have passed from this life, but all have been an inspiration!
Return to Bryant Racing Page
Ak Miller was a member of the
Road Runner Club in Whittier. He quickly became on my hero list. Ak was always
the "life of the party" at club meetings, (or anywhere else he
happened to be). He was also a very avid racer, competing in many different
venues of the sport. One of Ak's favorite sayings was, "There is no
substitute for cubic inches." To him this was not just a saying, but he
took it to heart, building engines with displacements that pushed the limits.
Because of this attitude and since I have always run in D Class (306 cu .in.
limit) he began to call me "Tom Thumb" . The nickname stuck and that
is origin of the name ("Tom Thumb Special") my cars have carried
It was because of Ak that I first went to Bonneville.
He and Dr. Ostich had built a Chrysler powered Henry "J" Competition
Coupe dubbed "The Thing". It was crude and ugly as sin, as many of his
cars were, A few other Road Runners and I tagged along with Ak and Doc as they
ran the car. It ran in the mid 170 MPH bracket and Ak parked it. I ask him why
he didn't try to go faster. His reply was, "I came here to race, not to
work on the car". Looking back, I know that he had reached the limit of the
During the week I made a couple of passes in a fellow
Road Runner's '57 Chevy. I was hooked!
At the 1/4 mile drags, I had been running a '34 Dodge
1/4 ton pickup in C/Gas Class. At San Gabriel, one Saturday Night, I blew the
clutch and did great damage to the car. Ak came to the rescue with an offer of a
'27 "T" Roadster that he and George Hanson had run at the 1/4 Mile
Nationals in Great Bend Kansas a year or so before. I transferred my engine and
drive train to this car and ran the 1/4 mile drags, but the car ran as a
modified roadster (which was an open fuel class) under SCTA Rules so I had to do
something else for our meets. I built a '48 Ford Coupe which I ran at the lakes
and at Bonneville for one year while I built a 1930 Roadster for the 1959
Ak was a true friend and an inspiration to me. I miss
Gone Racin’…With Ak Miller
Written by Richard N. Parks
Ak Miller is a legend among racers. Which means that he doesn’t need to embellish his exploits, for we do that for him. Ak’s done about everything a racer wants to do. He’s raced the dry lakes, Bonneville Salt Flats, Pike’s Peak Hill Climb and road races in Italy and Mexico. Elected President of the SCTA (Southern California Timing Association) and Vice President of the NHRA (National Hot Rod Association), and a member of the Dry Lakes Hall of Fame, Ak has his share and more of auto racing honors. Yet he is more than just an award winner, elected official or quick and speedy racer. It’s the twinkle in his eye, entrancing smile, ready wit and charisma that gets you off balance and makes you fair game for this lively and charming fellow. Stories and tales surround him, and grow larger and more complex with the years. This has given rise to a colloquial expression, “that’s Ak”, meaning a story bunyunesque or too far fetched to be true. But those who say this are mistaken for he has never had to create a tale; he has lived a life many of us only dream of.
Born Akton Moeller, in Denmark, eighty-one years ago, his family immigrated to Southern California when he was just a small child. He worked in various garages as a youth and for Hannah Nixon, in their store in Whittier, back in the 1930’s. Ak remembers seeing Richard Nixon studying at the old secretary desk in the store, and asking Ak to bring him a candy bar and to “help yourself as well.” RMN was already a practiced politician! Years later, when visiting the White House as a member of a racing contingent, Ak found himself teased and everyone doubted that he had ever known the President. Nixon strode in and grasped the hand of his old friend and said, “Ak, did you bring me a candy bar?”
He followed his brothers, Lawrence (Old Dad) and Zeke, to the dry lakes in the 1930’s, and began a love affair with racing that lasts to this day. He was a charter member of the Roadrunners, one of the original car clubs that absorbed the remnants of the Muroc Timing Association, and formed it into the storied SCTA, in December of 1937. Ak raced whatever was available, even an old derelict model T that was abandoned in the desert. He would remove the battery after racing the old heap, and was always surprised to find it still there when he returned for the next meet. It didn’t set any records, but it gave his car club valuable points toward the season’s championship trophy.
Ak had wanted to join the Army Air Corp during WWII, but was transferred to the Army and sent to Europe to fight in the Battle of the Bulge. Surrounded, in freezing weather, with no support, he was forced to fight merely to stay alive. He came upon a German officer cooking a steak, cut from the flank of a dying cow, and so overcome by hunger, one having food and the other without, that they shot at each other for the food’s sake. Ak was quicker that day, winning the steak and a prisoner. He was less fortunate when frostbite ended his war and sent him back to England, unsure whether they would amputate his feet.
Returning from the war, Ak rejoined the SCTA and served as it’s President, and with his close friend and fellow Roadrunner’s club member, Wally Parks, served as Vice President of the newly formed
NHRA. But his heart was in Land Speed Racing and he returned to Bonneville, where over the years, the Miller/Lufkin/Carr team set and reset hundreds of records. In 1953-54, Miller campaigned a modified T-roadster in the Mexican Road Race. Quick on the turns and curves in the mountains, the little roadster would give up its lead in the straight-aways, but still placed 8th in 1953 and 5th in 1954.
Miller left his garage in the 1960’s to work for Ford, and run in the Mobil Economy Runs. He was a terror at the Pike’s Peak Hill Climbs, winning nine times in his class, with Ray Brock as his crew. He and Brock also competed in and won their class in the 1963 Baja 1000 Road Race. Still working at his garage, this legend of a man will stop what he is doing, sit you down, and regale you with another of his amazing stories, and as I’ve said before, they are all remarkably true.
was not a close friend, but I was on the salt with him several years. I was
impressed, as most others were, with his car. It was a beautiful Blue #999
Chrysler powered Streamliner. I am told that each time he went through
inspection there was a discussion about the lack of adequate drain holes in the
belly pan. He was concerned about the aerodynamics and chose not to heed the
inspectors. This was no doubt a factor in his fatal incident. (The explanation
is in the following story)
Herda - "It
Ain't Over 'til It's Over"
Some of you know me, some of you don't. I run a seriously fast Honda
that currently holds two World Land Speed Records. I'll be 58 Monday and have
been racing on and off for over 40 years. Until last night, I was beginning to
think I had a pretty good grasp on "reality."
This story is to warn you racers to always be the student! Our egos and
faster and faster nature are both our wonderful friend and fearsome Master. Be
mindful of the game we are all playing!
I could never have imagined what happened in this story. I always figured I
was safe up in the front of the car, a solid steel firewall separating me from
the engine and all the mechanical and chemical problems that can occur back
there. No way any fires, explosions, or spills could come forward against a
200+mph headwind, right? And I knew I was really safe when I felt the
chute hit. That always meant all was well and I could relax.
Well, Bob Herda knew all that, too. And he's now dead. A brilliant engineer
who built amazing race cars that challenged the barriers of Bonneville Land
Speed Records is gone. Just like that.
Yogi Berra pointed out that, "It ain't over 'til it's over."
Last night at the San Diego Roadsters Club (SDRC) meeting I discovered the
horrific truth of that statement. Bob wanted a record, and built a car to
go after it. Keenly into aerodynamics and widely known as a stunning engineer,
he fashioned a high tech frame and wrapped it in a flawless body — no holes,
no bumps, no blemishes of any kind. He even installed an on-board breathing
system with a high-pressure oxygen bottle so he wouldn't need a parasitic
opening for intake air. He ran it many times, always chasing speed.
Fast forward to August 1969, the day of his final run. What follows is a
somewhat fanciful, although essentially factual, account of what happened. I say
"essentially" because I was not there and have only assembled some of
the details. I write this so that perhaps you will learn, as I did last night,
that, "It ain't over 'til it's over." The story of Bob's death most
certainly saved my life, if not directly, then at least by making me more
respectful of what we do out there.
That 1969 event had been a frustrating meet. To get more speed in the car,
they had switched from alcohol to nitromethane, but inexplicably the motor would
not run right. Seems some kind of gunky stuff kept forming in the fuel lines.
They had to keep flushing everything out. Bob was not to be deterred. Once it
was all purged, the motor responded eagerly. So off they went to the
Bob suited up and climbed into the car. The motor responded with the erotic
cacophony of disjointed explosions that only Pop (nitro methane) can make. Put
the hammer down, though, and the confusing mayhem transforms instantly to
"orderly" mayhem — that is to say, "hang on!" Bob
left the line that day with a strong burst. Climbing up through the gears, the
motor ran cleanly, now free of the strange gunk that had clogged its arteries.
The very same gunk that had done such a perfect job of sealing the fuel tank
from alcohol leaks. The gunk that was no match for the corrosive temperament of
The fuel began to leak. And leak. And leak. And Bob kept his foot into it,
hammering his ride toward the 300 range. Unaware of the evolving scene, just
four feet back. Funny things happen to airflow. Unpredictable things, even
with the best engineering. The investigation would reveal that pressure under
the car had somehow gone negative, pulling the belly pan down from the firewall
that separated Bob from the engine compartment behind him. Drain holes in the
belly pan, made tiny to lessen wind resistance, were not able to expel the
gathering fluid, and it continued to collect. At the back of the car. We're
accelerating, remember? At last, through the final lights. Off the
gas. Like me, Bob probably contemplated the scene for a moment before
tossing the laundry. Your car may be fishtailing or bouncing, or it may be
wonderfully solid, as if "on rails." Either way, when the chute
blossoms, reassuringly slamming you forward into the belts, the release drains
every cell of your body. Phew! It's over. I'm safe! All we do now is wait,
as it all slows down.
I'm sure Bob was feeling the same kind of relief as the sudden deceleration
sloshed the puddle of nitromethane forward and the fuel ignited on the hot
exhaust manifolds. The burning fuel immediately found its way under the firewall
and into the driver's compartment. A few seconds later it melted the high
pressure oxygen line, only insuring that it would all happen more quickly.
It was over so fast that when the car rolled to a stop moments later, there was
no hint that the car was on fire, or had been on fire. Witnesses 50 feet away
saw no problems. Until they got closer.
• • • Thank you, Bob. And thank you to the men who told me that
story. I had been thinking that with a good coat of paint, my half-rusted floor
boards would probably be okay for one more season. But after last night, the
entire car is coming apart for a complete Magna Flux and re-do. And brand new
floor boards, firewall fixtures, and wiring routing.
This is serious s... And, "It ain't over 'til it's over."
Always The Student,
and I have been fast friends since I first met him at the San Gabriel Drags in
the early sixties. He ran a roadster in the same class that I ran. On the grille
shell of his '29 was a caricature of a man and the caption "Ole Man from
the Mountain". Bruce was a member of the Rod Rider's Club and ran Russetta
Lakes Meets. I believe it was 1962 that the Russetta Association disbanded and
the Rod Riders became affiliated with the SCTA.
know few people that have as great a love for competition as does Bruce. I
suspect that he has set more records at Bonneville than anyone. I know he has
the record for the most inspection decals on a car. His Stude's windshield
is completely encircled and then some.
Style Hot Rod T-Shirts
Hot Rod Collectibles
The Curmudgeon of
40 Years on the Salt
Every Friday evening at different
locations throughout Vancouver, Washington, the Slo-Poks Car Club gather for
their legendary alley nights, better known as The Alley. The Poks have been
around since the early 50's and have been doing this alley deal for as long as
anyone can remember. Club members and guests come together to do whatever comes
natural when fifty or so car guys are found in one spot surrounded by cars,
their adult refreshment of choice and about twenty pounds of shell peanuts.
Having hosted an alley a couple of years ago, and having just recently carpeted
my gallery with lush green carpet, so I can fully appreciate the lingering
presence of the Poks.
Before the peanut gallery thing, I was
a guest at another one of these gatherings. Standing in line for a free dog I
noticed this guy that wasn’t the normal Slo-Pok, actually I had never seen him
before. He appeared older than most members (I was told later that it was
because of prolonged exposure to salt), but there he was, pulling duty with the
rest of them and considering the amount of smoke he was eating it was a job
nobody else wanted. This was Bruce Geisler. As Bruce tucked a dog in my
outstretched bun I said thanks Jerry (I knew his name was Geisler, but I got him
confused with a car painter in Portland). Never missing a beat or correcting me
for my error, Bruce handed over the dog. I would soon learn that this is
Through the years I have come to
appreciate Bruce’s uniqueness. He is seldom seen out of cut-off Levi’s,
drives a pink pick-up and detests getting a haircut or a shave. Although a
little different, he is the most loyal and selfless person I know. His passion
has been cars since his high school years in Montebello, California during the
early 50's, where one of LA’s earliest car clubs, The Chipmunks was formed.
The club was actually centered on his parents cabin in Lake Arrowhead in the
mountains above Los Angeles, but it was a Montebello group because in East L.A.
at the time, clubs had their turf, much as it is today but much less lethal. To
avoid the boundary problem, the founders picked a more neutral home base. Years
later his club activities would include the Southern California Timing
Association where he is the only person to have served three consecutive stints
as president; the Rod Riders, a cornerstone dry lakes and Bonneville racing
club; and of course the Slo-Poks. His activities were not limited to the social
however, it was Geisler Construction that built the old Fontana Drag Strip and
of course sponsored many of Bruce’s
racecars. For his ever-present helping attitude he has been honored with
numerous awards of appreciation such as the S.C.T.A. Sportsmanship Award and the
coveted Meb Healy Award. All this is in addition to a group of friends that
would come to his aid without question.
Bruce Geisler’s life is surrounded by
cars and car memories. Although he has owned many through the years, the
inventory hasn’t changed much in the last twenty odd years. His daily driver
is a ‘48
GMC pick-up that was featured in Rod and Custom in 1953. It was originally built
by the Gil Ayala in 1948, and then Bruce acquired it, did it over and hit the
show circuit throughout So Cal. After trading the truck for a new ‘58 Chevy he
lost track of the Jimmy for 35 years until it surfaced in a wrecking yard in
Arizona, surprisingly in tact. Today he has it back, updated it since the early
years and now runs a blown Chevrolet small block.
Everything Bruce drives has a blower on
it, which includes a chopped ‘30
closed cab pick-up and a steel ‘32 hi-boy. Currently in the works is a ‘29 roadster pick-up
hi-boy with of course, a blown Chevy in the rails. This same car was on the
cover of Street Rodder Magazine in 1975, and the ‘30
Model A Slo-Poks truck was seen on the cover of Street Rodder in 1987.
Although cars appear to be the center
of his world, his family and friends clearly take preference. Bruce’s wife
Dianne supports his interests fully; often riding hundreds of miles is a hot
rod, sometimes not the most pleasant experience. When friends or grand kids show
up, the Geisler house is centered on them. Outside the friendly walls of the
house exists a wealth of racing history. In Bruce’s office and in the garage
the walls, shelves, cabinets, and all available space is stuffed with keepers.
Some people have their stuff, but Bruce’s stuff has heritage. Pictures,
plaques, trophies and memorabilia are everywhere. In his attic there is a stack
of old jackets and shirts from previous racing years, among them until recently,
was a NEW club jacket from the old Chipmunks Car Club dating back to 1952, which
now rides around on the back of his race car partner Gary Vail in Washington.
For car parts there is a row of GMC blowers, a few quick-change center sections
and a complete blown small block in the corner, a spare for the Bonneville car.
(The supercharger is named Monica and the engine is Mr. Bill after the infamous
Clinton/Lewinsky debacle). And then there is the whimsical. On the refrigerator
door among a hundred or so notes, magnets, and decals, is a small toilet that
when the handle is pushed it makes the appropriate sounds. Among his toys, are
special things he likes to play with, such as the remote operated fart machine
(great fun in a museum) or the little black box that emits several prerecorded
expressions we have all used from time to time in moments of discontent, none of
which can be discussed here. His GMC pick-up is outfitted with one of those
heart stopping air horns, a driver education device, as Bruce puts it.
Bruce has a history at Bonneville and
El Mirage that goes back into the 50's. He has been land speed racing for over
40 years, not the oldest dog on the salt, but close. His dedication to salt
racing is clear and like many of his fellow competitors guards the jealously
tradition of Bonneville. He has run a ‘29 roadster, several Corvettes, a '55 Chevy, a lakester, his famous Studebaker and when the racecar
couldn’t make the race or broke, the push cars made their share of passes. One
of these episodes included a Dodge pick-up, with camper, large camper. He
doesn’t remember how fast it went. Bruce’s engines have also powered other
cars to records such as the Vern McGee street roadster in 1971, ‘72 and ‘76.
Four times he has been S.C.T.A. High Points Champion, is a member of the
S.C.T.A.’s Wheels of Fame, the dry lakes Hall of Fame in Buellton, California
and is a life member in the 200 M.P.H. Club at Bonneville. Today Bruce still
campaigns his 1953 Studebaker coupe, the same car that he first brought to the
salt in 1960. This summer of 2000 was to be Bruce’s 42nd year on
the salt, and some say the final outing for the venerable Studebaker.
Through all those years, one thing that
stayed constant is the ‘53 Studebaker Coupe. Most of the records attributed to
Bruce are with this car. Hundreds of fireside stories can be associated with
this car, revered by Studebaker aficionados and respected by all who have
witnessed its long life and contributions to land speed racing. Originally
purchase for $60 from a Southern California wrecking yard (Bruce still has the
sales receipt) it was quickly pressed into service as a racecar to run the
lakes, Bonneville and the occasional drag event. By the year 2000, the Stude had
set 50 records with this car which has also put three people in the prestigious
200 Mile Per Hour Club. 45 additional records have had Bruce’s name attached
to them over the years. Records attributed to Bruce were most prolific in 1968
and 1972, garnering four records each year at Bonneville alone, two cars each
year, with 1968 and 1989 yielding seven records each year at Bonneville and the
dry lakes combined, again with several cars. At the end of the 1974 season, the
Geisler name was on 11 active records.
first land speed racing took place in 1957 with a SR-1 factory race Corvette, of
which there were only 6 built. A street able car, the Corvette was sharing
duties as a daily driver and a weekend warrior running the quarter mile at Santa
Ana and the lakes of El Mirage. This was the car that started the record
collection when in 1957 at El Mirage the Corvette set a record in AB Sports Car class going 126 m.p.h.. Still active in the Chipmunks,
it was during this period the Chipmunks had purchased a ‘29 Ford roadster as a
club racecar. It was about 1959 when the Chipmunks disbanded and Bruce acquired
the roadster, and began racing at the old San Gabriel Drag Strip and soon at El
Mirage, then setting its first records on its initial outing to Bonneville.
Bruce has a picture of the car at Bonneville pitted with the world-class
modified roadster of Mardon-Ohly-Bentley. The race number that Bruce uses today
as then, is 219 which first appeared on the roadster in 1959. The
Mardon-Ohly-Bentley roadster was 229, just a coincidence Bruce says, but for
those of us who like to wallow in the romantic, it is clearly providence.
After Bonneville in 1959, Bruce decided
to make the roadster a little more show worthy. He disassembled the car, but as
the racing season loomed closer he knew the roadster would not be ready in time.
It was at this point that the Studebaker came into the picture. The injected
Chevrolet small block and trans from the roadster went into the Stude for its
first race at El Mirage in early 1960. The roadster was never completed, after
doing a lot of chrome work; it was sold and eventually parted out. Considering
Bruce’s penchant for saving things you might think that some parts of the
roadster are nearby. He did know of the body’s whereabouts for a while, but
soon lost track of it. A few months following the acquisition of the Stude
another Corvette came to the Geisler stable, which eventually set numerous
records and stayed with Bruce until 1983. That car is chronicled in a recent
article in Vette Magazine.
Even though the Geisler name has
appeared in many magazine features (15 at last count), on the membership lists
of some of California’s pioneer car clubs, was President of the Southern
California Timing Association, won sportsmanship awards, yearly points
championship trophies, endless timing tags as class winner, has been lettered on
the sides of Corvettes, a street roadster and a lakester, it is still the
Studebaker for which Bruce is most known. Since 1960 it has competed in many
classes, run a wide variety of power plants, and has numerous partnerships,
including the likes of Mike Cook, Bob Kehoe, Don Stringfellow, and Gale Banks.
The relationships that have developed over those years include the who’s who
of the speed industry. When Doug Thorley had a muffler shop in East Los Angeles
and needed a pit dug, it was Bruce that loaned him the equipment to do the job.
Doug’s logo is still on the side of the racecar today. Many of the people who
participated with Bruce and his Stude in 1960 are still with him.
In addition to Doug there is Gale
Banks. In the early sixties and before the world was aware of Gale, he was also
running a Studebaker. Soon Gale and Bruce had decided to share shop space from
which they ran the cars. To appreciate this next event you must understand that
Bruce is not an unkempt person, but his attention to detail is noticeably more
casual than Banks, Gale likes things in their place and extra tidy. Apparently
this shop had been a redwood furniture factory, so every time you closed the
door a new cloud of redwood dust would appear. Although Bruce is not afraid of a
broom, he clearly has the first blank space syndrome. That means that when you
have something in your hand, the first empty space you see is where it belongs.
We are not sure if it was this or the redwood dust but soon the Bruce and Gale
Show made different turns at the corner. They remain lasting friends, but under
Decades later Gale’s operations would
spearhead the S-15 pick-up for GMC and a Firebird for Pontiac which would
include Bruce. Today when Bruce visits the impossibly busy Mr. Turbo Banks at
his complex in Azusa, special considerations are in order. During a recent visit
with several of his friends in tow, it was clear that Gale had a full plate that
day as he was locked in his office. Shortly after Bruce began beating on his
door, Mr. Banks was personally escorting us around his facility on the grand
tour. Friendships such as these seem to be routine at Bruce’s garage.
Through the years the Stude has used
numerous Chevrolet engines including 258, 296, 300, 302, 304, 327, 355 and 383
displacements, unblown, blown and turbo charged, and later even a V-6 Buick. One
of the most powerful of those was a small block Chevrolet from Bank’s shop,
304 cubic inches with twin turbos pushing the car to a 209 M.P.H. record in
1980. Prior to that a one-way pass of 242 had been experienced in 1978, only to
blow a tire on a subsequent run nearly destroying the car. In 1981 and again in
1984 the car would make several mid 220 mph passes but would never set a record
to exceed the 209 mark.
In 1979 at Bonneville Bruce became
acquainted with Bob Sinner of Camas, Washington. Bob had a Studebaker and was
there to get some helpful hints on running the car. Bruce and Bob were soon to
meet, and in the following months Bruce would offer to loan him an engine.
During the trip to deliver the engine to Washington, Bruce was having a little
engine trouble with his turbo Pinto powered closed cab ‘29 pick-up. He and Bob
went to the local machine shop where Bruce first met Gary Vail. This friendship
would flourish through many phone calls and mutual house visits. Before you knew
it Gary was visiting Bonneville and crewing on the Studebaker. By 1985 Bruce was
involved with Gale Banks and Don Stringfellow in a Pontiac Firebird gas
supercharged coupe project, then on to the 206 M.P.H. S-15 pick-up project, Gary
crewed on both efforts. During this four-year period Bruce had loaned the
Studebaker out, and by the end of the loan, the years on the salt and lack of
attention by the last tenant had brought the car to near death.
The historic car was about to start
down a road that would be both threatening to its survival and be the key to its
salvation. In 1989 a decision had to be made whether to scrap the car or do a
complete restoration. Gary Vail and friend Mark Brislawn recovered the car from
its storage in up state Washington. Gary looked at the history that sat before
him, and being the car romantic that he is, decided that the car must be brought
back, it must be saved. Starting in 1990 and continuing over the next two years,
Gary nearly single handedly stripped the car to a bare hulk, restoring the old
salt warrior to perfection. Bruce gives all the credit to Gary, without his
commitment the car would have been crushed long ago he says. As the conclusion
of the restoration the car was in the best condition since its showroom days in
During the restoration Courtney Hizer
from Georgia expressed an interest in running one his engines in the car. His
involvement would be extremely helpful in bringing the car back to the salt and
resurrecting its glory days. The Tomoka Brady built V-6 Buick running gas with a
single carburetor similar to the Busch Grand National cars of the day, set a
record in 1994 at 188.114. For years Gale Banks had been a supporter of
Bruce’s Stude, supplying parts and help from time to time. Since then Gale has
re-entered the picture as an active player. The Banks organization built a 258
cubic inch blown small block Chevrolet to run in AE
supercharged gas coupe. Although the 1999 effort set another record, the outing
was bit by last minute gremlins and overall, was disappointing. For 2000, Mr.
Banks had made a significant commitment. Changes to the engine were made, and
then had run-in time on the new Bank’s dyno. With the capability and history
of the car, along with the talent of the owners and crew, the 200 M.P.H. barrier
should again be eclipsed which will but Gary Vail in The 2 Club.
Bob Robe, an engineer in Gale Bank’s
R&D Department, has been with the car since 1978. As is the case with all of
the crewmembers, Bob volunteers his time and considerable knowledge to the
Bonneville efforts. Bob’s
help, along with the rest of the crew, have made it possible to create this salt
history. People like Bob, Roger Miller, JJ Penman, Larry Woodrift, Jeff Sawyer,
Gary Hodges, Vern McGee, Lee Hackley, Mike Maris, and Jim the kid Wagner among
others, have crewed on the car over the years. Bruce and Gary are very
appreciative of their friends, and the front fender of the Stude says it all,
don’t leave home without them.
With 50 records attributed to the
Studebaker, the first one coming in 1961, hopefully that will not stop soon.
Records attributed to Bruce were most prolific in 1968 and 1972, garnering four
records each year at Bonneville alone (two cars each year), with 1968 and 1989
yielding seven records each year at Bonneville and the dry lakes combined (again
with several cars). At the end of the 1974 season, the Geisler name was on 11
Although the Studebaker is the star of
Bruce’s car life, an experience with one of the former cars is worth telling.
In addition to the aforementioned SR-1 Corvette there was another Corvette, a
‘56 which already had a racing history with Jack Lufkin at Daytona and
Bonneville, the one Bruce owned for over 20 years. Acquired in 1960 when the
Studebaker was beginning life on the salt, it is a unique part of the story,
having been street driven and raced continuing to set records until 1968, then
stored away to eventually be sold in 1983. But that is not where the story ends.
Occasionally Bruce gave the sale of the Corvette a regrettable thought, wishing
he had the car back. In 1999 while Bruce was touring a specialty car dealer in
Southern California, he happened upon a red 1956 Corvette. Bruce says AI had a Corvette like this one once, hey, this looks like my old
car...IT IS MY OLD CAR! He had come upon the car completely by accident. The car
still had the roll bar, rear suspension and shortened steering column that was
put in the car during the mid sixties, and had given it=s identity away to Bruce. Although completely restored, the
provenance was clear. In the early years of the Stude it ran Halibrand wheels,
which eventually wound up on the Corvette. While talking about the Corvette with
a sales person, he commented that there was a set of wheels that came off of the
Corvette upstairs in storage, Awe
put billet wheels on it which makes it look much better. Bruce originally gave
the wheels to the purchaser of the Corvette, to be put on the car later. So
having experienced the reunion with the car, a second was about to take place,
after having purchased the wheels in 1961, the wheels and their original owner
were once again together. Bruce fondled the wheels like a lost child. Kinda
sounds like a strange love affair thing, but you must admit that is a highly
Over the last fifteen years or so,
especially helped by the Save the Salt campaign, Bonneville and the original hot
rod spirit has been refocused. This is evidenced by the return to traditional
hot rods. Most of us seem to change directions within our hobby with the
popular. Few have stayed consistent over 40 years. We are fortunate that there
are people that have kept Bonneville and the true hot-rodding spirit alive,
waiting to be found again.
With the final runs of the famous
Studebaker approaching, some might think Bruce’s career is closing too, but he
is far from done. There is a hi-boy ‘29 in the works, which will certainly at
least see the salt, not to mention any number of hot rods around for him to work
on. Recently a ‘32 five-window coupe has joined the stable. Although he is
uncertain of his future at Bonneville, his days are still full being a hot
rodder, building ‘em and drivin ‘em.
Wouldn’t it be cool
if the last run of the last run at Bonneville for the famous Studebaker would be
made by the venerable red car, kinda like riding off into the sunset with Hoppy,
and Lash and Tom and Gene and Roy. Nope, can’t do that, then the Stude could
never run again, and I for one am just are not ready to close that door, not
The Burt Munro Story
|I knew he was on the
salt and had heard some talk of his mission. I was impressed by the
sight of his bike and had watched him make a qualifying run. He got my
interest early on because of what he was doing and his advanced years...I
was 32, he was 63. (In time, I was to understand and see that in a
I first talked to Burt at the nine mile post on
record runs in 1962. It was my job at the post to talk to the
drivers/riders and inform them of the proper procedures for making the
return run. When he came rolling in at the end of his first leg of
his record run, he got off his bike, his right pant leg was soaked with
fuel and his face was full of salt. He smiled and said, "I say , its
a might salty out there."
As was often the case with others, in the excitement
surrounding the moment, he did not heed my recommendations for making his
return run. In order for him to have his speed in the correct mile on
return, he needed to take it easy for the first couple of miles and then
lean on it to make his record. He left the nine mile at full throttle and
blew the engine before he reached the timing traps. Although he failed on
this attempt, he came back later in the week to set the record.
In the coming days and years, I came to know and
appreciate this man and his stories. He was indeed a man on a mission, a
man short on funds and long on determination. He was delightful to
listen to. His wit and philosophy of life made an impression on me.
His favorite comment was, "Make Do!" I understood what that
meant since I was also a person with little funds to pursue my dream and
often I had to do with less than I would have liked. "Make do"
was often employed in my mission as well.
There is a story told by Rollie Free, Burt's friend and
companion on his first trip to the salt. Burt had purchased an old Nash
sedan, a 1941, I believe, to tow his motorcycle. (The movie uses a '54
Chevrolet) During the trip to the salt, the transmission broke some gears
and punched a hole in the transmission case. Rollie wanted to go to a
wrecking yard and find another transmission, but Burt said, we'll Make
Do." He pulled the transmission, removed the broken parts, whittled a
wooden plug and drove it in the hole in the case. That is the way they
continued to use the Nash. This was not an unusual event for Burt. This is
the way he lived!
The following was taken from the internet. It is the
contents of a couple of letters written by Burt to a friend chronicling
his life's pursuit of speed..
H. J 'Bert Munro' 1899-1977'
Well it is a bit hard to cram a brief
history and spec of a bike I bought new in 1920 for 140 pounds cash and
have been developing since 1926. it has gone 3 ¼ m.p.h. faster
each year for 44 years which is about average for some factory bikes
over the same period. I have been riding since 1915 and owned a Clyno
v-twin in 1919- 1920 which I sold to a blacksmith and then bought the
1920 Scout, engine number 5OR627. I have made 5 heads for it, countless
pistons and conrods, carburetors, magneto parts , scores of cams, fork
changes, many wheels built as tyres and rims changed. The last one was
for the front wheel last July when I changed from 19" to 18" as I
cannot get high speed from 19 x 2.75 tires anymore. This I cut the
tread off with a knife then smoothed down to the bottom of the non-skid
For the first 22 years after 1926 it was weekends and nights getting
ready for hill-climbs, trials and standing ¼ and flying ¼
mile events, and 1 mile dirt sidecar races at Penrith Speedway, NSW,
Australia. Between 26 and 29 I had records in hill-climbs, standing
¼ and flying ¼, and petrol consumption runs, one of 116
This covers the start of my tuning efforts and has continued up
to the present time. I rode second next to Les Weatherby in the world's
first mile T T in Chatswood in North Sydney. The track was cut out of
the bush with stumps and roots left, and a high jump out of a deep
creek. This is now known as a scramble or motocross.
Then in 1927, solo on Aspendale Speedway, Melbourne, Australia, I
jumped off at 90 m.p.h.+ when in a bad speed wobble at the end of
straight with one hand on oil pump. We hit a deep gutter and took off
on the bend, landed with the bars pulled round a little, and my heavy
29" oversize tire on front just kept the wobble and was heading for the
post and rail fence. The 10,000 spectators were told in paper that I
was unhurt but I was pretty sick in bed for a week or two with
concussion and many bruises. The Saturday before this at Inverloch
Beach in Victoria, my flathead Scout won a gold medal at 90.01 mph
equal with a 1928 Chicago 61" Harley Davidson ridden by an airforce
pilot from point Cook, Victoria, Australia.
From 1929 I returned to New Zealand after four years in Australia when
work finally could not be had (this was the Great Depression). I spent
the next 10 years as motor cycle traveler. This was finally given up
around 1941 when one of my rare (by this time) crashes put me off for
11 months. When I returned to NZ I was invited to join the local
motorcycle club and an now a life member and have been for many years.
After joining I just lived for beach races, grass track, mile and also
¼ mile, hill climbs, speed trials, trials, road racing, drags
and I think the beach was the greatest in 1940. About seven years ago
averaged 83.43 m.p.h. in a six mile race which I won. This was on a
championship fancied beach course a few miles from Invercargill. This
is where I do most of my testing nowadays.
|| In 1948 I decided to give up work and concentrate on getting a good run
out of my old bike as by this time I thought I was getting better at
designing parts and would go to the Canterbury Speed Trials held each
year north of Christchurch. Well I went there for 22 years, this was a
1,000 mile round trip from home. I broke the NZ records more than once,
but was only three times satisfied I had gone as good as I could go at
the time, and those three times their timer failed for me. The last
time was 10 or 11 years ago and the ACU rep said, never mind, next year
we will have cable buried in side of the road. Then they could not get
it anymore because of increased use of this long straight road known as
Tram Road, North Canterbury, NZ.
I will try and give you a rough
specification of the past and present of engine and cycle. I have and
still hold some records in the 37 ci class, under 750 cc class, 55ci
class and lastly 61ci class, all with my 1920 flathead Scout. My first
major record was the NZ Open Road record established on the Aylesbury
straight in 1940 at a mean 120.8m.p.h. This was held for twelve years.
The under 750 cc Road record at 143.43 and NZ Open Road record at the
same time. Also NZ Beach record in 1957. Although this is still
attempted each year it remains unbroken at 132.38 m.p.h.
55 ci AMA world record 1962 at Bonneville, engine was 51ci at this
time. 1966 engine 56ci 168.06m.p.h. American 61 ci record 1967 183.6.
best run 190.07 qualifying. 1969 record number of runs for a
streamliner, 14 in four and a half days. I had magneto and carburetion
troubles and finally burned-up pistons when gas tap shut off on last
chance of a qualifying run. I have hauled bike or engine to USA eight
times in my attempt to get one good run but this has always eluded my
The last 22 years has been full-time as I could never get enough hours
to do things. After finally getting 94 m.p.h. from the flatheads and
running on Borneo Aviation Gas I had a go at making ohv heads. A
foundry told me how to go about making patterns and I finally had them
finished after a year of work until the first day it ran. Believe it or
not the first runs were slower than my best on the sidevalve but over
the years I gradually got it going faster till in 1937 I was getting
110 m.p.h. from it, also breaking conrods. About then a mate and I were
returning from a distant beach meeting and another pair of rods had
broken, and he said why not write to the Indian factory and get special
rods. This got me thinking and I acquired a broken Ford truck axle and
carved out two rods in five months. These were in it for 20 years and
were standing up to over 140 m.p.h. By 1950 I was getting 150 m.p.h
I have had many
terrific blow-ups, the last two were during this last 11 months. I will
describe one I had at Muriwai Beach, Auckland in April 1969. I hauled my
Munro Special up there 1130 miles and blew a piston ( I had just made
thirteen new ones for 1969), the rod and pin toe up and down, put tram
tracks and split both new cylinders, punched large hole in front of case,
bent mag armature, broke slip ring and magnets on ML into five pieces. I
hauled home and in eight and a half weeks had it running again. Eight more
new pistons, two new home made rods, magnets cut form an old Bosch magneto. The brief history is almost impossible to put together
but I should give you a rough idea of some of my best crashes.
1916, out all day after landing on head. 1921, riding standing on seat of
Scout waiting for Uncle Alf to get his King Dickgoing. I looked round and woke up that evening after a whole days
absence from what was going on. In 1927, jumped off on a dirt track
Aspendale Speedway at over 90mph. Concussion and bruising from feet to
back of neck. 1932, stopped to get a rider going in Western Southland when
on my traveling job. I told the guy I would follow him in case it stopped
again. We came to a farmhouse at a cross road. A dog ran at him. I caught
it on the rebound and came around later concussed and bloody from a deep
scalp wound. 1934, crashed Clifton Gorge, struck a wash-out before could
pull-up. Came around concussed. 1937, in 20 mile beach race, doing 110
when Hugh Currie, BSA Special, the last rider I had to catch, turned in
front of me. I hit the 6" brake and tried to steer behind him as he
banked over to turn. My bike climbed up and over his and sailed 120 feet
clear of the beach before landing. He was knocked-out and had broken
collar bone. My bash-hat was split from crown to rim in two places. Weeks
later he told me what knocked me out and split the hat. The underside of
his engine landed square on my head. When he was repairing his bike he
found the varnish marks from my hat on the cases. I had all my teeth
knocked out and my brother picked up numerous gold filled ones from the
sand. This was one of the saddest moments of my life when I found my
priceless teeth no more.
1940, running on home built gas producer. Still traveler for some motorcycle firm and running at top speed of 56 m.p.h. on coal. I hit a ridge
of wet gravel and ran off to side of road but regained control on fence
line. But before I could let go of bar and shut off gas and air lever I
hit an 18" deep cutting into a farmhouse, the bike struck the far bank
and shot right up into the air and back to the gravel road. My head hit
the road, I was unconscious for one and a half hours and came-to blind
from dried blood in eyes. I had hemorrhage of brain for a week and
concussed, and was of work for 11 months. I had part concuss - ional
headaches for about 15 years form this so I gave up the traveling as I
did not care to travel by bus or car to sell bikes.
1959, was in a drag at Teretonga International track when at 110mph the
bike got into a sudden fast speed wobble.
- I jumped off the side and
rolled and skidded and bounced 15 feet high they tell me. I finished
in the hospital for seven and a half weeks. When I finished the crash I
had bash hat still on, waistband of pants, tennis shoes and pieces of
socks. I was only slightly concussed. It was missing flesh, and skin
took building up again. One finger was ground half way through the bone
but still works but one joint is crook. All the other crashes involved
just bones or scars or burns and one arm ripped apart at the shoulder.
In five and a half months it grew back but still hurts at rest when I
lie on it.
For this year I have made the new cylinders and pistons to the largest
bore ever, it is now 3.192 inches x 96mm giving 60.54 ci. For eight
years I have carved out new rods, cylinders and pistons and cams, and
work full time on either my 1936 Velo or the Indian.
The man himself on a 101 Scout
with his special in the foreground. Note the startling lack of ornamentation! For
10 years I worked 16 hours a day in the shed and was
told to slow up a few years ago and now work 7 days and about 70 hours a
week. The flywheels I made form 5" axle hammered out under steam
hammer. Just finished pistons. I had these eight heat-treated for the
first time. Crank in 1928 Scout turned down to ¾" and then sleeved.
I made this from oil hardening steel and squeeze on and pull up with
standard nuts. I leave the taper with ¾" hole in it to fit drive
side flywheel. The rods of course now have bigger eye and smaller rollers.
The main shafts right up to about three years ago were standard, about
13/16"; with four sets of caged genuine Indian rollers ¼ x
5/16" running on the shafts. Well, as speed mounted-up over the years
I got visions of them breaking and in 1957 I had a new pin, crank-pin that
is, given to me in Springfield on a visit to Indian factory. This I fitted
to the timing side with big-end bearings.
Then the drive side looked so thin. I looked around and had a spare
gearbox mainshaft. So I ground the four outside splines off it and made up
two drive shafts form it, then had them re-hardened and ground locally. I
bored out the taper in flywheel in my three and a half inch Myford lathe.
By the way, I completely made my new cylinder heads in the same lathe. The
only change is to cut about one and a quarter off gap in bed for
flywheels. This probably weakens it a bit but I still work it every day,
and have since it was new 22 years ago. I am on my second set of back
gears, worn out about 12 years ago, and my third lead screw is now badly
Cams I made by file and saw since 1926 but now have built a cam grinder
and make them in pairs as I spent 800 hours in 1963 making the engine
into a four cam set-up. After I time them I pin them to the ¼"
hole in the standard cam-wheels on Scout. Cam followers are filed from
axle steel and I make a fork to take a ¾" x ¼" roller
running on needles, and an oiler to keep a good flow from the 1933
Indian oil pump I had given me in 1956. This I modified to pump the oil
to big end, and was when I made my steel flywheels.
The 1920 Scout frame and my third streamliner shell
are still in USA. The first full shell I built tool me five years
to hammer out of sheet aluminum. I could only work at it when I had my
bike ready for testing then if it blew-up I would work on the engine
until running again, then hammer away at it again, or suddenly think of
some new scheme to get more speed. Of course these brainwaves often
made it slower or just more blown parts. By the way, I have read of E
Fernihough's death and perhaps I can offer a reason for him running off
the road that day. I have several times had similar experiences caused
by a side wind of only two to three m.p.h. if one is traveling at over
180 as on most occasions with me, the bike steers over to one side but
I start to steer it back at once. But I have had it go 12 feet over the
outside of the black line before getting it back to the center of
track. If this were on a road of course there is no chance of survival.
The first shell I took with me to Bonneville in 1962 was the second I
had built. The first one of aluminum was too hard to ride, too neat a
fit and I had great difficulty getting the gears. So I modified it and
used it as a mould for number two of fiberglass. I had my first run on
it at Bonneville in 1962, and was ordered to have a test run with
officials following in a car. It just veered from side to side at all
speeds. I said to myself I may as well ship it back home, they will
never let me run a thing like this. When they came up with me they
said, handles ok. I said, What! They repeated handled good.
- For the next five or six years I had some
of the worst out of control rides on record. The worst was five miles
late in 1962 when in an effort to stop wheel-spin at 160 I built a 60lb
lead brick and bolted it in front of rear wheel. By the time I got to
three mile marker the top of the shell was swerving five feet and wheel
marks were five inches wide and snaking thirty inches every 200 yards,
measured and lined-up later. Well when you figure you can only die next
skid you try anything, so I wound it all on for another one and a half
miles and when I found out it would go on that way forever I rolled it
back and got it stopped. When the gang arrived and found me laughing
and asked me the joke, I said I was happy to still be alive. The cure
is to sit-up and let the body strike the air. This shifts center of
pressure back behind center of gravity. I learned this the hard way.
Lead brick should have been in front of the front wheel and shell
higher off the ground. At rear, air packed under tail and lifted weight
off rear wheel and thus caused wheel-spin.
More specs. I have mods in clutch, the standard Raybestos plates
are long gone and I have 17 standard steel plates, hardened and ground.
I fit 24 standard clutch springs giving a pressure of 1360lbs on the
pressure plate, and the standard thrust race and withdrawal screw haul
this free for freeing and gear changing. I have a left hand lever and
wire to operating arm and a small foot assist lever on the clutch worm
shaft. I only use this for long gear engagement during test runs
without shell. Over the years I made four chain drives having finally
ground helical teeth off clutch body and filed out 46 half inch pitch
teeth by hand and now run a three-row chain on a 22 engine sprocket and
still the 46 clutch sprocket. This Reynolds in London told me 15 years
ago would be impossible and would never work but it has run in there
for the last 35 years or so in 10 SAE oil.
The gearbox is original, but I was unable to get new sliding dog
and was visiting an old acquaintance in Sydney in 1948, he had bought
out Mr Bidens stock of Indian parts. I bought a set of 1916 Power Plus
Indian gears, lay shaft cluster and sliding dog. The cluster I
shortened 3/8" and have run on them this past 22 years.
Cylinders I usually make from very old city gasworks pipe,
cast-iron condemned, because of very large pits. I manage to get short
lengths without too deep marks and because of the thickness, about
½-5/8", I can have enough thickness for a base. The barrels are
old pistons melted in a small pot on the two gallon can furnace I use
for melting-down for making pistons. The muff casting I turn-down in
the Myford, bore undersize then heat-up with blow-lamp and drop onto
liners. Pistons I redesign every year and make about half a dozen or so
and take with me to USA for spares. Some years I have used every one
and even welded-up burned-out ones there. When Jim Enz and his wife
wanted to help me with fuel, I said I would like to try alcohol and
they bought me five gallons of best brand Mickey Thompson alcohol. Boy
it sure was the best piston burner! I guess it had Nitro or TNT in it.
Every run the pistons vaporized. No alloy heads on my heap.
Carburetor is 1924 Indian Chief. I have sawn a cut full length on
top of it, bent it out and welded piece of brass in gap and run it in
normal position with a T shape manifold made from one and three eights
steel tubing. I have tuned five carbs for my bike since 1927 when I
swapped the Schebler H for a Schebler deluxe, and all others I have
tuned and modified have been deluxe Scheblers fitted to the
Indians made later than mine.
This year since arriving home from USA five months ago, have put
in 560 hours on the Munro Special. The main jobs were two new alloy
rods- two weeks, two new cylinders and barrels- one week, eight new
pistons and much work on old dies for same- three weeks. I am making
two new sets of cams for this year. Making a 180 degree Bosch mag into
a 42 degree by making new brass cam ring. From old ball race the two
cams were made, filed and timed accurately then quenched in oil. As
this 0 year old magneto rotated backwards I had to make up a drive
different from standard. This I finally got working by taking out the
two idler pinions, and fitting a big cam wheel from a late model
Indian. This has four teeth more than my engine and by cutting 1/8" off
base of mag and cutting into cases a little and jamming it back and
boring new holes and tapping-out in same, I finally got the drive
fixed. I also made a movable shaft to run the large pinion on and thus
get a close tooth adjustment.
Since finishing the above I have been testing at the beach and have
been out 17 times and had 11 blow-ups. This consisted of mostly broken
pistons of older designs. I was testing out a steel rod and a new carb
I had made these last two or three years. I ran it on 20 to 1 to test
the rod, then built better pistons and ran three in it, one after the
other, until I had one that should stand-up to 13 to 1. As soon as I
lowered the compression to 13, the rod which had stood-up to all the
broken pistons finally shattered top end when I was accelerating hard
in top at 5,500. I took it down, the new piston was in many pieces, pin
broken in half, cylinder scored and split at skirt and hammered out
wedge shape and locked in cases. One rocker arm broken, one twisted,
one push rod broken, one buckled. Other breaks were cam follower I had
made from magnesium four or five years ago, another rocker and pushrods
bent and both valves bent.
Development goes on all the time and has been full-time these
last 22 years. I would like to make another DOHC set up. I still have
the one I made and ran in quarter-mile grass track races about 1951.
This fitted out front cylinder and rear was blanked-off. It was just an
exercise as everyone was talking double knockers at the time. It is
only lately I have had ideas to try to fit-up one for the rear as well
but have so far failed to get time. Pulled the head off this morning
and am starting two new rods from DC6 B propeller. I hope to find it
strong enough. It was sent to me from Auckland as I cannot get the
70-70 or 20-24 alloy in NZ. I like to improve design every year in
cams, carbs (just finished a new one yesterday), con rods, pistons and
sometimes valves and guides when they wear a little, and cylinders.
It is almost impossible for me to give you a true picture of the
time I have spent on my cycles. The last 22 years has been full time
and for one stretch of 10 years put in 16 hours every day, but on
Christmas Day only took the afternoon off.
I have booked berth on SS P&O Oriana for USA June 15th but
will not go if cannot pass the doctor.
Another one of the early pioneers in the sport of drag racing, Gary Cagle was
a man of many moods. Most of the time he was a happy go lucky individual but if
he was pushed hard he could be about as tough as anyone around. He had a true
love affair with racing and didn't limit this love to just working on a car or
Like most southern California hot rodders, Cagle started out on the dry lake
beds of El Mirage & the Bonneville salt flats. His fastest speed on the El
Mirage 1 mile dirt course netted a 199 mph time slip, in his Fuel Chrysler belly
tank in 1956. The following year at Bonneville, Cagle ran the same car to the
tune of 204 mph, etching his name into the Grant piston rings 200 mph Club.
Gary started drag racing almost as soon as the old Santa Ana drag strip
opened and in a variety of cars. One of his early rides was a four-banger
powered rail job that he campaigned with partner Don Hampton.
While he was known as the driver of many early drag cars, Gary's first real
notoriety came while he was driving Chet Herbert's slingshot dragster. This car
was one of the very first to be fitted with a 392 Chrysler Hemi engine and a
top-mounted blower. The Cagle & Herbert fuel dragster became the first car
to top 180 at Bakersfield during the innaugural US Fuel & Gas Championships.
The blown fueler was clocked at 180.36 mph two times in a row that day.
Driving for Herbert also gave Gary a tie in with Chet's sister, Doris Herbert
who owned and published Drag News. Gary was one of the first drag racers who
decided he could make a living as a touring professional drag racer and through
Doris, Gary was able to arrange for a tour of Midwestern and Eastern drag strips
in the summer of 1959. The California hot-shoe started the tour out on a high
note but a horrific crash at Great Bend after a 169 mph run cut short the entire
tour. Cagle suffered a lot of physical damage, including one of the first known
hip replacements in the U.S. and it was a long time before he recovered enough
to begin racing again. When Gary was able to re-enter the drag racing wars in
1961, he did so with a series of home built fuel dragsters utilizing the 300
cubic inch Chrysler Windsor blocks, with hemi heads. A Vernon California police
officer by trade, Cagle took his dragsters on the family vacations running match
races & setting records in many of the western states such as Pocotello
Idaho, Henderson Nev. Salt Lake, Half Moon Bay, Fremont, Houston, & Las
Vegas. Gary also test-drove cars for fellow H.O.F. inductees, Tony Waters and
Don Alderson. He drove for Mickey Thompson as well as Dean Moon, winning the
middle eliminator title at the '62 Winternationals driving the Mooneyes
dragster. In early 1963, Gary built one of the most memorable & most
photographed machines ever, the bright yellow Newhouse Auto Parts fuel roadster.
With its '23 T glass body and 299 cu. in. fuel Chrysler running through a torque
converter, the Newhouse/Cagle car really shook up the west coast competitors,
setting records at the above mentioned strips and often running heads-up &
beating some of the hottest AA/FD teams. The car was very popular in CJ Harts
'competition eliminator' class at Lions, racing against guys like Larry Dixon
Sr., Frank Pedregon Sr., & Gary Cochran who also were running modified fuel
roadsters & coupes. In early ‘64, Gary also campaigned the gorgeous Briggs
& Cagle top fueler, best know for its unique trap-door parachute system. In
late 1965, the Briggs & Cagle dragster was fitted with a 23 T body, &
won competition eliminator at the Hot Rod Magazine race in Riverside.
It was during this same period that Gary became one of the most outspoken
leaders of the United Drag Racers Association, an organization of immense
political significance in the history of drag racing. Gary helped the UDRA
organization go to battle with many of the strip managers and operators over
such things as safety, purses, and any other issue he believed was not in the
best interest of the racers. No one ever knew Gary to back away from fighting
for his beliefs when it came to racing, especially when it meant sticking up for
the "little guys".
Gary Cagle walked away from drag racing cold turkey in 1967, something a lot
of drag racers just can’t do. According to P.J. Partridge, Gary "got lost
for a couple of years".
While planning on making a return in 1971, Cagle suffered another severe
setback. While riding dirt bikes with his son at El Mirage dry lake, Gary
crashed & lost the use of his left arm & left eye.
It wasn't until 1975 that Cagle’s Bonneville & dry lakes buddies 'came
& got him', putting him to work at the Southern California Timing
While at UDRA, he had gained experience in producing successful events, and
also gained a lot of knowledge while working in hot car staging at some of the
AHRA’s major meets. In 1976, Gary became the Chief Timer for SCTA, running the
clocks for the worlds fastest speed trials. He was instrumental in keeping El
Mirage dry lake open for racers so they could fulfill there speed experiments as
he and so many others did in the early 50s. Gary eventually became president of
SCTA in '82 & '83, and also became president of ‘s 200 mph Club in 1988.
This love affair with the SCTA was Gary’s passion until the end of his life in
1994. Drag & land speed racing never made Gary Cagle a super-celebrity and
it certainly never made him monetarily rich, but it did give Gary something
money cannot buy, the enjoyment of participating in a sport he loved, and a man
who was rich with friends.
February 26, 1931 - October 20, 2002
(Note: Much of the following info I acquired from my Bonneville
Programs, but some of the dates, etc. are from memory and may be in error.
If you should note an error, please notify me so I can correct it.)
I don't really remember when I first had a conversation with Nolan, but
I became aware of his presence on the Salt soon after I began attending
Speedweek in 1957. Nolan got my attention by his performance in his Modified
Sports entry, a highly modified Devin roadster which he converted to a
coupe by installing a fiber glass top. His car was powered by a small block
Chevrolet with a roller chain driven 4-71 supercharger. Nolan was always
a bootstrap racer who designed and made most of his own specialized parts.
This, of course presented problems when breakage occurred, but since the
word "quit" was not in his vocabulary, he usually managed to make repairs
and continue in competition. In later years he did acquire sponsorship
that gave him the ability to compete with a higher level of equipment.
There are not many of pictures of Nolan's cars appearing in the racing
publications until the later years. He ran two different sports cars
at Bonneville, but to date, I have been unable to acquire pictures of either.
He always ran hard, but so far as I can tell he never set a record on the
Salt until 1963 when he set two records (A/Sports Racing @ 213.402 mph
and B/Sports Racing @ 210.474 mph) which gave him membership in the Bonneville
200 MPH Club. In 1964 he raise the A/Sports Racing record to 224.477 mph
and set the D/Sports Racing Record @ 200.595 mph. Then, in 1966 he set the
E/Sports Racing record @ 184.284 mph.
I believe it was 1966 that he crashed his Devin and received a broken
neck in the process. As is evident, however, he continued to chase speed
with a vengeance. After the crash, he built a new more slippery Sports Car
and continued in this class for a few more years, but was unsuccessful in
setting further records. He had stiff competition from Jack Lufkin who dominated
the Sports Racing Classes for a number of years. His entry showed up in
B/Gas Streamliner in 1978 & '79 as White & Sons. I am not sure what
the car was, but I think that it was the same car that he had been campaigning
in Sports Racing, , with further modifications.
Nolan was entered in B/Fuel Streamliner in 1980. This entry is the car
that he ran for the rest of his racing career. In 1990, at the World
of Speed Nolan became the first hot rodder, running a single engine entry, to be timed in excess of 400
mph. Al Teague also ran 400 mph at the meet, but Nolan preceded Al. I think
it was 1999 that Nolan appeared on the Salt with an additional engine in
his car. We were both at the nine mile and visited a while. He showed me
his new creation and told me of his decision to add the second engine a
couple of months before Speedweek. He said that he had always been critical
of those who ran multiple engines, but just decided that he would join
their ranks. From that time on he had continual problems with his
belt driven 4WD setup. He rarely made a complete run without breaking the
At Speedweek 2002 I greeted Nolan on the starting line and asked him if
he had been able to cure his belt drive problem. He grabbed my arm and
led me inside his trailer to a drawing on the wall and proceeded to tell
me about his gear drive setup that he had designed and had built. He said
that he might have other problems, but that the drive was the strongest "link
in the chain".
The rest is history! His gear box did cure the drive train problem and
he qualified @ 404.313 mph and returned at 422 mph for a BNI AA/FS
Record of 413.156 mph. He had accomplished a dream that he had been chasing
for twenty years. Now his sights were set on the FIA record. He firmly
believed that he could run 450 mph (he had been timed at 442 mph at as
private timing after the world finals in 1999) my guess is that he would
have succeeded had he not met with the fatal accident.
There were two occasions that gave a hint to how dedicated Nolan was in
his search for speed. In 1982 and '83 the Salt was under water so we had
no meets. Nolan went to Black Rock Desert and tested his car. Another time
a few years later, SCTA/BNI decided not to run the World Finals because
of a lack of entries. Nolan got on the phone and rounded up those
who were interested in running and organized his own meet.
On Friday morning, October 18, Nolan stopped by our pit on his way
to the nine mile. He was going to make the first leg of the FIA record
attempt after the completion of Record Runs. He ask if I would push him
off. I had forgotten, but he said that I had pushed his car off on the run
that gained him his 200 MPH Club Membership in 1963. Of course, I
felt honored to be asked and accepted without hesitation. We spent the next
hour or so recalling the earlier days, joking and having a great time together.
Nolan and I were good friends for more than forty years. We didn't usually
get to spend much time together because one or the other, or both of us,
were focused on the our own car and problems we faced. We did manage to
make contact at every time that we were on the Salt together, however. I
will sorely miss him.
Nolan was the "racer's racer". He did not receive a great amount
of publicity, primarily because he didn't set a lot of records..
Most of us identify with Nolan because we fall in that same category.
He did have the respect of his peers, however, and after all, what greater
honor can we hope to achieve.
Nolan loved the Salt Flats. There is no better
way to honor him than with a donation in his name to...
Save the Salt
c/o Mike Waters
39937 90th West
Leona Valley, CA 93551
The Vesco Brothers
I was first introduced the the Vesco Family in the
early 1960s when John Vesco, Don and Rick's father, approached the
Southern California Timing Association's Board of Directors for
approval to run his new streamliner. I was a member of that board and
heard his plea...his streamliner was an extremely narrow car by that
era's standard. We finally agreed to allow him to run for time only.
The car would become a pattern of things to come. The #444 Streamliner
was a very successful car and is still running today under new
ownership. The Vescos are the epitome of the land speed racing
families. I have watch Don and Rick continue in their father's
footsteps, and I suspect, go beyond anything he could have dreamed.
They are true land speed racers...they have done it all! Don Vesco becomes undisputed holder of the "wheel-driven" LSR
On 18 October 2001 Don Vesco, driving
Team Vesco Turbinator, set new FIA International records for turbine automobiles at
458.44390 MPH over the "flying" mile (and 737.39515 Km/H over the "flying" kilo).
This is of course the new "wheel-driven land speed record" and will effectively end any discussions as to which is the fastest "automobile" as Vesco's official speed (which is of course the average of two runs in opposite directions, which happened to be at a very similar speed, both over 458 MPH) was faster than any speed previously recorded by a wheel driven vehicle, be it a two-way official record, a one-way run or even an exit speed (with the exception of Vesco's own one-way run at Speed Week last august, which was fractionally faster).
Of course, Al Teague will still hold the fastest record for a piston engined automobile, and
Bob Summers will remain the fastest with a non-supercharged piston engined
automobile. The only name that will disappear from the books is that of Donald Campbell, who's record for
turbine automobiles is the one that Vesco actually broke.
It is somewhat fitting that this should happen just a month after Donald Campbell had a proper funeral and burial, his body having been found and rescued from Lake Coniston 34 years after his fatal accident.
Don Vesco's achievement truly marks in a very symbolic way the end of an era.
Unfortunately, we lost Don to prostrate cancer before
he reached his goal of 500 MPH. I have no doubt that he would have
accomplished his goal had he lived another few years. For the
"rest of the story"...go to http://www.teamvesco.com/. Return
first became acquainted with Al in the 1970s at Bonneville when he was
running the Sadd, Bentley & Teague Roadster. He had just made a
run in the neighborhood of 270 MPH and I approached him, shook his
hand and told him that he was my hero! I have since become aware
the he is a very humble person, but on that day he surprised me by
saying that I didn't know this, but that I had been his hero in the
past. He used to attend the San Gabriel Drags when I ran there in the
early 1960s and had been one of my fans.
is a great pleasure to call Al a friend. We have not failed to make
contact with each other throughout many years each time we were on the
salt together. Al retired his streamliner in 2002. I certainly do miss
the sound of his car making it thundering run down the salt. Al tops
the list of my heroes! Others have gone faster, but Al did it with one
piston-engine and two-wheel drive. His best time of 432 MPH and
F.I.A. Record for blown piston engine car @ 409.986 MPH will be
difficult to break with similar equipment. For more on Al Teague go
Jerry and I
go back a long way to early 1960s when we were both in the Road
Runners Club in Whittier CA. I have witnessed his skill and patience
play out in the Land Speed arena. He has always had good, well
prepared equipment and his history underscores this. Jerry
teamed up with "Red" Holmes running first a '34
D/Competition Coupe, then a High Boy Roadster and then a Modified
Roadster, setting records ever faster with each class change. After
the death of "Red" Holmes, Jerry acquired the McDonald-Pitts
'92 Firebird in 1997 and teamed with Mike LaFevers to become the first
"doorslammer" to exceed 300 MPH. The Kugels, like the
Bryants are a racing family with the sons following their fathers into
the Bonneville 200 MPH Club, and Joe Kugel into the 300 MPH Chapter.
The following story by Gray Baskerville says it better than I ever
The Jerry Kugel Story
Building Rods And Breaking
By Gray Baskerville
Early Sunday morning on June 5, 1972, I met Jerry
Kugel, a pal of Bud Bryan, Rod & Custom’s editor. We were in
China Town (in Los Angeles) to participate in the great Duel of the
Deuces. During our day-long drive-a-thon, Koogie and yours truly
discovered we had two things in common: an undying love of the salt
and our daily drivers (a pair of full-fendered ’32 Ford roadsters).
Although my first salt experience was in 1956 and his
was in 1959, we associate one person with inspiring our devotion to
the salt—Mickey Thompson. In 1958, my dad sent me back to the salt
to cover an event for Motorcyclist magazine, a title that had been in
the family since 1919. I don’t remember much about the bikes; I only
remember the vision of Thompson cutting away a portion of his ’liner’s
cowl. The wind caused the aluminum skin to collapse around his hands
during his quest to become the first guy to run 300 at Speed Week. The
next year, Jerry received a similar career-altering jolt. He had
driven up to Bonneville to watch Thompson’s new Challenger after
following its construction in Hot Rod magazine—"My buddies and
I drove down to the three-mile so we could get a good view of Thompson’s
first full pass," he says. "When he flashed by and shifted
into High, the sight and sound that car made hooked me on the salt for
However, Jerry’s life actually began 20 years before
in Chicago, Illinois. His folks, Joe and Violet Kugel, left the Windy
City in 1946 and settled in Montebello, California, a sleepy suburb of
Los Angeles. As Jerry says, "Dad opened a paint store in East Los
Angeles and Mom stayed home to raise me, my brother, and my sister. I
was in the eighth grade and on my way home from Catholic school when I
saw my first rod—a chopped ’34 five- window with a wicked candy
apple paint job. I was so dazzled that I almost ran my bike into the
During his junior year in high school, the clan Kugel
moved to nearby Whittier, which had been a hot-rodding hot bed since
the ’30s. The change of venue was a plus for the 16-year-old Jerry;
"There were no shop classes at my old school, but Whittier High
had them all, including auto shop. Not only did auto shop look like
fun, but I had just bought a Model A and wanted to learn how to work
on it." Shortly after Jerry sold his A and bought a ’39 Tudor,
the fit hit the shan, or in Jerry’s case, hit papa Joe; "I got
pulled over for street racing. The cop kept writing until he filled
both sides with equipment violations. Dad drove me to court and the
judge took my driver’s license for 30 days and told me to fix my ’39
and bring it back to be signed off. My dad had other ideas. ‘No need
to fix it,’ he said, ‘because we’re going to sell it.’"
But being rodless had its advantages. Jerry’s daily
bus ride to school took him down Whittier Boulevard and right by Ak
Miller’s Garage. Miller—Whittier’s legendary hot rodder, street
racer, race car builder, and story spinner—worked on some of the
hottest iron in the surrounding area. After a while, Jerry would get
off just before Ak’s shop for a closer look at the action.
"When I got enough nerve up to ask Ak for a job," Jerry
says, "he told me to go away. After I graduated from Whittier
High, I went to work for Mark C. Bloome [a Southland tire store chain—GB],
entered Fullerton Junior College, joined the Army reserve (the draft
was still in place), and bought a ’40 DeLuxe coupe. The ’40 cost
me $800 but it was nice, with a small-block and good black paint, and
Jerry Eisert [a fabricator for whom Jerry Kugel had just started
working—GB] helped me make some additional modifications."
However, Jerry’s career with Eisert came to a
screeching halt in 1960 when Uncle Sam selected him for a six-month
stint in the Army. Jerry recalls, "After I was discharged, I went
by Ak’s again; this time, he gave me a job sweeping the floor."
Miller, duly impressed by the various skills that Jerry had acquired
from Eisert as well as from the auto shops that he had attended in
high school and junior college, quickly promoted him to commission
work. Soon, Jerry was doing tune-ups, lube jobs, rebuilds, and
performance stuff on any car that came through Miller’s front door.
Meanwhile, Jerry began "legally" racing his
’40, first at the lakes and then at the drags. However, the sight
and sound of Thompson making that last shift at the three-mile still
haunted him. I’m going to do that, he thought, and in 1962 he did. A
guy by the name of Red Holmes had become pals with Jerry, and they
decided to go land speed racing together. "We found a chopped ’34
for sale in the classified section of the Los Angeles Times,"
says Jerry. "It had no engine and no front sheetmetal, but it did
have a bitchin’ body and its 4-inch chop was superb. We got a 265ci
small-block Chevy and I opened it up to 274 inches, and added a set of
aluminum pistons, a cam, and Hilborn injectors. Our first run at El
Mirage was around 150 mph, and we upped that to 163 at Bonneville
running in the D/Competition class."
One of the many benefits of working for Ak Miller was
his relationship with Ford. Miller was able to talk Ford into giving
him one of their 260-inch V-8s, which he, in turn, gave to Jerry.
Jerry was enchanted. He had an engine that few had bothered to modify.
In fact, he got one of the first five port-injectors that Hilborn ever
made for the small-block Ford; the other four went to Dan Gurney.
Jerry replaced the Chevy with his new injected Ford and went on to
break the E/Competition Coupe record in 1963 with a 168-mph pass. But
Jerry and Red were getting tired of the coupe. As Jerry says, "It
was dark, too confining, and not competitive with the far more
aerodynamic Studebakers. In 1964, Red and I sold the ’34, kept the
engine, and bought a ’32 coupester—a five-window with the top cut
off. The coupester was far more roomy and Big Daddy [Jerry’s name
for Holmes—GB], who couldn’t fit in the ’34, could drive it
However, the topless coupe purchased from Jerry Tucker
was also sans engine and transmission; "I initially put in our
260 and went 165 mph, much to Ford’s delight," Jerry adds.
"They showed their appreciation by giving me a 289." Jerry
reciprocated by running over 180 mph and then over 200 mph with a
Miller throwaway. "Ak loved to race at Pike’s Peak with a
big-block Ford in his sports car." Well, Miller blew the Ford and
gave the remains to Jerry, who patched it up and built his own
injectors. Jerry’s injector was indicative of his growing ability to
assemble a part out of unrelated pieces.
Jerry’s home-brewed "squirts" consisted of
a stock Ford two four-barrel intake manifold that he modified by
drilling and tapping each runner as close to the intake valve as he
could. Next, he installed a set of Hilborn nozzles. He then borrowed a
three-holed throttle body that came from a helicopter engine and
adapted to the * top of the manifold’s plenum chamber. The center
hole was blocked off so he could use a Hilborn barrel valve, which he
fed with a remote-mounted Gilmer belt-driven (Jerry feels he was one
of the first to use a tooth-drive arrangement—GB) No. 420 Hilborn
fuel pump. Not only was Jerry’s first komponent eye-tractive [he and
his injector were on the Nov. ’67 cover of Popular Hot Rrodding—GB],
but it worked. Miller arranged to put the engine on Autolite’s dyno,
and a carbureted baseline of 482 hp was recorded. While Ak and
dyno-dude Art Chrisman went to dinner, Jerry and Holmes quickly
installed the injector and waited for the boys to return. Jerry
recalls that both Chrisman and Miller looked at the injector, winked
at one another, and then stood back in amazement when the patched-up
427 immediately fired and idled like a stocker. A couple of pulls, a
jet change or two, and presto-Koogo—525 hp at 6,500 rpm. The
eclectic-empiricist nature of a hot rodder had won again.
The home-brewed injected 427 powering the Holmes-Kugel
entry responded in 1968 with a pair of 200-plus mile-per-hour runs,
making their highboy the first unblown gas-burning roadster in history
to top 200 at the salt, and putting Jerry in the 200-mph club. Jerry
then sold the car and found himself driving Autolite’s Lead Wedge, a
battery-powered electric car that set a land speed record of 134 mph.
Jerry’s fee was a well-used 427-inch SOHC motor that was prepared by
Chrisman for an LSR pickup truck driven by Mario Andretti.
So here was Jerry with a fuel-injected cammer and
nothing to put it in. The answer was simple: Build a modified. The
modified was essentially a fiberglass replica ’27 T placed on a Peek
Brothers–built chassis and powered by the injected 427ci
"sock" motor that Ford gave him. It also became a Rod &
Custom multi-segment project car in 1969. The project went swimmingly
until its shakedown tests at the salt flats. When Jerry reached speeds
over 240 mph, the modified wanted to drive itself off the course.
Jerry fought the problem, even allowing other veteran salt-flat
drivers to take a ride, but they too lost control. It wasn’t until a
chance look at the car while it sat on blocks at Jerry’s garage that
he noticed the body wasn’t square to the world. By then Jerry had
sold the cammer to Jim Lattin and the rest to Gordon Hoyt, one of his
coworkers at Miller’s Garage.
The reason the modified became chopping-block material
was that Jerry’s nine-year career at Miller’s had come to an end.
The "kid," as Miller called him, decided to go out on his
own, and opened a general repair shop in Whittier doing tune-ups,
brake jobs, and overhauls. Although business was good, his association
with Bryan soon led to a career-altering roadster project. "I
wanted a fill-in between jobs so I began asking around about the
availability of a Deuce," he says. "One of the LA Roadsters
guys—I think it was Neil East—knew of a basket case for sale.
First, he cleared it with his fellow club members before he gave me
the name of its owner." The ’32 was one of those "take-aparts"
that never got * reassembled, and Jerry bought it for $1,000—a
princely sum 33 years ago. To better illustrate how small the world
really is, the guy from whom Jerry bought the car came up to him at
last year’s Hot Rod Reunion, reintroduced himself, and then said,
"I sold that car too cheap."
Jerry’s gennie had all the cherry sheetmetal and
brightwork, but his newly acquired Deuce’s buggy-sprung suspension—like
that of his old ’40—didn’t wow him. So the ever-eclectic Jerry
borrowed a leaf from Joe Cardoza’s suspension book and adapted a set
of XKE Jaguar front and rear suspenders to his roadster’s framerails.
It took him a year, but by 1972, Jerry was pussy-footing around
Whittier in what would become a test bed for his new komponents.
Although it was lost on management, we at R&C could see that
street rodding was becoming increasingly popular. So, against a
backdrop of gas lines, rising insurance rates, and tightening
emissions standards, we created Chevy Up—a 283 that was the
brainchild of one of our lunchtime rap sessions. It was an attempt to
build a low-cost, low-emission, flat-torque engine by combining both
OEM and aftermarket parts. But we needed a wrench—and flat-rating
Jerry knew how to twist them Snap-ons.
The motomorphasis of Chevy Up started as an untrained
junkyard dog that dirtied Edelbrock’s pristine dyno. As time went
on, the mongrel became a purebred and ultimately found a home under
the hood of another roadster, my old thirty-shoe. But its finest hour
was at El Mirage in 1975, making beer runs in Jerry’s latest race
car. As Jerry says, "My modified wasn’t a traditional hot rod;
it didn’t have that nostalgic look." This project featured a
experience had come to the rescue and the beer tasted even better than
But Jerry felt times were changing. "Frankly, I
made my money doing tune-ups, brake jobs, and general repairs—the
street rod thing was strictly a sideline, something to occupy my brain
between turning rotors or charging a battery. I liked to make the
engines run well, but to do so began to violate the smog laws, and I
really couldn’t afford all the new diagnostic devices that were
coming on the market." So Jerry reluctantly phased himself out of
the general-repair garage business and moved into the now-popular
street rod movement.
It was during 1976 that Jerry began a multi-part
series with HRM titled "How To Build a Street Rod,"
featuring a 50/50 mix of OEM and aftermarket reproduction parts,
followed by a similar project employing all reproduction parts. From
these and other projects, Jerry started to offer an ever-widening line
of komponents that ran the gamut from shortened Ford water pumps and
frame-horn repair kits to complete adapter kits that mated XKE Jaguar
front and rear suspensions to early Ford frames.
Meanwhile, Jerry also solved another problem affecting
his new highboy. He was having difficulties ducting fresh * air to the
injected Chevy that powered the little roadster. Jerry’s answer was
simple; "I’ll just make my own air." So, like his former
boss Ak Miller and Miller’s employees Big "Bull" Edwards
and Jack Lufkin, Jerry made the switch to a pair of hairdryers blowing
into a set of Hilborn injectors, and the rest is history. The first
time out, Jerry ran 221 on a 200-mph record. Over the ensuing years—until
he retired the car in 1995—his roadster would reach the 250-mph
mark, getting both of his sons, Joe and Jeff, into the 200-mph club,
and it did so without ever spinning out or becoming uncontrollable.
The roadster’s place was eventually taken by Lionel Pitts and Dave
McDonald’s ’92 Pontiac Trans Am, which the Kugels bought and
upgraded in 1997. The Pontiac ultimately became the first
American-built passenger car to exceed 300 mph.
In 1985, 14 years after he went into the
general-repair business for himself, Jerry said adios to working on
stockers. He opened a new shop in La Habra, California, brought his
wife Judy and their kids into the business, and began a full-time
involvement with the cars that had been only a sideline just nine
years before. As street rodding evolved from T-buckets and resto rods
to trad rads and handbuilt smoothies riding on aftermarket suspension
systems, the "kid" followed suit by designing and assembling
many of the cars and components that have become street rodding trend
Like M/T’s shift into High, Jerry hasn’t forgotten
an old dream he and I shared: to drive a car to the flats on pump gas,
run 200, and then drive home. Today, he’s building Deuce-like
specials that he calls "Murocs." The last Muroc may be
slated for a turbo transplant and a round-tripper to Bonneville with a
250-mph boogie in between. Then there’s old 265. It’s neither gone
nor forgotten—just on display at the NHRA Motosports Museum. Plus
there is a new and vastly improved turbocharged Chevy on hand. Jerry,
Joe, and Jeff Kugel were the first to run three bills in their
door-slammer. Jerry Kugel loves new projects, and three bills in the
family hairblower has got the "kid" thinking all over again.
I first met
Andy when I was president of the SCTA in 1961. During the two years I
served as president, the SCTA did several timing events for the
Granatelli Brothers, Andy, Joe and Vince, who were promoting
their Paxton Superchargers to Chrysler and finally Studebaker
Corporations. It seemed that I was on the phone with Andy almost
weekly attending to details surrounding these events.
We timed the Chrysler "300 at the
Palm Springs Airport and again at Riverside Raceway. The '62 Plymouth
was timed at Jean NV, south of Las Vegas on the old highway at 182
The Granatellis were successful in
getting Studebaker to use their Supercharger on their new Avanti.
We did a timing event for Andy and Studebaker for the Pre-Release
Publicity of the Avanti. This was also staged at Jean NV on the
old highway. The stock Avanti was timed at 172 MPH.
Of course, Andy also ran our Bonneville
Events, generally rounding up his speeds for greater impact. He became
president of STP, which was owned by Studerbaker at the time, and
found many ways to promote the STP Products at various race events.
Andy was many things, but in my opinion, his greatest asset was his
ability to promote. The following article is proof of that!
Granatelli resigns chairmanship of Sheriff's Council
By HILDY MEDINA, NEWS-PRESS STAFF WRITER
Andy Granatelli announced Wednesday that he was
stepping down as chairman of the Santa Barbara County Sheriff's
Council, which he co-founded. He was also one of itsleading
The race car legend delivered the news at the close of
the Sheriff's Council's board meeting, where he hand-delivered his
"Not many people realize what a gigantic effort I
have put into the Sheriff's Council," Mr. Granatelli wrote in an
e-mail sent out shortly after his announcement. "I really need to
recuperate and get my health and affairs back in good order and most
of all, get to spend more time enjoying my family and friends."
His sudden departure surprised some of his fellow
"We're all reeling at this point," said
Helen Jepsen, president-elect. "We're all deeply saddened with
this news. However, I believe that we need to understand where Andy's
coming from; he said it's time he put his family first. We're
eternally grateful for Andy's years of service."
Mr. Granatelli co-founded the council in 1993 with
then-Sheriff Jim Thomas to raise money for safety equipment and
state-of-the-art devices that budget-strapped public agencies cannot
afford. His departure will leave the council without one of its top
money-raisers. Last month's dinner and auction gala drew 700 people --
some paying $8,000 a plate and whom Mr. Granatelli was instrumental in
drawing to the event.
The original council fundraiser, a barbecue in Santa
Ynez, collected enough money to buy one squad car. In comparison, the
Sept. 24 gala at Bacara Resort & Spa raised more than $2.4 million
-- quadruple what the event raised even two years ago. It wasn't
always possible to get people to hand over an amount equal to a
monthly mortgage payment.
"When I got to Santa Barbara in 1988, they
wouldn't pay $100 for (dinner). Nobody wanted to give anything; nobody
outside of a few guys like Pierre Claeyssens would give
anything," said Mr. Granatelli. "It was very hard to break
down this town."
"Andy taught us to dream the impossible,"
said Ms. Jepsen. "He challenged us a few years back to charge
$2,500 for a table and people thought he was crazy." Tables at
this year's event went for $125,000 each. "He has been a
tremendous asset in all of the fundraising, and it's Andy's leadership
that has greatly benefited the community," said Sheriff Jim
Anderson. Using some of the money raised this year, the council hopes
to buy equipment for a Huey helicopter or put the funds toward
purchasing a new aircraft, Sheriff Anderson said.
Mr. Granatelli, who sits on various nonprofit boards
throughout the state, said he will no longer raise funds for Santa
"I've been there and done that," said Mr.
Granatelli. "What else can I do? I've broken every record for the
past four years; I'm worn out."
Before he left Wednesday's meeting, the 82-year-old
challenged board members to raise $3 million for next year's gala.
"You know, we're all visionaries," said Ms. Jepsen. "I
think in his honor we will continue to do it. It would be a huge sin
to drop the ball after all the hard work."
I first knew Art as the Autolite Spark Plug
Representative at Bonneville. We have remain friends to this day. I
always admired Art for his performance at the drags with the
"Hustler". I considered him to be one of the best drivers of
his day. While most were disappearing in tire smoke while proceeding
down the 1/4 mile, Art usually had just a whisp of smoke encompassing
the tires as he applied just enough throttle to keep the tires loose
and still propel the car down the course.
Published Date: 10/31/05
At the ancient Famoso drag strip near Bakersfield,
fans flock to the NHRA California Hot Rod Reunion, America’s oldest
and largest vintage drag event. Here they celebrate drag racing as it
used to be, before sponsors, big purses and TV.
Caught between orchards and oil fields, there are some
of the most famous cars in drag racing’s 60-year history here,
restored and ready to race, many still driven by their original shoes.
The cars have come from as far away as Vermont and Rhode Island. The
Glass Slipper, the Speed Sport roadsters, the twin-engined Freight
Train and Dragmasters Two-Thing, Don Garlits’ Swamp Rat III and many
more. And then there is Hustler I.
One of the earliest streamlined dragsters, the
Chrisman Brothers & Cannon Hustler I is here because 75-year-old
Art Chrisman, drag racing dervish, is here. Chrisman’s Hustler III,
a modern fuel dragster built by Chrisman and son Mike, is also on
hand, the other bookend in a race career as old as drag racing itself.
Chrisman is as comfortable working on a flathead as he
is a Chrysler Hemi, an Offy, a Ford Indy engine or Chevy small-block.
In 1944 Art Chrisman moved from Arkansas to
California, where his dad Everett worked in shipyards. Everett had
built tankers for moonshiners, and sons Art and Lloyd learned cars,
mechanics and welding at their father’s knee. They set up shop in
Compton, racing at El Mirage and Bonneville before settling on
short-course drag racing.
Chrisman’s chopped, rear-engined Model A coupe
topped 200 mph at Bonneville before the prestigious 200-mph Club was
established. He still has the car (it took third in the hot rod class
at Pebble Beach in 2001).
Chrisman’s first serious drag car, a well-used Model
T sprint, was the first to break 140 mph, at Santa Ana in 1953. In
1955 it ran in the first NHRA Nationals at Great Bend in Kansas.
Chrisman repeated that feat for the 25th, 40th and 50th annual
Nationals with the car, which has been restored to mint condition.
But Hustler I, a fuel-injected, supercharged Chrysler
Hemi on nitro, was the breakthrough car. It was named Best Engin-eered
Car at the 1958 Nationals in Oklahoma, was the first dragster to top
180 mph, and won the Top Fuel title at the first Bakersfield March
Meet in 1959. The Model A Bonneville coupe, the No. 25 Model T and the
Hustler I have been Hot Rod cover cars. NHRA’s Wally Parks Museum in
Pomona, California, presented Chrisman with the Preservation Award in
2004 because he has kept his race cars running for so long.
In 1962 Chrisman’s vast abilities were tapped by
spark plug maker Autolite, and he spent the next decade helping racers
at Bonneville, Daytona, Indy and just about everywhere in between.
Chrisman opened his own shop—Chrisman Auto Rod
Specialties—in Santa Ana in 1980. He and Mike build some of the most
beautifully detailed street rods and street machines in the business,
with 40 complete cars made in the last 20 years, the latest a 1956
Chevy Nomad wagon that has won 10 trophies in seven outings.
At the California Hot Rod Reunion fans eagerly
anticipated the Saturday night Cacklefest—and they weren’t
disappointed. As they used to do before port- able electric starters,
the nitro cars push-start down the side road, fire up, then park,
running, on the centerline until the last car is in place. If you have
ever heard a nitro car run, you know why they call it cackling.
This year’s Cacklefest featured 40 nitro-burners,
cackling, blipping and sending staccato music and flames into the
night at Famoso. One of the greatest spectacles in motorsports, the
cars were noisy enough to peg the world’s loudest dB meter and raise
every hair on the back of your neck. Is that burning in your eyes from
the nitro, or is it nostalgia?
As a measure of the respect and affection the NHRA has
for Chrisman and the fabled Hustler I, Art always fires up and comes
down last, because, as one spectator said, "This weekend Art
Chrisman is the mayor of Bakersfield."
When I started running at the lakes,
Bob and Jim were already veterans. Jim was a teenager with a Desoto
powered '40 Ford Coupe and Bob had a Fuel '29 Roadster and a Belly
Tank. Jim was still in High School and Bob was single, putting most of
his resources into going fast. Bob drove the roadster and Howard
Eichenhofer drove the tank. The Eichenhofer and Brissette tank
was the fastest open wheel car for a number of years and the roadster
was the fastest highboy also. Bob would go to Bonneville with five
Chrysler Windsor short blocks and was generally out of motors before
the meet was complete. He was always looking for "just one good
Jim also drove the roadster and had a
crankcase fire at the lakes that resulted in badly burned arms. I
don't believe he drove after that, but has become a well known as a
1/4 mile top fuel tuner, working for most of the big name teams at one
time or another. Bob married and disappeared from the racing scene for
many years. He is back, however, with just as much zeal as ever.
Other drivers for Bob's tank were Burke
LeSage, Bob Summers and Bob Funk who crashed the tank at the lakes
resulting in his death. The car was not rebuilt. The roadster was also
driven by Paul Dearth who had a one way pass at almost 230 MPH in the
early sixties, the fastest for any roadster until Al Teague came on
the scene with the Sadd Bentley and Teague car. I believe Bob's
roadster is still running under different ownership.
Bob also was well know in the 1/4 mile
circuit running the roadster and in later years a dual-engine Chevy
The Summers first got my attention
in 1959, (I think that Bob was 19 and Bill 21 yrs. of age) when Bob
crashed his modified roadster and came back in a couple of days and
set the record with the same car. The roadster’s design was such
that the only damage as a result of going upside down was a scuffed
roll bar and a bent wheel. With the needed repairs the car was back
and set a record at 225.078 MPH that stood for years. Since several
rear-engined modified roadsters crashed that year, the rear-engine
design was banned until just recently when, do to popular demand, they
are back with a change in the aerodynamic package.
Bob’s next car was a front-wheel
drive streamliner. This car had its rear wheels mounted inline and
appeared to be swimming until it reached about 200 MPH when it
stabilized resulting in being dubbed the “Pollywog”. After doing a
tour in the Navy, Bob began his last project. Everyone knows about the
“Goldenrod” and its record of 409.065 MPH set in November, 1965.
The record still stands today. Bob succumbed to a heart attack several
years ago. Since Bob was the driver of several cars, I knew him
better than his brother Bill. I have become better acquainted with
Bill in recent years, as he is a regular at Bonneville with his
"Speed for Rent" Lakester. For more about the Summers
first came to know Art in the sixties when he was the Autolite Spark
Plug's Representative at Bonneville. We became friends through his
reading and furnishing spark plugs. Of course, I admired his expertise
as a Dragster Pilot when he was running the Christman-Cannon
"Hustler". In my opinion, he was the best driver of the day.
Hardly ever did you see more than a wisp of smoke coming off his tires
as he left tire marks the whole of the ¼ mile. Most of the
competition was hidden in smoke as they left the line. Art won his
share of the races in those days.
I visited with Art at the 2006 Bonneville 200 MPH Banquet. He is very
interesting to talk with about the early days of drag racing. He is
still one of my heroes!
Published Date: 10/31/05
At the ancient Famoso drag strip near Bakersfield, fans flock to the
NHRA California Hot Rod Reunion, America's oldest and largest vintage
drag event. Here they celebrate drag racing as it used to be, before
sponsors, big purses and TV.
Caught between orchards and oil fields, there are some of the most
famous cars in drag racing's 60-year history here, restored and ready
to race, many still driven by their original shoes. The cars have come
from as far away as Vermont and Rhode Island. The Glass Slipper, the
Speed Sport roadsters, the twin-engined Freight Train and Dragmasters
Two-Thing, Don Garlits' Swamp Rat III and many more. And then there is
One of the earliest streamlined dragsters, the Chrisman Brothers &
Cannon Hustler I is here because 75-year-old Art Chrisman, drag racing
dervish, is here. Chrisman's Hustler III, a modern fuel dragster built
by Chrisman and son Mike, is also on hand, the other bookend in a race
career as old as drag racing itself.
Chrisman is as comfortable working on a flathead as he is a Chrysler
Hemi, an Offy, a Ford Indy engine or Chevy small-block.
In 1944 Art Chrisman moved from Arkansas to California, where his dad
Everett worked in shipyards. Everett had built tankers for moonshiners,
and sons Art and Lloyd learned cars, mechanics and welding at their
father's knee. They set up shop in Compton, racing at El Mirage and
Bonneville before settling on short-course drag racing.
Chrisman's chopped, rear-engined Model A coupe topped 200 mph at
Bonneville before the prestigious 200-mph Club was established. He
still has the car (it took third in the hot rod class at Pebble Beach
Chrisman's first serious drag car, a well-used Model T sprint, was the
first to break 140 mph, at Santa Ana in 1953. In 1955 it ran in the
first NHRA Nationals at Great Bend in Kansas. Chrisman repeated that
feat for the 25th, 40th and 50th annual Nationals with the car, which
has been restored to mint condition.
But Hustler I, a fuel-injected, supercharged Chrysler Hemi on nitro,
was the breakthrough car. It was named Best Engin-eered Car at the
1958 Nationals in Oklahoma, was the first dragster to top 180 mph, and
won the Top Fuel title at the first Bakersfield March Meet in 1959.
The Model A Bonneville coupe, the No. 25 Model T and the Hustler I
have been Hot Rod cover cars. NHRA's Wally Parks Museum in Pomona,
California, presented Chrisman with the Preservation Award in 2004
because he has kept his race cars running for so long.
In 1962 Chrisman's vast abilities were tapped by spark plug maker
Autolite, and he spent the next decade helping racers at Bonneville,
Daytona, Indy and just about everywhere in between.
Chrisman opened his own shop—Chrisman Auto Rod Specialties—in
Santa Ana in 1980. He and Mike build some of the most beautifully
detailed street rods and street machines in the business, with 40
complete cars made in the last 20 years, the latest a 1956 Chevy Nomad
wagon that has won 10 trophies in seven outings.
At the California Hot Rod Reunion fans eagerly anticipated the
Saturday night Cacklefest—and they weren't disappointed. As they
used to do before port- able electric starters, the nitro cars
push-start down the side road, fire up, then park, running, on the
centerline until the last car is in place. If you have ever heard a
nitro car run, you know why they call it cackling.
This year's Cacklefest featured 40 nitro-burners, cackling, blipping
and sending staccato music and flames into the night at Famoso. One of
the greatest spectacles in motorsports, the cars were noisy enough to
peg the world's loudest dB meter and raise every hair on the back of
your neck. Is that burning in your eyes from the nitro, or is it
As a measure of the respect and affection the NHRA has for Chrisman
and the fabled Hustler I, Art always fires up and comes down last,
because, as one spectator said, "This weekend Art Chrisman is the
mayor of Bakersfield."
I became acquainted
with Jim in the late 50's while running at the Lakes. I really came to
know him after I joined the Gear Grinder's Club in 1963. Jim was one
of, if not the greatest ,friends that SCTA has had. He was always on
the front lines when work was to be done. He could be a bit cantankerous
at times, and was not appreciated by everyone,
but if you knew Jim you ignored his harsh moments. Jim loved the
sport and served in just about every capacity of leadership. (Jim served as president of the SCTA
twice.) He almost
single-handedly saved the SCTA from financial destruction by
selling off the tires that SCTA owned and were paying storage on and
introducing the tee-shirt and souvenir sales. He served as treasurer
for several years and was retired as treasurer because he could not
cope with the computer age. More to come....
Jim Lindsley tribute
Racing series OBITUARIES LSR
As we start the 2005 racing season, full of expectations and hopes for new records and new stars to emerge, we should stop for a moment and think about all those stars in the racing firmament who have left us. Men and women who made a great impact on American Motorsports, and whose absence will make our sport just a bit poorer for their passing. We mourn the passing of James L. Lindsley. Jim was born in 1917, in Santa Monica, California, and grew up during the depression. Contracting polio, Jim forced himself by sheer will power to overcome that dreaded disease and walk, though his legs always remained weak. Fathers of that era had a difficult time finding work to support their families, and children often earned as much as the parents. Jim was very creative and worked as a paperboy and gardener. Hobos and desperate men of that era would target paperboys, who had a pocketful of nickels, enough to feed a man for a week.
Jim was no pushover. He would fill a sock with ball bearings and tie the sock around his wrist. Anyone trying to rob him of those precious nickels would receive an arm-breaking blow. He would knock on a neighbor's door and ask if he could mow the lawn. With a leg in a metal brace and a wheelchair nearby, the neighbors would feel great emotion for him and offer to pay him extra, wondering how he would manage to do the job. Jim had hired other boys in the neighborhood to do the work. His job was to find them the work and split the money with them. His inventiveness and drive spilled over into his future vocation as an electrician, and as a land speed racer.
Since the 1930's, Jim Lindsley's passion was going to the Dry Lakes in Southern California, and later to the Bonneville Salt Flats in Utah, to race land speed cars. Jim showed me his car plaques that he had received for each time that he went racing, and these thin metal tags filled two shoeboxes. Jim was a dynamic man, but he also had a dynamic family. His wife Phyllis volunteered to handle the records for the SCTA, or the Southern California Timing Association, and faithfully did so for many decades. Jim also volunteered to work in the SCTA, in whatever capacity he was asked to do. Many times he would stop by and ask Ak Miller, Bozzy Willis, Wally Parks and other officials if they needed help, especially with the electrical work, lights or timing equipment. Jim's land speed racing and volunteerism earned him the respect of the racing community, many awards and induction into the Dry Lakes Hall of Fame, at the Gas-Up Party held at Jack Mendenhall's Gas Pump Museum, in Buellton, California. Burke LeSage organized and spoke at the funeral service. LeSage, a protégé and self-appointed adopted son of Jim, spoke with deep respect for the man he always called his mentor. LeSage said that Jim always strove for excellence, and was a person of class, as was his wife Phyllis. LeSage called others up to the podium to speak. Les Leggitt lauded Lindsley for his hard work, honesty and knowledge. "If you want something done," said Leggitt, "ask Jim."
John Helash came to the podium and told the congregation that you could trust Jim's word in all things. Both Helash and Leggitt are past presidents of SCTA, as was Lindsley. Al Teague said that a person may not like what Lindsley said at the time, but it was frank and honest advice. Jim treated him like his own son. Jim's granddaughter, Heather, said that the Lindsley family helps each other, a legacy from her grandfather. Neil Thompson added that if you needed help, there was no one better to turn to than Jim Lindsley. Jim Travis told us how much Jim put into SCTA. Without Jim, and his sons, Larry, Gary and Fred, and his wife Phyllis, there wouldn't have been a Bonneville Nationals in 1952. Travis restarted the Gear Grinders club after many of the original members had left. He went to Jim, who gave him all the records and a great deal of encouragement. Travis said there is no family in racing as efficient in getting a car ready to run as the Lindsley's. They function like clockwork. Travis said that Phyllis Lindsley needs to be recognized by the car clubs as well, for whatever Jim achieved, his love of his life was there at his side, working just as hard for their family, landspeed racing and the SCTA.
LeSage brought the service to an end by commenting how Jim would always stop and help other people. Once Jim stopped and helped a young Alex Xydias change a flat tire, beginning a friendship with the man who would go on to found the famous So-Cal Speedshop. "Jim Lindsley, said LeSage, "is equal to Unser, Petty, Foyt and others in the racing world, and three generations of the family have been involved in the SCTA." Wally Parks, an original member of the Road Runners car club, SCTA, and President of the SCTA in 1946, could not make the services, but said that there was no one in the organization that was more trustworthy and hardworking that Jim Lindsley, or more honest. Jim received many honors from the organization. He was a member of the 200 MPH (Mile per Hour) club, and twice selected as the Man of the Year in that club. For all of his achievements and accolades, the greatest honor to the man was the respect shown by those who came to pay their last respects and by the family that he left behind, who will continue to race in that unique sport of land speed racing.
Webmaster - Tom Bryant, to make comments Click
Last Updated: 10/20/2010