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Hemi Hunter's Top Fuel Tales

Sunday, Sunday! Why Not Thursday Nights?

By Gary Peters

Monday evenings we all would show up at the garage to tear the Hemi Hunter down to the bare block and to inspect all the parts in an effort to get ready for the next weekend's battles with all the Chrysler folks. Although we never tore the engine down at the track between rounds, this was a weekly ritual at the garage. We always felt that not thrashing between rounds gave us an advantage at the track psychologically, and kept us from making bad mistakes while rushing between rounds.

The ritual at the garage was always less stressful, and usually involved a little R&R along with a couple of six packs. We knew with the knowledge the team had gathered over the years that if the car was in top shape, we could run a race without any trouble or tear downs. We would wander the pits between rounds with seemingly nothing to do, which always drove the other teams nuts.

By Thursday nights at the garage, we had completed the work required and a test was always in order. Now this garage was located in a populated area and neighborhood in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania. All the folks who knew this routine would show up at about dusk for the test. The garage had a driveway between it and the home of the fellow we rented the garage from. His name was Herman. We all called him Herman the German, as he was of German descent. He was good-natured and never gave us any problems with the testing. We always shared the beer with him.

We would roll the Hemi Hunter out of the garage with the headers pointing back into the garage area. One of the guys would start setting up some chairs around the workbenches. We would mix up about an eighty- percent batch of nitro, fill the tank, and hook up the starter. If Herman weren't present, we would inform him what was about to take place. He would just laugh and tell his wife to get ready; this week's test was under way.

Dale would suit up from the waist up with his gear and slip down into his office. Jim would open the fuel shut off valve, prime the blower with gasoline (it was good for something), and push the button on the starter motor. The car would explode to life. By this time, usually ten to twelve folks were standing around and it was dark. The heat would build in the engine and the flames would start exploding from the pipes. The noise was greatly exaggerated by the car sitting between the two buildings. The fumes would pump back into the garage until the lights would glow with a yellow hue from all those nitro fumes. Dale would do a quick blurb of the throttle and the car would leap up onto its tires. The new visitors always gave themselves away by flinching and running away.

No rock group could outperform this ritual. We would shut the car down and roll it back into the garage. Everyone present would grab a place and sit down. We would pass out Kleenex, beer, and candy bars, and sit and smell the fresh nitro saturated air. And they say you have to die to go to heaven! 

The other week when we were at a gathering of racing folks, a man of about 45 walked up to introduce himself to me. We had on our Hemi Hunter T-shirts. He remembered the Thursday night tests, and said his dad would always bring him over to the garage on that special night. He was only about 13 then. He grew up being a fuel car fan. I guess we all could be held for the corruption of a minor or something like that.

Gary Peters


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