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
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
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
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
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.
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
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.