After tearing it up in NMRA’s Detroit Locker Truck and Lightning competition for half a decade, Maryland-based racer Gary Windsor is turning the tides and transitioning to Richmond Gear Factory Stock instead.
Windsor’s been racing since he was just 15 years old, and it all started with a ’70 Mustang Mach 1 that he purchased around ‘94 when he first got his license. “I did some work to it, started racing it, and then I bought a ’93 Lightning to drive every day and for towing, but started doing stuff to that, too,” explained the driver, now 35, and the proud owner-operator of an HVAC business, Seward Equipment, of how his racing program developed in its infancy.
That same Lightning, although originally intended to be simply a tow vehicle, transitioned into a fully-fledged race vehicle in its own right. “I originally started by putting little parts and pieces onto it, and it slowly evolved. Around ’99, it had heads, a cam, and some other stuff and was getting faster and faster,” Windsor outlined of the truck’s transition. He started building a race-dedicated engine in ’06, and it incorporated better cylinder heads and higher compression. “I wanted to get away from the daily-driven, street stuff, so I took off the fuel injection and added a carburetor.”
Ironically, Windsor soon found that he was racing the Lightning more than his Mustang, and in ’08, he became a part of the Detroit Locker Truck and Lightning field. Superior Race Car Fabrication’s Brian Clauss built the engine, which was bolted to a TH400 transmission from Sean Wiley at Pro-Formance Transmission. Windsor then added a roll bar, and thanks to more help from Wiley as well as fellow NMRA racer Ryan Hecox, had the truck ready to go in less than three months.
Meanwhile, a growing friendship with the crew at JPC Racing had been taking shape. “I’ve known Justin [Burcham] for a long time, going back to around ’02,” noted Windsor. “I used to help Ryan [Hecox] with his Pure Street car and crewed for some others, so when I brought my Lightning out in ’08, I was a part of the JPC team. I buy all my parts from them, and they’ve been a huge supporter of my race program. It’s a great team, everyone is willing to help at a minute’s notice and does whatever it takes to make things happen.”
Backed by the support of a truly terrific team, Windsor made his NMRA Detroit Locker Truck and Lightning debut at the 7th Annual Spring Ford Nationals Presented by Nitto Tire & Steeda race in Bradenton, Florida, in March of ’08. “The class had a lot of good racers and big name drivers,” recalled Windsor of the stiff competition. “I had only finished up the truck a few days before, so we loaded up and went to see how stupid we could look,” he added, laughing about the trouble he knew he was getting into.
Windsor had run in Mod Muscle with his ’04 Mach 1 a few years prior, so he had an idea of how qualifying and eliminations would work, but had no expectations of going rounds. He spent the first few passes trying to get his Lightning sorted out, then, incredibly, went on to score a runner-up finish for the event. “I couldn’t believe it. We had a few lucky runs for sure, and I was lacking skills, but going to the finals at my first race was pretty awesome!”
By mid-season, Windsor had figured out what he needed to do to make his Lightning consistent. To wrap up the year, he earned a second runner-up title at the 10th Annual Nitto Tire NMRA World Finals in Bowling Green, Kentucky. Much to Windsor’s credit, he wound up finishing out the year ranked third overall in the season’s championship points chase.
For the 2009 season, Windsor earned his first number one qualifier honors while racing at the 6th Annual Aeromotive NMRA Ford Nationals in Milan, Michigan thanks to a 0.009-second reaction time on his 12.883 at 73.40 mph hit. He finished sixth in points for the year, and had great momentum going into 2010.
Starting on his third year with the class, Windsor finally figured out what he needed to do. “You have to qualify well with a good reaction time, and I had the truck figured out with a lot of passes on it,” he explained. For the fourth stop on the NMRA calendar that year, the 7th Annual Aeromotive NMRA Ford Nationals at Milan Dragway, Windsor got his first national event win. “I had run kind of crappy in Florida that year and had a few bad races after that but made up for it in Michigan. It was a big highlight in my career to get that first win.”
With his maiden win firmly in the books, Windsor went on to double up with a second win at the 32nd Annual NMRA Ford Expo in Columbus, Ohio, and a third at the 12th Annual Nitto Tire NMRA World Finals in Bowling Green, Kentucky.
“Coming out of Columbus, I was third in points. Me, Johnny “Lightning” Wiker, and Brent White were all really tight. They both lost the first round, and I moved on, so all I had to do was win the next to lock up the championship,” said Windsor, who made it happen when he defeated Robert Abramavich in round two of the Kentucky race. “The pressure was off after that.” Ultimately, Windsor won the race as well as his first-ever championship.
From there, he achieved the number one qualifier spot in both Milan, Michigan, and Bowling Green, Kentucky during his 2011 season, and wrapped it up with a ninth place points finish. “I just had a bad year, and it was truly humbling after such a high the year before,” Windsor noted of the quick change.
The less-than-ideal situations continued, and while racing at Maryland International Raceway in 2012, a blown engine meant the Lightning’s luck had officially run out. A cracked block and decimated crank were part of the devastation, and other than the cylinder heads, there was simply nothing left. Windsor parked his truck, and has been working on building a new engine ever since. “Before, I made 600 horsepower on the motor and the new one will make a little over 800. It’s a way more serious engine,” he shared of what’s in the works.
As Windsor’s focus shifted away from his Lightning, he ran his ’04 Mach 1 in Race Pages Ford Muscle in 2016 and finished ninth for the class. A chance conversation with Richmond Gear Factory Stock racer Michael Washington, however, put Windsor in a new seat – one that happened to be in the very same class. “I had been absent from racing full time, although I still went to most events as a crew member for JPC, and Mike approached me about driving,” said Windsor, who eagerly jumped at the chance.
JPC Racing’s tuner extraordinaire, Eric Holliday, had originally installed the Dart block-based, Rich Groh Racing/JPC-built 311 ci pushrod engine and JLT cold air intake into Washington’s Thrift Way-built ’90 Mustang several years prior, but just didn’t have the time to put forth the effort to get it racing. Meanwhile, the car sat while Washington focused on his current ride, the HP Tuners-sponsored, Coyote-powered ’93 SVT Cobra clone.
When the seat in Washington’s other car was offered to Windsor, he got busy in a hurry. “I got the car a few weeks before the 2016 Bowling Green race,” said the driver, in regards to the 18th Annual Nitto Tire NMRA World Street Finals at Beech Bend Raceway Park in Kentucky. “The car ran, but the C4 transmission was broken so I pulled it and had Pro-Formance go through it. I put it in, had Brian [Clauss] add an anti-roll bar and cross-member, then Ryan [Hecox] helped with buttoning up the rest.”
A quick test session at Maryland International Raceway in late September yielded promising results, and Windsor clicked of an 11.00-second elapsed time with the capable coupe. He admits that the tune was a little soft, but felt good about his odds of running well in Factory Stock.
In early October, Windsor and the JPC crew arrived in Kentucky for the NMRA season finale. An 11.137 at 118.43 mph run during qualifying ranked him tenth overall in the class. In eliminations, a round one run of 11.204 at 118.30 mph showed consistency, but it was no match for John Leslie, Junior’s 10.712 at 124.50 mph pass. “The car just wasn’t super competitive, and I knew I had some work to do over the winter,” confessed Windsor.
With a few months of downtime to regroup, Windsor worked with Pro-Formance’s Frank Lupo to loosen up the converter a little, and soon enough, he was right back at it and ready to start his 2017 season.
Down in the Sunshine State, Windsor pitted his entry against car-owner Washington, who was also running in Factory Stock at the 23rd Annual Nitto Tire NMRA Spring Break Shootout. Washington qualified fifth with a 10.684 at 122.29 mph pass, and Windsor was hot on his heels with a much improved 10.882 at 120.85 mph run to land in sixth. “It showed that this old motor can still be competitive,” Windsor noted happily. With UPR suspension components and Viking shocks on board, credit goes to Clauss for keeping the car from “doing dumb stuff” and staying firmly planted on the track.
Running against his car’s owner proved to be no big deal, and the two wound up going head to head in the first round of eliminations. There, Windsor had a slight holeshot advantage with a 0.061-second reaction time over Washington’s 0.075-second one, but Washington was able to chase him down and drive around for the win. Ultimately, Windsor’s 10.967 at 120.04 mph pass was good, but not good enough to defeat Washington who had gone 10.681 at 122.78 mph. “I did my job as a driver, but Mike just went quicker,” added Windsor, a good sportsman and a good friend.
After the race, the Fox body’s transmission was pulled yet again. Windsor skipped the 9th Annual NMRA/NMCA All-Star Nationals in Atlanta, Georgia, as a result, but plans to attend the 17th Annual WyoTech NMRA Ford Motorsport Nationals in Reading, Pennsylvania, in May. While it’s in for refreshing, the trans will get an updated first and second gear set. “We’re making some changes to the ratios to help the car accelerate faster. I need to get the early numbers dialed in to keep everyone from running around me mid-track,” shared Windsor, who knows he needs to get down into the 10.70-zone to stay competitive.
Going from the familiarity of Truck and Lightning to the heads-up competition of Factory Stock wasn’t a big challenge for Windsor. “It’s been a fun experience, and I’ve really enjoyed running heads up,” said the former index racer.
The biggest learning curve he’s faced isn’t necessarily with adjusting his driving style, though, but rather with making his pushrod power work. “I’m a little behind the times with this engine, horsepower-wise. I’m finding that I have to work on the car a lot more now than I did when I was racing the truck. Before, I’d just do a little check over to make sure everything was good, but now, I’m trying to go faster every pass so I’m constantly working on it,” explained Windsor, who is making strides with his straightforward setup.
With so many others in the class running Coyote engines making in the neighborhood of 400 horsepower, Windsor knows he’s at a significant disadvantage as his only pumps out mid-300. As a result, he can run his car at a lighter weight and is working to get as close to the allowed limit as possible. In its current form, the Mustang weighs 2,790 pounds with Windsor in the driver’s seat, and he’s hoping to be able to get the car itself down to 2,650 so he can move weight around where he wants it and also meet the 2,700-pound requirement once he straps in.
Despite the horsepower handicap, Windsor’s got complete confidence in his combination. “The engine won a few championships in Tommy Godfrey’s car, and parts of it were in Mike Washington’s when he won his championship,” Windsor proudly detailed of the bullet’s storied history. “I’m trying to find little ways to get it to run quicker, but I know I’m behind the eight ball with the technology of the new cars.”
With plenty of time still left on the 2017 calendar, Windsor’s intensions are to run the remaining races and chip off as many numbers from his elapsed time as he can. A personal best of 10.88-seconds at the World Cup Finals: Imports vs Domestics race in November of 2016 showed the little coupe’s definitely able to run the number, and a best sixty-foot time of 1.38-seconds implies that the underpowered engine has got plenty of potential.
“Mike’s been a great car owner to work with, and he’s been super helpful making sure I have the parts I need to make this car go down the track,” Windsor said, grateful to Washington for having given him the opportunity to get back to doing what he loves – powering full-speed down the track towards the finish.
- Owner: Michael Washington
- Driver: Gary Windsor
- Hometown: Pasadena, MD
- Occupation: HVAC Technician
- Class: Richmond Gear Factory Stock
- Car: 1990 Mustang Coupe
- Engine: 5.0 Pushrod
- Engine builder: RGR Engines
- Displacement: 311 ci
- Block: Dart
- Cylinder Heads: Ford Performace GT40
- Camshaft: Custom by RGR
- Intake: Ford Performance Cobra Intake / JLT Cold Air
- Ignition: MSD Digital 7
- Transmission: Pr-Formance C4
- Fuel System / EFI : Weldon / EEC-IV
- Torque converter: Frank Lupo, Dynamic Convertors
- Rearend: Gary Naughton Race Cars
- Suspension (Front & Rear): UPR Products
- Axles: Strange Engineering
- Brakes: Aerospace Components
- Wheels: Bogart RT4
- Tires: Mickey Thompson Pro Bracket Radial
- Vehicle weight: 2,970 lbs.
- Roll Cage: 12-point
- Ryan Hecox, Brian Clauss, Eric Holliday, Sean Wiley, and Michael Washington
- JPC Racing, Pro-Formance Transmissions, UPR Products, JLT Intakes, 8.2 Deck Mafia, Fuzion Graphics