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Ask NASA Midwest racer and six-time American Iron Extreme Champion Chris Griswold how he got into racing and he’ll give you an answer you might not expect.
“It’s my wife’s fault,” he said with a chuckle. “Back in 1997, we went looking at BMWs. We looked at a 318i and that was nice. We looked at a 328i, too, and that had more power, so I liked it better. Then we saw an M3 and I’m like, ‘What’s that?’”
Griswold went home in the M3, and started doing autocrosses and track days with local clubs around the Midwest, winning and setting track records. Then one year while on vacation, Griswold’s wife surprised him with a gift, and took him to Ski Barber Racing School at Sebring International Raceway in Florida.
The rest, Griswold said, is history. Except he’s still making history in one of NASA’s fastest, most gnarly classes. He has amassed more Championships in AIX than anyone, which is more Championships than anyone has in any class. Griswold won it all in 2007, 2009, 2010, 2011, 2012, 2014. He missed out in 2008 due to a faulty spark plug wire, and in 2013 because of a broken trailing arm bracket.
Griswold’s car is kind of psycho. It’s an SN95 Mustang with a 351 Windsor block bored and stroked to 427 cubic inches. On top of that, the car is turbocharged, but the turbo is mounted in front of the rear axle just inside the frame rail. Griswold said the car makes about a thousand horsepower at the rear wheels. Yes, 1,000.
“We keep the velocity up by using a fairly narrow diameter exhaust pipe, to keep the turbo rpm up,” Griswold said. “That keeps the fan spinning, so there’s no turbo lag. But the big advantage is you don’t have all that stuff under the hood. You have it in the back. The heat is in the back, and it runs much cooler, and it’s less messy under the hood.”
The setup also is good for weight distribution. The car scales in at 51 percent front, 49 rear, which is pretty darn good for a Mustang. The dual exhausts from each cylinder bank feed into a Y pipe channeled to the turbo. The interesting thing about the car is that the turbo installation and wiring were done at Paul’s Automotive Engineering in Cincinnati.
If you don’t recognize that name, maybe you will recognize Paul’s last name: Faessler. Griswold and Team Faessler have been at center stage for the AIX championships for several years. The rivalry is real. That Griswold took his car to Faessler says something about the quality of his work and the camaraderie between the two competitors.
“It’s pretty neat. Paul did a good job on it,” Griswold said. “He tested it on his ’65 and then he did mine and then he did Brian’s car. He’s built a lot of cars in the Midwest. He’s probably the only guy I’d have build a car for me that I trust.”
The 2014 Eastern States Championships were no different. Griswold and Faessler had two first-place finishes in the qualifying races leading up to the Championship race on Sunday. Griswold led early on, but Faessler took the lead on lap five. Griswold has an advantage in that that his car about 400 pounds lighter, and shortly thereafter, Faessler suffered a mechanical issue and pulled off track.
“We had some good battles down the back straight and a couple of close calls with some CMC cars we almost rear-ended, but we got through,” Griswold said. “We had a great race until unfortunately Brian pulled over. He was a little faster through Turn 1 and probably the last turn, and I was faster down the back stretch, so it was a pretty interesting race.”
During the week, Griswold is vice president of operations for G&V Machine Company in Ixonia, Wisc. G&V Machine makes cast and machined parts for agricultural equipment, heavy trucks, gas pumps and construction equipment such as bulldozers for John Deere and Case New Holland, and for some military applications.
G&V Machine Company is now sponsoring Spec Iron, American Iron and American Iron Extreme classes with contingency prize money in the Midwest Region. Depending on car counts, winners can pocket up to $500, which is pretty significant for regional events.
“It helps the racers out,” Griswold said. “I know that Toyo money is something, but it’s tough running these big heavy cars, so I worked a deal out with G&V and my partners so we can do that for people who run in American Iron in the Midwest region.”
Going forward, Griswold is looking for more. He won’t make the Western States Championships this year, but next year is another story. He’s never been to Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca, site of next year’s event, and he’s keen to drive west for the opportunity. Before he can do that, he’ll be tweaking his car in the off season getting it ready for next year.
“Next year I want to do more bucket list tracks and maybe do both nationals,” he said. “I definitely want to work on setup a little bit more, get it faster and tuned a little bit more.”