Tony Palo is the owner and a fabricator over at T1 Race Development. He is credited with building some of the fastest Sport FWD cars out there today. He is also an avid driver behind the wheel, piloting to some of the quickest and fastest times in the Sport FWD class. Tony Palo has also been seen on the TV Show, Pinks. He was the Sport FWD West Coast Champion in 2006 for the NHRA Sport Compact race series.
Tunerzine.com: Hey Tony, thanks for taking the time to do this. We want to give the readers out there an idea of what it's like to compete in the Sport FWD class. Can you give us an idea of what all is involved right before any event?
Tony Palo: Well, in a perfect world we change the oil and load the car in the trailer. Unfortunately, in the racing world, it's not often that it goes that way. As we speak it's less than 1 week before the NHRA race in Indy and I'm still having parts next day aired for the race car. Took the motor apart to fix something small and found more things wrong, enough to start putting together a whole new motor and we'll fix the old one when we have time. Any true racer has spent a pretty penny in next day air fees with UPS! No matter how much you prepare, seems like it always comes down to the week or nights before the race. I've been racing for about 9 years with quite a few different teams and that's the 1 thing that has never changed.
Tunerzine.com: What goes on in your head during an actual event? What all do you and your crew do in between rounds to prepare for the next race?
Tony Palo: I am very adamant about things being 100% before I leave to a race. I'm not too crazy about traveling across the country to work on the car in the pits. We've had good luck so far with our car, we've qualified #1 at almost every race we've been to and haven't had any failures at the track. You can definitely see who comes prepared and who does not when walking through the pits!
In between rounds I always pull the datalog from the run and go over the time slip. One of my crew guys, Mike, rotates the tires and pulls the plugs for me to look at. We do a quick check over some things on the car, more or less just looking over things. After looking at the plugs, the datalog, and the time slip, I'll make whatever changes I feel necessary for the next round. As far as I see it, if you're not datalogging and making changes to go quicker, then you're not going to progress. My goal is to go faster every time I go out.
Tunerzine.com: What's your current stance on the Sport FWD class? Where do you see it one year from now? What are some things you would like to see changed in the class?
Tony Palo: Without a doubt, the SFWD class is THE class! We have the biggest fields, the best competition, and a great group of racers. I think NHRA is doing an excellent job of keeping things as fair as possible. They have a tough job, making rules will always piss somebody off, but it has to be done. If somebody is running away with the class, or shows an incredible amount of potential compared to the rest of the class, NHRA has to step in and make changes to stop that from happening or it will push some racers away. As long as the competition is good, as it has been, the class will continue to grow. I wouldn't make any changes to the class at this point, I think it's perfect and the attendance reflects that. One year from now I see the class being the same, with the exception of more consistent 9 second cars as racers get their setups figured out. There are A LOT of 9 second capable cars out there right now, just a matter of the drivers figuring them out.
Tunerzine.com: Here's the biggest Honda/Acura debate for this decade: B-Series or K-Series? Which do you prefer and why?
Tony Palo: Well, they are both great motors, but I don't think there's any question that the K is a better motor. It's better all the way around, from the cylinder head to the displacement and geometry. NHRA has done a great job of keeping the K and B on a somewhat level playing field. You'll always have the guys that say "switch to the K if you want to go faster" rather than the K's be restricted, but that's not a feasible option in a sportsman class, people can't afford to just up and change to an entire new setup.
Tunerzine.com: Could you offer some insight on what it takes to be competitive on the Sport FWD class? How do you setup your cars and what do you look for in preparing a car for competition?
Tony Palo: The most overlooked things I see are good engine management systems, good boost controllers, and suspension. There are a lot of cars out there that make the power on the dyno, but only a small portion of them that run what the dyno numbers say they should. If you don't have a system with good datalogging, you might as well run 1 pass and call it your best. You HAVE to be able to see what's going on during a run to improve upon it. As for the boost controllers, it is just as important as the ecu. In a class where we have twice the mount of power that our tires will hold, without good control over the boost you'll never ET good. People will spend thousands of dollars on parts to make power, but cheap out when it comes to the electronics.
Tunerzine.com: Let's talk turbos. could you explain some of the differences in them to help educate our readers? Which do you prefer for the Sport FWD class and why? Why do you think other racers use other turbos?
Tony Palo: I think hands down Garrett has proven to be the best turbo for the class right now. We are limited to a 72mm inducer on the compressor wheel, yet the fastest cars in the class are using the GT4294 at only 70.3mm. Garrett does not have a shelf part that is bigger and still legal (but we would buy it if they did!). There are a few other turbos out there, Turbonetics, Borg Warner, Innovative, but while they all claim to be as good or better than Garrett, I have yet to see it. Bullseye/Borg Warner has some stuff out now that is supposed to make more power than the GT4294, though I have yet to see it happen. We are supposed to get a BW turbo for testing pretty soon, I will definitely post the results of our testing when we do so. As of right now, anybody that's not using a Garrett turbo seems to have some sort of a "hook up" on whatever they're running. Again, this is a sportsman class, you give turbos out, you'll see guys running them. When they have to put the money out to buy something, 90% of the guys are buying Garrett.
Tunerzine.com: How was your experience on Pinks? What do you think of the show?
Tony Palo: Pinks was definitely a fun experience. We all had a great time out there. We had some issues with the car and we lost it, but I think everyone involved will agree the experience was well worth it. We had people from all across the country coming together to help and donate their time and/or parts for the car.
I think the show definitely has a lot of potential, but much like any drag racing, the rules need to be changed to make the race more fair. It's kind of ridiculous when one guy has to ask for 10 cars, when the 2 cars are supposed to be very similar in ET. And yes, the show is very real. Everybody asks me if you really lose the car - yes, you do!
Tunerzine.com: What are some of the things that you would like to see happen in the industry?
Tony Palo: I'm very happy with where the industry is going right now. I feel like a lot of the shops that were only in it to make a quick buck are being weeded out. People are getting smarter about their cars, and they want someone who knows more than they do to work on them. I think the average consumer knows enough now days to decide for themselves if a shop is competent enough to work on their car. 5-10 years ago nobody knew any better and it was the blind leading the blind more often than not. People are also getting a lot more serious about their builds. Back in the day it was all about intake, headers, and exhaust. In 2 years of having my own business I have not installed 1 intake, header, or exhaust system, yet we've done tons of builds from the ground up. That's the kind of jobs we like to do, and that's what a lot of people are looking for now days, so it works out good for us! Only thing I'd like to see happen is consumers learning more and more about this stuff so they can make better decisions on where to take their cars. I hear WAY too many horror stories about builds gone wrong and shops walking away with a pile of cash and pissed off customers. Situations like that are definitely not good for the industry, most of the time they result in a customer getting fed up, selling everything and never modding a car again.
Tunerzine.com: As a shop owner, what are some of the things you would like to get out there to educate readers when looking for a fabrication shop or fabrication work?
Tony Palo: More important than anything, don't listen to what somebody says they can do for you, look at the results of their previous jobs. If they don't have any pictures or work they can show you, then you probably don't want to take the chance on their work. People will talk big when it comes time to taking the money, but they can't always deliver. Always remember, it's cheaper to do it right the first time than to do it twice. I'm a firm believer in spending the money and doing things right the first time. Most of the time you DO get what you pay for.
Tunerzine.com: Lastly, what can we expect out of you and T1 Race Development in the upcoming months/year?
Tony Palo: We plan to continue growing and racing. We recently expanded our shop another 1000sq.ft. I have a really good team. I do all the engine building, tuning, and some fabrication. I have Mike Morris and Justin Jones who are both excellent fabricators and mechanics, and I have my wife Amie working up front and taking care of/building our online store. We all have a passion for what we do and we do our best to learn more and get better at what we do every day. If you don't continue to learn and hone your skills, you will get left behind by the guys that do! If we all keep doing what we're good at, things will only get bigger and better from here.
Thanks for your time Tony!