Drag Illustrated Issue 180, January / February 2023 | Page 40


Stuck on Stick Shift

Reigning Stick Shift Nationals champion Mark Charcalla insists on grabbing gears By Van Abernethy

Long before Mark Charcalla parked his 1990 Ford Mustang in the winner ’ s circle at North Carolina ’ s Farmington Dragway after winning the richest stick-shift race in history , he was once a teenager back in 2000 , gazing admirably at this same car , even though the eye-catching Ford was already 10 years old and had more than 300,000 miles on the odometer .

Charcalla didn ’ t care that this raspberry red Fox-body Mustang had seemingly seen its better days . He ’ d always wanted one , and he wasn ’ t about to pass up the opportunity . A guy in town owned the car , and it just so happened that he wanted Charcalla ’ s Ford Ranger that he ’ d equipped with a V8 engine . A trade was negotiated , and Charcalla wound up with the worn-out Mustang equipped with a 5.0 engine and factory 5-speed . Fast-forward 22 years and it ’ s safe to say that the trade has served him very well .
Charcalla and his family are lifelong natives of North Bend ,
Pennsylvania , and have been regulars at Beaver Springs Dragway for decades . While Charcalla couldn ’ t wait to take his new toy to the dragstrip right after he bought it , the Mustang was clearly in need of some TLC . “ The car was pretty much worn out when I got it , so the modifications started immediately ,” he recalls . “ I think initially we swapped rear-end gears and put an exhaust on it .”
Soon afterward , Charcalla rebuilt the engine , installed a different cam , a set of aluminum heads , and a different intake , and swapped carburetors . “ When I first took it to Beaver Springs , it ran like
14s in the quarter mile and I hardly had a clue how to launch a stick car ,” Charcalla says . “ After watching other people do it and asking questions , I realized I had to feather the throttle – we didn ’ t have line-locks or two-steps in those days .”
Charcalla probably made 10-12 passes that first night at Beaver Springs . “ I finally got the car down in the 13s that night ,” he remembers .
Even though Beaver Springs is his nearest dragstrip at approximately 77 miles away , it ’ s all back roads from rural North Bend and takes every bit of an hour and 45 minutes to get there . The drive was well worth it , though , especially in the early 2000s when Charcalla first got the Mustang . “ Back in those days , there were easily 40-50 streetdriven stick cars that would show up at Beaver Springs on a Friday night ... so many of us , in fact , we had our own stick-shift class that ran on Friday nights .”
The stakes were pretty high , too , as these gear-banging zealots battled it out every Friday for a pizza and $ 5 worth of racing gas . “ Yep , that ’ s what we raced for in those days !” laughs Charcalla .
With every pass in the Mustang , the desire was to go faster , which is only the natural progression in racing . Several decades later , the Mustang still retains the factory look – even the side mirrors are still attached – but the car now
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