Yesterday, June 12th, marked a very sad anniversary for the racing community. Two whole decades ago, Jason Betwarda passed away during testing at Lebanon Valley Dragway in West Lebanon, New York.
Jason was driving his turbocharged 1993 Mustang LX notchback, preparing for the upcoming NMRA Ford Motorsport Nationals at Maple Grove when tragedy struck.
His death was a huge blow to drag racing, as Jason had been a pioneer for turbocharged Fords, and fast Fords in general.
A Quick History
As a teenager, Jason jumped into the Fox-body scene with both feet with his first Mustang – a 1987 GT convertible. He quickly became comfortable with the street racing scene in New York, but eventually became restless, wanting more power at his fingertips.
In just a few short years, the same Mustang was diving into the 10-second range (10.30’s to be exact). Remember, this is the early 1990s, so 10’s were quick! At that point, the Fox was powered by a 306 cubic inch engine. It featured an aftermarket intake, J302 cylinder heads, a Turbo Technology turbocharger, and an Accel DFI Gen VI engine management system, with an Art Carr Ford C6 transmission and a shot of nitrous.
But Jason wasn’t happy sitting in the 10’s. He always needed to be going faster. So before long, the Mustang was cut up and equipped with Goodyear 33×16 rubber, and given a Duttweiler Performance 306 cubic inch A4 steel small-block with four-bolt mains and a forged steel rotating assembly. The single-turbo setup was replaced with twins. This combination would launch Jason into the 8.80s in 1993 – a massive feat – but still not enough.
C&F Race Cars overhauled the chassis soon after, and the car would eventually accomplish quarter-mile times in the 8.30’s, making it the quickest and fastest Mustang time after time.
Still not placated, a 331 cubic inch stroker engine was installed with larger Turbonetics turbochargers, bumping horsepower ratings from 1,200 to 1,500, and placing the team on the verge of 7-second passes. Mike Ragusa joined the team at this time, eventually becoming a second driver.
Come 1995, Englishtown Raceway Park in New Jersey would be the site of the “Racin’ Jason” team’s first 7-second pass ever, running an incredible 7.81 at 185 mph, followed by a second pass of 7.79 at 182.
In 1996, the vert was pushed to a best of 7.56 at 185 powered by a larger 388 cubic inch engine from Duttweiler, but the team decided that the “Racin’ Jason” car’s chassis was being pushed to its absolute limit, and it was retired to a storage unit to be replaced with the 1993 LX notchback. The notch would go on to run 7.80’s in Pro 5.0 before the team jumped around to several NMRA and NMCA classes, switching the combination to adhere to rules each time.
On June 12, 1999, Jason was testing the notchback in a private test session preparing for his return to the Pro 5.0 competition lineup at the NMRA Ford Motorsport Nationals – the first national competition held during a heritage Ford event at Maple Grove, and an event that had seen Jason successful over the years. In a devastating turn of events, Jason would never take the light at that event – passing away as the result of a tragic crash during a test run.
Jason’s constant push to the top, and his unorthodox approach at being (and building) the absolute best made him a pioneer of Ford racing, and drag racing in general, and we’re lucky to have shared the sport with him.
Last weekend at the Carlisle Ford Nationals, we were lucky to come across the now-revamped “Racin’ Jason” convertible, currently owned and raced by a longtime friend of Jason’s, Joe Caldwell.
Caldwell got the all-clear from Jason’s family to bring the Mustang back to life in an effort to accomplish a 6-second pass, and while it hasn’t happened just yet, we can’t wait to see that pass. We know Jason can’t wait to see it either.
Rest in peace, Racin’ Jason, and thank you for everything.