Written by Ainsley Jacobs
Photography by Kevin DiOssi
In drag racing, much like in life, there are highs and there are lows. The fleeting glow of success can quickly be offset by its less enjoyable counterpart, but a true racer always continues on. Growing up, Darin Hendricks didn’t have anyone to turn to for mentorship of his mechanical interests. No one in his family was interested in cars, and he was left to learn on his own.
“It’s just something that’s always been a passion of mine, my parents aren’t interested in racing whatsoever,” Hendricks, who took it upon himself to start tearing apart cars as a teen so that he could learn how they go back together, explained.
In 1996, after owning several other Mustangs, Hendricks had the opportunity to purchase his “dream car” – a rare, teal 1993 Ford Mustang Cobra. Purchased over the phone from Anderson Ford in Clinton, Illinois, without him ever seeing the car in person, the man from Center Point, Indiana, knew the car would play a big role in his life.
At first, Hendricks would simply drive his Cobra to and from the track for some hits. He attended the first World Ford Challenge race in Bowling Green, Kentucky, in 1998 and regularly raced it after that. In 1999, he attended his first NMRA race during the organization’s inaugural year after having had a simply, eight-point roll cage installed around the same time. The following season, while racing in Pure Street, Hendricks finished sixth in championship points. He improved to fourth in 2001 when he won his first race, slipped to seventh in 2002, and made a huge jump in 2003.
Having teamed up with Steve Moberly for the season, Hendricks hit it big in 2003 when he earned his first-ever championship title. “It was fun, a different time back then and the championship really meant a lot,” noted the driver of his Pure Street success. “It was a street car, too. It wasn’t something I drove every day, but the combination fit the class well and we proved that.”
The next year, though, Hendricks found himself demoted down to number three after the conclusion of the points chase. By 2005, he knew it was time to hang up his fire suit and put racing on hold as his daughter, Samantha, had been born and Hendricks wanted to focus on being a father.
He sold off all his gear and parked his Cobra. Two years later, the car had been sitting and he decided it was time to sell it, too. “Well, the guy I sold it to didn’t do anything with it, and it sat there for two years, too, so ultimately I bought it back around ’09,” Hendricks explained of how he just couldn’t stay away from his sport of choice.
The years after buying his Cobra back were a bit confusing for Hendricks, who tried multiple engine combinations but got bored before any of them were ever completed and was always running on to the next project. When the NMRA Coyote Stock class was announced, however, Hendricks and Moberly decided to give it a go.
“I wasn’t sure I wanted to get back into traveling and chasing a series all over the country,” Hendricks confessed, “but what ultimately drew me in was how competitive the class was, and the fact that it was a stick-shift class.”
A diehard manual man, Hendricks also liked the idea of running a fairly low-cost combination as he knew he would have to build his Cobra all over again and Coyote Stock was a cost-effective solution to the situation.
“Bowling Green 2013 was my first Coyote Stock race, and we rushed to get the car done to be there,” he recalled of how he made the race but wasn’t competitive. “It was almost eight years to the day from when I last went down the track. Things just clicked again, we made some changes over the winter, and came out swinging.”
For 2014, Hendricks was ready. He pulled a runner-up finish at the race in Maryland and a win in Illinois to earn enough points to finish second in the championship standings his first year back. “I didn’t have any thoughts of the championship that year, so I never even looked at points until the end and we were just one round short,” he laughed of the clarity hindsight brought.
The championship wasn’t an option in 2015, either, as his brother’s wedding coincided with a race weekend and he knew he wouldn’t be able to be in the game otherwise. “So, we just ran for fun that year and did decently.”
Gaining momentum and finding out more about his combination kept Hendricks hot for further Coyote Stock action. “It’s all about putting in the laps and doing homework. The work ethic in this class is excellent, you have to constantly be trying things and never giving up,” he noted. In 2016, he earned the runner-up honors in Kentucky and closed out the year in sixth place.
During the off-season, Hendricks took his Fox Mustang to see Andy Smith at Pro Tree Race Cars. He knew it was time to upgrade his old roll cage, so Smith took point on fabricating the 25.5 SFI-certified cage. “Being self-employed, I need to make sure I’m at work the next day and I’ve had a few close calls with wheelies and hard landings,” Hendricks, who is the proud owner-operator of both TJ Fencing Company and Center Point Fence Supply in Indiana, joked.
With his car now approved to run 7.50s in the quarter mile, Hendricks knew other areas needed addressing as well. The car was completely gutted down to its shell and Troy Baum of RACEWires reworked all the electrical from headlights to taillights and everything in between. Following the completion of all the work, two runner-up finishes and a number-one qualifier meant Hendricks ended 2017 in fifth, and he set his mind on getting to the top once again.
Just before the start of his 2018 NMRA season, Hendricks bit the bullet and installed a 302-cube Gen 2 Coyote engine in his ’93 Mustang. The new, factory-sealed stock engine meant Hendricks had a learning curve to overcome, but unfortunately, he was not able to test prior to kicking things off and headed into Bradenton Motorsports Park in Florida with no data.
Four passes later, he set both ends of the class record. After having qualified number one in G-Force Racing Transmissions Coyote Stock with a 10.147-second, 132.02-mph hit, Hendricks enjoyed a bye run in round one of eliminations and went even quicker, clicking off an incredible 10.096-second, 132.56-mph trip.
His high was short-lived, though, as Tyler Eichhorn chopped down the tree in round two and a perfect reaction time on Eichhorn’s part meant Hendricks lost the round on a hole shot. “That was the most disappointing thing, because we had everyone covered by a tenth,” Hendricks lamented regarding the unexpected upset.
Originally, Hendricks had no intentions of racing at the second stop of the tour in Atlanta, Georgia, as he’s had some bad luck at that race. “Then, when we went number one and se the record in Florida, we reconsidered,” he laughed. Back on track after lamenting going home early at Bradenton, Atlanta was surprisingly kind to Hendricks as he once again found himself in the number one spot in qualifying. His 10.252 at 129.57 mph wasn’t as quick as he had hoped, but eliminations went off without a hitch and Hendricks finished out the race with a trip to the Aerospace Components Winner’s Circle. “It was a perfect race, and everything went as well as we could have wanted.”
Next, Hendricks headed to Maple Grove, Pennsylvania. He struggled a bit in qualifying trying to get his shock settings right, and his 10.280-second, 130.71-mph pass put him in third as a result. When eliminations began, Hendricks got a handle on things and won the first three rounds, but rain settled in at the start of the semi-finals and cut the weekend short.
Ohio’s event wound up being a double-feature, as the rain-shortened Pennsylvania rounds were run to completion during qualifying. “It was the same scenario there… struggled out of the gate figuring out shock settings,” shared Hendricks, who red-lighted against Jacob Lamb during the semi-finals run during qualifying. “I don’t know why. I was frustrated and kicking myself.”
Once again, though, Hendricks prevailed as his low turned into a high – he wound up winning the Ohio race itself, defeating Tim Matherly in the finals with a 10.402 at 129.00 mph hit over Matherly’s 10.460-second, 127.87-mph effort. “I didn’t think that would happen after being so down in the red light dumps, but the car was fast and we had a good showing the rest of the weekend,” he continued.
With the championship in his sights, Hendricks continued on to Joliet, Illinois. Although he qualified number three again, he didn’t go home empty handed. “We couldn’t get a hold of the track and never felt like we got it one-hundred percent, but it was enough to make some baby steps to the final,” added Hendricks, who knew he was outgunned and went home with a respectable runner-up finish to Charlie Booze, Junior in a close race.
One more meet stood between Hendricks and his championship dreams. With two test sessions to his credit prior to the start of the 2018 NMRA All-Ford World Finals, Hendricks was feeling confident in his Cobra and its Black Magic clutch setup. “For the first test session on Friday, we went 10.15 and knew we were comfortable,” said the man who went to the top of the list during qualifying with a quick 10.187-seond, 130.69-mph blast.
Feeling like he had the car to beat, Hendricks progressed past the first few rounds of eliminations without a hitch and met up with Chad Stephens in round four. Stephens had lane choice, and although Hendricks went 10.319 at 130.37 mph with the hole-shot advantage, Stephens was quicker to the finish and his 10.272 at 129.68 mph hit put Hendricks on the trailer. “It was a seven-thousandths of a second margin of victory, we crossed the finish line not knowing who won,” he recalled.
Although he didn’t win the battle that weekend, he wound up winning the war as Hendricks was officially named the 2018 G-Force Racing Transmissions Coyote Stock season champion. “We really didn’t have to work on the car much this year. It was a good car and a good season. My family was able to come to Kentucky there, and I really wanted to win so they could be in the winner’s circle photo with me, but they got to be in the championship one instead – and that’s priceless,” the proud family man said of his wife, Kara, and children, Seth and Samantha. “To win the title, it was truly a group effort and I couldn’t have done it without my sponsors and my crew, Ed Curtis, Andy Smith, Scott Soberg, Brian Smith, and Chris Beningo.”
To have done so well in such an incredibly competitive class, Hendricks knows much of the credit goes to the parts that have helped him find success. He credits his Black Magic clutch with having given him a big competitive advantage, and it is mated to a G-Force 101A transmission that replaced his old T5 manual. “I’ve tried a lot of clutch setups, and after talking with Bruce Hemminger about Black Magic, my mind was made up. I put it in and never looked back,” Hendricks, who is grateful for the assistance he’s received from Black Magic’s Cale Aronson, stated.
Helping the Fox Cobra hook is a full UPR Products suspension system coupled with Strange Engineering single-adjustable front struts and double-adjustable rear shocks from Menscer Motorsports. Strange axles, brakes, and an 8.8-inch rearend also aid in the hunt for traction as power is transferred effectively.
When every ounce counts, Hendricks is also quick to note that his Mustang is equipped with a complete Weldon fuel system that was installed by Pro Tree and took seven pounds off the car. “It’s an extremely light setup, like most Pro Mod and Top Fuel cars run,” he detailed proudly of the care and consideration that went into the Cobra’s build.
Incredibly, despite the car’s 25 years of use, the factory FoMoCo paint is still intact over its body with the exception of the hood and front bumper cover. Given that the car spends so much of its time with the front end in the air, Hendricks wanted the underside to look good, too, and enlisted Tony Thompson of Triple T Automotive to spray the bars and other bits down below to match the body.
Over the years, Hendricks’s Cobra has racked up only 21,000 miles on its odometer. The vast majority of them were accumulated either from making thousands of laps or driving to and from the track itself, and there are more in the car’s future for sure as Hendricks is already preparing for his next season and beyond.
Short-term goals include more stick-shift fun and G-Force Racing Coyote Stock competition in 2019, although Hendricks is lying to himself as he says there’s a chance he may be done with racing. “Who am I kidding, I’m having Andy at Pro Tree build me an ultra-lightweight, 9-inch rearend for next year already…” he said with a laugh.
Looking more long-term, Hendricks hopes to one day compete in Hot RodDrag Week. “The car’s already set up for a trailer hitch and wired for trailer lights, I’ve thought all of this through and am ready for when it comes back to the Midwest.”
For Hendricks, his biggest fear for the new racing season isn’t whether or not he’ll be able to keep up, it’s dealing with the low of (possibly) falling from grace. “When I won Pure Street in 2003, the next year was harder than any year prior. When you’re on top, you’ve got a target on you,” he elaborated of the low that came after such a high, and how he doesn’t want to go through that again.
No matter what happens with his driving career, though, Hendricks will have the unwavering support of his family. He will also be able to pass along his love of racing to his children and give them the opportunity he never had for himself, and that’s a good feeling that can never be dampened.
Owner/Driver: Darin Hendricks
Hometown: Centerpoint, IN
Occupation: Fence contractor
Class: NMRA G-Force Racing Transmissions Coyote Stock
Crew: Ed Curtis, Andy Smith, Scott Soberg, Brian Smith, Chris Beningo
Car Make/Model/Year: Ford Mustang Cobra-1993
Engine: Ford Sealed Coyote 5.0, Gen 2
Engine builder: Ford
Displacement: 302 ci
Cam type: Stock
Carburetor or EFI system: Factory EFI with Ford Performance Control Pack
Fuel brand and type: VP Fuels C-10
Headers and exhaust: Kooks headers with custom X-pipe
Transmission: G-Force 101 A
Transmission Builder: G-Force-Paul Long
Clutch/shifter/torque converter: Black Magic Clutch
Body and/or chassis builder: Factory 1993 cobra with 25.5 roll cage by Pro Tree Race Cars
Suspension (Front): UPR
Suspension (Rear): UPR
Brakes (Front): Strange
Brakes (Rear): Strange
Wheels (front): Billet Specialties-Comp 5
Wheels (Rear): Billet Specialties-Comp 5
Tires (Front): M/T 26×4-inch
Tires (Rear): M/T 26×10-inch
Aftermarket body modifications: Kaenen fiberglass hood
Safety equipment: Racequip
Vehicle weight: 3,100 pounds
Quickest et: CS legal-10.09 Outlaw trim: 9.78
Best 60-foot: CS legal-1.35 Outlaw trim: 1.28
Fastest mph: CS legal-132.xx Outlaw trim: 135.XX
Sponsors: Flowtech Induction, Pro Tree Race Cars, UPR Products, JLT Performance, VP Fuels, Scram Speed, Black Magic Clutches, RaceWires