- Saturday 10 May, 2014
JP Gutierrez was just four when his father, David Gutierrez, began working on Jack Ostrander’s Top Fuel dragster, and because he was instantly drawn to the sound of the engines and the scent of the exhaust, it was no surprise when he climbed into a junior-dragster when he was eight.
He raced at tracks near his family’s home in Michigan for the next several years and then he, too, began working on Ostrander’s dragster, and was responsible for maintaining the engine’s bottom end, the cylinder heads and the clutch.
Meanwhile, his brother, Phil Gutierrez, joined David Grubnic’s Top Fuel team followed by Doug Kalitta’s Top Fuel team, and was responsible for maintaining engine shortblocks, and in that time, the Gutierrez family hired Competition Fabrications to build a dragster they could race in NHRA Top Dragster competition.
“Competition Fabrications built the chassis, the tubing and the body, and we put together the 535 cubic-inch Mopar Wedge engine on nitrous and the transmission, and then we put them into the dragster with the rear-end,” said JP. “Then, we ran at local tracks, and when we ran at the Night Under Fire at Summit Motorsports Park in Ohio in ‘10, we were a half-second from even coming close to qualifying, so I told my brother, who by that time had been working as an engineer for Lear Corporation and for Jim Head on the Funny Car, that the nitrous wasn’t cutting it and that we needed to switch to a blown Hemi.”
After only about fifty passes on the dragster, they took it to Ostrander’s shop, and just as they began to cut its engine plates, Ostrander suggested they sell it and purchase his ‘07 Baumgartner-built 300-inch wheelbase former Top Fuel chassis.
“That was in ’10, and we decided at that point to buy his dragster and prepare it for Top Alcohol Dragster,” said JP. “That’s also when we decided to form Gutierrez Brothers Racing, Inc. Our dad, David, had a hard time imagining us running Top Alcohol Dragster so soon and our mom, Laura, was a little worried, even though they both thought it was a great idea.”
The dragster featured a Chrisman 10.5-inch rearend, and JP, who now is employed by Champion Performance in Center Line, Michigan, built for it a 463 cubic-inch Alan Johnson TFX Hemi engine topped with stage-two Alan Johnson Muscle heads. To enhance the already strong combination, they decided on a PSI screw supercharger and the alcohol it gulps is distributed via an Enderle K-valve and Waterman fuel pump and nozzles. To help lay the power down, they put into place a B&J three-speed transmission and a Molinari aluminum clutch.
“We were right at home while we were putting the combination together because we had grown up around nitro racing and heads-up racing, and we were familiar with all of the parts we were working with,” said JP.
When the tools were put away, they headed to National Trail Raceway in Columbus, Ohio in March of ‘13 to tune the combination, and even though weather conditions were not at all favorable, JP climbed into the cockpit to attempt licensing runs.
“We couldn’t get the dragster to hook and go, and Top Alcohol Funny Car driver Todd Robertson’s crew chief, Dennis Kolomyjec, who was helping us out that day, along with Top Alcohol Dragster driver Brandon Greco, suggested I take it to the one-two gear change and then see if I could make it go a little further down-track, but it was challenging,” said JP. “Toward the end of the day, the dragster hooked and I ran 6.01, which was fast enough to count for one licensing pass. When I went to make another pass, I kicked a blower belt off, so we left and went to Summit Motorsports Park that May to finish my licensing passes and I ran 5.66 and 5.64.”
Just two weeks later, they headed to the 7th Annual Cavalcade of Stars at Summit Motorsports Park.
“During a Friday night qualifying session, my dragster had an issue and made a move toward the wall,” said JP. “When I got out of the car on the return-road, I could hear Bill Bader, Jr. on the public-address system commenting about how close I was to the wall and how I didn’t seem to be scared. He was right. I wasn’t, because at that moment, I wanted desperately to correct the dragster and stay in the throttle and stay off the wall, and I felt that I could safely do that.”
Continuing to make progress in the new build, JP that Saturday posted a 5.62 in qualifying, but that evening, he shook the tires in his final qualifying run and didn’t make the field.
“That race is so big that it makes you feel like you’re at a national event, and I ate it up,” said JP, who with Phil after each round changes rod bearings and checks main bearings in the engine, lashes valves and installs a new clutch-pack, and after each final qualifier, inspects the rods, pistons, crank, bearings, rings and the engine block’s cylinder bores for wear and cracks.
He kicked off the ’14 season with the NHRA Spring Spectacle of Speed event at Lucas Oil Raceway in Indiana, April 25-27, where he posted two 5.62s but broke valvetrain components before qualifying was complete.
“The car left the line well and ran well, but we broke a rocker-stand and shut the exhaust valve, so when it opened the inlet valve next time, it made the boost go up and knocked the burst panel out and shut the car off,” said JP. “That was it for us that weekend.”
Currently, JP and Phil are preparing to take part in the 8th Annual Mickey Mart Rewards Cavalcade of Stars presented by Budweiser, May 16-18 at Summit Motorsports Park, where JP hopes to put a 5.40 at 260-plus mph on the board.
“This is a lot of work, but we wouldn’t have it any other way,” said JP, whose dragster flies the colors of MGM Grand Detroit, DJ Safety, Champion Performance and Wiseco Pistons. “Our goals for this year are to run all of the regional events in the NHRA Lucas Oil Drag Racing Series, qualify, steal a couple rounds and do well in the points. We want to show that we’re learning and moving forward.”
By Mary Lendzion
Photos by Lauren Khadra