Interview by Mary Lendzion
Photos by Kevin DiOssi
Fascinated with mini import trucks as a teenager, Bart Tobener spent a lot of time shining up and showing his 1988 Mazda B2000 while he was a teenager living in Florida.
Eventually, he began taking it to Moroso Motorsports Park, where he perpetually pushed the stock combination past its limits.
He went on to race some raucous motorcycles in the Championship Cup Series, followed by Mustangs in Fun Ford Renegade in 1998, NMRA Edelbrock Renegade in 2000 and NMCA Edelbrock Xtreme Street in 2005.
Incredibly and impressively, he has more than 50 wins between those three series, he was the first driver to clock 7s in NMRA Edelbrock Renegade in 2014, he earned the 2014 NMRA Edelbrock Renegade championship in 2014 and he is respected and revered by racers as well as race fans.
Tobener, who now lives in Georgia with his wife, Kristie, has four sons: Brandon, Billy, Matthew and Chase. He recently opened his own shop, Tobener Motorsports, and he also recently talked with Fastest Street Car about everything from how he got into racing to how he routinely wants to win.
What was the motivation to buy your first Mustang?
My 1988 Mazda B2000 truck was almost four years old, and it was just time to get something different, so I bought a 1991 Mustang GT from my friend, Jeff Gomez, when I was 21. It had a 302 cubic-inch engine and a five-speed transmission, which was good, because I wanted to go a little faster anyway. We did the normal bolt-on stuff, like short-tube headers, an H-pipe, pulleys and an air filter. We started going to the track just about every Wednesday and Friday, so I had a stack of more than 300 timeslips from Moroso Motorsports Park. On a side note, Jeff died on his twenty-first birthday while street racing, and that is one of the biggest reasons why I race at the track.
In addition to racing in your Mustang at the track, you were still racing on your motorcycle, but you were close to parking the motorcycle. What was the reason?
Well, when you race motorcycles, you’re going to crash, and I did, a lot. My dad didn’t want to see me crash anymore, and he offered to loan me money to buy another car when I sold that car if I agreed to stop racing motorcycles. He knew it was dangerous and that I had some bad wrecks. I even had a concussion that resulted in amnesia. As it turned out, that amnesia is what later caused an entry-level medical discharge from the Navy boot camp. I had been in for six weeks when they learned from my medical records that I had amnesia for a week after that concussion, and they said you can’t serve in the Armed Forces if you’ve had amnesia longer than 24 hours.
Thank you for wanting to serve our country. What was the car that your father, Bill Tobener, helped you purchase?
It was a 1996 Mustang that I bought from Mustang Parts Specialties in Georgia and brought back to Florida. It was a roller without an engine, and I made it into a street car and then a race car. I put a 306 cubic-inch engine in it with Trick Flow heads, an Edelbrock Victor Jr. intake and a Vortech S-Trim blower. It was around that time that I met Mark Mainiero and his son, Joe Mainiero, from UPR Products and it was also around that time that I was doing car stereo and alarm installations, and I started doing some stereo work on Joe’s Mustang, and they started doing some work on my car. Before long, I had accepted a job with UPR, where I was initially a mechanic before going on to do everything from product development to sales, shipping, and fabrication. Mark Mainiero taught me everything I know about wrenching and motors, and I worked there for 14 years. The 1996 Mustang turned out to be my first real race car, and I started racing in Fun Ford Renegade in 1998 and NMRA Renegade in 2000, with the same engine plus a Tremec five-speed. I was running 10.30s way back then.
Did you keep that car, or sell it?
I sold it to a friend, and got a 2000 body-in-white Mustang GT in 2000, and initially, we tore it up fairly quickly because it still had a stock block in it and we didn’t have much success, but then we went to a 306 cubic-inch engine with Trick Flow heads, a Holley SysteMAX intake and a Paxton Novi 2000 supercharger, and we upgraded the C4 and made it a real race car. We did everything at UPR. We set the record with a 9.44 in Fun Ford Weekend with UPR suspension and a 10-point cage, and we also set a record in NMRA.
Was it from there that your racing ratcheted up?
Yes, it is. In 2001, I won five NMRA races and five Fun Ford races. We were making UPR suspension pieces and my car used to go in the UPR parts trailer to all of the races, and we would show people how it ran with UPR suspension. Also, I would help people set up their suspensions. I was running a Paxton blower, and I went as quick and fast as 8.92 and 156 mph in the car, and then I sold it to Mark Mainiero before I left UPR in 2003. That’s the year my dad died, and I had a hard time with it and took a break from racing.
It’s understandable that you took a break from racing after such a profound loss. Is that when you opened your own shop for the first time?
Yes, my friend Marco Manzie and I opened it together. It was called Billet Design, and he specialized on the import side and I specialized on the Mustang side. We were working out of the same shop but we were working separately. We did everything to enhance performance, including supercharger and turbo kit installation, and after a few years, I got a dyno, and then after about five years, I moved to Georgia. I had talked to Tim Matherly of MV Performance before I moved up here, and basically, we figured we could work together and I went there to work as a mechanic and a fabricator. I worked there for seven years, and then I went to work for Race Part Solutions.
When were you compelled to return to racing?
I started building a 2004 Mustang Cobra-clone and 2005 was my first year back. I gave it a 5.4-liter Four-Valve and a Vortech YSi, and that was my first mod motor combination.
After so successfully running pushrod combinations, what made you move to a modular combination?
Our progression went to modular engines at UPR and then my shop as well. That’s what I was working on, and Mark Mainierotaught me so much. After the first or second modular engine I had built for customers, he said ‘You’re going to build all of the mod motors and I’m going to build all of the pushrod motors,’ and I embraced it.
Were you immediately successful in the 2004 Mustang Cobra clone with the modular engine, or did it take some time?
It took a little time to get to the winner’s circle, but I didn’t give up. I don’t ever give up when it comes to cars. We had to weigh 3,400 pounds for NMRA, and I went 8.15 at 168 mph in Renegade. I won quite a few races in that car. I had it for three years before I decided to build almost the exact same car, but lighter, so that in addition to NMRA Renegade, I could run NMCA Xtreme Street, too. It was a body-in-white, and it had the same 5.4-liter Four-Valve and Vortech YSi. They used to make fun of me because I changed cars every few years. The paint job on that one was so nice because it had true fire flames. I won three races with that car and I only had it for a year before going to a Fox Mustang in 2009 with the same combination. We built the car in two days before the Bradenton race. Scott Black at Chassis Pro was helping me. The car was 170 pounds lighter than the previous one, and that was the drive to do it. I won five races in that car, and I had it for two years before I sold it to my friend, Dave Ginter, who still has it.
Did you get into another car right away, or did you sit out for a bit?
I wasn’t going to build a car for a while, and then in 2011, I raced a blue 1993 Mustang coupe with the same combination. I went to one more Fox with the same combination, and in that car, which was grey, I made it into the sevens with a 7.72, and I won the 2014 NMRA Renegade championship.
Will you share the story behind the 2015 Mustang GT you’re currently campaigning?
I had sold my gray car, and I had raced Tim Matherly’s car for a couple races, but I wanted this new car because I really liked the way they looked. The guys at Mustang Parts Specialties found this one, and it had been T-boned. It only had 373 miles on it, and I got it for $9,000 from Georgia. I knew I wanted carbon fiber doors and lightweight fenders, so we pulled the rocker panel and the rear quarter panel, and then it was a matter of making parts to work on that car, between the rear suspension, which I got in the form of 2016 Cobra Jet rear suspension from Ford Performance, and the K-member, which I got from Watson Racing. The guys at UPR helped me out with with a manual rack, manual brakes, travel limiters and all of that. Scott Black, Derek Craft, and I did all of the work at Race Parts Solutions and Chassis Pro in five months.
What did you choose for power?
I went with a 5.0 Coyote engine built by Tim Eichhorn at MPR Racing Engines, a Proformance Racing Transmissions-built Powerglide and a ProTorque converter. I went with that combination because of the evolution of the parts. The Coyote is so readily available and they make good power, so it was a no-brainer for me. I also went with Mickey Thompson Pro 275 drag radials.
When did you debut the eye-catching car?
I debuted the car at the NMRA/NMCA race in Atlanta in 2016. We were less than stellar. In fact, we were terrible. There was a huge learning curve with things like the converter and the suspension. We ended up talking with Mark Menscer of Menscer Motorsports and he helped me with the front end, and Joe Rivera from ProTorque helped me with the converter. By the middle of the year, the car was going faster and we were competitive, and by the end of the year, we knew we had a good car and were there to win races. We have continued to fine-tune the combination, and we have continued to try to get the car to work at a lighter weight. We’re learning what the car likes, and we use a Holley EFI Dominator for engine management.
How did 2017 and 2018 go competition-wise?
In 2017, we won in Extreme Street at the NMCA race in Kentucky and we won in Renegade at the NMRA race in Kentucky, and in 2018, we won in Renegade at the NMRA race in Florida and we won in Xtreme Street at the NMCA race in Florida, so now, I guess you could say it’s going fine, even though we were killing engines last year. I don’t know what the problem was, but we changed everything, including the harness, fuel, fuel pump and fuel filters. It was frustrating because we had started off so strong.
Have you raced yet in 2019?
Yes, we raced at the Street Car Nationals in January in Florida and Lights Out in February in Georgia. At Street Car Nationals, we were down 150-200 horsepower but we didn’t know why. Then, we continued to have trouble at Lights Out, and eventually, we discovered that we had a cracked intercooler tank. We took it to the guys at Mac-Fab Performance Beadlocks and they welded it up for me 30 minutes before the second round of eliminations. We had guessed at the tune because we had been tuning with a cracked intercooler tank, and I lost to the number two qualifier. I went 4.85 that weekend, but the car has been 4.70 many times.
What are your hopes and plans for 2019?
I opened my own shop, Tobener Motorsports, in Winder, Georgia. We’ll be working on anything from street cars to full-blown race cars. We’ll also be selling parts and consulting as well. We have some great companies that have been with us from the beginning, like Holley, DiabloSport, Vortech, US Shift, Billet Atomizer, UPR Products, MPR Racing Engines, Hellion Turbo, Smooth Stage and many more. As far as the race car goes, we put a new ProTorque stator in the Gen X converter and a rear gear in my Mustang because NMRA Renegade is now eighth-mile, and we plan to continue running both NMRA Edelbrock Renegade and NMCA Edelbrock Xtreme Street. We’ll play it by ear as far as how many races we’ll run, but I’ll tell you, I’m just a competitive person, and I want to win.
(Interview from the May issue of Fastest Street Car)