Written by Ainsley Jacobs
Photography by Kevin DiOssi
It wasn’t until his cousin introduced him to the Mustang world that Bill Putnam’s performance interest piqued. Once it was, he was all in. Growing up in Florida, Putnam borrowed cars from his parents when he first learned to drive as a teen and then got his first car, a leased ’91 Ford Mustang, when he was 19 years old.
“It was a four-cylinder and I needed something to drive and wasn’t even really into cars that much,” explained Putnam, who enjoyed cars but simply chose it because it was a necessity and he liked the dark blue color. Not long after, though, his cousin took him for a ride in his ’69 Mustang and Putnam fell in love with speed.
He quickly traded in his lease and got a ’92 Mustang 5.0 LX instead, and soon found himself street racing and running laps at Moroso Motorsports Park (now Palm Beach International Raceway) in Jupiter, Florida. Around that same time, Putnam met longtime racer Mark Mainiero and his son, Joe. “Back then it was the Street ’Stang, pre-UPR days,” laughed Putnam, who ran his first real race with NMRA and Fun Ford back in ’00. “I did that for about four years with my first modular car, an ’00 GT, finished fourth in NMRA Mod Muscle points in ’04, and got my first NMRA victory at the Columbus, Ohio, race.”
From 2004 through 2005, Putnam worked for the Mainieros at their business, UPR Products, which had been in operation since ’89. Putnam bounced back and forth as he pursued a career in banking, and finally came back to back to UPR in 2009. “I’ve been here ever since,” he stated of his past decade with the team, overseeing everything from office work to inventory, ordering parts, managing welding, and more.
In 2011, Putnam decided he wanted to put something together to have a little more fun. His goal of a dedicated street/strip build that wouldn’t break the bank lead to him acquiring his current ’94 Mustang. “It was a V6 car originally that had a blown motor so I picked it up for cheap, cleaned it up, stripped it down, put a new interior in it, and LS-swapped it — which most people frowned upon,” Putnam laughed of the brand co-mingling that earned him a lot of flak from Ford purists.
It worked out well for him, though, because the SN95 not only was an affordable option, but was also in line with what UPR was doing. “There was a high demand for LS swap parts, so we could play around with motor mount adapters and those types of things,” Putnam clarified.
Racing his orange “Evil Pumpkin” locally at test-and-tune nights and blasting the streets was OK for Putnam at first, as he was also driving UPR Products’ EcoBoost-powered ’15 Mustang in the NMRA EcoBoost Battle class from around 2015-2017. The S550 was a record-setter, but when the motor showed signs of damage for the third or fourth time at the season finale in Bowling Green, Kentucky, in late 2018, the guys decided it was finally time to cut their losses, minimize their disappointment, and ultimately change directions.
“We talked about putting a Coyote in my car and running Limited Street because it was already a proven chassis and an 8-second car with a solid foundation, it just need a Ford motor in it,” stated Putnam, who got to work over the off-season with the rest of the UPR team to make the heart transplant a reality for the Halloween machine.
Tig Vision in West Palm Beach, Florida, originally handled the fabrication of the SN95’s 8.50-certified 10-point cage, and it was good to go for the step up to Advanced Fuel Dynamics Limited Street. “We felt the car would fit the rules well and have a shot at being competitive. NMRA was great working with us, and it made sense to put this platform to good use,” Putnam elaborated of why the guys chose to target NMRA’s Limited Street in the first place.
A plan formed to have Tim Eichhorn’s MPR Racing Engines build the sleeved Gen 2 Coyote engine. Still a stock bore and stock stroke 302ci base, the heads were ported by MPR and the whole assembly is stuffed with Manley connecting rods, Diamond pistons, a stock crankshaft, upgraded valvetrain, and COMP cams. The cams, though, were on backorder which meant the engine couldn’t be buttoned up according to the original schedule.
During the downtime, the transmission was swapped over from a Powerglide to a Turbo 400 built by Gates Transmissions with an API case and Ultimate Converter Concepts torque converter, and the remaining odds and ends were set up to be class-legal. A crank support from MFP Australia was installed, and it turned out to be instrumental as only two blower belts wound up being used all season long.
The Weld wheels — Alpha-1s in the rear and 17×4-inch Alumastars in the front — were shrouded in Mickey Thompson stickies and bolted on over a set of Aerospace Components brakes. “Mickey Thompson has been more than willing to help us change tires or give advice or help with air pressure, and we couldn’t as more from a tire company,” asserted Putnam about the assistance he’s received.
As to be expected, all of the suspension components are from UPR Products. “The uppers and lowers, anti-roll bar, K-member in the front, adjustable A-arms… this is a good platform for us to test on and find any weak spots, if they even exist,” Putnam noted of how the complete UPR catalog has been installed, along with a set of double-adjustable Viking shocks and struts and axles from Strange.
The missing camshafts arrived in February of 2019 and it was a thrash to get everything back together. “MPR was able to get the engine wrapped up quick, but it only gave us three weeks to assemble the car. There were a lot of 12- and 14-hour days just literally putting it together and seeing what fits, what doesn’t, and modifying things,” continued Putnam, who faced challenges in finding headers that fit as well as getting the bellhousing and oil pan to clear. “Overall, it wasn’t too difficult because the car had most of the components already in it for a modular engine, the biggest challenge was just making the various Coyote parts fit together.”
A set of Kooks Fox Mustang headers and some trimming on the bellhousing did the trick, but soon the team discovered their driveshaft was 1/4-inch too short… so, a quick call to Precision Shaft Technologies meant a new one was on its way in record time, and they were back at it in a matter of days.
Remaining miscellaneous items, including hoses and fuel system fittings, came from Putnam’s longtime friends John Kerr and Darin Matera at Race Part Solutions. Old-school Florida boys themselves, Kerr and Matera’s now-Georgia based business came through in a pinch to get Putnam what he needed.
The last-minute hustle meant that Putnam had no time to get the car running right, though, so he literally had to push it into the trailer to load up for the first race of 2019 in their home state of Florida. It fired up but didn’t run well, given that it hadn’t hit the dyno yet, but the guys knew they would have tuning help with the Holley EFI system in Bradenton by way of Jim LaRocca of LaRocca’s Performance and trusted things would work out.
Starting the season with a car that doesn’t even run is always risky, but Putnam and the UPR team gave it their best shot and refused to quit. Going only 12.862 at 71.94 mph in qualifying put them 10th and they went out in the first round of eliminations, but took solace in the fact that at least they tried. As it turned out, a faulty fuel pump was the cause of most of the problems and a switch to a Weldon unit and regulators had the supply sorted.
Putnam’s perseverance was rewarded with redemption at the next race in Atlanta, Georgia. “We fixed a few things and made some changes to the converter,” shared Putnam of the minor adjustments that had a major impact. From qualifying fourth, Putnam went on to win the event outright. “It was thanks to a couple holeshots and some tight races at the top end, but we pulled it off.”
Feeling confident and competent, Putnam packed up and headed to St. Louis, Missouri, for the third stop on the 2019 NMRA season tour. It was back to fighting new car blues and sorting issues, however, as another dismal performance in qualifying and early exit from eliminations kept the trip short.
The second half of the season picked up for Putnam, who had swapped his standard VMP Gen3 supercharger over to a VMP Gen3R instead for the race in Maple Grove, Pennsylvania. “We got a hold of the new blower and were one of the firsts to try it out. We set the record and that raised a few red flags, so there were some rule changes after the event,” Putnam commented candidly of his 8.715-second hit in qualifying which put him in the number one spot. He knew he had a quick car and got a win in the first eliminations match up, but the transbrake failed and Putnam’s pony car pushed through the beams in round two.
Switching back to the VMP Gen3 supercharger for the NMRA/NMCA Super Bowl of Street Legal Drag Racing in Joliet, Illinois, Putnam still qualified second on an 8.797 at 157.08 mph blast. “We’re super happy with how the VMP blowers have performed. They’ve been been helping us since beginning of season, giving us advice and pointing us in the right direction to help our program along,” Putnam said gratefully. It was looking like his luck was finally changing, but the 8.8-inch rearend grenaded in round two and put the pair back on the trailer. “Strange Engineering was there at that race, so I talked with J.C. [Cascio] and he immediately jumped on it and got us a new rearend built.”
With only one race left of the year, the pressure was on for Putnam to perform and make good on his goal of having one of the quickest cars in the category. The new Strange 9-inch was installed shortly before Putnam and his entourage arrived in Bowling Green, Kentucky, but there had been no time to dial in the suspension to account for the new control arm angles. “We worked through a few wheelies, but once we got the nose down, it was game on,” recalled Putnam, who went on to qualify number one with a huge 8.621 at 159.59 mph blast.
In eliminations, Putnam’s good fortune held — and so did his UPR-backed SN95. Picking through the rounds until he came to the finals, Putnam took down Mike Ciborowski — the reigning champion – with an 8.674 at 158.32 mph trip to cap off an incredible inaugural year.
Adding to Putnam’s success was the fact that he had reset both ends of the NMRA Advanced Fuel Dynamics Limited Street record along the way, clocking an 8.605-second elapsed time and a trap speed of 159.59 mph. The celebration didn’t stop there, though, as Putnam also picked up enough points to put him in second for the 2019 championship chase behind Ciborowski. “We wanted to make a statement that the breakage from early in the year was just working out the bugs and finding weak spots,” he added, noting that expectations were certainly exceeded.
“For our first year out with the car, this was huge,” Putnam explained of his strong finish. His original goal was to win the championship, but with the earlier trouble, he just couldn’t get it done. “You have to be consistent, and Mike [Ciborowski] was all season long. But, it’s an honor to have gotten this far and to have finished second in a really tough group of racers in a class where everyone wants to win and no one goes easy on you.”
It was certainly a team effort getting Putnam prepared throughout the year, and he is thankful for the support he’s received from Mark and Joe Mainiero at UPR Products, as well as for crew man and UPR superstar, Sharad Raldiris. “Aside from everyone calling him a ‘glorified tire checker,’” laughed Putnam, “Sharad helped me all season and was always there in the shop when I needed him. Pulling the trans or engine, you name it, he was always there.”
As for the pressure of driving a flagship car and test mule for a brand as well-known and as well-respected as UPR Products, Putnam says it was actually pretty easy. “There wasn’t a lot of pressure, because we know the parts work,” he said, straightforward in his faith in UPR’s products. “A lot of racers even faster than us run these parts and so they’re proven designs. This is a case where we get to use the parts we say are great and show that we know how to use them, too.” Putnam and the whole UPR team aren’t ones to just talk the talk, they walk the walk and showed they were serious.
Now that the 2019 season concluded, Putnam already turned his vision to 2020. His Mustang will head back to Tig Vision for a 25.5 chassis upgrade, and he fully intends to run NMRA Advanced Fuel Dynamics Limited Street again.
“I can’t tell you what power adder we’ll run, though, because we need to wait for the rules to decide if we can stay with what we have or change to something different,” he added cryptically of what might be in store for the orange SN95. “The chassis upgrade, we’re doing that mostly for safety reasons and because we’ll want to run some other events at the end of next year like the World Cup Finals or Mod Motor Nationals and we intend to exceed 8.50.”
Ever since he was indoctrinated into drag racing, Putnam’s life has always focused around his cars and going fast. With no wife or girlfriend to keep him tied down, he can go to the track and spend as much time in the garage as he wants.
“It’s not just something I do because it’s available to me, I genuinely love drag racing. My life is the car and racing,” he stated. “I have to give a huge thanks to Mark and Joe [Mainiero] at UPR for giving me this opportunity and for allowing me to miss work to go racing. It wouldn’t be able to do this without them, and this truly is my dream job.”
Owner: Bill Putnam
Driver: Bill Putnam
Hometown: Loxahatchee, Florida
Occupation: Business Analyst for UPR Products
Class: NMRA Limited Street
Crew: Sharad Raldiris
Car Make/Model/Year: Ford Mustang 1994
Engine: Ford 302 Gen 2 Coyote
Engine builder: MPR Race Engines
Displacement: 302 cubic inches
Block: 2013 Ford
Rods: Manley Performance
Heads: 2013 Ford
Cam type: COMP Cams
Carburetor or EFI system: Holley EFI
Power-adder: VMP Gen3 Supercharger
Fuel brand and type: VP C16
Headers and exhaust: Kooks
Transmission: ATI TH400
Transmission Builder: Gates Transmission
Clutch/shifter/torque converter: Ultimate Converter
Rearend: Strange 9-inch
Body and/or chassis builder: Tig Vision Fabrications
Suspension (Front): UPR Products
Suspension (Rear): UPR Products
Brakes (Front): Aerospace Components
Brakes (Rear): Aerospace Components
Wheels (front): Weld
Wheels (Rear): Weld
Tires (Front): Mickey Thompson
Tires (Rear): Mickey Thompson
Aftermarket body modifications: Cervini hood
Safety equipment: RJS Safety
Vehicle weight: 3,850 pounds
Quickest et: 8.605
Fastest mph: 159.59
Sponsors: UPR Products, Gates Transmissions, LaRocca’s Performance, Tig Vision, Race Part Solutions, VMP Performance, MFP