Interview by Mary Lendzion
Photos by Mary Lendzion and Fastest Street Car Staff
Drawn to competition, Mike DiDomenico has successfully raced several cars in several categories through the years.
But it’s the 1968 Camaro that he currently campaigns in NMCA VP Racing Lubricants Xtreme Pro Mod that pumps his passion for close competition and awe-inspiring accomplishments.
The car built by G-Force Race Cars and boasting a Brad Anderson Hemi prepared by Rage Fuel Systems, MBE heads, Brad Anderson intake, SSI supercharger and Liberty’s five-speed has delivered DiDomenico to an incredible 3.68 and to wins while flying banners for Robots Done Right, Tub O’ Towels and CNC Performance Products, but it’s in his blood to want to go even faster and to win even more.
With him every step of the way is his son, Sal, who is his crew chief and tuner, as well as his business partner for their shop, CNC Performance Products in Ohio, and there is no denying that the father and son, who are equally dedicated and determined, make a powerful pair.
And while they’re focused on being fierce at the races, they’re also focused on family, whether it’s their family, or other families who visit their pit area. In fact, they often invite children, and adults, to sit in the race car, and have their picture taken with it.
Read on for an interview that begins with Mike, who is married to Kathy and flies his Cirrus SR22 to the races, and ends with Sal, who is engaged to Brittany Fiktus and drives the rig to the races.
WHERE DID YOU GROW UP, AND WHAT WAS YOUR FIRST CAR?
MIKE: I grew up in Bedford Heights, Ohio, and my first car was a 1978 Ford F-250. I then had a 1967 Camaro, and it was a piece of junk, but I fixed it up and it was my first muscle car. It had a 327 cubic-inch engine and a Muncie four-speed, and I named the car Mighty Mouse for its small-block engine. After that, I bought a 1972 Nova as my first race car, and I ran 9.90s on nitrous and 10.90s without nitrous at Summit Motorsports Park and Thompson Raceway Park in Ohio shortly after high school. I didn’t have a lot of success with it because I was just learning, but from there, I went on to an Altered front-engine car, and raced in a 7.90 index class called Supercharged Outlaws. We were booked as exhibition at places like Summit Motorsports Park. From there, I raced a 1937 Chevy Pro Mod in IHRA for just a year before taking some time off. When I returned to racing, I went into Top Dragster about ten years ago, had good success, won two IHRA national races and then went to Outlaw Dragster.
WHAT WAS IT LIKE TO COMPETE IN OUTLAW DRAGSTER?
MIKE: I bought a different dragster for it, and we had a Brad Anderson Hemi and a Kobelco supercharger. It was heads-up rather than bracket, and we ran 3.65. The rules were more open, and it was good because I needed a new challenge. We raced at Thompson Raceway Park, Summit Motorsports Park and at some PDRA events, and we did well. We went undefeated in 2014 in Asphalt Wars. We ran Outlaw Dragster until three years ago, and we sold the dragster and bought the Camaro we have now in late 2017.
THAT WAS A BIG CHANGE. WHAT COMPELLED YOU TO MAKE IT?
MIKE: I just wanted a bigger challenge, and I wanted to try Pro Mod again. We found this G-Force Race Cars car and my son, Sal, and I went to look at it, and we liked it. It was used, but it didn’t have very many runs on it and it had sat for a number of years and was in great condition. I called G-Force Race Cars and asked them what the differences would be between a used car and a new car, and they told me there would be very little difference, and we decided to purchase the car about a week later.
WHAT DID YOU DO TO THE CAR AFTER YOU PURCHASED IT?
MIKE: The anti-roll bar had to be stronger, so we purchased a new one from G-Force Race Cars, and we installed it at our shop. We put a new carbon fiber seat in the car, and we replaced the aluminum flooring with carbon flooring. The wheelie bars were old and steel, and we upgraded them with new carbon wheelie bars. We also changed the shocks and put Penske suspension components under the car. For power, we went with the Brad Anderson Hemi that we had in the dragster, with a Kobelco supercharger. We tested the car with that combination, and realized we needed to go with a different combination, so at the beginning of last year, we hooked up with Mike Kopchick at Rage Fuel Systems for the engine that’s in the car now, a different Brad Anderson HEMI prepared by Rage Fuel Systems, plus an SSI supercharger and a Liberty’s five-speed. Mike had experience with this combination, as well as with the electronics we were using and the Davis traction control, and with his help, we started going to more races, and we won the Outlaw 660 class at Dragway 42 in Ohio and the PDRA Pro Boost class at Virginia Motorsports Park last year. We were also running some Rumble Wars Extreme 8 at Summit Motorsports Park.
NMCA WELCOMED YOU TO VP RACING FUELS XTREME PRO MOD AT THIS YEAR’S SEASON OPENER, THE 18TH ANNUAL NMCA MUSCLE CAR MAYHEM PRESENTED BY HOLBROOK RACING ENGINES IN MARCH AT BRADENTON MOTORSPORTS PARK IN FLORIDA. HOW DID YOUR DEBUT IN THE CATEGORY GO?
MIKE: We had felt like we were on to something, and that’s why we were confident enough to make the long haul from Ohio to Florida. We were happy to go to the semifinals there, and that made it worth the trip. It was our intention at that point to chase the championship, but unfortunately, we hurt our engine at the next NMCA race. It really hurt because we had such high hopes. In addition to that, we run on a shoestring budget, and we try to make do with every dollar we can. But, giving up is not in my nature, and it’s not in Sal’s nature, so we took the engine apart to see what the extent of the damage was, and we sent everything back to Brad Anderson, and they did all of the repairs. Normally, we would have done them ourselves, but we had other work to do at our shop and we were crunched for time. They did a great job on the repairs and rebuild, and we were back in action at the NMCA race at U.S. 131 Motorsports Park in Michigan in August.
OVERALL, HOW DO YOU FEEL EVERYTHING IS GOING WITH THE CAR?
MIKE: We’re definitely seeing that the changes we’re making are working, and we’re definitely seeing some success. I’m very happy with how everything is going. We’ll take a look at things at the end of the season, reevaluate to see what changes we need to make and put our plan in place for next year.
WHAT MOTIVATES YOU TO BE SO COMMITTED AND CONTINUOUSLY TAKE THINGS TO THE NEXT LEVEL?
MIKE: It’s all about the challenge. The challenge, as well as qualifying at the top of the ladder, going rounds and winning makes me happy, and that pushes me to keep going. I like everything that we have to do to the car before a race, during a race and after a race. There is so much that goes on. Plus, I like Xtreme Pro Mod. I want to win a championship in it, and that takes commitment as well as consistency.
AS A FATHER, HOW DOES IT FEEL TO HAVE YOUR SON, SAL, AS YOUR CREW CHIEF, TUNER AND RIGHT-HAND MAN?
MIKE: Sal has been with me and spending quality time with me since he was younger. He was just seven or eight when he started watching me race, and what’s so wonderful about my current car is that Sal and Mike Kopchick from Rage Fuel Systems really click. Mike was not afraid to teach Sal everything about the combination because he could see how Sal wanted to learn about it and how much potential he had. Most of all, working on the car with my son is all about the memories we’re making. I’m very lucky, and I know that.
While we traditionally only interview one person for these Spotlight interviews in Fastest Street Car, we decided after talking with Mike that we also wanted to talk with his son, Sal, since he is such a big part of his father’s racing program — and his life.
THANK YOU FOR AGREEING TO TALK WITH US, SAL. WHAT ARE YOUR EARLIEST MEMORIES OF WATCHING YOUR FATHER RACE?
SAL: I have been around my dad’s racing since I was little, and my earliest memory is when he won in Top Dragster at an IHRA event when I was six or seven years old. Because I was too young to be on the race track, I stood on the back of the golfcart so I could see him race, and before he got in the car, he told me to cross my fingers and say a prayer. When his win light came on, I couldn’t wait to run up to him and give him a hug on the other end of the track.
DO YOU THINK THAT MOMENT MADE YOU EVEN MORE INTERESTED IN MOTORSPORTS?
SAL: Yes. That moment is when I got hooked, and when I was eleven or twelve, my dad bought me a junior-dragster, and I raced that for a number of years. I won a couple of races, and that fueled the fire for me competition-wise. I had a burning passion and wanted to be out there competing.
HOW DID THAT EVOLVE THROUGH THE YEARS?
SAL: As the years went by and I started to help my dad and have more responsibility when it came to the car, I became more and more fascinated with the tuning aspects of the car, and I have progressed from there. The trust factor is big with any kind of racing. The driver needs to trust the tuner and vice versa, and my dad and I have that trust in each other.
DO YOU ALWAYS SEE EYE TO EYE, OR DO YOU SOMETIMES DISAGREE?
SAL: For the most part, we do always see eye to eye. I don’t tell my dad how to drive, and he doesn’t tell me how to tune, or make chassis adjustments or gear changes. We talk about things, and when necessary, we explain our thought process, but we don’t second-guess each other.
WHAT HAVE YOU LEARNED THROUGH THE YEARS?
SAL: When I first got into this, I didn’t know anything about tuning these kinds of cars or how the suspension worked, and when we got our engine from Mike Kopchick of Rage Fuel Systems, we asked him for some guidance on the tune, and we spent a year making trips to South Carolina to test at his home track, and my dad tells people that Mike took me under his wing. If it weren’t for him, it would have taken a lot longer to learn what I have learned. He taught me how to set up the chassis, and he taught all of us how to service the car between rounds and between races. Then he started teaching me the ins and outs of the tuning software, and how to tell when the engine is happy and when it’s not happy. I took notes on everything he told me.
DO YOU FEEL PRESSURE IF IT WASN’T A GOOD WEEKEND AT THE TRACK?
SAL: Yes, I do. In Pro Mod racing, you have the highest of highs when you do well, and the lowest of lows when you don’t do well. I’ve had butterflies in my stomach after we’ve won, and I’ve really struggled after we’ve lost, and when that happens, I take a few days to clear my mind before looking at our data on the laptop to see what went wrong.
WHO SUPPORTS YOU AND YOUR FATHER ALONG THE WAY?
SAL: Gary Lucas, who has been friends with my dad for more than thirty years, is our electronics guy; Adam Stablein handles our engine maintenance and Blake Molnar does pretty much everything else, including towing the race car at the track. I drive the rig to the races, and my dad usually flies his plane to the races. We have a good crew, and we definitely wouldn’t be able to do this without their support. My dad also has support from his wife, Kathy, and I have support from my fiancée, Brittany.
WHAT DO YOU WANT TO ACCOMPLISH?
SAL: I want to turn our car into a championship car. That’s the ultimate goal. And, we strive to go quicker and faster to beat our personal bests. And, I want to make memories with my dad.
DO YOU SEE YOURSELF CLIMBING INTO THE DRIVER’S SEAT OF THE CAMARO SOME DAY?
SAL: If or when my dad is ready to hang up his driving suit, you better believe I’ll be there to climb into the driver’s seat.
(Interview in the December 2020 issue of Fastest Street Car)