Joe Cram and his 06 Mustang GT Saleen
Written by Mary Lendzion for Race Pages Magazine
Photos by NMRA Staff
You can’t help but like Joe Cram. Quick-witted and intelligent, he peppers his conversations with phrases like “In Texas, where I’m from, everyone likes speed” and “If you can run a number in Texas, where the temperature on the floor of my shop gets to be 140 degrees, you can run a number anywhere.” And while you might expect him to rattle off a list of his accomplishments, you’re more likely to hear about the helmets he had signed by Joe DaSilva and Jack Roush among others, and the fact that the one he most cherishes was signed by Steve Grebeck an hour before the wreck that ended his life. “I try to live up to the standards of Joe DaSilva and Steve Grebeck,” said Cram, of Houston, Texas. “Joe is personable and Steve was personable.” What he might not realize is that he, too, is personable — and successful. Proof of that lies in the fact that he was a strong competitor in the Fun Ford Weekend and Clash of the Titans Series’ and even though this is his first full season in the NMRA, he has a cozy spot in third place in the JDM Engineering Super Stang class points as of the Joliet race.
When Cram’s not piloting his car down the quarter-mile, he owns and operates DynoJoe Performance in Houston, Texas, where the guys at the shop take it upon themselves to keep track of where he is in points on a prominently placed board. When he’s not working, he and his wife, Kathy, can be found fishing on the Galveston Coast with their friends from the shop and their dogs, Hootch, a mixed-breed they found as a stray five years ago at Houston Raceway Park, Tess, a Rottweiler and Mustang, a mixed-breed. “Our dogs are our children,” said Cram. “Hootch comes to the races and likes to ride on the golf cart as though he’s a person.”
Cram was born in Puerto Rico and moved to Texas with his family when he was three years old. His dad, Ralph Cram, was a U.S. Marine. When he was nine, a neighbor took him to an NHRA race at Houston Raceway Park, where he got to meet John Force. “Out of all of the racers, he was the only one who sat and talked with me,” said Cram. “I still have the picture of John Force and me standing in his pit area and it’s hanging in my shop. To this day, I remember the smell of the tires and the fuel from that race.” The car bug had bitten Cram at that point, and he spent much of his childhood helping his dad — who had found work in private security after the military — wrench on various Fords, including a ’66 Mustang, ’68 Mustang and ’68 Ford truck, as a hobby.
“His job was really stressful, and working on cars with me was a stress-reliever for him,” said Cram. “As far back as I can remember, my family have always been car restorers. When I’d get out of school, I’d go help sand cars or whatever he’d let me do. It was like a father and son deal, and it kept me out of trouble. In the area where I grew up, not a lot of good things happened, so to work on cars every day and stay out of trouble was an accomplishment.”
When Cram turned 15, his dad surprised him with a ’68 Mustang coupe with a straight six-cylinder engine. It had belonged to one of his dad’s old military friends and it had been sitting around for years. “My father told me the reason he did that for me is because you appreciate something more when you have worked on it and when you have built on it, rather than having someone just give it to you,” said Cram. “It took us two and a half years to completely restore it, and we did all the body work and interior work, and we dressed up the engine as much as we could.” Cram enjoyed the aqua-colored Mustang for three years before selling it to Bubba McDowell, a former Houston Oiler football player. He sees it every now and then at car shows. Next up was a Calypso Green ’91 Mustang coupe with a 5.0-liter engine backed by an automatic transmission breathing through long-tube headers and Flowmaster exhaust. Cram dabbled in street racing with the car here and there, but after a little — um — encouragement from the Houston police, who were giving out entries to Houston Raceway Park instead of speeding tickets, he started bracket racing it. “It worked because it got a lot of kids off of the street,” said Cram. “There was a little bit of a learning curve for me in going from street racing to bracket racing because it was different than an arm drop.” The car, which had been running 14s at the track, met its end about a year later when another car blew through a red light and smashed into it.
Not long after, though, Cram bought a new black ’92 Mustang coupe from Tommie Vaughn Ford in Houston. It sported a 5.0-liter engine and a T5 5-speed transmission. Cram campaigned the car in bracket and 12.50 Street Stang classes in the Fun Ford Weekend series. “We traveled the entire circuit, from Florida to New Hampshire, starting around ’94,” said Cram. “The series went for a long time, and it was fun. It really picked up around ’95, ’96 and ’97, when the Modular motor was introduced. We were taking part in the NMRA at the same time, and the NMRA is more like a drag race than it is a social with friends. We go to the NMRA races to work and to win, and to have a chance to win a championship and be among some of the best drivers that we know in this sport.” Cram had that car for a little while before selling it to a buyer in Kansas City, who ended up selling it to another buyer in New Jersey just a week later. “I had given him a great deal on it because I needed the money,” said Cram. “He sure turned it around quickly.”
GET YOUR OWN DAMN CAR
In March of ‘06, Cram bought the ’06 Mustang GT/Saleen he races now from Tommie Vaughn Ford in Houston. “I really have to credit Evan Smith from Muscle Mustangs and Fast Fords for this car,” said a chuckling Cram. “In March of ’06, we went to the Fun Ford Weekend race in Orlando, and I had my wife’s yellow ’06 Mustang GT, and I had gotten a little tipsy and given the keys to Evan, and there was a burnout contest, and he entered it and managed to melt the bumper from all the hot rubber hitting it and when I got home, my wife said to me, ‘You fix it and get your own damn car’.
The following week, I went and bought the car I have now.” It just so happens that the car has been the most heavilymodified car Cram has ever owned. “The day we bought it, the modification started, including our own custom tune, long-tube headers, 4:10 gears and a cold air intake,” said Cram. In addition to seeing modification the day it was purchased, the car saw track time, too. It ran 12.80s and, Cram said, he left it that way for just a little while before adding a supercharger, and with the help of Jim D’Amore of JDM Engineering in New Jersey, the car went from running 12.80s to 10.80s on a stock engine. Cram ran the car like that for a full year, in ’08, and didn’t miss a beat and he even won a Fun Ford Weekend race. “We had caught some good air in Houston and set it on kill, and, well, it was either going to blow up or run a good number and it chose to run a good number,” said Cram.
Luckily for NMRA fans, Cram made the decision to run fulltime with the NMRA this season. His first race was the season- opener in Bradenton, where he proved he could hang with the big dogs by taking a semifinal finish. The car was running 10.80s at 127 miles per hour with its 3-valve and Cram ran that stock engine through the Atco race. “After Atco, I was approached by Jim D’Amore and the folks at Edelbrock about campaigning Edelbrock’s E-Force Supercharger and I owe that whole deal to Jim D’Amore for getting the ball rolling,” said Cram. “We worked out a deal where a new JDM Engineering-built complete engine and the Edelbrock supercharger and the goodies that go along with it were put in my car.” The car’s new engine — and wrap — were debuted at the Milan NMRA race. On Friday, Cram made one pass and felt the car needed tuning, and rather than go down track again, he made the decision to park the car in the pit area and work on the tune. That work continued through Saturday, forcing Cram to go without any passes, but the reward was sweet on Sunday, as the car was consistent and strong. “We were 10-12 miles per hour faster than ever before, and we learned a bunch about the car,” said Cram. “Jim D’Amore did the dyno tuning on it on Saturday right there at the track. We know there is even more left in the car.” With the new setup, the car ran 10.15 at 136 miles per hour at the NMRA Milan event and carried Cram to the semifinals. “We’ll continue to test and tune and try to make the car go faster,” said Cram. “I told Edelbrock, Charlie Harmon and Jim D’Amore that I was going to run every race this year to showcase what the car can do and the fact that it’s a street-drivable hot rod.” Looking at pictures of the car after the Milan race, Cram noticed that it was picking up the driver’s side tire about three feet, but the other side was on the ground, and that prompted him to contact BMR Fabrication in Florida for an anti-roll bar and a new tubular K-member. That said, Cram and crew, who use SCT tuning software, are poised to collect some timeslips that reflect 9-second passes in the very near future.