Written By Steve Baur
Photography by Kevin DiOssi
Some people are seemingly destined to remain on a certain path throughout their life, while others are sometimes forced to take a different road at some point. And then there are others who take a more proactive approach to the direction their lives take, and forge ahead oftentimes into the unknown in search of adventure, or simply a desire to follow their heart. JDM Engineering Limited Street racer Samantha Moore falls into that last category, and her trailblazing has led both to a career quite different from what she had originally planned, and to the head of the field in her heads-up racing category.
With Moore being a science and math-focused student and majoring in Geophysics while minoring in Astrophysics—researching black holes and neutron stars no less—at the University of Michigan, it should come as no surprise that the first stage of her professional life had her on a trajectory that reflected that education.
“I wrote programs and codes for GPS units to measure ground movement,” Moore explained. “We were going to use it for earthquake modeling, but it could have been used for oil exploration, too. I had a research grant to get my master’s degree, but I didn’t really love the work.” And with that, Moore was set for a course correction professionally.
While she continued to write code during the day, her free time was often spent around her car, a 2010 Camaro SS that she purchased as a college graduation present to herself.
“I didn’t grow up in a car family,” Moore told us. “It wasn’t a thing with them. I always liked Hot Wheels cars, though.” She liked full-size cars apparently, too, and it wasn’t long before she started modifying and racing her Camaro. And Moore didn’t stop at an exhaust and cold air kit. The Camaro is now quite the mean machine, as it packs a 427ci engine/F1-X ProCharger combo making 1,200-1,500 rwhp depending on the boost level.
“The car drew me towards cars and racing more, and I opened up a web design company to pay for the mods and racing. Business started accelerating and I thought I wanted another car,” Moore said of the pony that would become her JDM Engineering Limited Street contender. “I found a white 2014 California Special Mustang and drove down to Indiana to buy it. I did most of my mods on my own when I first started out.”
Moore’s side business continued to flourish and after researching local shops to perform some work on her Mustang, she found Vector Motorsports in Brighton, Michigan.
“I really liked how they did things there and also ended up doing their website for them. I ended up being a partner in the shop,” Moore told us. She also started getting more involved mechanically as well. “I started learning tuning for my cars and Dan [Sienkiewicz,] noticed I was good at it and I became the full-time tuner. I’m a perfectionist and love focusing on drivability with the tuning. You have to know coding and programming to do a website, so tuning sort of came easy and my physics background made the mechanics of the car easy to understand. I do 100 percent of the tunes, and we focus on GM, Ford, and Mopar street cars and race cars. Since I started doing this, it hasn’t felt like work. I’ll be here every day all day. I get to test stuff and write code and find causes and effects in the tuning.”
Her tuning prowess has grown from her experience with HP Tuners software, which she told us she still uses on 90 percent of the cars that come in, but she has now expanded her repertoire to include Holley EFI, which she installed on both of her own cars.
“I always use my cars for testing and switched both of my cars to Holley EFI,” Moore said. “That programming is amazing. It’s night and day easier at the track.”
With the course now corrected, Moore put more effort into racing her cars, often competing locally in some grudge and no-time racing. However, she would eventually look for an even greater challenge.
“Dan used to race NMCA and NSCA, so he had the knowledge to guide me beyond that. I’ve learned a lot about racing from Dan. I went to an NMRA race in 2017,” Moore recalled. “The people were so welcoming, it was so organized, and I instantly fell in love with the experience and the traveling.”
In 2018, Moore jumped into the NMRA Super Stang class and with her Mustang already capable of running 9s, she often found herself chasing most of her competition.
“I respect it, but it’s not my cup of tea,” Moore said of her index racing experience. The following winter, she decided to make a run at Limited Street.
“I did most of the upgrades myself at Vector Motorsports, with some help from Dan and the staff. I wasn’t sure how competitive it would be, especially since I didn’t want to cross the line of it not being a street car—I still get groceries in the thing, parachute and all!”
Moore’s first Limited Street race was during the NMRA’s Gateway Rumble event in St. Louis in 2019. Though she qualified in the top half of the ladder, eliminations did not go her way. At the following race in Reading, Pennsylvania, Moore made it to the semifinals, where the heads-up rookie unfortunately red lit. In her third race in Limited Street, Moore was able to put it all together and she won the event at the NMRA/NMCA Super Bowl of Street Legal Drag Racing in Joliet, Illinois.
“The whole experience was super cool,” Moore told us. “That win really motivated me to win again.”
If one thing is for sure about heads-up racing, it’s that it always presents a challenge, whether you’re in the middle of eliminations, or preparing for the next event.
“After that race, I was testing the car and did a big, beautiful wheelie and when it came down, the snout of the crank came off and destroyed the insides of the engine,” Moore told us. “The cams bent, the cam towers broke—the rods and Bear block were only parts salvageable. If I hadn’t had the Bear block, I don’t think it would have survived the engine failure.”
This happened just three weeks from the season finals in Bowling Green, Kentucky. Moore figured she had two choices; call it for the year or prove to herself that she could get it together.
“We made it to Bowling Green on very little sleep and the car made the best pass its ever made right off the trailer,” Moore recalled. “I reset the record for a minute—the car was phenomenal. It was good to be there and be competitive. We were the car to beat, and had the shock not broke, we would have beat Mike Ciborowski.”
After that race, Moore looked to the 2020 season and planned to run all six races on the calendar.
“I wanted to commit to all 6 races this season. I have the confidence and the will to make it work,” Moore told us.
With a renewed enthusiasm and drive to succeed, Moore arrived at Bradenton Motorsports in Florida for the season opener in March and right off the trailer, ran a personal best. With the dense, cool air of thew weekend, everyone was making stellar runs, though, and Moore’s 8.54 put her 4th on the qualifying sheet, just .017 seconds out of third and .102 seconds out of the top spot—the competition was that tight!
Despite having to pedal the throttle, she eliminated Scott Foster in the first round. Her second-round battle with Rick Erdman saw both racers breaking traction, and unfortunately Moore came up on the losing end.
Shortly after that, the COVID-19 situation arose, which postponed the next event in Commerce, Georgia. The following event after Georgia was to be the St. Louis Gateway Rumble race, and Moore decided to perform some maintenance on her Coyote powerplant.
“The motor was rushed together and the shop that did the heads did the valve seals wrong, so I decided to replace all of the valve seals. I had a hard time working around the camshafts and pulled the front cover apart to remove the timing chains. Then I noticed the crank looked weird, and blue—it was starting to weld the billet timing gear to the snout. The crank was starting to crack—I was lucky to have caught that.” Moore further explained that she has had an MFP crank support on the car since last year, and that’s likely the reason why the crank didn’t break apart.
With the extra downtime, Moore took the opportunity to install a new set of Viking shocks and struts that have proven themselves thus far.
“They are amazing shocks,” Moore told us. “I bought set for my Camaro, too.” She also upgraded the instrument panel inside the car by swapping out he 7-inch Holley dash for the larger 12.3-inch Pro Dash.
Over the next few months, the NMRA rearranged its schedule to work around the changing circumstances related to the virus issue, and the St. Louis event in May was eventually cancelled, However, the Georgia event was rescheduled for June. After rolling in to Atlanta Dragway, Moore put her California Special at the top of the qualifying sheet by with an 8.669 elapsed time.
The event seemed to be going her way until the car’s Turbo 400 transmission let go during the third qualifier. With a significant expenditure in travel and time already, Moore reached out to Holley EFI Factory Super Car racer Chris Holbrook, who loaned her a spare transmission. The one issue with the new gearbox was that it didn’t have a transbrake, as his class is not permitted to run one while Limited Street is.
Another issue was time, as Moore didn’t have much of it before eliminations began. As luck would have it, a swift and aggressive storm hit the track during the first two classes and rained out the rest of elimination rounds for the day, which provided extra time to get the transmission installed. Moore also had a chance to test her new staging procedure of power braking, but unfortunately, neither the swap nor the staging test worked out. During the first round of eliminations, Moore faced Rick Erdman, whose car she had easily covered ET wise. As she brought the engine rpm up and against the brakes, her Mustang proceeded to lurch through the beams before the tree was activated, handing her opponent the win.
“I’m still mad about it. I could have slept at that light and still beat the guy,” Moore recalled.
More changes were made heading into the Nitto Tire NMRA/NMCA Super Bowl of Street-Legal Drag Racing presented by HPJ Performance, which had been relocated to World Wide Technology Raceway at Gateway near St. Louis.
“Before the Super Bowl, we changed the front brakes from the Shelby Brembo package to the Strange Engineering race brakes, and I swapped out the front Weld S71 wheels to Aluma Stars to save weight over the S71,” Moore said. “Keith at Skinny Kid Race Cars made a custom adjustable aluminum drag wing for the car, and I had fried the stock alternator, so I went to a new one-wire aftermarket one.”
Getting the transmission repaired proved to be more of a challenge, as the damage internally was catastrophic, and the super nova level of internal destruction resulted in shrapnel piercing the transmission case as well.
“I grenaded the crap of out of it,” Moore said of the damage. “It’s a lot to ask when your car weighs 4,000 lbs and cuts a 1.20 60-foot time. Jason Coan built a new one with a Reid Case and jumped through hoops to get it ready in time for the Super Bowl. He also put a stronger first gear for it.”
At the Super Bowl, Moore had her California Special set on kill once again and qualified on top with an 8.574 at 158.74 mph. She was poised for a repeat winning performance of last year’s Super Bowl in Joliet.
“We only had two qualifiers and I totally guessed on the suspension setup. I had never made a hit on the new trans before that and just sent it.” She made it all the way to the final round to face Bill Putnam, who as he staged, flickered the bottom bulb. It caught Moore’s attention and it was enough of a distraction for her to be late on the tree. She stuttered just a bit, and Putnam’s quicker .062 light to Moore’s .125 was enough of a difference to give him the holeshot win, 8.63 to her quicker 8.62.
The following race, the Arrington Performance NMRA/NMCA All-American Nationals presented by Force Engineering, located at US 131 Motorsports Park in Martin, Michigan, was just a two-hour drive for Moore, though she had never raced there before. She entered the race third in points, just behind Putnam and Jason Davis. Davis, however, was a no-show in Michigan, possibly due to engine-related issues he suffered in St. Louis. When qualifying was completed, Moore had grabbed the number-two spot, just 0.02 seconds behind Putnam.
Eliminations began and Moore defeated Sondra Leslie in the first round on a hole shot, and cruised through round two when opponent Kent Nine left before the tree was activated. In the third round, she once again faced Putnam, who collected the better reaction time at the start. Moore’s Mustang fell off the pace down track, though, bringing her weekend to a close in the semifinals.
The last race of the year would be a real barn burner, with cool temperatures providing quick elapsed times, and racers setting his and her machines on kill to collect the last available championship points. Moore ran her best time ever, and 8.42 at 161 mph to qualify second behind Putnam, who threw all of the coals at his UPR Products Mustang and clocked an 8.300. With first- and second-round wins over Rick Erdman and Michael Lewandowski respectively, Moore was once again charging through the field. Facing Chad Wendel in the semifinals, she knew she had to be on her game as Wendel had posted a pair of 8.49s in the previous rounds. Moore had the ET to win, with an 8.43 to Wendel’s 8.45, but she left -.043 seconds early into the run, which ended her weekend.
Moore finished the 2020 Holley NMRA Drag Racing season third in JDM Engineering Limited Street points, but she wasn’t finished driving her California Special just yet. Between the Michigan and Bowling Green NMRA races, she hit up the legendary Woodward Dream Cruise.
“The Camaro is the daily driver when it’s nice out, but the Mustang is still 100-percent a street car. I’ve been trying to ride the fine line of not ruining the car completely. I drove it to the Woodward Dream Cruise last year and this year i drover through a rain storm, in full track trim, i might add. Normally it takes 45 or so minutes to get there…this time it took us 2 hours!”
Also on Moore’s radar for 2020 was the Haltech World Cup: Imports vs. Domestics race held at the end of the year in Maryland, but with the Cover-19 restrictions still in place, the race was cancelled. In it’s place was the Hail Mary Derby, essentially a big test and tune and a place for northern-based racers to get their last drag strip fix before winter sets in.
Many NMRA, as well as NMCA, racers have begun attending the World Cup race in recent years and they often take the opportunity to remove the NMRA class rules restrictions they must normally run with to get the best performance from their cars. This may involve removing extra weight or ballast, and some times even changing out performance parts for better ones.
Moore’s best run prior to this event, the 8.42 at Bowling Green, was achieved in class trim at a race weight of 3,910 lbs. and with the 2.3-liter supercharger. At the Hail Mary Derby, Moore dropped her mustang’s curb weight to just 3,805 lbs. and bolted on her TVS 2.65-liter supercharger. With that combo of parts in place, her reset her personal best elapsed time to an 8.00 at 170 mph with a 1.19-second 60-ft time!
“I know we could have ran well into the 7s, but I was way out of rear gear and moreover having fuel pressure issues all weekend. I was trying to find issue, but the fuel pumps or regulator fully failed that last pass and I went way lean and melted the motor down bad—an epic catastrophic failure! We weren’t even leaning on the car yet or getting after the 60ft hard yet.”
Despite the engine failure, Moore did lower her personal best time considerably, and we’re pretty sure she looks at situations like the engine issue as a challenging puzzle of finding out what went wrong and how to make it better and stronger going forward. She was planning on a fresh motor build over the winter regardless, and is hoping that at least the heads and block survived the ordeal in Maryland.
Moore said her Mustang will remain a street car, so if she decides to move up to Renegade or Street Outlaw, another car would likely be her ride.
“I’m never selling either of these cars. They’re my babies. We have Dan’s Outlaw 10.5 car here in the lobby, so it’s not out of the question that we could show up somewhere with it. I like Limited Street, though, because it’s affordable and realistic. You can have a nice street car and race it and be competitive.”
While the JDM Engineering Limited Street class seemed to start out as a turbo or centrifugally supercharged class, we’ve now seen the rise of the roots and screw supercharger combinations in cars like Putnam’s—which claimed the class championship—and Moore’s. Moore started out with a ROUSH-based roots supercharger on her car, and eventually moved towards Magnuson superchargers.
“The Camaro went down the ProCharger route, and I made good power with the Roush blower on the Mustang,” she explained. We have always sold and installed Magnusons here, and when Justin [Starkey] and Magnuson partnered, it was about perfect. Magnuson and VMP sponsored me together, and we help them out with testing and support. I like the instant torque, power, and the screaming whining noise they make—it’s the best part,” Moore told us of the VMP Gen III supercharger she currently uses.
In addition to support from Magnuson and VMP, Moore also receives a bit of help from other sponsors. “I get a lot of support from sponsors, and without them, I’m not sure I would have been able to get the motor together for Bowling Green last year.”
While she may have been emotionally moved to make her course correction professionally, there can be little doubt that Moore’s methodical approach and personal drive have been responsible for proven results in both her day job as a calibrator and weekend job as a racer.
“It’s weird how it all worked out. Sometimes you take a few turns that you weren’t expecting, but you end up in a better spot. It’s a blessing to get to do what I love for work.” When it comes to racing, Moore is proud of what she has achieved so far.
“There are a lot of females in racing now and that’s great. I don’t really know many that build, tune, maintain, and tow their own cars—at the end of the day, I’m the one that wrenches on the car and comes up with the combinations. I’m really proud of all of that. If I set my mind to it, I’ll do it and get it done.
Owner/Driver: Samantha Moore
Hometown: Brighton, Michigan
Occupation: Shop Co-Owner of Vector Motorsports, Performance Calibrator/Tuner
Class: NMRA Limited Street
Crew: Daniel Sienkiewicz, Kyle Laskey & Entire VMS Team
Engine: Ford 5.0L Coyote
Engine builder: Vector Motorsports In-House Build
Block: Bear Coyote Block (BBM)
Stroke: 3.65-inch (Stock)
Crank: Stock Boss 302 w/MFP Australia Crank Brace
Rods: Manley HD I-Beams
Pistons: Manley/MMR Custom Pistons
Cylinder heads: Stock, Ported by Slawko Racing
Valvetrain: Manley Valves, Comp Springs/Retainers, MMR Cam Caps
Camshaft—Brand: Comp Cams Type: Custom VMS Grind
Carburetor or EFI system: Holley EFI System w/ AUS 1700cc Injectors
Power-adder: VMP/Magnuson 2.3L/2.65L TVS w/JLT CAI
Fuel brand and type: VP Racing C-85 or Pump E85
Spark plug brand: Brisk Silver Racing
Headers and exhaust: Kooks Headers, Magnaflow Exhaust
Transmission: Coan Turbo 400
Transmission Builder: Coan Engineering
Clutch/shifter/torque converter: M&M Shifter, Coan Custom Converter
Rearend: Strange 9-inch
Differential: Strange S-Trac
Fuel System: Fore Innovations Triple Pump Return System
2014 Mustang GT (California Special)
Body and/or chassis builder: Vector Motorsports
Suspension (Front): Complete UPR w/Viking Double Adjustable Coilovers
Suspension (Rear): Complete UPR w/Viking Triple Adjustable Shocks
Brakes (Front) Brand: Strange Disc/Drum: Disk
Brakes (Rear) Brand: Wilwood Disc/Drum: Disk
Wheels (front) Brand: Weld Alumistar Size: 17-inch
Wheels (Rear) Brand: Weld S71 w/MacFab Beadlocks Size: 15-inch
Tires (Front) Brand: Mickey Thompson Sportsman S/R Size: 28-inch
Tires (Rear) Brand: Mickey Thompson ET Pro Radial Size: 275/60/15
Body modifications: GT500 Front Bumper Conversion, GT500 Rear Valance, Skinny Kid Race Cars Custom Drag Wing, Web & Moore Custom Graphics
Fiberglass/Carbon body components: Harwood Cowl Hood
Interior: Full Stock Interior w/Corbeau RRS Seats
Safety equipment: Skinny Kid Race Cars 10pt Cage, RJS Belts/Suit/Parachute
Estimated or Verified Engine Horsepower and Torque: 1000+ (Depends on Blower Setup) ☺
Vehicle weight: 3,940 lbs
Quickest et: 8.51 (NMRA Trim)
Best 60-foot: 1.20 (NMRA Trim)
Fastest mph: 160+mph (NMRA Trim)
Brisk Spark Plugs
MMR Modular Motorsports Racing