Fuel and Rockets
Dave and Vern Anderson, The Untold Story
By Ron "Big Yohns" Johnson
Dave Anderson burns out in his Top Fuel Dragster in 1965. Photo thanks to Ron Johnson
A recent National Dragster contained a surprise -- a story about the "Pollution Packer" Rocket dragster and some info about the driver, Dave Anderson. I would like to add to the story, for anyone interested. I knew all the participants fairly well, especially Ky Michaelson who mostly built the car.
The story omitted the fact that Vern Anderson drove the car as well. I am pretty sure Vern was before Dave. This was the Vern Anderson who drove "Golden Boy" for Bob Meyer/Doug Walton and later the Walton/Anderson car.
Vern got pretty mad at Tony Fox once when Tony didn't tell him that they were going to try to go really fast and put extra fuel in the tank. They had been running 280 or so. The car ran around 325 (however it was at a non-NHRA event, so it didn't count for the NHRA record). When Vern pulled the chute, it hit so hard that it bruised him all through the chest area. It is possible he quit Tony over this. I can't be sure.
I first met Dave Anderson at Minnesota Dragways in 1960. He and his wife "Geeta" or maybe "Keeta" were working in the tower. She really got interested in Bruce Norman, who drove the Big Wheel dragster, because he was a "hero" driver. I'm pretty sure Dave soon after decided to try to drive race cars to impress his wife.
Dave belonged to Gopher State Timing Association and they had a dragster that members could drive if they worked on the car a certain amount. I am pretty sure this was how Dave started driving. I seem to recall he spent some time in the seat of Bill Schifsky's AA/Fueler also.
By 1965, the year I bought the Big Wheel AA/Fueler, Dave got his own AA/Fuel Dragster. I have attached a picture of Dave (I believe) racing against my car, that's my Caddy in the other lane. It was not a very pretty car but he was pretty happy with it. By sometime in late 1966-early 1967 he was running a speed shop in a rented space in front of Viking Automotive on Lake Street in Minneapolis, in which I was originally half owner. Viking was my engine sponsor and I was around there all the time so I got to know him fairly well. He was not the typical driver, being much more serious about what he was doing. He was also divorced by this time with custody of two kids.
Vern Anderson installs the canard wings on the American Dream rocket dragster in 1973.
Photo thanks to Ron Johnson
Dave never got much financial help running his car and he raced from purse to purse. I don't think he kept racing the fueler continuously until he started driving for Tony Fox. I think he may have quit before 1970 or so. I was talking to Bob Meyer about Dave and he had two recollections to add. He said that Dave went to Indy in about 1966-7, got oiled in, and hit the guardrail right past an opening for an early turn-off. Bob said the car was split right down the middle, through the torsion bar back to the engine. Bob said Dave was able by mid-summer the next year to get the car back on the track and went back to Indy. That year his rig was stolen. While he got the push car and trailer back a couple of weeks later, the race car was never found. This was probably the end of Dave's efforts to run a car himself. All in all, not a very lucky guy.
Dave's luck didn't get any better. He drove the Pollution Packer for a few years. At Charlotte Motor Speedway, they made an exhibition run and the candles stayed lit too long. Dave wasn't able to stop the car and hit a tow truck. Both Dave and a track worker (maybe the tow truck driver) were killed. Dave's neck was snapped and he died instantly. I went to Dave's funeral and there wasn't a mark on him that was visible.
The article also didn't mention the rocket car that Vern Anderson went on to drive after leaving the Pollution Packer. It was the American Dream owned by Jerry Hehn. It too crashed, when Vern and Jerry took it to a gravel pit to try to figure out some failure in the rocket engine. Jerry was in the car. They made what was to have been a brief run and the car took off and hit the gravel pit wall. Jerry was killed instantly. I have attached a picture of this car also, with Vern installing the canard wing. As far as I know, Vern never drove another race car.