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Yesterday's Heroes
May 3, 2009


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The Racing Career of

 


By Bud De Boer

 

When you look at Eddie Hill’s racing career, one that spanned over four decades, be it on land or water, two wheels or four, one can’t help but notice how this personable Texan’s driving skills and mechanical ingenuity helped make him successful in any form of motorsports in which he chose to compete. By the time he retired in 1999, he had won 86 events and 12 national championships for drag racing on land and water and over 100 trophies for racing motorcycles.


In his early days Eddie brought innovations to drag racing that enhanced safety and performance. Like small profile front tires on dragsters (1958), charcoal-filled breathing masks (1959), tire smoking burnouts, which are standard in all professional and most sportsman classes today (1960), and aerodynamic front wing on dragsters (1963).

 

Over the years he was given nicknames by fans and competitors alike for his racing prowess, such as “Fast Eddie” and “Four Father of Drag Racing.” The first one came his way after becoming the only person in history to hold quarter-mile speed and elapsed time records for land and water simultaneously. The other when he ran an elapsed time of 4.99 seconds, drag racing’s first ever run below five seconds.

 

LAND DRAG RACING

 

Hill competed in his first drag race in1956 at Karnack, Texas. The home-built dragster he drove to the track featured Model T frame rails, body panels made of corrugated roofing tin, and an Olds V-8 for power. He won Top Eliminator with a run of 106 MPH and took home the first of many trophies.


Eddie's single engine unblown Pontiac, the quickest unblown gas dragster at the time

 

In 1958 Eddie built a Pontiac powered unblown gas dragster. It weighed 1,075 lbs and set the Texas E.T. record at 9.93 seconds. In 1959 he won the Texas State Championship with a time of 9.25 seconds at 161 MPH, the first unblown gas car to exceed 160 MPH. But Hill didn’t stop there. He also won Top Gas at the 1959 AHRA Championships in Great Bend, Kansas; his first major title. The first four years had been quite a learning curve for the Texas A & M graduate.

 

Eddie journeyed to Inyokern, California, in 1960 to race Jack Chrisman and his Sidewinder dragster. He made four runs at over 160 MPH, setting a speed record for B/Gas dragster at 163.04 MPH. It was his first paid appearance, for which he was he earned $500. After that, Hill decided to quit his regular job and go racing full time.

 

First gas dragster to run in the 8's - single engine blown Pontiac

 

Later that year he added a blower to the car, which made it an A/Gas dragster. At Amarillo Eddie set an ET record for the class at 8.84 seconds. It was the “First in the 8’s on Gas.” But that’s not all. Hill also ran top speed for A/GD at 161.29 MPH at the NHRA Nationals in Detroit.

 

Twin-engine blown Pontiac - 2 engines, 4 slicks - Eddie built the entire car

 

Eddie’s next race car would have two engines, which he spent four months designing and seven months building. Called the Double Dragon, it had a 92” wheelbase, and side-by-side blown Pontiac engines with separate clutches, drive shafts, and ring and pinions. He ran four rear slicks in open competition, and two for smokier runs at match races. In fact, the car dug holes in the starting line at the 1961 NHRA Nationals in Indianapolis. In 1962 it became the first gas dragster to run over 200 MPH with a clocking of 202.70 MPH in Hobbs, New Mexico.

 

One of Eddie's first blown 392 fueled hemi's in an Eddie Hill chassis (far lane)

 

In 1963 Hill made the switch to Top Fuel. The cars were faster, quicker, and growing in popularity. His initial entry in the class was powered by a blown Pontiac engine. He also built two more Top Fuel dragsters with blown hemi’s before calling it quits in 1966 after an engine fire at Green Valley Raceway in Smithfield, Texas. You can still see faint scars on Eddie’s neck from the burns he received in the incident. Hill’s finances took a quite a hit. He had been using the Double Dragon to win match races and help support his Top Fuel efforts, but unfortunately the twin was totaled two months earlier in a crash at Oklahoma City. It was time to move on and see what the future might hold.

 

MOTORCYCLE RACING

 

After he quit drag racing in 1966, Eddie opened a motorcycle dealership in Wichita Falls, which he owns today under the banner of Eddie Hill’s Fun Cycles. It’s the oldest Honda and Kawasaki dealership in the Lone Star State.

 

May, 1971 - Oklahoma City - Eddie racing one of his short track motorcycles

 

Taking a respite from racing didn’t last long for the 30 year old Texan .He wanted to get back at it again, even if it was on two wheels, plus it could help promote business. Eddie began to race the motorcycles he was selling and sometimes modified them for better performance. He began taking on all comers at such events as short track, hare scrambles, motocross, cross country, road racing, and drag racing.

 

In early qualifying at a race in Daytona in 1971, Eddie ran 151 MPH, which at that time was faster than factory rider Gary Nixon. In 1972 he won the Texas Road Racing Championship. However, by 1974, with no time to race nationally on the professional circuit, he sought other ways to satisfy his need for speed.

 

DRAG BOAT RACING

 

Hill attended a drag boat race in 1974 in Austin, Texas. Like many who witnessed this form of quarter mile action for the first time, he thought the drivers were “crazy” after seeing one thrown from a boat during a high speed crash. But less than a month later Eddie was racing his own boat. Hill said, “Once I hit the water with the boat, I never went back to motorcycles. The power, speed, and acceleration were all the things I had missed since I quit drag racing.”

 

Eddie began with an un-blown gas hydroplane, winning class the first time out while racing in Oklahoma City. By his third race, he set a speed record for his class. In 1975, Hill set a Southern Drag Boat Association (SDBA) speed record of 137.46 MPH. Using the same boat in 1976, he switched to nitro and set an SDBA speed record of 171.81 MPH. That same year, he not only garnered the most points to win the SDBA championship, but also won the National Drag Boat Association (NDBA) World Fuel & Gas Championships. Eddie repeated as champion in both series in 1977 as well as set a NDBA speed record of 171.45 MPH.

 

From 1978 to 1984, Hill moved up to the premier class of quarter mile water racing, blown fuel hydro. During those years Eddie won 55 of the 103 events he entered. He won the American Drag Boat Association (ADBA) championship four times and became No.1 in SDBA points five years in a row. In 1982 at Chowchilla, California, he set drag boat racing on its ear when he recorded the fastest quarter mile speed ever on water at 229.00 MPH. It was a record listed in the Guinness Book of World Record for 11 years. Hill also set speed records that year for SDBA, ADBA, and IHBA, becoming the only driver to hold records in all four associations. He won the NDBA Nationals four times and the World Series of Drag Boat Racing championship twice. Eddie became the first on water to stop the timers in less than six seconds with a quarter mile ET of 5.16 seconds, which at the time was quicker than Gary Beck’s NHRA Top Fuel record of 5.39 seconds.

 

Eddie's last boat race - 10/28/84 - Firebird Lake, Phoenix, Arizona; crashed at the end of the run at 217 mph - destroyed boat - Eddie broke 7 bones but clinched World Series of Drag Boat Racing

 

Eddie Hill quit drag boats in October 1984 after a crash at 217 MPH on Firebird Lake in Phoenix, Arizona. “It was a perfect run until right past the finish line. The boat crashed violently and threw me into the water face first for an instantaneous stop, which broke seven bones and nearly blew my eyes out of my head. I spent five days in a hospital and a year on the mend.” Eddie had a lot to be proud of for his six years in liquid racing’s premier class, especially with a final win/loss record of 54 percent.

 

RETURN TO LAND DRAG RACING

 

Hill returned to the asphalt quarter-mile in 1985, a surface that would be on solid footing and more predicable. He purchased Dan Pastorini’s well used dragster and salvaged his drag boat engine from the bottom of Firebird Lake. However, being away from dragster technology since 1966, his re-entry in Top Fuel became a struggle. But with encouragement and support from wife Ercie and advice from fellow racer Gene Snow, Eddie saw light at the end of tunnel. Step by step, Hill got things sorted out and at the Mile High Nationals in 1986, he advanced all the way to the final round, only lose to Larry Minor when his reverser failed to function after the burnout. Yes, Virginia, he was back and with gusto.

 

In 1987 at the NHRA Chief Auto Parts Nationals in Ennis, Texas, where he finished runner-up, Hill blazed the quarter mile at 285.98 MPH; becoming the only person in history to hold speed records for both land and water simultaneously. “Fast Eddie” was doing his thing.

 

The 1988 season brought corporate sponsorship from Super Shops and Pennzoil, thanks to help from Dallas businessman Bill Bishop. Eddie now had backing needed to purchase his first custom built chassis from Dave Uyehara and the components needed to complement it. Hill won his first of 13 NHRA national events when he defeated Joe Amato in the finals at the Gatornationals. He also took home three more Wallys that year with wins in Phoenix, Atlanta, and Houston.

 

First four-second run in history - 4/9/88 - 4.990 E.T., 288.55 mph - Texas Motorplex - Ennis, Texas

 

A month after the Gators, Eddie recorded drag racing’s first four second run during an IHRA race at the Texas Motorplex, when he put his dragster in the twilight zone with an elapsed time of 4.990 seconds. Six months later at the NHRA Supernationals in Houston, Hill made two more trips into the fours, a 4.99 in the semis and 4.936 in the finals, the quickest elapsed time ever recorded at the time. The “Four Father” had left a mark for all to see. The tee shirts he had printed for “Low E.T. of the World” were quite popular.

 

In 1989 Hill survived a spectacular finish line blow over at 236.51 MPH in Pomona, California. Though severely bent up, drag racing’s first four second vehicle has been rebuilt by Dave Uyehara and is now on display at Eddie Hill’s Fun Cycles in Wichita Falls, Texas. The 1992 season saw Eddie become the oldest driver (56) on record to win a NHRA national event, the Gatornationals. He also took runner-up six times that season as well as being the #1 qualifier at Indy, Memphis, and Phoenix.

 

Eddie and Ercie celebrate winning the NHRA Top Fuel Championship in 1993

 

In 1993 Eddie Hill was at the top of his game. He won a record-tying six races, amassing enough points to win the 1993 Winston Top Fuel Championship, and becoming the oldest (57) in history to receive such an honor. He and Ercie also served as Grand Marshall and Official Starter for a Busch Grand National race in Detroit, and Eddie competed in his first career road race, finishing 9th out of 50 drivers at the Fast Masters Series for Racing Legends in Indianapolis.

 

On a qualifying run at the 1997 NHRA event at Sears Point in Sonoma, California, Hill’s car suddenly experienced severe vibration on the top end. His dragster went out of control, crashed, and was completely destroyed. Though Eddie sustained injuries from the accident, they were not serious enough for him to withdraw from competition. He had qualified #1, setting a track record in the process and wanted to use a back-up car for eliminations the next day. However, NHRA rules said the car used in qualifying and eliminations must be the same. Thus, the sanctioning body would not allow him to compete. Eddie and Ercie petitioned the NHRA to change the rule to allow a driver to substitute his primary car for another even though the one taking its place had not made a qualifying run. The NHRA agreed with their reasoning, changed the rule, and it became known the “Eddie Hill Rule.”

 

Eddie's dragster at Autolite Nationals - July, 1999 - Sonoma, California

 

Between 1994 and 1999, Hill won two events in seven finals and took runner-up at the Big Bud Shootout in 1998. His won his last race at Mile High Nationals in 1996 at the age of 60, the oldest winner of an NHRA professional category. But age was not a barrier to Eddie Hill. When he retired from drag racing in 1999, records indicate that he had posted over 460 four second runs; the best being a 4.520 seconds at 323.74 MPH. It was the end of an era. “ Eddie had done himself proud.”

 

Eddie and Ercie at Texas Motorsports Hall of Fame induction, 2007, at the Texas Motor Speedway

 

INDUCTIONS & AWARDS

 

1978

NHRA Hall of Fame

1988

Car Craft Magazine, Hot Rod Magazine, and IHRA “Person of the Year”

Eddie and Ercie -.charter members of the Cragar Four Second Club

Ercie - Racers for Christ “Person of the Year”

1993

Car Craft Magazine “Top Fuel Driver of the Year”

Racers for Christ “Person of the Year”

Member of the Auto Racing All American Team

2000

International Drag Racing Hall of Fame

2001

Ranked 14th on NHRA’s Top 50 drivers list.

2002

Motorsports Hall of Fame of America

2007

Texas Motorsports Hall of Fame.

2008

Southern Drag Boat Association Hall of Fame

 

PERSONAL LIFE

 

Eddie and Ercie were married on Valentines Day in 1984. They met at a boat drag race in High Point, North Carolina, and she’s been at his side ever since, sharing the joy when things went well and offering support when they didn’t. During his racing career Ercie has had several roles: team co-owner, starting line navigator, record taker, pit crew member, business manager, marketing manager, and public relations manager. She also has written about drag racing in National Dragster, AutoWeek, Drag Racing Illustrated, and Christian motorsports magazines. Eddie has a daughter Sabrina who is Operations Manager at Eddie’s Hills Fun Cycles, and a son Dustin.

 

WHAT ARE THEY DOING NOW

 

Since retiring from NHRA drag racing at the end of 1999, the Hills now pursue hobbies and interests they had no time for during life on the road. They live on a 400 acre horse and cattle ranch on the outskirts of town where Ercie raises Tennessee Walking Horses and bucking bulls. The herd of bulls is young and not yet ready to buck. But when they do, she has aspirations of the PBR using them. Eddie once tried to ride an unbroken horse bareback. Upon mounting the animal, he was provided an airborne trip to mother earth, breaking some ribs in the process. Forget it Eddie. You don’t want to try that with one of the bulls.

 

Both Eddie and Ercie have a great love for animals. They have dogs, cats, horses, and 30 head of Plummer bucking stock. Eddie not only enjoys horses, but has developed a strong interest in road racing and acquired an Ariel Atom, a Ford GT, and a British Ultima. He road races for fun at Hallett Raceway in Tulsa, Oklahoma, and at Eagle’s Canyon in Decatur, Texas.

 

In addition, Eddie has taken up flying a real plane and those with radio controls. In learning the real plane, he has advanced far enough to make a solo flight from Waco to Wichita Falls, Texas, and he’s thinking about getting his sport pilot license.

 

Eddie doing a stationary vertical hover with his two-cycle, two-stroke, 10 HP plane (1/3 the size of a full scale airplane)

 

As for the radio-controlled variety, Hill has over 40 nitro, methanol, and gas-burning aircraft with wing spans over 11 feet, along with six radio-controlled helicopters. He likes to perform aerobatics to classical music, as well as put on shows for local groups, always assisted by Ercie.

 

Speaking of Ercie, she took up her college career at Midwestern State University, earning 43 additional credit hours with GPA of 4.0. Her major is English, and her favorite courses were Bible history and astronomy.

 

The Hills are active in the Cowboy Church of Henrietta, Texas, and continue to give God the glory for all their blessings.

 

“We thought life after drag racing might be boring, but were we wrong. Retirement (Eddie prefers to call it fulltime playing) is great. We’re both healthy, happy, and absolutely enjoying life.”

 

 

PHOTO CREDITS: Eddie and Ercie Hill collection, Forrest Bond, Getty Images, Gil Rebilas, Texas Motorplex, WDFL.com

 

Special thanks to Eddie and Ercie Hill for all their help


Bud De Boer

 

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