Chris Kaufmann Talks Mustang Racing
Chris Kaufmann has done it all with regards to wrenching on Fords and racing – from Pro Stock to Trans-Am to his latest endeavor — racing in the Mustang Challenge Series.
Kaufmann became involved with racing in the mid-1960’s, when the Tucson Dragway opened up on the outskirts of town. Chris was soon a regular at the drag strip, winning his first National Event in 1971.
Eventually, he went to work as a mechanic for Jack Roush and Wayne Gapp. While there, he worked on the Ford Pintos and Mavericks that were racing against Chevrolets and Dodges. After watching Gapp and Roush battle the likes of Grumpy Jenkins and Ronnie Sox, the driving bug bit again. Chris got his Pro Stock license and began racing Pro Stock Fords in the “factory hot rod” class.
Kaufmann got his start in drag racing and worked as a mechanic on the Gapp and Roush team.
After working for a while with Frank Iaconio when he ran a Ford Thunderbird in Pro Stock, Chris moved to Kenny Bernstein’s Ford backed “Super Team” in 1984. While with Bernstein, the group made a trip out to the Bob Bondurant School in Arizona for a team building exercise. That trip introduced Kaufmann to the wonderful world of road racing. As Kaufmann recalls, “During that trip I fell in love with road racing, because I found out that you spend a lot more time in the car road racing than you do in drag racing.”
In the early 1980’s, Ford wanted to get the Mustang back in the enthusiast’s mind as a “muscle car” in order to compete with the popular Camaro. Ford gave two media cars to performance shops, one on each coast. The east coast Mustang went to Steve Collison and the west coast car went to Kaufmann and Car Craft Magazine.
“We did several stories called “Horse Pressure” on this car. We built that car up and after six months of doing tech stories we had a big match race in St. Louis,” said Kaufmann. “Our car was a half a second faster than Steve’s and we had so much fun with those cars, I built a business based off the fox bodied Mustang and catering to them.” The Car Craft Mustang was running so well that Chris began to lobby some of his Chevrolet friends to organize a shootout race.
Kaufmann got on the phone with the late John Lingenfelter and pitched the idea of the running the fastest street Mustangs against the top Camaros. John liked the idea but could not convince the Camaro drivers to compete.
Kaufmann then contacted Buick turbo guru Kenny Duttweiler about a Mustang vs. Grand National race. “Kenny liked the idea because he knew several fast Buicks, and if they lost to a Mustang V8 they could claim their V6 turbos were handicapped. We put together the first Mustang vs. Buick Grand National shootout at Atco Raceway in New Jersey,” said Kaufmann. “Kenny actually won it and we had a great time with that shootout series. Pretty soon the Mustang guys found out that a good number of Mustangs were attending these shootouts and lobbied to form their own race series. That’s kinda how that started.”
Kaufmann started a Kaufmann Products and Advanced Engineering in the early 1980’s making high performance auto parts. During that time Steve Saleen, an up-and-coming SCCA racer, contacted Chris about building engines for his new Mustang racing program. “The Saleen program seemed like an easy way to go racing with engines that I had already built and the Mustang that I was already familiar with,” said Kaufmann. The Saleen team went on to success and scored several championships in the Escort Endurance Series.
A job on the Rocketsports Trans-Am team prepared him for the Mustang Challenge Series.
Chris’ background with Mustangs and drag racing prompted Billy Glidden to contact him in 2000. Shortly thereafter he hit the road with Glidden, wrenching on the famous black fox body Mustang in NMCA and NMRA competition. The single nitrous plate / small block Ford combination terrorized all the turbo and supercharged Mustangs of the era.Kaufmann still follows Glidden’s progress with the ford Powered Pontiac GTO in the ADRL 10.5 class.
When asked if surprised at the performance of stock suspension Mustangs today, Kaufmann responded: “Anybody with a brain knew that a turbo Mustang and traction control (aka boost controller) was a great combination and the sky is the limit. Racing today, we live in a miracle time right now. Anybody that thinks the good ‘ole racing days were in the 60’s, they are sadly mistaken because the good old days are today.”
Chris ran two Mustang Challenge races last year, and served as crew chief and team owner of the Hot Rod Magazine Mustang Challenge entry, driven by Hot Rod editor Rob Kinnan. “Rob did an excellent job with no wheel to wheel experience and almost no road racing experience. He got thrown out in the mouth of the lions, with the mixture of experienced drivers and pros. All these racers have a million track miles in cars, so Rob learned a lot for a rookie driver, he even got up to ninth place in one race.”
In 2008, Rob Kinnan drove the Hot Rod sponsored car. Andrew Caddell is the hired gun for 2009.
Kaufmann Racing’s driver for 2009 is last year’s Mustang Challenge champion, Andrew Caddell. Caddell spent a few years in the Miata Cup series before making a big impression last year in the Mustang Challenge Series. Chris feels the Miata Cup experience helps drivers like Andrew. “In a spec series every component is evaluated and pushed to it maximum limits. A spec car series doesn’t have many variables and everybody is equal and the drivers that step up are the ones that have a good sense of the track.
Seat of the pants feel is what Andrew learned with less horsepower in the Miata. Andrew is the type of driver that can feel out the car. He’s a heavy kid, heavy in the Miata Series and he is heavy in our car. So now he has a handicap of having less power because of more weight. He has to run it on the ragged edge and have lots of momentum through the corner. The late corner braking and carrying momentum was learned in the Miata series and has carried it over into the Mustang series.”
Caddell and Kaufmann’s first Mustang Challenge victory lane this year at Miami.
Halfway through the season, Caddell and Kaufmann are currently leading the Mustang Challenge series. “We have such a lead we could only lose if we shoot ourselves in the foot or something catastrophic happens,” saidKaufmann. “We tried to do that at Laguna, fortunately due to a good car and a good driver we managed to pull disaster from the jaws of bad luck.”
When asked about the competition, Kaufmann looks to the TC Motorsports team and Ted Anthony Jr. (currently second in points) as their biggest threat. “He has an advantage over Andrew in that he is much lighter and that’s a big help. Andrew can’t really pass him on the straightaway and the team has realized that if they make their cars extra wide in the corners, Andrew cant pass. As much as Andrew would like to pass he doesn’t want to punt them off. He has to resist doing that which I think shows some maturity.”
Kaufmann knows that he has a driver that can win a championship and his job is to provide him with a good car. They found some things that were wrong with the car at Laguna and made some changes which should enhance the car’s performance. Kaufmann built the car around Andrew, and with Caddell’s input, they have solved the cross weight and suspension problems that they had at the first of the year. The learning curve on the FR500S is always spiking and never flat lines.
Although intricately involved with racing throughout his life, Kaufmann is a 17-year veteran of the LAPD. He spent 11 years as a member of the LAPD pistol team, helping them win 10 state championships and several National and World championships. Kaufmann became a professional golfer in 1998 and has toured on the PGA circuit. He currently divides his time between racing, teaching golf, and providing instruction in firearm safety and shooting.