Drag Racing Story of the Day!
Running with the Big H
By Charlie Gilmore
The year was 1963 and we were headed down to south Jersey to run the '32 Ford highboy roadster fuel altered at the opening day race at Vineland speedway. I had been to Vineland before and I knew the track was different from most drag strips. You had to start from the first turn of the stock car oval and run toward the fourth turn where the track went up the slight banking onto the rest of the quarter mile track
My only experience in driving the fueler was from the night before when we unloaded off the trailer and I took a pass down a narrow back road about 2 miles from my house. Being young and dumb I legged the tire smoking, nitro snorting beast down the two lane blacktop, spun it around and came flying back up the road around the corner and right back up on the trailer. We lashed it down and split before the local farmers figured out where all that noise was coming from.
We arrived at Vineland and after we went through tech we warmed it up on alky, drained the fuel system and poured 85% into the tank. The car was a real beauty, lakes type roadster with and aluminum interior, center steering, and lots of chrome. The engine was a 480 inch Olds with eight 97s on a Dragstar manifold. The engine was shoved back the allowed 25% and was bolted to a LaSalle box and a quick-change rear.
We push toward the starting line while my buddy ran ahead to tell the starter we were coming. On the starter's signal I turned on the fuel shutoff and flipped on the mag. We got up to about 35 mph and I popped the clutch. The chrome plated weed burners ended right ahead of the rear axle and when the engine lit I could feel the exhaust pulses through the aluminum floor. The cackle coming from the roadster caused a flurry of activity as everyone ran toward the track to see this monster run. Nitro cars were few and far between on the East Coast in the early 60s and we were creating quite stir as we idled toward the line. I whacked the load pedal to clear out the carbs and staged the car. The starting system consisted of a traffic light that was at one time standing on a corner somewhere in Vineland and had been requisitioned for more exciting duty.
The starter lined me up on the line, the light went from red to yellow to green, and I punched the throttle and eased out the clutch. The engine noise went way up and tires started smoking. They kept right on smoking until I came to the fourth turn banking. As the car went up the banking and onto the flat part of the rest of the quarter mile the backend went to the left. I eased the throttle back a tad and the car straighten out. I planted my foot and went through the lights at 10 flat at 158 mph. Not fast by today's standards but pretty damn good for 1963. The shutdown area was part of the road course and we had to tow all the way around the road course to get back to the pits. The car owner, Doug Rohdi, was grinning from ear to ear and the rest of the guys were jumping around and backslapping me and I felt ten feet tall and bullet proof. What a thrill.
Doug was still grinning when we got back to the trailer and he ran around to the trunk of the '63 Chevy tow car and whipped it open. After rummaging through piles of dirty clothes left over from the trip up from Texas he produced a pint can that had a skull & cross bones on the front with the words "danger hydrazine." I said, "What's that stuff"? Doug just grinned wider and said, "You'll see"." The Fuel dragster guys use this down in Texas. Bobby Langley sold it to me. He says it'll make this thing fly. You just use a cap full in the tank and give it a shake." I said, "OK, let's give it whirl." Like I said, young and dumb.
We topped off the tank and pushed to the starting line once more. This time Doug opened the trunk just before we got the go ahead from the starter and dumped in the "H." We pushed off, got up oil pressure and fired the motor, Man, I thought it was loud before. This time it sounded like machine gums were going off right under my ass. I pulled to the line and when the light changed I drilled the pedal and the tires erupted into smoke and the car lurched forward. I was in the left lane this time and the transition was not as bad so the car only wiggled a little and I kept my foot in it all the way down. The chute hit a lot harder that time so I knew we were going faster. I was right, 9.52 at 172 mph.
When we got back to the tow car, we were greeted by the officials. It seems they had just remembered that NHRA had a fuel ban on and they thought perhaps we had better not make anymore runs like that last one. We agreed to calm it down but the weatherman decided the issue with a downpour that ended the race day.
Of course, we were all excited on the ride home. You couldn't pry the smile off my face with a tire iron.