But he doesn't build just any old cars. He restores, and in
some cases recreates from the ground up, the classic front-engine
fuel dragsters he once drove as a slightly wild kid growing up in
the San Fernando Valley of Southern California.
"There's quite a nostalgia craze in the country but not a
lot of 'spot-on' (100 percent accurate) recreations of these kind
of cars," Foster said.
That is his goal: rebuilding cars that look, sound and perform
exactly like they did back in the "good old days."
"My interest (is) in creating a place to have the work
done by someone that was there, during that era, both as a builder
and participant," he explained.
Foster, 61, originally a race car chassis builder, was the
third driver to push a funny car through the 6-second barrier,
with a 5.89-second run. His top speed in a quarter-mile was 263
mph, shortly before his driving career ended in 1980 with a
life-threatening crash of one of the first-ever rear-engine
Foster knows not many racing fans can afford his brand of
nostalgia. A car that cost $1,300 to build in the late '60s will
probably end up setting its new owner back as much as $50,000,
He charges $60 an hour, which includes researching, measuring
every dimension and angle and then hand-fabricating
out-of-production parts to build a particular dragster. Materials
Foster still has many contacts in drag racing and regularly
communicates over the Internet with both old-timers and younger
fans who appreciate the early dragsters.
He believes he has found a niche market for his highly
specialized skills. He figures he can make a decent living even if
he builds only two or three cars a year.
Foster was head of fabrication for Nissan's exotic sports car
racing program in California, building cars that cost $1.6 million
each, when his longtime friend, Tom Hanna, contacted him in the
early 1990s. Hanna, a legendary builder of race car bodies, was
living in Wichita and was looking for help to produce his dream,
the world's fastest street-drivable sports car.
Foster moved here to work on that project, now in the clay
mock-up stage in Hanna's shop. But he couldn't resist a return to
his drag racing roots when the opportunity presented itself.
Foster has two dragsters in the works for clients at his
one-man shop, Foster Pro-Fab, at 127th East and Harry. One is the
restoration of the Creitz & Donovan fuel dragster driven by
Steve Carbone. Carbone and Bob Creitz commissioned him to restore
the chassis, with Hanna reworking the body.
The other car is a duplicate of the Beebe & Mulligan fuel
dragster that tragically crashed at the 1969 National Hot Rod
Association Nationals in Indianapolis, claiming the life of driver
John Mulligan. "This is going to be the green car. A few
people knew it as the 'Fighting Irish' car," said Foster,
looking over the low-slung chassis with the 392-cubic-inch
Chrysler hemi engine block stuffed between the frame rails.
Dave West, 54, a retired California sourdough bakery owner who
once raced a less powerful fuel dragster, decided to have Foster
recreate the Beebe & Mulligan car at Hanna's suggestion.
"This car was kind of the pinnacle of the whole thing,"
said West, who can't wait to fire up the ear-drum-rattling engine.
"I'm pretty pumped up," West said. "People our
age -- it's now or never. If you're going to do something like
this, you'd better do it now before you run out of time," he
Foster arranged for Tim Beebe, the original engine builder, to
build the engine for the replica car, and Hanna is teaching him
the finer points of forming custom aluminum body panels for the
machine. "I'm finally learning how to be a 'tin man,' "
grins Foster, a muscular, bearded fellow who still wears his
mostly gray hair in a '60s-style ponytail.
Ironically, Foster isn't a big fan of nostalgia racing. That's
because modern safety considerations and speed equipment
developments make those cars look and sound differently than the
originals. And museum-quality exact replicas end up as static
display cars that can't be raced, he explained.
Foster hopes to split the difference. He wants West to
experience a sort of virtual reality snapshot of what it was like
to bring the Beebe & Mulligan dragster to the line for a run
in the late 1960s.
"We want to push the car to fire the motor, blip the
throttle, pull in to stage with the motor 'cackling' and smoke the
tires, maybe run it 700 feet or so," Foster said. "The
car was capable of 235 mph, but we will probably only run it 180
"If I'm going to do this car, I'm going to do it
right," Foster said. "I want John (Mulligan) to look
down and go: 'Patty, that's right on. That's my hot rod.' "
"I think there is a market for what Pat's doing, and I
think he's going to open the door for a lot of people who have
been sitting on the fence thinking about doing this," West