A sprint car at Pikes Peak is nothing new. It’s just that one hasn’t made an appearance for some time.
A few years ago, Tim Barber and the three Montgomerys from NASA NorCal — Sylas, Scherf, and Monty — started talking about building a sprint car that would turn right. Brought together through NASA NorCal Spec E30, these four saw fun in turning this simple car into a road racer, and began drafting a design. When it came time to procure one, Barber knew where to look.
Back in the mid-2000s, Barber himself had raced a Silver Crown car years prior and knew who currently owned it. Once they’d reacquainted the car and driver, the four founded MFG Motorsports and began an ambitious passion project. MFG stands for Montgomery Fabrication Group. Though their early aims were modest, the rapid rate of improvement got them thinking. After a successful debut in USTCC and a standout performance in what is now a MFG Road Course Sprint Car at the NASA Championships last September, they hatched a harebrained scheme involving a tall mountain in Colorado.
Since this late-model version already has the basics for road racing success — attenuator crash structures on both sides, a symmetrical design, and a slicker body designed by IndyCar aerodynamicist Bruce Ashmore — it already held some promise for its Pikes Peak appearance this June. However, it would need some further modification to handle the unique challenge.
To help compensate for the wild change in air density at Pikes Peak, they’ve installed a fuel-injected LS V8 engine from a TA2 car — one supported by a Life Racing standalone ECU. They considered forced induction for greater consistency at 14,000 feet, but the timeframe won’t allow it — at least this year. Even so, it’s not exactly lacking in output, with 500 horsepower at the rear wheels.
That power is funneled through a TTI four-speed sequential transmission to a Winters quick-change with a solid rear axle. This, combined with a front-engine design means they’ve had to address understeer, but they’ve minimized it with several key modifications.
Wings, mainly. With top and front wings from a World of Outlaws dirt sprint car, a high-downforce rear pod from a 2016 Dallara DW12 IndyCar, and some front kingpin tweaks for more negative camber, they’ve managed to keep the front from scrubbing so much.
They could design a formula-style suspension to modernize the car, but that would be getting away from the basic spirit of the design. Simple, light, and “very raw,” as Barber put it. That recipe, improved by its modern-day ease of operation, should help the broader appeal of the car — one they aim to sell starting this year.
Early testing at WeatherTech Raceway Laguna Seca revealed the thermal limitations of the brakes, as well as the cabin’s tendency to bottle hot air. After adding some ducting to those two areas, they’ve had a dependable, tolerable car to tinker with. The seating position is unique to a sprint car, but at least it’s no longer a sauna.
The need for more front grip was apparent from the start, and through some wing alterations, they managed to generate a little more front downforce. Subsequent testing at The Thermal Club just outside Palm Springs, Calif., revealed a car that was urgent to turn. “It’s twitchy, but actually user-friendly. People look at the school-bus steering wheel and think it’s going to feel sloppy, but it’s much more direct than they’d think — almost formula-car-like,” Sylas said.
Sylas has had to change his driving technique to suit the car. “Less trail-braking works better. I also learned that an aggressive throttle tip-in spins the wheels and helps rotation. Being too gradual with the throttle usually makes it push.”
The testing they’ve done in the 18 months since they built the car has been much more fruitful than they expected. “The snowball effect has been great,” Tim exclaimed. “We’ve been able to take the car from a box of parts to a reliable racecar in a short span.”
Still, the team still has much to do over the next few months. The ideal setup is within arm’s reach, but they’re still searching for the last 15 percent. An arsenal of springs and bump stops will help them find the ideal setup — one more on the compliant side of things. “We’ve seen a lot of big teams try for a sportier setup and struggle at the [bumpy] summit. We’re trying to get there in one piece first,” Tim added.
This challenging development phase has not been all guesswork, though. The Vahsholtz family, longtime Pikes Peak competitors, have agreed to help the fledgling team with their decades of experience — three generations in all. They’re in good hands and they have demonstrated the potential of this simple machine.
It will take a little more time to get over the ergonomics, but it’s clear that MFG Motorsports has a strong car at its disposal. Now the team is just looking for partners to get involved — and a few more hours in the day to sort out all the logistical problems in taking a car to Colorado when the annual hill-climb event takes place this June.
For more information on this interesting restomod, call MFG Motorsports.