Part Two
Minnesota Dragways PR Director and
Drag News Contributor 1959-60

Text and photos by Ron Johnson

 

Minnesota Dragways (MD) opened in the spring of 1959 and started drawing pretty good attendance right away. John Foster was the manager and he made an effort to drum up spectator interest by bringing in “Pro” cars. Karamesines and Maynard with the Chizler, Lou Cangelose in the Missouri Missile, Glenn Leasher with Pandemonium and others appeared at the track. As a part of track operation, stories and photos were sent in to Drag News, the weekly California based “Bible” of Drag Racing.

Late summer 1959 I was at John Foster’s house visiting and he mentioned that he was having trouble finding someone to do the Drag News stories. I again volunteered to take over this task and started another chapter. Over the winter, John and I talked and he offered me a part-time job as PR director. I would prepare and distribute press releases to all the media outlets, do the weekly Drag News articles with pictures and create and distribute posters promoting future events.

We had a slow week at MD in late May so I accompanied the Big Wheel crew to Union Grove for the Great Lakes Dragways spring extravaganza. I took a color picture that day that has been a source of much satisfaction for me ever since. From the tower I got a shot of Garlits/Malone’s “Swamp Rat” racing Maynard/Karamesines “Chizler” about 400 feet out, side by side, smoke billowing off both sets of tires. Both drivers bought enlargements the next weekend.

 

A poster size copy of this shot was in the Garlits Drag Racing Museum, on the floor in front of the Maynard/Karamesines Chizler, which was part of the permanent collection of dragsters.

We had a number of big events throughout the year at MD and a few of my photos even made Drag News. I had something in there almost every week.

It was a wonderful summer for Minnesota Drag Racing fans, as Foster brought in practically every “touring pro” including a most of the non-California hot cars and some of those too. I have put these cars, more of less, in order of the chronological appearance.

In March 2006, I arranged with Karamesines for removal of the Chizler from the Museum. I took the car to California and with assistance from a host of racers, got the Chizler running and took it to several venues for cacklefest activities.

When you are finished on this website use the link to go to my other website, cacklefest.com, click on The Cars tab, scroll down to The Chizler picture and click on it. The whole story is there.

 


 

The Big Wheel Auto Stores A/Gas Dragster, 454 Chrysler powered Dragmaster Mark 1
Bruce “Stormin’” Norman had been a circle track driver at local short tracks. When Arvy started looking for a new driver got 1960, he was given Bruce’s name. Arvy put Bruce in the car and on May 8th, when Setto was here first, Bruce became a dragster driver. Setto took him under his wing and coached him through wheelstands etc, which had been causing Bruce to lift. After that Bruce was fearless and he was cat quick, often resulting in re-runs because he left so fast.

 

The car was transformed through the year by the addition of a second roll hoop and a switch to Enderle’s “Barn Door” injector, which Arvy became a master of. The Big Wheel was undefeated in class all year until Detroit, where a slippery track allowed Leonard Harris to get past Bruce. Original engine guy Hank Hebert in the dark glasses and shirt over the roll bar.

 


 

Setto Postoian in Mark 1 (named for his son) with helper Walt holding. The guy looking on is the saloonkeeper Arnie Ostlund, from the Big Wheel’s neighbor, the “Lake Street Mug”, our hangout!

I met Setto in Detroit, Christmas, 1959 and he showed me this car, brand new, in a bay at the service station he ran with his brother on McNichol Road in Detroit. He and I hit it off pretty good and the only disagreement we had was whether the Big Wheel would be a stronger contender for Gas Dragster honors, or his pal Conrad Kalitta who had a new car also. I spent an afternoon with Conrad and we had quite a wide-ranging discussion, as he drove his Dad’s propane tanker from one residence to another, filling propane tanks. He was loaded with confidence, rightly so.

This picture was taken the first time Setto came to town, which was May 8th. It was the first time the car had been down the track and Setto blew a couple of rods through the pan. You can see the death smoke coming out of the breathers, End of the day, many miles from home. They came back for the May 28-29th event and Setto blew up his clutch and was unable to continue then also. He must have been sliding the clutch, it shouldn't have blown up if he dropped it.

Setto and his wife Chris and helper Walt, stayed at our house, at least once, when they came to MD that year and like many of the other racers, we got along great. Unfortunately Setto crashed heavily at Detroit Dragways early in July in a match race against Archie Liederbrand. The car was completely destroyed and Setto was badly injured with numerous broken bones.

I saw him the for the last time at Detroit when I accompanied the Big Wheel there for the 1960 NHRA Nationals. I picked Setto up at his house and took him and his wheelchair to the racetrack and we spent the afternoon watching and visiting with various racers he knew. He recovered fully but never drove again. Setto died about 10 years ago, survived by his wife Chris and son Mark.

 


 

Tommy Ivo made his second stop on his first tour with the Twin Buick after his appearance at Denver. He came in almost a week early for the May 28, 29th event and I drove Tommy around town doing media interviews. He was in the hit Television series My Little Margie near or at the time and had been a Mousketeer. He had a helper along, a slim young guy named Don, who also gained some notoriety driving dragsters and funny cars and is still active today as a car owner. Call him Snake, Viper or just Prudhomme! The picture above, Ivo on one of the many runs he made at MD with the Twin-car!

Tommy is a gregarious, fun-loving guy and he and Arvy and Bruce Norman hit it off and became friends. The Big Wheel and Ivo match raced all around the Midwest that summer, most of the races I had to stay home and work at the track. More about this in the next section, which will be about the Big Wheel.

 

Ivo and one of the members of the Optimists Club, which built and oversaw the Drag strip.

 


 

Bobby Sullivan’s Pandemonium

At the first races at MD, Glen Leasher or Rod Stuckey drove Sullivan’s car. But mid year, 1960, Bobby started driving himself. Sullivan became friends with Joe and Sally Weikleenget and when he came to town he stayed at their house. He traveled alone, towing with a new Olds Station Wagon (that’s probably why Joe liked him) and got a volunteer to push him and help out, wherever he raced. Bobby was a quiet guy and was very controlled, in that he didn't “go for it”, but rather raced to save equipment and make rounds. Nice guy, I liked him a lot too!

 


 

Bobby Langley in The Scorpion

Bobby Langley came to MD once, or maybe twice that year. The first time, at the May race, Bobby towed with and Olds station wagon and was accompanied by his wife and children. His kids were his crew and it was truly a family operation. The Scorpion had a bite, too, it was the loudest car on the track. If you notice the headers, they are not even at the bottom. They got so hot they sagged and I saw him melt at least one right off and drive over it.

 


 

Lou Cangelose and the “Missouri Missle” getting ready with “Pit Crew Pete” Starrett's assistance.

Lou was a regular at MD and was something of an enigma. He and his mechanic Carl Bedami, ran the car together. Lou was suave, and he wore expensive clothes, even while driving. He wore wool slacks and cashmere sweaters and highly polished loafers and the ladies thought he was the “Cat’s Meow”. The car was an offshoot of a sprint car or midget car with a quick change, mag wheels all around and nicely finished body work etc. Lou ran a toy company in St. Louis during the week and was not short of racing budget.

 

Lou is slightly behind Langley, leaving the line. This was probably the May race and I have no results, so I can't tell you who won.

 


 

Chris Karamesines and Don Maynard's “Chizler”, Ron “Dingy” Leek lending a hand.

Chris had been to MD in 1959 and tore up a pair of slicks on the seal coating that Foster had laid down. I saw him at Route 30, Hammond Indiana, in the fall of 1959 and he said he wouldn't come back again, but the lure of money was too much for him. The track surface was very good in 1960 and the clocks were unerringly accurate. It was a tight track and Chris was there at least 4 times. We all got along great and they were fun to be around.

 

I had started taking a fair amount of color, but needed B & W for Drag News and newspaper articles, so most of my action shots were B & W. Here's Chris with Ron Leek.

 




The Swamp Rat, Don Garlits and Art Malone

Garlits and Malone came to town twice in 1960 and I believe they won the first race, which was May 28, 29th event. I took the picture above, at Union Grove the week before, hoping to use it to accompany a news release for papers and TeeVee. Needless to say, Art’s expression left a little to be desired, so it just went into the files and I used another picture.

I have searched for results from the May 28, 29th race event, but a story never appeared in Drag News. As I remember it, Ivo was there and raced against the Big Wheel. Top Fuel cars included Langley, Garlits/Malone, Karamesines/Maynard, Sullivan/Stuckey, Lou Cangelose and Setto Postoian. I think there was a full field of 8 cars, but I can't for the life of me remember who the others may have been. From then until July 17th, there was the occasional match race for the Big Wheel, but we didn't have another “Big” event.

 

They came back for a second race on July 17th 1960,

We had a BIG race with a lot of top fuel cars. Garlits and Malone were having trouble running their usual numbers. Then it rained and put everything on hold. Late in the afternoon, the track had dried enough so the race could resume. Rod Stuckey was there in Pandemonium, Lou Cangelose in Missouri Missle, and Williams/\Liederbrand with Hypersonic and Garlits/Malone with Swamp Rat was the field.

When racing resumed, it was puzzling because top speeds were off and then both Pandemonium and Missouri Missile were sidelined with breakage. This left Archie and Malone to face off for top eliminator and $1,000.00. The Swamp Rat was flat and Archie won. They were jubilant. Garlits was about to slit his wrists. Garlits and Malone stayed and kept trying to solve their problems. They concluded they had a bad mag and borrowed Pandemonium’s mag. Garlits was thinking that maybe a lighter driver would help and he was about to get back into the car after a years leave from driving. On the way through the staging lane, I was helping them push the car, and it was noticed that the throttle linkage was funny. It was not opening the throttle plates fully.

They concluded that with the bad mag, Malone was pushing on the throttle so hard, that the linkage slipped. Anyway, Malone was strapped in and went out and set a track record of 187.88 mph in 8:63 seconds. Garlits felt that this was the fastest they had ever gone on clocks that could be considered reliable. As I recall, this was also the last pass that Malone made in Swamp Rat.

 


 

Garlits began driving shortly after this, the next mention of him, he was pictured in Drag News in an August 14th match race at Union Grove with the Chizler, and the picture was of the original Swamp Rat, however, shortly thereafter, pictures of him were of a “long” car, with a different look to it.

 


 

On August 7th, Chris and Don came to town. I quote my Drag News story “They wanted a 2% back-up run for some 193 runs down south in case the existing 1320 Record (held by Chataginier) failed to hold up and they wanted Garlits-Malone’s strip record of 187.88”. This was a highly prized PR tool for them and ISKY, who may well have helped with their expenses. He would do this because Garlits was running with sponsorship with Giovannani then, you see.

In the picture above, the driver is Carol (never knew her last name) who was a bartender/waitress at the pub next to the Big Wheel. The owner, Arnie Ostlund was a race fan and came to the races frequently. Carol met the Chizler crew at the pub and came with Arnie to watch the races that day.

The day’s race program did not include any other fuel dragsters so they just were there on their own. They made a few runs mid afternoon but the best they could run was in the 185 range. Again, I have the Drag News story to refer to for times and details. There was a sidewind and Chris and Don decided to wait for it to die down. They had used most of their 100% nitro and had enough left for one more run. Arvy sent one of the crew back to the Big Wheel Auto Store on Lake Street, about 30 miles through town, to get some more nitro which they sold.

The day’s race program ended but Foster kept track timing personnel and the Ambulance on hand and a few hard-core fans hung around. Chris and Don broke out lawn chairs and sat alongside the car, behind the starting line and we all waited. At about 7:00, the wind died down and Chris put on his driving stuff and got in the car. They pushed it down, turned around and came back, firing up at the very last minute. Chris made the swing behind the line. Heavy drama!

Chris pulled up to the starting line, with a HUGE load of Nitro, Don held him from creeping through the starting beams and the flagman gave him a ritual send-off. There was, according to Drag News, a long silence. Finally the announcer said, a new track record, 191.08 with an E.T. of 8:87. There was jubilation and Don Maynard even managed a grin as he took off to go get Chris and tell him they had done it.

They decided the weather conditions were just right for potentially a better run, and they weren’t in any hurry to leave. The extra Nitro sent for had arrived but it was 70/30 blend, not 100%. The Chizler crew mixed up the stoutest batch they could and prepared for one last run, to try to make an even better run. The best they were able to muster was a 187.10 and that ended the day, but they left with the track record 191.08 and it was in Isky’s ads as soon as he could get it there. The picture in Drag News with this story was taken at Union Grove, not MD.

 

 


 

August 14th was the first time that Haines and Cross came to MD. Here’s Bob Haines in the Cal Equipped car, mugging for me. As I remember it, they stuck around and raced out of here at other tracks and were at our next big race also, on Sept 11th.

 

In addition to Haines and Cross, Rod Stuckey was in the old Cangelose car, the Missouri Missle now owned by Carls Speed Shop. Bob Sullivan had taken over the driving chores of his own Pandemonium car.

 

Sullivan on the left, Haines and Cross on the right, Haines leaves but Sully runs him down.

Also, both Al Williams with Hypersonic and Art Malone arrived a little late after a thrash building the Golden Rod in just 11 days.

 

Archie Liederbrand in All Williams “Hypersonic” on the left. I believe the car on the right is Art Malone and the Golden Rod. My Drag News story says Malone beat Williams/Liederbrand when their motor backfired through the blower and Archie shut off.

 

Here is the Golden Rod on the first outing. Same shot I sent to Drag News for the article below.

Malone was supposed to race Sullivan for Top Fuel and then race the Big Wheel for Top Eliminator, but the event was called because of darkness.

 

"I recognize my shadow in the picture, taking the picture!"

 


 

Lou got this new car, probably built by Rod Stuckey, and I think he got it in 1960. It is a very modern looking car, with the tapered frame rails and torsion front end like Ivo’s car, but a roll cage more like the three point style that would evolve. This is by the way, the car Lou was killed in three or four years later, as he was testing it for the buyers.

On August 29th, there was a special Tuesday night race held, as the big two-day event scheduled for the pervious weekend was rained out. The entire Jim Nelson/Dode Martin Dragmaster team came through on the way to Detroit for the NHRA Labor Day Nationals. The Dragmaster single Pontiac engine car, Dragmaster Two-Thing and Mickey Thompson’s “Assault” were there as was the Albertson Olds. All the cars ran well in the evening weather the nearly new Dragmaster Two-thing liked the Minnesota weather also, getting two runs above 180.

There was a huge rivalry going on at that time between the Big Wheel and Albertson Olds. The Big Wheel was Dragmaster, Isky, Chrysler, Enderle equipped, while the Olds was Chassis Research, Hillborn, Engle cammed. Both cars were featured regularly in the cam grinders ads. Neither car had lost a round to an in-class car and both had about a dozen victories. The Big Wheel was probably heavier, but Arvy definitely made more horsepower than the Olds as the best speeds for the Big Wheel were above that of Albertson Olds. I can’t prove it, but I bet you that Adams, Scrima et al were pretty sure that on the same day and the same clocks, they could outrun the Big Wheel, like they did every other single engine Gas Dragster.

The Big Wheel ran 176.12 and 174.45 with a 9:27, which with an earlier 176 at Union Grove gave the Big Wheel the A/Gas Dragster Standard 1320 Top Speed AND e.t. records. Albertson Olds had a best top speed of 173.41, e.t. unknown. To get both ends of the Standard 1320 record, with the whole Dragmaster team AND Albertson Olds running too, was a real plus. Even though the West Coast contingent felt ANY times turned in the Midwest were suspect, as far as I know, no one ever voiced an opinion the times were bogus. When they came back to MD the week after Detroit, the Chrysler had a 9:13. to the Olds better 9:09 but they must never have been able to back up the 9:09 because at the end of the year the Big Wheel still had both ends of the record. As I remember, the Big Wheel team quieted whatever skeptics remained at Fremont the next March when they ran 176:12 with an 8:84 or come such, for a new e.t. Record

 


"Stump" Davis, “Lean” Gene, Don't know, Ron Scrima and the quickest foot in racing, Leonard Harris! In spite of me being a staunch Big Wheel fan, we got to know each other and got along great! This car is in the NHRA Museum of Drag Racing and attends most Hot Rod Reunions. We race against Gene Adams at every Nostalgia Drag race as he is with John Rasmussen in a Hemi car!

 


 

I went to Detroit for the NHRA Nationals with Arvy and the Big Wheel crew. I took a lot of pictures, both color and black and white, but since they were just for myself, I won't include any of the here. I do intend to set up a gallery of photos that I took at various tracks, such as Detroit 1960, Cordova in 1957 and 63, Union Grove in 1956 and 1960 and again in 1963. I also have a selection from Twin City Speedway from the early 60’s and a few of Rocket Cars and Jets at various tracks.

The weekend after Detroit, September 10th and 11th, Adams, Scrima, Harris “Albertson Olds” came back for a Mr. Eliminator match-up with the Big Wheel. Dean Moon’s Mooneyes was there also as were Ratican Jackson Stearns, (below) probably Ronnie Ratican setting the barrel valve prior to a run! This was in addition to a top fuel show that included the Chizler crewed by Chris, Don and John Loukas. Also Pandemonium driven by Sullivan, Rod Stuckey in the Missouri Missile and Cal-Equipped Haines and Cross. Speedcraft/Pelligrini were there with the now ex-Ivo Twin Buick to race Jack Chrisman in the Howard Twin bear. Also, Gabby Bleeker returned to race Ratican, Jackson Stearns and Al’s Speed Shop blown Chev TE 440 was there as well.

 

Guessing here, Jim Nelson on left, don't know, in the car don't know, Dode Martin and don’t know, with the Dragmaster Two-thing! Dode, who lives about 15 miles from me, is recreating this car and I have been up to see it. Dode also located a replacement for the 1953 Chrysler wagon a few miles from his home, so he’ll have a complete rig. Debut should be at CHRR this year.

 

Mickey Thompson’s "Assault" with a smiling Jim Nelson of Dragmaster fame unhooking the car. I see Jim at Nostalgia events, he has made exhibition runs the Mooneyes Dragmaster car at a few.

 

It was the last big event of the year and it ended on a high note for, at least, some of the cars there. The Big Wheel and Albertson Olds went at it for the Mr. Eliminator spot. Harris strapped one on Bruce and for the second time in 1960, (the first at Detroit, also to Albertson Olds/Harris) the Big Wheel lost to a car in it’s class. I think Harris was still unbeaten although I’ll leave that for historians of that car to determine. Whatever, the streak ended the next run. Bruce made a better start and maybe feathered the throttle a little, like Harris was so good at. The Big Wheel, was the winner of A-Gas class with a 9:13 e.t.

Mechanical problems sidelined most of the Top Fuel cars and Pandemonium raced Howard Twin bear for Top Eliminator. The final was the Big Wheel vs. Chrisman whose 8:79 was just too much for the single engine Chrysler.

 


 

These two pictures show a lengthened Chizler, without a nose piece. They had stretched the car 14 inches to see if more wheelbase would make it e.t. better. I remember when they came to town with the car in this configuration, but do not remember the dates. It was for sure this way at the September race.

 

 

I think these pictures were taken the evening of August 7th, when the Chizler ran the 191. I know that they had more than one car in this time frame, because one Drag News story recounts Maynard driving at one race with Chris somewhere else. The lengthened shadows and the absence of people around the starting line are why I believe this is either the 191 run or the final run on August 7th. If that is the case, this car existed with the lengthened wheelbase for some months without a nosepiece, and may have been run occasionally while the other car ran also. We may never know.

 


 

There were quite a few cars from neighboring states that were fairly regular in the appearance.

 

Rod Stuckey driving the Buick powered B/Gas Dragster of John Kingston from Kansas.

 

The irrepressible Gabby Bleeker in “Sally’s Mink” with Olds power on a “two-bits” nitro blend. At this point the car was powered with a blown 461 Olds. It may well have been the 461 out of Chris ’36 Ford Phaeton that he ran before partnering with Don Maynard on the Chassis Research TE 440 powered by a blown Chrysler on Nitro. Later, Gabby ran a Chrysler and like John Loukas with first the Leffler-Loukas and then Loukas-Preising Bantam Fuel Coupe, was assisted by the Chizler team.

 

Meyer, Dean and Elliott from Wichita with their unblown fuel dragster. Tom Hanna was involved with this car, I don’t know if he was ever with them here. They were frequent visitors to MD and raced Pete Farnsworth on many occasions.

 

The Nobles car Club from Souix City, Iowa, with another unblown fuel Dragster that ran here regularly.

 

This is Joe Degendorf from Iowa. Gas fueled Olds powered, he ran here quite often.

 

The Guzler from Chicago was the Gas powered version of the Windy City’s Chizler. It was driven by John Krannenberg and owned by Bud Roche and Don Mattison. They were consistent competitors for the Big Wheel and their race history began at Union Grove in May of 1960 and ended at Cordova in May of 1964, when both cars were Top Fuel. The Guzler finally after all those years and races beat the Big Wheel for the first and only time. John Krannenberg unfortunately passed away a few years ago, but I speak to Don Mattison on occasion and he says he and Bud are both doing okay. Great competitors and better friends.

 

Al's Speed Shop from Aurora, Illinois. Switched from Gas to B/Fuel at the end of the year. I believe the Greek is I the car in this picture. He made a few test passes for Al the first time it was run on fuel.

 

The Pendleton’s with their Allison powered slingshot dragster.

 


 

Mid year, Foster suggested I try to do something a little different for pictures for Drag News. We had a match race that weekend between the Big Wheel and The Guzler. Here’s what I did.

 

I went out and stood behind the starter, about 50 feet, and took a picture of at least the first two rounds. I have another with lanes reversed but I am unable to locate it right now. I have other pictures from here as well, so it’s proof I had no good sense!

 

And I did it again, Joe “Nautilus” Weikleenget vs. Tom Bohler in the Bohler & Slaughter machine.

 


 

Here are some local racers that were at the track regularly, if not every week.

 

Tom Bohler in the local Bohler/Slaughter B/Gas dragster. That’s Tom’s Dad, Ted, behind the car with the fancy foot placement. Tom and I went to Central High School together.

 

This car belonged to a good friend of mine, “Nautilus” Joe Weikleenget. Joe had the Big Wheel build him a 461 incher for his 1957 Olds 88 in 1957 and he was tough in Stock class. When Minnesota Dragways was a reality in 1959, Joe pulled the motor out of the Olds 88 and bought a Chassis Research K-88. Two speed on gas with 6 carbs. I also had a chance to drive a few times. I ran in the mid 10’s at about 145 mph. Pretty exciting wearing loafers and slacks and a sport shirt.. Joe flat towed it everywhere.

 

Bob Stacy hand built this TE 440 with Buick “Nailhead” Power and it was painted the same Red as Ivo’s twin car and finished off like a show car, not a race car. This picture was taken the same weekend Ivo came to town first. Ivo was Stacy’s idol and he wanted to run like Ivo had with the single engine Buick Fuller car.

 

Paul Manke in the seat ran this car with Jerry Finn. C Gas Dragster class, if I remember right. They went on to run an unblown fuel Chevy in 1963 and 64 with Richard “Doc” Halladay driving and ultimately ran a top fuel Tuttle chassied car called the “Padded Cell” in 1965. Halladay eventually had a Funny Car called Telstar. Finn raced with Denny Darragh for a year or two in the late 60's. Finn and I became very good friends and in fact we shared a dwelling a couple of times in the late 60's. I hear from him every few months. Paul Manke passed away last year.

 

Jim Cassidy in pith helmet and Tom Anthony in the driver seat, ran this Nitro fueled Flattie, it was called the “Minnesota Missile”. It was the only Nitro powered local car at the time. Cassidy also evolved into Top Fuel. First with a blown Buick motor in this car, then a different chassis, driven by Jim “The Bear” Schiefer. In 1966 Jim Cassidy and Jerry Boldenau got a new RCS chassis and ran a blown Chrysler on Nitro and were one of the local Top Fuel cars.

 

Don Sandstrom was from Duluth, Minnesota and had this Lynwood Chassied top gas car with a very nice 454 Chrysler. In spite of having all the good stuff, Sandstrom never got the car to run to it’s potential, but he kept trying, give him that!

 

Ted Johnson from Saint Paul ran this K-88 A/GD Chrysler with Bill Schifsky driving.. Ted continued to race for 5-6 years with a variety of partners. Bill Schifsky had his own top fuel car in the mid 60’s but didn’t like driving much so he usually had someone drive. In the late 60’s he and Tom Hoover teamed up on the White Bear Dodge fuel Funny car. After a few years they split and Bill ran his own Funny Car called the Bear Town Shaker.

 

Peanuts, an Olds powered Altered sponsored by Champion Auto Stores. At this time they were running a smallish Olds, maybe a 324 or thereabouts. The had Arvy Mack build them a 461 Olds and put a 6/71 blower on it. I am pretty sure they narrowed the rear end too and got the slicks under the body. They took the car to California a few times and it ran very well.

 


 

We had exhibition cars too. Walt Arfons came to MD early on his first Jet Car tour, with a school teacher/former fighter pilot named Nook Bakewell driving. They had been at Union Grove as their first stop but couldn't get the afterburner to fire. They covered the stands and pit area with kerosene mist and scared the hell out of everyone, lest the mist ignite!

 

They were somewhat shorthanded, so Walt asked if I would drive the push truck for the day. Since I had no real race day duties except making notes and taking photos, I agreed. No one really knew what to expect when the afterburner lit, as it had never been done on a Drag strip before. Here it is, the first run of a Jet Car, ever, with the afterburner lit. Whoooossshhhh! Burned up the snow fence across the end of the track.

They ran over 220 miles per hour. Nook Bakewell, the driver, went off the track on the right side right after he shut it off. When we got down there he was standing by the car. In a voice, calm as giving his phone number, he said something like, “Walter, when I shut it off, it moved to the right hard and went off the track. We should probably try to figure out why it did that!” Nook is in the white coveralls and a local kid named Gene Blankenship picking up the pop-chute. The youngster was either Walt or Nook’s son, if I remember right.

 

Well, there began a fairly intense discussion about what may have caused it. I had just driven Joe Nautilus dragster a few weeks before and when I got off the throttle at the finish line it darted hard left. The front end was lifted up and when it relaxed, it bump steered to the left. I mentioned this to Walter and Nook and that they were using the same front end as Joe, but they were pushing the front end down with the Jet engine angle and so when it relaxed it “bump steered” to the right. They worked their way through this and the next run, Nook was ready and corrected immediately and there was no more problems. Cosmic!

 


 

End of year summary

As PR director I got to meet and spend time with all of these people. Many would be in town before and/or after the race because they were on the road, and we spent time getting to know each other a little. Many of them are still involved in racing or attend reunion events and I see them. I have visited with Ivo, Prudhomme, Garlits, Malone, Karamesines, Langley, Adams, Nelson and Martin and best of all, “Broadway Bob” Metzler from Union Grove, all within the past two years. Of course, many are gone, Maynard, Cangelose, Sullivan, Postoian, Liederbrand, Harris, Stuckey, Leasher are no longer with us, but it was fun to know them while they were here.

Like the Frank Sinatra song says “It was a very good year”.

 

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