February 19, 2005, I spoke at the
Northwest Bonneville Banquet
in Portland, giving an brief overview of
my participation in 1/4 mile drags and the SCTA/BNI events over the
last 50 years. The Power Point did not do well since I had not set the
resolution on my laptop correctly. For that I apologize to those who
were present. Here is an attempt to recreate the event.|
If you want to see the Power Point Presentation and read the speech as you view it, print out the speech and click on the "Northwest Bonneville Banquet link. If you don't have Power Point, this can be viewed with Real Player. It will load showing a blank screen...click the mouse in the blank area to start viewing. Enjoy!
Northwest Bonneville Banquet.ppt
50 YEARS OF SPEEDRacers, Spouses and Honored Guests
Slide #1 -Addicted to Speed:
When I was asked to speak at this banquet, I was forewarned that I was not the first choice... actually third choice...but when I heard who was first and second... Andy Green, the fastest man on wheels, and Paul Tibbetts, the famed pilot of the Enola Gay...it was OK! Third choice is just fine with me.
I am honored, and at the same time humbled to stand before you and speak tonight...My racing career pales when compared with some of you...
I feel so fortunate to have had the opportunity to spend the last fifty years chasing the elusive higher speed. I suspect that most of us forget at times how lucky we are to do what we do. I have talked to many people that have dreamed of running a car at Bonneville, but the dream has eluded them. We are living that dream that so many others have not been able to enjoy. I guess that I was just in the right place at the right time to have this happen to me.
Slide #2 - 50 Years...
I started this wonderful journey in the mid-50s', while living in Southern California. I had gone to Santa Ana Drags a few times with my family sedan, a 1950 Olds "88" four door Sedan. And, had been further encouraged by a fellow employee while working at a chemical refinery in Santa Fe Springs. He had built a '36 Ford Coupe powered by a "1/2 X 3/8" Flathead Ford. 324 cubic inches of pure torque! I was thoroughly impressed by its performance. Not too long after that I acquired a '41 Plymouth coupe and built a Chrysler 6 engine for it and began running regularly at the Santa Ana Drags. Within a few months, I transferred the engine to a 1934 Dodge pickup. Later still, I found a Desoto V-8 and began to collect the necessary parts to install it in the pickup.
This combination became fairly successful @ the drags, running C/Gas Coupe class and came to an end at San Gabriel Drags during a Saturday night C/Gas Meet which I won, over the likes of Doug Cook's '37 Chevy Coupe, Three-Way Chevrolet out of Bakersfield and "Leapin' Lena from Pasadena". During the meet, I also set a new track record at 102 MPH. During the back up run, the clutch came apart and did considerable damage to the pickup. While I was still trying to collect my composure from the clutch incident, I was notified that a protested had been lodged by my fellow competitors.
That was A VERY EASILY EARNED $25. It only took about 15 minutes to remove a cylinder head and satisfy their curiosity. I didn't rebuild the pickup, but instead moved on to the roadster classes.
Slide #3 - Lake Bonneville:
I had joined the Roadrunners Club in Whittier in 1956. I made my first trip to Bonneville in 1957, along with a few other Roadrunners who were tagging along with Ak Miller and Dr. Ostich. Doc & Ak had built a Henry "J" Sedan powered by a large displacement Chrysler that was entered in Competition Coupe, as "The Thing". It was a super ugly creation that ran the mid 170s before they parked it. I remember asking Ak why they didn't keep trying to make it go faster. His answer, "I came here to race not to work." Actually they had hit a wall where speed was limited by traction.
I almost idolize Ak. He was the life of the party at club meetings and always had a humorous story to tell. This was during the time when he was running the Mexican Road Race & Pike's Peak so he often had movies to show us, too. At one meeting, Ak had brought Jerry Unser with him and I got to meet him. This was about a year before he was killed at Indy.
One of Ak's favorite expressions was, "There is no substitute for cubic inches." Because he held this view and because I always ran in the 300 cu. in. class he began calling me "Tom Thumb". The nickname stuck, so much so that one of my racing friends called Margaret Mrs. Thumb.
Slide #4 - 27T:
It was Ak that introduced me to roadsters by giving me the '27 "T" roadster that he had run at Bonneville and, with George Hanson, had last run at the 1955 National Drags in Great Bend Kansas. I ran it during the '58 and early '59 season, including the Bakersfield National Drag Meet in March of '59 and the SCTA ½ Mile Drags at Riverside Raceway. It was not a successful car for me at SCTA Meets nor at the Bakersfield Meet because it was classed as a modified roadster, an open fuel class at the time. At other drag strips where I ran, I was often challenged by the officials. Ak was a guy that pushed the rules at every opportunity so just about everywhere I ran the car's legality was questioned.
Slide #5 - '58 Ford:
The trip to Bonneville in 1957 had me hooked, and since I didn't want to run the '27 roadster at Bonneville, I built a 1948 Ford Coupe to run at the 1958 meet. Karol Miller out of Texas was the dominate figure in D/GC running around 150 MPH. We squeezed a lowly 136 MPH out of our coupe. It was really a barn door aerodynamically.
Slide #6 - 1930 Roadster:
After the Bonneville Meet, I began to build a 1930 Roadster for the next season. In 1959 we went to Bonneville with our roadster. We ran this car at ¼ mile drags where we were very successful, holding the C/GR Drag News National Top Speed Record a couple of times and C/GR Records at every place we ran. One weekend, we went to
Slide #7 - Santa Maria:
Santa Maria where we set the track record and took top eliminator, beating the local slingshot dragster. We were also reasonable successful at the lakes, setting several D/GR Records.
Our first year with the roadster at Bonneville was a disaster by anyone's standard. We burned a piston on our first run. After working just about all night getting it back together, we gave it a safe tuneup and qualified the next day. On record runs the following morning, we broke a rod and put a lot of junk into the pan. After sitting around and spectating for a couple of days Griggs (Emil Grisotti) and I loaded up the parts and went to Salt Lake where we got needed repairs. When we made our next run down the course, we holed another piston. Only one pass through the lights under power for the week. I did get a first place trophy for our efforts, however. And I learned early that competing at Bonneville is not for the "faint of heart". We continued to run this car at Bonneville through the 1963 season.
Slide #8 - 1929 Roadster:
In 1964 I built a new roadster. It was a '29 on a tube frame with a VW front end. By this time we had also switched to a Chevy engine. Speedweek of 1964 was spent getting the bugs out of the new car. We returned the next year and set the D/GR Record during a shortened Speedweek 1965 @ 176.774 MPH.
In May of 1968 our family made the move from Orange County to Redding where I opened an auto repair business. Due to financial constraints, I was unable to make Bonneville that year or 1969. Not only was money short with the start of a new business, but, my shop was also burglarized on Labor Day weekend 1968, resulting in the loss of, among other things, the Hilborn Injection and Cylinder Heads from my race car engine. In 1970 I did make it back to Bonneville with some borrowed parts, but never made a run because I broke the engine in the warmup area. We had lost our D/GR Record to Howard Johannsen during the 1969 Meet. From that point on through the 1981 season, when we retired the roadster, we were just having fun and playing catch up. Most of you probably have no idea how much of a handicap it is to only run once a year.
Slide #9 - Moonshot:
In 1980, a new era of my racing career began with the purchase of the Pierson Coupe. This was the first closed car I had run since 1958. Over the next eleven years, we inched our way from the 170s runs of 1980 to 227 mph in 1991. I gained great pleasure from running this car and first broke the 200 MPH barrier at Speedweek 1986 when I was timed @ 202.705 MPH. But, we continued to struggle with various problems for three more years.
Slide #10 - Betty Burkland:
During the mid to late 80s, I was battling with Betty Burkland for the D/FCC Record, trying to overcome a 205 MPH minimum. Betty had qualified well @ 222 plus but failed to make it two ways for a record. My first record over 200 was at the November 1989 El Mirage Meet when we set the D/FCC Record at 202.685 MPH.
Slide #11 - Pierson Coupe:
At the 1990 World Finals, I finally gained the much sought after 200 MPH Club Membership with a speed of 217.236 MPH. We raised the D/FCC Record two more times at the meet ending with a 221.898 MPH average speed. During Speedweek 1991 the D/GCC record also became ours with a 206.409 MPH average speed.
Slide #12 - 200 MPH:
It had taken me only 32 years to achieve my dream of joining the 200 MPH Club. Much of that time I knew that I had no realistic chance, but, while president of the SCTA, I was invited to the 1962 200 MPH Banquet, becoming a member then became my major goal. Over the years, I had opportunities to drive other cars or borrow higher HP engines, but I declined! The club membership was important to me, but it had to be my way. My engine in my car. It just would not have been as sweet to me otherwise. It is now humorous, but for several years I packed my suit & tie, just in case we got lucky. By the time I became a member, the dress code had relaxed considerably.
Slide #13 - 1992:
Speedweek 1992 our present car made its maiden run. I had delivered the Pierson Coupe to its new owner in Southern California the end of January and, on my way home, picked up the body for our new car from Dick Williams @ PoliForm in Watsonville. Construction of the new car began in February. Construction is still ongoing, and we have yet to get real paint on the car, but we have had a great time running in both D/GCC and D/FCC, swapping records with John Beckett a few times. John Beckett & Joe Timney really kept my feet to the fire for several years. I credit them for much of our success over the last ten years because they made us work hard.
Slide # 14 - Safety Test:
We have had our problems and challenges along the way...three spins in 1997 with the final spin resulting in a rollover which set us back a bit. However, it was a learning curve! We rebuilt with a few changes which has made the car a pleasure to drive and "proof of the pudding" is that six novice drivers have set records in excess of 228 MPH with no adverse handling problems.
The car has set seventeen records since 1994 and presently holds five
El Mirage D/FCC Record @ 211.085 MPH, (1995)
(the only record with my name on it.)
D/FCC Record at Muroc @ 219.892 MPH, (1997)
El Mirage D/GCC Record @ 206.792 MPH (2002)
Bonneville D/GCC Record @ 242.934 MPH. (2003)
Bonneville D/FCC Record @ 244.260 MPH (2004)
Slide #15 - Bryant 200 MPH Club:
Since 1999, my three sons, Jeff, Dan, & Barry, my brother Gary, my grandson Tim and
Slide #16 - Ken Smith :
nephew Ken Smith have joined me in the Bonneville 200 MPH Club. Bringing the total to
seven family members. Jeff and I are also members of the El Mirage and Muroc "2" Clubs. I have gained great satisfaction in helping these others achieve their dream and I hope to continue enjoying this sport for many years to come.
Slide #17 - 216 D/FCC:
This is how the car appeared before our unfortunate explosion. It didn't look quite as good afterwards!.....
Accumulated alcohol fumes under the hood were ignited for a body altering event just as we were ready to push off for our second run after Ken's record setting at the World finals. The car was allowed to set idle for about an hour and a half closed up ready to run. Obviously a big mistake. Just like an inboard engined boat, ventilation is important before lighting the fire!
Along the journey, I have met so many wonderful people that helped to shape this Sport, its events, and quite frankly have been a great influence on me
Slide # 18 - Lindsleys:
...A few that come to mind are...Jim Lindsley, (I consider Jim as SCTA's #1 volunteer. He has given more time and energy to the furthering of the Association than any other person I know.) Otto Crocker, Wally Parks, Bob Higbee, Bruce Geisler, Mike Cook, Gary Cagle, Glen Barrett...
Slide # 19 - Burke LeSage:
Slide #20 - Nolan White:
Some of my heroes through the years are...Ak Miller, Bob Summers, Bob Brissette, Mickey Thompson, Noel Black, Nolan & Rick White,
Slide #21 - Nolan's Streamliner:
This car started as a Modified Sports and later became a Gas Streamliner.
Slide #22 - Burklands:
The Burklands, the World's Fastest Piston-Powered Car"
Slide #23 - Fred Larson:
Fred Larson, Les Leggitt,
Slide #24 - Al Teague:
Al Teague, Marlo Treit, and Rick & Don Vesco. There are many others this group that I hold in high regard.
Slide #25 - Al's Lakester:
Slide #26 - Three Old Salts:
Slide #27 - Nolan, Tom & Mike:
When I look back, I realize how far we have come both in safety and performance. When I started pursuing this craziness, a 200 MPH run on the lake bed was a candidate for top time of the meet. Actually top time often went for less than 200. Seat Belts had been in use for only a couple of years. Our fire suits were a T-shirt, levis and a leather jacket...a little later, the new and improved firesuit became coveralls dipped in a Borax solution that acted as a fire retardant. Roll bars were not required under 140 MPH and even where roll bars were required, they were very inadequate by today's standards. There have been high prices paid along the way for the safety we enjoy today. We have earned the right to be called the "World's Safest Racing Association".
I really do appreciate the many volunteers that make these events happen. I know how much they sacrifice because I have "been there and done that." It may be difficult to imagine, but when I was part of the leadership of the SCTA, Speedweek boasted "over 70 classes" and the meet was financed by selling seven one-day sponsorships for $1000 each. Board Members received a room and the noon-day meal as pay for our efforts. And, if the meet made money, we got our fuel cost reimbursed. I served as a SCTA Board Member from 1959 through 1966 and was elected president in 1961 and 1962. Two very significant things happened during my tenure as president.... SCTA regained full control of the Bonneville Events and BNI was formed in 1961. Also the Russetti Timing Association ceased to function and the Rod Riders Club, a very competitive group, joined the SCTA.
Do I have any regrets? A few, I suppose! What would I do different if I could relive the last fifty years? ...At least two things... I would take more pictures and spend more time getting acquainted with all of you. One of my greatest failings is that although I am a "mutitasker", I have tunnel vision...just like many of you, I suspect, I am generally too focused on the task at hand to relax and be sociable.
What is next? We are in the process of doing some preventive maintenance on the car, I have also purchased a Nitrous System which will be installed for next year. Our plan is to have Mary West in the car at the 2005 World of Speed making her attempt at joining the 200 MPH Club. Mary is a special woman...she has been a dedicated volunteer, a major player in the USFRA and "Save the Salt", in attendance at just about every event that SCTA or USFRA put on, and a great encouragement to many in this sport. I think that you would agree that she deserves a chance to place her name among this prestigious group that she admires so much.
Slide #28 - God Bless:
This has been a great trip down "Memory Lane"! God has Blessed Me in so many ways. So many people have been a part of this journey...Of course, the one that deserves the most credit is Margaret, my wife of almost 54 years. In the beginning, she only endured my obsession, but in later years, she has a loyal partner in the sport. There is only one thing that I have asked for that has been disallowed.... So far, she refuses to drive the car!
I want to thank all of you for allowing me to share my Passion!
Last Updated: 09/09/2010