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Hemi Hunter's Top Fuel Tales

No Racing This Saturday

The Hemi Hunter Livens Up a
Car Dealership Grand Opening

By Gary Peters

Calling around the local tracks for a Saturday night race date produced nothing. None of the local tracks within 150 miles had any fuel programs scheduled; neither did they want to pay for any Top Fuel cars or Funny Car match racing. It was AA/GAS and Pro Stock weekends everywhere. We had worked all week to get our AA/FD ready to race. You would think we would welcome a weekend off. What to do? Where to go? Dale, our driver, decides to schedule a weekend with his new wife and relatives to take advantage of a relaxing Saturday Night. Boring, boring, boring.

Jim and I are sitting around the garage, knowing we could hit the local bars for some entertainment. But why just drink and feel bad next day? What a shame to get everything ready and have no excuse to burn up some nitro and make a little noise. No need to start the car to check it out. Everything was ready, except we didn't install the mag. Why bother? I look through the local paper for a movie to possibly take our minds off the boring evening. I spot a Volkswagen dealership who is having their grand opening on the main auto mile in Allentown. I also noticed the name, Martin Volkswagen, and remembered that Mr. Martin always had an interest in racecars.

I look at Jim and tell him to back his car down the driveway and hook up the trailer -- the car's loaded and needs a place to go. Jim asks were we're going? I tell him we're off to help celebrate the opening of the new high performance Volkswagen dealership on 7th street. This was about 1970, and there was nothing-high performance about a Beetle. We tow into the dealership and introduce ourselves to Mr. Martin. We ask if he wants to display the car to help generate some additional interest for the many folks stopping in.

He asks how much we want for our time. Heck, we didn't even think of that angle, we just wanted something to do. We look at the food spread, and a big fountain in the show room full of whiskey sours. Feed us and share the contents of the fountain with us and we'll talk later to you about sponsorship. He says, "No problem. Enjoy." We unload the car, grab some chairs and big cups of whiskey sours, and sit down to enjoy the festivities. We can eat later. The local radio station is present and makes an announcement over the air that an AA/FD is on display along with the new Volkswagens. Talk about two opposites.

Well our car is drawing more attention than everything else is on the lot. Jim and I are talking to all the folks stopping in. Martin's sale staff is standing around with little to do. Jim and I are belting down the drinks. Fuel cars and their owners are not shy when it comes to gulping down liquid entertainment. Next thing you know, the main road is full of the muscle car crowd. The announcement on the radio did the trick. Jim and I are on our seventh or eighth whiskey sour and having a good time. Mr. Martin walks up and asks if we could fire up the car. What a great idea. What were we thinking? Where were our heads? I start pacing off the length of the parking lot in front of the dealership. It seemed a little short for the push start; we didn't have starters back in 1970.

Jim goes to the trailer and gets the mag out to install it. We had placed a sign over the manifold hole with a note that the engine had no oil in it. I grab oil and start to dump it into the engine. I get the big bottle of nitro out and mix the fuel. The crowd is getting bigger. Both Jim and I have a hard time. Seeing all the little lines on the degree wheel on the crank pulley wasn't easy, must have been the whiskey sours. We finally get the mag timing set sixty degrees before top dead center. That should do it. Critical operation on a blown fuel motor. Now we realize Dale isn't here to drive. Although I had experience in the past, the distance was short, and I was a little tipsy. Call up Dale and get his butt down here. After a little forceful talking, Dale arrives with his wife and relatives, but she is not happy.

Dale looks at the parking lot and asks if we're crazy; the distance to push start the car sucks. Mr. Martin and his suited sales staff are standing by the big plate glass windows of the show room watching. We tell Dale there is plenty of room; he can do it. Jim backs the push car back as far as he can at the end of the parking lot. A bunch of folks helps us push the car up against the push car. Dale suits up and gets into the car. We check everything over, no mistakes. Jim and I crawl into the push car laughing. I look through the windshield and see that maybe Dale was right, not much room.

We're waving to everyone to get back away from the lane through the parking lot. There are people everywhere. Now were getting nervous, what if we set the mag wrong. Or worst yet, bang the blower. Dale has the throttle wide open and we're off. Jim floors the big Buick push car and at about 30 feet, Dale drops the clutch, the engine coughs and starts to run, but Dale's out of room and brakes hard to stop. The fuel runs away from the engine and it sputters and coughs into silence. We're feeling a little embarrassed.

I jump out and turn the barrel valve two flats to the rich side, we need more fuel. We're set again after much help from the spectators. We push start again, same results. I jump out the second time and turn the barrel valve a full turn. That should do it, I tell the crowd. We line everything up again, and we're off. The car fires and sputters but keeps running. Dale stops in the arched opening to the show room. The engine is super rich but gathering heat. Jim and I are out of the car waving to everyone to stay back. It's dark out by now and the flames are starting to show. The tires start bouncing. The engine is loading up with huge flames exploding from the headers; it's all the fuel flow. I figure I should adjust the barrel valve back, but this is totally too cool. The sales staff personnel from the dealership are holding the big plate glass windows with their hands. The windows are vibrating and rattling from the cars exhaust notes.

People are starting to move away, the fumes are too strong from the rich setting. We push Dale and the car back away from the windows. Maybe it was the whiskey sours, or maybe it wasn't, but even I was impressed with the flames and noise from the car. We idle for about a minute longer and pull the fuel shut off. It takes a little time for the old boy to shut down, lots of fuel flow. Up go the RPM, the engine shuts off, and the show's over. I look around at the crowd, and their eyes are as big as saucers. Most never even knew what to expect. The folks who did usually were never that close to a running fuel car. The radio announcers were talking into their mikes like they were on gallons of caffeine. Mr. Martin walks up and asks if we can wait an hour and do it again.

We tell him we can do better than that, we'll start her up, pull out onto 7th street, and do a burnout. The radio station is announcing the next event for the next hour. We work on the car to get it ready. Load up the fuel, etc. Now I don't know how many people were at the dealership, but at this time the place was packed, people all over the place, cars parked on the highway and stopping traffic. We push the car again and it explodes to life. I'm feeling the heads for the heat. I back down the barrel valve a turn to lean the engine out for the anticipated burn out. Dale starts to head out towards the main road when all of a sudden two police cars block the exit. Heck, we figured they were here to help out with crowd control.

Traffic is at a stand still on the busy main road, with people standing on their cars to see what's happening. I can tell by the police that they are not in tune with the anticipated burn out. I draw my finger across my throat for Dale to shut down. We push the car back to the position it was in for display. The cops walk up to Mr. Martin and start talking to him. Dale's back in his car, taking his wife back to their party. He leaves. Jim and I are back at the fountain for more refreshments. The crowd is booing the police. I guess Mr. Martin cooled off the police. They started directing the traffic to move the cars on the road. Jim and I kept a low profile until things returned to normal. Well, some of the motor heads hung around, just in case we tried it again. We didn't push our luck.

And so our boring evening came to a close. We loaded up the car and thanked everyone at the dealership for a wonderful evening. They all looked like they had thrashed the car between rounds. It was a hot summer evening, and this was before wrinkle free clothing. Just as we were about to pull out onto the highway, Jim opens his door and throws up about two quarts of whiskey sours onto the parking lot. We certainly were a class act that night. At least he felt better next day than I did. I drive by the dealership every day now as I go home from work. Mr. Martin is no longer with us, nor is his dealership. It's now a U-Haul rental place. But the building is the same. I can still see the spot were our car stood, and I do chuckle just about every time I drive by. The parking lot is still too short for an easy push start.

Gary Peters 
gary.peters@macktrucks.com

 

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