Written by Ainsley Jacobs
Photography by Kevin DiOssi
Although “Team Kubota” captain and two-time NMRA Limited Street champion Mike Ciborowski loves using tractors to do engine swaps, he doesn’t like racing heavy equipment. So, when he realized his old 2014 Ford Mustang GT was too hefty to muscle its way to the top of the NMRA Edelbrock Renegade ranks, he moved forward with building a newer, lighter version of it instead.
Enjoying his life as a retired parole agent, Ciborowski focused on his childhood passion of drag racing and hot rodding, while elevating his lifelong love of Ford Mustangs. After having started with the NMRA in 2000 in its Open Comp category, as well as various World Ford Challenge events, he progressed significantly through the ranks over the years.
From running 10-second quarter-mile elapsed times at first with his former S197 to 9-second averages in NMRA QA1 True Street and eventually stepping in to NMRA Limited Street in 2018, Ciborowski was on a roll with his VMP-supercharged and Rich Groh Racing-powered machine. He captured his first of two championship titles that same season, earning back-to-back honors in 2019 as well.
“HPJ Performance came onboard toward late 2018 and they’ve been so helpful working on the car, with trackside support, and on their dyno,” noted the champ. “Eric Holliday has also been instrumental with his knowledge and we couldn’t have won the second championship without him and his skill with torque converters.”
Along the way, Ciborowski yearned for quicker hits.
“With Limited Street as quick as it was, we were bumping up against the 8.50-certification on the cage. We were going to change it up for NMRA Modified Street and do a full 25.3 SFI chassis, but I didn’t want to cut it up and it was just too heavy anyway,” explained Ciborowski, who ultimately sold the 3,800-pound race-winning ride to fellow Limited Street contender, Stacey Roby, and purchased a second 2014 Mustang in September of 2018.
Ciborowski found his next red ride on eBay. Located in Texas, the car was equipped with a six-cylinder engine, but had it been wrecked and repaired and was being sold with a rebuilt title.
“It got 32 miles per gallon running at 80 mph on the interstate,” laughed the new owner of his trip home to Illinois. “I knew I was going to tear it up, so I didn’t mind it had been wrecked. I just liked that it had a title in case I ever decided to sell it in the future.”
He drove the Mustang for about three months before he got started stripping it, and sold the engine and interior to help offset costs. Setting out to build a near clone of his prior pony car, Ciborowski plotted a move into Modified Street without telling anyone that the new version even existed.
“It’s totally the same, but completely different!” he joked.
To help get the Mustang’s weight down, Ciborowski’s 30-year-old son/crew chief/tuner, Keith, spent several hours chopping out as much as he could without sacrificing the structural integrity of the car. Carbon fiber doors were added, along with a carbon hood, deck lid, transmission tunnel, and much more to help the diet along.
“Me and Keith made the panels, and it’s all carbon from the front seat back,” added Ciborowski.
In April of 2019, the car travelled to Jerry Haas Race Cars where it received an upgrade to the SFI 25.3-spec certification in less than three months. Master fabricator Jim Hallowell changed up the rear suspension to utilize a coilover setup with AFCO by Menscer Motorsports two-way adjustable shocks and struts, Racecraft adjustable upper mounts, a Strange Engineering center section, and 40-spline axles.
“Chad Wendel got me a narrowed rearend housing from Moser so we can fit the 12-inch wheel under the back. He’s my good buddy, like my younger brother,” noted Ciborowski, who especially enjoys being able to race with friends. “We also got rid of the Panhard bar and went with a wishbone setup and 2-inch Racecraft antiroll bar.”
The car sat for a little while as Ciborowski focused on racing its predecessor with a goal of backing up his championship—which he did. He resumed working on it during the offseason, but when his intended class was discontinued, he took it as a sign to pivot his plans and move into NMRA Edelbrock Renegade. Unfortunately, the build was further delayed by the pandemic and the subesquent difficulty obtaining parts. Ciborowski sat out most of 2020 as a result.
While he wasn’t racing with his own entry that season, Ciborowski still had plenty to keep him busy as he supported Keith’s efforts in NMRA Edelbrock Renegade instead. Converter issues plagued the combination, though, and the men sat sidelined after the fourth race of the NMRA tour in Martin, Michigan.
“Then we thrashed on mine to get it ready for the NMRA All-Ford World Finals in Bowling Green,” explained the patriarch of the quick turnaround and tight timeline they were up against.
With less than two months to go, Keith completely rewired his father’s car and he did so with expert acumen. Incorporating a Holley Dominator EFI system into the electronics, Keith also took point in tuning the engine management system with guidance from Eric Holliday of JPC Racing.
“I just let ‘em do their thing and tell me if I need to hold on tight or not,” laughed Ciborowski, proud of his son’s skill.
When the Mustang rolled out of their shop and onto the trailer to head out for its maiden voyage, it featured a 305ci Coyote powerplant from Rich Groh Racing Engines fueled by VP Racing Fuels Q16 (although Ciborowski himself is fueled by Ski soft drinks.) Ciborowski gave Groh free reign to spec out the custom-ground cams from COMP. The builder also installed Diamond pistons and Oliver connecting rods in the block.
Furthering his longstanding relationship with Justin Starkey of VMP Performance, Ciborowski knew he would stick with the power adder that helped him win his two championships: a VMP supercharger filled with an EATON TVS rotor pack.
“Justin wanted to get more of a race-oriented program going, so we are working together to go faster,” explained Ciborowski of the mutually beneficial partnership.
Transferring the RGR power to the ground is a Turbo 400 transmission from Dave Klaput at Proformance, another company with which Ciborowski has a substantial history with.
“Dave’s a genius when it comes to the Turbo 400s, and I wouldn’t use anyone else,” he affirmed. “He really bends over backward to help however he can.”
Going from a shell to a fully running race car in a matter of mere weeks is a huge undertaking, but the men stepped up and got it done thanks to additional assistance from Brad Kruckeberg at Wagon Wheel Performance. When the 22nd Annual NMRA World Ford Finals & Holley Intergalactic Ford Festival got underway in October of 2020 at Kentucky’s Beech Bend Raceway Park, they were ready.
“I didn’t know what to expect from the car. I didn’t know if it would spin or stand on the bumper or something else entirely,” confessed Ciborowski, whose first pass was a low 5.0-second hit and gave the guys plenty to work with. His second pass on the new Mustang, a 4.94-second blast, surprised him and his fellow class racers. “Some of those guys had been waiting all year to run fours, and I just came out and did it with a new car. Hah! We just built it as good as we could and crossed our fingers that nothing happened.”
Ciborowski qualified ninth with a 4.909 at 143.60mph hit in NMRA Edelbrock Renegade and didn’t encounter any issues throughout the weekend except for a minor fuel pump pressure hiccup. He spun in round one of eliminations, however, and took an early loss to Eric Bardkeoff.
Though he made changes over the winter, the owner intentionally kept one thing the same—all of the graphics and decals were kept the same as the Mustang’s previous kin so as to throw people off and keep them guessing what he had done.
A five-gallon fuel cell had originally been situated up front in the Mustang’s nose, but Ciborowski relocated it to the rear.
“We knew we would be able to take more weight out of the back than the front, so we biased the car toward that to help,” he noted of the plan to be able to adjust and relocate weight as needed.
Ready to put the S197 to work for a full season in 2021, the father-and-son team plotted their course to Bradenton Motorsports Park in Florida for the BMR Suspension NMRA Spring Break Shootout in March. Much to their dismay, they fought the new car blues with their red rocket. Blower belt issues plagued the engine and the rear suspension simply wouldn’t cooperate, which resulted in the Ford imitating the classic G-body shuffle. Ciborowski was 13th overall once the NMRA Edelbrock Renegade qualifying order was finalized with his 4.949 at 142.24 mph trip, but once again wasn’t able to get past the first round of eliminations.
Next up on their tour was the final Scoggin Dickey Parts Center NMRA/NMCA All-Star Nationals presented by MAHLE Motorsport at the soon-to-be-closed Atlanta Dragway in Georgia in April. Running with NMCA Edelbrock Xtreme Street group as well, Ciborowski qualified 21st on the list after having gone 4.955 at 140.50 mph. He was a touch off the mark when eliminations began, as his 5.005 at 139.37 mph wasn’t enough to get around Nick McGrath in the other lane.
Though he exorcised the blower belt and suspension demons, something else cropped up instead.
“We needed more power, but the car was blowing through the converter. It would 60-foot hard, but it just didn’t want to accelerate,” shared the owner/driver. “We changed the stator in the torque converter and the fluid looked funky, so Dave [Klaput] at Proformance took a look.”
As a result of what they found, Ciborowski changed over to a new ProTorque U9 converter, and it was a complete game-changer for his program.
“It helped the car out a ton! Joe [Rivera at ProTorque] was right that this was what we needed,” said Ciborowski happily.
The 16th Annual NMRA/NMCA Super Bowl of Street-Legal Drag Racing Presented by HPJ Performance near St. Louis, Missouri at World Wide Technology Raceway brought a much-needed step forward in performance and a big boost in morale.
In the combined NMRA Edelbrock Renegade/NMCA Xtreme Street category, Ciborowski sat 19th with a 4.863 at 144.41 mph new personal best and finally got an elusive round win in eliminations over Bill Trovato before a high-flyin’ wild wheelie took him out of the running in round two.
“The car almost flipped over backwards on me, but it was fun and I laughed my ass off!” he said, completely unphased by the potential catastrophe that occurred against Dan Saitz. “I couldn’t see the wall or else I would’ve stuck with it, but I got out of it so it didn’t keep going up. I got out of the groove and it decided to swap lanes on me. It was tense for a second, but more exciting than anything else.”
The 60-foot times improved and his Mustang was much happier to move, but Ciborowski knew something still wasn’t quite right. With the engine way down on power, a leakdown test revealed that several cylinders were badly hurt. Rich Groh was brought in to rebuild the bullet, but parts delays and supply chain issues prevented him from being able to finish it in a timely manner.
Not wanting to sit out the rest of the season, Ciborowski quickly pulled the trigger on his Plan B—he borrowed the powertrain from his son Keith’s Renegade car.
“We were going to put Keith’s car back together originally, but it would have been 200 pounds overweight. So, with his engine in my car, it’ll easily make weight—we may even have to add ballast,” explained the two-time champion of his clever solution to a frustrating situation.
Ciborowski hustled installing the turbocharged Coyote combination and delivered the converted car and components to Kruckeburg’s Wagon Wheel Performance to have the turbocharger piping fabrication completed.
Knowing he would miss the NMRA Ford Performance Nationals at Summit Motorsports Park in Norwalk, Ohio, Ciborowski still had plenty of reasons to attend. Tragically, his son Kevin passed away in 2011 while he was in the process of building a ’94 Mustang Cobra of his own. The family eventually finished the car in his honor with a 5.0-liter pushrod engine and Vortech blower, and Ciborowski’s third son, Kyle, 22, campaigns the Cobra in Kevin’s honor in NMRA QA1 True Street in the 10-second category.
“We had a blast having ice cream at Norwalk and hanging out,” shared Ciborowski, who is partial to the track’s butter pecan flavor. “He was nervous about running Kevin’s car when he first raced it in St. Louis, but he’s done a great job.” Kyle clocked a three-run average of 10.786 seconds in QA1 True Street at the race in Ohio.
Switching gears back to his own project, Ciborowski’s newly turbocharged Mustang was soon finished up. Having never driven a turbo car before, he knew a few shakedown passes were needed. Wanting to get everything dialed in, he let Keith make the first few runs to ensure the swap was a solid one and before he stepped in to get a feel for the different flavor of boost.
Late July heralded the start of the Inaugural Arrington Performance NMRA/NMCA Power Festival presented by Force Engineering at US 131 Motorsports Park in Michigan, but it was an “epic struggle” to even get the car there. After weeks of thrashing and sleepless nights, the men finally arrived on the property and Keith climbed into Ciborowski’s machine to kick off the event. “Well, when I went to get Keith out after our test hit, he had the biggest grin on his face and said he had forgotten how much fun it was, so right there I made up my mind to let him drive the rest of the weekend,” said the proud father.
Keith ultimately qualified eighteenth in the large NMRA Edelbrock Xtreme Street/NMCA Edelbrock Renegade combined class with his 4.824 at 147.06mph pass, but Kirt Sanders defeated the young man at the start of eliminations.
“We didn’t go as quick as we had hoped, but we got some good data. We have a few issues to address, but we will get it,” affirmed Ciborowski, always the optimist. “We have lots of great people backing us and got lots of compliments on the new combination.”
Determined to finish out the Holley NMRA Ford Nationals series come hell or high water, and with his sons and wife Amy by his side, Ciborowski embodies true determination with a family focused spirit and solid values. The group rallies around one another to take care of their family, be it by blood or my acquaintance, with love and support and a goal of one day leaving this world with memories, not unfulfilled dreams.
Owner/Driver: Mike Ciborowski
Hometown: Trenton, Illinois
Occupation: Retired Parole Agent
Class: Edelbrock Renegade
Crew: Keith Ciborowski, Mike Zachies, Eric Holliday, Kyle Ciborowski
Car Year/Make/Model: 2014 Ford Mustang
Engine: 5.0 Coyote
Engine builder: RGR Engines
Block: stock aluminum
Crank: Ford Boss
Heads: Ported Ford Coyote
Cam type: L&M custom
Carburetor or EFI system: Holley Dominator
Power-adder: VMP Performance 2.65-liter TVS supercharger
Fuel brand and type: VP Racing Fuels Q16
Headers and exhaust: Barnbuilt Speed and fab custom forward facing
Transmission Builder: Performance Racing Transmissions
Clutch/shifter/torque converter: ProTorque
Rearend: Moser 9-inch
Body and/or chassis builder: Jerry Haas Race Cars 25.3 cage with modifications by Jim Hallowell
Suspension (Front): BMR with Menscer struts
Suspension (Rear): Merrilat control arms Racecraft adjustable upper mount Menscer shocks
Brakes (Front): TBM
Brakes (Rear): Aerospace
Wheels (front):Weld Alumistars 17×4-inch
Wheels (Rear): Weld Alumistars 15×12-inch
Tires (Front): Mickey Thompson
Tires (Rear): Mickey Thompson 275x60x15 ET Street R
Aftermarket body modifications: Carbon fiber trans tunnel front bumper and doors VFN hood and trunk lid with carbon wing
Safety equipment: Stroud Chute and window net RJS belts
Vehicle weight: 3,000 pounds w/driver
Quickest ET: 4.82 seconds
Best 60-foot: 1.12 seconds
Fastest mph: 145
Sponsors, HPJ Performance, VMP Performance, JPC Racing,