Making Good Time

By 2009, Susan Roush-McClenaghan had already been working her way up the ladder as a driver in two professional auto racing series: the National Mustang Racing Association (NMRA) and the National Muscle Car Racing Association (NMCA). But the year before that, she decided to get creative.

“I thought, racing is a wonderful place to showcase innovation, particularly drag racing,” said Roush-McClenaghan. She and her team began converting her teammate Donnie Bowles’ 2005 Mustang race car to propane and testing it in the fall of 2009.

The team has seen success with propane engines since then. Bowles’ car got the team’s first win for its propane program in 2010. The group finished building Roush-McClenaghan’s car, a 2010 Mustang, in February 2010. The car ran its first race as a complete race car using propane in March 2010. It has never run on any gasoline-based fuel. Bowles captured the first win with the propane car that same year, and Roush-McClenaghan also took a win with her propane-fueled car that year.

 Since then she has continued the tradition started by her father, Jack Roush, who is founder of NASCAR team Roush Fenway Racing and Roush Performance, a manufacturer of high-performance parts for Ford Mustangs. The company founded the propane fuel system company Roush CleanTech (Livonia, Mich.) in 2009.

Roush-McClenaghan grew up around drag racing and was actively involved in other motorsports early on. Most people think of Jack Roush’s motorsports career as revolving around stock car racing and will often ask her what it was like growing up in that atmosphere. But she tells them she was grown and out of the house before he started his own NASCAR team in 1988.

“When I was a teenager, dad would let me drive many of the hot rods that came and went through his shop.” Now, her 9-year old daughter, Josie, is starting in the Junior Dragster series at Norwalk Raceway.

Roush-McClenaghan navigated a two-person team for a cross country vintage car rally known as the Great Race from 1998 through 2007. But she did not get behind the wheel until she completed her first drag racing session around 2005, and she made her competition debut at NMRA in 2006.

She went on to finish consistently in the top tier, and she developed an interest in alternative fuels that continued to increase after her family business started Roush CleanTech.

More racing successes came after her team converted Bowles’ vehicle and her vehicle to propane.

Bowles’ 2005 Mustang first competed in the NMRA series in 2005. Conversion to propane and testing began in the fall of 2009. The development engine in his car was tested on C14 (114-octane race fuel) and then propane. The build of the 2010 Mustang began in the summer of 2009 and was completed by February of 2010. The 2010 Mustang was originally built to compete in NHRA Super Stock (a spec fuel class). “Once we decided to run on propane, we had to find a class that would allow a range of fuels,” she said. “The NMRA and NMCA both had classes we were familiar with and that permitted us to use propane.”

The development engine was a new build based on the Ford 5.4-L 4-valve GT supercar engine. It is naturally aspirated and produces 750 hp using two bi-phase injectors per port to support the fuel volume demand.

Roush-McClenaghan won her first race in the fall of that year and then her teammate Bowles won the NMCA championship in the Open Comp class. In 2011, Roush-McClenaghan won the championship in that same class. In 2012, Bowles won the championship in the NMRA Modular Muscle class, and in 2013, after switching her vehicle from the 5.4L propane engine to a Ford Coyote propane engine, Roush-McClenaghan again followed with a championship in that same class. That makes four championships in four years for the pair. AmeriGas (Valley Forge, Pa.) has been a Roush racing team sponsor since 2011.

At the beginning of 2013, the team dedicated all of its 5.4-L equipment to Bowles’ car and modified an intake manifold and adapted a fuel system for a Ford Coyote 5.0-L engine on Roush-McClenaghan’s car. That system runs around 880 hp. Bowles now runs a quarter mile in the high 9 seconds, and Roush-McClenaghan runs in the mid- to low 9s. Her fastest pass was at 154 mph.

She noted that auto racing was a natural extension of her day job as curator for the Roush Museum, which she has managed since 1988. The 50,000-sq-ft museum serves to preserve the company’s history and her father’s legacy in motor sports. She emphasized that her company is involved in non-automotive industries as well, such as “dampeners” that reduce vibration and noise. The company has developed dampeners for products such as golf clubs and Louisville Slugger aluminum baseball bats.

But propane will continue to be a big part of the company and its racing program.

“We’ll continue to race with propane, this year and next year for sure and possibly beyond. Honestly, I don’t see any reason to move away from that at this time. It’s been very successful.”    —Daryl Lubinsky