At one point, rubber bumper cars seemed to get little respect, no admiration. Like seedlings that never matured; kicked to the curb before they even had a chance. Not a problem for Mr. Tony Crisostomo, who finished this nearly a decade ago-after he cleared college, after he had a well-paying gig as an occupational therapist at Wisconsin's largest medical center.
Tony grew up inflamed by the street-race creed. He just wanted to do it ... and did, at the clandestine gatherings on Tower Road and other dusky venues webbing Waukesha. Concurrently, his vocation had shown him the human disaster wrought by cars that disintegrate at high speed. Duly noted, he thought, but I'm going to do it all the same.
"By the late '90s, I'd concocted the 540 and was running in the 10s. It was too fast and too dangerous to street race, let alone for the Midnight Races where some joker pulled a gun on us after a little too much smack talk." A little while later, "I raced at Union Grove, got paid to show up, win rounds, and have spectators falling all over it. Racer camaraderie is the highest, plus nobody pulls guns. Brian Hansen (www.10wideracing.com) made me famous nationwide in his videos. Still, I had this itch to drive it on the street."
Crisostomo began doing what a lot of us did in the '60s: drive our race cars on the street by following a tedious ritual. We changed the tires, shock settings, valve lash, ignition timing, jetting, swapped-out the pumpkin, stuff like that. "Every two or three weeks I change the combos out. Towards the end of the season, I just leave it in full race mode. I've been seen driving it around in December or at least until the snow flies.
"Last year, I used three barrels of race gas just cruising Waukesha and Milwaukee. I generally do a straight cruise for an hour and a half before I even shut the car off. That's if I drive nice. On race gas, my intention is to hammer it ... on back roads and then maybe a half-hour cruise. The Be Cool radiator, Meziere water pump, and MagnaFlow fuel pump can stand long cruises without overheating."
Yeah. How does he do that? It's back-halved with a four-link and a wishbone. Instead of mounts, it's got a motor plate. Narrowed rearend. Skinnies in front and BIG tires in back. Nitrous bottles where there used to be a rear seat, 12-point 'cage. Nah, Tony isn't trying to hide a thing. His drive-it-anywhere philosophy is the reason for a 10.5:1-compression ratio, a solid lifter camshaft, and a responsive 2,800-stall converter. The combination is tailored for race-gas terror as well as pump-gas civility. At the Grove, his 3,280-pounder has run 8.70 at 154 mph.
"Sure, the cops all know me," said Tony. "But not for what you're thinking. I cruise with race mufflers. Through them the car is thunderously loud ... and is usually followed by the police. If I behave, they don't bother me. They come to the burger stand and compliment me on the sound that the motor pushes out at 'idle.'
"Local shows are OK, but after an hour of standing around, I get a serious urge to hop in it and go 'til the sun goes down. It's nice to receive compliments from car show spectators but there's nothing better than driving it down the road."