For the twenty-third time in a row, Mustang drag racers converged on Bradenton Motorsports Park to shake the winter blues and kick-off the NMRA Keystone Drag Racing Series. The annual pilgrimage from parts across North America, and even Germany, is for the Nitto Tire NMRA Spring Break Shootout, presented by Muscle Mustangs & Fast Fords. The first event of this six-race series for 2017 was nothing short of fast fun with record-breaking performances on the drag strip, as well as in the spectator stands with a near capacity crowd on Saturday. The kick-off event always features many specialty shootouts including the historic JLT Performance Spring Break Shootout—home of the wildest Mustang street cars.

The quickest and fastest cars on property belong in VP Racing Fuels Street Outlaw, as a wild assortment of small-tire heroes made up an 11-car field. The number-one qualifier was Manny Buginga, who set the all-time quickest run in class history with a 4.33 elapsed time at a questionable 177 mph, a high speed mark that was never run again. He finished runner-up to Charlie Cooper in an anti-climatic finale—Buginga spun the tires and Cooper ran 4.369 at 169.68 mph to take his first career NMRA victory.

The next step in the heads-up lineup is Edelbrock Renegade and Frank Varela and the Hellion Racing B-Team announced their return to competition in a big way. First, he set the category’s record with a stout 7.411 at 183.03 mph, qualifying at the top of the 15-car field. But it was Dom DiDonato and his 2008 Shelby GT500, tuned by Triangle Speed Shop and built by C&D Auto Tech that got quicker and quicker with each passing round. A massive holeshot in the final allowed the turbocharged, Modular-powered machine to stay in front and win the class with a 7.653 at 178.18 mph to Varela’s 7.500 at 180.46 mph.

Another first-time winner at Spring Break Shootout was John Kauderer in ProCharger Coyote Modified with his iconic Cobra Jet Mustang. The turbocharged, JPC Racing sponsored, factory hot rod unleashed record runs and consistent 7.80s at 174 mph to score the victory. He beat teammate David Witt on his way to the Aerospace Components Winner’s Circle. It was the quickest G-Force Racing Transmissions Coyote Stock field in NMRA history and the defending champion Drew Lyons struck first with a class win over Darin Hendricks. Lyons won the battle, but it was Hendricks who walked away with the quickest run in class history with a 10.075 performance.

Richmond Gear Factory Stock was fast, tight, and the most competitive it has been in many years. John Leslie Jr. sat on top of the field with top-qualified position thanks to a 10.517 at 125.97 mph, which was also low et of the event and the new class record. On Sunday, Dan Ryntz raced to his first-ever NMRA class win and he defeated James Meredith and cracked the win streak. Meredith entered the Spring Break Shootout having won the last seven NMRA events dating back to the 2015 finale. The class champion made his ninth-straight, final-round appearance. Ryntz unleashed a holeshot, .054 reaction time to Meredith’s .143 light. The Booze Brothers Racing-sponsored machine won it with a 10.701 at 123.30 mph to a quicker, but losing, 10.640 at 123.79 mph.

The longest running heads-up Mustang category is the JLT Performance Spring Break Shootout and it was nothing short of spectacular, as usual. The class has enjoyed wild success over the years thanks to its street-oriented requirement. The QA1 True Street class serves as the qualifier and Cal Hayward topped that easily with a 7.94 average. The Michigan native went on to dominate the competition with his mid-7 second machine. He beat Canadian racer Jeff Bloem in the finals with a 7.323 at 191.20 mph. Also part of the QA1 True Street party is the TREMEC Stick Shift Shootout, which the four quickest stick drivers compete in for a Tremec six-speed transmission. Local racer Anthony Heard took the class win over Harrison Cumbie, 9.192 at 149.15 mph to a 10.475 at just 108.17 mph.

The wild assortment of shootouts allowed racers to race a lot and Brian Devilbiss wasted no time in entering both UPR Products Modular Xtreme and VMP Performance Terminator vs. GT500 Shootout. He visited the Aerospace Components Winner’s Circle twice by dominating both classes. Devilbiss beat Mark Duber in Modular Xtreme and he ran 7.387 at 188.99 mph to top Randy Thomas in the other category.

Bill Putnam took his fourth class win in the Livernois Motorsports EcoBoost Battle as he set the all-time low elapsed time for a EcoBoost-powered drag vehicle with a 9.467 at 144.46 mph. He outran Alexis Fruggiero in the finals, 9.513 at 142.56 mph to a 10.298 at 132.13 mph. Local sensation and noted tuner Sai Li pushed his 2012 Mustang GT to an 8.350 at 179.24 mph, topping a wheel-standing Chris Holmes in Hellion Turbo Coyote Shootout. The racing was fierce and Justin Jordan was the top qualifier with a 7.893, but ran as quick as 7.601 at 181.48 mph during eliminations before losing to Li in the semifinals.

There were two categories that were completed on Saturday; the Ford Performance Cobra Jet Showdown presented by Watson Racing, and the ididit Outlaw True Street class. The factory hot rods used the race as a tune-up for the NHRA Gatornationals and Michelle Bongiovanni captured the win with her dad, Anthony Bongiovanni, looking on when she eliminated Paul Roderick. In Outlaw True Street, the no Time, eighth-mile eliminator capped off Saturday night’s fun with high-stakes racing. Mark Duber was the victor over Jon Anderson.

The Index categories were no less dramatic—In Aerospace Components Open Comp, Mel White drove his borrowed Mustang to the win as he defeated Gordon Harlow in the finals. The Exedy Racing Clutch Modular Muscle class saw Roush teammates Susan McClenaghan and Donnie Bowles meet up in the final round. The propane-powered S197 machines were primed for a tight race, but Bowles went red and McClenaghan raced right into the Aerospace Components Winner’s Circle.

The big and heavy trucks have a home in Detroit Locker Truck & Lightning with a stellar 17-truck showing for the first race. Like last year, Randy Conway began the season with a class victory. This time, he beat Jimmy Cantrell as he begins his title defense. Coincidentally, he was the only one of three 2016 series champions to claim a victory during the season opener. Roush Performance Super Stang had no shortage of fast-paced 2005 and newer Mustangs but the fixed dial-in category came down to Kent Nine and Levi Wendell. Nine took his first class win, after going winless in 2015, while behind the wheel of the Brenspeed 2015 Roush Mustang.

The third defending champion to begin his title defense with a season-opening victory was Danny Towe with his Harland Sharp 1970 Mustang, competing in Ford Muscle. He faced Bryan Parker—who red-lit in the final—and drove into the Aerospace Components Winner’s Circle with ease.

An amazing 140+ QA1 True Street competitors entered the category on Saturday as the streets of Bradenton were taken over by high-performance vehicles. Cal Hayward took the Overall win with a 7.94 average, while Jeff Bloem was the Overall runner-up. Also on the winner’s list are William Lujan (9-second), Bill Dudley (10-second), Bill Lee Jr. (11-second), Mike Baker (12-second), Carlos Mendes (13-second), Mary Mamen (14-second), and Gary Clempa (15-second).

Included in all NMRA events is the Race Pages Magazine Bracket Challenge with two types of eliminators. Larry Meray won Bracket 1 (Super Pro), Manny Sousa took the win in Bracket 2.