John Urist literally burst onto the drag racing scene when his nitrous car caught fire at the Spring Break Shootout back in the day, thus giving the Fireball his nickname. Since that high-profile entry into the Mustang world’s collective consciousness, he has become one of the most successful racers in the history of the NMRA. Much of that success came behind the wheel of various Mustangs powered by traditional push-rod small-blocks. However, he realizes that things must evolve to stay relevant, which is why he built a 2016 Mustang race car.
“If drag racing is to continue being as popular as it is right now — when it seems to be making a comeback— the crowd has to be younger,” the multi-time NMRA Street Outlaw champion said. “The kids of the old racers need to be brought in and it may not resonate with an ’87 Fox — as much as we love that vehicle — because that is more about nostalgia versus a body style that Ford is selling and producing. At some point, you have to make the change to stay current.”
To push the sport forward and more closely identify with Hellion Power Systems’ street customers, John Urist built this 2016 Mustang up from a wreck into a 2,000-horsepower Street Outlaw racer.
Along the way, John founded Hellion Power Systems, which has delivered on the promise of bolt-on turbo kits that are readily available for order. With each new iteration of modern muscle car, John develops a kit. As such, his street customers are primarily owners of the latest hardware, rather than the now-classic machines he had been racing.
“The tuning has to be really close with this engine because of the way the spark plug is in the chamber, so you need to spend a lot of time reading the plugs,” John explained. “It really doesn’t run well if the tune is off, so we have to spend a lot of time to make sure it’s right, and that’s taken some time this year. The year-and-a-half learning curve that we’ve had I believe will pay off for the next five years that we plan on campaigning this car.”
In The Beginning
“I was talking to Bart Tobener. He had bought a body-in-white and had laid out his plan for building a car. After talking to him, I started to get intrigued about doing it to try and relate the business to more modern customers than my red car,” John said. “What we do for a living is more of a street-car market and the race car lives in a race car market, so if we can cohabitate those, I think it will help promote what we do on the street because people can relate to the body style.”
With that seed planted, John picked up a wrecked S550 that he stripped bare and turned over to Behind Bars Race Cars for an SFI-certified 25.3 cage. Once it was finished, he and Bruce Dyckes finished the car, Jim Guthrie at Car Crafters painted it, and Craig Berry designed the wrap applied by Genesis Signs, which highlights his primary sponsor Turn 14 Distribution.
To support the power needed to compete in NMRA Street Outlaw, John turned to the crew at Modular Motorsports Racing for one of its tall-deck Gen X billet Coyote engine blocks. It features 9/16 head studs, eight 1/2-inch main studs, screw-in galley plugs, billet main caps, replaceable flanged cylinder sleeves and more. “Everything that was a weak link before was addressed,” John said. “The engine is not that heavy. It is definitely lighter than my pushrod engine.” (Photo Credit: Modular Motorsports Racing)
I wanted to stick with a Coyote platform because that is the engine that came in that car. — John Urist, Hellion
The result of that build is a striking race car, but to complete the modern circle and truly build a car that would resonate with customers and potential customers, John needed a Coyote engine under its Watson Racing carbon-fiber hood.
“With this we needed an engine program and I wanted to stick with a Coyote platform because that is the engine that came in that car,” he explained. “So, Mark Luton at MMR was working on his billet block for the Pro Mod, and we received the second block in production to put in this car. Now we have the billet platform for the strength to handle the, roughly, 2,000 horsepower that is needed to compete in Street Outlaw.”
John chose to fill the MMR billet block with billet rods from Bill Miller Engineering and forged pistons from Arias. The tall-deck MMR block not only allows for more displacement, but also enables a more favorable rod ratio for the high-RPM racing environment. (Photo Credit: Hellion Power Systems)
The Hellion race team has long relied on the team at Modular Motorsports Racing for its engine program, so when MMR developed its Gen X billet Coyote blocks, it only made sense to keep that going with his latest Mustang race car.
“We have a long-standing relationship with MMR. Our business and Mark’s started at roughly the same time and he’s always been into the modular engines. We have always recommended their engines and used their engines and parts, so it obviously made sense to team up and promote this engine in the Street Outlaw class and expose it to the NMRA/NMCA crowd,” John explained.
“He is racing his engine in the Pro Mod class with the NMCA and we are racing in the small-tire class with NMRA. Basically, this was an effort to modernize drag racing, similar to what Pro Stock did with fuel injection. What we are doing is bringing the overhead-cam V8s that have been production for so long to the forefront. It’s not that we are the first racers to do it, but this is the best of those engines to this point to run competitively.”
“We have been working with Hellion and its team for about three years now,” Mark Luton at MMR explained. “Hellion needed proven engine combinations and everything they have purchased has worked well for them. They have never had a single engine failure due to assembly and that is what they were looking for going in.”
The MMR Gen X blocks accept massive 9/16-inch ARP head studs for an improved clamping force on the cylinder heads, which is a boon to high-boost combinations like John’s Hellion-turbocharged machine. Below, this engine’s Winberg crankshaft is cradled in billet main caps fastened by an octet of ARP 1/2-inch studs. Understandly, John didn’t share all the specs of the combo, but if you want a built Gen X engine, you can order a standard- or tall-deck short-block directly from MMR.
So, basically, everything about the engine is billet, except the GT350 cylinder heads. — John Urist, Hellion
“…At John’s power level he would destroy a block every two races, this becomes a very cost-effective way of running a Coyote engine at a high power level without constant block failure,” Mark added.“It also drives the turbocharger faster than the smaller-displacement engine resulting in quicker e.t.’s”
Besides the tall-deck Gen X billet block (PN 444802; $12,999.99) this engine features the full complement of Gen X billet accessories — from the timing cover to the cam covers — along with a set of production Shelby heads ported by Gaby Labiosa at EIC Motorsports.
“So, basically, everything about the engine is billet, except the GT350 cylinder heads, which is part of the rules,” John said.“But it retains all the factory style components, so if this thing had a cooling system we could drive it on the street. The beauty of this type of engine is that there’s really not that much maintenance to do — just make sure the oil’s changed and the bearings are good and it will make a run.”
Behind the MMR billet timing cover on John’s engine lies MMR’s billet timing chain guides and cam lockouts. He degreed the custom-ground COMP camshafts to his preferred setting and locked them out. He continues to play with the settings, paying particular attention to the duration and valvesprings to maximize the combination. “There are different characteristics depending on where you install them and every time we race, we’ll try something new,” John said.
Hellion Gen X Coyote Specs
• MMR 358-cubic-inch Coyote
• MMR Billet Gen X engine block
• GT350 cylinder heads ported by EIC Motorsports
• EIC/NRC fabricated intake manifold
• Holley Pro Stock throttle body
• MoTec M800 engine management system
• MSD Power Grid ignition
• Hellion Turbo Systems custom turbo kit featuring Bassani tubing
• Precision Turbo & Engine 98mm turbocharger
• Turbosmart USA wastegates and blow-off valves
• Red Line synthetic oil
• Weldon Racing fuel system w/ Russell Performance plumbing
“To compete against the pushrod engines that are currently running, we need as many cubic inches as we can get, so Mark designed the tall deck to get a larger stroke,” John explained. “It’s got the same 3.700 bore as the Shelby engine, but it has a 4.165 crank in it. We can put a longer rod in there and it just makes all the geometry a little easier, especially with that stroke.”
So that he can make repairs or adjustments at the track, John has always assembled his own engines and this powerplant was no different. Working closely with MMR on the assembly and his sponsors for rugged hardware, John created a robust engine that requires little maintenance and performs well.
“The most startling difference between this and all the other engines I have run is efficiency,” he said. “It uses less fuel to make the same horsepower, so we haven’t had to tax our fuel system as much as we did in the past. So, what makes it modern and efficient, we also see that transferring to the racetrack.”
To feed this 358-cube Coyote and withstand the boost from a 98mm turbocharger, John turned to Naiser Racing and EIC Motorsports for a short-runner, big plenum sheetmetal intake fitted with a Holley Pro Stock oval throttle body that fits within the Street Outlaw regulations. It is fitted with eight Precision 220 lb/hr injectors fed by a Weldon 1600 fuel pump and controlled by a MoTec M800 engine management system.
Facilitating that power is a class-legal turbocharger that feeds the Gen X engine with big boost.
“We use Precision turbos on our street kit and on this car, which has a single 98mm Precision turbocharger, which is a class turbo size that’s spec’d. On our street kits, we run twin Precision 62mm turbos for fitment and throttle response on the street,” John elaborated.
“A twin setup is always better than a single when there are no constraints, such as rules, because the twins have lighter wheels that spool faster. In a lot of the class racing – so that they can monitor performance and keep everybody on a level playing field – they limit you to a single turbo. This complicates things, because you’re relying on a larger turbo that’s very heavy, so it’s harder to spool up and manage. But in a drag racing application, we try to compensate for that.”
Since there is really no better option and cast heads are require by the rules, John runs Shelby GT350 cylinder heads prepped by EIC Motorsports atop his billet Gen X engine. They are fitted with custom COMP camshafts. “We worked with COMP Cams on all the camshaft grinds and the duration numbers were the main topic of discussion between MMR and I because this was the first engine for what we do, so we wanted a safe bet as far as the camshaft duration goes,” John explained. “It is a specific cam for the GT350 head, so it has a larger lift than the Coyote cams. It is the new generation of camshafts from COMP, so we are basically experimenting with different profiles and trying to give feedback. However, the GT350 is the nicest head that they’ve built, so it has the lighter rockers and high-rpm capability.”
Dialing It In
Here is the billet beast under the hood of John’s S550 racer. As you can see, an MSD Power Grid ignition strikes the match on this 2,000-plus-horsepower Coyote. “We have the smallest engine amongst the competition and we have longest, widest, tallest car, so in an ideal situation we are choosing a harder path to success,” John said. “If this engine were in my old car, our learning curve would have been a lot shorter, but because the car is so much different and tricky with such a small tire, everything has to be in unison. So, it’s a double-edged sword, but we wanted to show that the same car that you can go buy at the dealership is actually on the track running.”
As John mentioned, Mark Luton of MMR runs the first-ever Gen X billet engine in his record-setting Pro Mod Mustang. While there are some slight differences, the two engines are pretty similar.
“They are very similar camshaft packages and they both use the GT350 head, but Mark has a different intake because they are running Pro Mod, which allows two throttle bodies,” John said. “For Street Outlaw, we are limited to a single throttle body, so I am using a Holley Pro Stock oval throttle body.”
The MMR Gen X Pro Mod is the quickest Coyote around, thanks to a 3.87-second pass, but John’s Gen X runs pretty well too.
“In a test session, we ran a 4.54 (in the eighth) and we coasted to a 7.4 without even being under throttle,” he said. “If we were in the throttle all the way, it’s basically a mid- to high-6-second car, easily, and we may see what it does when we go to the Import versus Domestic race in the fall, which is a quarter-mile race.”
So stay tuned to see what this thing can do on the quarter mile at the World Cup Finals this fall.
Ultimately the Gen X Coyote makes ample power, but it does behave differently than the big-inch Windsors John was accustomed to running.
“Power is power, but these do make it at a higher rpm, so the torque converters have to be designed to maximize the performance. They have to be loose down low and then tight up top once the engine gets rolling,” John said.
“It is a bit more challenging to make this engine run where we want it to versus my old engine, but at the last race we actually qualified third and ran my best time ever with this combo — a 4.53/165 on a really hot, tricky racetrack — so we are pretty confident that we have the power to make this thing work,” he added.
Based on his track record, we have no doubt John will find his groove with the Coyote combo. And, after taking a look inside his program, we can’t wait to see just how well it runs in the future.
You can learn more about the MMR Gen X block here and the Hellion racing program right here.