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Hemi Hunter's Top Fuel Tales

Look! Up in the Sky! What the Heck is it?

By Gary Peters

We were in the middle of the 1969 racing season. We were running our faithful little B dragster around the local tracks, having a fun time. One night as we hung out at the club garage, I casually said, "I always wanted to build and race the ultimate dragster, an AA fueler." After I said it, I thought it was just another dream that everyone has but never quite achieves. Dale looks at me and says, "You guys build it, and I'll drive it."

I look at Dale while I'm thinking to myself, "What a dumb thing to say; he knows we'll never do it." I look at Jim; he shrugs his shoulders, and says, "Let's do it." We start talking about how we could accomplish such a monumental task. Naturally, money is the main hurdle as always. We make a list of what we have, including the B dragster, and figure that if we break down the car we could sell the parts to raise some cash.

The list shows we should have enough to get started, if we can sell all of the parts including the trailer. The next night, we start tearing apart the car right in the middle of the 69 racing season. The Mondello heads sell first; there's no turning around now. The short block goes next, sold to one of our acquaintances who plans to put it into his Corvette. The injection is next and so on. We break everything down to the smallest denominator. It's racing season, and the parts go quickly. The car and trailer are the last to go.

It's late August by this time, and already we're bored. What to do until we start building the car? We have a game plan; we scheduled the car to be started by S&W, and had decided to run a BBC, based on the success of the USA-1 Funny Car owned and raced by Bruce Larson. We know what to do; we'll make a trip to Indy for the NHRA Nationals. We can go to the big one, hang around the AA/FD pits, and learn a thing or two. To save money, we'll camp out. I again borrow my mother's car, we throw the sleeping bags in the trunk, and we're off.

We get to the track, watch the day's qualifying, and it's time for the first night's stay. We grab some fast food and about two cases of beer to see us through the night. We're set up right outside of the track, along the main highway on the opposite side of the railroad tracks running along the road. At about eight o'clock, we run out of beer. We go for more. This is the life -- out among nature, right next to the greatest dragstrip East of the Mississippi. Lots of folks had the same idea, and a pretty big party breaks out. We're all sitting around having a good time; and the Tequila bottle is being passed around. That's all I can remember. I wake up to the sound of the train's whistle. I knew the tracks were around our camp site somewhere. I'm feeling all around my sleeping bag, hoping I don't feel the steel tracks. I have a slight headache; I must have drunk too much. All of a sudden, I feel a pair of boots. I finally open my eyes and see the State Trooper standing by my sleeping bag.

"Good morning," he says, "Did you have a good sleep?" I look up at him and sit up. Boy, Tequila really leaves a lousy taste in your mouth. I look around and see that I'm in the middle of the grass median strip of the highway. The sun's shining in my eyes as I crawl out of my sleeping bag. Well at least I had my under pants on. I grab my faithful Pennzoil hat lying on top of the rest of my clothes. It shields by eyes, and now I can see the line of cars as far as the eye could see.

A large cheer goes up from the folks in their cars. Boy, this fuel racing sure is great. The trooper says I have one minute to get out of there. I quickly get my clothes on and hurry to the side of the highway. Everyone else is standing or sitting there. I slowly realize how bad I feel. I can also tell I'm not alone. We finally get to the entrance and find our seats. Around the time for the first round of qualifying, I'm feeling much better. We're going to watch the qualifying, and then filter into the pits to observe the goings on.

Now if you're old enough and were at the 69 Nationals, you will remember this was an explosion packed race. Dale, Jim, and I are sitting in the stands wondering what the heck we're getting into. Here comes the next pair. Everyone is actually ducking down in the stands on every run. Sure enough, Ka-Boom goes one of the dragsters. He explodes a clutch right out of the car. I'm looking at something vertically sailing through the sky, straight up. It's so high it's almost hard to see. It returns to earth, hits the track, and shoots off in our direction. It goes right through the brick wall of the lower timing tower. Later that day when we return to my mother's car, the car in front of us has a broken back window. Lying amongst the broken glass is another clutch disc.

That round of qualifying was complete. We're walking around the pits watching the crews thrashing their engines for the next qualifying round. Jim and I are standing next to a car. The engine's down to a bare block. Melted pistons are lying around on the ground. One of the crew members is scraping the melted aluminum off of the cylinder walls of the engine with a knife. I look at Jim and say, "We're never going to be doing that. If we hurt our engine that bad, we're going home." Well I still have the pocket knife I used for many years to get the aluminum off the walls before you could run the hone through them. So much for that saying "never say never."

Years later, Dale told me that after seeing the carnage at this race, he had second thoughts about his statement that if we'd build it he'd drive it. Over the next Winter's building of the car, all of this was forgotten. The following year we were off to the races and created our own forms of carnage. Now that we're about to run the rebuilt HH down those beloved quarter mile tracks, if you're at the track, come on over and ask me to show you that antique pocket knife. It's a beauty.

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

 

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