John Urist literally burst onto the drag racing scene when his nitrous car caught fire at the Spring Break Shootout back in the day, thus giving the Fireball his nickname. Since that high-profile entry into the Mustang world’s collective consciousness, he has become one of the most successful racers in the history of the NMRA. Much of that success came behind the wheel of various Mustangs powered by traditional push-rod small-blocks. However, he realizes that things must evolve to stay relevant, which is why he built a 2016 Mustang race car.
“If drag racing is to continue being as popular as it is right now — when it seems to be making a comeback— the crowd has to be younger,” the multi-time NMRA Street Outlaw champion said. “The kids of the old racers need to be brought in and it may not resonate with an ’87 Fox — as much as we love that vehicle — because that is more about nostalgia versus a body style that Ford is selling and producing. At some point, you have to make the change to stay current.”
Along the way, John founded Hellion Power Systems, which has delivered on the promise of bolt-on turbo kits that are readily available for order. With each new iteration of modern muscle car, John develops a kit. As such, his street customers are primarily owners of the latest hardware, rather than the now-classic machines he had been racing.
In The Beginning
“I was talking to Bart Tobener. He had bought a body-in-white and had laid out his plan for building a car. After talking to him, I started to get intrigued about doing it to try and relate the business to more modern customers than my red car,” John said. “What we do for a living is more of a street-car market and the race car lives in a race car market, so if we can cohabitate those, I think it will help promote what we do on the street because people can relate to the body style.”
With that seed planted, John picked up a wrecked S550 that he stripped bare and turned over to Behind Bars Race Cars for an SFI-certified 25.3 cage. Once it was finished, he and Bruce Dyckes finished the car, Jim Guthrie at Car Crafters painted it, and Craig Berry designed the wrap applied by Genesis Signs, which highlights his primary sponsor Turn 14 Distribution.
I wanted to stick with a Coyote platform because that is the engine that came in that car. — John Urist, Hellion
“With this we needed an engine program and I wanted to stick with a Coyote platform because that is the engine that came in that car,” he explained. “So, Mark Luton at MMR was working on his billet block for the Pro Mod, and we received the second block in production to put in this car. Now we have the billet platform for the strength to handle the, roughly, 2,000 horsepower that is needed to compete in Street Outlaw.”
The Hellion race team has long relied on the team at Modular Motorsports Racing for its engine program, so when MMR developed its Gen X billet Coyote blocks, it only made sense to keep that going with his latest Mustang race car.
“We have a long-standing relationship with MMR. Our business and Mark’s started at roughly the same time and he’s always been into the modular engines. We have always recommended their engines and used their engines and parts, so it obviously made sense to team up and promote this engine in the Street Outlaw class and expose it to the NMRA/NMCA crowd,” John explained.
“He is racing his engine in the Pro Mod class with the NMCA and we are racing in the small-tire class with NMRA. Basically, this was an effort to modernize drag racing, similar to what Pro Stock did with fuel injection. What we are doing is bringing the overhead-cam V8s that have been production for so long to the forefront. It’s not that we are the first racers to do it, but this is the best of those engines to this point to run competitively.”
“We have been working with Hellion and its team for about three years now,” Mark Luton at MMR explained. “Hellion needed proven engine combinations and everything they have purchased has worked well for them. They have never had a single engine failure due to assembly and that is what they were looking for going in.”
So, basically, everything about the engine is billet, except the GT350 cylinder heads. — John Urist, Hellion
Besides the tall-deck Gen X billet block (PN 444802; $12,999.99) this engine features the full complement of Gen X billet accessories — from the timing cover to the cam covers — along with a set of production Shelby heads ported by Gaby Labiosa at EIC Motorsports.
“So, basically, everything about the engine is billet, except the GT350 cylinder heads, which is part of the rules,” John said.“But it retains all the factory style components, so if this thing had a cooling system we could drive it on the street. The beauty of this type of engine is that there’s really not that much maintenance to do — just make sure the oil’s changed and the bearings are good and it will make a run.”
Hellion Gen X Coyote Specs
• MMR 358-cubic-inch Coyote
• MMR Billet Gen X engine block
• GT350 cylinder heads ported by EIC Motorsports
• EIC/NRC fabricated intake manifold
• Holley Pro Stock throttle body
• MoTec M800 engine management system
• MSD Power Grid ignition
• Hellion Turbo Systems custom turbo kit featuring Bassani tubing
• Precision Turbo & Engine 98mm turbocharger
• Turbosmart USA wastegates and blow-off valves
• Red Line synthetic oil
• Weldon Racing fuel system w/ Russell Performance plumbing
“To compete against the pushrod engines that are currently running, we need as many cubic inches as we can get, so Mark designed the tall deck to get a larger stroke,” John explained. “It’s got the same 3.700 bore as the Shelby engine, but it has a 4.165 crank in it. We can put a longer rod in there and it just makes all the geometry a little easier, especially with that stroke.”
So that he can make repairs or adjustments at the track, John has always assembled his own engines and this powerplant was no different. Working closely with MMR on the assembly and his sponsors for rugged hardware, John created a robust engine that requires little maintenance and performs well.
“The most startling difference between this and all the other engines I have run is efficiency,” he said. “It uses less fuel to make the same horsepower, so we haven’t had to tax our fuel system as much as we did in the past. So, what makes it modern and efficient, we also see that transferring to the racetrack.”
Facilitating that power is a class-legal turbocharger that feeds the Gen X engine with big boost.
“We use Precision turbos on our street kit and on this car, which has a single 98mm Precision turbocharger, which is a class turbo size that’s spec’d. On our street kits, we run twin Precision 62mm turbos for fitment and throttle response on the street,” John elaborated.
“A twin setup is always better than a single when there are no constraints, such as rules, because the twins have lighter wheels that spool faster. In a lot of the class racing – so that they can monitor performance and keep everybody on a level playing field – they limit you to a single turbo. This complicates things, because you’re relying on a larger turbo that’s very heavy, so it’s harder to spool up and manage. But in a drag racing application, we try to compensate for that.”
Dialing It In
As John mentioned, Mark Luton of MMR runs the first-ever Gen X billet engine in his record-setting Pro Mod Mustang. While there are some slight differences, the two engines are pretty similar.
“They are very similar camshaft packages and they both use the GT350 head, but Mark has a different intake because they are running Pro Mod, which allows two throttle bodies,” John said. “For Street Outlaw, we are limited to a single throttle body, so I am using a Holley Pro Stock oval throttle body.”
The MMR Gen X Pro Mod is the quickest Coyote around, thanks to a 3.87-second pass, but John’s Gen X runs pretty well too.
“In a test session, we ran a 4.54 (in the eighth) and we coasted to a 7.4 without even being under throttle,” he said. “If we were in the throttle all the way, it’s basically a mid- to high-6-second car, easily, and we may see what it does when we go to the Import versus Domestic race in the fall, which is a quarter-mile race.”
So stay tuned to see what this thing can do on the quarter mile at the World Cup Finals this fall.
“Power is power, but these do make it at a higher rpm, so the torque converters have to be designed to maximize the performance. They have to be loose down low and then tight up top once the engine gets rolling,” John said.
“It is a bit more challenging to make this engine run where we want it to versus my old engine, but at the last race we actually qualified third and ran my best time ever with this combo — a 4.53/165 on a really hot, tricky racetrack — so we are pretty confident that we have the power to make this thing work,” he added.
Based on his track record, we have no doubt John will find his groove with the Coyote combo. And, after taking a look inside his program, we can’t wait to see just how well it runs in the future.
You can learn more about the MMR Gen X block here and the Hellion racing program right here.