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Drag Racing Story of the Day!

Howard Haight to Drive Ron Johnson's
Junior Fueler in 2002

By Ron Johnson

Howard Haight is taking over for Mendy Fry (shown here at Pomona 2001). Photo thanks to Ron Johnson
Howard Haight is taking over for Mendy Fry (shown here at Pomona 2001).
Photo thanks to Ron Johnson

We have had a little adjustment to our racing plans in Nostalgia Junior Fuel for the coming year, due to the misfortune of a friend. Our initial plans were for my son Kol to going to get back behind the wheel of my race car for 2002. We had a good learning year in 2001 with Mendy Fry driving and her husband Pete Harris joining the crew. It gave Kol a chance to get a better perspective on the driving side, as he was able to observe closely what the driver was up to. We will run the Goodguys series, the CHRR, and some Pro Nitro events.

The friend is Howard Haight. The misfortune is that he is no longer driving the Circuit Breaker Nostalgia Top Fueler, but like any old war horse, still has the desire to race. Howard and I have agreed that he will drive my car at selected NHRA events in the A/ND class of Comp Eliminator. This is good for both of us. I have been interested in NHRA racing but expecting Kol to learn to deal with the .500 light and all the ambers blinking, plus having people leave early, is just too much to ask of a new driver on top of learning the .400 pro-light tree. So I had decided to forgo the NHRA races.

Well now, with the "Old Pro" Howard in the seat, we can go to the NHRA races and feel confident we have a winning combination and are not screwing with the other driver's (Kol's) head. Kol will go along, crew for us, and learn some more in the process without being under the gun. Initially we intend to run the Phoenix divisional and the Las Vegas National race. We will get some more experience at Vegas next weekend at the Pro-Nitro race although we will run in the 7:60 Blown Bad Boys breakout deal [this already happened see Bob's testing report at the end of this story. Bp] Bob McKray is finishing the between season "check-up" of the new motor and we have put the old motor back into the car for the Vegas Pro-Nitro. With it we should run right around 7:60-7:70 out of the box. With the new motor, we'd be trying to get rid of performance to slow down. This will be easier.

Howard Haight coaches Kol Johnson at Carlsbad in December 1999. Photo thanks to Ron Johnson
Howard Haight coaches Kol Johnson at Carlsbad in December 1999.Photo thanks to Ron Johnson

Then for the NHRA stuff, Howard is a natural to race with us. He came down to help us install the Cygnus race computer on the car in 1999 a few months after I got it. He also went to Carlsbad with us the very first time Kol was going to get in the car. He coached Kol and has been a big help to us all along, helping us learn the computer deal and just being a friend. Howard and his wife Kathy have gone out of their way at previous races to make us feel that we are a part of the "action." So this is a big deal for me. Plus, he has 30 years of experience driving.

Howard started racing in California in 1971 in a Fueler called the James Gang, owned by "Giant" Jim Moore. Howard drove both Fuel Dragsters and Fuel Altereds over the years on both the West and East Coasts. Some of the cars he drove are "The Warlock," the "California Sun," Al Reid's Speedcraft, a series of Cochrum and Haight dragsters, out East, the Lehman's "American Way" streamliner, back out West, the Wilson, Hazen, and Haight AA/FA, and more Cochrum and Haight Chev powered AA/FDs, and then in 1978, it was back East and a stretch in the "Hemi Hunter" AA/FD. In the 80s, Howard was back West in the Cochrum and Haight car. They switched from Chev's to a KB in 1982 and went into the fives with a best of 5:75 and 238, getting to the semi's at the 1986 March Meet at their last outing with the car. Howard switched to Nostalgia Racing and won the 1986 Nostalgia Nationals at Fremont with low ET and Top Speed in Tom Topping's 392 Top Fueler. From 1989 to 1994, Howard drove the Pure Heaven AA/FA for Leon Fitzgerald. Over the next few years, Howard made it to some NHRA races, making runner-up at Sonoma at the 1995 Autolite Nationals in Tom Topping's A/FD and also going some rounds in Comp Eliminator in Don Ewart's "Equalizer" AA/FA at the Winternationals in 1996. More recently, Howard drove the Circuit Breaker Top Fuel Nostalgia car and won both 2001 Goodguys races at Las Vegas.

Kol and Ron Johnson after Kol obtained his license. Photo thanks to Ron Johnson
Kol and Ron Johnson after Kol obtained his license. Photo thanks to Ron Johnson

Over the last year, we built a new, lighter rear end and a new motor. I bought a Mike's/Dedenbear 'Glide for a Christmas present. We also got wire front and new lighter rear wheels and new slicks. When I thought my way through it, seemed smartest to have Bob Meyer Race Cars build a new chassis as well and put the original engine/trans/rear end and the Centerlines back on the original chassis and sell a running car. The new car is not actually being built yet, but Meyer has all the tubing and needs to finish one project for a friend, probably next week, and then he'll get going on my "New Baby." It'll probably be a 200 incher, although I like the 185 inch wheel base of the current car. The new one will also have connectors in front of the motor so we can take the car apart and push the Cage/Engine assembly farther into the trailer so we can get the golf cart in behind it. Hopefully by summer, we'll be ready with it. This Vegas deal with the old motor gives us a chance to run the car pretty much as it will be sold when the new one is finished. The old motor is virtually identical to McKray's and he has run in the low 7:30s at about 182. We have run 7:48 and 175.99 with the old set-up, but we were heavy with Kol in the car, and never hit the tune-up just right either. McKray says it will run in the 7:30s at least.

Imagine a stone cold Minnesota Swede 60s top fuel racer moving out here to San Diego just a few years ago, ending up with a race car again, and within a couple of years, having Mendy Fry and Howard Haight as drivers, and Bob McKray and Bob Meyer as consultants? I also can't forget my buddy from Minneapolis, Jim Swedberg (now in Grand Forks), who has been so much help since even before I bought the current car. Sometimes I just shake my head. The saga continues. I simply can't wait to see what the next chapter will bring.

Big Yohns
AKA Ron Johnson

Epilogue: Testing Woes at Las Vegas

Well, I got home from Las Vegas last Saturday night. That tells you that we didn't do well. What happened, was that the new expensive transmission didn't work right. I don't want to blame the transmission yet, but when we warmed up the first time on the stands, the trans brake worked fine. With the new racing 'Glides, you can't engage reverse unless you also engage the trans brake, and that worked too. But when we went to fire the car right before going into staging area for first run, guess what? The trans brake would not engage to activate reverse gear and also wouldn't lock the tranny up for staging. I did not take the old tranny along because I was stupid; I figured we'd have no trouble with the new one. I should have known better.

No one on my crew knows the first thing about transmissions, but we could see the trans brake plunger was going in; it was something internal. So lacking a spare and not knowing what might be wrong, we decided to load it up. If it had been a race where we were actually running the Junior Fuel class, I might have borrowed someone else's spare, but we were the only Junior Fueler in the blown bad boys 7:60 breakout deal and none of the people we normally race against were there.

Well, it was an opportunity for us to go through our prep process with a new crew member, my son-in-law Larry, and my grandson Jeff also lending a hand as needed. Between Larry, Kol, Jeff, Mark, and my daughter Connie who can take charge of the on-board computer and take care of that end, they pretty much take care of the work. I can concentrate on tuning and oversight -- double checking stuff. That is a good deal and I think we'll do okay this year. Our new wide-body trailer was really nice, too. We kept the car in there, out of the fierce wind, and got it pretty much ready to go in relative comfort. The old motor fired right up and sounded great. Too bad it's coming out now. I would have liked to run it again. I get the new motor back this week and we'll get the 'Glide fixed and be ready to race at the Phoenix points meet with Howard at the helm.

Big Yohns


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