Drag Racing Story of the Day!
The EARLIEST Rear Engine Dragsters
By Joel Naprstek
Rear engine dragsters were numerous in the early years of
the sport all across the nation, winning on the local level and even at
regional meets. They were arguably "campaigned" and successful in
that they were repeat winners in their small ponds and regions.
Two very well known rear engine cars come to mind immediately that pre date
the Colorado-based car Pete wrote about and Garlits' more famous car. These
are the chain drive Sidewinder series of cars built by Chuck Jones from
California and the Art Arfons Green Monster aircraft engine cars out of
Ohio. Both cars may have been very unorthodox, but certainly were nationally
known, successful, and rear engined. Both cars predate the Kaiser Bros.,
Bernie Schacker, Duane Ong, and Don Garlits modern era rear engine cars by a
These cars along with a number of other rear engine dragsters may not have
handled as well, nor been as revolutionary in terms of their effect on the
direction dragster construction took, but they certainly were ahead of the
I'd agree that the Kaiser car was most likely the first big step in the
making of the modern era rear engine dragster.
Speed Sport Roadster. Magazine clip courtesy of Joel Naprstek
Here's a very successful rear engine car that was from the
late fifties and at the dawn of the sixties. The Sidewinder and the Green
Monster were gas cars but the Speed Sport roadster was a fuel car. I dare
say the most successful rear engine, national caliber car on fuel up until
the 1970 revolution.
Jones-Mailliard Sidewinder. Magazine clip courtesy of Joel Naprstek
The Sidewinders were winners on the West Coast and throughout the
Southwest in the late fifties. They won class at the '59 Detroit NHRA
nationals and made it to the semifinals for Top Eliminator that year as
well. Here is a shot of the famous Sidewinder. I found it in a short lived,
long dead car magazine, no photo credit given. I loved the first two
Sidewinder cars. There were about three Sidewinders from these California
racers. There were a few other chain drive cars in the early years, too. One
of the early Sidewinder cars came to the East Coast around '61-‘62 and ran
as a white car called NASTY out of the Delaware-Maryland area. It was
converted to a conventional drive (non-chain) rear engine setup. Who knows,
it may still be in the area sitting someplace?
Arfons Bros. Green Monster. Magazine clip courtesy of Joel Naprstek
The Green Monster cars were never really competitive beyond being top
speed contenders but they were at the majority of the NHRA national meets in
the late fifties putting them in the "nationally campaigned"
category. This car was well known, as were the many others they ran. This
Art Arfons - Arfons Bros. Green Monster was the one I'd say was the most
successful though. It's pictured here at the '59 NHRA Nationals at Detroit.
From a picture, uncredited, in the defunct Car Speed & Style, 7/60.
The Sidewinder photo shows the chain, which is cool, and the Speed Sport
photo shows how small the car was in relation to the guy standing in it. I
also think the graininess adds to the historic/ancient feel.
The Sidewinders and the Green Monster were competitive and lasted for more
than a year each. The Sidewinders were campaigned as far as their owner
could afford and competitive at the highest levels of gas dragster racing in
their day. The Green Monsters were legit racers essentially until NHRA
decided to outlaw aircraft engines and Arfons was bitten by the LSR/jet
dragster bug. True, they were paid to make exhibition passes across the
country but so were racers like Gary Cagle, Chris Karamesines, the Speed
Sport roadster, Chrisman, Garlits, and many others.
The Speed Sport car in it's heyday was a legitimate contender/ competitor
for Top Eliminator as drag racing was run in those days but not so in the
post sixties era. Does that disqualify it? It's (Speed Sport roadster)
competition was not really other modified roadsters but the hottest of the
fuel dragsters and competition coupes of the day. As you'll recall the comp
coupes and modified roadsters ran the dragsters for TE honors in those days.
I believe the SS roadster is a legitimate fit into the discussion.
I guess what needs to be determined is what is the criteria for calling a
car "successful". Is it winning, lasting more than a year, being
able to make repeated passes under full power without crashing, influencing
others to copy it's design on a wide basis, beating Garlits to the punch,
looking like modern T/F cars, being a dragster, coming after the slingshot
years, or maybe encompassing most of the aforementioned?
If the scope of the discussion is a modern era beginning with the 1970s then
my two cents has no bearing on it. If we're talking about the entire history
of drag racing then I think I have a legitimate point with the cars I've
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