Written by Steve Turner
Photography by Kevin DiOssi
Running a corporation not only requires passion, persistence, lightning-fast decisions, but the patience to know when to apply full throttle. Eric Gustafson puts those attributes to work on a daily basis as the CEO of Coast Packing Company. His company is a premier supplier of animal fat shortenings in the Western United States, and one of its marketing efforts utilizes one of the quickest and most powerful mediums in NMCA drag racing—VP Racing Lubricants Xtreme Pro Mod.
While he carries a Bachelor of Arts degree in Social Sciences with a minor in Business from the University of Southern California and is the leader of a successful company, Gustafson’s evolution as a drag racer started the same way as most. That introduction to the thrill of internal combustion thrust began right at home.
“My dad and grandfather both raced. As a kid my dad would take me to the Winternationals and Winston Select Finals at Pomona. My grandfather was a founding member of the Southern California Timing Association and held class records racing his 1932 Ford Roadster at the El Mirage dry lake,” Gustafson said. “My dad drag raced during his high school and college years and was involved in a racing program that operated a AA blown alcohol fuel dragster that ran at Lions, San Gabriel, Irwindale, San Fernando and other Southern California drag strips in the 1960s.”
Being around all that burning fuel and tire smoke had an obvious impact. Upon achieving his driver’s license, Gustafson was ready for a snarling V8 and straight-line glory. Some of that would have to wait, but he did start modding and drag racing soon after scoring a six-cylinder F-body.
“My first car in 1994 was a 1984 Cadillac Seville that I did not drag race although the 350 V8 did get me in some trouble with local law enforcement. It’s fair to say that I was born with a heavier right foot. After that, my parents were generous to buy me a 1995 Pontiac Firebird. The LT1 V8 had been out for a couple years. I really wanted one and my dad and I went to test drive them. After driving it my dad commented this is the stuff he dreamed of when he was 16 — fuel injection and close to 300 horsepower,” Gustafson said. “That night my dad had a nightmare about me crashing a Firebird with that much power. So, he bought the 3.4-liter V6 version, which I started to modify with a dry NOS kit and other suspension and rearend upgrades. The car was an absolute dog bone stock. It ran 16.80s and I eventually ran high 13s to low 14s with it. While not ideal for drag racing, it helped get my feet wet. Furthermore, I was very grateful of my parents’ generosity to buy me a car.”
Moving off to college at USC found Gustafson transitioning to a more fuel-efficient commuter, but he did not leave his need for speed behind. In fact, he and his father picked up a 1969 Camaro SS with a bit of drag strip cred. It ran mid-12s courtesy of a de-stroked 350. Eventually the father and son tuned it up and put the 3,400-pound machine in the mid-10-second range. Once he graduated from college, Eric began stashing away some cash to turn it into a serious racing machine.
Eventually his ’69 Camaro SS doorslammer sported a 412-cube LSX boosted by a ProCharger F1X supercharger that generated over 1,500 horsepower. It ran low-fives at over 140 mph and shined at races on the West Coast. Soon he made the switch to a ProCharged, LS-swapped Fox Mustang in NMCA Mickey Thompson Street Outlaw competition, but he was eager to take the next step as a driver. When the next class he had in mind faded away, Gustafson went all in on building a new Pro Mod machine to amplify his company’s message on the series’ biggest stage, and the Camaro awaits a return to street duty with a 540-cube big-block Chevy under the hood.
“…Jason Lee and I had been talking about a Pro Mod Hemi ProCharger for a couple years,” Gustafson said. “Given our combined knowledge and success with ProCharger drag radial combos, we felt we could transfer that to Pro Mod.”
The Pro Mod in question began life as a Gary Naughton Race Cars chassis that Gustafson dressed up with a Cynergy Composites 1969 Camaro carbon fiber body. To get the new car into fighting shape, he turned to Pro Mod stalwart Steve Summers who installed the Haltech EFI system and Liberty’s transmission. With that work done, the car traveled to Larry Jeffers Race Cars where it received paint and final tweaks to make it race ready.
Previously earmarked for a Radial Wars Mustang, the engine Gustafson decided to deploy was a 526-cube Brad Anderson Enterprises Hemi enhanced by a ProCharger F-3X-136.
“The car took a little longer than we were anticipating,” Gustafson told us previously. “As I looked at the progression of the classes, Pro Mod had a much greater audience for promoting our company, Coast Packing. The decision was made to go Pro Mod racing, as we felt it was a much better platform for communicating our marketing message to drag racing fans and the general public.”
Whether it is for the fans in the stands or those watching on the SpeedVideo live feed, there is no doubt that Pro Mods roaring to life and blasting down the track instantly draws the attention of fans. It is certainly difficult not to pay attention to Gustafson’s immaculate, achromatic Camaro heating up the tires and blasting down the track with the exhaust roaring through its Lyons Custom Motorsports Zoomies.
Backed by his existing team the car debuted a couple years back and was immediately running in the upper threes. It kept running quicker as the team wrapped its knowledge around the new combination. Soon it was running 3.75-second elapsed times at 200 mph.
Before long it was time for a new combo and quicker runs. For the 2019 season his team improved the chassis setup and installed a Noonan Ultimate Race Engineering Hemi powerplant boosted by ProCharger’s vaunted F3X-140 blower. Sprinting quicker to the 60-foot and dropping mid-3-second passes on the scoreboard, the revised Camaro collected its first Victor trophy in the Aerospace Components Winner’s Circle at the 11th Annual NMRA/NMCA All-Star Nationals.
Filling the latest 565-cube Hemi responsible for those performances is a laundry list of top-drawer hardware, including GRP rods, Gibtec pistons, Callies Ultra Billet Crankshaft, and an ultra-secret camshaft grind from Bullet Racing Cams. The Noonan heads are filled with Manley valves and wear PSI springs, Jesel lifters, and Reid Rocker arms. The huge ProCharger boost races through a custom Noonan billet intake fronted by a Wilson throttle body.
Supplying the whole arrangement with fuel is a robust system based on an Aeromotive pump and regulator feeding Precision fuel injectors via Noonan billet fuel rails. The aforementioned Haltech Nexus R5 receives its marching orders courtesy of tuning by Jason Lee and Patrick Barnhill at PTP Racing, and MSD wires, Haltech coils, and NGK plugs light the fire.
While this powerful machine and its driver rake in all the glory and put those eyeballs on the Coast Packing Company brand, it takes a team effort to field a competitive Pro Mod.
“…It is multifaceted because it is a combination of our team at the track that everyone sees, but the behind-the-scenes team players are equally important,” Gustafson said. “My on-track crew, which includes Cam Hensley, John Urgo, and Jason Lee along with Patrick Barnhill from PTP Racing, are the life blood of the team. Recently, we added some familiar faces to the track crew, Ben Leidel and Nick “Dumbo” Strohbeen. The team behind the scenes includes Tim Lyons and his employees at Lyons Custom Motorsports, Jimmy Rector, Darrell Makins at Noonan, Craig at Liberty’s Gears, Haltech, Steve at Quick Drive Racing and everyone at ProCharger.”
During the 2020 season, those combined efforts proved worthwhile. At the season opener in Bradenton, Florida, ran a string of 3.60s en route to the Aerospace Components Winner’s Circle. At the third stop on the NMCA tour, Gustafson earned runner-up honors at the 15th Annual Nitto Tire NMRA/NMCA Super Bowl of Street Legal Drag Racing presented by HPJ Performance. In Martin, Michigan, he collected another victory at the Arrington Performance NMRA/NMCA All-American Nationals presented by Force Engineering to pull into the points lead with just one race remaining in the season.
Maintaining this level of performance is no easy task. Drag racing presents a number of challenges, but they are all amplified when a racer competes in the top class in the NMCA Muscle Car Nationals series.
“Track conditions and weather change throughout the event. We are running these cars on the ragged edge and its not uncommon to swap motors, change pistons, converters, transmissions, center sections, etc…” Gustafson said. “You better have a well-stocked trailer or you may not make it the show on Sunday.”
Obviously he made a habit of not just entering the show on a regular basis, but putting his Camaro in the final round. More often than not in 2020, that last race resulted in a victory. That shows just how committed to winning he and his team are, which undoubtedly is a manifestation of the team’s business acumen on the racetrack. However, as much focus as running a successful business requires, racing in VP Racing Lubricants Xtreme Pro Mod takes that requirement to a new level.
“I cannot find the words to describe a typical pass. Running a Pro Mod is anything but typical because it is equally complex and simple,” Gustafson said. “You must expect the unexpected and hope that everything goes smoothly, but also be ready to react in split seconds if it does not. It is truly one of the most challenging, exciting and rewarding race cars I have had the honor of driving.”
“No matter how successful you are or how many races you win, racing Pro Mod is constantly a challenge and humbling experience,” Gustafson added. “You truly have to be ultra-competitive and not afraid to fail or lose. My Dad always raised me to believe that failure does not exist as long as you are alive to keep grinding and fighting. He would say the day you fail is the day they put you in the ground or in the urn. In fact, the losses keep you hungry and motivated to win!”
Obviously he is grateful for the team’s success in the top-tier class, but the racing program is about more than just winning races. His hunger for success extends from the track to the office and back.
“I am most proud of many things, first and foremost my family and then operating a successful business and competitive Pro Mod team that serves as a great Marketing and Brand ambassador for our family business Coast Packing Company,” Gustafson said. “It is something that our employees are proud of and gives our company unique talking and marketing points in our industry and with our customers.”
We certainly couldn’t argue with a sales pitch that included an aside about driving a ProCharged Pro Mod, could you?
With the support of his on-track team — Cam Hensley, John Urgo, and Jason Lee along with Patrick Barnhill from PTP Racing — and many others behind the scenes, Eric Gustafson enjoys great success in NMCA VP Racing Fuels Xtreme Pro Mod.The Details
Owner: R&E Racing, LLC sponsored by Coast Packing Company, Eric Gustafson and Ron Gustafson
Driver: Eric Gustafson
Hometown: Vernon, California
Occupation: CEO of Coast Packing Company
Class: VP Racing Fuels Xtreme Pro Mod
Car Make/Model/Year: 1969 Chevy Camaro
Engine Builder: Jimmy Rector
Displacement: 565 cubic inches
Block: Noonan Ultimate Race Engineering Hemi
Crank: Callies Ultra Billet
Valvetrain: Manley valves, PSI valvesprings, Jesel lifters, and Reid rocker arms
Cam type: Bullet custom grind
EFI system: Haltech Nexus R5 tuned by Jason Lee and Patrick Barnhill at PTP Racing
Power adder: ProCharger F3X-140
Headers and exhaust: Lyons Custom Motorsports Zoomies
Transmission: Liberty’s Gears w/ Quick Drive Racing drive unit
Clutch/shifter/torque converter: Neal Chance
Rearend: Mark Williams Modular with Strange Ultra Billet center section and Strange Engineering axles
Body and/or chassis builder: Gary Naughton Race Cars with additional work by Larry Jeffers Race Cars and further maintained and improved by Lyons Custom Motorsports
Suspension (Front): Kinetic Engineering struts
Suspension (Rear): Precision Racing Suspension shocks
Brakes (Front): Strange Carbon
Brakes (Rear): Mark Williams Carbon
Wheels (front): Weld V-Series
Wheels (Rear): Weld Delta-1
Tires (Front): Hoosier
Tires (Rear): Hoosier
Body: Cynergy Composites
Quickest ET: 3.61 seconds
Fastest mph: 207.75
Sponsors: It starts with Coast Packing Company and our employees that work hard every day to support our customers. Without their effort we would not be able to use the Pro Mod as a brand and company ambassador. After Coast, we are grateful to have PTP Racing, Lyons Custom Motorsports, Noonan, Liberty’s Gears, Haltech, ProCharger, Quick Drive Racing, and Jimmy Rector support our program. Last but not least a big thank you to our crew, my wife and family and all the fans that support us!