“My wife told me I could get the car, but under one condition,” explains Chad Anselmi. “I had to race it. She said that was the part I was missing out on, and she was absolutely right.”For most folks, the idea of personally piloting a recently-acquired race car is a foregone conclusion, but Anselmi’s circumstances at the time fell outside the norm. Having lost the use of his legs in an accident back in 2000, Chad’s interest in cars and motorsport hadn’t waned in the ensuing years, but he had relegated himself to the sidelines to a significant degree.
“The first time they gave me a weekend pass out of the hospital, one of my buddies asked me if I wanted to go to an NMRA race at US131,” he recalls. “After I got back from the race, I told my dad I wanted to get hand controls in my Mustang.”
Chad says that performance was on his radar from an early age, riding dirt bikes as a kid and getting into the hot rodding scene as a teenager with his ’92 Fox-body. “I quickly got obsessed with Ford performance, following the racing through magazines and videos,” he tells us. “When I finally got to meet those racers at that US131 race it was really an incredible experience, and having followed the careers of all these racers for so long, to me they were total celebrities.”
The hand controls were installed in his street-driven Mustang not long after, and Anselmi headed back to his local car meets once again. “Since my wheelchair wouldn’t fit in the car with my buddies along for the ride, I spent my time in the car at the meets and folks would come gather around to hang out,” he says. “It was the first time after my accident that I actually felt normal. Everybody looked at me like another car guy, not some guy in a wheelchair.”
That inspired him to get back to the drag strip, and within a year or two his GT was running high 9-second ETs at various grudge races and test and tune events. “When I first started racing this way, I didn’t know about air shifters or anything like that,” he says. “So I was dialing in the power with a twist throttle, and I would reach across my body and use a QuickSilver shifter to run through the gears.”
While he was stoked to be back behind the wheel, Anselmi was initially hesitant to make the transition over to sanctioned racing. “I was always just a grudge guy,” he says. “But after a really dark period in my life, I wanted to prove to myself and everyone else that with a positive attitude and some dedication you can still do the things you love, and that’s why I wanted to run the bigger events.” But with ongoing health concerns, Anselmi had initially preferred to take on a behind-the-scenes role with other teams rather than racing in these sanctioned events himself.
Fast forward to 2012, and Anselmi happened to see a post for a 2000 Mustang that he immediately fell in love with. “I tried to buy the car three different times but each of them fell through,” he says. “Eventually I decided that was something that just wasn’t going to work out. Then, in 2015, I was headed down to a race in Florida near where the car was, and I phoned the guys up and asked if they were going to be there – I just wanted to see the car in person. They told me the car was actually in storage because the sale had fallen through, and I could come get it if I wanted it. We headed down there a day early and we bought it back with us that weekend.”
His new target? Outlaw 632. “I wanted to run at Duck’s races,” he says. “I felt like that was the big stage.”
Bought as a roller, the Mustang is now motivated by a 632ci Chevy big block built by Holbrook Racing Engines that’s paired up with a two-speed TH400 from Cameron Torque Converter Services. The motor makes 1,340 horsepower on its own, and with a pair of Nitrous Express fogger kits in the mix, Chad says it’s north of 1800 hp. “The car already had a 10-point cage in it when I bought it, and we modified the rocker bar for a little platform to help me get into and out of the car. I use the same kind of hand controls that I have in my daily driver, and everything is set up so I don’t really have to reach for anything. Line lock and trans brake are on the steering wheel, while the parachute button is on the hand controls.”
Given his unique situation, reliability is particularly crucial in Anselmi’s setup. “When I first got the motor, it had already been through a season and a half of racing, and then I put another 100 passes on that setup in the 2017 season,” he says. “I ended up winning the championship at Milan, as well as Rookie of the Year, and after that I decided it was probably time to freshen it up. Holbrook tore it down and we ordered up new Diamond pistons for it with the coating and the whole nine yards. We’re leaning on them pretty hard, so it’s all about finding a combination that can handle what we’re throwing at it.”
2018 proved to be a bit more of a challenge than the previous season, Chad says. “We showed up for the June race and the car was having electrical issues. It had slowed way down, so we tore it down and chased those gremlins for a while. At the same time I was having some health issues, so we decided to take the year off to kind of regroup.”
Lights Out 10 was the first time he’d been back in the car since. “On the second pass during testing I went 5.12, so I knew we were back on the right track. We turned on a really light tune for the next pass and went 4.60, so we just kept dialing it up until we hit 4.48, but we ended up having some issues keeping the front end of the car down during the event. Then at Sweet 16 we did some chassis tweaks to stop the wheelies, and on my last pass I did a 4.37.”
Anselmi says he’s looking forward to the No Mercy race toward the end of the year, but in the meantime he’s got sights set on the record at Milan. “I think the record right now is 4.55, so I should be able to reset that.”
But he’s also got some changes in store for this year that should push those ETs even lower. “The car was originally built in 2009 and I’m still running on that old suspension setup, so we’re probably going to re-do the car and make it a little more competitive. I’d like to see the car get into the 4.20s.”
But he adds that it’s ultimately just about taking each round a time. “Now that this kind of racing is super competitive, it’s easy to lose sight of having fun while you’re doing it. I’m really just happy to be out there lining up against these guys.”