As the 2018 NMRA ARP Open Comp champion, Gordon Harlow has what it takes to be successful in the famously fierce category.
He follows a formula, and it includes making only minimal changes to his Mustang, setting it up to be as consistent as possible from the starting line to the finish line, and doing everything exactly the same with each and every pass, from belting in and burnouts to launches and lead-footing.
And while the Kentuckian wanted to wrap up another championship last year, his mind was on his mother and close friend and NMRA racer Wade Trammell, who both passed away last summer. As a result, he found himself having trouble focusing and putting together the tight packages that he traditionally puts together.
“The first race we went to after my mom and Wade died was pretty difficult,” said Harlow. “Wade was a very good friend in addition to a fellow racer, and they were definitely in the back of my mind pretty much throughout the race season.”
Harlow still managed to pull off a fifth-place finish in NMRA ARP Open Comp points in his Mustang motivated by a 351 cubic-inch small-block Ford which Bennett Racing Engines built several years ago and Harlow and his friend have maintained through the years. It features an SVO block, AFR 205 heads and an Edelbrock intake, and it sips fuel from a Quick Fuel carburetor. Harlow has a TCI Powerglide and converter behind his engine, and the combination helps him consistently cruise to high 9s and low 10s.
As fall turned to winter, he began preparing for the 2020 race season, and one of the tasks on his to-do list was to replace the 12-volt battery in his car with a 16-volt system from Rock Batteries.
“It helped get a little weight out of the car, and since I don’t run an alternator, I needed more voltage,” said Harlow.
When he was done, he headed to the first NMRA event of the year, the well-attended Nitto NMRA Spring Break Shootout, in early March at Bradenton Motorsports Park in Florida. He ripped off an .011 reaction time to qualify in the twelfth spot, and advanced to the second round of eliminations with a 10.00 dial. Then, at the 12th Annual Scoggin-Dickey Parts Center NMRA/NMCA All-Star Nationals, which was to be held in April at Atlanta Dragway but was delayed because of the Coronavirus pandemic and held in June at Atlanta Dragway, Harlow had an .020 reaction time to qualify in the tenth spot, and advanced to the third round of eliminations with a 10.20 dial.
“The air was so good in Florida, but then so bad in Georgia,” said Harlow, with a laugh. “I had to dial up to a 10.20, and I had to make some jetting and timing changes there to try to run the number.”
Now, he’s holding down the ninth-place in NMRA ARP Open Comp points heading into the Nitto Tire NMRA/NMCA Super Bowl presented by HPJ Performance, July 30-Aug. 2 at World Wide Technology Raceway in Madison, Illinois, where he hopes to get past the tough competition and to the Aerospace Components Winner’s Circle
“There are a lot of good racers in ARP Open Comp, and you can win or lose by a few thousandths of a second, so I need to stay focused,” said Harlow. “That’s what is going to help me the most.”
(Photos courtesy of NMRA)