Interview by Mary Lendzion
Photos by Fastest Street Car Staff
In the past two decades, Vinny Palazzolo has driven many Mustangs, and each one has had more power and more potential than the previous.
He’s determined to do whatever it takes to be competitive in various categories, and ran as quick and fast as 4.31 and 171 mph in the eighth-mile on his way to the NMRA VP Racing Madditives Street Outlaw championship in 2019 in his Gary Naughton Race Cars-built Mustang powered by a small-block Ford and Precision turbo.
He quickly followed that with a 6.62 and 209 mph in the quarter-mile to set an X275 record at the Import vs. Domestic — World Cup Finals at Maryland International Raceway.
It takes a mad amount of motivation for Palazzolo to accomplish all that he does, and a lot of it comes from his close-knit family, including his wife, Bridget, and daughters, Rosalia and Sicilia. They want to be with him and support him when he’s racing, regardless of whether he’s having a successful or not-so-successful weekend at the track, and regardless of whether he has won or lost.
Read on for more about Palazzolo, who lives in Phoenixville, Pennsylvania, and owns R&S Automotive Specialists, an automotive repair shop that offers in-house dyno-tuning and specializes in supercharger, turbo and cam installation. He’s known for being just as friendly as he is focused and fast.
WHEN DID YOU FIRST EXPERIENCE RACING?
I grew up in New Jersey, and when I was little, I would go with my family to watch my father race his 1967 Nova in Super Gas at Atco Dragway and Englishtown. When he would start the car, it would scare me because it was so loud, but as I got a little older, I would just put ear protection on. I remember thinking that watching him go down track was the coolest part, and I really started getting into racing.
YOU KNOW I WANT TO ASK WHAT YOUR FIRST CAR WAS.
And you know I don’t really want to tell you what it was, but I guess I’ll go ahead and share that it was a 1982 Chevrolet Citation. It was a four-cylinder, and I got it from my uncle who owned a pizza shop. I was basically born and raised there, and started working there when I was very young. I would drive the car to and from work, and I would pass a Ford dealership that had a 1989 Mustang GT on the used lot, and I wanted it in the worst way. Because I was so young, my mom came with me to test-drive it. I was in heaven. I told my mom that I didn’t care what it would take or cost. I had to have it. She told me to let her do the talking, and the next day, we picked the car up from the dealership. It had a 5.0L engine and a five-speed transmission, and I had it for a few years, made a lot of modifications to it and took it to Atco. I had no idea how to drag race. On my very first pass, I put the gas pedal to the floor, and the tires just spun. After that, I learned how to properly get the car off the starting line. I entered whatever bracket race I could, and ran 13s. Unfortunately, I got into a bad accident in that car in 1998. Luckily, I wasn’t hurt, and I found another Mustang that looked just like it.
DID YOU STEP UP FURTHER WITH THE REPLACEMENT MUSTANG?
Yes, I did. It had all of the goodies, including nitrous. There was quite a learning curve with the nitrous, and I blew the combination up a lot before I learned that you need more fuel and less timing with nitrous. I ran 11.17 and 121 mph at the track and I street-raced. I had one of the fastest cars in the area at the time. Then I met my wife, and I sold that car the day we brought our first daughter home from the hospital. I still had the racing bug, though, and started to buy Mustangs, fix them and sell them, and then I found one I wanted to keep. It was a 1988 Mustang LX. I built it from the ground-up, and gave it a supercharger, and when my wife said, ‘No more street-racing,’ I kept it at the track.
IS THAT WHEN YOU STARTED TO TAKE THINGS TO THE NEXT LEVEL?
It sure is. I was hanging with Frank Soldridge, among other racers, and he ended up giving me the deal of a lifetime on his Outlaw 10.5 car, a 1987 Mustang notchback. He helped me sell my other Mustang, and he helped me build up the Outlaw 10.5 car slowly. We kept the car at his shop, and he taught me about turbo cars. It’s a good moment when someone’s willing to help you get to the next step, and that’s what Frank was doing. When we got the car together, we went testing, and Frank told me to let out at the 300-foot marker because I was stepping up to a 7-second car, and I didn’t, and I almost crashed. I knew I gave Frank a reason to yell and me, and, he did.
SOLDRIDGE WAS LOOKING OUT FOR YOU. WHAT HAPPENED AFTER THE SCOLDING?
I got some more seat-time in the car, and a few years later, in 2008-2009, when X275 came out, I took the engine and electronics out of the car and built the red 2000 Mustang. Frank also helped me build that car to be my first X275 car. It had a small-block Ford and a single turbo, and there was another learning curve going from the big-tire slick car to the small-tire radial car. Frank was a huge help, and I ran 4.40s, and I ran NMRA Street Outlaw, too. I ran that car until it needed updates in 2016.
IS THAT WHEN YOU MOVED TO YOUR CURRENT YELLOW MUSTANG?
Yes. Benny Ortiz and KBX gave me the opportunity to manage the program and drive the car after it received the new Bennett Racing engine and turbo. As a team, we won Yellow Bullet Nationals in 2017, and the Import vs. Domestic — World Street Finals. At the end of 2018, I acquired the car from Benny, who is still a part of our team.
WE’RE GLAD YOU COMPETE IN NMRA VP RACING MADDITIVES STREET OUTLAW. WHAT BROUGHT YOU TO THE CATEGORY?
I’ve been a fan of the NMRA since the late 1990s, and I followed it back when there were Super Street Outlaw and Pro 5.0 categories, and I had always liked drivers like John Urist, Manny Buginga and Phil Hines. I had always liked the small-tire cars and the street-looking cars, and how fast they were. I also dreamed of running in those ranks one day.
IT’S HARD TO BRING UP THE ACCIDENT ON THE FREEWAY ON YOUR WAY HOME FROM THE NITTO TIRE NMRA/NMCA SUPER BOWL OF STREET LEGAL DRAGWAY AT ROUTE 66 RACEWAY IN ILLINOIS LAST SUMMER, BUT IT’S NOW PART OF YOUR HARD-FOUGHT FIGHT TO THE CHAMPIONSHIP. WHAT WILL YOU TELL US ABOUT IT?
It was the scariest moment of my life because I had my family in the vehicle with me when it happened. Once we realized none of us were hurt, my 12-year-old daughter immediately said she was worried about my car and Brian Warcup’s car, which was also in my trailer. It was a very devastating moment. Before long, my phone was ringing and people were offering to help, which is absolutely one of the reasons why we love racing so much. People even came to the site of the accident to help clean the trailer and get the cars home, including Richard Robinson, and Keith Rhea, who helped unload the trailer and get everything back home. Chris Hare of Fatal Finishes and his son, Chris Hare Jr., offered to fix my car and get it running for the next race, before they had even seen the damage, and I was shocked. I didn’t think there was any chance of that happening. ‘Whatever it takes’ is what they said. When I picked the car up from them, it looked like nothing had ever happened to it, and then I took it to chassis builder Gary Naughton, who went over the chassis, and got it all squared away, straightened and realigned, and he also got the exhaust sealed up. The engine was not hurt, but Gary had to fix the turbo piping. The car was back together in twenty days. When we got to the next race, which was at Beech Bend Raceway in Kentucky and was the final NMRA race of the year, everyone came over and showed support, which was the best.
AFTER ALL OF THAT, HOW DID IT FEEL TO WRAP UP THE 2019 NMRA VP RACING MADDITIVES CHAMPIONSHIP?
It felt amazing. Some of the best racers in the world are in NMRA Street Outlaw, and every one of them could run as well as the next one, so we are very fortunate to have been the ones to earn the championship. I’ll tell you, it really took a lot of commitment for our team and everyone who helped us. Racing at different tracks means finding out how to best get your car down that track, that weekend, and having a good team to help you do that, like I did, while trying to earn the championship, is huge.
YOU RECENTLY BEGAN WORKING WITH ANTHONY DISOMMA OF DISOMMA RACING ENGINES FOR YOUR ENGINE PROGRAM. WHAT ARE YOUR HOPES FOR THE 2020 RACE SEASON?
Anthony really cares, and he has great customer service and great follow-up, so I’m enjoying working with him. I’m hoping to run just as consistently, but a little faster. I’m trying to get a little weight out of my car, too. I tried to diet to help, and I tried my best to stick to it, but honestly, it’s easier to just try to get the weight out of the car. I’ll be using Haltech for engine management, and I plan to make all six NMRA races this year. I’m 100 percent dedicated to NMRA Street Outlaw. My hardworking team and I have support from Haltech, Gates Racing Transmissions and ProTorque. This year, I’ll have decals on my car for Lehigh Valley Pediatric Cancer Foundation, and at the NMRA race at Maple Grove Raceway in Pennsylvania, we’ll welcome the kids from the foundation. That program means a lot to us.
(Interview from the June issue of Fastest Street Car)