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Hemi Hunter's Top Fuel Tales

It's Polka Time: Roll out the Barrel,
We'll Have a Barrel of Fun

By Gary Peters

After having paid our dues, so to speak, we finally got to a point in our Top Fuel racing schedules where we could afford to buy that most prized position of all, "Nitro by the barrel." When we first started out, we would buy 25 gallons or so in five gallon plastic bottles to go to a race. That's all the money we could get together each week for fuel. So every week it was a Thursday night drive for one of us, or a couple of us, to go from Allentown, Pa., down to Atlantic Speed Center in Wilmington, Delaware, owned by Fred Forkner. It was usually somewhat of a treat to go down to Fred's. As some of you might remember, Fred had his own Top Fuel cars called Quarter Horse.

Fred had one of the country's Top Fuel killer cars, and had a direct line for consultation to the man himself, the Large Father who lives in Florida. If you were lucky, Big would be keeping his car at Fred's during his Northeast swings, and you would get to see him at Fred's shop. So we finally call Fred and tell him we want a barrel. As usual, Fred said sure come on down and we'll load it up. Lots of crews bought their fuel from Fred, but he would never bring it to a race for you. He was probably wise enough to get the cash up front. I know we are still owed a couple of barrels of Nitro 30 years later from guys who would barrow a couple of gallons here and there. What could you do? Say no? Especially if you had them to race in the next round... So we would loan out a plastic bottle here and there, and most times the guys would give it back, but it was hard to keep track of who borrowed what and how much. We couldn't sell it, or we might step on Fred's toes. You just never wanted to get Fred mad at ya, he was hard enough to get around at the track. It took us many years before we had the ability to stop Quarter Horse.

Time goes on and we now are buying three drums at a time. We're lucky; our match racing is allowing us to have the cash flow to do this. Plus, running a lot of Chevy factory engine parts means we are not shelling out the big bucks for all the aftermarket goodies from Ed Pink, Keith Black, or Sid Waterman. So this slows down our trips down to Fred. But low and behold, our little Chevy monster is gobbling up the Nitro at an alarming rate. We have a big week before us, a match race on a Wednesday night, and the Englishtown track's Summer Nationals race. We need additional Nitro. The four wrench type guys are getting the car ready, and the spare engine, just in case. It always amazed me how, just when you thought you had a handle on this Nitro racing thing, you would launch a blower into the air, or rip the flywheel off the crank. How do you plan for that?

Dale is chosen to go down for the next three barrels; he's the driver anyway. So off he goes into the setting sun in our Chevy carry all truck. Now our truck had back doors on it that folded down and the window lifted up. Dale picks up the three drums of Nitro from Fred. After about a two-hour bull session with Fred, comparing notes probably, he's heading back to the garage. Somehow on route 202 after he starts out, the drums tear loose, break open the doors, and three drums of Nitro are rolling down the highway. One drum comes to rest against a guardrail, one stops in front of an eighteen wheeler, and the third gets wedged under the front bumper of a woman's car. To make it worse, that one has some holes in it, and the Nitro is leaking onto the highway.

Luckily, there is no damage to anyone or anything. The truck driver helps Dale gather up the barrels and load them back into the truck. That's after Dale explains to all the cars stopped that Nitro is white label stuff, not to worry about explosions. How two guys could pick up a full drum is beyond me; I guess it's that adrenaline thing. But, the holed drum is losing the precious Nitro onto the ground. They position this barrel "holes up" inside the truck in an effort to save what can be saved.

Dale arrives back at the garage and starts to tell us his story. This one's got to be a good one, so we all grab a beer to listen. We unload the holed barrel first and transfer the Nitro into the five-gallon plastic cans. We get about 20 some odd gallons out. Funny how the barrels would be 55 gallon barrels, but you only ever got 52 gallons into the plastic bottles. Evaporation I guess...

The one good thing about this whole episode is that when you were driving the truck around, it smelled of Nitro for weeks.

Gary Peters
gary.peters@macktrucks.com
www.hemihunterracing.com

 

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