Interview by Mary Lendzion
Photos by Kevin DiOssi
As though it were yesterday, Eric Bardekoff can recall how he spent much of his childhood watching his father, Jeff Bardekoff, work on his very fit and very fine 1964 Plymouth Fury.
He can also recall how fired up he felt every time he traveled with his father from their Long Island, New York home over the Throgs Neck Bridge and the George Washington Bridge to watch him race at various tracks.
By the time Bardekoff turned 8, he and his brother, Bryan Bardekoff, were racing in the NHRA Junior Drag Racing League while their father was racing in the NHRA’s Stock Eliminator. They only had one trailer, so only one of them could race at a time, but Bardekoff’s father made sure that his sons had the opportunity to race more frequently than he did.
When Bardekoff turned 17, he set his sights on diving into door car racing, and fittingly, his very first pass in a door car was made in his father’s bumper-dragging 1964 Plymouth Fury.
These days, Bardekoff is putting down palpable amounts of power in NMRA and NMCA, and he’s preparing to put down even more in the NMRA’s new and highly-anticipated ProCharger Modified Street category.
Read on for more about Bardekoff, who owns EB Custom Works and EB Custom Parts on Long Island, New York, and shares his passion for motorsports with his fiancee and fellow racer, Steph Davies.
WHAT WAS IT LIKE TO MAKE YOUR FIRST DOOR-CAR PASS IN YOUR FATHER’S 1964 FURY?
Dad’s Fury was a low 10-second car, and I had seen it drag the bumper pass after pass, so I had butterflies in my stomach about that being the car that I was going to be making my first door car pass in. When I was getting ready, my dad told me that it would pull the wheels and drag the bumper, that I should be ready to pull the shifter and that when the shift light came on, I should stay in it because otherwise, the car would come crashing down. Then, he told me to let it rip. I made two passes, and let me tell you, it was a tough transition jumping from a junior dragster to a door car doing wheelies and 1.20 in the 60-foot. Then, that same day, I jumped into the 1968 ‘Cuda we had built.
WHAT’S THE STORY BEHIND THE 1968 ‘CUDA?
We were Mopar guys attracted to older cars, and we knew we wanted the ‘Cuda when we saw it, so we bought it. We sent it to ATE Race Cars to be built, and when it was done, I brought it to the body shop where I was working at the time to be prepped and painted. After that, my dad and I brought it back to our shop to install a 2010 Drag Pak Magnum Wedge engine, and we installed the interior, ran the plumbing, installed the freshly powder-coated suspension, and with the help of Frank Sergi, we wired the car so it was race-ready. Everything is state-of-the-art and top-notch on the car, and the bottom is as clean as the top. We started racing it in the NHRA Super Stock category and the car fit into multiple indexes, and we were traveling all over the country. We won our class at Indy, Atco and Maple Grove. I still have the car.
WHEN DID YOU DECIDE TO BUILD THE 2015 MUSTANG COBRA JET CLONE THAT YOU CURRENTLY CAMPAIGN?
We were sitting on the bleachers at the NHRA U.S. Nationals at Indy in 2015 watching the Factory Showdown class, and we thought that would be a badass class to run in, and we thought that maybe we should start looking into doing another car to get into that late-model stuff. That night, after dinner, Jesse Kershaw from Ford Racing came to us and said he had heard that we wanted to get into a new car and run Factory Showdown, and he asked how he could help. We were speechless, and that was a turning point.
DID YOU MAKE A DECISION RIGHT AWAY, OR DID YOU MULL IT OVER?
I was all in, but dad was a little more hesitant. Our intentions were to run NHRA Factory Showdown with a naturally aspirated combination, and I wanted it to have a G-Force five-speed. We talked with Jesse the following week, and we were trying to get a body-in-white or shell so that we could get going, but they weren’t being released for a couple months. Jesse then suggested that we try to find a salvage title for a 2015 Mustang, and we found one on CoPart. It was a base model with a 4 cylinder EcoBoost engine with 1,200 miles on it, and it had been taken to the junkyard after the previous owner was in a bad accident. We didn’t see it before we arrived to pick it up.
WHAT WAS YOUR REACTION WHEN YOU SAW IT AND THE SHAPE IT WAS IN?
We were like ‘Oh, boy,’ and “Did we really buy this car?’ when we saw it. Then, to make it even scarier, the guy said he was going to get the forklift, and he comes out with a giant payloader with 20-foot forks. He stuck it under the car, picked it up and literally dumped it on our trailer. We strapped it down and brought it back to the shop and started inspecting it. Dad said we should just drag it off the trailer, but I was determined to drive it off the trailer, so I started doing everything I could to get the car running and to get the bent-up suspension temporarily straightened. A few hours later, we were able to start it and back it off the trailer. Then, I pumped the brake and did a burnout. Dad was like ‘What in the world are you doing?”, and I told him that it was the first of many burnouts I was going to do in the car.
WHAT WENT INTO REBUILDING IT?
The car had been hit so hard that the passenger’s side wheel was shattered, the front shock tower was pushed in four inches, the trans tunnel was crumpled and the firewall was creased. I worked on stripping the seam-sealer and sound deadener for two days, and when it was a shell, we put a dolly under it and took it to my buddy’s shop, MVA Customs, and put it on a frame straightener. He started pulling it and straightening it out and we ran into a problem with a piece of sheetmetal that we needed, and once again, Jesse Kershaw stepped in to help. We got new body panels and a new nose, and all new stock suspension. Once all of that was perfect, we brought the car back to our shop. I fabricated a 7.50-cert chassis and did all of the modifications as far as the rear-end, built the four-link from scratch, built a new rear floor and made new engine mounts for the 429 cubic-inch Ninja engine by Jeff Lawrence of Lawrence Racing Engines that we had chosen. I backed it with a G-Force GF-5R transmission and Boninfante dual 8-inch clutch. I ran the whole fuel system, which was supplied by Jim Craig from Weldon. I spent many late nights working on the car, and I can say that I built it with my bare hands.
THE PAINT JOB ON THE MUSTANG COBRA JET CLONE IS AS INTRICATE AS IT IS BEAUTIFUL. WHAT WAS INVOLVED WITH MAKING SURE THAT IT WAS GOING TO LOOK EXACTLY HOW YOU WANTED IT TO LOOK?
When it came time to paint it, I knew that I wanted it to have the same colors as the ‘Cuda, including the silver, black and blue, but I didn’t want it to look just like it. Funky Frank helped me with the rendering for the car. He’s old-school and he draws designs by hand. I took the car to my friend Mike’s shop to paint it. He gave me the keys to the shop and said, ‘Have fun.’ I worked on it non-stop, and it took me three days. I custom-mixed the colors. It was my first paint job with a lot of stripes, and the stripes all run into the door jams. It was tricky, but it was worth it.
WHAT WAS GOING TO BE THE FIRST EVENT FOR THE MUSTANG COBRA JET CLONE?
When we finally got it running, we wanted to go to the NHRA Dutch Classic at Maple Grove, but when I started the car to load it into the trailer on Oct. 4, 2016, it was loud with the open headers and it caused a vibration that forced a 2X4 from above to come crashing down on the quarter panel. I was crushed. I had been breaking my ass on the car, and I had a goal to be at that race. I didn’t want to debut a damaged car, so we took the Fury instead. Then later, I had to repaint the quarter panel on the Mustang, and by the time I was done, NHRA had pulled the plug on naturally aspirated combinations and turned their focus to supercharged combinations in Factory Showdown.
WHAT PLANS DID YOU PUT INTO PLACE WHEN THAT HAPPENED?
We hired an engine builder to build a supercharged Coyote engine, but it was taking longer than we had hoped it would, so we bought a 302 cubic-inch Cobra Jet crate engine from Ford Performance and paired it with a 2.9 Whipple supercharger. It had 9.5 compression. We didn’t want to go crazy. We wanted to be fast, but we wanted reliability, and we were going to have to do research and development. We backed it with the G-Force GF-5R manual transmission and a Boninfante clutch, and we went testing in 2016. Because of my ego, I wanted to do everything myself, and I was working on the clutch after every pass and tuning the engine and suspension. One week, I went testing every single day. It was hitting the tires too hard or bringing the wheels up too high. I was obsessed and I needed this thing to go down track. Thinking about it, I wish I had taken a step back and asked for help.
WHICH EVENT DID YOU HEAD TO AFTER TESTING?
I went to the NHRA race at Atco and entered Stock Eliminator, the AA index, in 2017, and I was focused on getting down a prepped track. I was running 9.20, but I was struggling and the car had so much more potential and should have been in the mid-8s. I then brought the car to the NMCA race at Summit Motorsports Park in Ohio that year because I knew that the track would be perfect and I desperately needed data to get down track. I entered the Cobra Jet race. On my very first launch of the weekend, I could tell that there was going to be a night and day difference between other tracks and that track. Because all of my data was from tracks that didn’t have that level of prep, we struggled, and it was a learning curve, but I got good data. From there, we went to the NHRA U.S. Nationals at Indy. In the stacking line, I rolled dad’s car out of the trailer to make room to work on the clutch in my car, but as it turned out, I didn’t have the tools I needed to resurface it, so we hooked up with Frank Manzo, who is the crew chief of the AAP Pro Mod team, and we went to his shop and he resurfaced the clutch for me. I had the only stick car in the class, so everyone was watching to see if it was going to work. Unfortunately, it didn’t go as planned, and I had to leave with my head down.
DID THAT PROMPT CHANGES TO THE COMBINATION?
I really wanted to stick with a manual transmission, but I finally took my dad’s advice and talked with J.C. Beattie Jr. of ATI during the PRI show in Indy in December of 2017, and I decided to go with a state-of-the-art ATI Turbo 400. It’s super lightweight, and we paired it with an ATI two-piece converter. By then, we had made the decision to run NMRA Coyote Modified for the whole 2018 season.
HOW DID IT GO IN NMRA PROCHARGER COYOTE MODIFIED IN 2018?
Coming into Coyote Modified initially, I knew I was going into a knife fight with a stick that wasn’t even sharp. I was 300 to 400 pounds heavy, and I was still learning, pulling wheelies and dragging the bumper, but I was having a ball. Unfortunately, the 302 cubic-inch Cobra Jet crate engine blew at the race in Illinois, and it was time to get a new engine, so I called Matt Kennedy, who was working with Lon Moyer from Competition Engine Services. I sent them all of the parts I had given to the other engine builder who wasn’t able to build me an engine as quickly as I wanted. While Matt, Lon and team were building me a state-of-the-art engine, a 5.2-based Coyote with GT350 heads to go with my 2.9 Whipple supercharger, I was making modifications on the car, and then, I loaded the car into the trailer and drove to North Carolina, where my new engine was, and after it was on the dyno, I rolled the car out of the trailer, and I installed the engine in the parking lot of Competition Services before heading to the Import vs. Domestic race at Maryland International Raceway. I was running to the 1,000-foot and pulling the chute with the new engine to take it slow, and it was going 8.50 in Super Street, but I ran into an electrical issue with the EFI system and I didn’t get to make the last call to the lanes in qualifying. We have the best of the best in this current engine, and the car has the potential to run 7.90s.
YOUR MUSTANG COBRA JET CLONE IS CERTAINLY TURNING HEADS AND YOU HAVE EVERYONE’S ATTENTION. WHAT OFF-SEASON WORK HAS IT SEEN, AND WHAT OFF-SEASON WORK HAS YOUR FIANCEE AND FELLOW RACER STEPH DAVIES’ MUSTANG SEEN?
For Steph’s car, we’re in the process of a full restoration on it. For my car, we already have a killer engine and transmission, and right now, we’re doing some other things for the car. I re-shot the engine bay, made a new ram air system, installed a new cooling system and Frank Sergi is helping me out to wire the car again. We have the interior ripped apart so that we can put new carpet and new door panels in. The headliner is being rewrapped, and we added bars to the cage and painted the cage. We’re putting a Speedwire Systems control panel and we’re working with Second Street Speed for a MoTeC system, which will be our EFI for this year.
WE’RE READY TO SEE YOU IN NMRA PROCHARGER MODIFIED STREET COMPETITION. ARE YOU READY?
I’m pumped for this year. We’re planning to run NMRA Modified Street at each of the NMRA events, and I’m really excited about running in that new class. I think it will be a 7.80 or 7.90 class, and I think it will be very cool. It’s a new start for me, and I wouldn’t be able to do it without my fiancee, Steph, my dad, Jeff, my mom, Kathleen, my future brother-in-law, Scotty Davies, and Frank and Frankie Sergi, whom we have raced with for a very long time.
(Interview from the April issue of Fastest Street Car)