Running with the Big Boys
by Jim Hill - 1/18/1999
I remember about '66 or '67, the B&M Torkmaster car came and ran the
NASCAR/Ed Otto Winternationals in Deland, Florida, just west of Daytona Beach. I also
remember (I think!) that it was Prudhomme who drove it.
I was learning the ropes wrenching on a low-buck local 354 blown gas, A/D hemi car, (Ken
Kelly) so I don't even remember who won the deal.
I do recall that we started out losing first round in Top Gas. Kelly had 10 gallons of
alcohol in the trunk, so he took all the cash we both had left and bought back in as a
"Fuel Dragster". Took a hand drill, opened up (pure guesswork!) the bypass jet
for the "Slot by Scott" injector to run alky. Drained off the gas and filled her
up with alcohol, guessed at the idle and push started it. Amazing how good even alcohol
Heavy dew that night so the track was slimy. Our low-power and small tires worked great
for the snotty track, so we went 8.70-175 to qualify for the "Second Eight" of
the show and then won first round over some poor stiff loaded for bear and boiling the
tires until it puked. Went two more rounds with same scenario... no/low power but enough
to get to the lights first! Ran best of 8.50-185 after bumming some nitro and a bigger
drill bit (for the secret nitro "tune-up"!) from some guys we knew from Miami.
No hydrometer, we just measured and guessed, but it wasn't much more than 10-20% anyway!
Got our pictures in Drag News, just like we were some kind of real fuel racers! Won
$800.00, which made it possible for us to 1. Eat in restaurants, and 2. Have enough cash
to buy gas to get us back home to Miami! Real "big time" drag racers. See, I
told you this was a low-buck enterprise!
We did get a chance to see a bunch of the trick California fuelers run as well as the
better East Coast cars. Those were great races in their day. Night drags, WWII
searchlights down each lane for "lights" (Musco had nothin' on idiots like us!),
freezing cold at night (temps in the 20's, and this was Florida!), hell of a lot of fun. I
ditched an entire week of college classes and working for Harvey Crane to be one and only
pit crew, push car driver, tire-wiper, all rolled into one!
No bucks for a motel room so we slept in Kelly's '59 Lincoln, wrapped up in military
surplus parachutes that Kelly used to modify to sell as "drag chutes" to racers.
Before we left Miami we went to the supermarket, bought the giant size of generic peanut
butter (crunchy, of course!) and a large loaf of bread as rations for the week. I left
home with $23.00 cash in my pocket, to cover a week away from home. No problem! Kelly had
gas money, entry money and a few spare bucks. We knew we were going to qualify and get
some round money. Maximum optimism paid off or we would have been panhandling the pits:
"Hey buddy, can you spare a couple of bucks for a fellow racer?"
The car was homebuilt on the garage floor, short wheelbase (about 125"!), and as
"un-trick" as anything in the pits, but we were there, racing in the program
against cars we read about and saw in the drag papers! We lost, scrounged, froze, starved
and finally won, the gamut of highs to lows. It was the best week of my life up to that
point and I loved every second of it.