Darrel Merryman’s Ultra Street ’85 ‘Stang Is A Four-Eye For The Ages

Drag racing is intriguing for several reasons, one of which is the type of people it attracts. By definition, the “racing” part means that it attracts ferociously competitive people who will stop at nothing it takes to get into the winners’ circle. But it also attracts people who create personal goals, whether round wins or improved vehicle performance, by optimizing specific combinations of components to achieve particular self-designated objectives.

There is also a group of people who use the dragstrip activities — from racing to barbecuing to spending time with friends and family trying to achieve a common goal — as an escape from the pressure and frustration of daily life. Further, a large contingent of racers uses the racecar as the vessel to blend all of these ingredients into one wildly exciting fun time for all, except the racer’s wallet. Ultra Street racer Darrel Merryman falls into this last group, yet he is unique among racers for another reason we’ll mention shortly.

Inherited Passion

“My dad was into muscle cars from the day I was born. He always had Camaros and Chevelles. He always had something. So I grew up around it. I grew up going to 75/80 there in Monrovia, Maryland. That’s a historic track; we’re trying to bring it back now. As soon as I could drive and get my license, I got a car. I was 16 years old, up there bracket racing, doing the high school stuff. Did a couple of the high school races back then,” he says.

Having the family background to whet his appetite for racing pointed him in the most logical direction. It was the early ’90s, Vanilla Ice was rollin’ in his 5.0, and every high school kid around had the desire to get into one of America’s most visible cars — and Darrel was no different.

“I bought my first Mustang as soon as I graduated high school. I bought an ’88 LX, and from there took off as far as doing mods and all that stuff, and racing, continuing of course on bracket racing. Back then, there wasn’t any real heads-up stuff going on at the time. We did the typical cold air and gears; you’re running 12s, and then put a little nitrous on it, now you’re running deep in the 11s and then, build a motor, put a cage in the car, put a blower on it, now you’re running low 10s and into the 9s. Then you thought you were going fast. It was fast for a street car,” he says.

Race Car Variety

Merryman’s racing life has been very different from many racers in the number of cars he’s raced in his career. That very first Mustang stayed in his possession for 20 years — until 2014 — when he bought this car from Florida racer Walter Drakeford. He’s had only the two cars, ever, which is quite a bit different from most racers who seemingly cycle through cars as they cycle through socks.

“That one was kind of hard to get rid of, but the money I would have had to spend to get that car to where the new car was already with the 25.5 setup and suspension would have been too much,” he explains.

The longtime construction project manager decided to let go of the only race car he ever really invested in and make a move into this car, even though it meant he’d be starting fresh to get it set up just the way he wanted it.

Finishing Up The Build

He enlisted Dave Guy at DGR Performance in Dillsburg, Pennsylvania, to guide him as they finished up the car build. He’d spend time on his off days to go and work on the car under Dave’s guidance and planned to race it at Mason Dixon Dragway in the Maryland Performance Real Street class. After competing a few times, he ran into an issue that forced him to reevaluate the plan for the car.

“I had a little mishap up there, touched the wall on the driver’s side front, and did a little damage. It took longer than I would anticipate [to fix]. Once I got into it, we decided to build it for off street. Because we had to put a lot of weight in the car for Real Street, and it was like 3,400 pounds. You just had so much ballast in the car, which is unsafe, I think, to run 400 plus pounds of ballast in the car,” he explains.

Stretching The Budget Out

Ronnie Reynolds at Boosted Fabrication & Performance handled the most recent round of modifications. Reynolds helped guide him to revamp the car for Ultra Street action. The first time the car had been assembled, his budget drove the majority of the purchasing decisions, but the second time around, he could stretch the budget out a bit more to let Reynolds handle the majority of the work and parts acquisition.

“This time around, it was just more involved, and Ronnie took over. We cut everything off and just made more room, more practical for a turbo application. Rich [Groh] from RGR Engines went through the motor I had. We did a new set of cylinder heads, and I upgraded where I could. Tommy Keeney and Chris Davis of Maryland Collision Center took care of the Ford Platinum Pearl Paint. Of course, it’ll never end,” says Merryman.

The Engine Combination

With this build, he took the road less traveled, running the cast-wheel Precision Turbo 76mm Ultra Street turbocharger out of the box. It’s nestled in the passenger-side of the nose and feeds the RGR Engines 302ci four-valve modular engine. Groh used a Ford Racing Boss block, Scat forged crankshaft, Oliver connecting rods, and custom JE pistons to craft a solid foundation for the engine. Up top, a quartet of custom Comp Cams turbo camshafts sit on Cobra C heads, which have been CNC-ported, had new valves and fire rings installed, and been supplemented with GT500 camshaft followers and lash adjusters to maximize durability. The engine still wears a stock lower Cobra intake manifold and sheetmetal fabricated upper intake, too.

All engine work was handled at RGR Engines. Reynolds has a longstanding relationship with Groh, who has proven his talents with Ford engines by collecting untold records across many classes. Reynolds performs the tuning duties through a BigStuff3 engine management system that features an LS-style coil-on-plug ignition.

The Latest Modifications

Up front, Team Z Motorsports and Racecraft Inc. suspension components pair with Viking double-adjustable coil-over front struts. Merillat Racing torque boxes combine with Wolfe Racecraft upper and lower control arms out back, and a Wolfe double-adjustable anti-roll bar controls the body roll when power is applied. Menscer Motorsports double-adjustable shocks are also onboard. The 8.8-inch rearend housing has been braced and reinforced, then supplemented with 9-inch ends and Mark Williams axles and spool, but Merryman mentions that a 9-inch is likely in the car’s future. Wilwood disc brakes are at all four corners.

The Powerglide two-speed transmission features internals from BTE Racing and an SFI-approved Reid transmission case, housing a ProTorque Gen X torque converter. 275/60-15 Mickey Thompson ET Street R rear tires and frontrunners ride on Weld Racing V-Series front wheels and Billet Specialties Comp 5 Beadlock rear wheels.

With these parts onboard, the car has been 4.66, with only 25 passes or so on the whole combination. Since Merryman is so busy with work, it isn’t easy to get time off to travel and get to the events as often as some other racers, but that’s not really in his plan anyway. He wants to go racing, enjoy the time spent with his family and friends at the track, and show off his team’s capabilities.

Being Competitive

“There’s plenty of times when the number 16 qualifier beats the number one, you know? You don’t have to be the fastest all the time. Everybody’s so close most of the time, within a tenth or so of each other, and anything can happen. We plan to be competitive, have fun with it, and never lose sight of that. I think that’s what we do,” he says.

Of course, no car build is possible without a solid group of people in the background, and Darrell’s stunning four-eye is no different in that regard.

“Special thanks to my fiancé Lura Jacobs and the kids, Mike Bowen for all the help, my Dad Arnie Merryman who sparked my love for cars, and Mom and Terry for all of the support,” he sums up.

About the author

Jason Reiss

Jason draws on over 15 years of experience in the automotive publishing industry, and collaborates with many of the industry's movers and shakers to create compelling technical articles and high-quality race coverage.
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