A 1987 Pontiac Firebird is as timeless as the smell of burning tires or funnel cake frying up at a track. Ryan Mitchell is the driver and owner of The Firebird, a 1987 Pontiac, you guessed it, Firebird. This car can stand the test of time and punishment. It was the very first car Ryan ever owned. Ryan grew up in Shawnee, Kansas and now resides in Pleasant Hill Missouri with his wife, step children, and newborn son.
We have all heard it before, that the car the drivers are now racing are the first car they ever had. This meaning the same year or make and model. Not in Ryan’s case. His first car IS actually his current car. His very first 1987 Firebird, is the exact same car that you see today. When Ryan purchased the car for about $2000 it was a little automatic V6. Over the years he picked up on the full potential of the Firebird and went to town on it. “I got bit by the automotive bug and went at it…HARD.” The inspiration for his racing interest all begins with a series of movies that apparently won’t end. The first movie being in 2001, showing street racing at its finest. The movie hit while he was in high school and it was all the craze. Ryan and his friends thought, “hey, we could do this”, and building is what they did, learning as they went. This group of friends that were “furious” in their builds and racing potential, would find the spots that all the other groups were racing at watch and then eventually joined in. “We ran the crap out of the V6, so then came the mini small blocks and the LS builds, then of course big block builds eventually happened”. Over the years The Firebird is still the original car. “It has had some small fender benders it its time but it is all the original car up until we put the fiberglass nose on it. It still has the original front end and doors”.
Growing up there was not one person who fed into this drag and street racing, it was mostly the power influence of the movies and friends. His grandfather was into NHRA, but sadly never got to see Ryan race. Ryan’s father, however, would come to watch his events when he could, and is extremely proud of his son. Ryan’s family is very supportive. His wife comes and participates, his step sons will watch the videos of the races, and his 3 month old apparently finds comfort in the sound of the cars and finds it soothing when he is fussy. This family man is also building a 1978 El Camino for his wife. “She is super supportive and it’s the least I can do”.
Ryan and his team is dedicated to say the least. He drove over 74,000 miles total to get to racing events. If possible he will average 2-3 different races in a weekend. Of those races, he placed in the finals 47 times out of all they attended. Although things have slowed down a bit because of his newborn, Ryan still makes every effort to make as many events as he can. “I love supporting local events like Street Action and Limpy and Richard Garcia. I try to help the promoters who help them out as well”. When asked around the reply is simple, “Ryan is the nicest guy you’ll ever meet”, it is important to make friends and contacts as you go along. So many let pride and ego get in the way, when really this all started from a love of a movie or sport and it grew from there. Making friends is part of it.
“My favorite events are NoPrep water only events”. It can be said that no single driver has just one all-time favorite event or track facility. It is usually broken down into different reasons for each. Ryan is no different. “My top three tracks are my top three for different reasons. I57 in Illinois because they have the best concessions and flat facility. Texas Motorplex is awe inspiring. Between the crew and the layout it is amazing and makes you feel small. Last but not least is Sallisaw in Oklahoma, it is a tricky surface and bumpy. It makes it a challenge, it’s extremely difficult, which makes it fun for me”. It is a tough decision choosing between different tracks, but it is even more difficult to choose between the street and the strip. Most of the time it is a split decision as well. The street has more of an adrenaline rush, and the drag strip has the safety and numbers. Four or five years ago the answer would have been the street for sure, back when it was 1100 horsepower. Everyone loves the thrill of the chase and the idea of doing something “taboo”. “Today I enjoy the track because it is more family oriented and safe. I prefer the safety now of the EMT’s and fire personnel. I also prefer to keep my driver’s license. I still love the street and will do it when it is properly organized”.
With any passion and sport there comes a lot of give and take. Countless hours of fixing and adjusting, practicing and perfecting all take a toll on the main participant and their families. Lucky for Ryan he has the support and backing of his wife, family and friends. “I’m so lucky to have friends like Eric Roste, my crew guy, without him it can be really tough”. The cost of racing also can take a toll on these drivers. Ryan is no different. The cost of driving 74,000 miles would be exuberant in gas and tolls. Not to mention hotel stays and maintenance on the vehicles. “I try to stay in a newer vehicle to minimize on breakdowns with it and the trailer”.
Not every driver is 100% engines, engines, engines all the time. In the rare chances of down time, Ryan likes to spend time with his family. Doing small family outings are the simple things that they enjoy the most. Going to the park, the zoo, playing a little Nintendo Switch are what they do when they aren’t planning for another race. “It’s nice to take a break once in a while and slow down”. Aside from drag racing and being a family man Ryan also owns his own performance shop called KC Maxx Performance. It is a performance shop in the Kansas City area, where he reprograms PCM’s on big 3 muscle cars. There they do a majority of aftermarket PCM tuning. The shop has three techs and sales personnel who helps sell the parts and works the dyno machine to diagnose the cars that come in. “If it weren’t for racing I would probably still be in the IT field. Working data centers and all the geeky stuff I used to do and use it today”. The name KC Maxx has a bit of history to it that not many people know. The Maxx part comes from the RC world of racing. “I raced RC trucks growing up, I just really liked the Maxx part and thought it was neat, so I kept it going throughout my adult life”.
Ryan is indeed a mild mannered man who is usually likes to be the wallflower at events. “I like to go unnoticed and just have fun, and if we win then it’s WOOHOO we won. It takes years of hard work to move up the ranks in any work or hobby that you do, it takes small steps and patience to become top of the lists”. His most impactful and insane come through victory was, “A few years ago we had a catastrophic failure on the car. With the help of my machinist, we got the motor out Tuesday morning, by Thursday we had fixed heads an all new assembly, a patched up block, and slammed the car all back together. Friday we went 4 hours away to a local-ish race and won 5 grand. Right off the trailer with no testing, no sleep and drove to Sallisaw. There we won 20000 to 0ne race out of 64 cars and won that overall. That was the most successful race ever”. A huge impact on a lot of drivers in the NoPrep world is Keith Szabo, who Ryan is continuously looking up to. There are also the local drivers Ryan looks to as well, Tim Reed and Jason Hoard. “I respect a lot of the racers out there. You have to be tough to win, and that isn’t easy”.
There are numerous working parts to the entire NoPrep world. The drivers, the cars, the family, the friends, the crew, the track owners, and of course the fans. Drag racing has been brought back to life specifically by the fans. They have brought a new life back into this sport and Ryan appreciates every last one of them. His fans follow him on YouTube and in person. “It’s very cool and humbling. We’ve been all over the place and people know us and loves The Firebird because they saw it online. It’s the absolute best”. As the drivers hunker down in between runs it can get pretty hectic, “I get a lot of weird looks because of how unconventional I put things together and get things done. To me, it doesn’t matter what it looks like, you have to beat the light at the track”. The fans are super considerate during those crunch times for Ryan. “Most everyone respects that and sometimes my crew guys will talk to them while I do what I have to do”. Working, driving, racing, and maintaining a family is no simple feet to accomplish. “I want my family and loved ones to always remember me as the guy with the bad a$$ car that took the country by storm, and to never count us out. Never stop shooting for your dreams of what you truly want no matter what others say”. Truly inspirational and humble. Ryan would like to thank his wife Meghan, Eric and Amber Roste, and his mother and father Theresa and Mike Mitchell. It takes a small army for each of these guys and gals to race and show up week after week. Ryan may like to go unnoticed, but he shines through when it is called for.