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The Hill Files

Sneaky Pete and his "Jack Car"

By Jim Hill, 10/21/00

Pete Robinson's dragster lies at rest in Don Garlits' Drag Racing Museum. Photo by Gonzo
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 traps.

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 crashed.

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 hard-right.

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 Pomona Winternationals.

Jim Hill
www.cranecams.com

 

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