An Inside Look at Jeff McCool’s TREMEC Stick Shift Winning 1981 Ford Mustang

Story and Photos by Evan J. Smith

The TREMEC Stick Shift Shootout offers gear-jammers the chance to go head-to-head in a street/strip competition for amazing prizes, including a brand-new McLeod clutch. The races are held in conjunction with the NMRA QA1 True Street class, and, in 2021, have expanded to three exciting events: NMRA Spring Break Shootout, NMRA Ford Performance Nationals, and the upcoming NMRA World Finals + Holley Intergalactic Ford Festival from September 29-October 3 at Beech Bend Raceway in Bowling Green, Kentucky.

Jeff McCool is a regular NMRA True Street Competitor and now has two TREMEC Stick Shift Shootout wins under his belt.

June’s NMRA Ford Performance Nationals held at the famed Summit Motorsports Park in Norwalk, Ohio, saw Jeff McCool of Galloway, Ohio, take his second TREMEC Stick Shift Shootout win. His first happened happened in 2018 in Bowling Green. A true stick man, Jeff has a few manual-transmission Mustangs, including a 2016 Shelby GT350R, a. 1979 Coyote-swapped pace car with a TREMEC 3550 and a trusty 1981 pony car that he rebuilt for dragstrip duty.

The clean coupe is somewhat unassuming, with its original gray paint and factory trim in place. Bogart wheels give the 50,000-mile Ford Fox-body a dragstrip look, but the real performance comes from the Gen I 5.0L Coyote engine and 4-speed transmission that was transplanted in place of the smaller 200-cubic-inch straight-six backed by a C4. In addition to the Coyote swap, he added a NOS nitrous plate kit for an instant 125-horsepower shot that he uses in Third and Fourth gears for extra punch.

This 1981 notchback Mustang doesn’t look like anything special, and most people have no idea that there is a Coyote V8 under the stock, flat hood.

Jeff also installed Team Z Motorsports rear springs and six-point rollbar, UPR Products rear control arms and Strange Engineering double-adjustable rear shocks. Up front are single-adjustable Strange shocks and UPR coilovers. Brakes are from Aerospace Components and the slicks are 28×11.5 Hoosier Quick Time Pro. Tucked under the back is an 8.8 rear with 4.56 gears. The coupe is just 2,800 pounds with driver and has been as quick as 10.02 at 138 mph. It typically runs high 10s without the juice.

Jeff qualified Fourth at the Norwalk TREMEC Stick Shift Shootout, with a 10.94 average after producing runs of 10.86, 11.07 and 10.89. He was 15th overall out of 60-plus participants. He then worked his way through the TREMEC top eight field, winning first and second rounds before facing former winner Tim Casto (Bowling Green in 2020) in the final. Jeff was ready, dropping a .049 light and rowing his way to a 10.20 at 136 mph to dismiss Tim, who was behind on the Tree and didn’t run as far under his handicapped e.t.

McCool took out former TREMEC Stick Shift Shootout winner Tim Casto in the final round in Norwalk, Ohio.

“I have a friendly little rivalry with Tim,” said Jeff. “He is going to double-bulb you, but I knew that was coming and it didn’t matter because I was going to get the light first. I went in and put it to the wood at 7,800 rpm. My light came on and I went. I use a Black Magic clutch that Cale and Tinzy [Aronson] helped me set up for the track and it works awesome. It spun a little in the final, but still clocked a 1.50 60-foot and was smooth through all the gears.”

Jeff added, “I never saw Tim until we went through the lights and when my win light came on, it was really exciting. When you get to leave first, it’s such an advantage. It’s tough to wait on the Tree. That’s how I won my first TREMEC Stick Shift Shootout. My competitor in the semifinals jumped the Tree, then I beat Bob Myers in the final. Tim’s car is very fast. I knew he’d be charging me and if I had any mishap, he would have passed me. But I had him on the Tree and was able to take the win. It was amazing and so much fun to win my second TREMEC Stick Shift Shootout.”

The transplanted 5.0L Coyote engine gets a small boost from a 125-horsepower NOS nitrous system to put the Mustang deep in the 10s in the quarter mile.

“These events are a lot of fun because they cater to so many types of street cars.” He noted, “You just have to qualify and get down the track and anyone has a chance to win. To make it through the 30-mile road tour, make the three runs in True Street and win three rounds is hard to do.”

We love the woodgrain dash as well as the reminder note for McCool’s burnout procedure and to arm the nitrous system before rolling into the staging beams.

“I was also excited that TREMEC and NMRA brought the Stick Shift Shootout to Norwalk. Beech Bend is awesome, too, but Norwalk is closer to me. I’ve been going to that track since I was a kid,” Jeff said. “Now I’m looking forward to Bowling Green; I have to defend the crown. I want to thank Mike Niehaus, who I go racing with, and Shannon Williams, who helped me build both Coyote-swapped Mustangs and is like a brother to me.”

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