Written by Ainsley Jacobs
Photography by Kevin DiOssi
An ever-present name in the radial-tire racing world, Mark Woodruff has the reputation of being one of the best—both on track and in the pits. Carrying a rightfully deserved standing, “Woody,” as he’s commonly known, has worked through major ups and downs over the years, but he always has a tendency to focus on the positive and enjoy the ride. Most recently, his journey started a new chapter when Woody added a Pro Mod ’69 Camaro to his fleet.
Growing up in Arnold, Missouri, he gained an affinity for anything automotive and was drawn to the racing world. In high school, he drove his ’69 Chevy Nova to and from work after class, and eventually transformed it into a nitrous-huffing monster that ran with the old Outlaw Racing Street Car Association.
Traveling to tracks all around the Midwest and mixing with the big names at the time, Woody cut his teeth on the Outlaw 10.5 circuit and at facilities like Jackson Dragway with its Limited Street races. At the time, 5-second hits were quick, but Woody’s weapon went 4.70s in the eighth-mile and his racing addiction escalated.
Woody, now 46, followed his passion to a professional pursuit when he started his automotive repair equipment distribution business, Midwest Collision Equipment. The highly successful business enabled Woody to take his racing program to an even greater level.
A ’67 Corvette was one of Woody’s first real “big” cars, and he saw the Outlaw 10.5 machine through several major overhauls. He raced it for several successful seasons with a twin-turbo configuration, taking fourth in championship points for the 2013 NMCA Mickey Thompson Super Street 10.5W season before transitioning into the fledgling Radial vs. the World class. Unfortunately, the car’s future was cut short during a grudge race at Lights Out 5 at South Georgia Motorsports Park in 2014 when Tony Bynes in the opposing lane got loose and collected Woody in a wreck that ended in the wall.
Woody wasn’t down for long, though, as fate dumped a ’10 ZR1 Corvette into his lap. Formerly owned by Tim Lynch and tuned by Steve Petty, the ‘Vette came with an impressive resume of its own. Using many components salvaged from the ’67, including its turbocharged engine, Woody put his own mark on his new car and set out to add to its list of achievements.
Over the years, Woody and his 4,300-plus horsepower ZR1 struck fear into the hearts of many on the Radial vs. the World circuit, while also displaying tremendous generosity and sportsmanship. In 2014, Woody finished second in the NMCA Mickey Thompson Radial Wars category. There, his impressive consistency yielded a fourth in 2015, sixth in 2016, 11th in 2017, and fourth in 2018. Woody was also the Radial vs. the World winner at the 2017 Throw Down in T-Town, and that same year, he graciously lent the car to driver Josh Klugger when Klugger’s own Mustang was down and he needed a ride to continue his Radial Wars championship chase.
As the payouts at major Radial vs. the World events continued to rise higher and higher, Woody decided to double his chances at securing the prizes by building a second car. Similarly, he also wanted to move into the NMCA VP Racing Fuels Xtreme Pro Mod ranks so that he could race more instead of sitting around drinking and swimming all summer. The decision made perfect sense and the math added up, especially when Woody decided to get NMCA VP Racing Lubricants Xtreme Pro Mod driver Craig “Sully” Sullivan involved as well.
“With Craig in this car and me in my Corvette at the big dollar races, that’s roughly $300,000 at stake every year,” mused the man. “We studied the rules so I could bring the best gun to the fight and decided on the lightest, most powerful, longest wheel base purpose-built car I could find.” In early 2019, Woody caught wind that Darren Breaud of B&B Race Cars had a turnkey double-frame rail ’69 Chevy Camaro for sale and it was akin to Woody finding the perfect margarita—the car had everything.
“We had a few conversations and talked with Kris Nelson at Nelson Competition, and a plan came together,” explained Woody, who made his big purchase in February. “This was Darren’s personal car, but his first venture into this type of chassis and he used every trick in the book–it’s just awesome.” Tons of titanium pieces and a lightweight Cynergy Composites carbon-fiber body all added to Woody’s excitement.
Next, Woody and Nelson flew up to meet with Dave Visner at Visner Engine Development to take a look at the all-billet VED 4.600-inch-bore-space small-block Chevy engine that had recently been released.
“I got to check it out, and we talked about a business plan, and we decided to develop a package as an alternative to the Hemi and 481-X premium engines other suppliers had made so popular,” Woody elaborated of the decision to go with something different instead of running another cookie-cutter combination.
The men created a goal of making the engine platform readily available in multiple power adder combinations, but Woody chose to stick with his traditional twin-turbo setup instead of the nitrous system that was already in place. It was game on for Woody to be a key part of the research and development program for the engine package.
Nelson put his own touches on the beautiful “smedium” bullet, including adding a set of Wiseco pistons and GRP rods with a Bryant crankshaft, before mating it to an M&M Turbo 400 transmission and lock-up converter. “Kris’ knowledge of assembly, and with good quality, long lasting products that make power, made him a great choice for this, especially with Dave and Darren on board,” added Woody.
Woody’s longtime friend and suspension consultant, Mark Menscer “the shock nerd” of Menscer Motorsports, supplied the four-way adjustable shocks needed to make sure the Camaro left the line as straight as an arrow and in one hell of a hurry.
Strange Engineering’s rearend pushes power out through the axles and is ultimately terminated by a set of matching Strange brakes, framed by RC Components wheels up front and Sanders Engineering wheels out back, both wearing Mickey Thompson rubber.
Famed tuner Jamie Miller came on board for consulting as well, and Hyperaktive Performance Solutions’ Joe Oplawski was tasked with managing the tune up in the FuelTech FT600 EFI system that also works with a Hyperaktive Hyperkontrol Boost Management System. “Jamie has been instrumental throughout this whole process with his knowledge of engine placement and everything else,” Woody noted of the championship-winning chassis master.
The team ramped up with a goal of unveiling the new blue monster at Donald “Duck” Long’s No Mercy event at South Georgia Motorsports Park in October of 2019 with Sullivan in the driver’s seat, but the debut was delayed until Lights Out in February of 2020 instead.
“The plan was to put Craig in the Camaro and I’d drive the ‘Vette, but with any new car, we had a lot of little things to work out. And with Craig not having driven a turbo car that much and knowing how much money I’d spent, we were all a little reserved,” laughed Woody, who fell victim to the new-car blues and wound up sorting through a few minor headaches. Sully was still able to qualify 29th in the Radial vs. the World field with a 4.262 at 146.83 mph hit, but went home due to a red light in round one of eliminations.
Knowing that his ZR1 was a reliable partner, Woody decided to switch things up a bit for the 2020 NMCA season opener at Florida’s Bradenton Motorsports Park. “It’s a well-oiled machine that we have figured out, so I put Sully in the ‘Vette and we tested the whole week prior,” shared Woody of the wonderful job Sullivan quickly did of getting comfortable in the other Chevy.
With his buddy securely situated, Woody took the wheel of the Camaro instead for the 18th Annual NMCA Muscle Car Mayhem in March and went to work.
“It was the first time I’d even done a burnout in that car or anything,” laughed Woody, who made a few laps and qualified thirteenth in VP Lubricants Xtreme Pro Mod on a 4.200 at 178.54mph blast. Sullivan, meanwhile, drove his own supercharged ’69 Daytona in the class and landed seventh.
Struggling uncharacteristically in eliminations, Woody’s pace was off the mark and he had to pack up his pit right after the first round. Always the optimist, though, Woody found solace in the fact he found a few issues that had been holding them back and was confident that they had a hot rod on their hands.
Incredibly, Woody actually ran the weekend’s race on small tires and with no wheelie bars in the traditionally big-tire class. He has faith that his lightweight, small-block combination will be competitive in Pro Mod even while still in radial-tire trim. He already proved the concept with his Corvette at an MWPMS event in Tulsa, Oklahoma.
“Our goal is to change the standard of Pro Mod racing and we believe that if we’ve got the data from Radial vs. the World, then we can go from one event to the other and be competitive in both arenas without changing much,” he clarified. “Yeah, our first outing didn’t really show that, but I’m confident we’ll be a frontrunner with something different and unique… and fun.”
Sadly, Woody’s forward progress came to a hard stop when the world shut down due to the COVID-19 pandemic. With no place to test as tracks closed up, and major events postponed, he was all dressed up with no place to go.
“We’re very confident we’ve got the bugs worked out now, we just have to wait for the opportunity to prove it,” said Woody, calm despite his desire to get rolling with the double-duty Camaro.
Currently, plans are for Woody to get back in the driver’s seat as soon as racing resumes. It will run on big tires in NMCA VP Racing Lubricants Xtreme Pro Mod competition, as well as at select Mid-West Pro Mod Series events, and on small tires in Radial vs. the World trim. Additionally, Woody will relegate his notorious ZR1 Corvette to the rapidly rising Pro 275 category instead Radial vs. the World.
Woody isn’t sitting idle during the downtime, though, as he’s gearing up to get back in action.
“I have a second engine going together from Visner Engine Development and Kris Nelson, so we can have plenty of bullets in the trailer to stay competitive,” he shared of his plan to take advantage of the opportunity presented by the current quarantine. “At this level, you’ve gotta have enough components in the car and in the trailer to stay in the game. So, we’re replenishing the inventory at Woodymart to make sure we’re stocked up on everything from transmissions to toilet paper.”
The economic slump and business shutdowns impacted Woody’s real-world reality, but he remained positive and did whatever he can to keep his guys employed.
“We try to operate like a construction business where you’re dependent on the weather and other things, knowing you can make a lot of money for a few months and then be shut down for others,” noted the savvy businessman. He’s prepared to make it through without being wiped out, but is truly concerned for others who may not be as fortunate.
Hopes are high that the revised NMRA/NMCA schedule will continue.
“We’re ready to go all in and have all sorts of stuff up our sleeves,” asserted Woody, who will be joined for the foreseeable future by his longtime crewmen and partners in crime, Brent Sansoucie and Chris Gherardini, and supported by his always wonderful wife, Denine. “Brent thinks I’m crazy, but, hey… the best people are—and it’s time to go racing.”
No matter what the world throws at ‘em, Woody and the entire Woodymart team are always working on mixing things up with plenty of new surprises and plenty of good humor. Whether it’s rebounding from a wreck, offering a helping hand to another racer, or surviving a pandemic, Woody has certainly shown that he’s at the top of the game when it comes to both racing and being an inspiration. Wherever his path leads, he’s certainly got karma on his side in spades.
Owner: Mark Woodruff
Driver: Mark Woodruff
Hometown: Arnold, Missouri
Occupation: Owner of Midwest Collision Equipment
Class: Pro Mod / RVW
Crew: Brent Sansoucie, Chris Gherardini
Car Make/Model/Year: 1969 Camaro
Engine: VED 4.600 billet small-block
Engine builder: Nelson Competition
Displacement: 497 cubic inches
Block: VED billet
Heads: VED Billet
Cam type: VED/ Nelson Competition
Carburetor or EFI system: FuelTech
Power-adder: Precision Turbo twin 98xpr’s
Fuel brand and type: VP fuel M1
Headers and exhaust: B&B racecars custom built
Transmission: M&M transmission
Transmission Builder: Mark Micke & Troy Williams at M&M transmission
Clutch/shifter/torque converter: M&M transmission
Rearend: Strange Engineering Nodular
Body and/or chassis builder: B & B racecars
Suspension (Front): Menscer Motorsports struts
Suspension (Rear): Menscer Motorsports four-way shocks
Brakes (Front): Strange Engineering
Brakes (Rear): Strange Engineering
Wheels (front): RC components
Wheels (Rear): Sanders Engineering
Tires (Front): Mickey Thompson
Tires (Rear): Mickey Thompson
Safety equipment: White Safety
Vehicle weight: 2,550 pounds