History Repeats—Brian Mitchell Resurrects Retired NMRA Renegade Ride

By Ainsley Jacobs

Brian Mitchell, a name synonymous with the NMRA, has been keeping a secret the past few years. From his very first Renegade race back when the class first started in the late ‘90s to his retirement in 2015, the legend has been busy resurrecting his original “Wizard” ’92 Ford Mustang LX.

Mitchell sold his iconic Fox body in the mid-2000s and was ready to give up on racing years later when the stress running three businesses and life in general took all the fun out of it, but couldn’t stay away and tracked the car down on a whim. “I found it in a barn in Virginia and paid an obnoxious amount of money to buy it back just to cut it down to a shell,” laughed the multi-time NMRA champion, who paid a premium price for sentimentality in late 2016.

Suddenly back in the game, Mitchell shipped the car off to Tim Lyons at Lyons Custom Motorsports where it was upgraded from its previous 25.5 cage to a state-of-the-art double frame rail 25.3 SFI certified chassis. “We wanted it to be able to run in NMRA Edelbrock Renegade and Ultra Street as well as X275 and Limited Drag Radial,” explained Mitchell’s friend and race team partner, Adam Arndt. “We wanted to try and overbuild it as long as it didn’t slow it down, and a better, stronger chassis is never a hindrance.”

While working on “The Wizard 1.5” in secret, Arndt and Mitchell made moves in Edelbrock Renegade together by sharing Arndt’s own ’88 Fox body. When the Pennsylvania-based racer was deployed overseas in 2017 with the US Air Force, Mitchell took over driving duties of Arndt’s car – which was using Mitchell’s engine and transmission. Now, Mitchell is the financier and Arndt is the fabricator, and the two are working together to produce something that’s seriously sick.

During Arndt’s absence, the carbon fiber body panels from Schoneck Composites were mounted and the clandestine car went back to Lyons in the fall of ‘17 for a few more updates and innovations. Lyons also handled the fabrication of the 9” rear end housing as well as the front and back suspension. Arndt regained the reins when he returned, and has been busy working on Mitchell’s Mustang ever since.

“From December until March ’18, the car was at Brian’s, then it came to me and I started on it in December ’18,” shared Arndt, who was busy supporting his fabulous wife, Krista Arndt, during the 2018 NMRA racing season as she ran her own Mustang in Richmond Gear Factory Stock. “I did the initial primary assembly and put everything together just so we could take it all apart again and get it painted.”

Arndt’s friend and trusted crew man, Joey Finan, did the pre-paint body work and prep at Arndt’s home garage before taking it to his step-father’s, where the home-hobbyist has his own paint booth, for the final spray.

Beneath the all-new surface of Mitchell’s Mustang and within its updated frame rails sits a piece of history: the same 390 ci engine and transmission combination that the partners have been successfully campaigning for years is still in play.

Engine builder Mike Curcio of Mike Curcio Race Products freshened the bullet, updated its high port heads, and made some other changes in collaboration with Arndt. Next, a new Bullet camshaft that should help add a few more horses to the herd was added, while a dry sump oil system was incorporated as well. Arndt’s longtime supercharger supporter, ProCharger, is still on board and power will be managed by Arndt’s trusted BigStuff3 engine management system.

The transmission program hasn’t been entirely decided upon just yet, though, so the guys will be running their previous transmission and converter combination as they work out the new car kinks and find what it likes best.

Working together instead of racing against one another, the men also upgraded the rear shocks to a set of swanky Menscer Motorsports units while the fronts have been changed out in favor of Santhuff struts. A successful relationship with The Brake Man brakes has also been continued, as TBM has a history of helping Arndt with his orange car, and the stoppers are shrouded by a set of quintessential Weld Racing wheels.

“Brian gave me the chance to showcase the level of work that I can do to finish a car, and has trusted me with making decisions, and it’s been really cool,” said Arndt, who has Jason Lee of PTP Racing on tap for consulting and ideating. Built from the ground up with a critical eye for optimization, Arndt was careful to do things because they made sense, not simply because they were easy. “The routing of the brake lines makes them the shortest and most efficient to maximize weight. The fire suppression lines have been routed so they aren’t in the way during maintenance. The plumbing was kept as minimal as possible to reduce problems and increase reliability. I want people to look at it and say ‘that’s a well thought-out and well-designed car.’”

No expense has been spared during the process, and parts of the high-end build more closely resemble a Pro Stock or Pro Mod entry rather than a Renegade one. For example, ISP bolsters and padding surround the driver’s seat instead of traditional foam padding, and carbon fiber can be found practically everywhere.

Now, Arndt is in in the process of doing the final assembly – including plumbing, wiring, and buttoning up a few odds and ends including a carbon fiber wing custom fabricated by himself and Finan – and hopes to have the car out testing by the end of May. “He’s a perfectionist, and has done an absolutely incredible job with this,” asserted Mitchell of the incredible attention to detail that Arndt put into the process. “It’s ridiculous now – a ‘money’s no object,’ carbon everything, kick ass build.”

Mitchell and Arndt have already been as quick as 4.71 with the same drivetrain on a quarter mile pass, so they’re expecting that a 4.62-4.65 should easily be in the cards for the enhanced chassis – especially with the gearing optimized for a shorter 660-foot distance. As Maple Grove Raceway is just a quick trip for the men, they fully intend to make a statement at the 19th Annual NMRA Ford Motorsport Nationals in late June before committing to a hard and fast schedule.

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