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Back to Basics—Pro 5.0 legend Joe DaSilva returns to his racing roots with a 1978 Mercury Zephyr in Vengeance Clutch Coyote Stock

Posted By: Evan J. Smith
Back to Basics—Pro 5.0 legend Joe DaSilva returns to his racing roots with a 1978 Mercury Zephyr in Vengeance Clutch Coyote Stock
 
Written by Ainsley Jacobs
Photography by Evan J. Smith and the FSC staff
 
Editors note: Joe DaSilva suffered a heart attack shortly after this story was written. Thankfully, Joe is doing well and plans to be back in action as soon as his health will allow.
 
A legendary name in Mustang performance and one of the original heavy hitters of the storied Pro 5.0 drag racing days, Joe DaSilva returned to his roots with his 1978 Mercury Zephyr as he takes on NMRA Vengeance Clutch Coyote Stock.
 
The foundation for DaSilva’s dedication, tenacity, and hard-earned success came at an early age when he saw his parents persevere over a painfully difficult period in their family’s history; as a child, he learned never to give up and applied that same mentality towards his future.
 
Joe was born in Angola, Africa, on his family’s farm. His father, Nelsino, raised everything from cattle to pineapples, and the property — which was African safari land — completely sustained his parents and their four children. “There was a guy in town who had a BMW and would always leave the parking lot sideways,” recalled the now 58-year-old DaSilva. “That got me and my brother interested in cars.”


 
When war broke out in Angola in the 1970s, DaSilva’s family fled and the family lost everything, including their farm, overnight. With nothing more than the clothes on their backs and what they could carry in their hands, the DaSilva family came to the United States, albeit not quite legally, and stayed on a farm in the San Francisco area for a while. “The guy who owned that farm had tons of old hot rods, and my brothers and I would always pretend we’d get one fired up eventually,” he added. 
 
Eventually, the family relocated to Canada and became citizens around 1972. As soon as he was old enough, Joe bought his first car: a Datsun 510 belonging to his brother. “Then I bought a four-cylinder Dodge Shelby turbo, all done up, and it would beat Mustangs all day long. I hated Mustangs, I really did,” laughed DaSilva. “One day, I went to a dealer to buy a ‘family car’ and bought a 1986 Mustang LX coupe … It became my famous ‘Tomato Can’ and I still have it today.”
 
From there, Joe and his brother, Paul, focused on street racing and building their reputations as builders of fast Fords. Joe got into bracket racing for a while until the late 1980s and opened JS Performance in 1988 doing side work after hours once he wrapped up his day job at the Toronto Stock Exchange. 
 
He attended his first Fun Ford event at Pennsylvania’s Maple Grove Raceway in 1989. “I met Brian Wolfe in a parking lot there,” he shared, regarding the famous Ford engineer, “and we’re still friends today. I got the bug right there and then, and I blame him for all the money I’ve spent on cars since then!”
 
Joe quickly realized that, while Canada had a great racing scene, the United States was “where the game was” and that he wanted to be a part of the heads-up crowd. So, he and Paul began building their cars for Pro 5.0 competition; sponsors started to come on board, and Joe became more focused on his endeavors.
 
Eventually, he and his brother went into business together and formed J&P Performance. Together, the brothers hauled their racing operation all over North America and their shop garnered international recognition.
 
Joe put together a top-notch team to show the world what was possible with a turbocharged entry and a five-speed transmission. Racing against his idols, men like Billy Glidden and Chuck Samuel, Joe admittedly always qualified mid-pack or lower. His drive, however, helped him to repeatedly end up in the winner’s circle over. 
 
“We tested and had the baddest car in the country before we showed up to our first NMRA race in 2000… we broke the Pro 5.0 ET and mile per hour record five times that year and won the championship,” said the man. “Throughout my whole racing career, Tom Reider (previous owner) of Reider Racing and Precision Gears has been my mentor, sponsor, and good friend. His confidence in me made me proud to win my championship.”
 
Ultimately, he and his brother split their company to focus on their individual efforts, and Joe founded his Ontario-based DaSilva Racing business in 2002. From there, he built an impressive career providing his services and sharing his knowledge with other racers, performance junkies, and Mustang mavens.
 
In 2018, though, a longtime friend of Joe’s, Makis Lekkas, was diagnosed with cancer and was “putting things in order” in case he didn’t make it — that included selling his cars, one of which was a 1978 Mercury Zephyr. [Fortunately, Makis recovered and is doing well.]
 
“I had always been a fan. They were cheap to insure and worked well because of the long overhang in the back,” shared DaSilva. In the late 1980s, he had a two-door Ford Fairmont wagon which he raced on the street and eventually sold in favor of a four-door version in the 1990s. “It ran 10.60s, was featured in several magazines, and was under the radar with the cops so I never got pulled over!”


 
With the nostalgic vibes running high, Joe bought his buddy’s two-door Zephyr. It was green at the time and had a vinyl top, which wasn’t to DaSilva’s liking, so he quickly sent it off to a local body shop to have it painted a dark metallic gray.
 
Together with his then-girlfriend now-wife, Carey, Joe transformed the first-year Fox body into a quick street car with a supercharged Ford 302-cubic inch powerplant. He intentionally kept the original in its all-original form, with every piece and panel intact save for a set of Corbeau seats at the time. A TREMEC five-speed transmission and 8.8 rearend rounded out the build.
 
“We went go to car shows with it and had fun, then in 2022, I returned to NMRA for the first time since winning the championship more than two decades ago,” stated DaSilva. Racing at Kentucky’s Beech Bend Raceway Park with his original ’86 LX “Tomato Can,” also upgraded to run on Coyote power, Joe had a blast banging gears in Open Comp competition.
 
“I had so much fun and was thinking the Coyote Stock class would be fun… It’s stick shift, naturally aspirated, and I could put ‘em together for the average guy to go racing, too,” continued Joe, a diehard all-motor enthusiast. So, he targeted his Zephyr and — as Carey decided she wanted to go racing, too — he got busy transforming it to run in NMRA Vengeance Clutch Coyote stock trim.
 
Joe had looked for a fabrication shop locally to do the 12-point roll cage install, but as the pandemic forced so many businesses to close their doors, he ultimately ended up taking it to a trusted source outside of Canada.
 
“I brought the car to David Zimmerman at Team Z Motorsports and they did an absolutely amazing job, better than I expected, with the cage and the 9-inch rear and all the torque boxes” Joe proclaimed. “They took care of the chassis, the K-member, all the suspension, and the car worked right straight from the get-go. They really went above and beyond.”
 
Pandemic-related parts shortages and backorder delays meant the project took nearly a year longer than expected, but Joe didn’t mind as he had fun with his better half throughout the process. “We did most of the work here in the garage out back of our house and had help from the guys at our shop, Rob and Ryan, with the motor install,” he clarified.
 
With the sealed-stock and naturally aspirated 5.0-liter Gen 3 Coyote crate engine from Ford Racing installed, he filled it with fluids from Amsoil and flanked it with a set of Kooks headers feeding into a custom Flowmaster Performance exhaust system. Then it was full-steam ahead getting the rest of the Fox-platform machine lined out. 
 
A G-Force G101A four-speed manual gearbox was coupled with a diaphragm-style clutch from McLeod and an essential clutch tamer. “Gerry Scott from Pro-5.0 Performance has been with me for 36 years now and he’s always been very supportive of me and my racing,” noted DaSilva.
 
Next, Gulfcoast Driveshaft crafted up the perfect aluminum driveshaft to fit the Zephyr’s combination, and QA1 double-adjustable shocks were installed at all four corners to complement the Team Z K-member and other components. In the rear, 35-spline Strange axles were added along with matching Strange brakes, and a set of bead-locked wheels.
 
Joe replaced his old Corbeau seats with a set from Racer’s Choice, Inc. but was steadfast in his commitment to keeping the car’s interior and exterior appearance as period-correct as possible. “The interior I intentionally made to feel just like my old ’86 so driving it would be familiar,” he explained. “And the whole body is original from 1978 — everything is from the factory — even the aluminum bumpers were painted. I thought about putting a [aftermarket] hood on it but wanted it to look like it could be your grandmother’s everyday car.” 
 
The build wrapped up in February of 2024 and Joe got the car on the dyno to break in the engine before he and Carey packed up to head South to sunny Florida for the start of their season. Eager to see what their old school four-eyed Fox could do, Joe hoped the “SLOZEPYR” (as stated on its license plate) actually ran sub-10-second quarter-mile elapsed times so that he could obtain his NHRA license once again…
 
Before the 30th Annual NMRA Spring Break Shootout season opener at Gainesville Raceway in February of 2024, the couple arrived at Bradenton Motorsports Park for testing. “It was the first time it had been down a track, ever,” affirmed the driver. “I’ve always had old V-gated shifters like my T-5s and was nervous about shifting this, especially after having taken so much time off and feeling like a rookie again.”
 
Thanks to some confidence bolstering by Carey, Joe’s muscle memory took over and he quickly reacclimated to the driver’s seat. His primary goal was to get into the 9.90s so he could get his license and was pleased when he posted a 9.99-second elapsed time on the scoreboards. “I was happier than when I went 7.99 in my Pro 5.0 car!” he joked. “But I had the wrong gearing, so we made some changes and got ready for Gainesville.”
 
With a solid and successful pre-race outing, Joe was ready to make his big debut in NMRA Vengeance Clutch Coyote Stock on behalf of Team DaSilva Racing. Having achieved his prior mini-goal of running 9.90s, Joe’s next goal was qualifying in the class — and he did so, albeit in 15th with the quickest run (and personal best for the Zephyr) of 9.914 at 133.91 mph.
 
Unfortunately, Joe went out in the first elimination round with a valiant effort of 9.930 at 133.08 mph. Despite the upset, he was still ecstatic to have made the field, to have had so much fun, and to have filmed videos for his fans which can be found on his YouTube channel, @JoeProFiveOh. 
 
“It wasn’t perfect — we had a battery fire and I thought I’d lose the car for a moment — but it turned out OK and we had a lot of help from other people,” he shared. “I didn’t have a tach and hit the rev limiter in third gear, so I know it could have run a 9.89, but I learned a ton and I’ve got a laundry list of things I’ll be changing for the next race.”
 
It wasn’t just the racing that had Joe smiling from ear to ear, it was being around a group of guys and gals that immediately made him feel like one of the family. From his Canadian neighbors Chad and Damien Stephens to all the others in the group who accepted the newcomer with open arms, the NMRA was Joe’s home back in the day and it is now once again as he moves forward with the same focus and determination he learned from his family as a young boy.
 
“We’re planning to run the full schedule of NMRA events in 2024, and Carey will eventually get behind the wheel of the Zephyr once I’ve got it sorted out. She wants to run True Street, though, so I may turn the ’86 into a car for her for that and I’ll continue running Coyote Stock…” Joe concluded. “Either way, we’re here to stay.”
 
 
The Details
Owner/Driver
Owner: Joe and Carey DaSilva
Driver: Joe DaSilva
Hometown: Ontario, Canada
Occupation: Owner of DaSilva Racing
Class: NMRA Vengeance Clutch Coyote Stock
Crew: Carey DaSilva, Phil Balzer, Jake Balzer
Car Make/Model/Year:      1978 Mercury Zephyr
Powertrain 
Engine: Sealed Coyote 5.0-liter engine
Engine builder: Ford Performance
Displacement: 302 ci
Block: Ford
Bore: Stock
Stroke: Stock
Crank: Stock
Rods: Stock
Pistons: Stock
Heads: Stock
Valvetrain: Stock
Cam type: Stock
Carburetor or EFI system: Stock Ford Control Pack
Power-adder: NA
Fuel brand and type: VP Racing C10
Headers and exhaust: Kooks Headers, Flowmaster custom exhaust system
Transmission: G101A five-speed manual
Transmission Builder: G-Force Racing Transmissions
Clutch/shifter/torque converter: McLeod clutch with G-Force shifter
Rearend: Team Z 9-inch with Strange carrier
Chassis 
Body and/or chassis builder: stock
Suspension (Front): Built by Team Z Motorsports
Suspension (Rear): Built by Team Z Motorsports
Brakes (Front): Strange Engineering
Brakes (Rear): Strange Engineering
Wheels (front): Forgestar
Wheels (Rear): Forgestar
Tires (Front): Mickey Thompson/Skinny Front Runners
Tires (Rear): Mickey Thompson,  26x10-inch
Safety equipment: 12-point cage built by Team Z Motorsports
Vehicle weight: 3,000 pounds
Quickest ET: 9.91 seconds
Best 60-foot: 1.31 seconds
Fastest mph: 134 mph
Sponsors: Team Z, Pro Clean, Amsoil, G-Force, Molyslip, UPR, Gerry Scott and Company, DaSilva Racing, J&L Oil Separator, McLeod Clutches

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