Extended Family Vincenzo Giuseppe Palazzolo and Benny Ortiz team up to field a 2009 ShelbGT500
For Vincenzo Giuseppe Palazzolo, racing is about two things—doing well, and making his family proud. He follows the rule that hard work is something not to be ashamed of, and over the years, he’s developed a good reputation both for his dependability and his integrity. When Benny Ortiz decided he wanted to step up his ’09 Mustang GT500’s racing program, Palazzolo was the first person he called.
Palazzolo, who resides in Phoenixville, Pennsylvania, and credits his father, Giuseppe for inspiring his love of racing, spends his days working at his family-owned performance and repair shop, R&S Automotive Specialists. Named for his two beautiful daughters, Rosalia, 16, and Sicilia, 9, the business provides Palazzolo a place where he can work on customer cars as well as his own. “We have an in-house chassis dyno and do a lot of supercharger and turbo installs,” noted Palazzolo, who often has a large herd of Mustangs in his stable.
With such great resources readily available to him, it’s no surprise Palazzolo can regularly be found tearing it up on the NMRA circuit in the highly-competitive VP Racing Fuels Street Outlaw category. His personal racecar, a red ’03 Mustang running a turbocharged KBX Performance/Bennett Racing Engines 400 ci small block Ford combination, has served him well over the years and continues to be a contender in the class.
As many can attest, racing brings people together and is an enabler to creating friendships. He first met Ortiz several years ago when a fellow racer, Frank Soldridge, introduced them. “We talked off and on over the years but didn’t start getting close until around 2015,” noted Palazzolo of the budding friendship-turned-partnership. “Benny called me and asked about KBX, so I told him about my experience with those guys and he decided to go with them.”
Ortiz purchased his yellow ’09 Shelby GT500 in 2012 specifically with the intention of making it a racecar. “It had a 5.4L in it when we first bought it, but took that out right away and sold it,” explained Ortiz, whose Mustang started as a hopped-up street car and morphed into an all-out racecar courtesy of Gary Naughton Race Cars. “We decided to get competitive, did some grudge racing, and then took it to KBX to run X275 and NMRA.” As Ortiz had stayed in contact with Palazzolo, he called and asked for his assistance in making sure things were done right – and that’s when Palazzolo stepped in as both a driver and the main guy to oversee the new build.
Ortiz’s Mustang arrived at KBX in 2015 and spent nearly a year in the talented hands of John Kolivas and Jon Bennett. During that time, it went through a significant evolution and KBX reworked the car’s entire front end. “They cut it up to make it lighter, did all the tubing, and made the fenders, bumper, and hood all removable,” said Palazzolo of the massive makeover, noting that the suspension and chassis work from GNRC remained as it was.
Next, the new Dart-block based 400 ci engine, compliments of KBX and Bennett Racing Engines, came topped with billet aluminum heads and was stuffed with GRP rods, Diamond pistons, a Callies crank. It was installed along with a Turbo-glide transmission, also known as a two-speed TH400, from Mark Micke’s M&M Transmission. KBX also fabricated the immaculate turbo kit as well as all the necessary piping and plumbing to keep the engine’s boosted air flowing freely, while Pressurized Solutions did the work on the exhaust system and manifolds. Finally, a trip to the dyno helped get the Big Stuff 3 powertrain management tuned up and operating as intended, and Ortiz’s GT500 was emancipated in late 2016.
Interestingly, the power plant wasn’t the most complicated thing to get right, but rather it was the car’s suspension. Equipped with a factory-style three-link rear suspension instead of the usual four-link in the ’79 to ’04 Mustangs, Palazzolo had to try a few tricks to get the setup right for the upgraded power level. “To be honest, the three-link was new to me, but it all comes down to the instant center. Going from a slick tire to a radial meant the instant center had to change, the chassis had to be treated differently, and so I made some measurements, moved some bars around, and made adjustments to get the instant center right,” explained Palazzolo of the painstaking patience he called upon to get the proper positioning of the Racecraft components. “My friend, Greg Maialetti, is a genius suspension guy and taught me a lot along the way.”
Although the car was designed to run in X275 trim, Palazzolo and Ortiz also wisely looked to VP Racing Fuels Street Outlaw competition, too. After having spent a considerable amount of time and effort throughout the off-season ensuring the rear bars were where he wanted it, Palazzolo and Ortiz loaded up and drove south to Florida to see how it would pan out. Upon arrival at Bradenton Motorsports Park for the 23rd Annual NMRA Spring Break Shootout in early March of 2017, they were both curious to see how the car would fare at its first NMRA foray.
Thanks to the 98mm turbocharger bolted on front and center, Palazzolo knew the GT500 would produce plenty of power, but how the suspension would work was still a bit of an unknown. With Palazzolo behind the wheel doing driving duty, the two began the tedious process of testing and tuning.
“When we got there, the chassis and engine management and power management were right, but the car still wanted to wheelie a lot,” admitted Palazzolo, who ran a 4.39 at 170 mph right off the trailer on a set of Mickey Thompson 275 radials during Thursday’s pre-race test session. “It was a new personal best for me, and I was absolutely astonished because I didn’t expect the car to go that fast. I’ve got to say, Gary Naughton did a phenomenal job originally building the chassis, roll cage, and rear end on that car. I’ve never felt any safer in a car than I do in Benny’s, it’s just built so well and the workmanship is excellent.”
The next test session on Friday didn’t go quite as well, though, as two burned up pistons and a head gasket were unwelcomed surprises. Never one to shy from a challenge, Palazzolo shrugged it off and got to work. “We repaired the head and got the motor together and just dealt with the rest of the weekend with the two burned pistons,” he casually recalled. Palazzolo wound up qualifying fourth in the eleven-car field thanks to a best run of 4.472 at 164.23 mph. “It slowed us down some, but we still tried to go a round or two.”
Palazzolo lucked out with a broke bye in round one of eliminations, but that didn’t stop him from putting Ortiz’s car to work. A perfect 0.000-second reaction time was impressive, and the eighth-mile run of 4.592 at 163.07 mph – even with two hurt pistons – was still something to be proud of. In round two, Palazzolo was paired with Leroy Nabors, Junior, and although Palazzolo improved to the tune of 4.460 at 165.56 mph, it wasn’t enough to hold off Nabors’s 4.432 at 168.98 mph hit.
After the race, Palazzolo pulled the injured engine and sent it back to Bennett Racing Engines for repairs. As a result, Ortiz’s car had to sit out the next few events.
In the interim, as Ortiz’s ride wasn’t ready for the race in Georgia, Palazzolo simply piloted his own car there instead. He had spent the off-season trying to lighten things up and bring his Mustang down closer to the class-allowed weight. “We redid the chill cell, fuel cell, and made some changes in the engine,” he elaborated of what work went on during the winter.
“My car is my baby, and I had just gotten the engine back in so it was untested prior to Georgia,” added Palazzolo, who was unfortunately plagued with issues during the race weekend. “All my crew members that usually help out couldn’t make it at the last minute, so Lee Sebring came through and stepped in and did a hell of a job – he was my savior!”
Palazzolo qualified tenth with a 4.797 at 161.48 mph hit and got redemption over Nabors from the previous race as Nabors suffered mechanical issues and couldn’t make a pass in round one of eliminations. Palazzolo moved on courtesy of his 4.616 at 159.27 mph pass and was paired with 2016’s season champion, Jacky McCarty, in round two. “We ran into problems because we weren’t able to test enough now that it’s lighter, and the car likes to wheelie now. It’s a ladder bar car, not a three-link like Benny’s, so it’s a work in progress, but we got it all sorted out during round two,” confirmed Palazzolo, whose 7.298 at 78.38 mph hit wasn’t a winner but yielded critical data to give him insight into what needed adjusting. “Now, my car is in Alabama waiting for me to go testing somewhere before the next race at Maple Grove.”
As both his own car as well as Ortiz’s run in Street Outlaw, the question of which he will wind up driving remains to be answered. “Once Benny’s car is finished, honestly, whatever car is faster is what will be raced the rest of the season with NMRA,” explained Palazzolo, “I don’t have another driver for mine, and Benny isn’t comfortable putting someone else in his… so maybe mine will run X275 and Benny’s will run NMRA… we’ll just have to wait and see what happens.”
The idea of fielding two cars is certainly a possibility for Palazzolo, who is the primary caretaker of both his and Ortiz’s ponies. Although KBX’s Justin McChesney and Kolivas both lend a hand when it comes to tuning, Palazzolo is the primary point of contact for everything else. “I do all the maintenance on the engine and transmission. I’ve changed the ProTorque converter probably three or four times, and I get the car to the track and back home,” said the one-man band who has worked tirelessly to get the GT500 running hard. “When Benny’s with me, he’s a great help and one of the best crew members I’ve ever had. He’s trying to make more races this year, which will be great for us both.”
Regardless of which car winds up continuing in Street Outlaw, Palazzolo’s got his eyes on the prize for the 2017 season. “I’m looking to win a championship this year,” affirmed the racer. “Setting a record would be great, but records don’t win races. Staying consistent is the biggest thing. We want to run the rest of the NMRA season, and would love to run some NMCA events as well if the X275 schedule allows it.”
Ortiz is up for the challenge of chasing the championship, and has no qualms about doing whatever he can to make it happen. Based on what he’s seen so far from Palazzolo’s performance and his meticulous attention to detail as well as his commitment to getting the challenging suspension setup right, Ortiz knows he made the right choice in choosing Palazzolo as his partner. “He’s an excellent guy and I can’t ask for a better person. I love working with him, and we get along great,” affirmed the New Yorker.
With a busy year of potentially racing two cars ahead of him, and a business back home to run, it’s impressive that Palazzolo is able to manage it all and still have a family life. “The one thing that I ask my wife, Bridget, and my two girls, is for permission to do what I do,” said the loving husband and father. “The one response they give me is that they beg me not to stop, because they love the fact that we race. My girls go to school with a lot of pride, and take the magazines to show ‘em off, it’s so cute.”
Making his girls proud is the primary force behind Palazzolo’s ambition to succeed. “At the end of the day, it all comes down to family, and I don’t want to disappoint them because racing takes up so much of my time,” he continued. Palazzolo tries to involve his three ladies as much as possible, but between work and school and other obligations, they’re often not able to go with him to the races. “It puts stress on me working so much because I’m away, but Bridget is amazing and does so much to make sure we can make it all happen.”
At the end of the day, Palazzolo has proven that his hard work, unbeatable ethics, and family-first focus can combine to make both his own car as well as Ortiz’s GT500 some serious stiff competition.
- Owner: Benny Ortiz
- Driver: Vinny Palazzolo
- Hometown: Phoenixville, PA
- Occupation: Automotive Technician
- Class: VP Racing Fuels Street Outlaw
- Car: 2009 Shelby GT500
- Engine: Small-Block Ford
- Engine builder: Bennett Racing Engines
- Displacement: 400ci
- Block: Dart
- Headers and exhaust: Pressurized Solutions
- Transmission: M&M Transmissions
- Fuel System / EFI : Weldon / BigStuff 3
- Torque converter: Frank Lupo
- Rearend: Gary Naughton Race Cars
- Body and/or chassis builder: SFI 25.3/Gary Naughton Race Cars
- Suspension (Front): Racecraft
- Suspension (Rear): Racecraft
- Steering: Racecraft
- Brakes: Strange Engineering
- Axles: Strange Engineering
- Gears: Richmond Gear
- Wheels: Weld Racing
- Tires: Mickey Thompson ET Street Radial Pro 275
- Vehicle weight: 3,200 lbs.