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Hemi Hunter's Top Fuel Tales

Forty Second Street and No Ruby Keeler

By Gary Peters

We had just finalized our deal with Briggs Chevrolet. They had contacted us and expressed interest in backing our car. We were not that excited at the prospect, we were doing OK for a bunch of local guys who just ran our little old fuel car for fun. Sponsorship would mean commitment to who ever spent money on us. But what the heck, nothing ventured nothing gained. We explained to them that the HH was a racecar, and our first priority was to race. It was all done on a handshake, pretty dumb, huh?

Sure enough, they repainted our trailer and car, and we added their name to the HH and also to the trailer. They would supply us with all the Chevy parts we wanted, so they said. No money available, must have given it all to the Jungle man, who rightly deserved it. Next thing you know we get a call to show up at the Coliseum for the new car show in NYC. It was early spring anyway, and no tracks were operating yet, too early in the year. So we get the car ready for a car show. That would mean really cleaning up the old boy, although he had a new paint job.

It's time to go, so Dale, Jim, and I get the HH loaded into the trailer and we're off for the Big Apple. Now I don't remember today exactly what street the New York Coliseum is on, but I do remember driving down past Times Square. Jim's driving, I'm in the back seat, and Dale is in the passenger's seat. All of a sudden, a garbage truck pulls out after we're halfway past him. He didn't see that we were towing the trailer. He runs right into the front axle of the trailer, and bends it right back into the second axle. Jim pulls over and stops the truck.

We all jump out to confront the driver. Oh, I forgot to mention it was raining very hard that day. So we're standing at the crossroads of the world getting soaked, right by all the movie theaters and at that time the porno shops. Jim runs off to find a policeman, I'm inspecting the trailer, Dale's arguing with the truck driver. Dale's one hand is waving in the air, the other one is behind his back, holding a tire iron. This is not good; I know who's in charge of all the garbage truck traffic in the world. I picture us all sitting in the bottom of the East River, and I knew we wouldn't be on our way to see Miss Liberty.

The garbage truck driver is yelling at Dale with a string of profanity that made several of the ladies patrolling the sidewalks blush. The driver jumps in his truck, backs up around our trailer, and he's gone. I'm already starting to remove the wheel and tire from the bent axle so we can get to the show. I'm kneeling in the street, and I look up at the street sign and it says 42nd street. The old song runs through my brain, and I picture Ruby and the chorus line of girls dancing across the stage. I look over my shoulder and all I see are street people looking at me. I look like a drowned rat, fitting for the show and a car with a rat motor in it. We should have known that this was not one of our better days.

Finally, we're on our way again and arrive at the Coliseum. We find a spot to unload the car, and we're pushing it towards the front door. Two guards stop us. We're told we can't move the car any further. Because the Coliseum workers were union, they would need to move the car throughout the building. Two maintenance men show up, and move the car towards the elevator. The show was on the second floor. They push the car into the elevator, but it's too long and we can't close the doors. We'll need to remove the front end and prop the front frame up in one corner against the ceiling, and then it might fit. Naturally, we can't do any of the work. The two maintenance men show up with a toolbox and with our directions, unbolt the front axle and radius rods. We all grab hold of the front axle, lift the frame over our heads, and walk it into the elevator's corner. It's good we only made the car 205 inches long, a couple more and it wouldn't have fit.

We all reverse the process and roll the car to its spot. We than realize we'll need to do this a second time to get the car back out and loaded into the trailer to go home. We thank the maintenance men for doing a good job. They tell us they saw us race at Englishtown many times. They normally don't pay that much attention to detail when doing this type of work. They even worked through their break to help out. We stand around the show for the rest of the day and evening, drive home that night, return the following day, and repeat the show part and loading of the car to return to our home base. I was more tired than if we had raced and changed pistons every round.

Briggs must have thought we did a good job for them at the show because a large box of parts shows up at our garage. High deck block, crank, heads, pan and pump, etc. We can build a fresh engine for the car. We work to get it together for a big AA/FD show in two weeks at Englishtown. A fresh piece will be wonderful; we always had fairly used parts in the old boy, most times. Knowing the first pass on any fuel motor is the best one; we load up for bear on the first qualifying run. Dale leaves the line, and I can see the car is charging hard. It pulled both front wheels in the air, set the left one down, but carried the right one to half-track. At about the 800-foot mark the crank came through the oil pan. There's a huge explosion and Dale has the chutes out early. I watch the ET lights flash a 6.8 second pass at 108 MPH.

Boy, fresh goodies really work, although there were none left in one piece. We help the track crew pick up the pieces from the track surface. We return to the pits and start to remove what's left of Briggs' new engine. The crank was in about 6 pieces; the rods and pistons were totally gone, hardly recognizable. All we salvage from the engine are the head studs. Everything else is scrap. Jim's looking at the crank pieces and sees the part number on the counter weight. They did not send us an L88 crank. We were too stupid to check the part number. I guess we were in too much of a hurry. I can't believe I went through all the work to add the heavy metal to the crank, weld it in place, and balance the whole thing without noticing any difference. Cutting the keyways also should have given me a clue.

One of the fellows from Briggs was at the track that day watching the racing. He comes over to us and asks if we want to make a list up of what we need; he'll take it back with him. We never received anything else from them. We did get another call to return to the Coliseum for another show about three weeks later. It conflicted with a race date and we told them that the racing came first. End of sponsorship, but freedom to do what we want. While we were still at the track that day, Vinny came up to us and handed Jim 600 bucks. He told us we were worth the money; we made a super run, even though it only lasted for about 800 feet. We were the only car in the sixes for the first round of qualifying. The car carried itself and us for the next seven years. About that time, Corporate America saw some value in drag racing. We retired; there was no way a Chevy was going to compete once the Amatos and crew type folks started showing up. I guess we could have looked for a sponsor and switched to a Hemi, or tried an after market engine like a Rodeck, but we chose not to.

For all you Chevy folks out there, this is the only engine we physically broke in ten years of Top Fuel racing. We sent some blowers into the air from time to time, no trick valve gear available back then, and push rods were always a problem. We also broke a few rods in two other engines. And naturally, we ruined lots of pistons, about three fifty-five gallon drums full of them. But the internal parts always served us well right down to the nylon cam gear, real cheap too. Boy, now that I reflect back on those days, wasn't that Ruby a cutie pie? Come on now once, just kidding, we aren't that old.

Gary Peters
gary.peters@macktrucks.com
http://www.hemihunterracing.com

 

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