Norwalk, OH– Erica Ortiz & crew had one big goal for their journey to the 16th Annual Buckeye State Fun Ford Weekend Nationals in Norwalk, OH this past weekend: to get the Horsepower & Heels Thunderbird into the 6 second zone. With Norwalk marking the 3rd event in her rookie PRO 5.0 season, Erica was feeling comfortable behind the wheel and ready to step up.
“We made some changes to the transmission and sent the torque converter back the Chance Racing Converters to be tightened up. The looser setup had sufficed in getting Erica acclimated with the car and down the racetrack, but now we are ready to start stepping up the performance and shooting for the six second zone,” crew chief Dan Parker said of the pre-race preparations to the Bruno/Lenco combination.
Fresh off a #3 qualified position at the earlier FFW Richmond event, Erica had wrapped up the necessary steps to secure her Advanced ET license, running a best of 7.30 @ 186 mph before departing early in eliminations. With the much needed changes to the car, the team was optimistic entering the first qualifying session Friday afternoon.
“We’ve been very focused to date on getting me the needed seat time and sorting out the typical new car bugs. Dan (Parker) has had his hands full sorting out both a new car and a new driver at the same time, but he’s an excellent teacher and has made this transition very smooth for me. Now that we have the bugs worked out and quite a few runs beneath my belt, we’re working hard to step up the performance,” Erica said of her learning transition in the twin-turbocharged thunderbird.
Erica posted a pair of mid 7 second passes for the first two sessions of qualifying, plagued by a mysterious ignition misfire that worsened during the runs. The crew tore into the ignition system to try and determine the problem, replacing several components before heading to the starting line for a last minute test pass before the track shut down for the evening. But the problem was still there, and now was so severe the car would not even complete the burnout and was backed out.
That’s when the Livernois Motorsports crew stepped in to help. Dan Millen phoned some employees from his nearby Detroit, MI based speedshop and had them round up a complete ignition system for the thunderbird and bring to the track all the components needed to eliminate any possible culprit in the misfire. Dan & Erica arrived at the track early Saturday morning,replacing and rewiring the ignition system with the all new components. After a few tries and some trouble-shooting help from Millen, Steve Petty, and Dennis Lugo, the car revved to life and was ready for the 3rd session.
Erica posted a new career best of 7.14 @ 193 mph in the session, moving into the #3 qualifier position, but all was not well. After viewing the data logs and some discussions, the team had a bunch of work to do before the final session.
“The misfire is gone, thankfully. It felt a lot cleaner and more powerful going down the track, but the shift light was lit the entire pass practically and we knew there was a problem with the transmission,” Erica said of the run.
Dan determined that there had been a mix up with some internal parts on the torque converter, resulting in it being even looser than before.
“On the 2 passes prior, the car was so far down on power, it wasn’t as apparent in the graphs how loose the converter really was acting. Now that we had a clean firing engine, it was entirely too loose.” Dan said.
Dan, Pauly & Greg made quick work of pulling the trans and getting the converter out to Steve Petty, who luckily had the exact part the converter really needed to drastically tighten it up and was kind enough to swap it out for the team. The car was back together in no time, and a quick test fire in the pits confirmed the converter was indeed a large step in the correct direction. With the new converter set up, Dan was at square one again in terms of tune-up and chassis adjustments. With no data on how the car would respond to the change, he took a best guess and headed to the starting line for the final session.
The tighter converter immediately woke the 498cid motor, building more starting line boost than earlier runs. This added power proved too aggressive, as the car instantly went into tire shake and the run aborted. Erica would remain in the #3 qualified position for Sunday’s eliminations.
With no more testing opportunities available and facing eliminations first thing in the morning, Dan Parker spent the rest of the evening analyzing the graphs and formulating a plan. Erica’s 1st round opponent had qualified just ahead of her with a 6.99, a performance the team knew the thunderbird was capable of matching. Dan made several adjustments, and headed to the lanes for 1st round Sunday morning. Lined up, Erica was quick out of the gate, with the car matching its best 60′ incremental & marking a new best 330′. She quickly nosed ahead of her competitor before running into trouble on the 1-2 shift.
“It left strong and straight, and I had a nose out on my opponent. But at the 1-2 shift, the turbos spiked the tires and the car went into tire shake. I didn’t see him in my window, so I quickly peddled it and brought it back in the groove to try and salvage a run on the finish. Luckily, he was having problems too and my 7.50 run was enough to take the win.” Erica proclaimed.
Thankful for their luck, the crew quickly returned to the pits to look at the data. Erica’s first round win in PRO 5.0 competition put them into the finals against the #1 qualifier, a car they knew had the capabilities of running deep into the 6.60’s. Dan made some changes and Erica & the crew crossed their fingers for the final round.
And what a climatic final it was, as Erica was strong out of the gate. Knowing the cars looked close, Dan & the crew held their breath in anticipation, as both cars hung the chutes and the scoreboard lit.
6.88 @ 205mph
A close loss to Schorr’s 6.77 win light, but an estatic team as Erica accomplished the feat they had be hunting for all weekend. That pass marked the quickest & fastest for any female in Fun Ford Weekend history, and had everyone jumping for joy at her newly found memberships into the 6 second & 200 mph clubs. Erica could hardly contain her excitement.
[laughing] “You’d think I won the entire championship judging by my top end reations of that timeslip after the run,” she joked. “But after all the hard work that my crew has put into this, I finally reached a long standing dream of mine, something I couldn’t have done without everyone’s help.”
What makes this feat even more remarkable is the dedication and perserverance this team displayed to get there.
“Something that I’m really proud of for my team is what we have done with the limited resources available to me,” Erica says. “I work full time in advertising, go to school at night full time,and run a small web design & marketing venture for extra cash to try advance in racing. I am blessed to have built wonderful relationships over the years with great people who have really helped me out whenever possible, but most of the expenses come from out of my pocket. To say that we are a low-buck team is a HUGE understatement.”
Erica made the decision to move up to PRO 5.0 in late 2004, by selling her successful drag radial coupe in an effort to realize her dream of racing PRO 5.0 and perhaps one day, Pro Modified. She purchased the thunderbird with those proceeds, and spent most of 2005 rounding up parts. Updating the chassis and all turbo kit fabrication were handled in house, at Parker Chassis. Turbos were supplied by Rick Head, owner of newly formed Exile Turbo Systems. The 3 speed Lenco came courtesey of Bill George of Automotive Technicians, and the 498 ci powerplant was given to Erica from standout Ford engine guru Al Moody.
“Al Moody is a remarkable individual. He is the most innovative,intelligent, generous and sincere individuals I have ever had the pleasure of knowing. Words cannot express how much gratitude I have for his help and kind support,” Erica proclaims.
Al pieced together a complete engine for Erica using a stock 460 4-bolt block filled with cement, a cast steel crank, aluminum rods,and a set of Super Cobra Jet heads, a combination that has surprised many with its performance.
“We know that we are pushing the limitations of this engine to the max. Its been a great starting piece for me, and it has surprised us all how well it has done. I’ve already begun rounding up some parts for Mr. Moody so he can put together a more competitive and stronger piece for us. I know it’ll take some time, but I’m going to keep working hard to try and make a name for myself and find a way to get it done,” she states.
The Horsepower & Heels team’s next stop on the Fun Ford Series– Thunder Valley in Bristol, TN coming the first weekend of August.