Witten by Ainsley Jacobs
Photography by Kevin DiOssi
After starting with the NMRA in the early 2000s, but having to temporarily put his program on hold to focus on his family, Michael Ciborowski has come back in a big way by claiming the inaugural NMRA Limited Street championship in 2018.
Growing up in Illinois, Ciborowski always gravitated toward motorsports and racing was at the forefront of his mind. Building model cars and playing with Hot Wheels was his life as a child, and eventually he transitioned into bracket racing once he was of driving age.
As he got older and started his career as a parole agent for the department of corrections, Ciborowski found he had more disposable income and began to play around with street cars, hitting his local drag strip as time permitted and dabbling in NMRA and World Ford Challenge Open Comp with a ’78 Ford Mustang. “And then, with my boys and sports and family, money got sucked up elsewhere and racing wasn’t financially feasible anymore,” said Ciborowski, who still always managed to have a Mustang of some sort around to cruise around on the street in and enjoy at his leisure.
More than 30 years after starting in his profession, Ciborowski was able to retire and get back into racing — and things quickly snowballed. Of course, he knew he wanted to race another Ford, so Ciborowski started his search for a ’13-ish Mustang. “I wanted white or red, and I knew that I was going to end up with more of a track car, so I wasn’t looking for anything fancy,” he explained. Fate intervened, and the opportunity for Ciborowski to purchase the perfect pony car practically fell into his lap; He saw an advertisement for a red ’14 Mustang GT on Craigslist in early 2014 and the price seemed too good to be true.
“At first, I thought it might be a scam, but I called the guy and he explained the situation,” noted Ciborowski, who was in the right place at just the right time. As it turned out, the seller had a friend who worked at a Ford dealer, and that friend’s daughter was selling fundraising tickets for a chance to win a car.
He [the current Mustang owner/seller] bought one ticket, his friend called a few weeks later asking if he wanted any extras, and the owner sarcastically said ‘nah, just call me when I win’ thinking it would never happen. “A few weeks later, the buddy called the seller to tell him he won, and he hung up on him thinking he was messing around. The next day, the dealer in Missouri called him to come do the paperwork,” added Ciborowski, laughing. “Well, he had wanted a truck, but the dealer wouldn’t give him anything for the Mustang as a trade in, so he put it on Craigslist and that’s how I found it with only 400 miles on it.”
Ciborowski headed down to Jefferson City, Missouri, with cash in hand and went home with the platform for his new project — a base-model Mustang with cloth interior. Of course, he wasted no time in modifying it. Although he wasn’t quite sure what direction he would go in the long run, Ciborowski added lowering springs, new wheels, long-tube headers, a cold-air intake, tune-up, and exhaust so that it would be a bit more perky when he put it to work at the track.
Soon, he wanted more. “Bob Monks of STLMustangs who does my tuning knows Justin Starkey at VMP Performance quite well and he was starting to work more with the ’11-’14 cars, so we went ahead and put a blower on it,” Ciborowski stated of the slippery slope that soon had his S197 down in the 10.30-second zone. Next, he converted the car over to run on E85 fuel, did some pulley swaps, and things kept progressing.
Worried about the stock engine and concerned about its longevity, Ciborowski preempted any problems and put in a Ford Performance Aluminator crate engine that he also acquired from Starkey. “I took it to the Atlanta NMRA race in 2017 and ran True Street, and it only went like 9.20s and lifted a head,” he said nonchalantly.
With the car not running quite right, Ciborowski pulled it apart. His friend and fellow NMRA racer, Tony Hobson, then introduced him to the JPC Racing camp and, after talking a bit, Ciborowski decided to have Rich Groh of Rich Groh Racing Engines build a sleeved short-block.
The Mustang spent most of the summer of 2017 waiting in the wings until the engine got done, but the wait was worth it as the finished product consisted of a Darton-sleeved Coyote block stuffed with Diamond pistons, Oliver connecting rods, and a stock Boss crankshaft. Up top, custom-ground L&M camshafts, Ferrea valves, and upgraded valve springs fortified the unported factory cylinder heads. “It’s got all the water jacket supports and is pretty bullet proof,” noted Ciborowski of the RGR built engine.
A set of American Racing Headers 1 7/8-inch long-tube headers were bolted on and mated to an MBRP 3-inch exhaust system to expel the spent exhaust gasses and make the Mustang sound as mean as it looked.
Out back, a Moser 9-inch rearend with 3.73 gears, purchased from NMRA racer Chad Wendel, was installed while the surrounding suspension components were all sourced from BMR, including upper and lower control arms. “Kelly [Aiken] at BMR is a good friend and I can just call him and he’ll tell me what I need — I couldn’t ask for someone who knows more about suspension on those cars than him,” said Ciborowski. Double-adjustable Viking shocks also help stabilize the rear of the ‘Stang, while the front coilovers are AFCO by Menscer Motorsports units and more BMR items, including tubular K-member and A-arms, can be found.
Meanwhile, master fabricator Jim Hallowell of welded up the Mustang’s 10-point roll cage that’s certified to go 8.50s in the quarter mile and mounted the Kirkey racing seats. “He’s got a small shop but does super work. You walk up to my car and everything’s tucked up real nice and tight, he did a great job,” Ciborowski stated of his he was pleased with the finished product.
Back up and running by October with a new VMP Gen 2 supercharger, 1320 Junkie Performance-ported intake, and Injector Dynamics ID2000 injectors, Ciborowski ran locally in Illinois before heading down to South Georgia Motorsports Park for the Mod Motor Nationals. “I ran the small blower class and wound up winning!” he said, surprised of how things panned out.
Around that same time, Ciborowski caught wind of the newly announced NMRA Limited Street heads-up category. “I knew that my car would be competitive, so I talked to Eric [Holliday] at JPC and decided to do a Turbo 400 swap so I could use a transbrake. The 6R80 worked well, but it’s hard to cut a light foot-braking and be competitive on the tree,” he explained.
A three-speed TH400 was ordered up from Dave Klaput at Proformance Racing Transmissions, complete with a billet valvebody for the transbrake and reverse circuitry for the oiling, that’s been “flawless” according to Ciborowski. Monks stepped in and calibrated the factory ECU to work in conjunction with the new automatic transmission, and Ciborowski was ready to roll.
With the start of the 2018 racing season in Florida, Ciborowski was eager to try his hand at NMRA Advanced Fuel Dynamics Limited Street competition. Qualifying seventh with a 9.929 at 151.38 mph pass wasn’t the stellar result he had hoped for, but was later determined to be the byproduct of an electrical issuing causing the computer to shut the throttle body around 7,100 rpm. Although Ciborowski was able to get the win in round one of eliminations, the accidental rev limiter was his undoing in round two.
“Fortunately, we were able to get the issue fixed before the next race in Atlanta,” Ciborowski said happily. There, the Mustang decided to show off a bit with some massive wheelies. “Kelly [Aiken] from BMR was watching the live feed and asked what I had my front struts set to, so I checked and they were all the way loose, and he said ‘tighten that damn thing down or you’ll flip it over backward!’” Ciborowski followed his friend’s feedback and his performance improved so that he was able to run 8.916 at 152.61 mph in qualifying and start eliminations from the number two spot, but his two step malfunctioned at the beginning of round one and he pushed through the beams to cut the weekend short.
Ciborowski showed up for the third NMRA race of the season in Pennsylvania with a new two-step and a tamer Mustang. He qualified number two once more, this time with an 8.957 at 152.37 mph pass. He defeated Kent Nine in round one, enjoyed a bye in round two, but mechanical trouble struck again in the semi-finals. “High gear in the transmission went out on me, but I’ve been around this long enough to know that’s racing – you’ll have parts failures, there’s nothing you can do about it, you just keep on going and get it fixed,” he calmly recounted of the incident.
With the transmission repaired by Proformance, Ciborowski was ready to try again in Ohio but it was a thrash to get everything together in time. Working with his son and crew chief, Keith, 27, the Ciborowski men used a Kubota tractor to lift the front end of the Mustang so that they could re-install the engine and transmission on the Tuesday before the race. “We cut it close and left Thursday night, but it worked out really well,” proclaimed Ciborowski, who went on to put “Team Kubota” into the top spot in NMRA Limited Street qualifying when he clicked off a cool 8.745 at 155.88 mph pass.
After all the stress and drama of just making it to National Trail Raceway, Ciborowski’s efforts were rewarded in eliminations. The track proved tricky and many struggled to get down, but he had stacked the deck in his favor by qualifying number one. A bye in round one, win over James Meredith in round two, and an epic win in the finals against Wendel when Ciborowski drilled him on the tree with a 0.003-second reaction time and six-tenth advantage at the stripe meant Ciborowski could finally relax for a minute.
With things finally coming together for Ciborowski, the season began winding down. At the NMRA/NMCA Super Bowl of Street Legal Drag Racing in Illinois, an 8.795 at 155.52 mph pass in qualifying put him in second and he found himself trading places all weekend long with Sondra Leslie. Ciborowski was victorious in the first two elimination rounds and was set up for a bye in round three. Advancing on to the finals to face-off against Leslie, he knew he would have to be on point if he wanted to win. “I had to chop down the tree to get her and I guess I chopped a little too much,” joked Ciborowski, who left too soon with a -0.385-second reaction time and cost himself the win.
Pulling into the NMRA All-Ford World Finals in Kentucky, the championship title wasn’t even on Ciborowski’s mind as his son was also racing in the Turbo Coyote Shootout and things were hectic with having to manage two entries instead of their usual one. Holliday, though, had been keeping tabs on the numbers and realized that Kelly Shotwell, another points frontrunner, would not be attending and the door was open for Ciborowski to take over the lead. “Eric [Holliday] told me that to win the championship, I had to win the race,” explained Ciborowski of the mathematics. No pressure.
Ciborowski went on to qualify second, improving to 8.634 at 157.67 mph. In eliminations, he found success in round one and moved on in round two thanks to a bye. In round three, his 8.757 at 152.33 mph trip was a winner, and Ciborowski lined up against Matthew Williams in the finals for all the marbles. “My 9.024 in the bye had given me lane choice over Chad, and that was the key to it all because the right lane was worse than the left with the shade from the sun going down, and that’s what got me to the finals” Ciborowski noted. When he tripped the win lights in his lane in the finals, though, it was surreal. “It didn’t even sink in until fuel check when everyone was congratulating me — holy crap, I just won this thing!”
Although his season was full of ups and downs, highs and lows, stresses and successes, the scales tipped in favor of celebration and Ciborowski captured his first-ever championship title. “It was even more special to win in the first year of NMRA Limited Street, and with my son as crew chief,” added Ciborowski. “And thanks to my buddies at HPJ Performance for the track side support. Those guys dive in and help with whatever I need and really love to go to the races.”
After the validation of victory, Ciborowski knew he had a target on his back. During the off-season, he switched his Craigslist car over to run on a Holley Dominator EFI setup. His son, Keith, took over tuning duties with Holliday acting as a guide and mentor. A rule change also mandated a pulley change, so Ciborowski adjusted to accommodate and remain class legal. “We also freshened the motor and took the heat exchanger off the front since we were pushing the car to the lanes and didn’t need it,” he elaborated of the minor changes.
When the calendar flipped to 2019, Ciborowski couldn’t wait to get back into the driver’s seat. Kicking things off once again in Florida with the NMRA season opener, hopes were high at first but by Saturday, he was ready to throw in the towel over tire trouble.
Ciborowski typically runs on Mickey Thompson ET Street Radial Pro tires, but has to carry an extra 100 pounds with his combination to run the rubber. Knowing a weight break was offered for Mickey Thompson ET Street S/S tires, he decided to give them a shot — and simply couldn’t get them to work. “We would go out and spin the tire, spin the tire, spin the tire, every time. It was stupid we weren’t going down the track,” he lamented. “The TVS blower makes a lot more power down low and the car just hits the tires too hard.” Eventually, he gave up and switched back to his tried-and-true Radial Pros, and wound up qualified number one with an 8.888 a t 153.16 mph timeslip.
Still frustrated but moving forward, Ciborowski went into eliminations. In round one, he got the win and casually cruised to the top end where he took his time getting out of the car and taking his helmet off. Justin Jordan completed his run and came over to Ciborowski to congratulate him, but he had no idea why. “Then, Keith and Eric come down and everyone’s grinning and I had no idea how fast I had gone,” laughed Ciborowski, who had unknowingly set a class elapsed time record of 8.798 at 153.29 mph.
A bye in round two meant Ciborowski was a shoe-in for the semis. There, his 8.844 at 152.54 mph trip put Kent Nine on the trailer, and he continued on to meet with rival racer Sondra Leslie. Ciborowski had lane choice and the two left the line with only 0.001-second between their reaction times. “I never saw her until the 1,000-foot mark when she started coming up on me. I held second gear a little longer than I should have and just barely saw the win light blink as I passed it,” Ciborowski shared happily of how his 8.841 at 152.51 mph hit did the deed over her 8.844 at 156.33 mph effort. “It was unexpected the way we fought the car earlier in the weekend, and I never thought we would wind up where we did, but it was a lot of fun overall.”
With such a great start to his season, Ciborowski fully intends to try and double up with a second championship title. And, after taking so much time off from drag racing to focus on his family, Ciborowski certainly deserves to have a bit of fun for himself. His wife, Amy, supports him one hundred percent and the help he receives from his sponsors, friends, and advisors only further enable Ciborowski to continue chasing a dream he has had since day one.
Owner: Michael Ciborowski
Hometown: Trenton, Illinois
Occupation: Retired Parole Agent
Class: Advanced Fuel Dynamics Limited Street
Crew: Keith Ciborowski
Car Make/Model/Year: 2014 Ford Mustang
Engine: 5.0 Coyote
Engine builder: Rich Groh RGR Engines
Displacement: 302 cubic inches
Block: Stock with Darton sleeves
Valvetrain: Pac Valve springs Ferrea valves
Cam type: L+M custom grind
EFI system: Holley Dominator EFI
Power-adder: VMP 2.3-liter TVS
Fuel brand and type: VP Racing Fuels C-85
Headers and exhaust: ARH
Transmission: TH 400
Transmission Builder: Proformance Racing Transmissions
Clutch/shifter/torque converter: Trans Specialties
Rearend: Moser 9-inch w/ 3:73 gears
Body and/or chassis builder: Hallowell Custom Fabrications 8.50 cage
Suspension (Front): BMR with Mencer Afco stuts
Suspension (Rear): BMR with Viking double adj shocks
Brakes (Front): Aerospace
Brakes (Rear): Aerospace
Wheels (front): Weld Alumastars 17-inch
Wheels (Rear): Weld RTS single beadlock
Tires (Front): Mickey Thompson
Tires (Rear): Mickey Thompson
Aftermarket body modifications: None
Safety equipment: 8.50 chrome-moly cage Kirkey seats
Vehicle weight: 3,800 pounds
Quickest ET: 8.58 seconds
Best 60-foot: 1.22 seconds
Fastest mph: 157
Shout outs: Wife Amy, My Mouse Boy, My Crew Chief son Keith, Bob Monks at STL Mustangs, Eric Holliday at JPC Racing, Rich Groh at RGR Engines, Proformance Transmissions, Justin Starkey at VMP Performance, Jason Texiera at 1,320 Junkie, Jim Hallowell, Wagon Wheel Performance, HPJ Performance Mike Zachies, Mike Bibas, and all my extended racing family The JPC Crew