Perhaps it’s the thrill of the chase, the test of a challenge, or simply the desire to stand out, but when it comes to being different, Bart Tobener is always ready to step up to the plate.
The 2014 Edelbrock Renegade champion, Tobener, who calls Winder, Georgia his home, spends his days working as the warehouse manager at Race Part Solutions. In his free time, though, Tobener can be found turning wrenches on his newest project – a 2015 Mustang GT.
Why Tobener chose to go after uncharted territories when he could have stuck with the tried-and-true method of campaigning an ubiquitous Fox-body Mustang instead speaks directly to the type of racer he is; he’s one who enjoys figuring things out and is a true pioneer of motorsports. Tobener won his Renegade championship with a Mod motor, and was the first to do so. He was also the first to break into the 7-second zone for the class. Now, his S550-based Mustang is helping him to make history once again.
“When I first saw the new Mustangs, I really liked them” said Tobener, who quickly sold his ’92 Mustang coupe in preparation for the arrival of a new pony car in 2015. “I used to work at Mustang Parts Specialties, so I contacted them and asked them to keep an eye out and see if they could get an auction car.” Tobener was expecting a donor car to pop up after some bad flooding, but nothing surfaced and his search continued.
Eventually, Tobener got a phone call. “They had a customer who didn’t believe in full coverage insurance, and his granddaughter pulled out in front of someone and T-boned the car lightly on the driver’s A-pillar,” Tobener laughed of the wealthy gentleman whose gift didn’t last long. The wreck was a fairly mild one, and although it blew out the car’s air bags, it didn’t damage the hood, roof, or glass. “It was a six-cylinder car, ugh, but it only had 374 miles on it and I got it for $9,000.”
As Tobener planned to put carbon fiber doors on his new car anyway, the body damage wasn’t too disheartening for him. He took ownership of the July-manufactured 2015 GT in September of that same year. “I have a clean title, and it’s still street-able,” he added. He named the pearly white car “Pearl” as a very fitting tribute to his mother, Virginia Pearl Tobener, who passed away in 2016 after a battle with cancer.
“My friend Scott Black at Chassis Pro in Locust Grove, Georgia, owed me a chassis since I gave his daughter a junior dragster about three years ago,” laughed Tobener, who was glad to finally be able to call in the favor he was owed. With blueprints of a 2016 Ford Mustang Cobra Jet obtained from Watson Racing and Ford Racing, the guys got to work duplicating things. “I wanted a 25.3 chassis in my car, but the Cobra Jet’s only have an 8.50 cage so we had to change a few things to accommodate more bars in it.”
It took about two and a half months for the work to be completed, but once it was done, Tobener’s 2015 GT had been transformed into a 2016 Cobra Jet clone. The car was then brought over to Race Part Solutions where Bart and the RPS guys finished things up. From start to finish, the entire build process spanned approximately five months, and the car was finished up in mid-April of 2016.
When it is fired up, the custom-built exhaust hums notes sung by a Precision 76mm turbocharged 5.0L Coyote engine that’s stuffed with Manley billet connecting rods and Diamond pistons and topped by OEM cylinder heads that were ported by MPR Racing Engines. “MPR went through it, freshened it up, and gave it their seal of approval,” Tobener added, who also selected a wide variety of parts from Race Part Solutions and JODAR Performance to be showcased in his build. A Holley Sniper intake manifold sits proudly atop the power plant, and a Holley Dominator EFI system ensures everything runs smoothly. Lastly, a Proformance Racing Transmissions Powerglide unit and Ultimate Converter Concepts torque converter are bolted to the back of the Ford Performance engine block.
Why Tobener chose to go with a turbo rather than his usual ProCharger is a rather simple question. “I don’t think that motor can withstand the ProCharger without having the billet stuff in it and without better parts than what I’ve got now,” he said candidly. “Plus, it’s a smaller motor and I’m not sure how well it would do with the ProCharger.”
Figuring out the car’s suspension and getting it to run well has been the most difficult part of the equation for Tobener to get a handle on. With no one having worked with the S550 Mustang at this power level before, Tobener had no information to go on in order to make the rear suspension work.
Thanks to help from industry greats, Tobener has been making strides towards working things out. Watson Racing supplied the K-member and A-arms up front, and Chassis Pro converted the previously independent rear suspension to a live axle setup—the first four-link of its kind outside of the Cobra Jet program—while still remaining compliant for stock style suspension classes. “We left all the IRS mounting points in the car, just in case. The Cobra Jet-style suspension was a complete fabrication. Scott Black and I measured and plotted everything out, measured three more times, and then we went at it,” Tobener explained. Having the Cobra Jet blueprints from Watson and Ford Racing made the task almost easy, but Tobener encountered troubles elsewhere.
“It’s been frustrating for sure, but some of it is our own doing,” he admitted “I get such a broad spectrum of what it should be running, and we were way out in left field. I had been making it work more with the tune up than the suspension, so it wasn’t working like it is now at first.”
Tobener admits that, at first, he didn’t think it would difficult to get a handle on the S550’s suspension since it’s so similar to that of a Fox body. “Everything’s longer with the new car, so it should be move stable, but it proved to not be the case. Being that there’s no data out there, it’s been tough to get feedback or info from anyone,” he stated. “Cobra Jets are going 8.60s, but we’re probably making another 300 horsepower over those cars, and they’re on a 29-inch slick where we’re running on a radial.”
Fortunately, the initial struggles were quickly overcome. Working with Mark Menscer of Menscer Motorsports, Tobener wound up slapping a set of shocks on the back and, within a few runs, the Menscer team had him running pretty much right where he needed to be.
Aimed for use in Edelbrock Renegade so that Tobener can continue his dominance of the class, he’s only put a handful of runs on it so far this season. He brought the Mustang out to the 8th Annual Borla NMRA/NMCA All Star Nationals in April in Commerce, Georgia, but it wasn’t ready to go down the track.
Instead, Tobener tried again at the 16th Annual Wyotech NMRA Ford Motorsport Nationals later that month in Reading, Pennsylvania. “I didn’t even get the car on the dyno. I just threw it on the trailer, got it on the track, and because we had a rain-shortened weekend, I only got to put two runs on the car—one qualifier and one elimination round” he recalled.
The resulting 13.864 at 61.08 mph hit in qualifying put Tobener at the bottom of the pack. It showed a lot of potential after looking at the data, and Tobener had lifted intentionally. He improved significantly in round one of eliminations, and although his 8.379 at 144.97 mph run wasn’t a winning one, it set the time for the quickest S550 pass at the time. After the race, Tobener realized the boost controller settings were wrong and his Mustang had only been running on 16 psi.
“For the next four races, we ran about fourteen passes and only three of them had been full quarter-mile hits,” Tobener confessed. “The guy who measured for the axles and put them in – me – did not measure the full engagement and we only had about 1/4-inch of engagement.” The problem resulted in Tobener’s car stripping all the splines off on the second qualifying hit at the 13th Annual NMRA Ford Super Nationals in June in Hebron, Ohio, and he didn’t make it to eliminations.
Tobener kept at it, and his persistence paid off. He and Menscer worked together to put more power to it, and their gradual improvements had a big impact. While qualifying for Edelbrock Xtreme Street at the 15th Annual NMCA All-American Nationals at Lucas Oil Raceway in Indianapolis in June 2016, Tobener clicked off an unheard of 7.991 at 171.45 mph pass and became the first S550 into the 7-second zone.
Interestingly, Tobener admits that his Mustang has actually been much quicker in the eighth mile but they took a lot of power out for the quarter mile hit to keep it going. “I know we’ll need more passes before we can really push it,” he noted.
Although the sought-after seven-second success was well received, Tobener laughs that it’s been a battle to get to that point. “To run that seven was such a relief,” he asserted. “Getting the car to react the way we want and do what we want after having so many problems was really rewarding. The stupidest things were going wrong, and it wasn’t even typical new car stuff, either! One time, I went to make a run, and the CO2 bottle was low but there was plenty of pressure, so I left my key on since I’m used to the supercharger but it cycled the solenoids for the boost controller, emptied the bottle, and then we overfilled it by accident and blew the line off which messed up the regulator. When I went to make my run, we weren’t making any boost. We’re missing out on runs by the silliest things.”
In July in Joliet, Illinois, at the 11th Annual Nitto Tire NMRA/NMCA Super Bowl of Street Legal Drag Racing, Tobener’s bad luck popped up once again. The Mustang kept making a move to the right, and thanks to a shortened schedule due to rain, he was only able to make three ones. After returning home and checking the front suspension, Tobener discovered a bushing on the front anti-roll bar had seized.
Trailblazing a new path to speed in an un-tried, untested, and unproven chassis is never easy, and Tobener has certainly had his fair share of issues along the way. “That’s why I’ve been lifting on most of my runs. It’s the minor parts that cause the major problems,” he shared candidly. “It’s been frustrating and challenging, but also rewarding at the same time. It hasn’t deterred me from my goals, but sometimes I do have to step away for a minute.” Despite the rocky start, Tobener has managed a best of 7.92 at 172 mph in NMRA competition and has recorded an impressive 1.20 sixty-foot.
Why Tobener chose the S550 Mustang in the first place, and has decided to stick with it and see the project come to fruition, boils down to one main thing: the future. “I’ve had three or four sponsorship opportunities go away because they don’t want to work with Fox-bodies anymore; it’s not what they do, it’s not where the future is,” he openly stated. Tobener also believes that, if he were to have built another Fox body, it would have been identical to his previous car, so there would have been no real reason to sell it in the first place.
Tobener isn’t just looking towards future events, but also towards future upgrades for his Mustang, because good enough isn’t good enough. The current engine that’s in the car will eventually become his spare, backup motor. “I’ve got most of the parts to build another, try a few more things, and maybe make some more power, but I need to recover from building the car first,” he elaborated.
Through it all, Tobener is proud to be a pioneer. To be the first to do something always comes with its share of hardships, but the outcome is usually worth the wait. From minor issues to major headaches, Tobener has “only wanted to set the car on fire like fifteen times.” As he hasn’t torched it (yet), Tobener has a bright future of blazing a path into the history books.
— By: Ainsley Jacobs