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Drag Racing Story of the Day!

Pit Crew Pete's Long, Strange
Journey to Bakersfield

By Pete Starrett

Pit Crew Pete and his work of art at the 2000 CHRR. Photo by Jim Hill
Pit Crew Pete and his work of art at the 2000 CHRR. Photo by Jim Hill

What a long strange road we traveled to get to CHRR 2K. Normally I would have done my typical deal of showing up and hanging out for the weekend...Not this year! The March meet changed all that. Jet Car Bob and I went to the March Meet (me for the first time in more years than I want to count). Bob and I had been trying to get our buddy Jon Halstead to come to the reunion or the March Meet for a number of years without success. 

Things changed drastically this year as Jon and his wonderful wife Jeanne were in attendance and we had a super time getting re-acquainted again after so many years. Since I had committed to doing the restoration of Jon's first dragster, I was delighted to spend time with Jon and Jeanne getting a lot of research information for the project car. Jon also had a great time seeing lots of old friends. He called me a couple of weeks later to tell me he was going Top Fuel racing and asked if I wanted to be part of the team. Wow, just like the old days. Hell yes, I'll play!

After the March Meet I stopped at Fuller's place to pick up the car and start the long journey back to Snohomish, WA, with the car strapped to the roof of Pam's station wagon. Stopped at Ewald's for a little rest and dinner and some tune-up work on his computer. Stopped the next day at Tom Wilford's place for coffee and chat. 

Got home that afternoon late and unloaded some of the stuff I had gathered up for the project. You have to understand that I live in a very small neighborhood where I'm probably the only motor head around. Nobody around here had ever seen a car like this and since it was still strapped to the roof rack there were some amusing remarks about what it was. Best comment was from my Veterinarian friend's wife. She wanted to know if I was building a helicopter.

The next day, I set out for Hayes Classics in Kirkland to begin the process of restoring what is now commonly referred to as "THE FULLER," aptly named by Fred Vosk. At first it was a little intimidating to have the little car sitting amongst such classics as the Bugatti and the one off Ferrari as well as a rare Cadillac Phaeton that is being restored for the 100th anniversary Cadillac celebration (it will be a 100 point car!). 

I won't bore you with all the details of the process of doing this car, since Fred has been chronicling the progress of it in his own inimitable and very humorous way. Yes, we struggled with finding the right parts and I spent lots of long nights and early mornings searching the Internet.

The net result was what those of you who were at the reunion saw either in front of the Doubletree on Thursday night or over the weekend parked at the Fuller display. What did I get out of this, you might ask? First and foremost, I have been lucky enough to make a number of new friends, two of whom have put as much of their heart and soul into this project as I have. Their names are Fred Vosk and Eric Hayes, who are indeed artisans in their own right. 

The skills these guys possess are unbelievable. You cannot appreciate Eric's polishing ability until you try to match him. Case in point was when Fred said to me, "You're not going to put that black anodized pump drive extension on this car, are you?" Well, I decided to do the whole process of sanding it down to remove the anodizing and polishing it up to match the rest of the car. Took me about five hours to get it done, and when I was coming out of the polishing booth, Eric commented, "Hey Pete, now you look like one of the Bruthas!"

I was covered with polishing stuff from head to toe. Eric can be my Bro any time he wants... He's so good at polishing that when we needed to get some pieces chromed, Eric did the polishing and took the stuff to the chrome shop and all they had to do was dip the pieces and get them back to us. It sure helped on turn around time.

Fred's Rheumatoid Arthritis puts limits on what he can physically do, but it didn't stop him from doing the paint layout for the body, and some of the polishing and assembly of the car. If you were to look closely at the paint scheme, you will see that there is no part stripe between the silver stripes and the color coat and the lines are immaculate. No bleed over anywhere. He also provided guidance to Eric in doing the painting process, since Eric had never done metal flake paint before. If you have seen the car, you can appreciate the quality of Eric and Fred's work.

If I sound like an Eric and Fred fan, it's only because I am...big time. If not for them, the car would still be way less complete than it is now.

I want to personally thank everyone who stopped to admire the car and tell us how much they liked it. It is a work art that has come back to life. I'm not too sure how to say this, since I don't want to offend anyone who took the time to comment about the car; however, from the time I rolled into the patch with it, I had high hopes that we had accomplished all that we set out to do. For me personally I guess my perfectionism sometimes gets in the way and I tend to reach beyond what is reasonable to accomplish in a given time. 

I wasn't happy with having to make the decision not to fire it up on Saturday, but I didn't want to make one of those last minute mistakes that would have spoiled it for us. Some of you may have known that Steve Gibbs had asked Bob Smith and me to light it off for the Fuller presentation out in front of the stands, and you will never know how much I wanted to do it. It just wasn't possible to get done, so that's why we pushed it out from the staging area.

I have been around this sport for a long time and seen some very nice cars built by very talented people. I wanted to do this car with as much class as I have ever seen. I have told a few friends I wanted it to surpass the GBP car for quality. I don't know if that got done or not, but when I got the kinds of comments from my peers (that's the old guys from the '60s) whose workmanship I have always admired, I got chills up my spine.

The soft spoken metal master from Wichita was the first to see it on Thursday, and although I can't remember the exact words he said, the impact on me was wonderful, thanks for your opinion, Tom.

Steve Gibbs also saw it Thursday afternoon and was very impressed with the car, enough so that he told me to be sure and park it under the canopy at the entrance to the Doubletree. We told the clerk at the registration desk when we were checking in that Mr. Gibbs had requested that we do that and the clerk told us that would be just fine. Boy, does the Hook carry some weight around that place! Steve has also requested that the car make an appearance at his house of Hot Rods at the Fairplex at the earliest possible convenience. High praise coming from the master of the museum.

Also, on Thursday afternoon I needed to get some machine work done for one of the pieces of the blower drive (this was when I was still trying to get it ready to run). Well, after having been to the March Meet a number of times over the last 40 years, I did what I would usually do when I needed help at Bakersfield. I went to see the godfather of Bakersfield drag racing, Ernie Hashim. I asked him if he could do a little machine work for me and without so much as a moment's hesitation he says, "What do you need?" I showed him the piece and he grabbed it and told me, "I'll have it for you first thing in the morning." 

Now you have to understand that the first thing in the morning to Ernie is 7 a.m.! And, he had it done exactly the way I needed it when I came to pick it up. He thought the car was beautiful and went on to tell his son (whose name escapes me at the moment) about the car he had that was like this one. Ernie is 76 years old and was about to celebrate his 50th wedding anniversary that evening with upwards of 400 of his friends and family. I got a hug and a pat on the back from Ernie; that made my day. I love Ernie Hashim.

Thursday evening at the Doubletree was lots of fun and many folks stopped to look over the car. All I talked to were very kind with their compliments on the car. Dave McClelland stopped to chat about the car and asked me some questions about it for reference information to use when he would interview Fuller later on Saturday. That worked out well, since Fuller is such a motor mouth [not!]

Dave Jeffers, who some of you may remember from his days at RCS, looked at the car and told me what a nice job we did in restoring it. Last summer I ran into Dave out at SIR at a match race. We hadn't seen each other in 30 years. His comments about the workmanship on this car were neat to hear since I know what an excellent craftsman he is. Dave was also responsible for building the rear end in the car. He did it for a paperweight car he built while at the Ol' Man's place (RCS).

Most of you had an opportunity at some point, as I did, to spend some time looking over the Beebe and Mulligan recreation that Pat Foster did for Dave West and can appreciate what an amazing craftsman Foster really is. Patty's son Cole has inherited those same talents and produced the super neat pickup that was displayed next to the B&M car. I had the pleasure of getting a guided tour of the truck from Patty at the Doubletree. 

These guys are way above the standard for excellence when it comes to creating masterpieces. Both Patty and Cole were very complimentary to me about the car. It's hard to write what Patty said to me and convey the voice inflections of how he says it. However, if you have ever talked to him, I think you will know what I mean when he said to me in his deepest, most sincere voice, "That's an absolutely BITCHIN' car." Thank you, Patty.

There's a member of the Standard 1320 Group who set the standard of excellence for both Gas and Fuel dragsters when he was racing, who has, in my estimation, rarely been exceeded by anyone. To hear such a guy, who was a racer week in and week out with solid results and always a class act, tell me, "That's a really nice car," was exciting for me. I want to thank you very much Mr. C [Gary Cochran].

There are a few people who have gone through what I have just experienced and know exactly how much time and effort are needed to reach the point we are at currently. Bill Pitts and Tom Morris were very kind to make a point of telling me how nice the car turned out and how much they liked the work. Like Bill and Tom, this was not a one-man band kind of thing. I had super help from a lot of people to get it done. Eric and Fred are just as deserving as I am for any and all compliments regarding this effort. The Andersons also know what it's like to go through this exercise and I appreciate their fine comments as well.

Some of the others involved in this project that you may not know about are: Randy Bradford, who managed to get in a little machine work for me while thrashing on his own car to get ready for the reunion (not to mention letting me dig through his scrap barrel for material to make some of the components). Randy has a scrap barrel to die for...

Dave Benjamin did a lot of machine work for us (a lot of it was last minute bailout type work and if you saw some of Fred's postings about components that were made, Dave is our guy). Dave does fuel pumps and clutches for some of the hitters on the NHRA circuit. His ability as a machinist is super good.

Wayne King was very helpful in helping me find parts, as was Tom Wilford. Tom was a great resource for locating parts and is quite a historian on correct parts for a period correct restoration. Wayne also found a machine shop guy to do the blueprinting and balancing stuff on the motor (yes, it is a sound motor, and will run once I get some small details taken care of).

Bill Holland was also of great help in acquiring parts and getting work done. The heads are from World Products (one of Bill's clients) and were worked over by a friend of his by the name of Mike Slover. Bill's moral support and guidance were way more helpful than he may ever know.

Jim Hill's participation as a genuine sponsor of this car is unquestionably one of the nicest things to happen for us. This car has never had anyone's decal on it and never will. Yet Jim made us a nice deal to put his products in the engine and went way beyond just being a supplier by giving us all the technical support to make sure we got it right the first time. He made numerous phone calls and follow up to make sure everything worked for us.

Well, if I haven't bored you all (is that Y'all?) yet and you got this far down the page, I would like to make sure that each and everyone of you understand that I am not minimizing anyone's kind and thoughtful comments about the results of this project. I truly appreciate them all, as do the other members of this team, Fred Vosk, Eric Hayes, and Doug Pratt. I had a goal in mind and I think I met it.

Oh, yeah, two more quick comments: Fred said to Fuller, "Neat little car, huh Fuller?" Fuller responded, "Yep, wish it was mine." Hopefully, I can fulfill your wish my friend.

Someone said to me on Saturday afternoon, "You have established a benchmark with this car." I don't remember who said it, but thank you.

"Pit Crew Pete" Starrett
Pete_Starrett@msn.com

 

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