The news of the passing of Bill Hielscher is especially sad for me. I
knew Bill well and enjoyed a friendship with him for 30+ years, beginning
with my time spent working for Holley, in Warren, Michigan, 1970-76.
A few years ago (sometime in the early 90's) I wrote a multiple-page
biography on Bill that was published in SUPER CHEVY MAGAZINE. The story
was accompanied by lots of photos and covered his career up until the time
he gave up national campaigning.
For you younger folks unfamiliar with "Mr. Bardahl," Bill
Hielscher had a remarkable and notable career in drag racing. He was one
of, if not "the first" successful national "touring"
pro racers with a stable of race cars. Bill focused primarily on AHRA, and
his own cars as well as his team cars were always competitive, winning
many eliminator titles. His cars ran many of the AHRA classes and
eliminators including Pro Stock and the GT-1, GT-2 and GT-3 classes, all
with notable success.
Probably Bill's greatest personal achievements were with his '64
Corvette, his first drag racing ride. This car was bought strictly as a
street driver, but Bill's first experience at a local drag strip, where he
won a class trophy, hooked him for life! With this car, Bill held all
sorts of AHRA records, skillfully working his way through the complex AHRA
"formula" rules to make his one car "fit" a large
number of different classes. He then went out and set national AHRA
records in each class!
Bill also took his Corvette to Bonneville, and did the same thing,
changing parts and engines to make runs in different B-Ville classes, once
again coming home with a pile of official Bonneville speed records. He
loved the idea of racing on wide-open spaces, no-holds barred, just
floor-it and hang on from one end to the other.
Bill Hielscher was a master promoter and a one-man PR machine. He was
one of the first drag racers to prepare a press kit for media and
sponsors, and was known for his "anytime-anyplace" willingness
to provide newspapers with the kind of pre-race PR that event promoters
rarely could obtain from other racers. Bill took many writers and
photographers for gear-banging, 11 second rides in his Corvette, and
reaped tons of very positive and favorable "ink" for his own
team, the race event and drag racing in general.
Bill's PR capabilities earned him plenty of major sponsorships as well.
He nailed "deals" with Bardahl Chemicals, Holley Carburetor,
Dixco Electronics, Pennzoil, Isky, Lee Filters, Fenton, Edelbrock, and
many others. Any promo-savvy company was quick to realize how hard Bill
worked to get "ink" for his sponsors. He also pioneered a
"Sponsor Trailer" that was hauled along with his race teams to
the events he entered. This trailer carried product and literature for
display and service to interested consumers.
His racing travels and successes earned him meetings and
"photo-ops" with Presidents Lyndon B. Johnson and Richard Nixon,
and he was extremely proud that he was able to present drag racing and his
team center-stage before these two powerful leaders.
He began life in Chicago, but moved early to Texas, and considered
himself a true lifetime Texan. His wife Mary worked for many years for
Braniff Airlines, until its demise. Bill and Mary were a great team, and
enjoyed many years together. Sadly, Mary died several years ago.
Afterwards, whenever Bill spoke of her, the light in his eyes dimmed.
During the past years he was into high-speed road racing with a
late-model Corvette, and had enjoyed some success in that form of racing.
His success was no surprise.
He ran drag strips for several years, and excelled at dreaming up
exotic promotions for his season-long points winners. Such prizes as new
deer rifles, hunting trips (Texas is prime hunting territory and deer
hunting a popular mainstream sport!) and other unusual rewards were given
to winners at Bill's tracks.
I would see Bill each year at the SEMA Show. He always dropped by the
Crane Cams booth to share a few minutes of catch-up bench racing and let
me know what his drag strips and race activities were doing. This year,
when Bill didn't show at SEMA I feared that his health had gotten the best
Bill suffered for many years with severe stomach troubles, even during
the 1970's, when his "Mr. Bardahl" race teams were at their
peak. In later years, he struggled with diabetes, but in spite of his
medical troubles, he was always upbeat and positive.
After the SUPER CHEVY article was printed, Bill bought several copies,
and called me to thank me for doing the story. He said it was "The
best thing that ever happened to my career as a racer," a typically
modest comment by Hielscher.
I told him that I sincerely appreciated his allowing me to do his
story, have access to his files and leave that magazine issue as his
legacy to all that he did for drag racing. Bill was always a gentleman and
a good guy to the end.
Drag racing today doesn't know just how much Bill Hielscher, his fleet
of race cars, his promotional skills and his wonderful attitude meant to
today's big-league scene, and how much he will be missed by those who knew
Rest in peace, my friend.