Johnson's Bowling Green Diary
A week long adventure
in Ron's own words....
That's me, with our new Motorhome,
filling up at Bowling Green on Thursday. I drove 2100 miles in
three days and picked Don Ewald up at Nashville. I was glad to
Checking the trailer at the gas
station it was found that Chizler was able to wrestle itself
loose from it's bonds in the rear and was ready to attack the
front straps when we got there. Talk about a Brute!
The Surfboard theme sign
was a carry-over from the Del Mar Car Show in April.
Gary Sumek at Lenco was kind
enough to provide a coupler at no cost. Thanks Gary. It's is
a little bit of a job to remove the cowl and couple or un-couple,
but well worth it to have the secure knowledge that the car can't
move under power.
The driver area is pretty
small and very rudimentary. Of course 45 years ago it was the
Thursday afternoon, son Kol was
working on getting a better fit for the blower starter. Garlits,
on the right, stopped by and we had a nice opportunity to visit.
The Chizler had been in his Museum for 23 years, up until we
got it three months ago. Boy, it seems longer ago than that,
considering all that's happened with it!!
After some modifications to its
blower snout starter, I decided to test fire the Chizler. Dusty
McWilliams and Michelle Read were on hand to help.
Friday afternoon, Rex Rexroat
was kind enough to load and haul the Chizler into town (and back
again) in his trailer. The Chizler sits under the canopy of the
host hotel, the Holiday Inn Convention Center. NHRA's staff people
assist in fueling. That's Rex with the fuel jug.
Chizler is ready to fire up,
waiting for it's first meeting as a running race car with it's
owner in 43 years. Chris was in town, but having dinner and hadn't
seen the Chizler yet. Anticipation grew. I was nervous. What
if something went wrong and it didn't fire-up or the starter
didn't work right or ?
Finally, nightfall and Chris
arrived together. The program inside was over and the outside
crowd of 300 or so doubled as the auditorium emptied. Chris slips
into the Chizler with an assist from Dusty McWilliams and Steve
"Hook" Gibbs watching on the right. Together Again!!!
Greek getting a quick rundown,
Dusty was explaining the fuel shut-off positioning. This stuff
was all different as John Loukas had rigged the car with Alex
Mikkelson, at Alex's American Roadster Shop in Placentia and
Chris hadn't seen any of it before. The Blonde hair and hand
with the cocktail belongs to Chris' wife Sandy who accompanied
Chris along with Chris's long-time Crew Chief Larry Lones and
his lady friend Mary Kaye.
It's been primed and I hit the
starter button. Tension was at the peak! All that had been done
up until now would be for nothing if it didn't fire up.
Eureka! It runs. Look how the
crowd disappeared from behind the headers on both sides. We had
90% in the tank and it was loud! I wanted it idling rich so it
would really be stinky and it was, and slow so it wouldn't run
through the fuel too fast. I had a guy come up to me the next
day who said he had been behind fuelers running for 40 years
and had never been driven away before. Notice even most of the
people in the inverted Vee in the center were having trouble
staying there. This was something those people will remember
forever. The guy in the gray shirt with the cocktail is Chris'
Crew Chief Larry Lones. This was as big a deal for him as it
was for Chris as he had been a Crewmember on the Chizler too.
I don't know who was more relieved
when Chizler barked to life, Chris or me, but the grin on his
face makes it obvious that he's enjoying himself.
Chris didn't like the idle because
it was a little soggy so he wanted me to lean the barrel valve,
which I did. That was okay, I had made my point by then.
The alleys stayed clear
and people kept a respectful distance. It was glorious.
I think the tearing up was from
Nitro fumes. Chris was blinking a little and who could blame
Chris whacked the throttle
and the idle didn't come all the way back down.
Dusty grabs the linkage
and brings the idle back down.
The Chizler is stilled
after it ran through almost the full 5 gallons of 90% nitro.
Old buddy, Hubert Platt
comes up to congratulate Chris as he climbs out of the car.
My guess is that, even with as
much enjoyment as he got from the experience, Chris was glad
it was over.
Alison Lee, of the "Great
Expectations" Top Fuel car from the 60's and 70's greets
"Broadway Bob" Metzler,
irrepressible former owner of Union Grove Dragways in Racine
Wisconsin warmly greets Chris. I think it is fair to say that
Chris was Metzler's favorite Top Fuel Dragster driver/owner and
Metzler was Chris favorite promoter/track owner. Their history
together is long and storied and Chris was the "Home Town"
favorite of the crowds there.
These two have a lot
to laugh about, together again!
The crush of people around
Chris was simply grand.
Joe Jacono greets Chris and he
gets ready to wash the Nitro residual down with a "Black
Steve Gibbs says hello. Steve
and I have worked together through this project from start to
finish. He has been a great help.
Chris with Dale Emery, Kenny
Safford who had his car back at the track, and Pat Foster who
accompanied Don Trasin's two cars to NHRR.
Jim Adolph in the Black Hawaiian
shirt and Nitro Jim McMonagle just visible over the heads of
Adolph and Chris.
Jim Adolph, Chris, Jacono and
long-time NHRA Division Three director Bob Daniels, McMonagle
again over their heads.
On the right, Larry Lones in
the jeans and Gray shirt, Mary Kaye and almost out of the frame,
Chris wife Sandy.
Sandy, Dale, Me and Chris. My
relief at having Part one successfully completed was overwhelming.
It was time for an adult beverage.
Saturday Vic Cooke asked to take
Chizler to track end and shoot some "Beauty" shots.
7:15 came early.
Larry, Mary Kaye, Me , Chris
and Sandy as we spent the early afternoon, selling tee-shirts
and Chris signing my handouts and a surprisingly wide variety
of artifacts that people had brought with them.
I showed Chris and Sandy my album
with shots of my Shubert/Herbert car "Shoobie". Chris
hadn't been at a CHRR since it was completed so he had not seen
it since 1967 when we were at a race at Union Grove.
It was very heartwarming
to see how many people came buy to get Chris' autograph.
Ever the perfectionist,
Chris is working on throttle reaction by adjusting throttle linkage.
The dynamic duo, Chris and Larry
doing what they have been doing for 52 years. Kol was assisting
them and I was an observer. What fun to be right in the middle
Aha. Finally Chris shows
a small sign of aging. He has to use reading glasses for fine
Now the barrel valve. Before
he was done, Chris and Dale Emery leaked down the barrel to get
it just right.
Around 4:00 P. M. it started
to rain. It rained off and on until about 7:30 when a decision
was made to alter the program. Instead of the normal push start
Cacklefest, all the cars except the Swamp Rat #8 and the Chizler
would be set out on the track in a row and blower started. Chizler
and Swamp Rat would parade to track end and push start and both
end up on the starting line. While backing the motor off prior
to pulling up to the staging area, Kol saw the blower belt was
close to breaking. This started a thrash to locate and install
a replacement belt which ultimately involved Kol, Don Ewald,
Chris, Larry and others as we literally robbed the belt off Norbe
Locke's "Grandpas Toy" which was parked two cars down.
Here Kol is bent over the motor with Don assisting as I prepare
to round up Chris and his party.
The nose is not easy to remove,
so the belt had to be changed by reaching in under it and disconnecting
the fuel pump and fuel shut-off cable. Having two wrists on each
arm would make it a lot easier, but the group made it happen.
The belt replacement was completed
just as we were instructed to pull into the staging area. The
last minute "thrash" was in the very best tradition
of Drag Racing. How many times do you suppose Chris and Larry
have worked right up to the "bell" for next round to
be ready to go? None of us had anticipated this kind of tension.
The drama was almost overpowering, between the rain and the mechanical.
It makes the whole story much more compelling in the future re-telling.
What the picture doesn't show is the crowd of people circling
the car, caught up in the events unfolding.
Thanks to Norbe Locke for not pressing charges when we "stole"
the blower belt off his brand new car, "Grandpa's Toy"
and thanks to Dick Gaylord for showing up minutes later with
another belt, with which we were able to put Norbe's car back
in running order.
As a sidebar, Chris and Larry told Kol if he ever wanted to crew
with them, there was a place for him on their team, anytime,
anywhere. Can you say "Proud Dad?"
Chris sat calmly waiting to get
pushed down track. I wonder what thoughts were going through
his mind. The last time he sat in this particular Chizler waiting
to push start was in 1962. At that point he was probably glad
to be retiring this car in favor of his new Rod Stuckey built
3 point cage car. Who said you can't go home again?
Hurry up and wait. We are in
"pause" mode as we prepare to have the Chizler pushed
down track, past the grandstand as Dave McClelland will introduce
the Chizler and Chris to the crowd.
Having rookie driver, Larry and
I felt we needed to give him a last reminder of the placement
of pedals and switches and stuff. He seemed to appreciate it!
Introductions over, the Chizler
was the last car to be waved off by Steve Gibbs of the Wally
Parks NHRA Museum of Drag Racing, sponsor of the event.
Excitement builds as
the Chizler is pushed off.
It worked! It worked!
Chizler is alive again and cruisin' toward the starting line.
A different angle, and
more light yields a sharper image.
I checked the head temps a few
times as Larry Lones observes from behind the Chizler and Greg
Sharp, curator of the NHRA Museum watches the familiar routine.
I can't help but think that Larry would kill to be doing my job,
but he didn't so I did it.
We're about there. Chizler
is running low on fuel and Chris gets ready to click it.
Chris is out and we've done it.
Don Trasin and Pat Foster fired up the McEwen/English Leather
car in the background and it ran for a few minutes. When it shut
off the "Fest" was over. The applause was thunderous.
Amazingly, after four hours of nothing to do but sit out the
rain, the fans had remained and the stands were full. I think
they like it!
Back in the pits Chris wanted
a photo with one of his sponsors - South Oak Dodge. The Greek...
always playing the crowd. Just after this shot Chris, Sandy,
Larry and Mary Kaye headed back to Chicago to prepare for an
IHRA event in Edmonton, Canada the following weekend.
To sum it up, the first of a
limited number of appearances for the Chizler was a roaring success.
From the time that the idea to do this occurred to me until now
was five months. We've got another five months to go and then
the Chizler will lose it's heart to the Loukas/Preising Coupe
and leave the Sunshine again to return to the Museum of Science
and Industry in Chicago. It will undoubtedly never be alive again.
We have to treasure each opportunity to see it and Chris "Together