Indianapolis native Avijit Verma flew — almost literally — onto the small-tire no-prep drag racing scene at last fall’s War in the Woods VII, parking his 1980 Ford Fairmont Futura on the bumper in front of a raucous crowd at the Brown County Dragway, a short drive south of his home. For Verma, the Fairmont is the latest, and fastest, in a long series of import and domestic cars in the fleet of a certified gearhead.
“I got into modifying cars and racing when I was 18. I bought a 2005 Chevy Cobalt SS (truthfully, it wasn’t my first choice, but my dream car, a Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution, wasn’t anywhere near attainable for me). I had very little knowledge on sports cars but always liked tinkering with engines,” Verma says. “I grew up with nitro R/C cars, and in the era when you always had to catch the Fast and Furious movies. Even though the Cobalt SS wasn’t anything special, to an 18 year old college kid living with his parents, working one day a week with almost no expendable income, it was definitely a blast to drive. The moment I test drove it off the lot, I was bitten by the boost-bug. From that moment on, just about everything I earned went to car parts.
“Over the next few years I met a lot more people in the local street scene and my interest slowly gravitated toward the Honda import crowd. It was cool how they were so small and nimble, like a go-kart on steroids, plus it seemed like relatively inexpensive platform (or so I thought). Finally, I got a chance to ride in a Turbo B-series hatch and it was game-over after that. I had to have one.”
Varma’s first actual “build” was a Turbo EG Civic hatchback that, over a three-year period, went from making 400 horsepower and being very simple and street-able, to a 750-horse setup that was pretty wild for a four-cylinder car in 2012. That car clocked a 10.80 at 142 mph on its first run, but he says it was “almost useless on the street.”
He then moved onto an S2000 that he and some buddies tore down and rebuilt with a LY6 6.0-liter LS engine, a Tremec T56 transmission, and a Cobra IRS rearend. “The car was a lot of fun and seemed to always turn heads.”
After realizing that having a two-seater convertible as his ‘fun car’ with a new family wasn’t going to be in the cards any longer, Verma sold his S2000 and made a deal to buy a CTS-V he’d been eyeballing. “As a max-effort SBE setup, that car made 767 horsepower and 767 torque, and went 10.20s at 137 mph on the 19-inch stock wheels. The best part, you could do all that and still have all the Caddy creature comforts. Since my second son had just been born, being able to put two car seats in it was just perfect. It was a lot of fun for my kids to ride in and my wife loved it every time she got to take it to the grocery store.” After selling the CTS-V, he took the plunge and bought a Mitsubishi Lancer Evo IX MR. Verma had a 2.3L stroker engine built, and added some bolt-on’s to toy with.
“With each new project, I’ve learned more and developed more connections and friends along the way.”
“While he had the CTS-V, Verma also picked up a 1989 Mustang coupe that he planned to build a 13B rotary engine to swap into. “This project has been in the works for almost four years on and off and I’m planning on finishing it completely this year.” As it turned out — oddly enough for a guy who gravitated more to import makes of vehicles — that wouldn’t be his only Fox body.
…it’s just an odd looking car that I think tends to draw attention because of how unique it is.
“Despite having a pretty big Mustang project to finish, I was really getting the itch to build something different and turn it into a no-prep car, since the Mustang was too sentimental for me to throw down a bare road. I was all over Facebook Marketplace just a few days before the fall 2020 War in the Woods Race, looking for something that really stood out from the crowd; something really odd and weird. Somehow, I happened to find this ugly old Ford Fairmont Futura about 30 miles away from my house, so now I was really in a predicament. It was exactly what I wanted, but did I really want or need another project? I decided to just hold off and think about it a little longer. Needless to say, that War in the Woods race was so badass that on the way home from the track, I literally pulled up Facebook Marketplace and messaged the guy, telling him that I would be there first thing in the morning if the Fairmont was still available. As soon as I got the reply back, I was headed there, and about two hours later, it was sitting in my driveway.”
To me, choosing a Fairmont seemed to be the ticket, because it’s part of the Fox body family, and almost all aftermarket Mustang parts are compatible. We all know that there is more aftermarket support for Mustangs than probably any other chassis out there. The real icing on the cake was finding the Futura model. Most Fairmont’s you see are the “box top” coupes, which are the cool ones; but the Futura, not so much. Which was the reason why I just had to have it.
“Going into this build, I had envisioned building a car that I could use as a platform to learn some of the aspects of motorsports and racing that I hadn’t really been too hands-on with in the past (chassis and engine wiring, fabrication, suspension tuning, and engine tuning) and still be able to go out racing. In addition to this, I only wanted to use off-the-shelf parts from the companies that I’ve been working with over the years. I didn’t want anything custom, because I wanted to build a car that anyone could build and be relatable to the market, which would give others real-world data that they could relate to. I guess you could call it: Small Business 101.”
“We first started out by tearing the factory engine, transmission, and all interior out of the car, and then taking it over to a friends shop where my father in-law and brother in-law helped me mini-tub the back of this car so that it was ready for the chassis work. From there it went to a local chassis shop, Two Lane Performance, where it was set to get a cage, tubular front frame rails, a narrowed 8.8, and some through-floor subframe connectors. Having something in this particular chassis shop was a big deal for me because the owner is a local legend in our racing community, and I have always wanted to have a chassis setup by him, even before I was into rear-wheel-drive cars.
The heart of the Fairmont, named “Pumpkin Spice,” is a very simple LC9 block with stock crank, built by Shaker Racing in Northern Indiana.
Once the car was ready to go, we took it down to Haltech’s dyno in Lexington, Kentucky and had their resident tuner, Rick Nelson, work the keys. We managed to squeeze out 1,184 rear-wheel horsepower and 1,006 rear-wheel torque on 32 psi, which is where we had to leave it due to maxing out the MAP sensor. After the tune was dialed in, we started playing around with the boost curve and suspension settings. At that point, I was locked into War In the Woods, so getting as much seat time as I could was really important to me.”
Verma made his debut on a no-prep surface at War in the Woods VII last fall, and while he was an early-round exit in competition, he did leave a mark.
This car was initially built for street racing/backside no prep events but it’s getting harder and harder to get anything lined up on the street so front side no-prep might be where it spends most of time.
“Let me tell you…it was a blast! Obviously from the pictures out there on the internet, my first pass down the track was an absolute riot, and if nothing else, it got the crowd going. I really didn’t know what to expect from the surface so just to be on the safe side, I cranked up the launch limiter to 4,800 rpm and let it ride off the button at 17 pounds of boost. Boy, did I totally misjudge that. Even though I lost the race, I still gave it my best shot and seeing all the spectators hootin’ and hollarin’ as I was coming back down the return road was really an awesome feeling. The icing on the cake was looking at pictures and seeing the energy from my friends and family at the starting line.”
“This car was initially built for street racing/backside no prep events but it’s getting harder and harder to get anything lined up on the street so front side no-prep might be where it spends most of time. My first no prep pass ever was at the Fall War in the Woods 2022 and that’s where I ended up winning the wheelie contest.”
Verma spent a year and a half building the Fairmount up the way he envisioned, with its 5.3-liter LS that’s fed by a Bullseye Power billet 92/96 turbo.
“The turbo sits on top of one of those trick little Maven turbo mounts for support. If you know me, you know that I love a nice quality piece, and these two parts above are perfect examples of true, American-made quality products. The turbo setup on this car was my first attempt at fabricating something like this, and honestly, I couldn’t be happier with the outcome. The way it’s laid out, it’s very easy to work on because there’s plenty of space around all the hot parts and you don’t have to move three or four different parts to access another.”
Verma utilized a number of Brian Tooley Racing components (Equalizer intake manifold, rods, pistons, camshaft, valves, pushrods, head gaskets, and more) within the stock GM block and 799 cylinder heads. A Haltech ECU and smart coils (with visual data via a Haltech IC7 dash) provide the directions and the spark to light the combustion process.
“Being that I’m not an expert tuner, I knew that I was going to need some help getting the calibration setup and being able to dial in the power accordingly. Since Haltech has some of the best customer support and is always coming out with new, innovative products, it was a no-brainer for me to run their Elite 2500 full engine management system on this car.” The entire car was wired by Verma.
Verma utilizes an RPM Transmissions two-speed TH400 and a billet aluminum bolt-together converter by Pete Nichols to deliver the horsepower.
“RPM builds transmissions for some of the quickest cars in the nation, and being located right here in Indiana, my choice was easy. The Turbo 400 was built by the low-man on the totem pole himself, Rodney Massengale,” Verma says.
Out back is a stock Ford 8.8 reinforced and narrowed by Two Lane Performance, with Strange Engineering axles. Strange brakes and double-adjustable shocks are also at all four corners, and it all rides on Weld Racing Magnums, with Mickey Thompson frontrunners and Hoosier slicks.
“The turbo setup is probably my favorite part of the car, just because it’s something that I had to fabricate with my own two hands and there’s just a lot of pride and satisfaction knowing that I was able to do that with little to no welding experience.”
The car is as real-deal as they come, featuring all the original steel panels, factory glass, and chrome bumpers. Bill and Austin Carter at Two Lane Performance did all the chassis work, installing an 8.50-cert, mild-steel 10-point cage around the otherwise very factory-looking interior. Virma wired and plumbed the entire car himself.
“I’m hoping to use this car as a tool to help me learn more about suspension tuning, motorsports wiring, engine tuning, fabrication, and then be able to be competitive in the small-tire no-prep racing. But it’s just an odd looking car that I think tends to draw attention because of how unique it is. It has little oddities, like a side mirror on the driver’s side only, nothing on the passenger side. It has a vinyl top, and an abnormally large trunk.”