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Manny Buginga Sets Sights on Pro Mod; Will Debut New Camaro at YellowBullet Nationals

Manny Buginga is known for three things. His red race cars, specifically the ProCharger-powered ’03 “Fred” Mustang that’s made headlines since its debut in 275-series radial tire racing, his recent string of wins in the Street Outlaws: No Prep Kings’ Future Class and his motto of “if you want to be the best, you have to race the best.”

However, Buginga and his team felt the need to switch things up a bit and go in a different direction and set their sights on an entirely new adventure in the world of Pro Mod drag racing.

Insert one of Buginga’s newest cars: “Pro Mod Fred.” The Jerry Bickel-built Camaro is powered by a ProCharger-equipped 526-cubic inch Hemi and, of course, it coated in “Manny Race Red” paint.

“We decided we’re going Pro Mod racing because it just seems like the direction with the shortage of glue, and we can test anywhere with a slick car,” Buginga said. “Jamie [Miller] and Franny [McCarthy] decided this is the next stepping stone for us.”

Miller is Buginga’s long-time tuner and has been with him through his dominant reign in small tire racing and recent success in no prep racing. Also, Miller is the tuner for current NHRA Pro Mod racer Kris Thorne who has been absolutely dominating this year. Thorne won the recently completed D-Wagon Pro Mod shootout in Brainerd, Minnesota, among a slew of other NHRA Pro Mod races so far this season, with Miller calling the shots. If Miller can apply what he’s been doing with Thorne’s car, Buginga is sure to have success right from the start.

However, Buginga admitted that he’s never driven a Pro Mod car before, but he’s up to the challenge. He’s debuting “Pro Mod Fred” at the Nationals at Cecil County Dragway in Cecil County, Maryland, on Wednesday (August 31) during testing. Buginga will also have the original radial-equipped “Fred” at the Nationals and will pull double duty between the two doorslammers.

The New Englander feels confident the new Camaro will be more than competitive in the NHRA ranks, and is ready to get behind the wheel.

“Now, it’s just hurry up, get in and get fed to the wolves. That’s what you have to do. You have to dive in. We’ll be fine. I have a lot of confidence in this team.

“This is more of a Jamie Miller, Fran McCarthy dream, and I’m very happy to be a part of it,” Buginga continued. “This is what they wanted to do, and it just makes sense financially with everything unfolding in this world. We’re genuinely excited and consider this the next chapter of our racing story.”

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Buginga mentioned that he was in the middle of working out a Nitro Funny Car deal but pivoted on his near-decade long dream to drive a Pro Mod with Miller and his team. Plus, the financial and time demand of following the circuit while trying to earn a spot in the highly-competitive and much-talked-about No Prep Kings invitational field was something Buginga felt wasn’t suitable for him and his team.

“It just wasn’t the right time for us. We were worried about getting into NPK with all of the politics that go on over there. We just figured Pro Mod is a place we can go race against the best doorslammers on the planet, the best teams and the best drivers. Plus, it’s going to be a lot of fun.”

The veteran small-tire racer is looking forward to fielding “Pro Mod Fred’ full-time next year in the FuelTech NHRA Pro Mod Drag Racing Series presented by D-Wagon. As a matter of fact, he’s even hoping that long-time standout Pro Mod racer Rickie Smith sticks around for the 2023 season. “With this whole Rickie Smith thing, I don’t know much about him, but he’s a badass individual,” Buginga admitted. “I’m hoping he doesn’t retire so we can gauge ourselves against a racer of that caliber and see how we do.

“I’m going to give it 110-percent. I’m just the knucklehead behind the wheel. I’m going to try and let go of the button at the right time and do the right thing. I’m sure there will be some hiccups,” he said. “But we want to prove ourselves against the best in the world.”

Buginga knows that he wouldn’t be where he’s at in his racing career without the support of his team and family.

“My team has done so much for me,” he continued. “I’m blessed and lucky to have Jamie and Franny, plus my wife and my kids. They were at the shop all weekend, after football and cheerleading practice, packing the trailer. If it weren’t for them, there’s no way this would be possible. Sixty percent of the race is won at home, and my kids get it.

“I could never be at the level I’m at if it weren’t for those helping me. I’m pretty blessed to have people pushing me to go racing.”



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This story was originally published on August 30, 2022. Drag Illustrated

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Since 2005, DI has informed, inspired and educated drag racers from every walk of the racing life - weekend warrior and street/strip enthusiasts to pro-level doorslammer and Top Fuel racers. From award-winning writing and photography to binge-worthy videos to electric live events, DI meets hundreds of thousands of racers where they live, creating the moments that create conversations.