"Present day" drag racing seems to have lost its identity. Today's cars need corporate sponsorship in order to be competitive. They all look alike with generic vinyl graphics and the drivers are... well... just drivers. To add insult to injury, the so called "nostalgia movement" that was instituted to bring back the flavor of the past, dramatically shifted its focus to building what many consider just a modern day fueler with an engine placed in front of the driver. These so called "nostalgia cars" are the furthest thing from the past because they all have a 225' wheelbase, an engine that sits level in the chassis, ridiculously large side canards, an unsightly roll cage, and a driver's seat that resembles a highchair. And what is so nostalgic about the 392 engines that are using many of the super expensive and technologically advanced parts that their bigger brothers in professional Top Fuel are using? All in the name of progress to quicker E.T.s and MPH, and losing sight that it's an exercise in futility, since Don Garlits proved that the only way to go faster and quicker is in a rear engine car.
It's refreshing to know that sometimes those who are outside the world of Drag Racing can see things as perhaps they really should be. Case and point: Tim Conder, a Kentucky born Seattle Artist who now owns and runs a customizing shop called "Conder Custom." Tim has been featured on Discovery Channel's "Monster Garage." He designs, builds, and paints custom cars and choppers, including the "World's Most Dangerous Motorcycle" (with fenders made up of thousands of razor blades and a seat of nails), and Gigantic (the bike Easy Riders Magazine calls "Silver Bullet").
Tim may pride himself on being a "Hillbilly on Nitro," but he's the furthest thing from that most of the time. He is an eccentric whose artistic abilities, hot rod fabrication skills, and focused vision make him a creative force to be reckoned with.
Tim is also the creator and owner of Armageddon Top Fuel (ATF). Never heard of it? Well, you will. Let's start at the beginning. Tim started ATF as an art project. Yep, you read it right, an ART PROJECT. No, not art in the sense of a painting or sculpture, although you could interpret it that way. This art is more like a "snapshot in time."
It is a time that can best be defined as "pure" that Tim is passionate about. His snapshot consists of days when Top Fuel Dragsters cackled with fire and smoked the tires all the way down the quarter mile. A time when race teams had push cars, the fans were die-hards who knew the racers by name, and by the unique elements of their cars.
Sure some of the old-timers out there might ask how Tim would know what the old days were about; he's not old enough to even remember! Right you are. He was just a boy back in the day that he now struggles to recreate. But Tim takes what he remembers from the past and the rest he has filled in by studying, reading, and talking to those who were there.
Tim's idea of what the cars should be is right out of 1965. He wanted a front engine Top Fuel Dragster that could be built that would meet the strict safety specifications of today while keeping the integrity of the car intact. Not an easy task.
To do it right he called upon legendary chassis builder Pete Ogden (who worked for Woody Gilmore). Tim wanted the car to be similar to the 1965 Gotelli Speed Shop Top Fueler driven by the late Denny Miliani, which was also built by Pete back in the day.
Since Pete didn't have the original blueprints, he built the chassis straight from memory. A chassis that he refers to as a "Super 65".
For safety, Pete went at least one size up in pipe diameter everywhere, and two to three times the wall thickness. This adds a little more weight but this car's engine is running an estimated 800 more horsepower than back in '65 and smoking the tires, so the added weight won't matter much.
Tim said, "I obsessed over many things on these cars, but the low cage was a big thing to me. A '65 dragster frame is basically two big "U" shapes upper and lower, connected by triangulated tubing. I wanted to lengthen the upper hoop 5 inches so I could lay back farther in my cars, dropping the cage height some. Pete thought 3 inches would be enough, and it was. This combined with a laid-back 6-point cage (so it'll fit under a 'chute tail) got 'er down low enough for me." The chassis itself is the same dimensionally as the "legs under" '65 Gotelli/Miliani car, except they made it a legs over car so Pete just set the pedals up to go over the rear end.
Since he started this project over 4 years ago, most visitors to his shop, or those who got the chance to see the cars in Bakersfield or at Bumbershoot have fallen in love with them. Of course, there are always the ones who will think the cars are ugly or that nothing will come of them. One guy even had the nerve to call Tim at home and say, "Who the f*ck do you think you are thinking you can get into a Fuel Dragster and drive it?" which is probably the best thing you can say if you want to motivate Tim Conder!
But even that comment doesn't even come close to the controversy that his overall motivation brings
Armageddon Top Fuel isn't just a team made up of match race cars; it's a call to battle between good and evil. Tim named his first Dragsters the "Big Bad Son of God" and "Satan." What? Is he crazy? He's not being politically correct or sponsor friendly? Tim doesn't care. His vision is "pure" and he believes that this epic battle throughout time should be settled once and for all on the track.
Is he serious, is he putting us on, or is he a religious nut with an agenda? The answer to that question really depends on what you want to believe. The subject matter has the ability to draw the line. Some will say this is a mockery, others will say its business hype and many of us will think its just way to cool. Tim's concept commands an opinion and a reaction, and isn't that what art is suppose to do? It makes us look into ourselves and ask questions that we might want to ignore.
So, besides this so called art experiment, where does Tim's vision fit in the scheme of today's drag racing?
Tim says this, "A good drag race today is considered a safe, straight and fast run. A run in which the only thing left for the fan to obsess over is the ET and MPH, and that's because the show doesn't exist anymore. Ironically, they (sanctioning bodies) are already putting the brakes on the speeds because the shut down areas at tracks are getting too short now. They don't want them to go any faster. Point A to point B is already being run as fast as they are going to allow it to go."
What is going to keep drag racing fans interested? Tim's plan is to intensify the whole concept of drag racing. He's been a drag racing fan all his life and he knows that the show is all about "a wheels up, tires smoking, metal flake, screaming hot rod that changes lanes and scares the hell out of the crowd. This brand of excitement could inspire a whole new breed of drivers and racecar. The crowd wants the fire, they want the speed, and they want the thrills and the danger and the fear of it all. These elements give the sport character and put the emphasis back on the driver again."
"My goal is to build one of the best shows in drag racing and to accomplish my dream to own, build and drive a front engine dragster and create it in a way that means something to me. I really believe that what I'm doing is going to bring in a whole new demographic of people and expose them to what drag racing and drag racers were about and how it shaped our American culture. Once these things go down the track, I really think there's going to be a lot of guys building them."
In a simple summary, Tim says "To experience it all... is the art of it." I have to agree with him.
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