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AUG 30, 2018 | Ford Performance Staff

Norwalk Roars to Life for Cobra Jet 50th Anniversary Reunion


NORWALK, Ohio - This past weekend, Ford enthusiasts flocked to Summit Motorsports Park in Norwalk, Ohio for the Ford Performance 50th Anniversary Cobra Jet Reunion. The celebration was one of epic proportions, capturing 50 years of Cobra Jet history with a show and go like we’ve never seen before.

Over 200 Cobra Jet-powered Fords and Mercs packed the venue that was held in conjunction with the NMCA All-American Nationals. And in addition to the amazing and historical cars, the event was highlighted by iconic personalities, including engineers, racers and media, who over the last 50 years have shaped Cobra Jet into lethal force.

The line up of Cobra Jets featured countless original models and dozens of modern Mustangs. Many consider the holy grail of CJs to be Al Joniec’s 1968 NHRA Winternationals winner. It was the very first CJ to win a race and it did so it its NHRA debut. Joniec’s machine was paired for the first time with the 2009 Winternationals-winning CJ, a 2008 model Cobra Jet driven by John Calvert. Like Joniec, Calvert piloted the ’08 CJ to victory in its debut and in storybook fashion, it was pained identical to Joniec’s Mustang. Both of these historical CJs are owned by Brent Hajek.

Along with Hajek’s Mustangs were nearly a dozen original “135” Cobra Jets. Most agreed this was the largest gathering of the factory racers in decades. Seeing them lined up was amazing, but fans enjoyed watching many of them on track as well.

Speaking of on-track action, the event offered two classes to put down all that CJ power. Diversified Products Marketing Vintage Cobra Jet was the home for early CJs and Diversified Products Marketing Modern Cobra Jet was the class for the late-model Jets.

Steven Hall proved victorious in the vintage class with his familiar 1968 NHRA Stock Eliminator Mustang. Hall bested 27 racers before taking on the big-tire bracket CJ of Rod Heltzel in the final. Hall moved first with a solid .039 reaction time and his win was secured when Heltzel left too soon with a .009 redlight. It was a great moment for the Hall family, which brought a slew of cars, including father Sonny’s 1968 CJ, which won Best of Show.

Heltzel had another shot, as he also competed in the Diversified Products Marketing Modern Cobra Jet class. A total of 33 drivers made first round and solid driving helped Heltzel advance to his second Final round. He faced chassis builder Mike Pustelny, who was running sold 9.80s all weekend. Pustelny left first, cutting a .082 light and once again Heltzel moved a tad too quickly, tuning it red with a -.018 light. The redlight gave Pustelny the win and set up the King of the Cobra Jet runoff between him and Hall.

After a brief cooldown, the old and new CJs staged for the final battle. The better light went to Pustelny (.048 to .096), and that was all he needed to hold off the classic CJ of Hall. Pustelny ran it out to a 9.86 at 135 mph to secure the win and the King of the Cobra Jet crown.

In addition to the fantastic competition on track, Watson Racing sponsored special Cobra Jet Luncheons. The meet-and-greet lunches were highlighted by CJ personalities who told the incredible stories about Cobra Jet development, early racing history, and the challenges they faced in the early days. Carl Tasca, along with his brother Bob Tasca II spoke to the crowd and gave everyone a feel for how their father put it all together. Racers and enthusiasts had the chance to ask questions and interact with the old timers and the current crop of engineers responsible for the 2008-present Cobra Jet.

And while the racing was rich with CJ horsepower, the show was equally impressive. Dozens of Cobra Jet Mustangs, Torinos, Mercury Cyclones and more lined the rows, showing off their CJ powerplants. They consisted of 428, 429 and 351 engines that proudly wore the CJ moniker.

The 50th Anniversary Cobra Jet Reunion brought together old and new, young and old. It brought together everyone with a love for Cobra Jet and people traveled from as far as South America and Australia to attend. It exceeded our expectations and Ford Performance was proud to be a part of this great event. To have cars from all across the country and racers like Al Joniec, Carl Tasca, Bob Tasca III, John and Brent Calvert, Richie Pauly, Don Keen, Vinny Lyons, Gene McBean, Steve and Rusty Hall, Rod Heltzel, Mike Pustelny, Jimmy Ronzello, Anthony Bongiovanni, Brent Hajek, Ken Miele, Bill Skillman, David Garton, Don Fezell, Gary Richard, Gardner Stone, Rick Rodgers, Paul Roderick, Chuck Watson, George Wright, Don Fotti, Allen Platt, Jim Morgan, Tony Hewes, and so many others was just amazing.

And these are just a few of the racers. There were so many movers and shakers like authors Donald Farr, Charlie Morris and Bob McClurg, Bob Smith, Evan Smith, Les Baer, and former Director of Ford Performance, Brian Wolfe. We also saw former lead engineer Bill Barr, Dean Gregson of Tasca Ford, Ed Meyer, Billy Gilbert, Bob Corn, Barrie Poole, Jacky Jones, Rusty Gillis and many, many others.

Ford Performance tied it all together with the 2018 Cobra Jet, which was just introduced. For many, it was the first chance to see the new model in person and we can’t wait to see it on track. The 2018 Cobra Jet promises to be the quickest and fastest ever and that will guarantee that Ford keeps the Cobra Jet in the winner’s circle.