Written by Ainsley Jacobs/NMCA
Making the jump from the NMCA car show crowd back to his roots in drag racing, Ken Mushen is on a mission to do all the things in 2021 – including race in NMCA Edelbrock Xtreme Street.
Back in the early 2000s, Mushen ran in the OSCA with a nitrous-injected ’68 Camaro alongside his friend Kevin Thornberry. As always seems to happen, the build quickly escalated thanks to upgrade after upgrade, and his 10.5 slick-tire ride transformed into “not quite an Xtreme Street” car.
Mushen enjoyed his time behind the wheel and did quite well at it, but after about three years, life got in the way.
“I started building my business and various other things,” explained the Indiana resident who took time off between ’05 and ’09 to focus on growing his recycling company and other entities. “I got into the car show side of things to minimize time spent traveling and working on the cars through the week.”
With a penchant for high-caliber rides, Mushen took the NMCA car show circuit by storm and racked up multiple wins and accolades at each event he attended with unique entries such as his ’65 Dodge Coronet and his split window ’63 Corvette known as “Vettezilla.”
Back in ’13, however, Mushen had purchased a rare, rust-free ’76 Chevy Camaro and stuck it in a corner of his garage where it remained for several years. He liked that the Camaro was something different, something uncommon, something that would turn heads, but he wasn’t quite ready to move forward with it.
“I was going crazy watching all the racing at NMCA and not being there myself,” explained the driver who wanted to get back to his comfort zone behind the wheel. “So, I decided I was going to race in [NMCA Edelbrock] Xtreme Street since it wasn’t crazy expensive– compared to Pro Mod!–and it’s easier on parts to run in the eighth-mile.”
Thanks to an introduction from Ray Cox, aka “The Racer’s Realtor,” Mushen met up with Kevin Stevens, chassis guru at Straightline Performance in Illinois.
“My car had been in chassis prison at another shop, so I took it to Kevin [Stevens, of Straightline Performance] and said ‘let’s finish it up,’” Mushen explained of how the second-gen Camaro wound up in Stevens’ capable hands in 2019.
Stevens started on the project quickly and upgraded the ’76 to a 25.3 SFI-certified chassis. Although he calls it an “ugly duckling,” Stevens felt a little guilty about cutting up the Camaro as it was one of the cleanest that he had ever come across.
A mid-build move of the Straightline shop to a new location set the timeline back a little, but Stevens has been hard at work and Mushen knows the result was worth the wait. Now, in 2021, Stevens is ready to roll it out the door and get the Camaro where it was meant to be–on the track.
Along the way, a 525 CID big-block engine built by Steve Schmidt Racing Engines was installed between the frame rails and filled with GRP connecting rods, Bill Miller Engineering pistons, and a Sonny Bryant crankshaft. Edelbrock 24-degree cylinder heads house a full Jesel valvetrain while an Edelbrock Super Victor intake manifold and a CFM Performance carburetor by the one and only Dale Cubic sit atop the bullet.
Finally, as Mushen has been a longtime nitrous guy, it made perfect sense to have Stevens amp up the fun with a hefty dose of nitrous oxide from Steve Johnson’s Induction Solutions.
Once the engine, tuned by Stevens and team on their dyno, was ready to fire, power was made possible by an MSDs PRO 600 CDI coil-on-plug setup. From there, the energy transfers out through a Turbo 400 from RPM Transmissions and PTC converter before being put to the ground via a Strange Engineering rearend, Straightline-fabricated housing, and Strange axles.
Stevens and Mushen both loved the original look of the classic Camaro, and worked hard to retain the stock appearance as much as possible. A task force of talent pitched in to keep it that way, including Scott Carlos at Mystic Automotive for the paint, Dave Froehlich at Performance Metals for the polishing, and Mark Cryer at Winning Colors for the powder coating.
Similarly, the men also opted to retain the factory-style, leaf-spring setup and installed a set of Smith Racecraft “Assassin” traction bars along with AFCO shocks.
“If guys like Ron Rhodes and Mike Thompson can run so quick on leaf springs, then why not go for it and see what we can do, too?” mused Stevens. “We’ve also got a Smith Racecraft tubular front end, TRZ spindle-mounts and TBM brakes.”
The smaller displacement engine and leaf springs enabled Mushen to take advantage of a weight break for the NMCA Edelbrock Xtreme Street class, but the men didn’t stop there, as they also installed a set of Optic Armor windows to replace the OEM glass.
Although Mushen really enjoys the NMCA car show atmosphere, he’s excited to get back to racing for the first time since ’05 and plans to do so with a test session on April 28 at Muncie Dragway in Indiana with his Camaro, which will also be “car show worthy” itself.
“We’ll make some shakedown passes to make sure it’ll behave, and then try for the rest of the NMCA season,” added Mushen, who plans to make his NMCA Edelbrock Xtreme Street debut at the NMRA/NMCA Super Bowl of Street Legal Drag Racing presented by HPJ Performance at World Wide Technology Raceway at Gateway in Madison, Illinois, over the weekend of May 13-16.