Interview by Mary Lendzion
Photos by FSC staff
After watching racers ride out wheelies and row gears in G-Force Racing Transmissions Coyote Stock several years ago, Frank Paultanis decided that he, too, wanted to ride out wheelies and row gears in the captivating category.
So, he meticulously prepared his Mustang and dove in, and each year, he has become more and more determined to dial it in and dish it out.
His hard work has paid off, as he led qualifying for the first time, ran a personal best elapsed-time and made it to the final round of eliminations before finishing fifth in G-Force Racing Transmissions Coyote Stock points in 2019.
In addition to being recognized for that top-ten finish in points, he was one of three nominees for the Driver of the Year award, which ARP Open Comp driver Dennis Corn received, at the NMRA Ford National Series presented by Keystone Automotive Awards Ceremony presented by Aerospace Components in December at the Indiana Convention Center.
Read on for more about Paultanis, a design engineer for Ford who grew up in Southeastern Michigan, and still lives in Southeastern Michigan, with his wife, Dawn, and daughter, Danielle. He’s counting the days until the 26th Annual Nitto NMRA Spring Break Shootout, February 27-March 1, 2020 at Bradenton Motorsports Park in Florida.
DID GROWING UP JUST OUTSIDE OF DETROIT, THE HOME OF THE BIG 3 AUTOMAKERS, INSPIRE THE CHOICE FOR YOUR FIRST CAR?
It did. Before I turned sixteen, I was saving money from my job doing yard maintenance at a boat club to buy a car. I wanted a four-wheel drive Ford, and my dad, whose name is also Frank, saw a Bronco II for sale, and it was in the price range I needed it to be in. When we went to look at it, we took it for a ride, put a deposit on it and went back to buy it. About a year later, it started to need work, and its 2.8L V6 engine needed to be rebuilt, and my dad took it to a shop for that. We put it back in the Bronco II, but it never really ran right, and that’s when I began learning how to work on cars. We ended up putting a 302 cubic-inch engine in it, with a set of GT40 iron cylinder heads. I did that work myself. I drove it around and went four-wheeling in it. It was light blue and we painted it black, and I drove it until I was about 20.
WHAT WAS YOUR FIRST MUSCLE CAR?
I bought a 1987 S10 truck in about 1998. It had a small-block Chevy in it when I bought it, and I knew it had problems, so we pulled that engine out and rebuilt it. I drove the S10 on the street for about four years. Then, I built a different small-block engine for it so that I could race it, and I went to Milan Dragway in Michigan to bracket race on Friday nights. The S10 was running 11s. Then I bought a red 1993 Mustang with a stock pushrod engine with a GT40 tubular intake and a B303 cam, and we put a new set of iron GT40 heads and a Mac exhaust on it. That was my daily driver, though I took it to Milan Dragway a couple of times. It ran 13s.
WHAT COMPELLED YOU TO BUILD THE CAR YOU RACE NOW, THE WHEEL-STANDING 2004 MUSTANG?
I had a couple of friends who had Mustangs, and I had been helping one of them work on his Mustang, and I had always wanted to build my own car from the ground-up, and it seemed like a body-in-white would give me a perfect foundation to do that. So, I bought my 2004 Mustang as a body-in-white in late 2003 from Classic Design Concepts. Because it was a body-in-white, it had no title or VIN number.
WHAT CONDITION WAS IT IN?
It was kind of strange when I went to look at it because it was in a large lot with all of these body-in-white Mustangs. Just the bodies. On some of them, you could see the damage that made them part of the body-in-white program, including one that had accidentally been gouged with a forklift. Some were very rough, but I managed to find my black one and it wasn’t as rough. It was just a shell.
WHAT DID YOU HAVE TO DO TO TURN THE SHELL INTO A RACE CAR?
I started working on the chassis first. I welded up torque boxes and made my own torque box reinforcements. I bought a complete rollcage kit from Wolfe Racecraft. This was before they had a 25.5 kit, so I bought the book from SFI and read through it, while also talking with Wolfe about what I wanted to do. I bought the extra bars and fit them myself. I spent a little more than a year working on it when I could, and once I got it finished, I had my friend, Mike Szalay, paint the inside, underneath, bumpers and rocker trim. Because I had dropped some rollcage tubing on one of the doors, he fixed that, too.
WHAT DID YOU USE FOR SUSPENSION?
I started putting the suspension together as soon as the paint was done. For the back of the car, I used Wolfe Racecraft control arms and a Wolfe Racecraft anti-roll bar, and I used PA for front suspension. I used Strange brakes all around. I was originally building the car for NMRA EFI Renegade, and I got to where the chassis was 100 percent complete and I started working on the engine with a Dart block. At the time, it wasn’t feasible to complete the engine in a reasonable amount of time, so I took the Chevy engine from the S10, found a new block for it and put it together. I raced the Mustang for the first time in 2010 in Bracket classes at Milan Dragway, and in Open Comp and Brackets at a few NMCA events.
THERE’S NO DOUBT THAT G-FORCE RACING TRANSMISSIONS COYOTE STOCK IS AN INTRIGUING CATEGORY. WHEN DID YOU START TO DEVELOP AN INTEREST IN IT?
I had read a little bit about Coyote Stock, but it really caught my eye when I was crewing for Randy Conway at the NMRA race at Beech Bend Raceway in Bowling Green, Kentucky. Then, I read the rules and saw that there was a chance that I could get into it. I really liked the stick-shift part of it, and a lot of the guys in the class were running stick-shifts. I also really liked how the cars left the starting line and sounded. It really drew me in. It seemed like an affordable way to get into heads-up racing. I came home and within a month, I started tearing my car down and pulling out the Chevy engine. I bought my sealed Coyote, the Gen I Coyote, engine in February of 2014, and then I ran Coyote Stock for the first time that year at the NMRA race at Summit Motorsports Park in Ohio.
HOW DID YOUR FIRST RACE IN G-FORCE RACING TRANSMISSIONS COYOTE STOCK GO?
Well, after seeing how my car performed compared to how other cars were performing, and what my driving techniques were compared to other driving techniques, I realized pretty quickly that I had a lot to learn. I talked to a few people about parts, and I wasn’t going to give up. I knew it was going to take some time, and I was willing to keep trying. In addition to going to the race at Summit Motorsports Park that year, I went to the race at Beech Bend Raceway, and by then, things were working a little better, but there was still a big gap between me and the other drivers.
DID HAVING THOSE TWO RACES UNDER YOUR BELT HELP YOU AS YOU SET SAIL FOR THE 2015 RACE SEASON?
It was definitely helpful to go through the motions and to go to the races and meet people, but I was still very green and in need of help in 2015. Things started to come around in 2016, when I placed seventh in points. I had switched from an automatic transmission to a manual transmission when I started running Coyote Stock, and I broke a lot of transmissions during the 2016 season. I didn’t want to keep pouring money into fixing transmissions, so in the winter of 2016-2017, I switched to the G-Force G101-A with a Fidanza clutch. I was only able to go to a few races in 2017 and 2018, and in the winter of 2018-2019, I decided I would swap my Gen I Coyote engine with a Gen II Coyote engine for the 2019 race season.
WHAT FACTORED INTO YOUR DECISION TO MOVE TO THE GEN II COYOTE ENGINE?
Part of the reason was I had put a lot of effort in with my Gen I Coyote engine and I couldn’t get my car to run quicker than 10.30s-10.40s. When I made the decision, I was temporary living in Chicago for my job. I ordered the new engine from Watson Racing, and when I was back home in Michigan on the weekends, I would work on it. Dropping the engine into the car, along with the Fidanza clutch, was the easy part. The wiring changes I had to make for the new engine were definitely more involved.
DID YOU MAKE ANY CHANGES TO THE UPR, RACECRAFT, WOLFE RACECRAFT AND STRANGE SUSPENSION COMPONENTS UNDER THE CAR AS WELL?
Eddie Bennett from Bennett Performance and Tim Donathen from Donathen Racing went over the stock-style suspension and changed how it was set up. I don’t want to give too many details on exactly what they did, but they did it right before my first race of the year, the NMRA Gateway Rumble in May at Gateway Motorsports Park in Illinois.
EVERYTHING SEEMED TO CLICK, AS YOU LED QUALIFYING FOR THE FIRST TIME WITH A 10.20, RAN A PERSONAL BEST OF 10.19 AND EARNED A RUNNER-UP FINISH AT THE 14TH ANNUAL NITTO NMRA/NMCA SUPER BOWL OF STREET LEGAL DRAG RACING IN JULY AT ROUTE 66 RACEWAY IN ILLINOIS.
It felt great. It still blows my mind that the worst I qualified at the four races I attended was number two. Friends and fellow racers who were helping, like Eddie Bennett, Tim Donathen, Clair Stewart, Matt Hargett, Andy Ransford, Kevin McMullin, Randy Soper and John Leslie Jr., were a key reason for the car’s performance and success.
YOU PULLED OFF A FIFTH PLACE FINISH IN G-FORCE RACING TRANSMISSIONS COYOTE STOCK, YOUR HIGHEST FINISH EVER IN THE CATEGORY, DESPITE MISSING THE FIRST TWO EVENTS ON THE 2019 NMRA TOUR.
The season went much, much better than I expected it to go. It was just an awesome experience and it felt good to qualify in the first spot for the first time and to finish fifth in points. Then, after the race in Bowling Green, I ran another personal best of 10.06 at Milan Dragway. I would have loved to accomplish all of that on my own, but honestly, it has been all about getting the right people together to make it happen. I’ve had a lot of help from Clair Stewart, Eddie Bennett of Bennett Performance, Tim Donathen of Donathen Racing, Matt Harget and Andy Ransford, as well as from my Team Timmy brothers Kevin McMullin, Randy Soper and John Leslie Jr., my wife, Dawn, and daughter, Danielle, and also Stifflers Chassis and Suspension, Fidanza Performance, G-Force Racing Transmissions, Mickey Thompson Tires and Wheels, Lucas Oil, UPR Products, Ford Performance and JLT Performance.
YOU CERTAINLY HAD A SUCCESSFUL 2019. WHAT ARE YOUR PLANS FOR 2020?
I’ll be at the season-opening race, and I’m going to try hard to make all six of the races and to do well at all of them. Hopefully, my performance in 2020 will be even better than it was in 2019.
(Interview from the March 2020 issue of Fastest Street Car)