If you are a fan of Ford’s legendary, factory-prepped drag cars, we hope you made it to Summit Motorsports Park in Norwalk, Ohio, last weekend. If not, you missed the chance of a lifetime. The National Muscle Car Association hosted the 50th Anniversary Ford Performance Cobra Jet Reunion during its All-American Nationals, and it was one for the ages.
Yes, the Ford Performance 50th Anniversary Cobra Jet Reunion, presented by TascaParts.com, grew wildly beyond our expectations. — Rollie Miller, ProMedia Events & Publishing
Heading into the event, the organizers hoped to attract 150 Cobra Jets for its special car show, displays, and drag racing classes. By the time the event rolled around, nearly 200 Cobra Jets were on the property. These cars ranged from the first 1968 Cobra Jet built to the latest Cobra Jet fresh off its reveal at the Woodward Dream Cruise.
The Cobra Jet and the NMCA are all about drag racing, so part of the reunion were three Cobra Jet racing classes — Vintage Cobra Jet, Modern Cobra Jet, and King of the Cobra Jet, which matched up the winners of the two other classes. Taking the win in Modern Cobra Jet was Mike Pustelny of Almont, Michigan, in his 2014 Mustang Cobra Jet. He defeated Rod Heltzel, who lit the red bulb, with a 9.831 at 136.25 MPH pass. (Photo Credit: NMCA)
“Yes, the Ford Performance 50th Anniversary Cobra Jet Reunion, presented by TascaParts.com, grew wildly beyond our expectations. The energy was amazing surrounding that portion of the NMCA All-American Nationals because it was the largest gathering of the most prominent and significant Cobra Jets of all-time,” Rollie Miller, general manager of ProMedia Events & Publishing, said. “We had Cobra Jet number one from 1968 and 2008, the ’68 NHRA Winternationals-winning car, ’08 winning car, the 50th Anniversary Cobra Jet prototype, and many other important models. The personalities on hand from the racers and owners to the Ford personnel connected to the Cobra Jet programs from the ’60s, ’70s, and today was outstanding.”
Pulling off an event of this magnitude required a herculean effort by the people behind the scenes at Ford Performance and the NMRA, but by all accounts it was well worth the effort.
“The reaction by participants and fans was overwhelming,” Rollie enthused. “It felt great because Steve Wolcott (President and CEO of ProMedia) and Mike Delahanty at Ford Performance began planning this celebration nearly a year ago and they poured they hearts and souls into it.”
The duo certainly put a lot of effort into the event’s preparation, which revved up in the two months leading into the race weekend.
As cool as it is seeing the modern CJ’s blasting down the track, there is just something special about seeing the classics still getting it done. In the Vintage class, Steven Hall of Sweeny, Texas, nabbed the win in his 1968 Mustang Cobra Jet. He bested Rod Heltzel, who was haunted by the red bulb again, with 9.768 at 126.23 MPH blast. When it came time to crown a king, however, the newer CJ captured the throne as Mike Pustelny bested Steven with a 9.863 on a 9.81 versus a 9.754 at on a 9.74 dial-in. (Photo Credit: Brian Wagner/Dragzine)
“In terms of planning and prep, I would say it was well beyond what we typically do for the SEMA show. Well, this only happens once. We get a shot at a SEMA show every year,” Ford Performance Drag Racing Program Manager Mike Delahanty told us.
The SEMA show is pretty big deal, so that lets you know just how seriously the team behind this event took its presentation. This was no mere drag race with a car show. The Cobra Jet Reunion offered a number of packages that allowed participants and fans to enjoy numerous activities, including a happy hour, lunch in the pits, dinner with Cobra Jet luminaries, and guest speakers telling stories about the vaunted factory drag racer.
“We wanted to make sure that the people who came had some surprise and delight moments. Steve and I worked on some of the little details, like the signage and some of the little events that we put on, like the dinner on Friday night,” Mike explained. “It was that kind of stuff that we really wanted to make sure that people came away feeling good about. The fact that it was a once-in-a-lifetime event, we wanted to make sure it was a home run.”
I think we can finally say that it truly was a once-in-a-lifetime event. — Mike Delahanty, Ford Performance
Once word got out about the event, the Cobra Jet community rallied together and helped draw some really special vehicles (see our photo gallery below) to Ohio for the celebration.
The NMCA offered a variety of packages that allowed Cobra Jet owners and fans to participate in the car show, drag racing, and various other activities at the 50th Anniversary Cobra Jet Reunion. (Photo Credit: NMCA)
“A lot of people made calls and a lot of people recruited others to muster others to come forward. All those efforts paid off. I think we can finally say that it truly was a once-in-a-lifetime event. I have been around and done a lot of things in my life, but I think that was probably one of the most rewarding ever,” Mike added.
In the end, some really rare machines filled the reunion displays and a who’s who of racers and engineers were on hand to participate in the speaking events at the track and during the exclusive reunion dinner. Among those notables were Bill Barr, John Calvert, Don Fezell, Dominic Garofali, Bill Gilbert, Rusty Gillis, Dean Gregson, Brent Hajek, Roy Hill, Al Joniec, Dennis Kolodziej, Emil Loeffler, David Lyall, Barrie Poole, Tony Rainero, Carl Tasca, Chuck Watson, and Brian Wolfe, who spearheaded the Cobra Jet’s resurrection back in 2008.
Obviously it made for a special gathering of the Cobra Jet faithful, and it was one that even struck those deeply involved with the current program.
“The thing that meant the most to me, and that I will probably stay with me the longest, was just seeing some of the CJ owners and Ford engineers that came. These were people that hadn’t seen each other for decades getting back together; people that had only heard of others, but had never met them, finally meeting,” Mike observed. “Selfishly, there were a lot of guys that I had read about and heard about, but never met. Having a chance to meet them and see their cars was really cool.”
Even the owners of the classics couldn’t help but be impressed by the 2018 Cobra Jet, which made a special appearance at the reunion’s exclusive dinner.
Racer Al Joniec etched the Cobra Jet moniker into the drag-racing history books by winning the Super Stock class with this Cobra Jet at the 1968 NHRA Winternationals. He continued to race it until 1973 before selling the car, but it and many other rare, CJ-powered machines were on hand at the reunion. (Photo Credit: Brian Wagner/Dragzine)
“The guys that had the original cars or had been racing for a long time, they were happy to see that we were trying to keep the flame lit, but I think they were take aback by how far it has come,” Mike said. “We had an ’18 parked next to an ’08, and just looking at those two cars, there was a huge difference. You didn’t realize just how far the car has come in just 10 years.”
It has definitely come a long way in the last 50, and led the way for the rebirth of other factory drag packages that compete against the Cobra Jet. Based on this year’s event, the reunion might just lead to some other gatherings in the future as well.
Mixing it up with the vintage Cobra Jets was a host of modern CJ-powered machinery, and this was a unique unit. It’s a 2014 Shelby GT500 given the Cobra Jet treatment and boosted to 1,200 horsepower by a massive Kenne Bell supercharger. (Photo Credit: Brian Wagner/Dragzine)
“There are other celebrations of vehicles being discussed with various parties that will bring the car enthusiast community come together in a similar and grand fashion,” Rollie revealed.
For now, whether you were able to attend or not, you can reflect on all the Cobra Jet greatness that appeared this year in our gallery below…