Written by Ainsley Jacobs
Photography by Kevin DiOssi
In life, change can be full of questions and confusion. In racing, though, the word “change” is generally synonymous with going faster. That’s exactly the kind of change Tony Hobson was looking for when he pulled the trigger on a new-to-him Fox-Body Mustang.
Growing up in Missouri, Hobson always knew he would be involved in racing in some capacity. As a child, he raced go-karts before transitioning to mod lights on the national dirt track oval circuit. Guidance and support from his grandpa, Gary, and inspiration from his father, John, cultivated Hobson’s talents as a driver. He eventually moved on to mess with his Ford Mustang instead around 2013.
“I really missed the competition of class racing, but had gotten burned out on the dirt-track stuff,” shared Hobson, who purchased a brand-new ’14 Mustang and quickly got to work tearing it apart. With tons of bolt-on go-fast parts already waiting for the stick-shifted S197 when it was delivered, Hobson soon hit the drag strip. By the end of the year, the Mustang had been outfitted with a nitrous kit, too.
Running mid-10s with the giggle juice engaged wasn’t enough for Hobson, though. He connected with Eric Holliday and the team at JPC Racing and went over some options.
“At first, we had discussed a basic turbo kit, but that’s not what happened,” laughed the driver, whose small plan quickly escalated into a much larger one. “We did go with a turbo kit, but swapped it over to an automatic transmission as well and got it down into the nines.”
Hobson put a lot of hard laps on the car, as he quickly went all-in with his new sport of drag racing, and the transmission let go. Undeterred, he sent his Mustang back to JPC for a two-speed Powerglide upgrade and started running in NMRA Turbo Coyote Shootout. Solidly in the eights by then, but still yearning for class racing competition, Hobson put together a focused plan to target the heads-up category of NMRA Edelbrock Renegade.
A 25.3 SFI-certified chassis was in the cards for the S197, and a Garrett by Forced Inductions turbocharger bolted on. JPC completed the remainder of the massive overhaul, including installing the Rich Groh Racing engine.
Hobson debuted mid-season of 2016 and finished a full year in 2017. Eventually, he changed to a three-speed Turbo 400 transmission from Proformance Racing Transmissions with a bolt-together Gen-X torque converter by ProTorque and finished up fourth in championship points for the year.
Impressively, by 2018, Hobson moved all the way up to the number-two spot for points overall. Craving quicker times and tougher competition, he changed to the quicker class of NMRA VP Racing Fuels Street Outlaw for 2019. He made more changes mid-season, going to a ProCharger supercharger and pushrod power from DiSomma Racing Engines. Hobson concluded that season eighth in points, well ahead of many of the other longtime racers in the class.
Hobson traveled to the Performance Racing Industry trade show in Indianapolis in December of 2019 to attend the NMRA awards ceremony, hang out with friends, and plan his attack on the 2020 season. One night at PRI, he sat down to have dinner with Holliday and his coworkers from HPJ Performance where Hobson works as a fabricator.
“We started talking about things to do to my old Mustang. It needed to be lighter, stiffer, and have more bars in the cage,” explained Hobson, who began making arrangements to get it to a chassis shop to start the work. “But, I started adding up the dollars and time it would take and Eric [Holliday] jokingly said ‘hey, I think Manny [Buginga] has a Fox body for sale!’ and he described it and we got some photos and one thing led to another…”
So, instead of bleeding cash into his ’14 Mustang, Hobson spent more than he had planned, but went forward with buying Buginga’s red, white, and blue, 25.2 SFI ride in January of 2020 to save himself the hassle of having to wait out the downtime of reworking the S197.
He had always loved the classically badass bodylines of the Fox Mustang when it was “done right” as a drag car, so Hobson scrounged up the cash to complete the transaction.
“I knew if I sold my old car that the difference of what I had to spend would wind up about the same, in theory,” Hobson detailed of his plan. “I wanted a notchback and I knew Racecraft had built it. Manny’s car was just better overall.”
Hobson took delivery of his new investment at the US Street Nationals in January and wasted no time dropping it off with a friend, Gordon Morton at Cee-Jay Autobody, for a “blank slate” cosmetic re-spray in white.
He raced his S197 at the NMRA Spring Break Shootout at Florida’s Bradenton Motorsports Park in March as his new ride wasn’t ready.
“I needed to go testing and try some things, so I just went to get points and get some more data on the engine combination,” he added, knowing he would reuse the drivetrain as soon as the ’14 Mustang was sold—which it was, not long after.
Although the Fox didn’t come with an engine, it did come with a ton of history. Originally built by Racecraft Inc. for Barry Mitchell and known as “The Beast,” the car’s first run on track produced a 4.48 at 168mph time slip with a 1.09-second 60-foot way back in 2014 on 275 radial tires and a big-block on nitrous. That same year, Mitchell set a record for the fastest nitrous hit on 275s, too.
Eventually, the X275 car changed hands and changed names. Known next as “Apocalypse,” the black Mustang wound up with the infamous no-prep grudge racing father and son team of Corey “Big Country” Swanstrom and Justin “Lil Country” Swanstrom and absolutely terrorized the no time scene.
“I bought it three or four years ago, converted it to a blower car, and put a 400ci DiSomma engine in it,” noted Buginga, who was able to coax a 4.32-second hit from the car and a 1.03-second 60-foot all within a couple of passes. “Then we focused on Big Red [Buginga’s turbocharged ’03 Mustang Cobra] and this car just sat until I sold it to Hobson as a roller.”
Despite having been around the block a time or two, the killer car was still as quick as ever and Hobson wanted to honor its heritage by adding his own chapter to its story. He started the tedious process of swapping parts from his S197 to the Fox shortly after wrapping up the NMRA race in Florida.
“We started ripping apart the old car and pulling out what I needed—pretty much just the motor and transmission,” said Hobson, who did the work at HPJ Performance and is grateful for the help he received from his coworkers along the way as well as the opportunity to use the facility.
The engine, a DiSomma-built small-block Ford pushrod monster with a billet base and cast Edelbrock SC1 heads, served Hobson well during his previous racing escapades. He planned to keep the combination as-is, retaining the existing billet intake manifold, Billet Atomizer injectors, and Weldon fuel system along with the Proformance Racing Transmissions Turbo 400 and Neal Chance converter.
Hobson’s power adder of choice since mid-’19 is a ProCharger, and he retained the F-3D-106 blower for the new ride. Plus, JPC’s Holliday already had a hell of a handle on the tune-up via the AEM Infinity-8 standalone engine management system.
“Then, we started mounting the engine and trans in the new car and had to fabricate a new intercooler, new piping, new headers, everything,” he recalled of the details that had to be addressed to make the swap a successful one as the new car was significantly smaller than its S197 predecessor. “The guys at Racecraft helped me a bit since they had built it and were familiar with it.”
Fellow NMRA Edelbrock Renegade racer, Keith Ciborowski, in his home garage, did wiring work. “He did a killer job with it,” Hobson added happily.
Meanwhile, the guys at Racecraft had put together such a well-built 25.2 chassis that Hobson saw no need to make any changes there. Similarly, he also opted to keep the Racecraft rearend and Menscer Motorsports rear shocks with fronts by Santhuff. TBM brakes all the way around, along with Weld wheels and Mickey Thompson tires, complete the straightforward yet effective setup.
Hobson had hoped to debut the coupe with its new look—and yet another new name, “Ol’ Glory” this time around—at the 12th Annual Scoggin Dickey Parts Center NMRA/NMCA All-Star Nationals in Commerce, Georgia, in April, but the event was postponed until late June due to the pandemic.
“The delay actually worked in my favor,” confessed Hobson, who took the extra time to finish thrashing and get the car as ready as possible.
When racing finally resumed, Hobson was eager to get out there and see what the fast Ford could do. Battling traction issues at Atlanta Dragway initially, he soon got a handle on things thanks to guidance from Mark Menscer and went straight down the track during NMRA VP Racing Madditives Street Outlaw qualifying with a 4.443 at 158.95mph blast to end up second.
Incredibly, Hobson worked his way through the elimination rounds as if he had been driving a car he’d had for years. Winning round one with a 4.463 at 165.44mph pass, taking round two on a bye with a 4.532 at 165.15 mph, defeating Dom DiDonato in the semi-finals with a 4.535 at 154.69mph hit and finally finishing as the overall runner-up to Phil Hines with a 4.514 at 160.86 mph, Hobson certainly made a wise choice with his purchase.
Next, Hobson headed to St. Louis, Missouri, for the 15th Annual Nitto Tire NMRA/NMCA Super Bowl presented by HPJ Performance at its new home of World Wide Technology Raceway in late July.
“We hadn’t done any testing, other than racing in Atlanta,” stated Hobson, who had made a few minor adjustments nonetheless and went even quicker as a result. Qualifying second once again, Hobson’s 4.369 at 162.08 mph result was definitely cause for celebration as it was the car’s quickest pass so far.
Once again, he took home the runner-up honors for NMRA VP Racing Madditives Street Outlaw as he worked his way past all the others before going out to DiDonato in the finals.
“I had maybe 16 passes on the car so far,” laughed Hobson, who was sitting second in the championship points chase prior to the start of the Arrington Performance NMRA/NMCA All-American Nationals presented by Force Engineering at US 131 Motorsports Park in Martin, Michigan.
At the end of August, Hobson made it to Michigan—again with no prior testing. Just two-hundredths shy of his recent personal best, his 4.385 at 162.10 mph effort in NMRA VP Racing Madditives Street Outlaw qualifying was promising and placed him fourth going into eliminations.
Round one saw Hobson get the win light with a 4.393 at 162.22 mph run over David Purlee. He took out heavy hitter Dom DiDonato in round two when he went 4.462 at 160.89 mph, but couldn’t get around Rob Goss in the semi-finals.
“My plan is to win the championship, if I can,” asserted Hobson, who is actually quite quiet with his goals, as he prefers to let his racing speak for itself. “The first year with a brand-new car, if I could pull it off… it’d be amazing.” With so many accolades already on the Mustang’s résumé, it would be monumental for Hobson to continue the legacy.
For Hobson, it’s the competitiveness of the Street Outlaw/X275 category that drives him. “I love the combinations and the challenges of going faster within the rules,” professed the diehard heads-up class racer. “I’m a small tire guy at heart—you’ll never catch me on a big tire or at a no prep race.”
Staying ahead of the curve by constantly nitpicking the details and trying to find an elusive extra tenth keeps Hobson hungry for more. He’s constantly thinking things through and trying to stay on top of the game so he can one day be a name like the ones he respects so much—including Buginga.
“I want to go up against guys like him and be one of the top guys at any race we go to,” continued Hobson. “They all have hundreds of laps and we don’t even have two dozen yet, but we’re knocking on the door.”
He has a plan to make it happen, too, as Hobson will finally get a chance to do a little testing prior to the final NMRA event of the year in Bowling Green, Kentucky. After that, he fully intends to “run with the big dogs” at Donald Long’s Sweet 16 event in October at South Georgia Motorsports Park.
In just a handful of outings, Hobson already learned a ton from his new Fox. Traction and power management, especially, have been a huge area of focus as the better chassis communicates its likes and dislikes clearly and concisely. Being able to understand the changes, read the data, and interpret the car’s reactions ensure there’s much more to come for Hobson this time around.
Owner/Driver: Tony Hobson
Hometown: Lake Saint Louis, Missouri
Class: Street Outlaw/ X275
Crew: Eric Holliday, Mike Zacheis, Mike Bibas, John Hobson, Gary Hobson, Michele Hobson, Sam Ehrhardt
Car Make/Model/Year: 1990 Ford Mustang LX
Engine: Small-block Ford
Engine builder: Disomma Race Engines
Displacement: 438 cubic inches
Rods: GRP Billet
Heads: Edelbrock SC1
Cam type: Solid-roller
EFI system: AEM Infinity
Power Adder: ProCharger F-3D-106
Fuel brand and type: VP Q16
Headers and exhaust: American Racing zoomie headers
Transmission: TH400 automatic
Transmission Builder: Proformance Racing Transmissions
Clutch/shifter/torque converter: Neal Chance
Body and/or chassis builder: RaceCraft
Suspension (Front): Santhuff
Suspension (Rear): Menscer
Brakes (Front): TBM disc
Brakes (Rear): TBM disc
Wheels (front): Weld Racing
Wheels (Rear): Weld Racing
Tires (Front): Mickey Thompson
Tires (Rear): Mickey Thompson
Safety equipment: Impact
Vehicle weight: 2,925 pounds
Quickest ET: 4.34 seconds
Best 60-foot: 1.06 seconds
Fastest mph: 164
Sponsors: HPJ Performance, JPC Racing, ProCharger, Proformance Racing Transmissions, DiSomma Racing Engines, AEM Electronics, TBM Brakes, LAT Racing Oils, Neal Chance Racing Converters