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Sep 13, 2006

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If you were at the 52nd US Nationals, you were privileged to see a wonderful array of historic Gas Coupes and Sedans, many of which helped make the race what it is today. If you weren't, here is a partial list (furnished by Carlos Cedeno) of what you missed:

Stone-Woods-Bones Mustang A/GS Bones Balough (Grand Marshall)
Firesuit Phil Pofahl 46 Ford D/G
Jeff Cryan & Jerry Gasiorowski Ron Bizio Willys A/GS
Dave Kroona and Dave Sandberg Anglia B/GS
Dave Cobb Finders Keepers 33 Willys A/GS tribute to Chuck Finders
Lamar Bunky BoBo Hurricane Willys A/G
Dave Hales Willys D/G
Scott Galke Willys
Dave & Joyce McCauley Jim Zakia 55 Chevy C/G
Ron & Silvia Malmsten Virgil Cates 33 Willys C/A
Gene Schwartz 52 Chevy E/G
Steve Timoszyk Prock & Howell Willys A/GS (nitro)
Rocky Pirrone Boss Hydro Willys A/GS
Barbara Hamilton Willys C/GS
Bill Coughran Powell's Service Center Anglia A/G
John Olcott Russo & Santo Willys E/G
Roy Helger Headhunter Ford
Dave & Suzie Koffel Flintstone Flyer Packard F/G
Bill Sheets Flintstone Flyer II Studebaker Lark E/G
Sam & Madonna Jones Moody & Jones 37 Chevy B/GS
Don Garlits and George Montgomery Ohio George 34 Ford A/G
Don Bernardon & Charlie Gauthier Willys
Coney Island Ralph Landolfi Anglia A/G
Jeg Coughlin Austin A/GS
Dan Bilyk Chilly Willy Willys D/G
Phil Quinto Challenger Willys A/GS
Fred Hurst Opel A/G
Dave Spacey Little Road Runner Willys A/G
Mike Wales & Joe Troilo Stone-Woods-Cook Swindler B Willys B/GS
Bob Wold 55 Chevy
Fred Bear Willys B/G
Bill Dowhaniuk '64 Chevy II
Paul and Sandra Dunbar James Boys Willys A/G

One car in particular, a candy tangerine English Ford, drew extra attention. Most wondered if it truly could be what it purported to be, the Kohler Brothers' Anglia that during the mid-'60s was one of the mainstays of A/GS throughout the country. The naysayers were wrong. The car is exactly the beast that showed its shapely bustle to so many competitors in matchraces and open competition.

The beautifully restored King Kong sits proudly among a great group of Gas Coupes and Sedan next to the left lane during the US Nationals.

Some years ago, while searching for a decent Anglia to bracket race, Carlos and Mary Cedeno purchased the car relying on just a few suggestions about its heritage. At first, it didn't really matter. Then with a little detective work, the pieces began to fall into place. A description of a certain part here, a photo there, even a magazine article that showed close-ups of definitive items that still lurked under the ageless tin and fiberglass.

Eventually, after sanding through faded black exterior layers of green were discovered from its time as Pacinini's Showdown, then layers of tangerine. Experts such as original chassis builder George Britting, transmission builder Art Carr, supercharged gasser racer Jim Oddy and Ed Kohler himself helped diagnose and document the vehicle.

The Cedeno's wanted to race the historic car but quickly found that current safety specs wouldn't allow it. So, the reclamation and restoration became a compromise - a lot of history mixed in with an upgraded rollcage and other items. And, when the car was completed, they raced it, just like the Kohlers had, with an injected small block Chevy. But when an invitation came to join other gassers at Indy, a blown big block was assembled and installed.

Fanfare, hoopla and deep-seeded memories surrounded the assemblage during the entire week of the premiere drag event in the world. Upon returning to Lockport, New York from Indy, the emotions poured out of Carlos and Mary and they created the following report, which I felt needed to be shared. Carlos writes in a 1st Person Narrative style, which is both entertaining and enjoyable, and speaks of the Anglia as if it is his best friend.

As I read the story, I wished I were good enough to create and print a comic book around the various overly charged scenes! I was able to get genius Jeff DeGrandis to do a cartoon panel for the story, and it came out great. If anybody wants a caricature-style piece done of their racecar, there probably isn't anybody better to do one. As an example, I paid Jeff to do a birthday present for Jack Coonrod recently.

I then edited the story carefully, fixing a few things and adding a bit more drama. I hope you like it AND I hope Carlos and Mary Cedeno don't mind my additions.

I'm sorry I wasn't at Indy this year for many reasons. Where usually, the Labor Day weather is nearly unbearable, conditions were perfect for tremendous performances from every class and car on the hallowed property. There were nearly innumerable moments that brought passion over the brim of containment. And there were the gassers, pulled in from all over the country, resplendent in shiny coats from other eras.

Flyin' Phil

Written by Carlos & Mary Cedeno hobbesnmina2001@yahoo.com

Photos provided by the Author
Edited and heavily embellished by Phil R. Elliott flyinphil32@earthlink.net

Artwork by Jeffrey DeGrandis drag.fink@sbcglobal.net


OK, although it wasn't televised, here's the play-by-play as I remember it.

We had reached our goal of getting King Kong to the 52nd running of the Indy Nationals with the blower motor installed and running. KK was not yet ready for the track as he needed some additional detail work, but his new found heart sounded good to those who heard him.

Mary and I had been traveling around the track trying to get autographs and pictures for a scrapbook she was putting together for Ed Kohler. The first couple of days were thick with dark clouds and some sprinkles here and there. A shower on Thursday had sent everyone home early but Friday afternoon the skies cleared and the rest of the weekend was filled with the greatest level of pro and amateur racing we had ever experienced!

We were at the Gathering of Gassers with the likes of Ohio George, Big Daddy, Junior Thompson, Bones Balough and others. On the racetrack we got to see the racing teams of John Force, Don Prudhomme and Don Schumacher, and a string of names a quarter mile long of the best and most talented young and established like Hillary Will, JR Todd, Robert Hight, Eric Medlen, Antron Brown, Angelle Sampey, Larry Dixon, Warren "the Professor" Johnson, Whit Bazemore. We got to see the generals, crewchiefs like Austin Coil, Tim Richards, Ed "the Ace" McCulloch and so many more.

Sunday was super exciting as the last of the Pro qualifying was finished and they ran the Skoal Shootout for the Fuel Funnies. On the edge of their seats two Western New York country bumpkins sat watching as John Force took the big payday of $100,000, delivered in cash via a parachuting banker! WOW this was the big time at the Big Go!

Later we were riding our golf cart across the staging lane area as the top alcohol cars were getting ready to run their first round. Mary noticed John Force on a pit bike near the back fence. He was waiting for Ashley's run and was talking on his cell phone. We wanted his autograph for the book, but not wanting to be rude, stood a little way away waiting for him to finish. He noticed us and good-naturedly came over to sign our book.

At some point, we showed him pictures of King Kong with Ed and Ray at the '67 Winternationals receiving their trophy. We told him we had the car and that our friend Ed Kohler could not be here so we were making up the scrapbook for him. John looked over the pics and said "cool old car," he remembered those days and all those racers back then! Those days were cool, and our hotrod was cool but he preferred the new tech!

I replied, "John you may be right, but I prefer the old hotrods, and I think apples to apples the old tech is as good as the new!"

"Son, you don't know what your talking about," Force said. "You have a nice old hotrod, and it may have won some races back then, but apples to apples, or oranges, bottom line, it could never beat my Mustang!"

"Mr. Force, with all due respect you may be a couple of years older, a 13-time champ and a true pro. But King Kong with Ed at the wheel took on the best back then, including Gas Ronda in a funny car. Together, King Kong and the Kohler Bros. won their share, maybe more! KK raced for four years and won the AHRA and NHRA Winternationals, the Hot Rod Magazine Nationals, the Smokers' March Meet a couple of times in two classes and was runner-up here at Indy in '67. All that winning came in one car! I know times and technology have changed and racing is much quicker but KK still thinks apples to apples he can beat your Mustang!"

John looked me over hard with that competitive leer, thought for a second then said, "I am not in the business of taking on a losing proposition. But after winning that 'Skoal Shootout' I am feeling really good. So here's the deal. You tell me what would be your apples -- put up a sum you can afford to lose. If I think it's fair I'll put up half of that load of cash I won tonight - that's a lot of apples! There it is bro. I like you but you don't know what you're talking about, so it's put up or shut up time!

I told him I would love to run but KK needed things done. It was mocked up for display and a few items were still incomplete or missing. John said, in a semi mocking tone, "Like what? Cause I have the best crew in the world - PUT-UP or SHUT-UP cause my new Castrol Syntech Mustang will blow the doors of your old hot rod any day."

I was feeling the adrenaline because I know oil-to-oil, KK was good and I knew my Amsoil Synthetic to be way better then his Castrol whatever!

"OK John, YOU ARE ON! Here is the deal, we use our best ETs as dial-ins and run to the finish line, no breakout!"

John got a little cocky. "Who mentioned breakout? Wasn't me! You're one of them breakout racers, afraid to run it all out. You don't really have the guts to put up or shut up! And as for King Kong's history, it's just that, history. You are not Ed Kohler, and I am not Gas Ronda, Put up a grand, man. I am giving you 50-to-1 odds, so hold on tight as I blow them old Cal Automotive glass doors off that rust bucket when I fly past you at 300 mph!"

"You're on!" I heard myself say, "But I will take you up on some help and a few parts." I heard Mary's voice too, asking me if I was sure about all of this.

A quick call to Austin Coil got immediate action. We rolled KK into the Castrol compound, and after I explained the necessities, Mary and I watched in awe as the mammoth Force crew installed a current harness, welded on a parachute mount and quickly finished all that King Kong had needed. It was a whirlwind of activity as the little car became whole again. A fresh tank of hi-octane gasoline and the potent Chevy fired, the transmission was run through the gears, the brakes adjusted and it seemed all was in readiness.

We set up to meet at 1 am after nearly everyone at the track had left. Actually, the strange commotion of Force's entire army thrashing on an old gasser had drawn somewhat of a crowd that remained to see just what was going to happen.

I have to admit I was totally nervous. I was going to be racing the best, the legend, the BOSS, with $50,000 to gain and only $1000 to lose. Then his words hit like lightning as they replayed in my mind. I had no idea how KK and I would be affected when a 300 mph nitro burning funny car thundered by in the next lane. Hopefully, it would be well past the finish line!

It was too late, I could not back out. My mouth had done it again! But you know it was more about pride than big money. KK remembered all too well when the slicker, modern bodies had taken over the gas classes. Ohio George in a Mustang first, then those pesky Opel GTs came out and helped to kill the class KK raced in. This was personal and he had a chance to even that score -- apples to apples.

It was more like 1:45 am before everything was ready, Austin was not happy to see John risk the valuable race car to run an "old runt" like KK, and they had a lot of points to race for in the morning, not this meaningless macho crap! But John was calling the shots! And I could tell that many of the crew guys were having a good time ribbing John and each other.

The night air was nippy. The bite from some of the quickest nitro runs in history had long since gone and the track was cold! Covered with nervous sweat, I thought "GOOD, hopefully that will equal the difference of our reaction times at the tree, HEE HEE. Maybe he will smoke them big hides!"

Meanwhile John, cool as always, joked with his crew. He kept looking over, boasting and working hard at psyching me out. He mocked that it was a shame the historical Anglia would be blown to bits when he flew by at 300 mph, or at the least, that nice paint and graphics would be singed in his header flames.

Listening to all of this, KK was boiling. Although his roar might not match that of a nitro funny car, he was ready to go "mano y mano‚" and rumble for all he was worth.

Reality was at hand. In a moment of weakness John had agreed to a full tree. Advantage Kong! BS time was over!

I crawled into a borrowed firesuit, mask and helmet, strapped in and hoped KK was ready.

We fired first and began the first burnout KK had done behind a Hampton Blower in nearly 40 years! It went real well, and the Mike Janis-flowed Hilborn seemed responsive and very drivable. KK had no trouble cooking the Mickeys - I knew the track was cold and I wanted the tires hot. Carl's trans seemed to be working just fine too! Just as I began to back up, John came by with one of his trademark halftrack burnouts and proceeded to drown KK and me in his Mustang's roar and smoke!

Through the choking clouds I could barely see, but I followed my procedure. Mary made sure I was in my hot, sticky tracks and I did an across-the-line dryhop, something that isn't seen much anymore. I backed up and did another burn-through just to emphasize our intense readiness.

I could feel Coil's eyes on me as I pulled into pre-stage. He motioned John to go in and the unbelievably noisy funny car moved forward. I pulled the shifter into neutral and winged the engine. Force's mount was so loud I actually had to rely on KK's tach to be certain the big Chevy was running!

For one split Walter Mitty second I thought of toying with the big guy. If he had pre-staged first, I could let him sit and stew a while! But, I was centered perfectly in my lane and full of confidence that King Kong could and would uphold his reputation. Naw, I never liked games - they might backfire in the long run. So, after giving my shoulder harnesses an extra tug, I concentrated hard on the perfect shallow stage. As I proceeded, I remember thinking, "Hey maybe Force is into games," as it seemed like a good while before his pre-stage bulb came on. Was he trying to ice me?

The handicap deal we set up was that since the Kohler Brothers had run a best of a 9.12, and John's best with this car was a 4.69, run earlier that afternoon, KK and I would receive a 4.43-second head start. I'd thought it through and figured we'd be near 700 feet with John just watching the little tangerine "runt" disappearing into the dark distance. Ha, this guy was not used to that! Another advantage to Kong.

There had been no intended discussion of redlites, and only the intentional sarcasm about breakouts. And we were racing on a full tree. Amidst the noise, smoke and fumes, I thought, "That blowhard is finished, this one's in the bag." But that thought was gone as his stage bulb shone brightly.

Still, as the first amber winked on I felt one drop of cold sweat fall inside my goggles.

As the third bulb began to light, I pounded the loud pedal and KK and I were off into the night! We seemed to have moved in unison and the launch was just right. My left peripheral vision caught a green glow, and the little car with the huge engine was giving everything it had. "HEY, this FEELS GREAT!" I remember thinking as I moved the gear selector into the second detent. "We are off, no red, and that blower is showing me more torque then I ever dreamed."

Rocky (Pirrone) had warned me about the torque twisting the body left! He was so right! Just like the old days, I had foot-braked for the launch from a clean idle, and the front wheels skipped lightly a couple of times. KK was starting a slight dance to the left as well. Instinctively - for a split second - I wanted to fight it hard. Instead, I realized that could quickly get us out of shape and tip the balance. After all we had been there before I refused to give in.

Jeffrey DeGrandis did this marvelous cartoon to show us what the grudge match of the century might have looked like.

During that brief instant, I struggled to remain calm, then it was as if an aura absorbed me! My hands took a lighter grip on the wheel, and my corrections were smaller and quicker. Though we'd moved over, my guidance of KK was nearly imperceptible and we were back in line with nothing but clear, crisp, cold night air and the end of the track in sight. Was it me? Or perhaps the ghosts of all the long-gone gasser drivers were helping us to give them just one more shot of ego juice. After all, supercharged gassers were the quickest and fastest full-bodied cars before those upstart funny cars came along!

For whatever reason, first and second gears had gone by quicker then anything I had previously experienced. Then, it seemed like I felt the engine skip as I pulled high. "Oh no, the engine is hurt! I thought. "After all of this, I'm gonna kill KK's heart if I don't straighten up right quick!"

But, though we were more than an eighth of a mile away, winding out and picking up speed fast, it was not an on-board hiccup that frightened me at all. Instead, it was the thunderous roar behind us as John Force stepped down on the throttle, drowning KK's growl. We were in high gear and KK was pulling hard - I mean he was feeling strong - but for the first time, I lost all my confidence. Certainly, Force would easily drive right by!

By about 1000 feet, I could feel the true meaning of the term "ground-pounding." The night air was resounding with the pulses of nearly 8000 horsepower and a screaming supercharger that sounded as if it desired to suck KK and I right down its neck! The Man and his hot rod were fast approaching!

Dragstrip lighting was good that night and I could see the finishline "cones" approaching. But after such a rush for the first 2/3rds of the track, they seemed to be in slow motion! I could literally feel the thunder as the Mustang gained real estate on us quickly! Everything for KK and I was happening too slowly!

"Come on KK, keep going!" I screamed inside my mask.

If I had had spurs attached to my borrowed fireboots, I would have used them on all that nice aluminum floor!

"Don't let him catch us!" I yelled again.

Other than the fast-approaching cacophony, I had no perception of where John Force's Mustang was on the track. We were still ahead with just feet to go. We seemed to be holding on. When would he reach us? When would those flames begin to eat into the candy tangerine paint?

Just as we crossed the finish line, I felt the thunderous roar of John's nitro-burning hotrod. I turned my head to the left to see the tall flames but they flashed by so suddenly I'm not sure I truly saw anything. I had already lifted my foot and realized I still had a job to do. I hit the parachute release, pulled the fuel shut-off and suddenly it was quiet. The whir of wheels and tires and bearings and the slight metallic interaction of the brakes brought me back to reality. I was sitting inside of King Kong in Claremont, Indiana sometime around 2 am and I thought, "I just whipped John Force!" But I wasn't sure. Then I felt my heart trying to escape from my chest. It was thudding nearly as loud as that frantic Mustang had been just seconds earlier.

We were down about 100mph or so when the chute tugged us right, then left, and KK did a little dance. It was easily correctable. I looked to see if both doors were still intact. After all, that Mustang had gone by us at more than double our trap speed. In fact maybe that wiggle had been us being pushed over in the air turbulence. We seemed to be in fine shape, though, with all four wheels still on the ground.

As we coasted out, I could see the silver Mustang up ahead and to the left, its chutes dragging behind and smoke billowing up out of the headers. "He burned it up trying to beat us!" I hollered excitedly to KK. John bounced out of the roof hatch, pulled his head sock up and began to unfasten his helmet. We rolled to a stop within fifty feet of where he stood. I couldn't move. I didn't want the moment to end. But who had won? Did we make it across first? Or had all of that phenomenal power enabled him to nose ahead.

When his helmet was dislodged, I noted a somewhat puzzled look on John's face. Did he know who'd won? He looked directly at KK, then began to walk over. We were still dormant. Only the crackling of an overheated engine broke our silence.

When he reached the driver's door, he grabbed the handle and swung the featherweight door open. "You OK kid?" he asked, Then, he reached in and touched my shoulder, sorta wiggled me. "Carlos, are you OK? Hey..."

Suddenly, my eyes opened and I was in a different scene. A semi-familiar motel room. Mary was shaking me awake. "Hey sleepy head! We've gotta get to the track soon. It's finals today and we have to do that starting line display! Time to get your shower. C'mon honey, this is an important day for King Kong!"

As the saying goes, "This is my story and I am sticking to it!"



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