The "Hemi Hunter" Story
By The Hemi Hunter
Roger Toth and the Hemi Hunter power past the Maple Grove starting line.
Photo from the Hemi Hunter archives
[Note: Welcome to Hemi Hunter Week at draglist.com!
Each day this week we will feature a portion of the Hemi Hunter story,
written in the Top Fuel car's "own words." We love Chevy fuel cars
at draglist.com, and the Hemi Hunter was the baddest rat powered fueler on
the East Coast. So, sit back and enjoy the story of an amazing car and crew
and a time long gone by... bp]
The long shadow of my body is cast across the dark surface of the ground beneath me. There is hardly any contrast between it and my shiny black body panels. Heat waves are distorting the gold leaf lettering that boldly spells out my name. My chrome parts are burning orange in the reflected light of the setting sun. The day
is hot and humid and the year is 1975. I'm sitting in the pits at Maple Grove Dragway watching the sun as it falls behind the beautiful Pennsylvania mountains
that surround this 1320 foot race track.
I look around the pits and see the other Top Fuel cars and their crews preparing for the first round of eliminations. The qualifying is over and the 16 cars are now in their slotted race schedule. I can feel Jim and Gary adjusting my clutch. Danny is setting my injectors according to the readings he has observed from the air density gage. Wayne is mixing the fuel to obtain the correct proportion of alcohol to nitromethane.
They know the track is cooling and the oily makeup of the asphalt will retract into its deeper recesses. The traction will be at its optimum for the first round of this important race. They also know that I will require all the horsepower I can muster to outrun the car that we will compete against for the first round. I look at the lights now illuminating the track. Starbursts are forming around this fractured light as the sky turns black.
It's very humid and the air density is heavy with the day's humidity. Water vapor is condensing on my body panels and runs in little streamlets down my sides. Wayne grabs a towel and wipes me off, the ultimate body and paint man of my highly skilled crew. They have been at this game for the past five years. The lessons learned from my father's time, the front engine Hemi Hunter, are now apparent. I am the last member of the family tree called Top Fuel dragsters. I am the rear engine Hemi Hunter, the son of the original.
Roger, my driver is checking the tire pressure. He then snaps my injectors open and closed by reaching inside my cockpit. Everyone in the crew is now relaxing and I can sense the calm before the storm. First round has us pitted against another famous East Coast car called Nirvana, owned and driven by Hank Endres. So the stage is set, a 500 cubic inch all aluminum Chrysler Hemi
monster against Roger and me, my all steel 454 cubic inch, meek and mild Chevy.
The track announces first round for top fuel to enter the staging lanes at the bottom end of the track. The crew rolls me out first, a plan they follow at every race. Danny hooks me up to the push truck by a nylon strap wrapped around by front axle, and Roger climbs into my driver's compartment to steer me into position. The big crew cab truck yanks me forward. Dad told me never to trust these big vehicles, and I try not to make an issue of it. I need him and Roger to get my engine fired.
I'm pushed by Wayne and Gary around the truck and backed up to it for the push to start the race. Roger starts to suit up into his protective driving gear and wiggles down into me. Gary adjusts the safety straps around Roger and pulls them tight. Roger pulls his helmet over his
fireproof hood. My tire pressure is quickly checked along with the parachute release. My fuel shut-off is pulled open and all my spark plug wires are given a push onto the spark plugs.
Thumbs up by the crew to me and Roger and we're set.
Approximately 15,000 fans are standing waiting for the National Anthem to be played. The song is
blaring through the track's sound system. About three-quarters of the way through the song, I feel the bump from the truck against by rear frame rails. I hear the engine in the push truck straining against its brakes. The truck has many of the same parts in its 454 Chevy motor as I have. He should be able to push me fast enough to get me started.
The track official is waving his hand above his head in little circles.
Roger's right arm and hand is held high to be viewed inside the push truck. He signals to
Jim to go long before the track official motions for us to start down the fire-up road. Roger and I know the precise time to start. We have done this many times before. We start down the fire-up road as fast as the truck can go. We startle the track official as we roar by him, his hand now moving in a forward motion, but way too late.
I feel Roger push his foot against my clutch pedal. My engine spins into motion. We timed it perfectly. The National Anthem comes to a climatic end. My injectors are opened and raw fuel surges through me. We are right in the middle of the
grandstands. Perfect. Roger throws my mag switch and I explode to life. The push truck is once again covered with this exotic racing fuel. The competition is right behind.
The fans become unglued, screaming and cheering above the roar of our engines. Nitro fumes fill the air. I think even I have goose bumps beneath my shiny black paint. Roger cracks my throttle and I leave the truck as if
it were standing still. We approach the turn to the starting line. Small blue flames are starting to flicker from my exhaust pipes. Roger positions us directly in front of the burnout area. The crew is charging out of the truck to get by my side, how nice of them. Jim's on my left and Gary's on the right, water bottles in hand.
Heat is starting to build within me. The fuel is being highly compressed by the supercharger mounted on top of my engine. My fuel mixture is set to the max, as the cool night air is heavy with oxygen. I start yelling to the magneto to increase the voltage to the spark plugs. We need to fire all this fuel. The spark plugs are being drenched with fuel, hardly able to spark to life. Were in the heck is the heat? We don't want to get anyone suspicious as to how much fuel we
flow. Roger feels the need for heat in my engine and slightly raises my engines RPM. Ahh, that's better.
I can feel the fuel exploding within me. We move forward into the water just poured in front of my tires. Blue flames are starting to explode periodically from my headers. Roger rolls me through the water and mashes open my injectors. My engine roars and the clutch locks up as my tires spin in the water puddles. We shoot across the starting line with flames and tire smoke bellowing everywhere. Nirvana in the lane next to us is doing the same.
Roger carefully brings us to a stop, knowing my fuel flow cannot be compromised by the stopping action. Perfect, Roger, I love to gobble up the added fuel. Now I'm getting hot. The blue flames are belching from six of my headers. The front two cylinders are still not hot enough to burn all their fuel flow. Roger neutrals my clutch position and shifts me into
reverse; we back up towards the starting line. Roger and I are directed back through the black tire marks.
The heat builds in my engine. The front two cylinders are starting to show signs of flames. We start to stage. I can feel the steam entering my overflow tank. Flames are reaching into the night sky. All of my eight cylinders are at their maximum temperature. Huge explosions are coming from both
dragsters' engines, filling the starting line with an almost fanatical energy felt by everyone within view.
Roger brings up my RPM and I move forward. The first yellow staging light twinkles to life. We pause. Roger yanks my throttle back to idle. I hope the clutch is ready. The second light is lit. We're ready. The slight pause before the green light is almost a gut wrenching anticlimax. The whole starting line seems to be in a time capsule of slow motion. The noise, fumes, and flames have everyone in a mystical land of anticipation. Green and we're gone in a fraction of a second.
Flames shoot four feet into the night's blackness. The roar of our engines is deafening. I don't want any tire shake. I look over and see Hank and Nirvana right next to Roger and me. Half-track is quickly approaching and we're neck and neck. This is not good as Roger and I usually have an advantage at half-track. We Chevy engines are not known for big top end charges, especially against 500 inches of aluminum Hemi.
We flash past the halfway mark and it's anybody's race. I expect Nirvana and Hank to start to gain an advantage, another monster trying to eat our lunch. The fuel and air are streaming through me. My headers are glowing red from the exploding fuel in my cylinders. All the fuel flowing through my engine is cooling my pistons, and keeping my cylinders sealed. The header flames are strong and solid against the night sky.
The folks on the starting line can see this car is on a strong run. My tires are growing at an alarming rate. I'm starting to pull ahead of Hank and his monster. Good grief, the horsepower is staggering. I roar through the finish line half a car length ahead of the competition. The crew on the starting line sees the win lights flash
on in my lane. It's all over! We won. The fans almost fall out of their seats. Roger, the crew and I have actually out-powered the big Hemi.
We turn a best ET of 6.14 seconds at 232 MPH. I'm out of breath. Steam is shooting out of my engine; the headers are still glowing red. I can hear the big push truck blowing its horn as the gang comes down to pick us up. Roger is climbing out of me. The finish line officials rush over to him. Here's the crew. Roger pulls off his gear. He's also out of breath. How the heck can we both be that exhausted in just 6 seconds?
Roger walks over to the truck and looks at Gary and says,
"That time the old boy really scared me." I'm hooked up to the truck and we tow in front of all the fans on the return road. The folks are clapping and cheering this unexpected win. I'm towed slower than usual up the return
road; what a bunch of hams. What the heck did they do? I did all the work, along with Roger. I guess now they'll head for the Maple Grove bar and spend hours bench racing and telling exaggerated stories about my family.
Well, while the gang is having a good time, I'll just sit here in my dark trailer and tell you the rest of the story. To begin, we will need to drift back in time to the
1950s. So read on and enjoy my family's short story...
Part Two -- "O" FAN
and Drag Racing, Chapters 1-5
Part Three -- Chapter "RACE"
Part Four -- Chapter "Top Fuel"
Part Five -- Chapter "Champs and Touring
Part Six -- Gary's Reflections
The Hemi Hunter