After battling her “War Eagle” Mustang’s performance all last season, Indiana-based racer Haley James finally broke the 4.50 barrier in Renegade at the NMRA’s season-opening race in Bradenton.
The team, owned by longtime Mustang tuner and car owner Dwayne James — also Haley’s father — put the car through several changes over the offseason, each chosen to improve its performance in the hard-fought Renegade class.
“All last year, we ran in the mid-to-high 4.60s, then low .60s at the end of the year. The fastest cars started to run high .50s, and then you had a couple of low .50 passes. My dad said, ‘We need to find that .57, .57, we just gotta find that little moment in time,’” says James.
Over the offseason, they invested heavily into the program, outfitting the car with a MoTeC engine management system to consolidate the electronics into one system and get rid of several components, along with optimizing the car’s performance. Naoto Negishi of NCS Designs helped to spec out the entire MoteC system, creating specific parameters to assist the team in monitoring the vehicle’s performance.
The car’s combination also allows Haley to cross over into Ultra Street to maximize the amount of seat time she gets in the car. They also made several chassis adjustments before heading to the US Street Nationals — where the car remained stuck in the low .60s. A trip to Duck X Productions’ Lights Out 12 event just one week before NMRA continued the team’s challenges to find that little something; even after making several more changes, they did not experience the success they knew was possible given the offseason adjustments.
Now the story gets interesting, as the improvement came after an unorthodox change. Dwayne suggested that Kieffer Simpson, Haley’s boyfriend, take a shot in the car during a private test session before the NMRA event. Kieffer, who had never driven a car this fast before that day, hopped behind the wheel and started visualizing the run.
“He’s practicing the routine in his head, how to bump the car in, let the transbrake off, shift. Whenever I practice like that, I always short-shift because I didn’t train myself to see the light. I forgot to tell him to practice visualizing the shift light, so he didn’t short-shift. So he goes out and makes a hit, short-shifts — not by a whole lot, just a few hundred RPM — and my dad learned that the car liked that. So we started playing with shift points throughout the weekend more than we had before, and then first round, boom, the .58 popped up. We definitely didn’t expect to do that in non-ideal conditions in the middle of the day,” says James.
The team has many supporters that James relies on to help her perform at the top of her class, and James singles out Chris Groves and the team at The Dyno Edge in Albuquerque, New Mexico, as one of the driving forces behind the team’s successes. Also, the Bouldry family in Florida helps the team by storing the car when needed.
Playing with torque converters and stators to optimize the load through the transmission has been a learning curve. Still, the team is finally on to something, even if it is just decreasing elapsed times by hundredths or thousandths of a second at a time.
“I think on a good day, we can continue going .57, .58, and in good air, we can go a mid-.50. We always talk about how the number-one-qualifier doesn’t end up winning. Sometimes the more consistent car that can get down in the heat wins the race. We have a really fast bracket car right now,” she says.
Her confidence is hard to beat, so if you find yourself in the opposite lane, you’re in for a fight.