Written by Mary Lendzion
Photos by FSC Staff
Friends and fellow racers for nearly fifteen years, John Langer and Dwight Ausmus have a lot in common.
Both have Pontiac cars and combinations, both have huge amounts of horsepower and both are completely competitive in NMCA FST Carburetors NA 10.5.
Additionally, the highly-regarded Langer and Ausmus both work with Tony Bischoff of BES Racing Engines for their energetic and extraordinary Pontiac engine programs, and have revved their way to naturally aspirated 7-second passes and the Aerospace Components Winner’s Circle.
They are sometimes asked whether they will put away their Pontiac engines and move to a Ford, Chevrolet or other brand of engine, but they are dedicated to the brand and determined to see and show what it is capable of.
We talked with Langer, of Pennsylvania, and Ausmus, of Tennessee, about their paths to Pontiacs, and specifically the 1969 Firebird Langer races now and the 1972 Firebird Ausmus races now.
LANGER LAYS IT ON THE LINE
When John Langer told some friends back in 1992 that he wanted to purchase a Pontiac and put down some power, they told him that it would be costly and counterproductive. He took that as a challenge, and charted his course.
He bought a 1980 Trans Am, made modifications and motored around the streets near Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Around that time, he helped a friend find and purchase a 1969 Firebird, and a few years later, he bought from that friend that Firebird. It had a 400 cubic-inch Pontiac engine with cast iron heads, a Turbo 400 transmission and a 10-bolt rear-end.
“I liked it because it was something that not a lot of other people had, and I could do something that not a lot of other people were doing with their 1969 Firebirds, and that was race it,” said Langer, who was by that time a senior studying mechanical engineering at University of Bridgeport in Connecticut. “I met Rick Moroso soon after I bought the car, in 1995 or 1996, and he was helping me with chassis modifications, a rollcage, frame connectors, slapper bars and shocks. They were having a race at his track, Moroso Motorsports Park in Florida in 1997, and he invited me. My car weighed 3450 pounds, and I ran an 8.31 in the eighth-mile. That’s when I started racing at the track and not on the street. I had a pick-up truck, and I bought an open trailer.”
As part of a design project for one of his university classes, Langer would write to manufacturers and request products, including camshafts, ignitions, rocker arms, headers, spark plugs and more, and he would try them on his Firebird and share his findings with the manufacturers. Also as part of the design project, he had access to a dyno at the university, and he would use it to learn more about his combination.
“I was the kid in college who didn’t have any money, but wanted to learn how to go faster,” said Langer. “I started learning about fluid flow and how you need heads and a manifold that could move air, so I had a company called Extrude Hone port my heads and intake, and I was able to put larger Ferrea valves on. I started playing with roller cams and got the car to go 10.59 at 125 mph in the quarter-mile in 1998.”
Later, Langer became one of the first racers to get an AllPontiac IA1 block in 1999, and by that time, he had also moved to aluminum heads by Larry Wenzler.
“We didn’t really have any other options for aluminum heads,” said Langer. “We had to work even harder to make them flow even more. It was around 2003 at this point. My engine was 477 cubic-inches. I was running 9.20s at about 3,200 pounds. Moroso had upgraded the chassis with a new chrome moly cage, we had swapped the slapper bars for ladder bars. We were constantly evolving and upgrading.”
Langer, who had been building his own engines, decided to reach out to Tony Bischoff of BES Racing Engines to ask him to take over.
“I realized I couldn’t compete with engines built by Tony Bischoff, and in the winter of 2003, I sent my 477 cubic-inch engine to him,” said Langer. “He ported the heads and the intake, and he changed the cam, pistons and compression.”
Langer was determined to discover how far he could go with a Pontiac engine.
“Tony asked if I was sure I wanted to stay with Pontiac power because it was going to be the hardest path to go down, and because we were taking something that was only designed to spin to 6,000 and we were going to spin it to, at that time, 8,600,” said Langer. “I said yes, because in addition to wanting to see how far I could go, I was being stubborn. I wanted to take the road less traveled. It was worth it because in the winter of 2004, we ran 8.90s and I was the first driver to runs 8s with a naturally aspirated Pontiac on small tires.”
With a desire to dish out even more horsepower, Langer again looked to Bischoff in the winter of 2005, and this time, it was to take the engine from 477 cubic-inches to 525 cubic-inches.
“My heads were too small for the increase in cubic-inches, but the engine averaged a ton more in the power band, so in going with 50 more cubic-inches, I only gained maybe 50 horsepower more but averaged 100 horsepower more in the power band,” said Langer. “So, when we came out in 2006 in NMCA Pro Stock, I won every round of racing the entire year. I didn’t always qualify number one, but I won every round of racing, many of them after holeshots. I didn’t knock the tires, I didn’t have engine failure, I was running 8.80s and I earned the NMCA Pro Stock championship in 2006.”
In the winter months that followed, Langer moved to a set of AllPontiac Tiger heads massaged by Bischoff, and that helped him haul to 8.60s and a second place finish in NMCA Pro Stock points in 2007. Soon after, he sent his car to Steve Matukas at Matukas Motorsports for chassis upgrades for the 2008 race season. That helped the car leap off the line more aggressively, which is what Langer was after, but it also was going into wheelies.
“To try to get a Pontiac to go fast, you have to give it everything really early in the run,” said Langer. “These engines make a lot of torque and if you are really trying to get aggressive with the tune-up on the starting line, the car can climb the ring gear and you’re vertical. I couldn’t afford to keep fixing the car after wheelies because it was $10,000 each time. The windshield would break, the doors would get crushed downward and other things would happen. Because we couldn’t run wheelie bars under our cars in the NMCA at that time, I had to make the decision to not commit to full seasons in NMCA for some time.”
Langer began racing in the 8.50 index at various events, including the Ram Racing Series, and returned to NMCA Pro Stock in 2011.
“As soon as NMCA started allowing wheelie bars in 2011, I came back,” said Langer. “We kept upgrading the engine and suspension, and eventually, I went 7.97 in 2013 when the class name had changed to NA 10.5, and I was the first driver to have a 7-second pass with a naturally aspirated Pontiac on small tires. Then, I wanted to try something different with the heads in 2014. I had an idea that involved using the same casting, and we went over the top. On the dyno, the first results were very promising, but the car would not respond on the track, so I had to change everything in my drivetrain and chassis to give the engine what it wanted.”
Langer spent the following eighteen months making the modifications and making parts for Pontiac engines that he was certain had never been made before.
“There was a lot of trial and error and research and development through 2017,” said Langer. “But we did win a race and we did go 7.71 at 175 mph in 2017.”
After talking with Steve Matukas in 2017, Langer decided that another chassis upgrade was in order, but because the popular Matukas had a packed shop, it would be some time before he could focus on Langer’s car.
“I ran a limited schedule because of work, and then I ended 2018 at the World Cup Finals at Maryland International Raceway, where I ran 7.61 at 179 mph, but not in NMCA trim,” said Langer.
After the race, Langer dropped his car off at Matukas’ shop, and Matukas began working on it the moment he had an opening in his schedule in January of 2019. According to Langer, Matukas worked on it for 12-18 hours a day for 61 days straight, and also according to Langer, he set it up so that Langer could have a four-link or a ladderbar, installed a Chuck Ford billet floater in it, and everything on the car was changed from the front to the back of the car with the exception of the sheetmetal on the car, the Funny Car cage, main hoop, steering wheel, rack and pinion and steering arms.
As expected, Langer came out swinging, and sailed to a 7.87 to qualify in the third spot and a 7.97 to runner-up at the first race of the 2019 season, the 17th Annual NMCA Muscle Car Mayhem in March at Bradenton Motorsports Park in Florida.
“The car is fast, and I’m very happy with it,” said Langer, who spins his Pontiac engine to 9,400 rpm these days. “In addition to Steve Matukas, I have help from my wife, Kristen Langer, “The Godfather” Scott Rex, Race Car Jimmy and Lupi.”
AUSMUS AIMS HIGH
Dwight Ausmus was just seventeen years old when his father purchased a 1972 Firebird back in 1988.
It was going to be for Ausmus’ brother, but Ausmus was much more interested in it, and he and his father wasted no time turning the street car into a race car.
They replaced the 400 cubic-inch Pontiac engine that was under the hood with a 455 cubic-inch Pontiac Ram Air IV engine and an Edelbrock Torker intake, and paired it with a Turbo 350 transmission.
Ausmus and his father, David Ausmus, also replaced the car’s 10-bolt rear-end with a 12-bolt rear-end, and tried various converters before choosing a Coan converter.
“I was always glad my brother, Aaron Ausmus, chose things like lifting weights and eating over this car,” said Ausmus, with a laugh. “Dad and I loved working on it.”
Upon taking the car to the track near their home, Knoxville Dragstrip, for various races two years after he graduated from high school, Ausmus arrived at 6.50s in the eighth-mile.
“The Pontiac engine had good power, and we were always trying different things with it,” said Ausmus. “It was the underdog against all of the big-block engines, but we were fast and we were competitive. We were dialing right with them and sometimes faster.”
With an attraction to naturally aspirated heads-up racing, Ausmus began paying attention to what was then NMCA Pro Stock and is now NMCA FST Carburetors NA 10.5. He was intrigued by and interested in what drivers like Langer, Charlie Booze Jr. and others were relying on for power and what they were putting down.
“Because Langer also had a Pontiac car and combination, I reached out to him in 2006, and he told me I needed to come to a race, so dad and I went to the NMCA race at Atlanta Dragway in Georgia in 2007 to see the Pro Stock class in action.,” said Ausmus. “Langer was competitive with his Pontiac against the likes of Charlie Booze Jr., Skip Baskin and Mike DeMayo Jr., and dad and I got to meet all of them and explore the environment, and we thought it was awesome. At that point, I wanted to race my Pontiac in the NMCA, but I knew I would need a different engine, so I bought a used one from Jack Gaydosh.”
The new-to-him bullet was 532 cubic-inches built on an AllPontiac IA II block and topped with AllPontiac Tiger heads, and it afforded Ausmus more than 1,000 horsepower, an increase over the 750 horsepower his previous engine was pumping out.
“There was a huge learning curve while I worked with the converters and gears to try to optimize the combination,” said Ausmus. “I was still bracket-racing, but at that point, the car had started running 5.60s in the eighth-mile. We were learning what to upgrade as we went along, and we went to a 9-inch housing and Moser rear-end, as well as a ProFlite transmission, and then we continued to work with that program.”
After a while, Ausmus made the decision to reach out to Tony Bischoff of BES Racing Engines, just as Langer had.
“I needed more power, and I went to Bischoff because I saw how much success he and Langer had with Langer’s Pontiac,” said Ausmus. “There was no doubt that Bischoff could make Pontiacs fast, and not many people can. It’s funny because he would always say Pontiacs are the devil, and the most stubborn engine to get power out of, but I had decided long ago to stick with a Pontiac because it’s what my dad and I worked on together and something we had in common and shared. I feel at this point, it’s in our blood.”
The engine Ausmus and Bischoff decided to build was a 535 cubic-inch engine with more compression, a different cam and a different set of AllPontiac Tiger heads.
“We were optimizing the torque curve of the engine,” said Ausmus, who added that the Pontiac program he and Bischoff have put together for him is different from the Pontiac program Langer and Bischoff put together for Langer. “Then, when it was time to go heads-up racing, I didn’t want to go right to NMCA and look like a clown, so we went to a heads-up race at Milan Dragway in Michigan in the summer of 2012, and my car was made fun of because I had a breather sticking up through the cowl, but you know what? It worked well. We ran 8.54 at 160 mph, qualified in the eighth spot and made it to the second round of eliminations.”
In the winter months that followed, Ausmus turned the engine back over to Bischoff, who gave it a new crank, more stroke and more cubic-inches to bring it to 565 cubic-inches, and with that, Ausmus headed to his first NMCA race as a competitor, and entered FST Carburetors NA 10.5.
“I was like a cat on a hot tin roof,” said Ausmus. “I was nervous, but Bischoff gave me a reassuring ‘You are going to do okay.’ Sure enough, I ran an 8.26 at 167 mph, qualified in the third spot and won the first round of eliminations. I lost in the second round of eliminations to DeMayo, but that was fine. Everyone was really nice and I was hooked. I told my crew member Curt Jamison that this was the class and series we were going to race in.”
Determined to get dialed in, Ausmus began going to all of the NMCA races, and by the end of 2013, he had made it to a final round of eliminations and finished as the runner-up against Don Bowles, who earned the season championship. He and Bischoff found some more power that winter, and he picked up to 8.0s and earned his first win in the class at the first race of the season at Bradenton Motorsports Park in Florida in 2014.
“We were learning a lot in those early years, and it was helping us make the proper adjustments to the shocks and wheelie bars,” said Ausmus. “We also started working with Dale Cubic of CFM Carburetors in 2015, and he taught me a lot about tuning the engine to different track conditions.”
Also in 2015, Ausmus made it to three final rounds and broke into the 7.90s, all while fine-tuning the suspension, which by that point included Santhuff’s shocks. He was making a lot of power and a lot of passes, but he, and his Firebird, suffered a setback when another racer wrecked on-track in front of him, and got into Ausmus’ car at the Street Car Super Nationals at Las Vegas Motor Speedway in the fall of 2016.
“Another one of my crew members, Tom Andriopoulos, jumped in to help me put the car back together, and Robert Murray painted it with help from his wife, Debbie Murray,” said Ausmus. “And of course, Bischoff was there to look at and dyno the engine, just as he always is.”
Over the winter of 2017-2018, Ausmus and Bischoff moved to an upgraded AllPontiac IA2 block.
“It allowed us to make the bore a little bigger and it allowed us to go from 565 cubic-inches to 570 cubic-inches, open the small valves of the Pontiac, optimize the tune and spin more rpm,” said Ausmus. “The power was even better, but the competition was even tougher. We were pushing the envelope with our transmission, and we hurt it a couple times, but Sean Wiley of Pro-Formance Transmissions worked with us on it. Then in 2018, we went to new castings on the heads, and that worked well, and then we rolled into 2019, and I’m happy to say that we made it to the final round at the Super Bowl race at Route 66 Raceway in Joliet, Illinois in July. We needed that momentum going into the final races of the year.”
By all accounts, Ausmus has been incredibly successful with his Pontiac platform in NMCA FST Carburetors NA 10.5. One wheelie at time, he finished fifth in points in 2013, second in 2014, third in 2015, second in 2016, second in 2017, third in 2018, and he is holding down the third spot as of this writing in the summer of 2019.
“The best thing is when people say they can’t believe my car really has a Pontiac engine in it,” said Ausmus, who also receives steadfast support from his wife, Becky Ausmus. “That feels good, and to be able to race up front with the other guys in NA 10.5 and show the potential of the Pontiac is the best reward.”
Specs for John Langer
Owner and driver: John Langer
Hometown: Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
Class: FST Carburetors NA 10.5
Crew: Steve Matukas, Jimmy Sugan, Lupi
Engine builder: BES
Displacement: 575 cubic-inches
Block: All Pontiac
Bore: Nope (not sharing)
Stroke: Nope (not sharing)
Crank: Billet by Bryant
Cylinder heads: AllPontiac Tiger
Carburetor or EFI system: Book Dominator
Fuel brand and type: VP Q16
Headers and exhaust: Kooks stainless headers
Transmission builder: Sean Wiley
Clutch/shifter/torque converter: PTC
Rearend: Custom billet housing
Differential: Indy Gear
Body and/or chassis builder: 1969 Trans Am
Front suspension: TRZ
Rear suspension: Custom Matukas Motorsports’ 4-link/ladder bar
Brakes: Mark Williams in front and back
Wheels: Weld in front and back
Tires: Mickey Thompson in front and back
Fiberglass/carbon body components: Glasstek carbon hood, scoop, fenders, nose, doors and rear decklid
Safety equipment: Simpson
Vehicle weight: 2995 to be class legal
Quickest ET: 7.61
Best 60-foot: 1.121
Fastest mph: 179.49
Sponsors: Steve Cagle Trucking and Sigmatronics
Specs for Dwight Ausmus
Owner and driver: Dwight Ausmus
Hometown: LaFollette, Tenneessee
Occupation: Manufacturing Manager
Class: FST Carburetors NA 10.5
Crew: Curt Jamison, Tom Andriopoulos, Keith McCormack and my loving wife Becky
Engine: Naturally aspirated Pontiac
Engine builder: BES
Displacement: 570 cubic-inches
Cylinder heads: AllPontiac Tiger
Carburetor or EFI system: Single 4 barrel Dale Cubic CFM performance carb
Fuel brand and type: VP Q16
Headers and exhaust: Tin Soldier Racing 3-step headers
Transmission: Proflite 3-speed
Transmission builder: Sean Wiley
Clutch/shifter/torque converter: Lenny at Ultimate Converters
Differential: Neil & Parks 4.63 gear
Body and/or chassis builder: Evans Motorsports, Rome, Georgia
Front and rear suspension (Front): Santhuff’s
Front and rear brakes: Aerospace
Front and rear wheels: Weld
Front and rear tires: Mickey Thompson
Body modifications: NA
Fiberglass/carbon body components: Hood, fender and trunk lid
Safety equipment: G-Force
Vehicle weight: 2955 with driver
Quickest ET: 7.880
Best 60-foot: 1.164
Fastest mph: 174.4 mph
Sponsors: Me, myself and I
(Feature in the November 2019 issue of Fastest Street Car magazine)