Story and photos by Mary Lendzion
It was cold and cloudy, and the crosswinds were crazy, but none of that was enough to keep Mark Carlyle from taking his IPS Motorsports designed and built ‘07 Corvette Z06 to Summit Racing Equipment Motorsports Park in Norwalk, Ohio on May 26 for its first test session of the season.
While most drivers and their crews sat that one out, he and his go-to men Tom Willing and Jared Grabiel of IPS Motorsports, Bob Williams of All Pro and tuner Patrick Barnhill of PTP Racing, blew into their hands to keep warm in between tightening nuts and bolts on the world’s fastest independent rear suspension car and pouring fuel into its cell and ice into its intercooler to ready it for its first hit. It was abbreviated, as were a handful of hits after it, as the high-horsepower combination and chassis were being fine-tuned.
Finally, a flash of 7.24 at 207 mph on the board showed progress, but with it came a flash of fire from under the hood, and instantly, cheers from fans who had been taking pictures on the starting line turned to gasps.
Track manager Kurt Johnson and his safety crew were quick to douse the flames, but when it was all said and done, the front end, the firewall, the Lexan windshield and the cockpit sat melted; the engine and wheels sat charred and covered in soot and Carlyle sat coughing from smoke inhalation.
Minutes later, it was determined that the fire was started when an O-ring on a fuel injector failed and allowed fuel to spill onto a header, and the car was loaded into the trailer and taken to IPS Motorsports in Lewis Center, Ohio, where Carlyle, Willing and Grabiel spent three days removing all of its panels, electronics, wiring, bolts, screws, fasteners, engine and transmission. They then delivered it in near-shell form, with nothing in front but the frame-rails and a burned-up fiberglass firewall, to PK Race ‘N Rods in Millersport, Ohio. There, father and son Pat and Andy Kronenbitter and shop employee Chris Adkins removed what was left of the firewall and chiseled and sanded the car’s understructure to rid it of fiberglass that hadn’t completely burned off in the fire.
“Every car is different, and no two parts are alike, so figuring out what was left underneath and where to start rebuilding from was very important,” said Andy Kronenbitter. “We wanted it to be right.”
Once they assessed what was before them, they began building an .032 inch steel firewall, and then, with ease-of-use in mind, they built a lift-off front end using stock parts outfitted with Dzus fasteners to replace the factory bolt-on front end. They then fashioned a chrome moly cage around the fuel cell to prevent it from being crushed in case of impact, and because the original brake master cylinder was melted in the fire, they installed a new one.
“While we were working on that, we modified the brake pedal in a way that will allow Mark a little more brake pressure without having to push the brake pedal so hard,” said Andy Kronenbitter. “That will help when it comes to staging.”
Next up was the bending, mounting and drilling into place tubing that would hold a new shifter off of the transmission tunnel and in a position that would be comfortable for Carlyle, and the installation of a second fire suppression system to go along with the car’s existing fire suppression system.
They then fabricated a 6061 aluminum wing for the rear of the car to help with down-force down-track and a new parachute handle to bring to life both of the car’s parachutes, and added a 6061 aluminum floor pan. They also replaced the melted stock dash with a Jerry Bickel-built two-piece fiberglass dash.
“The passenger’s side of the dash comes out separately from the driver’s side, which is pretty cool, and we built a panel under the dash for the electronics to mount to,” said Andy Kronenbitter.
In addition to all of that, the Kronenbitters and Adkins fabricated new door trim panels, various brackets and tabs for mounting the hood and the front end of the car, and used aluminum to keep them as light as possible. They also fashioned trim rings to circle the exhaust, which exits atop the car’s hood.
About seven weeks later, Carlyle and Willing moved the car from PK Race ‘N Rods back to IPS Motorsports, where they and Grabiel stripped it of its brakes, quarter-panels, rear bumper and doors, and took it to Mike Niehaus of First Impressions Collision in Columbus, Ohio, to have fresh paint laid on it and on the rollcage, which was not structurally compromised in the fire. He was done in just a day, and the car was taken back to IPS Motorsports, where the Kronenbitters visited to carpet its interior and where Carlyle, Willing and Grabiel ran new brake lines and installed the original equipment manufacturer suspension and a tubular K-member with Penske shocks. They then set into the engine bay the engine — which had been inspected and freshened — followed by the torque tube to connect the engine to the rear-mounted RPM Transmissions-built TH400, and then bolted the Driveshaft Shop nine-inch rearend to the transmission.
All new Fragola hoses and fittings for the fuel system, water lines and brake lines were run to replace those which had melted in the fire, and Willing ran new wires for the Big Stuff 3, MSD Power Grid, ignition, taillights, brake lights and power windows, to replace those which had melted in the fire. While the RacePak V300 itself was not damaged, all new RacePak sensors, modules and wire were installed.
When the new wiring was in place, the IPS Motorsports-built turbo kit, Garrett 88mm turbos, manifold and intercooler were installed after being cleaned of soot and fire extinguisher material and polished by Brent Carpenter of IPS Motorsports, who had also ceramic-coated the exhaust housing on the turbo and powder-coated black the subframe, lower control arms, upper control arms and brackets for the car, plus its Weld and Billet Specialties wheels, which were wrapped in M and H tires on the front and Mickey Thompson 315 drag radials on the back by Stas Ilin of IPS Motorsports, who also balanced them and who assists with the car’s alignments.
After the last wrench was put down just hours before the Seventh Annual NMCA Muscle Car Nationals at Summit Racing Equipment Motorsports Park in August, Carlyle looked at Willing, Grabiel, Williams and Barnhill, smiled and declared “That bitch is money,” which was his colorful way of saying “The car is ready to be fired-up after months of around-the-clock work to rebuild it.”
So, he climbed into the driver’s seat of the car while Barnhill sat alongside it with his laptop ready to lay the tune with Big Stuff 3, Grabiel and Williams stood in front of it and Willing anxiously and nervously walked around it multiple times. When given the go-ahead, Carlyle fired the engine and ran it briefly before clicking it off to allow for further tuning, and when he fired it again, he revved it and spooled it, and it was deemed a success.
“It was a ton of work, but we knew the car would be even better than it was before, and that kept us going,” said Willing, who often worked through the night, into the morning and on weekends on the rebuild. “We’re happy with it.”
After a short chassis dyno session, they loaded up and headed to the Seventh Annual NMCA Muscle Car Nationals at Summit Racing Equipment Motorsports Park, where Carlyle qualified fifth with a 7.19 in Mickey Thompson Super Street 10.5W, and even though he exited in the first round, he and his crew were encouraged and optimistic, and stayed to test the following day. He followed that a few weeks later with the Chevrolet Performance LSX Challenge Series Holley LS Fest at Beech Bend Raceway in Bowling Green, Kentucky, where he entered JE Pistons LSX Drag Radial, helped Willing and Grabiel swap to the ProTorque converter he now runs in just over an hour during qualifying — an ambitious feat which involves dropping the rear-end out of the car — qualified third with a 7.35 and advanced to the semifinal, where he picked up to a 7.26. On a roll, he the following week headed to Kil-Kare Raceway in Xenia, Ohio, where he qualified third with a 4.80 in the eighth-mile in Outlaw Limited Street, picked up to a 4.63 — with a soft-for-him 1.24 60-foot — in the final and won.
“People often ask me if I was scared when the car was on fire, and really, there wasn’t time to be scared,” said Carlyle. “The fear kicked in when we had time to assess the damage. I was afraid that we wouldn’t be able to rebuild it, but with the help and support of my crew, our sponsors and fans, we rebuilt the car even better than before. I can’t thank everyone enough for their help and support. I truly feel lucky to be part of such a great team and hope that we can achieve even more in the coming months.”
After this story – which is in the December issue of Fastest Street Car – went to print, Carlyle laid down a record-setting 6.69 at 217.84 mph in JE Pistons LSX Drag Radial at the Twelfth Annual NMCA World Street Finals, featuring the Seventh Annual Chevrolet Performance LSX Shootout at Lucas Oil Raceway in Indiana in October and won. He bettered those times with a 6.58 and 220 mph at last weekend’s Eighteenth Annual Haltech World Cup Finals Import vs. Domestic event at Maryland International Raceway, and advanced to the semifinal of ATI Radial vs. Modified after also running 6.66 at 222 mph and 6.62 at 223 mph, among other elapsed times, and staying within the 1.12-1.15 60-foot range.
Owner and driver: Mark Carlyle Class: NMCA Mickey Thompson Super Street 10.5W and Chevrolet Performance LSX Challenge Series JE Pistons LSX Drag Radial Hometown: Hilliard, Ohio Occupation: Self-employed Crew: Tom Willing, Jared Grabiel, Bob Williams and Patrick Barnhill Engine: 427 cubic-inch LS Engine builder: Kurt Urban-designed Bore: 4.125 Stroke: 4 inches Crank: Callies Ultra Billet Rods: Aluminum Pistons: Ross Heads: All Pro 12-1 Valvetrain: T&D rockers Cam type: Solid roller Power-adder: Twin Garrett 88mm turbos Headers and exhaust: Designed and built by IPS Motorsports (Tom Willing) Transmission: RPM Transmissions TH400 (rear-mounted) Torque Converter: ProTorque Rearend: Driveshaft Shop 9” conversion Chassis: ‘07 Corvette Z06 with 25.3 cage Front and rear suspension: Penske shocks Brakes: Strange Wheels: Weld on front, Billet Specialties on back Tires: Mickey Thompson 315 drag radials Safety equipment: Dual chutes Vehicle weight: 3410 pounds Quickest ET: 6.58 Fastest mph: 223 Best 60-foot: 1.12 Sponsors: We wouldn’t have been able to rebuild without the help we received from our sponsors: IPS Motorsports, Garrett, RPM Transmissions, Driveshaft Shop, All Pro, Aeromotive, ATI, BigStuff 3, Callies, Coughlin Automotive, Dailey Engineering, Fragola, Meguiar’s, Mickey Thompson, Moran Motorsports, ProTorque, PTP Racing, Reid Racing, T&D, TiAL Sport, DebtHelp, First Impressions Collision, RacePak, Kurt Urban Performance, Holley and PK Race ‘N Rods. People to thank: My wife and kids for understanding when I go from a 9-5 at my regular job to 5-midnight at the shop; Tom Willing for working more hours than any human being should to make sure the car is ready to race; Stas and Tanya Makarov from IPS Motorsports for sponsoring the car and letting the guys at the shop work on it so much; Jared Grabiel for helping with the build and crewing the car; Brent Carpenter for polishing and powder coating; Stas Ilin for mounting and balancing wheels and tires and assisting with alignments and everyone else at IPS Motorsports who had a hand in rebuilding the car.