There was an infamous "Israeli Rocket" rear engine Top Gas
dragster long before it became a nickname for the noted driver, Leroy
"Israeli Rocket" Goldstein. The car raced quite often at Palm
Beach International Raceway, the same track now known as Moroso Motorsports
I'm currently working on a feature story on the "Israeli
Rocket," outlining its amazing performances, eerily advanced design
features, and exceptionally stable handling... long before Garlits debuted
the his back-motor, front-driver car that forever changed the look of Top
Fuel in 1971. I have included action photos of the car, first with a 6-71
blown Oldsmobile in '63 and with a wedge "B" block Dodge in ‘64.
Both were taken at Masters Field, Miami, Florida.
When first completed (1963) the car ran the blown Oldsmobile on gasoline,
running high eight-second ETs at 170+ mph. Later the team switched to a
blown Dodge "B" wedge 426. The 426 Dodge motor had one of the
unusual Orner injectors (dubbed: "The Injector with A Brain" by
its inventor, Dr. Pete Orner, of Ohio). The car ran very well with that
set-up instead of the more conventional four-hole Hilborn the Olds used.
With the 6-71 supercharged Dodge "B" the guys ran as low as
8.50s at high 170s, very respectable gas times for '64, especially when the
marginal traction, high-humidity, and typically poor "air" of
South Florida tracks is considered.
The 'Rocket had stuff like rack and pinion steering, disc aircraft front
wheels, spherical rod ends, and much more. And oh yes, these guys had
already discovered the "magic" in slowing the steering ratio to
eliminate the oversteer that earned most early RE cars their reputation as
being "evil handling."
I personally saw this car make many, many runs, and every one was
"straight arrow," with not a hint of squirrelly antics, although
it had a fairly short wheelbase!
I've been in contact with the brother of one of the original four
partners who built and raced the car, John O'Brien. John's brother Tom was
one of the Cohen - Shapiro - O'Brien - Sonnenblick partnership from Miami.
Paul Shapiro (now deceased) drove.
Ironically, the man who brought the RE concept to the forefront, Don
Garlits, today has the restored version of this car on display in his Museum
of Drag Racing in Ocala, Florida. It would be an inaccurate stretch to say
this single car influenced Garlits' development and perfection of the RE
dragster. Garlits' car -- in typical Big Daddy fashion – was a collage of
ideas Garlits incorporated into his answer for removing drivers from harm's
An amazing partnership collaboration produced the Israeli Rocket.
Howard Cohen was a longtime drag racer with a highly creative, inventive
mind. His cars were very fast and very competitive in any class he raced. He
loved Oldsmobile engines, especially blown Olds motors, and was a compatriot
and confidant of another young racer from Tampa, Donald Garlits.
Cohen was the "master thinker" for this project. He decided on
the back-motor location for two reasons. As a means of compensating for the
generally sorry track conditions of the WW-2 airport runway drag strips that
most Florida tracks used during this period and to produce a lower and more
aero-efficient shape. Driver Paul Shapiro assumed a radical
"lay-down" position and the car was very low for its day.
Paul Shapiro and Mike Sonnenblick were both involved in the aircraft
industry in Miami, a major East Coast aircraft maintenance/overhaul base.
This car had loads of unique features, all inspired by the aircraft industry
in which three of the partners were involved and implemented through hot
rodder's backyard ingenuity.
Tom O'Brien was a long time employee of Eastern Elevator Service and a
master installer/repairman of electric "lifts."
The partners -- four Jews and an Irish Catholic -- raced not for
financial success, but purely for recreational purposes. Due to commitments,
they stayed in the state of Florida almost exclusively. They did manage to
nail down a Standard 1320 Top 10 List spot (#6) on the Top Gas list and won
numerous Top Gas Eliminator titles in the Southeast, mostly Florida.
They traveled little, as their jobs/businesses prevented their getting to
"big meets" where the bizarre creation could receive more exposure
in the drag papers. Understand that Miami racers faced a six-hour tow just
to exit the State of Florida, so any out of state race was a major journey!
Despite their commitments, these "hobby" racers managed to find
time to design, construct, and race a unique and fairly successful
"mongrel-oddball" race car in an era where such forward thinking
was usually labeled "dangerous heresy."
These guys and their off-the-wall "Israeli Rocket" (the cowl of
which featured an Irish shamrock with a Star of David!) were great examples
of what the true "spirit" of drag racing really was.