On Saturday, October 4, 2008, Jim Halsey carved his name into the Pro Modified history books when he lit up the scoreboard at the now-defunct Old Bridge Township Raceway Park with the first-ever 5-second quarter-mile nitrous Pro Modified pass during the Shakedown at E-Town.
Ten years later, Halsey is still chasing records. A few things have changed over the last decade – he went through a couple cars, swapped the clutch for a torque converter setup, and jumped into the PDRA’s eighth-mile Switzer Dynamics Pro Nitrous class – but many other factors remain the same. He’s stuck with the iconic ’68 Camaro body style with a Gene Fulton powerplant, he’s joined at the races by Cathy Crouse, his girlfriend of 32 years, and he still goes to the track with intentions of winning every race he enters.
Led by tuner Brandon Switzer and longtime crew chief Eric Davis, along with crew members Michael McMillan and Melissa Switzer, Halsey has come pretty close to winning every race he’s entered over the last four races. He set the Pro Nitrous ET record on the way to a runner-up finish at the Brian Olson Memorial World Finals to close out the 2018 season, then went into the new season swinging, posting victories at the season-opening East Coast Nationals presented by FuelTech and the Mid-Atlantic Showdown presented by Modern Racing.
Speaking from his race shop in Havre de Grace, Maryland, Halsey sat down with DRAG ILLUSTRATED to look back on the evolution of his career, his hot start to the 2019 season and his goals for the rest of the year.
How have these nitrous Pro Mods changed in the time since you made that first 5-second quarter-mile pass?
I think the cars are a lot more rigid now. Back then, we were running a clutch. I was actually running a 5-speed Liberty at the time. Now, everybody is going away from the clutches and clutchless transmissions to converters and Lencos or Turbo 400s and converters.
The PDRA Nitrous Wars competition for engine builders within the Pro Nitrous class is one of the highlights of the class. What does it mean to kind of carry the flag for Gene Fulton and Fulton Competition Race Engines?
Gene Fulton and the guys at Fulton have been a big part of my success. I’ve been with them for close to 20 years now.
I don’t want to take anything away from Charlie (Buck) or Pat (Musi). They’re both great guys and they build great engines, but I think a lot of people had written Gene off. I think with what we’ve done the last year and a half or two years, we’ve proved that he’s still got it.
You used to make a ton of test runs at Cecil County Dragway (owned and operated by Halsey and Crouse). Is that still something you do?
We don’t do it as much as we used to. When we first bought this car from Jerry (Bickel), we spent quite a few weekends up there testing. It paid off in the long run to get started, but we don’t test there regularly now that we have things sorted out.
You finished the 2018 season with a runner-up finish and the ET record at the World Finals. How did that set the tone for this season?
We knew the car was good. There were some things we had been wanting to try on the car that we did in Virginia last year. That was a stepping stone into the beginning of this year. We actually went to the first Mad Mule race at GALOT to test and it was rainy and cold and nothing ever got off the ground there, so our first test run was back at GALOT for the PDRA race.
We’re always testing something, especially in qualifying during the early runs, trying little things here and there to try to pick up performance.
How rewarding has it been to see that effort turn into late-round performances and a couple wins this season?
We struggled for a few years, thinking back to 2010 or 2011. Goodyear stopped making the tire that we were really good on and we struggled for several years after that. We never really got good on the Hoosier or any other Goodyear tire until we got hooked up with Brandon (Switzer) and he got us straightened out.
To run at the top of the field like we have the last year, with the little bit of time we spent with this new program, we’re very happy.
You already have two wins in three races. What are your goals for the rest of the season?
We go to win every race. I don’t know if that’s realistic or not, but that’s what we go for. I would love to win a championship. That’s one thing I’ve never done.
With the level of competition in Pro Nitrous, what will it take to go out there and win more of these races and chase that championship?
You have to be on top of your game. You’re gonna need to have plenty of spare parts and be willing to work hard, not only at the track between rounds, but also at the shop between races during the week. There’s a lot of maintenance in these things that people don’t see that we take care of between races. We’re going tire testing this weekend at our place. A lot of people don’t see that kind of stuff.
Speaking of that, what do you do week-to-week between races?
I help run a construction company and a concrete foundation company. We have about 50-some employees between the two contracting companies, then we have the racetrack. We’re open Wednesday nights, Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays, so when I’m not racing I’m pretty busy.
You’re very well-known for that first 5-second quarter-mile nitrous Pro Mod pass. Do you have any temptation at all to chase after quarter-mile numbers today?
Not really. I want to be the first nitrous car in the 3.50s. That’s my next big goal. [Editor’s note: since this story was published, Marcus Birt recorded the first 3.50-second pass for a nitrous car in Radial vs. the World trim. The 3.50 barrier remains unbroken in Pro Nitrous.]
Do you feel pretty confident that number is within reach?
I think it’s within reach. Based on the information we have right now, you’re going to have to have the perfect racetrack and the perfect air and make the perfect run to make it happen, but I think it could happen.
This story originally appeared in #DI 146, the Interview Issue, in July of 2019.