The Ford Motor Company’s influence on high-performance vehicles and the world of drag racing can’t be denied. There are entire families that are bound to the blue oval brand thanks to that influence, and NMRA racer Dennis Corn happens to be a part of one. Dennis is a multi-time NMRA Open Comp champion that also works for Ford Racing icon Jack Roush as the Operations Manager at ROUSH Engines.
Dennis Corn’s father, Bob, is the one who put him on the Ford path. Bob spent many years working at Ford as an engineer and played a pivotal role in elevating the company’s motorsports programs. Bob, along with Doug Thompson, Mel Wallace, Lue Williams, and Bob McNall all worked together to race several Ford vehicles. Eventually, Bob developed a relationship with Jack Roush that grew over the years and led to him working with Roush.
Dennis grew up watching his father race, and in 2008, he decided it was time for him to get behind the wheel. A Fox body Mustang was selected as Dennis’ first race car, but the deal fell through, so a new car needed to be found.
“I purchased a 1988 Ford Thunderbird in North Carolina, met with my father, my Uncle Doug Thompson, and we agreed to go racing again with me doing the driving. The plan was to keep things simple — an old-school hot rod powered by a small-block Ford like my father worked on when he was young. The car also needed to have a manual transmission like what Uncle Doug would drive. We were hoping for a 10-second ride that would run in the 135 mph range,” Dennis explains.
The Thunderbird’s chassis was built at the ROUSH facility in Livonia, Michigan. The front suspension uses a K-member from UPR, along with a set of double-adjustable struts from Strange Engineering. In the rear, you’ll find a Currie 9-inch rearend that’s filled with more parts from Strange. A set of Wilwood brakes help bring the Thunderbird to a stop. The brakes are paired with Weld wheels up front, and Billet Specialties hoops in the rear. Tires from Mickey Thompson keep the Thunderbird rolling down the track.
The small-block Ford that powers the Thunderbird was machined and assembled at ROUSH Engines. A Dart block serves as the engine’s foundation. The rotating assembly uses a crankshaft and connecting rods from Eagle, along with MAHLE PowerPack pistons. AFR 225cc cylinder heads were selected and dressed with PAC springs, ROUSH retainers, and Jesel rocker arms. A solid roller camshaft from COMP Cams, Trend pushrods, ROUSH lifters, and ROUSH HyVo timing chain set rounds out the engine’s valvetrain. An intake from CHI, along with a Holley 4150 carburetor combines the air and fuel for the engine before the electronics from MSD provide the spark.
Dennis rips his own gears when he drives the Thunderbird. A G-Force GR5 clutchless five-speed transmission and single disc clutch from McCleod Racing are the driveline parts of choice. The Thunderbird has run a best of e.t 8.902 and 151.20 mph at the track, naturally-aspirated.
Dennis has won a total of three NMRA Open Comp Championships during his racing career. Those championships are a big accomplishment, but they’re not what motivates Dennis to keep racing.
“My goals and motivation for racing is to have fun with my father, uncle, family, and friends. I also am out here to prove to myself that I am a capable driver against very capable and experienced index racers in the NMRA. We really do not have defined ambitions beyond index racing, it’s all about the fun for us,” Dennis says.
Dennis has been able to do some amazing things during his racing career and that’s been made possible by the people supporting him at home and at the track.
“My family, friends, and crew have played a big role in all my success. Dad, Doug, Dan Ostrander, John Stanford, Lane Breck, and Theo Rotkieicz have all helped so much. The ROUSH Corporation, Dart, MAHLE, AFR, Holley, COMP Cams, PAC Racing Springs, Eagle, G-Force, and McLeod have all been there as well providing me with the best parts possible to compete at a high level,” Dennis says.
Dennis Corn has built one of the coolest Thunderbirds you’ll ever see. The fact that he rips his own gears and wins in the ultra-tough NMRA Open Comp class is a testament to how well his car runs.
Photos provided by Dennis Corn and the NMRA