Dennis Corn passes in 8 seconds with his 1988 Ford Thunderbird
Ford Motor Company’s influence on high performance vehicles and the world of drag racing cannot be denied. There are entire families that are tied to the Blue Oval brand through this influence, and NMRA racer Dennis Corn is one of them. Dennis is a multiple time NMRA Open Comp Champion who also works for Ford Racing icon Jack Roush as Operations Manager at ROUSH Engines.
Dennis Corn’s father, Bob, was the one who put him on Ford’s path. Bob spent many years working at Ford as an engineer and played a pivotal role in improving the company’s motorsport programs. Bob, along with Doug Thompson, Mel Wallace, Lue Williams and Bob McNall all worked together to race several Ford vehicles. Eventually, Bob developed a relationship with Jack Roush which grew over the years and led to him working with Roush.
Dennis grew up watching his dad race, and in 2008 he decided it was time for him to get behind the wheel. A Fox-bodied Mustang was chosen as Dennis’ first race car, but the deal fell through, so a new car had to be found.
“I bought a 1988 Ford Thunderbird in North Carolina, met my dad, my uncle Doug Thompson, and we agreed to get back racing with me behind the wheel. The plan was to keep it simple – a hot old fashioned rod powered by a small block Ford like my dad used to work when he was young. The car also had to have a manual transmission like what Uncle Doug would drive. We were hoping for a 10 second ride that would go down in the 135 mph range,” says Dennis.
The Thunderbird chassis was built at the ROUSH factory in Livonia, Michigan. The front suspension uses a K-member from UPR, along with a set of dual-adjust struts from Strange Engineering. Out back you’ll find a 9-inch Currie rear filled with more Strange parts. A set of Wilwood brakes help bring the Thunderbird to a stop. The brakes are paired with Weld wheels up front and Billet Specialties hoops in the rear. Mickey Thompson tires keep the Thunderbird rolling on the track.
The Ford small block that powers the Thunderbird was machined and assembled at ROUSH Engines. A Dart block serves as the base for the engine. The rotating assembly uses a crankshaft and connecting rods from Eagle, as well as MAHLE PowerPack pistons. AFR 225cc cylinder heads were selected and dressed with PAC springs, ROUSH retainers and Jesel rocker arms. A solid roller camshaft from COMP Cams, Trend push rods, ROUSH tappets and a set of ROUSH HyVo timing chains complete the engine’s valve train. A CHI intake, paired with a Holley 4150 carburetor, combines air and fuel for the engine before MSD’s electronics provide the spark.
Dennis rips his own gears while riding the Thunderbird. A five-speed G-Force GR5 clutchless transmission and a single-disc clutch from McCleod Racing are the transmission parts of choice. The Thunderbird ran a best of and 8.902 and 151.20 mph on the track, naturally aspirated.
Dennis has won a total of three NMRA Open Comp Championships during his racing career. These championships are a great achievement, but that’s not what motivates Dennis to keep racing.
“My goals and motivation for racing is to have fun with my dad, uncle, family and friends. I’m also here to prove to myself that I’m a competent rider against very competent and experienced index runners from the NMRA. We really don’t have any set ambitions beyond the index races, it’s all about fun for us,” says Dennis.
Dennis has been able to do incredible things during his racing career and it has been made possible by the people who support him at home and on the track.
“My family, my friends and my team have played a big part in all of my success. Dad, Doug, Dan Ostrander, John Stanford, Lane Breck and Theo Rotkieicz have all helped a lot. ROUSH Corporation, Dart, MAHLE, AFR, Holley, COMP Cams, PAC Racing Springs, Eagle, G-Force and McLeod have all been there too, providing me with the best possible parts to compete at a high level,” says Dennis.
Dennis Corn has built one of the coolest Thunderbirds you’ve ever seen. The fact that he rips his own gears and wins in the heavy-duty NMRA Open Comp class is a testament to how well his car runs.
Photos courtesy of Dennis Corn and the NMRA