Sneaky Pete and his "Jack
By Jim Hill, 10/21/00
One of Pete Robinson's newer dragsters lies at rest in
Don Garlits' Drag Racing Museum.
Photo by Ralph "Gonzo" Crosby
Pete Robinson's "jack car" was his second Dragmaster
chassis, one of the slightly longer wheelbase "Dart" style
chassis. He did run against fuelers in match races and won more than a
few of these, especially on the sorry-surface tracks that were typical
for most of the East Coast back then. High HP Chryslers, on nitro, just
freewheeled while Pete's little Chevy car was headed for the finish line
Pete took his jack deal to Indy, for the Nationals. He pulled to the
starting line, lifted the car up and lets out the clutch. Tires start
spinning and grow, enough so that they begin to smoke WHILE THE CAR IS
SITTING STILL, THERE ON THE LINE!
The starter, the car in the other lane, the announcer (Bernie
Partridge), Event Director Jack Hart and everyone starts to freak-out.
Finally the flagman throws the green and Pete's little car zips out and
is gone. It hardly got stopped at the other end before the PA system is
calling: "Pete Robinson report to the D-A Tower immediately!"
Uncle Jack Hart told Pete to lose the jacks - forever - or hit the road.
Pete's penchant for thinking his way quicker and faster told him that
the spinning tires would act like a pair of big flywheels propelling the
car's mass and weight almost instantly, and dropping his ET. Pete was
never concerned with speed; MPH numbers to him were irrelevant to the
concept of drag racing, which was to get to the finish line FIRST. NHRA
wasn't ready for such a quantum leap in the physical limitations of
dragster technology and immediately banned such antics, forever.
It's not hard to understand NHRA's position, especially when it was
sprung on them in such an off-the-wall typical Pete fashion. But then,
Pete never really could understand how the entire world couldn't embrace
his technological ideas and move forward at the same speed which Pete's
mind was running.
Pete saw drag racing as his own Physics Lab, one giant experiment that
was rewarding from an R&D sense, and a lot of fun in the process. He
was also highly safety conscious. He was the first to develop head
protection for drivers, via his "helmet pod" carried within
the three-point cage area, to increase head protection rather than the
foam plumbing insulation and leather snap-on covers the rules required.
He was also one of the first to use hand/arm restraints, after breaking
his arm in a crash.
Tragically, drag racing lost one hell of an innovative, creative mind
there on the guardrails at Pomona in '71.
Most blame Pete's ground-effects system for his fatal crash. To refute
that, I've seen Jere Alhadeff's photo shot milliseconds before Pete
Pete has the butterfly wheel turned hard-left, the drag links are bowed
from his steering effort and the front tires are coming off the rims,
again from the steering effort. He put his all into keeping that hot rod
off the guardrails, to no avail. This tells my uneducated,
non-engineer's mind that something else had gone bad-wrong... like
perhaps the rear end components were galling and power-steering the car
Too bad we'll never know the real answer to what caused this tragedy.
The only one who could have explained it will be gone 30 years this