By Bud De Boer
By Bud De Boer
Genoa, IL is a quiet rural community 60 miles west of Chicago, where one is close enough to all the activities and conveniences of the "city," but far enough removed to enjoy the "small town" good life. It was here on a Sunday afternoon in late July, that we spent time with Gary Bolger at the kitchen table of his turn of the century farmhouse, viewing photos and listening to him reminisce about a ľ mile driving career that spanned some 37 years.
It all began in 1960 at a track near Oswego, Ill in a í50 Olds stocker. Though only 16 at the time, the "need for speed" would soon become a way of life. With e.t.ís in the 18 second range and speeds approaching 80 miles-per-hour, he was hooked!!
His next venture in the driverís seat would come in the winter of 1964 when he teamed up with Bud Richter of Elgin, IL to build and run a í65 Chevy II dubbed "Tension II. It was one of the first altered wheelbase cars ever according to Bolger, and saw action in í65-í66, first powered by a carbureted 427í on gas, before switching to a 396" on gas, then alky, and finally moving up to nitro. With e.tís in the low 9ís and speeds of 150 to 160 MPH, they were "match racing all over the place," as Bolger put it, "sometimes at three or four different tracks in a week."
The 1967 season would see Bolger & Richter campaign a í67 Camaro with an injected 396 for power. Though it too spent a good bit of time on the match race circuit, Bolger called the car a "real handful" to drive. It was one of those cars that you could "read the lettering off the side of it in the lights" he said. Times for the car that year were in the 10.40-150 MPH range, before Gary vacated the driverís seat in the fall when his received his draft notice from the U.S. Army.
For 1968 and most of 1969, even though Bolger traded a driving suit for khakis, that did nothing to dampen his competitive spirit. If he couldnít have his way in a nitro burning drag car, then an Army pickup would just have to do. Like the time he and another soldier made a trash run to the local dump in Vietnam and on the return trip to base camp, decided to see who was the fastest. Bolger won the race, but following them in hot pursuit were MPs. Both were ticketed and fined for the incident. Even though it happened over 30 years ago, there is still a gleam in his eyes when he talks about it today. Once a drag racer, always a drag racer!
Back from the service in mid-Ď69, Bolger again teamed up with Bud Richter, this time driving a Logghe chassised, Plymouth bodied racer called "Gold Digger." With a 426 blown 426 Hemi for power, it wasnít long before Gary made his first run over 200 mph in the ľ-mile. The team would again campaign it in 1970 before switching body styles.
For the next three seasons, 1971-1973, the teamís entry would still be known as "Gold Digger," but this time, its Hemi engine was housed in a Mustang body. The car ran a best of 6.50 seconds at 220.00 MPH. In addition to regular match race victories, the duo also visited the winnerís circle at the Popular Hot Rod Magazine Championships in Martin, MI and the National Dragster Open in Columbus, OH.
The 1974-1975 season saw the team again switch body styles, this time to a Dodge Charger. With a blown Hemi still in the engine compartment, Bolger & Richterís e.t.ís dropped to the 6.20 range while speeds increased to over 230 MPH.
In 1976, Bolger moved to AA/Fuel dragster, driving the Chapman Automotive entry at more than one NHRA national event. Piloting a quicker and faster vehicle than he had before didnít stop him from letting the other competitors in his class know that his endeavors were not to be taken lightly. He garnered the number two qualifying spot at that year's Le Grandnational in Montreal.
The years 1977-1979 had the seasoned veteran now joining forces with Dale Creasy, Sr. as the two campaigned a blown Hemi powered Ford Cobra in the match race wars. Turning times in the 6.20 second area with speeds approaching the 230 MPH mark, competitors had their hands full with this Illinois-based duo wherever they appeared.
In 1980-1982 Bolger and Richter linked up once again, campaigning yet another "Gold Digger" Hemi powered Ford Mustang that clicked off e.t.ís in 5.80-5.90 range at nearly 250 miles per hour. Nothing spectacular, just very consistent and very competitive.
From 1982-1988, Gary again drove for the Creasy stables, mostly on the match circuit. The Hemi engined Ford Cobra he drove was capable of posting times around 5.85 seconds at nearly 260 MPH.
The years 1989 through mid-1997 saw Bolger at the helm of Creasyís 1989 Pontiac Firebird funny car. Though originally built to run the IHRA circuit, plans changed when the sanctioning body decided to eliminate the category in favor of Pro Mod. The only alternative if you wanted to run for a championship was to join the NHRA Winston series.
That must have been a tough call for the Creasy clan. Without sponsorship, they would have to race as an independent and that would be a real challenge for anyone. But being the racers that they were, they decided to give it a go, running match races whenever possible to help with the expenses. With e.tís in the low 5ís and speeds near the 300 mph mark, the team posted runner-up finishes at both Englishtown, NJ, and Ennis, TX in 1994.
Mid-1997 at the Gateway Nationals in St. Louis would be Gary's last race in competiton. It was time to pass the baton to another member of the Creasy family, namely, Dale Jr. At a trackside ceremony emceed by Gary Densham, fellow drivers from all classes stopped by to wish Gary well. It was a fitting tribute to the man from Genoa, IL, who gave it his all every time he sat behind the wheel.
Today, Bolger runs a plumbing business with his daughter Kristen who lives nearby. "Itís our job to keep the world flushing," he says. "After all, someone has to do it." In addition to Kristen, Gary and wife Betty have daughters Stephanie and Jennifer, plus three grandchildren.
We asked Bolger how he would like to remembered for his years in the sport. His reply was, "As one that everyone got along with and had a good time being around." That wouldnít be hard to do. In just the short time we spent with him, one couldnít help but notice his easy going style.
As we left his property that day, we noticed a boat and trailer parked by the barn. It seems that Bolger has found a new way to satisfy his competitive urge -- Muskie Fishing Tournaments. He competes in a dozen or so a year. Wonder what percent he runs in the motor? Does the boat have a parachute? Are the fish really ready for this guy?
Bud De Boer
PHOTO CREDITS: Mark Bruderle, Spectrum Photos, Richard Katt, Peter Pearson, Robert Snayko, Bud De Boer