After Samantha Moore graduated from the University of Michigan with a degree in geophysics, having completed a five-year program in just three and a half years, she bought herself a present – a 2010 Camaro SS in Imperial Blue for U of M, of course. Almost immediately, Samantha began modifying the car and taking it to the track. She got hooked on motorsports and drag racing in particular.
Just six months into her new-found passion, Samantha had a life-changing experience due to an emergency surgery.
“Basically, I was declared dead on the table for a few minutes,” Moore says. “Thankfully, I recovered from that, but the experience made me question whether I wanted to do geophysics and sit and stare at a wall with a bunch of robots in a lab.”
She was working toward her Masters at the time and took a medical leave to recover. She decided to pivot from geophysics and opened a web design business on the side.
“I had to pay for the car somehow,” she says. “I decided to take that business to the next level and that business actually grew and got very successful very quick.”
Fast forward a few years in the web business and Samantha ended up buying a 2014 Mustang. She wanted the Coyote. She wanted a solid axle and she wanted an automatic – something totally different from her Camaro SS.
“I put a Roush supercharger on the Mustang immediately and I was modifying both cars pretty regularly for racing,” she says. “I ended up bringing my cars to a company called Vector Motorsports to get some work done. It turned out they needed a website, so we started working together. I did their website and they helped me with my cars.”
The more Samantha got to know the Brighton, MI-based Vector Motorsports, the more she liked the company.
“I liked everything about it – how they treated the cars and they always went a step above any other shop I’d been to,” Moore says. “They were just very different on how they handled things. I got interested in the business and ended up becoming a business partner and the chief marketing person.”
Her involvement at Vector Motorsports took another turn when the shop’s tuner/calibrator up and left one day out of the blue, leaving Samantha to fill in.
“One day, our tuner/calibrator actually just up and left, so we were out a tuner,” she says. “I basically taught myself how to tune and became the tuner and the calibrator and I learned on my cars. I started doing that full time and I still do that. Every day I’m on a chassis dyno and I’m hands-on with the cars – tuning, calibrating, mechanically fixing, and even wiring ECUs and EFI systems.
“With how I tune versus how previous tuners have done it, I come at it from a completely different angle, which actually kind of propelled and made this business a little bit more successful than it used to be. I didn’t think about the mechanics first. I thought about everything else first, which made the tuning better. It made the drivability better. It made the torque numbers match the engine output, which made the transmission response better.
“I always did the math first where I think other tuners just push the numbers until something feels right. When it comes to tuning and engine building, I think I look at it from a completely different perspective than most car people.”
While her tuning chops have come a long way in a relatively short time, Samantha admits she still has to prove herself from time to time.
“I had to prove to [customers] I knew what I was doing,” she says. “They can trust me with their car. And not only do I know what I’m doing, I can be better than any tuner out there, man or woman. I just had to prove myself.
“I’ve had people come and drive pretty far just because of who I am in tuning now. I had to earn that and that’s why I pushed my racing. If I could do this kind of stuff with my car, then I can do it with theirs, so I had to prove myself. Maybe I had to prove myself more, but I think men go through the same thing sometimes. I had to earn my way out of that.”
Part of earning her place in this industry has been her growth as a tuner, but also her dominance on the track competing in the Limited Street class in NMRA.
“My Mustang is now actually a full 23.5 Limited Street NMRA car, and we’ve been No. 1 in the class, we’ve set the record three times and have qualified No. 1 every race,” Moore says. “I’ve built this engine and came up with the combination. I’ve really put a lot of focus into the Mustang recently and we’ve been pretty successful with it.”
The 2014 Mustang California Special features a 5.0L Coyote engine – actually, it’s had several iterations of a 5.0L Coyote. The car started off as a street car with a 6R80 automatic.
“I put a blower on it the second day I owned it,” she says. “Then, I slowly upgraded that with more boost and went to E85. I love ethanol, so I did that and the car would run mid to high-9s with basically forged rods and pistons, stock heads, stock cams and a stock ECM, the 6R80 and our tuning.”
Having previously raced in NMRA’s True Street in the Roush Super Stang class, which is an index class, Samantha wanted to jump into a heads-up class. The Limited Street class was appealing because she could keep her Mustang a street car and still race it.
“At that point, I had the same rods. I changed the piston design a little bit and I put in some aftermarket cams from COMP Cams and I had the heads ported by Slawko,” she says. “I changed the blower and upgraded to a 2650, but it was still a TVS-style blower. We put a Coan Engineering Turbo 400 behind it. I also did the Strange 9˝ conversion in the back and did a Holley EFI system in it, but I left it on 12-volts with an alternator. It was still a full-on street car. I still drove it down the road to Starbucks, to get groceries, wherever.”
She saw success in just her third race by winning the whole event, but the joy was short-lived as she snapped her crank in testing ahead of the next event.
“I heard a loud pop and I lost everything,” Moore remembers. “You go from the highest of highs to the lowest of lows so fast emotionally. I had opened the hood and I see the balancer and the pulley just hanging there stuck in the radiator and the front cover. I hit every piston on every valve – I wrecked everything in that motor. I had billet MMR pieces I destroyed. Every part you can think of – front cover, rear cover, oil pan, every lifter – everything was wrecked.
One of the only things salvagable was the block – a Bear aluminum Coyote block with sleeves in it.”
Samantha and her Vector Motorsports team rebuilt the engine in three weeks using a stock crank, new pistons and a different set of cams. In fact, she rocked out this combination through the following year. The Mustang was running 8.40s, but with an 8.50 cage, so the NMRA forced a cage upgrade to continue competing.
“We got a 23.5 chassis put in with RJ ProFab LLC out of Rochester, NY,” Moore says. “I picked up the car and we had 30 days to build the whole car before the next race. I did all the wiring in the car and put the Holley back in it, we used the same trans, we upgraded some of the suspension and I put a 16-volt system in and got rid of the alternator.
“For the engine this time, we kept the Bear block and upped the compression on the pistons and got a brand-new set of rods. We also got brand-new custom ground cams and we went back to a 2.3L TVS blower.”
The car came out in Florida as the No. 1 qualifier and set the record and won the whole event. Everything about that engine combo seemed right, until an event in St. Louis.
“In St. Louis, I went out and I reset my mph record by 3 mph,” she says. “We went 8.18 at 167 mph with that little blower. We were No. 1 qualifier again and everything felt great. We were in round two and I did a burnout. I came out of the burnout and it stalled. My car doesn’t stall. I’m very anal on that tuning in that car. I started it and went on the brake and the brake popped. I went to the trans brake and went down the track. The car was running 8.20s all week like a bracket car.
“The car slowed down to an 8.50 and I lost the race and it just didn’t feel right. Something didn’t feel right. But, we lost and we went home. I did leak down compression and all my OCD tests, which I do after every race – everything looked and felt fine.
“Then, the NMRA decided they wanted to change the rules mid-season and put a big pulley on my blower and kill the blower because I was going too fast, according to them. They penalized my combination. At this point, we put it on the dyno to see how much boost we lost and what we’d have to do to make up for it. That’s when the rod came out of it.”
Looking back, Samantha says she was glad it happened on the dyno and not at the track because the situation could have been a lot worse. However, no matter when and where you throw a rod out of the block, you’re left with having to replace the engine.
“Obviously, I spun the rod in St. Louis and it didn’t fully eject,” she says. “Now, there’s a big window in my block. I’ve never done that before. I’ve never windowed the block. Now, we’re replacing that engine with a new one that features a GT500 block.
“MPR Engines in Florida did the sleeving for that block,” she says. “I have a billet crank going in it. Holbrook Racing Engines hooked me up with this crank and they’re doing all my machining too. We have new forged rods and JE pistons going in it. The heads are Slawko Racing heads, which are ported. I’ve got a Manley valvetrain and my cams are custom COMP Cams. I’ve also got MMR billet parts in there like all their chain guides and fun stuff. For bearings I’m using Clevite and for rings I use Total Seal gas-ported rings. It will also have a Holley Dominator and the Holley Pro 12˝ Dash, Brisk spark plugs and run on VP C85 race fuel.”
For boost, Samantha recently went from a 2.3L TVS supercharger from VMP Performance to a ProCharger P1X system, which she says is completely interchangeable within an hour if she wants to swap back at any point. With the current setup the engine cranks out well over 1,000 rear-wheel horsepower.
“I’m very particular on how I tune this car,” Moore says. “In every rpm range over every boost increment I have timing and air/fuel and everything nailed down to a T. It’s cool being the driver of the car too, because you can feel when maybe it could take more or less, especially on the 60 foot. The 60 foot is a huge difference maker in these races, so knowing when to pour in the power and when to not means a wheel stand or spinning the tires.”
With a new ProCharged 5.0L Coyote engine in the Mustang, Samantha recently competed at an NMRA/NMCA race at US-131 in Michigan and not only qualified No. 1, but also won the event. The old engine is now just a memory.
“The rod coming out of the block just makes for another trophy on the wall,” she says. “I’ve got a whole shelf full of parts that come with stories that are attached to them. They’re expensive lessons to be learned, but that’s racing. If you’re not breaking things, you’re not trying.”
Engine of the Week is sponsored by PennGrade Motor Oil, Elring – Das Original and Scat Crankshafts. If you have an engine you’d like to highlight in this series, please email Engine Builder Editor, Greg Jones at [email protected]