Mean Mr. Blair
Jim Blair and Jason Gatlin reset the benchmark for what it takes to win the MSD
Super Street Outlaw championship. Here’s how they did it.
By Rob Kinnan (As published in Race Pages Magazine: January 2005)
MSD Super Street Outlaw was borne out of several other classes. When the NMRA was formed
in 1999, the founding fathers took the essence of the wild NMCA Super Street class and
combined it with the World Ford Challenge’s Pro Street Outlaw, along with ideas from Fun
Ford Weekend’s Street Outlaw. The combination of small tires, wild engine combinations, and
a solid base of rules that have been mostly left alone over the years have allowed the class
to go from the mid-8s to the mid-7s within 6 years. The cars and the racers who pilot them
have become crowd favorites, and are arguably the NMRA’s biggest attraction. Part of the allure
certainly also has to do with the incredibly tight racing and the large fields (sometimes more
than 30 cars), but also the fact that the 28x10.5-inch tires are always on the verge of breaking
loose when they get punished with the 1,600 horsepower these cars make. And it is this same
challenge and excitement that keeps the racers coming back for more.
In 2002 the Super Street Outlaw community and their fan base became familiar with the name
Jim Blair. Blair showed up with a legit ’95 Cobra R turned into an SSO car, but it was when
he fired off a shocking 7.80 pass that everyone perked up. At the time, the 7-second zone
was exclusive to only a handful of competitors. Blair instantly went from "that new guy from
Florida" to, as Announcer Jamie Meyer has called him, “a bad, bad man.” Blair instantly
earned the reputation as having the power to blast off the quickest runs of the weekend,
but the team suffered from inconsistency. But in 2003, Blair and crew chief Jason Gatlin got
a handle on their combination, and at the opening race of the ’04 NMRA season the team went
on a tear and haven’t looked back. Not only did they run faster than the rest of the field,
they had also found consistency, and that has made them the team to beat in 2004.
We sat down with Blair and Gatlin to find out what makes these guys tick, and understand how
they have managed to get to and stay at the top of perhaps the toughest class in all of
street-legal drag racing.
Race Pages: What attracted you to the MSD Super Street Outlaw class?
Jim Blair: The straight answer is the technical skill of driving on a true 10.5-inch tire deep
into the 7s. It attracted me because it was appealing on different levels -- the small tire,
it’s a driver’s class, a tuner’s class, a chassis class -- it has all the disciplines rolled
into one. It’s not about one part. It’s the aspect of racing, meaning it’s about the whole package.
[This class is] something that you can’t come in and be dominant in one area and weak in
another area and be very competitive.
RP: When you originally put your SSO program together, did you ever think you’d go 7.50s?
JB: Originally, I think when I first started, I thought 8.20s and 8.30s would do the job.
After doing it awhile, I think my second year, my mandate was that we’re gonna go out and
run 8.0s and 8.10s consistently and that’s all it would take. Had I known it would have evolved
into what it is, I probably wouldn’t have gotten involved. I would have thought that’s way
beyond my capabilities. I probably would have assumed that the class had passed me by and I
would have though that my driving skills wouldn’t have been up to driving these cars at that
speed, at that ET. I look at the ETs now and I think to myself that there may be an edge of
an envelope out there somewhere.
I saw what was posted on the internet, about give a guy horsepower and give him time and he’ll
find a way to use it, and I agree in theory. But the sensation you feel with these cars, at
these weights, at these speeds, is indescribable. It’s like all hell is breaking loose. It’s
so beyond what I originally experienced when I first got started that I really do have some
questions as to how far that tire will go. I saw also what was posted about World Ford Challenge,
and I agree that Travis [Franklin] and [Dan] Millen ran the 7.40s. But it was on a different tire,
at a different weight, and with a different suspension. But for a ladder bar car at 3,200 pounds,
or 2,600 or whatever, on a true 28, to run sub-7.50s, the driver’s gonna really have to have his act
together, the tuner is going to have to be second to none, the chassis is gonna have to be perfect.
I mean there’s just so many aspects that have to be perfect – perfect -- to do something like that.
To find an individual that’s going to strap on one of these cars, on a little tire, in a ladder bar
car, and run 7.50s, they’re going to be few and far between.
RP: Right now, you have more power than you know what to do with. What do you think it will
take to win in 2005?
JB: To continue in this class next year, it would take a car like I’ve got and a tuner like
Jason that can adapt to changing conditions. The air today in Michigan is probably the worst
air we’ve seen all summer. We’ve been checking the altitude and without a doubt this is the
worst air we’ve seen since Florida, yet the humidity is half of what we’re used to. So the
challenge that Jason faces is to adapt to conditions. Like Chicago, where we had just
unbelievable air, Kansas City where we had decent air and a so-so track, and here. So the
reality is that each year, depending on the weather conditions and tracks, it’s very difficult
to anticipate what you’re going to run into. You can get an idea, but if you haven’t been in
an area with a certain altitude and a certain track condition, you don’t have anything to go on.
For example, this is the first time we’ve been on this track, and yeah it’s a great track, but
it’s a tuner’s nightmare because the track will take the power but the car doesn’t have the air
to make the power. So the tuner has to figure, “well, do I take out timing, add fuel, how do I
do this?” To be able to have a handle on the tracks and conditions, you basically have to run
the circuit a year and get some data, some knowledge, and some background. You have to be able
to understand that under certain conditions you have to do [certain things]. You can be testing
your ass off somewhere else and have what you think is a good base tune-up, and then come to this
track and fall flat on your face.
I think that’s what bit Sam [Vincent] here. He came in late and laid down a killer pass and
everything looked good. And my hat’s off to Sam. I’ve never seen a guy that can work nitrous
as well as him. But I think what happened to me was the same thing that happened to Sam.
Something obviously went away. It just goes to show that number 1 and 2 can go out in round 2
just as easy as not. Here, number 4 and 5 are going to the finals.
RP: Jason, what do you do to tune the car for the track? Do you change gearing, fuel, chassis
setup? What is done to the car to tune it for a given track or weather conditions?
Jason Gatlin: We’re gonna play with the tune mostly, that’s where it’s all at. It requires a
lot of information, Racepak data, every track is different. Some take a lot of power at the
starting line. Some tracks allow a lot of power at half-track. Basically what we have to do
is find out where the track will handle the power and then try to put the power in where it’ll
RP: When you say you put in or take out power, what are you referring to? What do you actually
JG: We play with the fuel, we play with the timing, and we’ll play with converters a little bit.
We don’t really change the gearing much because once the car’s set up you have it set up to finish
the track at a certain rpm, and if you change the gearing that changes everything. It changes
the whole car and it requires a different chassis adjustment and everything. Once you get the
chassis adjustment pretty much dialed in, you can make a couple of shock adjustments and things
like that, but other than that we don’t really mess with the chassis too much. We mess with
RP: Jason, when the car is making a 7.55 pass and you’re standing behind it watching it run,
what’s going through your head?
JG: Pure excitement. I’m the only one out there not holding my ears! I gotta hear it, I gotta
see it, I watch the exhaust and how it cleans the track, and the rolls that come off the back
of the car…it’s just intense. And then to see it lay down that number, I mean you can’t
describe the feeling. It’s great. Makes you want to do it again. But it’s very hard to back
it up and do it again. Doing it once is a lot easier than doing it twice.
RP: What’s it like when you go out thinking you’re going to lay down a number and he goes out
and just blows the tires away?
JG: I gotta work harder! The guy that can take the information he gets and work with it the
best is going to be on top. Everybody’s subject to little issues, and nobody’s going to be
perfect, and nobody’s going to have a perfect season. So we take what we can get and try to
make the best of it.
RP: What does your testing regiment consist of?
JB: We both have businesses. We’re both business people, and this perception that we’re out
testing twice a week is a little misguided. We test a lot in the off-season to get baselines
and stuff like that. But just like I said before, we know we’re going to go to a track that
has conditions that we never see, so we’re not going to beat the car up on a track that’s not
going to be anything like where we’re going, or air like we’ll see. We go out and shake the
car down, we go out and knock the rust off the car every now and then. In the off-season we
test, and at the beginning of the year we test, but once we find a good tune, a good setup,
a good converter, that’s it.
JG: We don’t want to wear it out. We want to keep it together the whole season.
JB: Our testing regiment is more about hard parts than the tune, because we know we’re going
to have to tune on the fly no matter where we go because we’re not gonna get air where we’re
going like what we have in testing.
RP: Jim, you mentioned that the feeling in the car is indescribable. But try to describe it.
JB: The .50 pass was to me one of the most gratifying passes I’ve ever made because it was
vindication for all the work, all the expense, all the heartache, all the bad years, and all
the problems we went through to get to that level. So on one hand the elation was indescribable.
It was kind of like a pat on the back that said hard work, dedication and focus will pay off.
Commitment, purpose, all these things that we think we have, that was the number that kind of
brought it all home for me. I mean, it was very emotional to me that it wasn’t just the pass.
The physical aspects of the pass are one thing, but the gratification of running that number,
and knowing the amount of hard work and hard times that it took to get there, that’s what gives
me the best feeling.
As far as the physical sensation of the car, it’s just like all hell is breaking loose. I mean I
can’t describe it any other way. It’s all hell breaking loose. That car is noise, vibration and
harshness! That’s what I call it. And when it’s on one of those kinds of passes I can tell. I
can tell because it tries to throw you in the back seat when it leaves like that, on a track
like Joliet. It just literally puts me in the back seat. It slams into the converter and then
rips right through it like a hot knife through butter. Now, when it does that I have to catch
the shift because it’s coming off the converter so fast that if I don’t catch the shift just
right it’s going to hit the rev limiter. But I gotta catch it at the sweet spot at 8,800 to
9,200 because the rev limiter’s at 9,300. The shift light is just blinking at me because it
comes on at 8,400 and goes off at 8,800. The shift and the shift light is just a simultaneous
blink and I have to hit it perfectly, otherwise it just won’t run out like that.
Basically a lot of things go through your mind. There are a lot of sensations. It’s all hell
breaking loose but there are a lot of technical aspects of it that you have to hit just right
or it won’t work. A lot of things have to come together for that kind of pass. Like Jason said,
you can make that pass one time, maybe, if you’re lucky, but to make that pass again and again
and back it up and keep within a few hundredths of that number, that’s some serious business.
But having said that, I think there’s a lot of talent out there to bring this class down into
the 7.50 range. I have no doubt that there will be, in a very short period of time, maybe next
year, there will be 2 or 3 racers that will dip into the 50s.
RP: Can you name names?
JB: No comment!
RP: If we had said 3 years ago that going 7.70s would put you fifth or sixth on the qualifying
ladder, people would have said ‘what are you crazy!” What has changed from back then to now?
JG: A lot of it is power. ProCharger has come a long ways with their superchargers. We ran the
D3-R, which is not a bad blower. It worked great and made a lot of power, but nothing like the
power we make now. Also, engine development is very critical. It takes a good engine that will
handle the abuse we put to it. You know, the timing curves and fuel we put to it, it takes a
good engine to handle that kind of power. You’re not going to get by with just some junkyard
stuff. It takes a perfect, perfect combination to do it.
JB: What was said on the message board was right, though. If you give the right people the
horsepower and the time to work with it, they’ll find a way to go fast. It’s just the nature
of the business. With horsepower in the right hands, it’s not a matter of if, it’s a matter
RP: What are your opinions on the other power adders and the controversy surrounding them?
JB: There’s a lot of controversy there. I think the NMRA’s got the right idea. I know that
everybody has their own opinions and attitudes, and some people will say that certain combinations
have certain advantages…you know, someday Mr. PTK will come back up on the site and we’ll try to
settle that issue also. But overall, the people at the front of their particular power adder’s
combinations -- the Bugingas, the Vincents, the McGees -- we are very, very close. I think at
the moment the perception of the blower cars laying over the field is more based on ProCharger
making a power adder that is a little bit easier, a little more user-friendly, a little more
consistent. I think turbos flat-out make more power. You’ll never convince me otherwise. But
they may be the least user-friendly of all the combinations. Even though nitrous destroys a
lot of parts, if used judiciously and economically, it works very well. Sam Vincent’s proven
that. He goes fast and he doesn’t hurt parts.
I think that the NMRA basically has a pretty good handle on things. Now of course having said
that in the position I’m in, people will say ‘sure it’s easy for him to say,’ but I just feel
that with very minor rules changes and very minor tweaks and tunes, they could have everybody
basically head-to-head in no time at all.
JG: My thoughts are that any combo will work, it’s all about the ability of the person that’s
running it. With enough work, you can make any one of the combinations, I think, be out front.
Turbos have been out on top for years, and all of a sudden blowers get on top and turbo guys
think they’re owed something and don’t understand why. Compare any turbo guy’s engine out there
to Jim’s engine and it’s not a comparison. I mean, these guys build a regular motor and put some
aluminum heads on it and they let the turbo do all the work for them. That’s great, but the turbo
can’t do everything. So everybody criticizes us but they don’t look at their combinations. Look at
Sam Vincent’s motor. He’s got a real motor. It’s purpose-built, makes a ton of horsepower by
itself with no nitrous, then he puts the nitrous on it and he flies. Everybody else needs to
look at their program and understand what they’re doing. You are racing, you’re in competition,
and this is not something that somebody’s going to give to you. It’s a job and you’ve gotta work
for it. And I feel that with each power adder, the person that works at it the most is going to
be on top. Turbos could be on top, and I think nitrous could be on top. It’s a lot about people,
not the car. And I definitely don’t think we’re the one spending the most money. I definitely think
there’s people out there spending a lot more money than we do trying to be at the top of this class.
RP: Why do you say that?
JG: Look at the trailers, look at the cars.
JB: And every person in my crew is essential. We don’t have anybody in there who’s just
hanging out and doesn’t have a function, who can’t perform exactly what their duties are.
In a pinch, we can thrash with the best of them.
JG: We’ve got some of the best teamwork.
JB: It may not look like it but believe it or not, we’re on a budget. I feel that if you
spend your money wisely, if you spend your money on hard parts that work instead of creature
comforts, my personal opinion is that you’ll get a lot farther.
RP: How did you guys assemble the team? How did you meet, how did you get everybody to work
together? A lot of guys find it hard to get people to do this.
JG: It’s a long process. It definitely didn’t happen overnight.
JB: I’ve been very fortuitous and finding Jason. We knew each other for years before we ever
got hooked up. He was doing his thing, I was doing my thing, and all of a sudden one day we
were both doing some testing and my tranny broke, and one thing led to another and that was that.
RP: How long ago was that?
JB: I had just bought the car, so it was probably 5 or 6 years ago. I’m fortunate because I have
a driver that’s retired and lives in Atlanta and drives the rig. He lives halfway between my
house and all the races. The people we’ve had…we’ve gone through people. We don’t have the same
people we started with. It’s been an evolutionary process, and it’s trial and error. People get
their feelings hurt but, you know, we’re business people primarily so we always look at how people
function and plus the personalities have to mesh. A lot of people probably would have a lot more
fun racing if they had the right personalities in their crew. I think personality plays a bigger
part than most people realize.
RP: You’re together so much that you have to get along, right?
JB: You have to get along, but you play off each other. There’s the good guy, there’s the clown,
everybody has certain personality aspects, and there are times when they have to mesh and get along,
and sometimes that’s uncomfortable. Sometimes people have bad days and people have to get over it,
RP: You are currently building the ex-Scranton Brothers’ Silver Bullet car, an Outlaw 10.5 style
Mustang. The concept is similar to SSO in that you have big power and not a lot of traction. Is
running 6.99 at over 200mph as big a challenge as running 7.50s in SSO? In other words, will it
take a perfect track with perfect conditions, or can 6.90s come with regularity?
JB: The Bullet is a project Jason and I began last year. The concept is to take all we've learned
from the Cobra R and translate it to a bigger tire, a 4-link chassis and lots more horsepower.
Without the lessons we learned in SSO, I wouldn't have attempted a move in this direction. We are
aiming at the 6’s and in time I feel this can be achieved. Will this be a ‘perfect condition’
scenario or will this become the norm? My feeling is that once a barrier is broken it causes
people to think a little differently about what is really possible. The challenge is very much
like what we faced with the 7.50 passes in the Cobra R. Jason was the first to make the prediction
that we would run that ET consistently, but I wasn't sure until Joliet.
RP: What are the differences and similarities between an Outlaw 10.5 ride and an SSO car?
JB: The major difference in the two rides is of course the tire. The similarity is that it will
still come down to a question of traction. We've concentrated our testing to eighth-mile and this
has taught us lessons about tire limitations. What we've we learned in SSO about tuning, traction
and also about ourselves should make for a promising future.
As we went to press with this story, Jim Blair has clinched the NMRA Super Street Outlaw
championship, the first time a supercharged car has accomplished that feat. In fact, for the past
5 years all of the championship-winning cars have been turbocharged. Is this the changing of the
guard? Maybe, but Blair will not be back to defend his title, so the guard is changing in several
ways. Blair paved the way for other supercharged combinations to take aim at the SSO title,
something that appeared to be exclusive to other power adders, but he is moving aside to go Outlaw
10.5 racing, giving someone else the opportunity to be etched in history as a champion.
Winning on any level is extremely difficult, but the end justifies the means, and the rewards of
securing a championship are gratifying at the highest levels. Winning is also a very addictive
drug. But along with the winning feeling is a sense of accomplishment, and meeting a goal. Often,
when a goal is met it means your journey is over, and you set a new goal. Some racers set the new
goal as a defense of their title, while others look to move up a class, and Jim Blair has chosen
the latter path. Blair and Gatlin have a similar task at hand with this new adventure, meaning big
power on a small tire, and a new engine with a big ProCharger blower on a Ronnie Crawford engine.
Estimated horsepower is over 2,000 and the back-half car will run on 33x10.5W tires. With more
horsepower, Blair and Gatlin have set their goal at 6.99 and 200mph.
Don’t be mistaken: Blair and Gatlin love Super Street Outlaw. They just want to take on a new
challenge. Ten years from now people will still be talking about how Blair took things to the next
level during his time in Mustang drag racing’s coolest class."
(As published in Race Pages Magazine: January 2005)