Interview by Mary Lendzion
Photos by Kevin DiOssi and the Fastest Street Car Staff
While working at a gas station near his family’s home in Maryland when he was fifteen, Eric Holliday would watch the mechanic work on his three Chevy IIs. One was a show car, one was a street-strip car, and another was an eight-second, tube-chassis car, and a ride in one of them was enough to encourage Holliday to buy a 1967 Mustang the following year.
It was bright red and it had a 289 cubic-inch engine under its hood, but some years later, Holliday used money he had saved working at the gas station and mowing lawns to buy a 1997 Mustang Cobra.
He went on to accept a job as—in his words—“jack-of-all-trades” at Justin’s Performance Center in Maryland in 2004, and was a remarkable representative for the company as an NMRA Richmond Gear Factory Stock competitor with a 4.6 Two-Valve and a Tremec T-5 as his preferred powerplant and transmission in 2006-2007.
These days, Holliday is the operations manager for Justin’s Performance Center/JPC Racing and plays a prominent role in race programs for Justin’s Performance Center/JPC Racing owner Justin Burcham, who has collected many records in various Mustangs, as well as NMRA ProCharger Coyote Modified racers John Kauderer, Jeff Polivka, and David Witt, NMRA Edelbrock Renegade racer Tony Hobson, NMRA Steeda Limited Street driver Al Davis and others.
“As my crew chief, Eric makes the calls for my car, and whatever he wants, he gets,” said Kauderer, who finished in second place in ProCharger Coyote Modified in his Mustang Cobra Jet last year, just a few points behind champion Tommy Annunziata. “If he wants to try something, we try something, and he’s the reason my car gets down track. As hard as he works, he also takes everything as it comes, and he doesn’t want a pat on the back. He just wants everything to work as it should and as it can. I honestly couldn’t see myself racing my car with anyone other than Eric. He is my racing program, and on top of that, I love him like a brother.”
Read on for more about Holliday, who lives in Maryland with his wife, Jessica, daughter, Kayleigh, and son, Grant. He’s well-known, well-liked and cool, calm and collected while helping customers chart a commendable and championship-caliber course.
HOW HAS YOUR ROLE AT JUSTIN’S PERFORMANCE CENTER/JPC RACING EVOLVED THROUGH THE YEARS?
In the early days, Justin just wanted to sell parts, and then we were offering installs of blower kits, headers, tuners, chips, and more to local people, and then we were building nicer and more powerful cars for people. One thing led to another and before long, we were doing more installs than we were selling parts. Justin realized we needed to work on cars to stay relevant. My job has changed a lot over the last fourteen or so years. It has gone from Justin telling me what to do every day to Justin asking me what I think we should do about this or that. It has also gone from my working on cars in the shop to working in the office. Justin knew I was good at talking to people, so he had me start doing sales over the phone. The business has really grown through the years. We have twelve or thirteen employees now, between the front office, dyno area, and the shop. The sales people report to me, and I decide which products need to go on the website. I work with customers daily, and while we have a full-time tuner, I tune a handful of race cars.
IN ADDITION TO YOUR ROLE FOR JUSTIN’S PERFORMANCE CENTER/JPC RACING, YOU ACT AS A CREW CHIEF FOR NMRA DRIVERS JOHN KAUDERER, TONY HOBSON, JEFF POLIVKA, DAVID WITT AND AL DAVIS, AMONG OTHERS.
Yes, and what I do for each of those drivers varies depending on how much they want me to do for them and how much they want to do by themselves. For example, I’m really hands-on with John Kauderer’s car because that’s what he wants. If I tell him we need to try a new converter, he’ll tell me to make arrangements for a new converter, and it’s nice that he trusts me like that. But for, say, Tony Hobson and Jeff Polivka, I’m not as hands-on because of how involved they want to be with their cars.
WHAT IS JUSTIN’S PERFORMANCE CENTER/JPC RACING’S SPECIALTY?
We have always tried to push the envelope with the Coyote platform and standalone tuning, and we’re pretty well-known for what we do with turbocharged Coyote engines. I get a lot of calls from guys who want to go 7.80 with a Coyote-powered street-car, and we’ve done so many that we can put together a 7-second turbocharged Coyote street-car very quickly. That’s what we’re most known for. We do some engines in-house, and we also work with our longtime partner, Rich Groh of Rich Groh Racing.
JUSTIN’S PERFORMANCE CENTER/JPC RACING HAS MADE A NAME FOR ITSELF IN THE WORLD OF COYOTE ENGINE PLATFORMS, AND COMMANDED ATTENTION WHEN BURCHAM WAS THE FIRST TO RUN 10S WITH A COYOTE ENGINE IN A 2011 MUSTANG.
Everyone wanted to go 10s with the Coyote engine platform, including us, so we weren’t surprised when the 2011 Mustang with the Coyote engine came out and Justin (Burcham) purchased one and pulled up to the shop in it at 4:30 p.m. on a Thursday and said ‘We’re going 10s tomorrow.’ We worked all night and overnight to dyno the car and get it dialed in, and because it was such an early platform at the time, there wasn’t a lot available for it. While we were working on it, we called Jason Miller of Maryland International Raceway and asked if we could test the next day, and he said he would open the gate and click the lights on for us. It was during that test session that Justin became the first driver to run 10s with a Coyote engine. It was a big deal to us to be the first to do it, and there were a lot of high-fives all around.
DRIVERS FLYING THE JUSTIN’S PERFORMANCE CENTER/JPC RACING BANNER IN THE COMPANY’S EARLY DAYS WERE STANDOUTS IN NMRA RICHMOND GEAR FACTORY STOCK AND THE FORMER REAL STREET AND PURE STREET CLASSES. MORE RECENTLY, THEY ARE STANDOUTS IN NMRA PROCHARGER COYOTE MODIFIED AND EDELBROCK RENEGADE. ARE YOU ABLE TO APPLY WHAT YOU LEARNED IN YOUR EARLY RACE PROGRAMS TO YOUR CURRENT RACE PROGRAMS?
Running those earlier classes gives you a lot of crossover stuff no matter what you’re doing, even if it’s Pro Mod. It’s basic preparedness, and doing the same thing every time. You live and die by the rule book, and you have to really pay attention to the fine details. When we’re ordering turbos and having them made for the class, you have to double-check everything. For example, the last thing we want to do is sell a driver a turbo and have him bolt in on and tech says it’s too big. We would look like cheaters. We started to make the transition several years ago. We had success with a turbo in Justin Burcham’s car during test and tune sessions, and he was running fast, so customers noticed and before long, we were turning out 1,500 horsepower turbo Coyote cars, and working with Coyote Modified drivers Jeff Polivka and John Kauderer, Renegade driver Tony Hobson and others.
DOES BEING SO INVOLVED IN RACING, AND BEING RACERS YOURSELVES, HELP YOU OFFER EVEN BETTER PRODUCTS AND SERVICES?
Yes. I think the whole thing comes down to experience, so the more experience you have, the easier it is to make decisions on what to test, how to test, whether this is right or wrong or that is right or wrong. It helps us when we’re trying to make something go faster, and it allows us to become a little smarter every year.
DOES JUSTIN’S PERFORMANCE CENTER/JPC RACING’S INVOLVEMENT WITH HIGH-PROFILE RACERS AFFECT THE COMPANY’S STREET-CAR CUSTOMERS?
There’s definitely some trickle down because most people are fully in shock that cars like Tony Hobson’s car go 7.30s at 188 mph with a 76mm turbo and some people have 88 or 94mm turbos and can’t go that fast. There are definitely people who want us to tune or do suspension or something else for them because of how well Tony Hobson, John Kauderer and Justin Burcham’s cars are working.
WHAT ARE YOUR THOUGHTS ON THE NMRA’S NEW STEEDA LIMITED STREET AND THE RECENTLY ANNOUNCED MODIFIED STREET, AND WILL WE SEE MORE AND MORE JUSTIN’S PERFORMANCE CENTER/JPC RACING CUSTOMERS IN THOSE CATEGORIES?
Limited Street is an exciting step for NMRA. I think the series had been needing a class like that for a long time, so I think it’s great. There are a handful of front-runners right now, but I think it will level off in the next year or so and we’ll see a full competitive field. As far as the new Modified Street class, I think it will be huge. We have a customer now whom we were building a Coyote swap for, and he has shown interest in running heads-up with his mini-tubbed Mustang, and because the chassis can be a little more advanced in the new Modified Street class, his car would fit the rules.
YOU’RE AN INTEGRAL PART OF SO MANY RACE PROGRAMS. WHAT ARE YOU MOST PROUD OF?
On the racing side of it, I was very proud in 2016/2017 when we won seven out of twelve races. Jeff Polivka won four and John Kauderer won three. Someone had said ‘You won half the races,’ and that was something to be proud of. On the shop side of it, I’m proud that we help pick the right parts for the racers, we help get the combinations right and we help build something that won’t break every three runs. That, in turn, allows the racers to go enjoy what they’re doing, because if you’re breaking every three runs, it becomes not fun really quick.
WHAT DO YOU DO ON THE RARE OCCASION YOU’RE AWAY FROM WORK?
I spend time with my wife, Jessica, and our children, Kayleigh and Grant. We have a boat and we like to go to the lake and hang out on the sandbar. Grant was born a week before the NMRA race at Maple Grove in Pennsylvania, and he was premature. He was in the NICU for nine days, but he’s doing well now. I didn’t go to the race because of that, but I had my laptop while I was in the hospital with my family and I was helping Tony Hobson and John Kauderer as much as I could. I’m not ever away from it for long.
(Interview from the November issue of Fastest Street Car)