Let Freedom Ring!
By Don Roberts
Tom Dawes' Freedom Machine at the '74 March Meet with OJ McKenney up.
Photo by Dave Kommel
Dave Kommel took this nice shot of the Freedom Machine rear engine top fuel dragster at Bakersfield 1974. It had been so long since I had seen a picture of it I had forgotten what the paint layout was like. But it really got my memories flowing.
So we step back to 1968 at Connecticut Dragway when the Freedom Machine front engine car made its debut in the spring of that year. Similar paint and lettering to the '74 car. This car was repainted in 1969; they flip flopped the colors and went to gold leaf on the lettering. It was beautiful, but it wasn't this layout. It was missing something. Perhaps that's why Dawes went with this theme on the '74 car. The car as it has been restored today has the '69 paint and layout.
Here's the great looking Freedom Machine in 1968. Photo by Ed Sarkisian
From left to right, Tom Dawes, owner and one of the nicest guys ever, driver O.J. McKenney, and engine builder and tuner Dick Gazan. Gazan told me once that Dawes was the only guy Woody would take a personal check from for cars. One of the Dawes family ventures was banking; they owned one, in Hudson, Mass. Maybe that's why Woody took a check.
Sadly, Dawes died from a heart attack in 1980, McKenney took his own life in 1993, and Gazan fortunately is still with us. I was able to get him to come to the Charlestown Dragway Reunion last June.
I got my top fuel license in this car at Connecticut. I had driven top gas, top fuel, and funny cars at
Connecticut and everywhere else. Never went to National Events; who needed a license? Local match race track guys never asked to see it. Anyway, took my license paperwork to Frank Marratta at the end of the day. He says, "What the hell is this? You mean to tell me you drove all those cars at my track and you never had a license?" Frank's Italian temper was starting to overtake him. I said, "Frank, you never asked." And I said it with a smile. Frank was pissed but he started to laugh, and he said that guys like me would eventually drive him crazy.
I shouldn't say I never went to any big races... I drove this car at the first
Grandnational race at Sanair. If there was a list of entries after all these years, my name would not appear. But, I did drive this car at that
race... how did I do it? I don't think that was on Steve Gibbs' watch, so I can finally tell
Here's the restored Freedom Machine at the 2001 Charlestown Dragway reunion.
Photo thanks to Don Roberts
Here is the restored Freedom Machine with the 1969 paint shown here this past June 2001 at the Charlestown Dragway Reunion.
Dawes, McKenney, and Gazan are special people to me, very special.