When Jon Bowles pulls up to the starting line, it may appear as though he and his black ’92 Mustang are the definition of sneaky and stealthy, but when the 347 cubic-inch, 88 mm-turbocharged engine is spooled and the hammer is dropped, all eyes are on them.
For years, fans of the Aeroquip Performance Products Heads-Up Series and Holbrook Saturday Shootout Series at Milan Dragway in Michigan have watched as Bowles tweaked his combination and ran a series of 8-second passes.
After stopping the clocks at 8.02 at a No ET Nationals event at Milan Dragway last October, he felt he could run even faster, so he turned up the wick for the following pass and let it all hang out, and when he pulled up to the ticket booth afterward and track employee Keith Zieske asked him how fast he wanted to run, Bowles responded with a hopeful “7-anything,” prompting Zieske to shake his hand and flash the timeslip that read 7.95 at 177 miles per hour.
This summer, in the warm Michigan air, he collected more 8-second timeslips for his efforts, but fall’s cooler temperatures once again brought the boost and while driving his car to the semifinal in the VP Racing Fuels Drag Radial class in Milan Dragway’s Aeroquip Performance Products Friday Night Heads-Up Series on October 7, he ran 7.99 in the first round of qualifying and 7.97 in the first round of eliminations, marking his second and third trip to the 7-second zone.
As impressive as that is, what fans will likely remember most is Bowles yanking the wheels, carrying them a long distance and stopping the clocks at an 8.03 in the third round of qualifying. While the nighttime dew found its way to his windshield in the semifinal and forced him to lift, the outing was a successful one for the driver who predicted this week before that he would go faster at this race.
The car has come a long way since the days when Bowles was often forced to pull to the side of the road to feed oil to its tired stock engine. Now, he is confident that mid- to low-7.80s are next, and the head and intake work he had done over winter, coupled with his tuning skills, will make him one to watch this season.
“Jon does a fine job with his car and with his program, and he has a good time with it,” said Trace Meyer, fellow Drag Radial racer. “I was very happy for him when he ran 7.97. It was a big milestone.” Read on for more about Bowles of Adrian, Michigan, a maintenance technician at PPG Industries, who used to get his kicks mud-racing a Jeep CJ7 with a lift-kit and big tires at abandoned gravel pits and on closed roads.
DRAGZINE: The car is a clean machine, inside and out.
Jon Bowles: “When I bought it about ten years ago, it had been used and abused. It had a stock 302 cubic-inch engine and a five-speed transmission, and I raced it like that, with some simple bolt-ons, then I used nitrous for a little while, and it ran 11.70s with nitrous. That was the first year I had it, and then the second year I had it, I put an automatic transmission in it, and a ProCharger D1R and it ran 10.70s and I was street-racing with it.
We had gotten kicked out of the race track for going too fast without a cage. In the third year, I put a cage in it and decided I didn’t like how the car looked, so we started working on the body and did paint and it snowballed from there. We completely disassembled it and restored it and it took us two years. We had repaired the bottom, inside, hood, frame-rails and trunk. Rod Calvin helped me do all of the body work and paint about six years ago.
I just like to be different, and now that I have a handle on it, I wouldn’t change it for anything.
I bought an engine from Swill Racing, their Renegade engine, about six or seven years ago, and started racing in NMRA Drag Radial. My first race in that class was at U.S. 131 Motorsports Park in Michigan. The car was running high 9s, and I spun the tires a lot, and basically spun the tires for two years, you might say, until I figured things out, and it’s been going down track ever since. I ran NMRA Drag Radial for three years.”
DZ: What is your current combination?
Bowles: “It’s old-school. It’s a 347 cubic-inch small-block Ford built on an 8.7 deck Dart block with Diamond pistons, Oliver billet rods and I have the old-style Wil-Burt Street Heat High Ports, an 88 mm Work turbocharger that I have had for five years and Big Stuff 3. The car has the original 8.8 rear-end, though it was heavily modified three years ago by Chris “Noodles” Hemmeter at Behind Bars Race Cars. In fact, he built the rear-end, exhaust, intercooler and the rear suspension.
Dave Zimmerman from Team Z Motorsports built the 25.5 Funny Car cage two years ago, and I run his front suspension and I added his wing to the car this year. Dave has helped me out with a lot of stuff.”
DZ: Speaking of your High Ports, Mike Curcio and Joe Shober of Mike Curcio Race Products (MCRP) worked on them and ported your Edelbrock Super Victor intake manifold over winter. Shober said they gave your heads a more modern exhaust valve and used a radius valve job and Manley’s small-diameter springs and retainers. He also said you should pick up ET.
Bowles: “Yes, they just did the work in March. When Trace Meyer took his engine to them, he took my heads and intake to them at the same time. They do good work. In fact, they did my heads five or six years ago, back when I first put the car together. I bought those heads from the original owner, but they’re part of my family now.”
DZ: Many of your friends, including Jason Lee, Trace Meyer and Chad Doyle, run supercharged-combinations in their Mustangs, but you chose a turbo-charged combination.
Bowles: “I just like to be different, and now that I have a handle on it, I wouldn’t change it for anything. It just took a while because I was breaking engines, but two winters ago, I had Chuck Noonan at Performance Machining Racing Engines go through the engine and fix everything, and once the engine stopped breaking, we started making progress and I started getting more aggressive in the tune and I was able to work on figuring things out as far as what the car liked and didn’t like.”
DZ: You mentioned you use Big Stuff 3. Do you do most of your own tuning with it?
Bowles: “Yes, I do, but Jason Lee, Trace Meyer and Chad Doyle help me if I have a struggle.”
DZ: Toward the end of last season, your car was going faster and faster in the Drag Radial class at each of the Milan Dragway heads-up races. We’re two races in this season. How’s it going so far?
Bowles: “I didn’t make the first race, and at the second one, my distributor broke and the car just quit in the burnout box, in the first round of eliminations. Deano and Baldy pushed me back, and it’s always just spectacular when you’re broken and pushed in front of the stands.
Of course, all of this was after I got a flat tire after my first qualifying pass. I missed second round of qualifying because I was looking for a set of front tires to borrow, and then Jim Adams, another racer who lives across the street from the track, loaned me his old Draglite wheels and tires, and we bolted them on and I made the third qualifying pass, when I ran 8.10 at 177 miles per hour. That was with the same tune-up that was in it from last October.”
DZ: You recently took part in the Pritchett Brothers’ Ultimate Outlaw Shootout at Milan Dragway.
Bowles: “Yes, I qualified seventh out of thirteen or fourteen cars. For the first qualifying pass, the car did a hard wheelie and went toward the wall, and for the second qualifying pass, it went 5.31 in the eighth-mile, and in the third round of qualifying, it went 5.29 in the eighth-mile and it went the same thing in the first round, like a bracket car, but I lost to Keith Groves with a fantastically slow light.”
DZ: Which additional races will you take part in this season?
Bowles “I’m going to continue to race in the Drag Radial class at Milan Dragway’s heads-up races and in the Diamond Pistons’ X275 class at Milan Dragway’s Saturday Shootout Series, and we’ll probably go to Georgia for Donald and Amanda Long’s big race, Outlaw Radial Revolution, in October.”
DZ: Any plans to return to NMRA competition?
People look at you like you’re this side of nuts when you’re driving it on the street with a parachute on the back, and rather than getting any thumbs-up, I just get a bunch of stares
Bowles: “It’s not out of the question, but the Drag Radial class is really fast right now. Jason Lee has been 7.54. I’ve got a lot of testing to do to go as fast as they’re going.”
DZ: Is it true that you have no qualms about driving your 7-second beast on the street?
Bowles: “It’s happy to be driven! It still has license plates and power windows and power doors and backup lights. It’s got everything and I made sure of that on purpose. People look at you like you’re this side of nuts when you’re driving it on the street with a parachute on the back, and rather than getting any thumbs-up, I just get a bunch of stares.”
DZ: Stickers for your business, TubingJon.com, can be found on many race cars. What does TubingJon.com offer?
Bowles: “I offer any aluminum tubing, including the tubing itself and any accessories, silicone couplers and aluminum down-pipes for turbos. Almost all of the turbo cars have aluminum exhaust. I’ve been doing it for about five years. I’m a plumber and pipe-fitter by trade and I was laid-off and I was putting my car together and I wasn’t going to pay the long dollar, so I started looking and it snowballed from there.”
DZ: We saw a post on yellowbullet.com in which you told Josh Henline you were looking forward to dragging his “roach” down track. No love for your fellow heads-up racer. What’s up with that?
Bowles: “That was nothing! You should see us on Facebook! But really, Josh is a good guy who would do anything to help someone, and it’s all in good fun.”
DZ: Who helps you with your car?
Bowles: “Mark Henry helps me all of the time, but Chad Doyle, Trace Meyer and Jason Lee help me out a ton, too. They’re the best friends a guy could have, really. Chad and I have done a lot of work to the car. He helped me mini-tub it and we mounted the intercooler and did all of the rear suspension in my garage and then in Chad’s garage. I don’t do well dropping the car off just anywhere because I’m too picky. I have also received help from Oliver Connecting Rods, Cometic Gasket, Inc., Mickey Thompson Tires and Fasco Employment Solutions.”
DZ: Where are you when you’re not at the track?
Bowles: “I like to go snowmobiling with my wife, Jolene, who has her own snowmobile, and our sons, Noah, 9, and Parker, 5, who play baseball. Noah made the all-star team for Sand Creek Little League for the third year in a row, and we play tournaments every weekend until August. I don’t have a whole lot of free time because I coach Noah’s team, but we have a lot of fun, and I’m a pretty lucky guy.”