Australian Pro Stock racer Jason Grima sought a new test of his drag racing mettle last year, shipping his 2007 Ford Mustang across the Pacific to compete in NHRA’s Competition Eliminator.
There was little fanfare at the time; Grima’s presence on running sheets at NHRA events even caught us by surprise. But for Jason and brother Jonathan, getting on to the track on the other side of the world was the result of imagination and a plan.
“I always had dreams of racing in the USA,” Jason said. “My brother Jonathan came and say me one day and said, ‘We’re not racing here anymore, do you want to go there?’ When the opportunity arose I jumped on it.”
Grima considered his options. He had two cars that would fit the bill, a 2007 Ford Mustang and a later 2010 version, which won the Australian Pro Stock Championship in 2013. In the end, Grima didn’t take his 2010 car because of its significant sentimental value.
“The 2007 car has been a pretty fast car down low, and it was reliable,” he said. “The 2010 car is the championship car so I wanted to keep it at home; it is the trophy car. It is complete and it will never be sold. You know, I’ve even still got my old (Super Sedan) Jaguar after all this time.”
A 40-foot shipping container was ordered to be filled with the car and any equipment that might come in handy, and then Grima needed to look for somewhere to send it.
“I arranged to get a warehouse where we could keep everything in St Louis, Missouri. I ordered a motorhome, a trailer and all the other equipment we needed. We needed a number of trips back and forward to get it sorted out.”
Grima took the opportunity to make some upgrades to the car such as a fresh front clip, and he was able to start testing late last year. He kept the 400 cubic inch combination familiar to Australian Pro Stock teams and originally intended to compete in the NMCA’s small block Pro Stock class, but when that bracket folded he made the switch to NHRA Competition Eliminator where the car fits neatly into B/Altered.
“We’ve had to get on top of the fuel first, as Sunoco SR18 is what we have to run. The car is running 85 pounds heavy with our 400ci motor in, so we are in the process of building a new motor at 415ci to max the weight of the car. So far we have gone .66 under the index while overweight, but to be up there with the other guys you need to be .70 or .80 under.”
Making a shift to NHRA Pro Stock may have seemed like an option, but Grima said he doesn’t have the manpower or the resources to start a whole new engine program right now.
“It may change in the future, but for now we are staying in Comp. We have looked at some other categories; we may purchase another car.”
There was much to get used to in Comp for Grima. Though he is a former sportsman racer, the sportsman tree in the USA is different, with half a second between lights as opposed to the four tenths in Australia.
“Sometimes you are waiting, another guy had a nine second index. I’m used to the pro tree on 0.400 heads up racing, so I’ve had to learn again.
“Comp has very interesting combinations: altereds and dragsters, four cylinders and six cylinders, even blown alcohol. The people are interesting and I’ve found Comp Eliminator drivers are really welcoming.”
Grima's first US event was at Indianapolis Raceway Park for a sportsman meet, where he had to adapt to the different air conditions of midwest North America.
“That was pretty trying and the conditions were hard, we had a 109 correction factor which I have never raced in before so we were having problems with the tune up and we didn’t fare too good, I think .32 under or something. Then we went on to Joliet and conditions were tough again, but we went 52 under there and we made it through the first round. After that we went to Beech Bend, Kentucky and we got the carburettors rectified and the car ran a 7.01, then 7.000, so we were .66 under.”
A return to Indianapolis beckoned but the circumstances were different; Grima would now be competing at the US Nationals. There he ran well early, but was caught out on the tree in round one.
“I qualified seventh out of 52, we were impressed with how we went. I just cut a red light pretty badly in the first round. It’s something I have to adapt to as a driver.”
Grima confessed that the pressure of competing at the biggest drag racing event in the world was hard to overcome.
“It got to me at the US Nationals, in my driving. If I had it all over again I would have been more relaxed. I’ve driven in big moments before, but I am a fish out of water at the moment because you are in somebody else’s backyard and racing on their turf. I need to get my A-game together.”
Despite the adrenaline of the moment, Grima said his first events on American soil had been marked by welcoming friendliness in the pits.
“From when you walk in the gate and the guy parks you, the officials, the fellow racers, it is everything I was anticipating would be there, actually it has exceeded that level. To run at Indy in my first year of racing, I am pretty stoked.
“I’m racing with professionals and whenever we need anything people are ready. Drag racing is a job there. When you need something done by somebody, they have a job to do, they aren’t weekend warriors.”
For now Grima's attentions will be focused on the USA, where he hopes to recoup the significant investment emotionally, if not financially, through racing success.
“I only plan to race in America at this stage. I didn’t go and invest all that money for a year or two."