Unexpected Speed

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Mark Blair’s dragster can run an 8.53-second quarter mile, topping out at 159 mph.

What’s he race? Camaro? Nope. Mustang? Not a chance. 

Blair does his passes in a 1986 Jeep Cherokee. 

“Other cars don’t like it … they get up against a Jeep with a luggage rack on it, and I just blow them away,” says Blair, owner of Blair’s Auto Care Inc. in Essex, Md. “It’s very discouraging to them. That’s why I did it.“

A customer originally brought the Jeep in for a headlamp repair. When she opted not to do the repair, Blair bought it for $250.

His original plan was to sell the Jeep, until a trip to the dragstrip with an old friend brought him back to his racing days.

“As soon as I went there and smelled the gas and the tire smoke, that was it,” Blair says. “I came back, and that’s when the whole process with the Jeep started.”

Blair, 50, rebuilt the Jeep from the ground up. “The stuff that you see in that Jeep, you can’t buy it,” Blair says. “I had to literally make everything.”

The whole Jeep is custom—all of the wiring, the brake lines, the fuel lines. Blair TIG welded the 18-point chrome-moly roll cage and fabricated the exhaust system out of 2.25-inch tubing. 

“When you look from the outside, it’s a Jeep,” Blair says.  “But if you were to put it up in the air, it’s basically ten pounds of crap in a five-pound bag. That’s what it looks like.”

He started work on the Jeep in January 2008. After many late nights in the shop, it was ready to race in July.  On his first pass, he ran a 10.95. 

Since then, Blair has lost two engines and several transmissions, trying to get his current time down into the eights. 

“The first two engines literally exploded. I mean there were parts everywhere,” Blair says. “This is engine number three, and it’s holding together.”

The current engine is a 440ci Mopar that is bored and stroked to 505ci, producing 700 horsepower. The engine is complemented by a dual-stage nitrous system with a 300-horsepower first stage, followed by a 150-horsepower second stage. In all, that gives Blair around 1,100 horsepower to work with. 

Oh yeah, the Jeep is also street legal with power windows, wipers, turn signals and lights. 

“I actually took a couple friends around the block in it the other day,” he says.

Blair says he likes the shock value of racing something totally different from the average Camaro or Mustang he sees at the track.

“I’m not one to go out and have my hair dyed purple and get attention that way,” he says. “I’d rather get attention by building something that nobody else has done before.”

Blair says he doesn’t know how much money he has put into the Cherokee, and he wants to keep it that way.

“I got a four-inch thick binder with all my receipts,” he laughs.  “I’m afraid to calculate how much money I put in it.”

Blair has pondered selling the Jeep for the last three years, but he just can’t let it go.

“I can’t stop fixing it and I can’t stop racing it. It’s a big illness,” he says.

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