Mercury Mayhem—Randy Dolensek takes on the ARP Nitrous Pro Street class with his ’69 Cyclone

Written by Ainsley Jacobs
Photography by Kevin DiOssi

Some things never change, including NMCA ARP Nitrous Pro Street racer Randy Dolensek’s enthusiasm for the Mercury Cyclone. From his teenage years spent cruising in the cool car to his current campaign racing the classic, Dolensek’s commitment to the Cyclone platform has never wavered.

Back in 1969, Dolensek’s brother Ron bought a new Mercury Cyclone of that same model year. The brothers always had an affinity for Fords, so, Dolensek bought his brother’s ride while he was still in high school.

“I painted it the green color that my car is today, then I sold it to someone and found another… I’ve had a few over the years,” laughed the driver, now 65, of his collection that has also included a few other Ford muscle cars, including Shelbys and Torinos.

In the mid-‘80s, Dolensek purchased the ’69 Mercury Cyclone Spoiler II that he still races today as a tribute to his first. His friend, Jim Plimpton, found a rusted-out body and shell that was the perfect platform for Dolensek with which to tinker.

After bringing the car back to Plimpton’s Authentic Automotive body shop and painting it its current Tropic Green Firemist color, Plimpton convinced Dolensek to drop in a big engine and go racing.

“I thought that sounded fun, so that’s where it all started,” reminisced Dolensek of his early days running low-13- and high-12-second passes with a 460-cube engine from a Lincoln. “I’d just go out messing around at local races. I can’t even begin to tell you how many different versions of that car there were over the years!”

Eventually, Dolenek found his people with the Modified Super Stock class running at Great Lakes Dragaway in Union Grove, Wisconsin, not far from his home in Franksville, Wisconsin.

“They were running the class and short on car count so they invited me,” he explained of how he unintentionally got involved with the group. “They were all running in the nines at the time and my car was low-10s and high-nines by then, but that’s where things got serious.”

After five or six years, Dolensek improved his quarter-mile elapsed times all the way down to 7.70s thanks to different engine configurations and a big gulp of nitrous oxide. He still wanted to go quicker and faster, though, so he decided to step it up and have his Cyclone’s chassis completely reworked.

Unfortunately, by the time the car was done, the Modified Super Stock group had disbanded. Dolensek was left without a place to race. He sat with the car for a few years and made some sporadic passes, but he wanted to race for something concrete and not just make laps.

“Someone suggested to me that I run with the NMCA. At the time, my car wasn’t legal for what was then Nostalgia Pro Street,” noted Dolensek, whose cylinder heads were not permitted per the rulebook. By 2015, with the class rechristened ARP Nitrous Pro Street, the rules had changed. Suddenly, Dolensek was in. “So, I thought, yeah, I’ll go! And I really wanted to be a part of something,” he said.

Although he admittedly would have preferred to run with older-generation cars instead of newer-bodied ones with aerodynamic advantages over his ’69 Mercury Cyclone’s lines, Dolensek decided to stick with it and hasn’t once regretted the choice.

“It’s an awesome group to be with, a lot of really nice people,” he added. Despite attending just one event that first year, Dolensek concluded his 2015 season 11th in points overall. In both 2016 and 2017, he was seventh and he improved to finish sixth by 2018 in the ever-growing and highly competitive class.

His 2018 season was a pivotal one, and Dolensek credits most of the positive improvement to drag racing legend, Chuck Samuel. The men had known each other for ages as they both were regulars at Great Lakes Dragaway, but it wasn’t until a friend of Dolensek’s suggested he have Samuel build his engine that things really got rolling.

“I didn’t think he would be interested, but I called and we discussed a few things, and then we went to the track together,” said Dolensek of how the consulting process began. At the drag strip, Samuel quickly diagnosed and sorted an issue Dolensek had been having with getting the Mercury off the line. “He had it fixed after only six launches. After all the years we stepped all over ourselves, I couldn’t believe it!”

With the chassis challenges sorted, Samuel agreed to look at Dolensek’s engine. NMCA ARP Nitrous Pro Street remained the goal, so Samuel tore into the bullet and determine it wasn’t built the way it should have been.

Instead, Samuel put together a better package for Dolensek which consisted of a 632ci engine comprised of a 4.600-inch-bore-space C&C Motorsports aluminum block and ported big-block Ford C460 heads. The builder also selected a Bryant crankshaft and a set of BME rods and pistons.

Although the direct-port nitrous oxide system that stuffs a lot more fun into the engine is “just an old Monte Smith build” that Dolensek cobbled together, the electronic fuel injection is top-notch. A Holley EFI system and Racepak V-500 data recorder enable Samuel to easily work his tuning magic on the Mercury.

“Chuck [Samuel] came on board, and I can honestly say that we have not made a pass in two years that was slower than the one prior,” boasted Dolensek, who is beyond grateful Samuel stepped up his program and also took on tuning duties. “It may have not been quicker in elapsed time, but—always—somewhere in the run is better.”

Continuing the momentum, Dolensek was even more successful in 2019 than ever before. New personal bests of 4.46 seconds in the eighth-mile, 160.4 mph, and 1.08-second 60-foot time were made at the 18th Annual NMCA World Street Finals race at Lucas Oil Raceway in Indianapolis, Indiana. He wrapped up the year again with a sixth-place finish in the championship points.

“That was all Chuck [Samuel],” laughed Dolensek. “He would make little tweaks here and there, and it was like a kind of God waving a and over the car. He’s someone good to have in your corner.”

Although the Cyclone has been through multiple iterations over the years and re-chassis’d at least four times, credit goes to Dennis Equitz of Blitzkrieg Motorsports for creating its current 6.00-second-legal, chromoly double-frame-rail, 25.2 SFI-certified version.

“I took the car to him after I was with the Modified Super Stock class almost a decade ago,” noted Dolensek, who wanted just an upgrade, but realized it would just be easier to do the whole car.

The Cyclone transfers power to the ground via a Turbo 400 transmission from Proformance with a Neal Chance bolt-together torque converter in its current configuration.

“When I originally started with the NMCA, Dennis at Blitzkrieg said ‘you gotta have Dave Klaput build you a trans’ so I did,” stated the racer. “Dave is a wiz with transmissions, and the converter seems to be what everyone was running.”

Located at each corner of the big-bodied car are Penske shocks and struts. “Chuck [Samuel] re-valved them to get the car to work properly, and the rest of the suspension Dennis [Equitz] built himself,” continued Dolensek, whose car utilizes a four-link setup.

Similarly, Strange Engineering brakes, Weld wheels, and Mickey Thompson tires can also be found gracing every corner. A Strange rearend and axles complete the simple, yet effective configuration.

Weighing in at 3,005 pounds, the classic is certainly a head-turner and not just for its uniqueness, which is something Dolensek loves, but also for the subtle aesthetic touches he added to enhance its overall appearance. “I also have a ‘69 Mercury Cyclone Spoiler II Dan Gurney Special and I made a mold of the front end and put it on the race car,” explained Dolensek. “It’s an actual NASCAR-version frontend that helps with aerodynamics.”

To prepare for the 2020 NMCA drag racing season, Dolensek turned to Samuel to freshen up his engine. However, he met with a surprising challenge—racing on his own, as Samuel moved across the country and was unavailable in the interim. “It’s OK, we’ve got the car dialed in so we’re just going to leave it alone and go out there and make some noise!” he said confidently.

Despite skipping the season opener in Florida, Dolensek had a successful start to his latest season of heads-up competition. Running at Atlanta Dragway in Commerce, Georgia at the Coronavirus-delayed 12th Annual Scoggin Dickey Parts Center NMRA/NMCA All-Star Nationals in June, Dolensek took the number-one spot in NMCA ARP Nitrous Pro Street qualifying when he ran 4.609 at 151.71 mph using the same tune-up from his last event in Indy.

In eliminations, Dolensek defeated Kyle Salminen in the first round when he ran 4.526 at 157.26 mph. Advancing to the finals, Dolensek didn’t have the advantage at the tree, but more than made up for it by the time he crossed the stripe. Stopping the clocks in 4.565 seconds at 156.19 mph, Dolensek easily got the win over Vince Khoury who had run 4.611 at 154.47 mph in the other lane.

“It was our first race there without Chuck [Samuel] and—oh my God—we won!” proclaimed Dolensek, who got a congratulatory phone call from his crew chief only a few minutes after his victory. His first win in NMCA history, Dolensek was overjoyed at the outcome of the race. “We normally wouldn’t have even gone to that race, but because of all the [COVID-19] cancellations this year, if there’s a race, I’m going because I don’t know what’ll happen and there might not be more. It was a real, good decision in hindsight!”

Wanting to maintain the momentum and his place in the points chase, Dolensek decided to attend the 15th Annual Nitto Tire NMRA/NMCA Super Bowl of Street Legal Drag Racing presented by HPJ Performance at World Wide Technology Raceway in Madison, Illinois.

A 4.487 at 158.47mph pass in the first qualifying session put Dolensek in the number-two spot at first, and he held on to the position until the standings were finalized. Unfortunately, a mechanical hiccup meant he was unable to make a pass at the start of eliminations.

Committed to making both the NMCA events in Martin, Michigan, and Indianapolis, Indiana, as the season continued, Dolensek qualified 4th in Martin, Michigan amid a contingent of cars that included many newcomers to the NMCA series. He made it to the semi finals where a heartbreaking -.0014 red light against eventual winner Tony Gillig brought his march to the winner’s circle to a premature end.

At the NMCA finals at Lucas Oil Raceway Indianapolis, Dolensek parked his Cyclone in the 3rd spot when qualifying had concluded. While the car count had dwindled for this final race of the year, the competition was nonetheless as tough as it had been all season. Dolensek drew Vince Khoury Jr. for the first round, and the soon-to-be 2020 ARP Nitrous Pro Street champion claimed the starting-line advantage over Dolensek, and took the stripe first, 4.47 to 4.56.

Dolensek’s goal was to “be better than sixth” by the time the final championship points were calculated—he finished 4th.

If it weren’t for Samuel, and crewmen Steven Hiltner and Jeff Seemann, though, Dolensek knows he would be fighting an uphill battle with his green machine.

“I first met Steven at a bar where my daughter was singing in a country band. He was sitting at a table by himself and said we could sit with him, and we got to talking, and he liked racing and found out I had a car…” recalled Dolensek of the unconventional way he met the man who became his trusted friend about five years ago. Dolensek met Jeff through his relationship with Blitzkrieg back in the ‘90s, and the man still comes to every race he can. “If either couldn’t come, it would be very difficult to get everything done. Everyone has a job and does it well!”

For Dolensek, one of the most important aspects of racing is just enjoying the experience and making the most of the opportunity to do so.

“We go to have fun, not work our butts off. That’s why we don’t make big changes, either, and when it’s good, we just leave it alone,” he candidly stated of his car that runs as consistently as a bracket car thanks to Samuel’s guidance. Minor tweaks, such as tire air pressure, wheelie-bar height, when the second stage of nitrous kicks in, and launch rpm are really all that ever get adjusted. “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it—and we don’t wanna break it!”

Dolensek doesn’t get to test much, as he’s busy running his RD’s Truck Service repair shop business that he’s owned since ’81.

“I became a Mack Truck service dealer in ’91 and the business itself has definitely helped me to be flexible with my racing schedule since I don’t have to have the boss’ approval for time off,” he joked. “I keep the car at my shop, and if it’s slow, I can tinker on it.”

After decades of running his own deal, Dolensek is toying with the idea of retirement. However, he knows without the revenue stream it will be difficult to stay on track with his Cyclone, literally.

“That’s why 2020 was so important to me and why we’re on top of the world after having won at Atlanta,” he shared.

Retirement wouldn’t be all bad, though, as it would give Dolensek more time to spend with his wife, Mary, and his daughter, Michelle.

“Being in business, I didn’t spend a lot of time with them because I was always at work,” he lamented of the time he lost with his ladies.

Regardless of where the future takes him, Dolensek has no plans to jettison his cool Cyclone and hopes to keep racing it for as long as he can.

“It’s unique; the only one that anyone has at the track,” he professed.

With so much history in the car, too, Dolensek is enjoying adding even more to the Mercury’s storied past and is enjoying making his mark in the NMCA ARP Nitrous Pro Street category in the interim.

“You don’t have to be anyone special to do this, just set your mind to it, make your goals, and aim high. Keep going, and you’ll get there,” he concluded.

The Details
Owner: Randy Dolensek
Driver: Randy Dolensek
Hometown: Franksville, Wisconsin
Occupation: Owner Mack Truck Repair Facility
Class: ARP Nitrous Pro Street
Crew: Steven Hiltner, Jeffrey Seemann, Chuck Samuel
Car Make/Model/Year: 1969 Mercury Cyclone Spoiler II

Engine: Ford
Engine Builder: Chuck Samuel
Displacement: 632
Block: C&C Motorsports aluminum
Bore: 4.600 inches
Stroke: 4.75 inches
Crank: Bryant
Rods: BME
Pistons: BME
Heads: C460
Valvetrain: T&D Rockers, Jesel Lifters
Cam type: Roller
EFI system: Holley EFI
Power adder: Nitrous Oxide
Fuel brand and type: VP C23
Headers and exhaust: built by Blitzkrieg Motorsports
Transmission: Turbo 400
Transmission Builder: Proformance Transmission
Clutch/shifter/torque converter: Neal Chance
Rearend: Strange Engineering

Body and/or chassis builder: Blitzkrieg Motorsports
Suspension (Front): Struts
Suspension (Rear): Four-link
Brakes (Front): Strange Engineering
Brakes (Rear): Strange Engineering
Wheels (front): Weld spindle-mount
Wheels (Rear): Weld beadlocks
Tires (Front): Mickey Thompson
Tires (Rear): Mickey Thompson
Aftermarket body modifications: None
Vehicle weight: 3,005 pounds
Quickest ET: 4.46 seconds (eighth-mile)
Best 60-foot:1.08 seconds
Fastest mph: 160.4 (eighth-mile mile)
Sponsors: Contingency sponsors