The first sentiment which comes to mind when I think about one William Michael Murillo, Jr.—better known to you, me, and the rest of the racing world as Mike—is simply this: He’s a winner. From the first time I met Mike back in 2002 at the NMRA World Finals in Bowling Green, Kentucky, where he won that sanction’s Super Street Outlaw championship, he’s always been willing and ready to discuss the state of his racing program and how he plans to get to the winner’s circle at any given race. That’s because his life has revolved around drag racing for the better part of three decades now.
You may have found your way to this article because you’re a fan of No Prep Kings and saw Murillo win the 2018 championship. It’s his sixteenth drag racing championship across many sanctions and race classes. Fun Ford Weekend, NMRA, Clash of the Titans, NMCA, the Street Car Super Nationals, and now No Prep Kings among others have all handed Murillo a season title for his efforts on the dragstrip. And that number—16—rivals two other dominant racers we can think of: John Force (16 Funny Car titles), and Frank Manzo, who earned 17 in Top Alcohol Funny Car. Yet while those two racers have each dominated one single competition class, Murillo has achieved the same level of superiority by constantly reinventing himself and his racecars to do battle on the dragstrip across several racing classes, using multiple cars and powertrain configurations over the years.
But the story of how Murillo became a winner starts long before today. It starts far from the dragstrip; in fact, it starts with grass-stain-covered knees and shoulder pads in the sleepy backwoods towns of Ohio.
“Absolutely nobody in my family, on my mom’s side, my dad’s side, distant cousins, nobody was into any kind of car racing whatsoever,” says Mike.
“We were a family into sports, mainly football. My dad was a semi-professional football player, and from the day I was born until 17 years old, everything revolved around football, football, football. In fact, when I was in high school, if you didn’t play football with me 24/7, we weren’t close. It was a 365-day sport. There was no off-season.”
With a singular goal to play professional football as a career, Murillo prayed to the genetic gods, hoping that he’d grow to be at least 6-foot-2 or 6-foot-3 and big enough to play linebacker. After a solid sophomore season, his uncle—who lived in San Antonio—called and told him that if he was serious about playing football, then he needed to head to Texas to get the right opportunities. That was all the motivation he needed. He packed as much as he could fit into two suitcases and moved to San Antonio to live with his uncle in the summer of 1984. The culture shock of new coaches, a new town, and a completely different style of training rattled him inside and tested him unlike anything he’d ever experienced before. Without the support system he had been accustomed to at home, he faltered—and fast. Two games into his junior season, he quit the team.
You gotta’ understand something. I don’t fish. I don’t hunt. I don’t bowl. I have zero hobbies other than drag racing. That’s it. I mean… it’s not only my hobby, but it’s my life. I don’t do anything else.
“To this day, that is the worst decision I’ve ever made. The coach told me, ‘If you quit, you’ll be a quitter for the rest of your life, I’m going to let you think about it, and I’m going to come back in ten minutes.’ He came back in ten minutes, and I hadn’t changed my mind. I didn’t want to play anymore,” recounts Murillo.
Remember where we said football equaled life? At 17 years old, he was completely lost. He drifted around for the next two years, and somehow managed to pick up a 1977 Trans Am—the Smokey & The Bandit car. At the time he had no reference for speed or performance, only that he liked the movie, and by extension, the car. Of course, young kid, “fast” car, not much direction in life… and eventually, he found himself in a street race (or several), and always getting his ass kicked by the Mustangs.
The Hook Is Set
As he started learning more about cars, he met a guy he calls his surrogate father, Richard Flores, who began to teach him the ins and outs of performance and ultimately set the hook for the addiction which has consumed his life—and all of his disposable money along with a mortgage payment or two—in the years since. Then the Trans Am ended up totaled when his first wife got into an accident while driving it. In 1991, he was working part-time in an auto parts store with another guy, Jeff, and purchased his first Mustang. The two of them started working on cars on the side, eventually opening a shop called Texas Jam (Jeff and Mike) Racing.
Originally they were working out of Jeff’s parents’ house, while Mike and his wife looked to buy a home. And in every house they went to look at, Mike made a beeline for the garage, looking for a suitable space to continue the Texas Jam ways. Remember—this was before Realtor.com and other online portals existed, and whenever you wanted to look at a house, your realtor would take you on a wild-goose chase until you eventually picked one they suggested. Finally, they chose their piece of suburbia, with Mike’s only consideration the size of the garage. He didn’t even look at the bedrooms.
And that’s how this whole thing started.
From the moment Texas Jam moved into Murillo’s house, the hook was set. He spent time at the track, then moved to the street, but the whole point was that the business was successful enough for him to race, and he raced as much as he could so that the business was successful. It’s a formula which has sustained him for decades.
At the time, he was racing at Alamo Dragway, which was the only track in San Antonio.
“I didn’t know it, but it was a piece of shit. I had nothing to judge it against. The track was so bad, that in the right lane you’d roll forward out of the beams if you didn’t double-clutch it, and you’d roll backward in the left lane if you didn’t hit the brakes at the right time. The track conditions were horrible. At the time we were running 10.30s, and the national record at Fun Ford Weekend in the class we were planning to run was a 10.4 or something like that—so we were already quicker than the national record,” he says.
The first time he went to watch a Fun Ford event in Dallas, he drove past the track twice thinking it was a football stadium, because he didn’t think there was any way that a dragstrip was there. Remember, his only experience was at Alamo. In 1994, he decided to enter the FFW race in Houston, and ended up picking up his first sponsor, CarTech, who offered to cart him around all season to all of the Fun Ford races. That was his first championship year; he set the national record then, and won the championship in 1994, ’95, and ’96, then took the year off in ’97 and let Carlo Catalanotto win one.
He returned in 1998 and ’99 and won the class championship those years as well, then the NMRA started in 1999, and he shifted focus to the Super Street Outlaw class in that sanction. Until 1997, Murillo had run a 347 stroker with a Vortech supercharger, but eventually he saw the writing on the wall and needed to switch to a turbocharged combination to run with everyone else.
It wasn’t until Birdman—who’s always liked me—said ‘Mike, I hate to see you struggle like this. Bring your car over here and let me help you.’ I listened to that dude from that day forward, and here we are today.
“You can see the competition comin’. You can see them struggling, but you can see they are making more power than I am. I had already been contemplating it, but then John Urist—who at that time was a duck—had put a turbo on his car and made 1,600 horsepower. At the time that was just insane. That’s when I realized that taking my same engine and putting a turbo on it was a heck of a lot better investment than $20 or $30,000 into a new engine,” says Murillo.
A couple of years with that 347 and turbo combination in NMRA’s SSO class—and championships to go with it—and two Clash of the Titans championships also found their way into his trophy case.
“The competition in NMRA was a lot heavier, but once we got in our groove and started figuring it out, we started winning NMRA championships,” he says.
But then tragedy struck in 2003; his first wife passed away from breast cancer. This would have crippled a lesser man, and likely decimated the desire to ever go racing again. Understandably, Mike took a couple of seasons off to regroup.
“You gotta understand something. I don’t fish. I don’t hunt. I don’t bowl. I have zero hobbies other than drag racing. That’s it. I mean… it’s not only my hobby, but it’s my life. I don’t do anything else,” he says.
Then LaFawnduh showed up in his life, right when the itch needed a scratch. We all know LaFawnduh. She came to Mike via noted street-car racing legend Chuck Samuel, and was one of the first Mustangs to run over 200 mph in the 1/4-mile. LaFawnduh showed up when Mike needed a challenge, and at first, he got one heck of a kick in the teeth with the car. A misguided effort to run the twin-turbo big-block Ford with the turbos mounted in the trunk nearly burned the car to the ground several times. Eventually, after the last time the car caught on fire, he decided enough was enough and returned to the traditional front-mounted turbo configuration.
Additionally, at the time, he had only had experience with the 28×10.5 slick tire that had been the go-to rubber for the FFW Street Outlaw and NMRA’s Super Street Outlaw classes, so switching to a class where the bigger 33×10.5W tire was the standard—along with the combination change—ended up challenging him like he had never been challenged.
Since then, LaFawnduh has been in several sets of clothes, winning championships in Pro Outlaw 10.5/Super Street with NMRA and NMCA along with the Street Car Super Nationals—and now, as the Season Two champion of No Prep Kings.
“I thought NMCA was the best thing, because I always wanted to run other cars other than just Mustangs. That was bad-ass, man. We had a blast in NMCA, and we doubled up in 2011 and 2012; we won Outlaw 10.5 in both NMRA and NMCA in those years,” he says.
When he sets his mind to it, Murillo is dominant. He’s always in the hunt to win at an event and can never be counted out. Remember back in the beginning of the article when he talked about football? That motivates him every single day.
“It’s because of that football coach telling me I’d be a quitter for the rest of my life. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve quit 20 or 30 times while I’m at the track, but I get ten miles down the road and I’m already making a new plan,” he says.
On the other side of the equation is the home life: his amazing wife, Lisa, holds the fort down while he chases his dreams, and travels with him whenever possible. The rest of his family—including his youngest son, William, who just got started racing junior dragsters and is a star, according to Mike—provides the motivation for him to turn on the win light every time he goes to an event.
Mike Murillo’s Championships
- Fun Ford Weekend Street Outlaw: 1994, ’95, ’96, ’98, 99
- Clash of the Titans Outlaw 10.5: 1998, ’99, ’01, ’02
- NMRA Super Street Outlaw: 2002
- NMRA Pro Outlaw 10.5: 2011-12
- NMCA Super Street 10.5: 2011-12
- Dirty South No Prep Series Big Tire: 2018
- No Prep Kings Series Invitational Big Tire: 2018
- Along with approximately 90 event wins from small to large, including twice in Outlaw 10.5 at the Street Car Super Nationals (2010 and 2012)
The No Prep Life
Murillo’s introduction to No Prep/No Time racing was after a private test session at Houston Motorsports Park in 2013. He was there testing a car for Todd Moyer, and after their session was over, they hung around for the track’s regular Friday night program, which just so happened to feature a No Time event that night. After two decades of organized, sanctioned racing, he couldn’t grasp the concept of not showing the elapsed times on the board … but he certainly understood the fact that the stands were packed and the allure of the event mirrored that of a street racing scene. Cue Mike Murillo, looking to race No Prep.
Making the big move to No Prep racing meant he had to throw away everything in his arsenal of success. A new tire: 35-inches in diameter and 17-inches wide, to ensure traction is available no matter the surface type. Initially they didn’t even fit under the car, but James “Birdman” Finney convinced him they were a necessary component for success. A quick weekend’s worth of work in between races, and the quarter panels were opened up enough to let the new tires fit, barely.
Much like when he made the changes to his combination to run in the NMRA and NMCA, the first couple years he spent in the No Prep scene—where he couldn’t find a win if his life depended on it—would have discouraged even the most dedicated racer. But Murillo did what he always does: he persevered and found his way thanks to the generosity of Finney, who was willing to help point him in the right direction.
“Coming from Outlaw 10.5, I had some guys who were trying to help me, but you have to have someone helping you who races No Prep and is actually good at it,” says Murillo.
He sums it up, simply. “There are so many things you have to have working correctly in No Prep over your typical heads-up sticky-track racing. You have to have such smooth power coming on versus the normal turbo that ramps in hard. That does not work in No Prep. From gear ratio to chassis setup to camshaft degree to how the power comes on to where your turbos are mounted and what kind of weight bias you have; all that stuff is a major factor when you go No Prep racing.”
“For the first two years, I had a couple of guys who had all of these great ideas. And I didn’t know what the heck I was doing. So between the five of us, we sucked. It wasn’t until Birdman—who’s always liked me—said ‘Mike, I hate to see you struggle like this. Bring your car over here and let me help you.’ I listened to that dude from that day forward, and here we are today.”
‘Here’ is in the winner’s circle: Mike Murillo has claimed his rightful place atop the heap of beaten No Prep Kings racers for the 2018 season, earning the Invitational Big Tire title and championship number 16 in the process. By eliminating the best racers that No Prep racing has to offer—and doing it with class, and a level of perseverance which has sustained him for the better part of three decades and put him in the company of the legendary champions mentioned previously—Murillo has proven that he’s here to stay.