Written by Mary Lendzion
Photography by Kevin DiOssi
When Mark Luton heard that street-racing was taking place near his home in California when he was a teenager, he went to watch.
He was immediately interested and inspired, and in no time, he was racing his Ford Ranger rocking a 4.0L V6 with a Paxton supercharger on the street and strip. When he decided that he wanted more muscle, he climbed into a 1995 Mustang with a 5.0 engine.
Around that time, he was working with his father at a machine shop, and while it wasn’t a motorsports-related job, he was asked if he could build a bracket for a Paxton supercharger, as there wasn’t one available anywhere. Without hesitation, he said he could, and then he did, and with that, he had begun his career in the motorsports industry.
“J.R. Granatelli invited me to come work with him at Paxton, so I worked with him at Paxton for a couple of years, and then when he left the company, he asked me to come work with him at Granatelli Motorsports, so I worked with him at Granatelli Motorsports in the late 1990s through the early 2000s,” said Luton. “I did a little bit of everything from labor to sales, and because Granatelli Motorsports in California and Pro M in Michigan were partners at that point, I was going back and forth between the two, and learning about tech, calibration processes and manufacturing.”
Also in the early 2000s, Luton started his own company, Modular Mustang Racing, in his parents’ garage, while continuing to work for Granatelli Motorsports.
“I was doing engine installs, supercharger installs and more for Mustangs, and 99 percent of it was drag-racing stuff,” said Luton.
Meanwhile, he was modifying his 1995 Mustang, and had hired Kenny Duttweiler to build for it a 347 cubic-inch 5.0 pushrod Ford engine, which helped him run 10.80s at the track.
By 2004, he had rented a 2,000 square foot building in Oxnard, California and soon after changed his company’s name from Modular Mustang Racing to Modular Motorsports Racing, otherwise known as MMR.
“At that point, I had moved out of my parents’ house, and in addition to installs, I started building shortblocks, longblocks and complete Modular engines and working on cars, and that’s when I decided I would specialize in Modular engines,” said Luton, who even went from pushrod power to Modular muscle in his own 1995 Mustang. “Among the things I had learned from Kenny Duttweiler, who was known for his Buick Grand National, was that you should have a specialty. Just as he was known as the guy to go to for your Buick Grand National engine, I wanted to be the guy to go to for your Modular engine.”
With a solid plan in place, Luton’s business boomed, and he began hiring people with a shared passion.
“We stayed in that facility for a couple of years and then moved to a bigger 2,400 square foot facility in Ventura, California,” said Luton. “It had a little more garage space and office space, and pretty soon, we realized that working on cars took us away from building engines, so we decided to stop working on cars and focus on building engines. Along the way, as we found weak links in some of the components we were working with, we started to build our own products. Then, we moved into our current Camarillo, California shop in the late 2000s.”
Luton, who by that time was racing in various categories and series, was a standout in a 2000 Mustang GT with a turbocharged 5.4 Four-Valve Modular engine in PSCA Outlaw 10.5 in the early to mid 2000s. The car ran low 8s.
“Then, when the new body-style Mustang came out in 2005, we went with that and put a turbocharged 5.4 Four-Valve Modular engine in it,” said Luton. “We ran 7s and it was the first Modular engine to reach the 7s. We ended up selling the car and building a 2010 Mustang Shelby GT500 with a 5.4 Four-Valve Modular with twin turbos, and we became known for that car. It ran 6.70s at over 220 mph, and it was a beast. I earned the NMCA West True 10.5 championship in it in 2014, and after we sold it, we bought a Jerry Haas-built tube chassis car with a 2014 Mustang body for Outlaw 10.5 racing, and we debuted it in 2015.”
That year, while laying down low 4s at about 188 mph in the eighth-mile, he earned a win in Outlaw10.5 at a Street Car Super Nationals event, but not long after, he had a bad wreck in the car.
“I lost a connecting rod, and it cut the engine in two,” said Luton. “It was a wet-sump engine with twelve quarts of oil, and all of it got under my tires, and I flipped over, slid and caught on fire. Trying to get out of the car while it was upside down and on fire was confusing, especially since I couldn’t see anything, but I found the door, kicked it open and the safety crew was there. It was an amazing car, but nothing was salvageable after that.”
Coincidentally, at the time of the wreck, Luton had been having built by Jerry Haas a Pro Mod chassis with a four-link suspension and Penske shock absorbers topped with a 2015 Mustang body, and as it happened, it would be a replacement for the car that was lost. Additionally, Luton already had his powerplant picked out.
“At that point, we were very interested in what was going on with the Coyote engine and the components for it, and we decided that, for the new car, we would go with the new billet engine that we were manufacturing,” said Luton. “It’s a 351 cubic-inch Coyote based engine, an MMR GenX, featuring a billet aluminum block that we developed and JMP manufactures. It features the factory heads from the Shelby GT350 with our custom camshaft grind, all billet timing components and an MMR hybrid manifold, which has a sheet metal plenum and billet aluminum runners and uses 16 fuel injectors. The timing chains, valve covers and intake manifolds are all manufactured by us in-house.”
Luton paired the powerplant with an M&M Transmission Turbo 400 and an M&M Transmission converter, and he’s currently using a FuelTech FT600 engine management system to tune. In the commanding car, he made his Pro Mod debut at a Street Car Super Nationals event toward the end of 2016.
“It was a brand new car, so we had our teething issues, but it was amazing,” said Luton. “It was so much quicker than the 10.5 car, which had gone 4.0 in the eighth-mile. It went super low 6.teens in the quarter-mile even though we didn’t push it like we would have liked because it was a new car and we were at an event rather than a test session.”
From there, Luton landed at NMCA VP Racing Fuels Xtreme Pro Mod in 2017, where he ran as quick 3.87 at over 200 mph in the eighth-mile on his way to a fifth place finish in points.
“At the last NMCA event of the year, we made it to the final round against Steve Summers, and even though we lost, I was so pleased,” said Luton. “It will always be a highlight as far as driving a Pro Mod goes.”
Soon after, Luton headed to a Street Car Super Nationals event, where he ran the quarter-mile for the first time in the new car.
“Our first quarter-mile pass was 5.88 and 250-something, and then we went 5.80 and 256 mph,” said Luton.
With a car and combination that were competitive, Luton made only minor changes over winter, and then headed to the 2018 NMCA season-opener, the 16th Annual NMCA Muscle Car Mayhem in March at Bradenton Motorsports Park in Florida, where he ran to a 3.92 to qualify in the fourteenth spot and advanced all the way to the semifinal.
He followed that with a 3.92 to qualify in the thirteenth spot at the 10th Annual NMRA/NMCA All-Star Nationals in April at Atlanta Dragway, and in doing so, he was part of the first all 3-second VP Racing Fuels Xtreme Pro Mod field. He made it to the second round of eliminations there, despite having to change transmissions, converters and a rear-end, and then headed to the 17th Annual Quick Fuel Technology Bluegrass Nationals in May at Beech Bend Raceway in Kentucky, where he picked up to a 3.88 to qualify in the tenth spot and made it to the second round of eliminations.
He narrowly missed qualifying at the 13th Annual Nitto Tire NMRA/NMCA Super Bowl of Street Legal Drag Racing in July at Route 66 Raceway in Illinois and the 17th Annual Honeywell Garrett NMCA All-American Nationals in August at Summit Motorsports Park in Ohio, but he’s not worried, as he knows that what he has works.
Racing right alongside Luton is his teammate, Greg Seth-Hunter, whose 2015 Mustang has a comparable combination and who is equally competitive in VP Racing Fuels Xtreme Pro Mod competition.
“Racing these two cars is truly an extension of what I started the business for in the first place,” said Luton. “In order to specialize in something, like an engine, for example, you have to put everything into it, and we have done that from the beginning. Everything we learn at the track translates to our products.”
Luton and Seth-Hunter have set similar goals for themselves, and they include continuously moving up in the points chase and motoring to 3.70s at over 205 mph.
“We’re working on putting all of our power to the ground, and we’re having fun while we’re doing it.”
Driver: Mark Luton
Hometown: Camarillo, California
Occupation: President, MMR
Class: VP Racing Fuels Pro Mod
Crew: Jeff Blosdale, Spencer Capiola and Greg Seth-Hunter
Engine: MMR GenX
Engine builder: MMR
Block: MMR Gen X
Crank: Bryant billet
Rods: Bill Miller billet
Cylinder heads: MMR-ported GT350
Camshaft: MMR with turbo spec
EFI system: Fuel Tech
Power-adder: Garrett Turbo – Twin 88mm
Fuel brand and type: VP M1
Headers and exhaust: MMR turbo Headers
Transmission: M&M Turbo 400 3-speed
Transmission builder: M&M
Clutch/shifter/torque converter: M&M
Rearend: Mark Williams 9-inch
Differential: Mark Williams 9-inch
Body and/or chassis builder: Jerry Haas
Front suspension: Strange
Rear suspension: Penske / Haas
Front brakes: Strange Carbon Fiber
Rear brakes: Strange Carbon Fiber
Front wheels: Weld
Rear wheels: Weld
Front tires: Mickey Thompson
Rear tires: Hoosier
Fiberglass/Carbon body components: Five Star Body
Safety equipment: Simpson
Vehicle weight: 2500
Quickest ET: 5.80
Best 60-foot: 9.69
Fastest mph: 256.2
Sponsors: Manley, Garret Turbo, M&M Transmission, Tial, Brisk and FuelTech
(Feature from the November issue of Fastest Street Car magazine)