Pushing a small block Ford engine to it’s outer limits is what NMRA’s Hot Street is all about. High compression, crazy RPM, and some of the involvement of some of the most highly talented engine builders in the nation make this class what it is. This is one of the few classes in street car heads up drag racing where the only power adder is your right foot.
Rick Riccardi III is no stranger to this world of naturally aspirated mayhem. He’s been racing his 1980 Capri in NMRA and other competitions for over six years now. Having finally scored his first event win, this racer has shown he has the staying power to stick with the class when many others have left, and is a force to be reckoned with when the staging beams are tripped.
Starting at an Early Age
Riccardi’s love affair with drag racing goes back to his childhood. Heading to the track with his family to watch his father and uncle run their front engined slingshot dragster, young Rick was initiated into the world of motorsports at young age. His father had a service station, and his grandfather became the owner of Downs Ford in the 1980’s, one of the nations leading Ford Racing Performance Parts dealers.
Riccardi became a service technician, making an honest living swinging wrenches for about fourteen years. He eventually made his way to the motorsports division of the dealership, turning his speed addiction into a way to help customers on a daily basis.
Riccardi had a Mustang of his own for a few years and then got hooked on the lifted truck scene. “I decided though that my love for speed belonged at the drag strip so I decided to start racing again,” he says. Over a decade ago he found the Capri, which was about be sent to the crusher. Snatching it up, he eventually made his way from Open Comp to the NMRA’s Hot Street class where he has become a permanent fixture. “I get more fulfillment out of racing on a carburetor versus running on a power adder because there’s nothing assisting me,” Riccardi said.
Riccardi found that Hot Street was no easy environment to race in. The amazing feats that the cars are capable of, also meant a similarly amazing amount of maintenance between rounds, as well as amazing costs between seasons.
Aside from great driving skills the only way to win in an environment this competitive is to look for every advantage. Riccardi has been spending his time and money looking for any kind of edge he could gain. Tired of playing catch up, this team was determined to go to the winners circle in 2012, even if it meant sitting out most of the season to get the car in the proper condition.
What started out as a simple update to the chassis turned into a nearly complete revamp by the gurus at Hell Bent Race Cars, the second one in as many years. The car had already been updated for the newer NMRA requirement that the chassis be certified to run 7.50’s.
These guys were determined to find every last bit of power in that setup. They’ve gone over every single part, there’s nothing that hasn’t been looked at in terms of how can we get more power out of it.
A similar story happened with the engine. What was supposed to be a mild refresh turned into a full on rebuild. Riccardi has faithfully used Bob Oster of B&B Performance and Machine and Dave Jack of Dave Jack Cylinder heads. “These guys were determined to find every last bit of power in that setup. They’ve gone over every single part, there’s nothing that hasn’t been looked at in terms of how can we get more power out of it,” said Riccardi. The 399 cubic inch engine features Edelbrock Victor heads ported by Jack and a host of other very trick features that we’re not at liberty to reveal.
The transmission as well is a thoroughly custom unit built by Rossler utilizing a custom Neal Chance converter which was also updated.
Riccardi is quick to point out that his efforts would be impossible without his crew. Dennis Varga bought into the team this season. He is Riccardi’s right hand man, helping with every aspect of the car. Now a partner in the car, Varga is more indispensable than ever before.
There’s also Jenni, Riccardi’s girlfriend. Helping the boys out in the pits and on the road, Jenni too is a fixture in the Riccardi camp on race weekends. Riccardi gives both a lot of credit for helping in his efforts. He tells us his crew is vital to his efforts, “Without Dennis and Jenni there’s no way I’m going out there, I can’t do this without them. There is no I in my winning it’s We. It’s not just one person, it’s the three of us together, the Team is the one that wins.”
Victory at Last
Without Dennis and Jenni there’s no way I’m going out there, I can’t do this without them. There is no I in my winning it’s We. It’s not just one person, it’s the three of us together, the Team is the one that wins.
All the months of waiting and missing out on nearly an entire season would finally pay off for Riccardi. Like a prize fighter who has only been able to watch others go rounds as he works on a new conditioning regimen, Riccardi has been anxious to get back on the track to find out if his efforts will pay off. Having made it to the final round, but never getting the win light, Riccardi was looking for the win he’d sought for so long.
With only two half track passes on his new setup, he and his crew loaded the car up and headed to the NMRA World Finals in Bowling Green, KY.
At Beech Bend, the only track to be a mainstay in the NMRA schedule every year, Riccardi not only had the car set on kill, but set the record as well. With his efforts paying off in spades he went to the final round against Tim Eichorn that weekend. A red light by Eichorn gave Riccardi the easy victory, clicking the car off early he coasted through the top end timers with his first win in the class.
It would seem though that the Downs Ford Racing machine was not done for the season yet. Mother nature though had other plans. Hurricane Sandy slammed into the east coast crippling infrastructure and sending a large number of the nation’s residents into a tailspin.
Riccardi’s world wasn’t much different. Sandy made landfall just a few miles from his home. Roads and bridges were disabled and debris strung everywhere. Varga’s house was without power, he and his family were actually staying with Riccardi. “We were debating on whether to go to MIR or not. We decided that there was nothing else we could do here, so we loaded up the car and left.” Varga’s home had power restored the day the crew was rolling out for the World Cup Finals, Import Vs. Domestic Shootout at MIR.
World Cup Thrash
Battling some setup issues initially Riccardi and crew had to adjust to get things right for this event. Finally with everything dialed in Riccardi and his team once again had the car set to kill and their eyes set firmly on the prize at the World Cup Finals.
They set a personal best time at the event, running a screaming 8.20 ET during the weekend. After winning in the semi finals, the final round came up quick. “We had less than fifteen minutes to get the car ready,” said Riccardi.
For those unfamiliar, making this kind of power with a small block Ford, or any high strung naturally aspirated engine requires some meticulous prep work between rounds. Engines of this caliber are the prima donna’s of the racing world and demand you pay attention to them even when not on the track or they may fail to perform at the right time. They often utilize camshafts with gross lift in the .800” to 1.00” range. As such things like valve springs need to be inspected and possibly replaced between rounds to prevent power loss, or worse parts failures that could result in your $60,000 race engine being a pretty pile of scrap.
Regardless, with virtually no prep time and the car really not ready to make a run, Riccardi would go on to pull out the W again at MIR, making it two in a row for he and his team.
Riccardi has his car it would seem all ready for next year. Though we’re sure he’s not just resting on his laurels and trophies from this years wins. He’s waiting to see what rules and class shake ups occur during the off season. Post season rules and class adjustments More will be revealed during or after the PRI show in early December.
For now you’ll find Riccardi and Jenni probably helping the Varga family and their other friends clean up the mess that Sandy made of their community. Plotting about what they’ll do next year, and which races they’ll be heading too.
Riccardi will also be there at Downs Ford, in the performance department, helping customers, taking phone calls and ordering speed parts. We’re fairly certain that after tasting victory, Riccardi and his crew will be looking for more wins next season as well as probably being pinned as the new team to beat wherever they race.