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Leap of Faith—With a little help from her friends, Becki Cram made an unexpected move to NMRA Edelbrock Renegade

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Written by Ainsley Jacobs
Photography by Kevin DiOssi

From her first car, a nondescript Dodge Shadow, to her current race-ready NMRA Edelbrock Renegade 2010 Ford Mustang, Becki Cram never shied away from chasing her dreams or pursuing her happiness.

Growing up, Becki was like many others who ultimately found their way to the drag strip—she had an interest in cars right from day one.

“My mom wouldn’t buy me a car,” explained the young woman of how she worked hard to save enough for her Shadow. “So, my brother was 18, and I gave him the money and he bought it instead!”

Not too many years later, around 2009, Becki was able to buy a 2008 Saleen Mustang and got involved with a local car club. She attended meets regularly, but it was when they invited her to attend a test and tune session at the track in 2014 that she realized how much she loved it.

“After that, I was there every week for test and tunes and I never stopped!” proclaimed Becki, who had always enjoyed going to races as a spectator before she ever made a lap herself. “I still have that car, although it just sits in the garage now.”

That same year, Becki went to Bowling Green, Kentucky, to run in the QA1 True Street class at the NMRA All-Ford World Finals at Beech Bend Raceway Park. As fate would have it, she wound up going home with a lot more than just time slips… she went home with a new relationship that would eventually wind up in marriage.

“She was wearing a T-shirt that said ‘I love you like biscuits and gravy,’” laughed Dyno Joe Cram, Becki’s now-husband, of how she first caught his attention. The two both happened to be hanging out in the bar next to their hotel one night, and a friend laid the foundation that brought them together. “One of the guys in a Mustang club I was in texted me and told me to say hi to a friend for him, so I introduced myself.”

As Joe recalls, that day was October 3, 2014, and the happy couple was married on February 15, 2018. Over the years, they’ve enjoyed blending their lives together, but perhaps their best memories have been made at the track doing what they love.

Having first been hooked on True Street, though, Becki chose to continue in that class for a few years. There were some changes along the way, one of which would have resulted in her pristine Saleen being cut up to run in NMRA ROUSH Performance Super Stang. Still wanting to step up to a quicker class, Becki simply decided to go for it… without hacking up her nostalgic Ford instead.

“It was a really nice car, but a stick shift, so it was at a disadvantage for the category,” recalled Becki, whose drive and determination was rewarded through the kindness of friends and fellow NMRA racers. “Lloyd Mikeska loaned me his automatic Mustang so that I could learn to drive in the class better.”

Becki had a blast racing and learning in NMRA ROUSH Performance Super Stang, but knew she needed something different to be competitive. By 2016, she made the decision to leave the Saleen in one piece and search for a replacement instead.

Once again, Becki’s NMRA friends stepped in to help out.

“Gary ‘Hollywood’ Parker found us this car,” explained Joe of how the couple first learned of the 2010 Ford Mustang that would become Becki’s new ride. “It was a theft recovery that had been purchased back and was a good platform to start with.”

After agreeing on a price with the seller, Becki and Joe made the trip to Alabama from their home in Indiana. They had expected something that was beat up from a joyride, but were pleasantly surprised with the condition of the Mustang. Similarly, the fact that the thieves had pulled the V-6 engine, transmission, and interior actually worked to their benefit as it saved them a ton of work in stripping it down.

The couple loaded up Becki’s new soon-to-be racecar and headed home with a plan to build it for NMRA Exedy Racing Clutch Modular Muscle.

“That’s where most of our friends were racing already,” added Joe, who also happened to be working at Ray Skillman Ford at the time and was able to purchase a plethora of factory Cobra Jet take-off parts on the cheap. “They had about six that they were stripping to add what they wanted instead, and it was a huge help to us.”

After Becki and Joe had their Mustang ready as a roller, they transported the chassis to Watson Racing, which installed an 8.50-certified Cobra Jet-style cage, in early 2017.

“We dropped it off on January 28th and picked it up on February 18th,” Joe noted of the uber quick turnaround time made possible by the Watson crew. “They also gave it a full Cobra Jet clone treatment—fuel cell, lines, and everything else.”

Working after hours with his friends at Skillman, Joe took point on perfecting the body to delete the few miscellaneous dings and scratches that had accumulated over the years. By November, it was ready for paint and Joe planned a sweet surprise for his better half.

Joe conspired with friends Adam and Krista Arndt, who both also regularly race with NMRA, to have their crew man, Joey Finan, paint the Mustang as a surprise for Becki’s birthday. So, the husband and wife loaded up their Mustang and drove to Pennsylvania.

“We were able to use the paint booth at Joey’s work with the agreement that we would be out by the following morning,” explained Joe of the massive group effort it took to get the car sanded, prepped, taped, and painted through 14 straight hours of work. “We started at 8:15 a.m. and had 11 of us working until 2:45 a.m., but we got it done!” Despite the monumental hustle needed to accomplish the project, the friends had a blast working together and celebrating Becki’s day.

Not long after, Becki and Joe bought a house and “had to spend money on the property instead of on racecars,” but assembly of their latest project continued .

They purchased a naturally aspirated Coyote engine, Turbo 400 transmission, Neal Chance torque converter, and a BigStuff3 engine management system from Chris Holbrook of Holbrook Racing Engines.

“It all came from his daughter’s car,” said Becki of the generous sacrifice that Sabrina Holbrook made. “That’s why I keep her name on my car’s taillight panel as a thank you.”

It wasn’t as though Becki had been sitting out while the Mustang was going through its transformation process, however.

“I kept racing Llyod’s car and finally got used to it. He showed me the ropes, for sure!” noted the driver of her learning experiences during her 2017 NMRA Exedy Racing Clutch Modular Muscle season. “He helped me figure out the how to lift or play the game at the top end of the track, and the starting line procedure. I didn’t know how to deep-stage before he showed me.”

Becki continued to campaign Mikeska’s Mustang at the beginning of 2018, but was ready to debut her recently completed project mid-season. The 15th Annual NMRA Ford Super Nationals at National Trail Raceway in Hebron, Ohio, over the weekend of June 7-10 marked the start of her career with her new car, and the event wound up being a blessing for Becki.

A quick 0.026-second light in qualifying put Becki sixth in the field for NMRA Exedy Racing Clutch Modular Muscle, and she proceeded to drill through each round of eliminations until she found herself in the finals against Jason Henson. Although Henson had the starting-line advantage, Mikeska’s teachings paid off as Becki was able to run 10.518 at 128.01 mph on her 10.51 dial and take the overall win.

“She was thrilled to win her first race out with the car,” said Joe, proud of his wife’s amazing achievement. “She ended up winning [over Andy Russell] at the NMRA All-Ford World Finals in Kentucky, too!

Incredibly, by the end of the season and thanks to her two big victories, Becki had finished ninth overall in the championship points standings—despite having sat out two races during the year. She moved up to finish even better in 2019, too, ending that year in the number seven spot out of 45 competitors.

Towards the end of 2019, “someone” (Spoiler Alert: it was Dwayne James of Hellion Power Systems) put a bug in Becki’s ear about going faster. Joe had wanted to stay in NMRA Exedy Racing Clutch Modular Muscle, because he enjoyed watching his wife race against people that he himself had competed against. Additionally, after his own stint in NMRA ProCharger Coyote Modified, Joe knew it cost “twice as much money and took a lot more time” to run heads-up.

However, Becki reminded James of his daughter, multi-time NMRA champion Haley James, and the patriarch put in motion the plans for Becki to obtain a blower at a discount to offset costs. James also generously volunteered to do whatever he could to help Becki move up, and, finally, Joe conceded.

Originally, the plan was to beef up Becky’s S197 for NMRA JDM Engineering Limited Street, and after consulting with Holbrook, the team put together a game plan.

Weight was added in the form of ballast as well as stock interior components, while Joe’s friend Nick Corea was able to assist in building the ballast holders and weight boxes. Corea himself runs a steel mill, and wound up helping out a ton.

“Chris Holbrook built the 315ci Coyote engine with HRE-ported GT350 heads, and we put it with a Turbo 400 transmission from Joel’s on Joy,” said Joe of the combination that also utilizes a Neal Chance torque converter and is controlled by a BigStuff3 Gen4 Pro Xtreme EFI system. “Joel is as good as they get. If Ford and Mopar can trust him for their Cobra Jets and Drag Paks, then we can, too. And the service after the sale is great—we can get a hold of Joel any time to get questions answered.”

The engine was topped with a 2.3-liter Whipple supercharger direct from Dustin Whipple and Nick Purciello, both of whom were instrumental in getting the boost maker installed, and Joe scavenged parts from his old NMRA ProCharger Coyote Modified ride to complete the puzzle.

Underneath the chassis, Yancey Rodriguez of Vicious Performance managed the suspension system’s setup, which includes AFCO Big Gun rear shocks and Santhuff units up front. Rodriguez is known for his ability to tune shocks and struts for radial cars, and Joe was impressed with his knowledge of the suspension geometry of the S197 platform.

“And, at the top of the pyramid is Chris Holbrook for all of his help,” added Joe.

A Strange Engineering 9-inch rearend was installed with axles that terminate in the center of a set of Mark Williams disc brakes. Surrounding the stoppers are Weld wheels wrapped in Mickey Thompson radial rubber at all four corners.

To prepare, Becki attended Frank Hawley’s Drag Racing School in Florida at Gainesville Raceway in May of 2020. Even though she wasn’t a rookie, she was wise enough to know that there would be a lot to learn while moving up to a quicker class and wanted the knowledge to compete safely.

“It was amazing! I highly recommend his classes,” exclaimed the woman.

Becki and her car were both ready to go for the 2020 NMRA JDM Engineering Limited Street season, but there was a wrench in their plans–their blower wasn’t legal. And so, with fewer than 10 days until the start of the season, the Cram couple took a leap of faith and decided to run the next quicker class, NMRA Edelbrock Renegade, instead.

With the car weighing in at around 4,000 pounds for Limited Street trim, they rushed to strip whatever they could to get down to the lighter Renegade weight. Stormin’ Normand Boutot cut out the 8.50 cage and put in a new 25.2 SFI one and got it certified,” Joe said, amazed at how quickly the man was able to update the chassis, despite Covid-19 delays.

Finally, after years of successfully competing in index/bracket categories, Becki made her heads-up debut in June at the 12th Annual Scoggin Dickey Parts Center NMRA/NMCA All-Star Nationals in Commerce, Georgia. It was all worth the frustration of the switch, though, as Becki quickly got up to speed at Atlanta Dragway.

In qualifying, she wound up 18th overall in the large combination class of NMRA Edelbrock Renegade and NMCA Edelbrock Xtreme Street with a 5.423 at 129.48mph pass.

“I didn’t know what to expect, how I would feel, or what I would run,” confessed Becki, who got a first-round win in eliminations over veteran Xtreme Street racer Tony Orts when she improved to a 5.349 at 131.61 mph and he spun the tires. “We weren’t keeping up with the class, but it was fun going faster than ever before and racing against people we respect.”

Although she didn’t advance further that weekend, Becki was ready to get back at it at the 15th Annual Nitto Tire NMRA/NMCA Super Bowl of Street Legal Drag Racing presented by HPJ Performance at World Wide Technology Raceway in St. Louis, Missouri.

“Well, we were a shit show,” laughed Joe of the trouble that began when they converted Becki’s Mustang to use an air shifter. “Every time we went to a new race that year, we did something different, and that made it hard for her to get a routine down.”

Ultimately, Becki qualified fifteenth with a 5.507 at 132.87mph time slip and once again got lucky when her opponent spun in round one to give her the win. She went out in round two, but was a good sport as always about learning something new.

By the third race, Becki felt more confident. The 2020 Arrington Performance NMRA/NMCA All-American Nationals Presented by Force Engineering took place at “The Captain” Chris Holbrook’s home track, US 131 Motorsports Park in Martin, Michigan, and the group decided to set a goal of running a 4-second pass as Holbrook was assisting on-site.

Becki’s best qualifying effort resulted in a 5.224 at 134.05 mph run, which put her in the number-22 spot for the quick field.

“Chris came over and put a tune-up in the car that was labeled ‘Tighten Your Bra Strap,’” laughed Becki, who unfortunately had to pack things up after round one as she got neither the win nor the elusive 4-second run.

“We had to change a converter at that race, which put us a little behind,” noted Joe, who enjoys pushing his wife out of her comfort zone in an effort to make her a better racer. “When she starts cutting good lights, we know it’s time to change things, like throwing more power at her… and not telling her!”

The Crams headed back to Beech Bend Raceway Park, the track where they first met all those years ago, to wrap up Becki’s first season in NMRA Edelbrock Renegade at the 22nd Annual NMRA World Ford Finals & Holley Intergalactic Ford Festival.

“Ever since we put the air shifter in, sometimes it would shift to high gear and sometimes it wouldn’t,” explained Joe of how the majority of the latter passes on the car were made only in first and second gear. “A year of beating on it and banging off the rev limiter at almost 9,000 rpm took its toll.”

Becki was able to finally dip into the 4-second zone when she went 4.94 in the pre-race test and tune sessions, but two valves decided to give up the ghost during the first official qualifying session and she was done for the weekend. It was a disappointing way to end her season, and a tough pill to swallow to have to watch everyone else race while she sat out.

Finishing 10th in NMRA Edelbrock Renegade points was a capstone for the newcomer to the class, and Becki did have a better year than she originally expected, even with the late-season trouble. “We were behind because we weren’t prepared to run Renegade, but it didn’t really matter to me because I wanted to get comfortable and have fun,” she said, smiling.

Along the way, Becki learned so much about racing and about wrenching. Working with her husband has certainly helped, as his expertise and guidance has been valuable as the two swapped their previous roles of driver and helper.

“I’ve caught wind of other racers saying ‘Oh, it’s easy to go up to Renegade because Joe and Becki did it so successfully,” lamented Joe, who knows firsthand how challenging it really can be even with tons of help from folks like Holbrook and Boutot. “It’s not effortless. People don’t see the checks we’re writing, the late nights in the shop, or that we both work second jobs as Uber drivers to make extra money.”

For every one person who doesn’t see the unwavering determination, there are dozens more who stand behind the Crams, and their daughter, Maci, with support. From Joe’s former employers, including Andy Mohr Ford, to his current bosses and Snap-On franchisees Mark and Erin Garland of Mark Garland Enterprises who unquestionably support his racing initiatives in every way they can, to friends like Jason Henson, Kevin McKenna, Lloyd Mikeska, Chris Holbrook, Nick Corea, and many others, it’s a team sport through and through.

Looking ahead for 2021, Joe is committed to getting Becki into the winner’s circle and prepared a new 329-cube bullet from Holbrook Racing Engines to get the job done with a full Weldon fuel system upgrade. A new 3.8-liter Whipple supercharger should also help to step up Becki’s best numbers. Carbon doors and a front end from Larry Jeffers Race Cars and a whole lot of strategic cutting helped pull 400 pounds out of the Mustang.

Although it can be tough at times, Becki and Joe truly love racing together and there’s no place they would rather be than at the track with one another.

The Details
Owner: Becki/Joe Cram
Driver: Becki Cram
Hometown: Avon, Indiana
Occupation: Accounts Payable- Simon/Real Estate broker
Class: Renegade/Ultra Street/Extreme street
Crew: Joe Cram, Maci Belcher
Car Make/Model/Year: Ford, Mustang, 2010

Powertrain
Engine: 5.0-liter Coyote
Engine builder: Chris Holbrook HRE
Displacement: 329 cubic inches
Block: Bear Block Motors Ultra Block
Bore: 3.715-inch
Stroke: 3.800-inch
Crank: Sonny Bryant
Rods: Manley I-beam
Pistons: Diamond
Heads: Holbrook Racing Engines (HRE)-prepared and ported Shelby GT350 heads
Valvetrain: Factory Ford
Cam type: HRE-spec COMP cams
Carburetor or EFI system: Big Stuff 3 GEN4
Power-adder: Whipple supercharger
Fuel brand and type: VP Racing Fuels C-16
Headers and exhaust: American Racing Headers long-tubes
Transmission: TH400 automatic
Transmission Builder: Joel’s on Joy
Clutch/shifter/torque converter:
Rearend: Strange Engineering 9-inch

Chassis
Body and/or chassis builder: Normand Boutot
Suspension (Front): Yancy Rodriguez’s Vicious Performance
Suspension (Rear): Yancy Rodriguez’s Vicious Performance
Brakes (Front): Mark Williams
Brakes (Rear): Mark Williams
Wheels (front): Weld Racing
Wheels (Rear): Weld Racing
Tires (Front): Mickey Thompson
Tires (Rear): Mickey Thompson
Aftermarket body modifications: LJRC
Safety equipment: White Safety
Vehicle weight: Depends on breakfast or dinner
Quickest et: 4.94 seconds
Best 60-foot: 1.12 seconds
Fastest mph: 151
Sponsors: Holbrook Racing Engines, Whipple Superchargers, Exedy Racing, Big Stuff 3, Watson Racing, Joel’s on Joy, Garland Enterprises-Snap On Tools, Mickey Thompson, Ben Davidow: Big Stuff 3, Nick Corea, Premier Arms, Andy Mohr Ford, Weldon Fuel Systems, Indy Gear: Wayne Henderson


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.
http://www.PTENmarketing.com
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