled-up Ultra Street titles, the team turned their attention to finally checking the NMRA one off their list. “You never get tired of winning, so we decided to do something different this time around,” added McChesney, who is joined in his support of Greathouse’s efforts by car chief Ben Thomas, an “all-around, do-anything” kind of guy.

After reviewing the rules for NMRA Edelbrock Renegade at the end of 2019, it seemed that a small-displacement engine with a turbo would be the way to go to maximize the weight breaks. Parts were ordered to assemble a 311ci engine designed to run on VP Racing Fuels M1 alcohol with Weldon pumps and filters, however, when the final rules were announced, the guys realized they lost about 75 pounds of their planned diet.

“We were too far in to turn back, so we decided to try it and see what happened,” McChesney noted of the new engine program for KBX that centered around an 8.2-inch-deck, Iron Eagle block from Dart and a cast-wheel 76mm turbocharger from Jose Zayas’s Forced Inductions. The off-season provided the perfect time to rip out all the old wiring and engine management system, and Tim Gibson replaced it all with FuelTech’s latest and greatest EFI setup, the FT600.

Rodney Massengale at RPM Transmissions provided an all-new three-speed Turbo 400 transmission, which gave the KBX car exactly what it needed to win. Similarly, ProTorque’s own Joe Rivera worked with KBX to spec out a custom U9 torque converter and the shop trusted ProTorque’s products for over a decade.

“Because we were changing to the 311 cubic-inch deal, we had to do some re-piping and other different things, but Steve Matukas [of Matukas Motorsports] helped out and got us in and got it done,” said McChesney of the fabricator who was a huge help in getting things dialed in.

Most of the other components on the Fox Mustang, though, remained unchanged as the proven combo worked well beyond expectations.

“We’ve always run Menscer Motorsports shocks and struts all the way around, and they’re there when we need them at the track—their product speaks for itself,” added McChesney, who also appreciates that their wheel manufacturer of choice since 2016, RC Components, are located near KBX in Bowling Green, Kentucky. “TBM Brakes, too, always makes sure we have what we need when we need it. Their product is truly a functional work of art.”

A few minor hiccups meant that the revamped car wasn’t ready for its 2020 debut until the last minute. The guys finally got the car started the Sunday night before the NMRA season opener over the weekend of February 27-March 1 at Bradenton Motorsports Park in Florida.

“We spooled it in the garage and just loaded up and went to the race,” laughed McChesney, who skipped the trip to see Wayne Young at Young’s Performance for some dyno time like they usually do. He knew it wasn’t an ideal situation, but couldn’t risk Greathouse missing the points.

Unsurprisingly, Greathouse and the KBX crew did quite well at the first race of the year in Florida. After testing on Thursday and Friday, and thanks to killer conditions all weekend long, Greathouse qualified second in NMRA Edelbrock Renegade.

“We went 4.65 on Friday night after changing the stator and got the combination right,” McChesney explained of what went down. Greathouse was on a roll in eliminations and got three round wins in a row before going out to Jason Spina in the finals in a pedal fest.

The next race in Georgia was only a few short weeks away, but was ultimately postponed as the world dealt with the Coronavirus crisis. By the time racing resumed in June with the NMRA/NMCA All-Star Nationals in Georgia, conditions were the opposite of what they had been in Florida and Greathouse’s small, 311ci engine just didn’t have the displacement it needed to muscle through the messy air.

Despite the struggle, KBX had the car on point. Greathouse qualified fourth with a 4.739 at 148.82 mph in the large 24-car field, then put two more round wins on his résumé before getting outrun by Bob Zelenak in round three of NMRA Edelbrock Renegade.

Fortunately, the air was better in early August at World Wide Technology Raceway at Gateway in St. Louis, Missouri, during the NMRA/NMCA Super Bowl of Street Legal Drag Racing. Cloud coverage only served to further aid Greathouse’s 311ci engine, and he wasted no time taking the number-two spot in the combined NMRA Edelbrock Renegade/NMCA Edelbrock Xtreme Street field with his 4.702 at 148.62mph blast.

Maintaining the momentum all through eliminations, Greathouse advanced over Keith Ciborowski in round one, took down Tony Orts in round two by a tenth, enjoyed a bye in round three, then put Bill Trovato on the trailer in the semi-finals in an incredibly tight race to the stripe. For the finals, Greathouse faced off with Tim Knieriem and, although Knieriem had the starting-line advantage, Greathouse powered through with a massive 4.690 at 149.18 mph to turn the win light on in his lane.

The NMRA moved to Martin, Michigan, for its next outing, the NMRA/NMCA All-American Nationals at US131 Motorsports Park, and Greathouse’s Fox slowed back down.

“The density altitude was like 3,700 feet and the cubic inches weren’t there to make it happen,” said McChesney, whose driver went out in round two of eliminations. “We were tired of being out-horsepowered, so we got the car back to the shop, pulled the engine, and made a new game plan.”

Looking at the numbers, the men saw that while the 311ci setup was fine in good air, it fell off when the DA got about 2,000 feet. After discussing options with engine builder Jon Bennett, they decided to buy some new Diamond pistons and a new 3.400-inch Callies crankshaft and turn it into a 363ci engine instead. Still able to take advantage of many weight break opportunities, they only had to add 25 pounds and the change wound up being the best decision possible.

Matukas also reworked the suspension to accommodate the enlarged engine with a different bar angle for less bite.

“We knew with the last race of the year there would be lower temps and better conditions; it would be easier for us to get after it,” shared McChesney, who was anticipating quicker 60-foot times. “We had so much bite in the car throughout the year, we knew it would power wheelie in Kentucky so we took some out and trusted Steve to do what he does and we’re glad to have him as a part of the team.”

With the car ready to rip, it seemed like it would be smooth sailing for the rest of the season, but Greathouse’s world was changed by a an unexpected health problem.

So, with the blessing of Broc Porter and the Jones family at Beech Bend Raceway Park, they headed over to their hometown track the Saturday before the NMRA race let Greathouse make a launch to ensure all systems—both for the car and the driver—were good to go.

“For Ben [Thomas] and myself, the week leading up to that race, we didn’t sleep at all. Joel was leading in points but not by much,” confessed McChesney. “There was so much stress in making sure I didn’t screw something up that would screw everything up.”

It was certainly an emotional event for Greathouse, perhaps his most meaningful ever, as he pulled through the gates in Bowling Green, Kentucky. Armed with his new 363ci engine, a 220-point lead, and a resolute determination to give it everything he had, the incredible man motored right to the top of the qualifying order when his ‘93 Mustang put down a class-leading and record-setting 4.580 at 159.76mph run in NMRA Edelbrock Renegade.

“The car really came alive with the new engine,” McChesney mentioned, as did its driver. Everything was happier, from the transmission to the stator to the car overall, and Matukas’s chassis changes meant it didn’t spin even once all weekend. “The FuelTech, too, has been crucial to our success this year and they always provide the customer support we need.”

Going into eliminations, Greathouse was already having a good weekend just being able to race at all, but his storybook saga continued. A bye run in round one meant he was paired with Bart Tobener in round two, and Greathouse was the quicker of the two in the pairing. Round three saw him dip into the 4.50-second zone again to take down Haley James, and, in the finals, Eric Bardekoff gifted the weekend win to Greathouse when he wasn’t able to make a complete pass.

From his health trouble to a fairytale-perfect weekend including a number-one qualifier, elapsed time record, overall win, and a championship title he had been chasing for so many years, was just what the doctor ordered for Greathouse. Celebrations were huge in the Winner’s Circle, with a massive crew 35-plus strong coming out to show their love and support for the man who had made such an impact in all their lives.

None of it, however, would have been possible if not for the tremendous support and backing of those in Greathouse’s circle. Leading the charge, Wolf has been incredibly generous with his time and funding to give Greathouse the opportunity to drive and chase his dreams. Wolf himself was in a bad accident in September of ’19 and nearly died during surgery after being run over by a semi-truck, so he sure knows the importance of appreciating each day and not taking any opportunity for granted.

Similarly, the KBX Performance group has been a major factor in his success over the years. From Kolivas’s guidance and leadership to McChesney and Thomas managing and maintaining the car, as well as all of the other competitors in NMRA Edelbrock Renegade/NMCA Edelbrock Xtreme Street who have shown that friendship goes deeper than racing and countless others pitching in whenever possible, Greathouse is surrounded by an unbeatable team.

“I am incredibly grateful for everyone who has helped me with my racing career over the years, and especially the ones who supported me at the NMRA finals. I am at a loss for words on how well the weekend went and being able to win the NMRA Renegade championship,” added Greathouse, who was thrilled to have wrapped up the NMRA title after so many years of waiting. “Thanks to my wife Missy and family, Isabelle, Preston, and extended family. Thank you to my team, Ben, Justin, John, Jon, Jeremy, Tim, Steve, Shawn, Charles, Rodney and countless others. Thanks to the companies that have supported me. I appreciate you all”

With age comes wisdom, and Greathouse learned not to take things for granted. Taking advantage of every opportunity that come along and racing as much as possible while enjoying every minute of it are his new goals for life.

The Details
Owner: Jeremy Wolf
Driver: Joel Greathouse
Hometown: Oakland, Kentucky
Occupation: Trucking Logistics
Class: NMRA Edelbrock Renegade/NMCA Edelbrock Xtreme Street
Crew: Justin McChesney, John Kolivas, Ben Thomas, Steve Matukas, Tim Gibson, Dustin Davis
Car Make/Model/Year: 93 Ford Mustang

Engine: Bennett Racing 400U
Engine builder: Jon Bennett/Bennett Racing
Displacement: 363 cubic inch
Block: 8.2 deck Dart Iron Eagle
Bore: 4.200 inches
Stroke: 3.280 inches
Crank: 3.400-inch Callies
Rods: GRP
Pistons: Diamond
Heads: Bennett Racing 265 High Ports
Valvetrain: Jesel steel rockers/lifters
Cam type: Bennett solid-roller
Carburetor or EFI system: Fueltech FT600
Power-adder: Forced Inductions cast-wheel 76mm
Fuel brand and type: VP Racing M1
Headers and exhaust: KBX custom turbo headers and crossover
Transmission: Turbo 400 three-speed automatic
Transmission Builder: RPM Transmissions
Clutch/shifter/torque converter: ProTorque KBX spec
Rearend: Racecraft 9-inch

Body and/or chassis builder: Bell Chassis Works updated by KBX and Matukas Motorsports
Suspension (Front): Racecraft with Menscer Motorsports struts
Suspension (Rear): Matukas Motorsports with Menscer Motorsports shocks
Brakes (Front): TBM Brakes
Brakes (Rear): TBM Brakes
Wheels (front): RC Components Torx
Wheels (Rear): RC Components Torx
Tires (Front): Mickey Thompson 17-inch front-runner
Tires (Rear): Mickey Thompson 3553 drag radial
Aftermarket body modifications:
Safety equipment: Stroud/Simpson
Vehicle weight: 3,050 pounds
Quickest ET: 4.580 seconds
Best 60-foot: 1.085 seconds
Fastest mph: 152.45
Sponsors: KBX Performance, Bennett Racing, Young’s Performance, Matukas Motorsports, FuelTech USA, RPM Transmissions, ProTorque, Forced Inductions, Menscer Motorsports, VP Racing Fuels, RC Components Wheels, TBM Brakes, Weldon Pumps, Florida Wholesale Performance

Ainsley Jacobs
P.TEN Marketing's Ainsley Jacobs is a freelance motorsports marketing professional with extensive experience in marketing and communications, website development, social media management, photography, journalism, and more.