This 1,000HP S550 Build Proves Old Racers Can Learn New Tricks

“I’m kind of an ADHD type of guy – I get bored real fast,” Gary Pundsack of Scottsdale, Arizona, explained. After retiring from a career in real estate in 2015, this 73-year-old former drag racer found himself with a lot of time on his hands. He needed a new project. “I’d been watching Street Outlaws and all this no-prep stuff on TV for years, and it really started to rekindle my passion for racing. Now I have a new goal of having one of the fastest street-driven S550 Mustangs in the West.”

When I get done with it, this thing is gonna run in the high 8s, and it’s going to look like it. — Gary Pundsack

To facilitate that goal, Gary started the Walter Mitty Garage. “The name of the outfit is a nod to those who typically have a day job and dream of an alter ego life around modified cars — kinda like the original Walter Mitty story,” he explained. “It was created as a venue for me to showcase cars I wanted to build for the annual SEMA show in Las Vegas.”

While the idea was years in the making, Gary’s SEMA build came together in a matter of weeks. “Building a SEMA car was a bucket-list item for me, and that somewhat evolved into my return to drag racing after a 41-year hiatus,” he said. “That has evolved into my wish to be the ‘oldest fastest guy’ at the events/classes I compete in. Seems like there are a lot of these fast S550 cars in Florida and the mid-Atlantic, but I have found few in the western United States.” (Photo Credit: Justin Muir)

Gary’s racing career started back in the mid-’60s with a 1963 Dodge 330 two-door sedan equipped with a 383ci big-block and a four-speed gearbox. Throughout the rest of his 15-year stint in drag racing he would run in the NHRA’s Stock and Super Stock classes, mainly under the Mopar banner. But after retiring from competition in 1977, his taste in performance projects would deviate from the status quo to include stuff like a built 1980 VW Scirocco, a hopped-up C5 Corvette, and even an ’85 Mercury Merkur. Still, the siren song of the Blue Oval proved too strong to ignore.

Dubbed 'Roxie,' Gary’s pony started life off as a 300A-package 2017 Mustang GT equipped with the bare essentials, as he already knew most of the factory go-fast hardware would be tossed in favor of aftermarket pieces. While last year's iteration of the car had an emphasis on eye candy, this year he is all-in with his intention to make the GT into a proper street-driven drag car.

“I really like Ford Performance’s commitment to the aftermarket and the program they have to support guys like me,” Gary said. “They clearly make some good stuff that’s proprietary — you can’t get it anywhere else, and I like that.”

After checking out some of the Mustang builds at the 2016 SEMA show, he decided he had what it took to throw his hat in the ring. Determined to build an S550 show car for the 2017 event, Gary purchased a bare-bones 2017 Mustang GT that would serve as the blank canvas for his vision and got to work corralling sponsors, parts, and extra hands to help with the project.

The Build

As with most SEMA builds, time constraints kept Gary and his team at the Walter Mitty Garage burning the midnight oil. “I could not have built the car without the help of Justin Muir and Mike Onofrey,” he told us. “We built the car for SEMA 2017 in three weeks in a home garage — not a professional shop — and we’re proud of that.”

After meeting Gary last year at No Fly Zone, a half-mile event hosted by Omega Motorsport at the Gila Bend Airport in Arizona, Justin Muir says he was struck by Gary’s enthusiasm, but he wasn't sure if he was just blowing smoke. "He told me about his brand-new Mustang — that he didn’t actually have yet — and how he was planning to make 1,000 horsepower and have the car shown at SEMA," Justin explained. "I don’t know that any of us in the pits actually took him seriously but as a kind gesture, I offered to be of any help I could and we exchanged numbers. Four months later, I got a text message from Gary. It something to the tune of, 'The car will be here in two weeks, I have $40,000 dollars worth of sponsor parts coming in two weeks after that, and we have three weeks to put it all together so the car can make the SEMA show for JMS.' I nearly fell out of my chair."

The general concept behind the initial build was a show-and-go type of vibe, a car that would turn heads standing still and twist ’em again when they saw the thing run. “The whole idea was centered on street style — wrapped, with powercoated 20-inch wheels and Air Lift suspension for that bagged look,” he says. But for the upcoming 2018 show, Gary decided to give the Mustang a more purposeful vibe. “This year it’s a drag car. When I  get done with it, this thing is gonna run in the high eights, and it’s going to look like it.”

As you might expect from a car with such lofty performance ambitions, this Mustang is packing some serious hardware. Under the hood the Coyote 5.0-liter V8’s muscle is bolstered by a JLT Performance cold air intake, Injector Dynamics fuel injectors, Corsa exhaust, E3 spark plugs, E3 coil packs, and an MMR crank gear and water-pump pulley.

Force feeding is provided by a Vortech supercharger while a Snow Performance water-methanol system supplements the direct injection system. An SCT Performance tuner keeps everything running smoothly. “We expect to hit 1,000 flywheel horsepower on pump gas with the water-methanol injection system,” he says.

To keep the temperatures in check, Mishimoto supplied the radiator, engine oil cooler, and the transmission cooler for the automatic gearbox.

Right now the cabin of the Mustang is largely stock, but Gary plans on adding a six-point bolt-in Watson Racing roll bar later this year before stepping up to a full cage. The latter is expected to happen once the car is consistently posting times that would require it in order to pass an NHRA tech inspection.

Of course it takes a lot more than just sheer horsepower to create a proper drag car, so the Mustang’s chassis has seen plenty of attention as well. “With the suspension, we basically put in everything that Steeda makes for drag racing at the front and rear,” Pundsack notes.

The power is put to the ground through a set of Mickey Thompson drag radials that are wrapped around JMS Avenger wheels measuring 17×4.5 inches up front and 17×10 inches in the rear.

Building The Boost

While the cold air intake, bigger injectors, upgraded ignition, and high-flow exhaust system all serve to enhance the Coyote’s output, the stars of the show are undoubtedly the supercharger and the water-methanol injection system.  The blower setup consists of a Vortech V-7 JT-Trim head with a 3.33-inch pulley, an eight-rib belt drive, Vortech’s BV57 blow-off valve (mounted on Vortech’s -B-model discharge tube), and an ATI 15-percent overdrive crank pulley. A Snow Performance Stage 2 water-methanol injection kit with Snow’s large volume pump and two jets in the intake stream helps to reduce intake temperatures. Gary expects about 18psi of boost once the setup is fully tuned and running on race gas, and the combination should be good for right around 1,000 horsepower.

And with this level of performance safety gear is also a high priority, so Gary sourced a helmet and fire jacket G-Force Racing, along with racing harnesses from Schroth and a driveshaft loop from Watson Racing. A cage is coming, but not in the immediate future. “I’m thinking I’ll probably use a six-point, bolt-in Watson bar this year and see how far it’ll take me. If I’m not running in an NHRA event I doubt anyone will have an issue with it since I don’t expect the car to run quicker than mid-nines as it is now,” Gary said.

The Road Ahead

While this year’s SEMA show is still months away, Gary is currently hard at work getting the Mustang’s setup solidified. “I think I’m going to have to get a couple more tunes in the car before we’ll have it really dialed in,” he noted. “We’re working with multiple fuels, so that makes it a little bit trickier. Right now I’m running 91-octane pump gas with a 50/50 water-meth injection system, and I also want to tune it for C85 racing gas and some other VP products that I can buy locally.”

Gary plans to switch up the livery before the car makes its appearance at the 2018 SEMA, and with the other changes the car has seen since last year in its transition from a show car to a more drag-focused setup, he expects it to look like a completely different machine versus last year. "It'll look like a new car," he said. "And my sponsors get the benefit of two unique presences at SEMA."

Gary anticipates mid-10s when the car makes its drag strip debut in June at Wild Horse Pass Motorsports Park in Chandler, Arizona. “I still have to get my sea legs back,” he says. “I haven’t driven a car at a drag strip in 41 years! It’ll probably take me a couple of runs to get back into the groove.”

I still have to get my sea legs back – I haven’t driven a car at a drag strip in 41 years! It’ll probably take me a couple of runs to get back into the groove. — Gary Pundsack

Looking further into the future, Gary has a general path already laid out. “Next stage will be putting in a built transmission using a Circle D convertor, Exedy clutches, and TCS input shaft,” he says. Then, it’s going to be a full roll cage and other NHRA requirements for the sub-9.99 second e.t.’s we’re anticipating. One we get the car solidly into the nines I anticipate, in all honesty, that the next thing that will happen is we’ll probably blow the motor,” he says. “I’ve got the oil pump gears and hardened crank gears, but I think the weak link is the reciprocating system in the block. So when the motor blows, I’m going to go to a built motor.” At that point we should be able to dip into the eights.”

After heading to the drag strip for Roxie’s initial shakedown runs in June, Gary expects to spend some time just dialing in the setup to the point at which the car is posting consistent 9-second passes on the quarter-mile.

Although he plans to run the car in exhibition events for the time being, Gary has his eye on some NHRA classes that might bring him back into competition. “I’ve been checking out the Summit E.T. series,” he tells us. “And if things work out the way I hope they do, I want to do some national events with it next year.”

In the meantime, Gary intends for the Walter Mitty Garage to be an annual presence at SEMA. “We want to bring a car to the show every year from now on,” he said. “When you go to the show the high-dollar, big-team builds tend to have a massive presence. That’s great, but I like the fact that we’re doing these builds in a home garage, the old fashioned way – just a bunch of gearheads figuring it out as we go.”

Gary Pundsack’s story is a clear indicator that for some gearheads, retirement doesn’t mean slowing down. If anything, Gary’s just getting faster…

About the author

Bradley Iger

Lover of noisy cars, noisy music, and noisy bulldogs, Brad can often be found flogging something expensive along the twisting tarmac of the Angeles Forest.
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