The 2022 TREMEC Stick Shift Shootout series slammed into action at the 28th Annual NMRA Spring Break Shootout held in conjunction with the NMRA Ford Nationals at the Bradenton Motorsports Park in Bradenton, Florida, on March 3-6.
A race within a race, the TREMEC Stick Shift Shootout celebrates the quickest eight racers getting it done with a manual transmission in a special eliminator that awards jackets and plaques and the chance to win a McLeod Racing RXT Twin-Disc clutch with flywheel (approximate value: $1,300). The runner-up receives a $500 McLeod Racing product certificate. Racers must first compete in the TorqStorm Superchargers True Street challenge, then qualify for the TREMEC Stick Shift Shootout based on their three-run average.
With an emphasis on street-legal performance, the TREMEC Stick Shift Shootout is a showcase of some of the quickest manual transmission–equipped Fords in North America. Shootout veteran Jeff Smith took the top qualifying spot after nailing a 10.23 average from his clean Competition Orange SVT Cobra. Smith was trailed by Alex Martinez, who averaged 10.31, along with Shawn Paite and Jonathan Whitaker, who rounded out the top half of the field.
Racers were randomly paired for the first round by way of a chip draw and that set the stage for the three rounds of action. The competition was based on a handicapped pro-Tree start (using the True Street average as the handicap) with no breakout, so the first racer to the finish line was the winner of each race.
Local racer Martinez kicked things off, with 10.29 on his 10.31 handicap and a win against Whitaker. who ran 10.61 on his 10.52. Aaron McCormick was also victorious after laying down 10.68 over Shawn Paite, who ran 10.23, but was late on the Tree. James Burch topped Tyler Thornburg, and Brian Biegert moved on after top-qualifier Smith redlighted.
In the semifinals, Martinez used a holeshot and 10.07 to beat Burch, who ran 10.91 on his 11.32 handicap, while Biegert stopped Paite with a better light and 10.85 at just 115 mph. This set up the final match for the money between Martinez and Biegert, who was wheeling a 2017 Mustang GT.
As the Florida sun climbed high in the sky, the pair of TREMEC Stick Shift Shootout finalists rolled through the waterbox and heated the tires. Each driver inched into the beams and when the Tree dropped, Biegert gained a slight advantage off the line. Due to his slower handicap of 11.82, Biegert was off first, but Martinez and his yellow GT were on the march. You could hear each driver grabbing gears, revving engines and putting down the power. Martinez didn’t skip a beat; in fact, he laid down his quickest run of the competition: 10.051 to beat Biegert to the stripe. Biegert made a great effort, running 11.68, but it wasn’t enough.
“Honestly, it still hasn’t set in,” Martinez said in a post-race interview. “I’ve always been an underdog and I set goals for each weekend. I’ve been close to qualifying, but I never have, so this year it was about just qualifying and getting that jacket. Going rounds and winning it was absolutely insane.” He added, “It seriously wasn’t my goal.
“I can’t get over that this was my first time making the Shootout. One year, I missed it by a couple tenths and last year, I broke a transmission on the first True Street pass. This is the first time I’ve made the top eight and I was limited to 10.00 since I only have a six-point roll bar in the car,” he said. “It was great to win, but, honestly, crossing the stripe, I had no clue if I won because I didn’t know if I broke out of the 10-second zone, and that would have caused me to be disqualified. But when I got my timeslip, I was hooting and hollering like a madman. I had been a wreck most of the day; my nerves were going crazy. I went through the roof after seeing that I actually did it.”
Martinez runs an out-of-the-box TREMEC Magnum 6-speed transmission with a 2.66 First gear. “The Magnum is perfect for this car. My setup is designed so I don’t shock the tires and I can get the car off the line quick and smooth with this transmission and the 4.10 gears. I also use a Black Magic clutch, which is perfect. It typically 60-foots in the 1.40s on the radial tires and I haven’t gotten aggressive with the clutch,” he explained. “And I use the stock TREMEC shifter with a Liberty handle. I shift that car at 8,400 rpm and it doesn’t skip a beat,” he added. “The engine is a Mach 1 4.6 built by Levin Motorsports with a mostly stock bottom end, mildly ported heads and a VMP Gen 3 R making 900 rwhp on E85. And that’s at 21 psi with the largest pulley.”
Making the event extra special was the fact that his son Alex Jr. ran True Street for the first time with his own 1997 SVT Cobra. It uses a 2004 engine that sports a ported Eaton blower with a 2003 SVT Cobra TREMEC T56. “He ran 13.3 at 117 mph and his last pass was 11.7 at 120 mph for an average of 11.933. And this was his first time racing at an actual event. I was through the roof with his performance. It was a proud papa moment.”
Martinez does all the work on the team cars at his complete automotive repair shop, Certified Transmission in Brandon, Florida. “I want to thank Cale Aronson at Black Magic Clutches, Levin Motorsports, Mike Kidd from TREMEC and Bob Scheid from McLeod.”
He added, “I love this event. My brother has qualified twice, so I was chasing getting a jacket and it’s epic for us. Once I get an 8.50 cage, I’ll travel to all three Shootouts.”
The Florida TREMEC Stick Shift Shootout was a success and if you’d like to compete there’s good news. NMRA will be hosting two more in 2022: 22nd Annual NMRA Ford Performance Nationals on June 9-12 at the Summit Motorsports Park in Norwalk, Ohio, and the 24th Annual NMRA World Finals Holley Intergalactic Ford Festival on September 29-October 2 at Beech Bend Raceway Park in Bowling Green, Kentucky. More information about the events be found at NMRADigital.com.