Written by Ainsley Jacobs
Photography by Kevin DiOssi
Racing with friends is great. Racing with family is fantastic. But, racing with friends who are also family brings the experience to a whole new level—and that’s exactly what the duo of Riste Pancevski and Tony Petrovski are doing with their notorious, naturally aspirated Fox Mustang.
Growing up in Michigan near Detroit, Pancevski met his good friend (and current brother-in-law) Petrovski when he was a teenager. The two partnered on an ’88 Ford Mustang with a naturally aspirated, 306-cube small-block engine and would regularly go out for some late-night fun on the streets.
Racing took precedence in Pancevski’s life and he attended trade school as a machinist. In his early 20s, he applied for a seemingly generic job that serendipitously turned out to be a career opportunity at Dart Machinery.
“That’s how my passion for drag racing really started,” Pancevski recalled . “I had never touched a set of heads in my life, but they offered to train me and it worked out.”
Pancevski wound up working at Dart for nearly 15 years before taking a break to concentrate on his own business, P&P Motorsports, which focuses on cylinder head and intake manifold work.
Eventually, though, he got a call from Ford Motor Company regarding a job he had applied for a while back. With FoMoCo for almost a decade, Pancevski was employed as a test roller, working with Mustangs on the dyno as they come out of the plant.
“What more could somebody want? It’s truly a blessing,” noted the 45-year old Mustang fanatic, who still operates P&P on the side.
While he was busy developing a successful career with a motorsports tint, Pancevski stays busy racing with Petrovski. Their early street racing days eventually evolved into a bracket-racing career at local tracks such as Milan Dragway and Summit Motorsports Park, and a dose of nitrous oxide was added to their 306ci engine.
Pancevski kept an eye on the NMRA scene and, by the early 2000s, both he and Petrovski had an itch to try heads-up racing.
“I’ve always been a naturally aspirated guy,” noted Pancevski, who was involved in Dart’s Pro Stock engine program in the late ‘90s as well. “That raw horsepower. That’s what I want.”
The men competed in the now-defunct NMRA Hot Street class with their Fox-Body notchback, and thanks to help from two of Dart’s key engine builders, Paul Hoskins and Dan Cordier, soon swapped in an all-motor 400ci bullet that Pancevski built while he was still employed at the company.
“Paul was a huge start to our naturally aspirated platform, and Dan eventually took over the engine program and helped get us to where we are today,” Pancevski added of the relationships that were cultivated years ago.
Dabbling in the NMRA world, the duo realized they weren’t quite ready to take on a full championship-series travel schedule. Instead, Pancevski and Petrovski stayed local, running Friday Night Shootout and test-and-tune type events, as well as a little grudge racing, until they opted to sell their ’88 Mustang.
In ’02, the guys purchased their current ’92 model Mustang, but didn’t bring it out until ’05. They raced it sporadically through ’09, after which it sat dormant for a few years. By ’12, they had decided to run it again, this time in Milan Dragway’s All-Motor class on a 10.5-inch tire, but knew the car needed to be optimized.
Dave Kelsey at KTS Race Cars was contracted to build the chassis from the ground up and was authorized to rip out whatever needed to go. The 7.50-certified 25.5 SFI cage was put in, along with a custom 9-inch rearend and ladder bar setup to replace the previous 8.8-inch rear and stock suspension, while an Outlaw-style K-member replaced stock components up front.
Pancevski turned to Rossler for their three-speed Turbo 400 transmission and stuffed a 665ci big-block Chevy engine built by APD Racing’s John Kyle with a single carburetor between the frame rails. Changing from Ford to Chevrolet power was certainly a controversial choice, but one Pancevski and Petrovski believed was necessary to get the job done.
“The best bang for our buck was with the big-block Chevy, because it wouldn’t have to turn the rpm as high and be as rough on the valvetrain to still make power,” Pancevski explained. “I know it’s a no-no and I’m the first to admit, but sometimes you gotta do what you gotta do.”
In ‘14, the P&P Motorsports team were ready to debut their refreshed ride with Petrovski heading up the driving duties.
“It was a learning curve for sure,” laughed Pancevski. “No longer were we just bracket racing—this heads-up stuff is no joke and everyone was out for the same thing, to win a championship.” The men often found themselves the “first-round runners-up” but understood that was all part of the process. By the season’s end, they brought Cordier on board to help flatten the curve and coax more power from the 665ci engine.
Pancevski and Petrovski sat out their ‘15 season while waiting on parts, but were back at it by ’16. That year wound up being a bit of a wash out as rain wreaked havoc on Milan Dragway’s schedule, and the team’s season came to an unexpected, untimely end as a broken crankshaft took the wind out of the their sails.
“We had no parts and no time to get it back together to finish out the season, so we made the decisions that got us where we are today,” noted Pancevski, who had been curious to run in the NMCA drag racing series but knew they weren’t legal for their intended class with such a large engine.
After pouring over rule books and considering their options, Pancevski and Petrovski decided to move forward with a new 598ci engine—spearheaded by Cordier—that would give the men the flexibility and versatility they needed to run in various classes across multiple sanctioning bodies, including the NMCA.
A new, custom Dart block, of course, was selected as the foundation of the Mustang’s new engine. A Winberg crankshaft and COMP camshaft were inserted, along with Diamond pistons and GRP connecting rods.
“We wouldn’t be where we are today if not for the incredible support from Dart, Diamond Pistons, Trend Performance, and Total Seal, as well as the support of all of our other generous sponsors,” Pancevski said gratefully. Topped with a set of Brodix Big Chief heads and a custom Book Racing 4500 carburetor, the 4.600-inch bore engine produced over 1,400-horsepower and 1,000 pound-feet of torque.
The men also chose to eliminate their car’s ladder bar configuration in favor of a four-link by KTS with AFCO shocks.
“Technically, it’s a ladder link so we can go back to the ladder-bar setup just by changing a few bars,” Pancevski clarified of the built-in adaptability.
Perfection takes time, so Pancevski and Petrovski sat out their ’17 season as well.
“We came back in 2018,” stated Pancevski, “and wound up getting several runners-up plus a win at Milan, and won the 2018 Milan Dragway All-Motor championship by one point!” To win a title takes consistency, and Pancevski knew the key to success was Petrovski regularly going rounds, not necessarily always being the quickest.
Going from high to low the following season in 2019 was a tough pill for both to swallow, but they did so with their trademark good sportsmanship.
“It was a little rough for us that year,” Pancevski plainly professed, “but not bad overall. We had struggles and the car was fighting us, but we didn’t quit and were able to work through it to solve the problem in the equation.”
Taking a step back in 2019 wasn’t easy, but Pancevski and Petrovski never lost their passion. Instead, the setbacks motivated them and fueled their fire to move forward. For 2020, the men decided to finally green light their original plan—competing in NMCA Dart NA 10.5 Presented by Diamond Pistons with Petrovski retaining the driving duties.
With a refreshed engine and an operation ready to go, two of the baddest NA 10.5 racers in the country made the long drive from Michigan to sunny Florida for the first race of the 2020 NMCA drag racing season at Bradenton Motorsports Park.
It seemed their bad luck stuck around, however. Running in unfamiliar conditions and unseasonably chilly temperatures, plus carrying more weight than in the past, there were a lot of changes needed.
“Making the adjustments is tricky, because it can unsettle the car and we had a lot of challenges to overcome,” said Pancevski, who also made a rear-gear change during the event.
Another mishap involving another racer’s parachute getting a hold of their own Mustang’s door and ripping it off at the top end still didn’t deter the P&P Motorsports team. A quick call to a local junkyard produced a replacement, and they kept right on going. Petrovski ultimately qualified seventh in NMCA Dart NA 10.5 Presented by Diamond Pistons with his 8.200 blast at 165.60 mph, but went out to Leonard Long in round one of eliminations, even with an improved 8.138 at 168.39mph trip.
Despite being the newcomers, though, Pancevski and Petrovski, along with their entire P&P Motorsports crew, felt welcomed and enjoyed the inviting atmosphere of the NMCA.
“Many other racers came over to say hello, and the staff was happy to have us there,” Pancevski recalled. He was eager to get to the next event, but as the COVID-19 pandemic hit and racing was delayed, Pancevski had no choice but to exhibit patience.
A few months later, the Michigan-based men were on their way to Atlanta Dragway in Commerce, Georgia, for the 12th Annual Scoggin Dickey Parts Center NMRA/NMCA All-Star Nationals.
“The first run there seemed promising,” shared Pancevski, whose Mustang qualified ninth with an 8.377 at 118.54 mph, “but I was too conservative on the tune-up in the first round of eliminations.” Going out early is never fun, but Pancevski chalked it up to a learning lesson. He knows he’s no longer racing at the same track over and over and has to start collecting data on the new locations from scratch, while other racers who have been with the NMCA already have a head start in that department.
For the third event of the season near St. Louis, Missouri, at World Wide Technology Raceway at Gateway, Pancevski and Petrovski arrived early in hopes of testing, but the weather had other plans. With only limited time for qualifying, they landed in 11th for their class after having picked up an 8.139 at 169.89mph time slip. Unfortunately, a -0.015-second red light in round one of eliminations meant they would head home earlier than expected.
“David [Theisen] had us covered ET-wise, so Tony [Petrovski] tried to be aggressive on the tree, but it just didn’t work out,” said Pancevski, unperturbed by the outcome.
Hopes were high as they moved on to US 131 Motorsports Park in Martin, Michigan, to race at the Arrington Performance NMRA/NMCA All-American Nationals presented by Force Engineering. There, Petrovski qualified ninth with an 8.382 at 165.93mph pass, but once again, the men couldn’t get past the first round of eliminations.
“It was the same deal there,” Pancevski lamented. “I wasn’t aggressive enough on the tune-up early on, then on Sunday I went the opposite way.”
Petrovski was sitting eighth in the NMCA Dart NA 10.5 Presented by Diamond Pistons championship points chase with only the Nitrous Supply NMCA World Street Finals in late September left to go. There, his 8.075 at 170.45mph time slip from qualifying slotted him into the number-nine spot for the field, but when he slowed to an 8.130 at 168.58 mph in round one of eliminations, it would be his last pass of the season in the category as Craig Hejda in the opposing lane won the eliminations round.
The biggest challenge so far for the team has simply been gathering data and figuring out the right calls to make when it comes to changes as a result.
“Other racers who have been doing this longer have more data, so we’re having to adjust the car to a new weight and work with everything from the suspension to the converter to the transmission and capitalize on the mistakes we’ve made so as not to make them again,” elaborated Pancevski of his plans to stay ahead of the game and not fall behind the rest of the field.
Ultimately, the guys’ goal is to win another championship, but they know a more realistic short-term plan is simply to finish in the top ten, perhaps even the top five, for their class. By the time the 2020 season wrapped up, though, Petrovski had held firm to his number-eight ranking; for the pair’s first season in NMCA Dart NA 10.5 Presented by Diamond Pistons. For Pancevski and Petrovski to have finished so well in points is truly a testament to the top-tier team they’ve built—both crew and sponsors.
P&P Motorsports is more than just its two namesakes, it’s a group effort with multiple individuals all working toward a common goal. Dijana Petrovski, Caroline Pancevski, Goran Naumovski, Marcus Crawford, Steven Atovski, Ty Cobb, Sam Crawford, Lazo Nastov, and others all have been instrumental in contributing to the success of the team’s all-motor machine.
Similarly, the manufacturers and marketing partners that have chosen to support Pancevski and Petrovski have been immensely helpful.
“Without our sponsors, none of this would be possible,” said Pancevski, who views his racing as a job and not a hobby because he understands the commitment required and the importance of creating a valuable return on investment for his sponsors. “I always ask myself, ‘what can we do for them?’ and make sure they’re taken care of through our promotion because we are so appreciative of their support.”
For 2021 and beyond, Pancevski and Petrovski plan to return to NMCA Dart NA 10.5 Presented by Diamond Pistons competition and will be armed with data to help them put their P&P Motorsports pony car into the Aerospace Components Winner’s Circle, as well as possibly the record books.
Owner: Tony Petrovski & Riste Pancevski (P&P Motorsports LLC)
Driver: Tony Petrovski
Hometown: Almont, Michigan
Occupation: Tony Petrovski (Ford Motor Co.) Hi-Lo Driver & Riste Pancevski (Ford Motor Co.)
Class: NA 10.5
Crew: Riste Pancevski (Crew Chief), Dijana Petrovski (Not Pictured in Bradenton photos), Caroline Pancevski (Not Pictured in Bradenton photos), Goran Naumovski, Marcus Crawford, Steven Atovski, Ty Cobb, Sam Crawford (Not Pictured in Bradenton photos), Lazo Nastov (Not Pictured in Bradenton photos)
Car Make/Model/Year: Ford Mustang Notchback 1992
Engine: Big-Block Chevy
Engine builder: Dan Cordier at DC Inc, Concord, North Carolina
Displacement: 598 cubic inches
Bore: 4.600 inches
Stroke: 4.500 inches
Heads: Brodix Big Chief
Cam type: COMP Cams
Carburetor or EFI system: Bob Book (BRE) Custom 4500 Carburetor
Fuel brand and type: VP Q-16
Headers and exhaust: Custom
Transmission: Turbo 400 three-speed
Transmission Builder: Rossler
Clutch/shifter/torque converter: Neal Chance Convertor
Rearend: Custom KTS Race Cars 9-inch
Body and/or chassis builder: 25.5 KTS Race Cars Built 1992 Mustang
Suspension (Front):SKRC Custom Outlaw Tubular K-Member & AFCO Struts
Suspension (Rear): KTS four-link & AFCO shocks
Brakes (Front): TBM
Brakes (Rear): TBM
Wheels (front): Alumastar 2.0 Spindle Mount Weld Wheels
Wheels (Rear): Double Bead Lock Aluma-Star Weld Wheels
Tires (Front): Mickey Thompson
Tires (Rear): Mickey Thompson 29.5-inch slicks
Vehicle weight: 3,395 pounds
Quickest ET: 7.84 seconds (Milan All Motor Trim 3150#’s) & 8.12(NMCA NA 10.5 Trim 3395 #’s)
Best 60-foot: 1.17 seconds (Milan All Motor Trim) & 1.22(NMCA NA 10.5 Trim)
Fastest mph: 174.60 (Milan All Motor Trim) & 172.52(NMCA NA 10.5 Trim)
Sponsors: Diamond Pistons, Trend Performance Products, Valvoline, Mike’s Racing Heads, Brown & Miller Racing Solutions LLC, Book Racing Enterprise, Victory 1 Performance Inc., Total Seal Piston Rings, DART Machinery, Dun-Right Q.C. Coatings, AFCO Racing, PBM Performance Products, Southwest Vinyl, Woolf Aircraft Products, Mickey Thompson Performance Tire & Wheels, RedTide Canopies, KTS Race Cars, and Dan Cordier at DC Inc. for continuing to ALWAYS Supply Us with Great Horsepower