HANGING WITH DRIVEN INDIVIDUALS
First, I wanted to thank everyone who voted for my last story. Having been lucky enough to have been involved in drag racing during the 60’s, 70’s and the 80’s I witnessed some classic events for sure. In this era elbow grease was more predominate than a sponsor’s cash.
I have always felt kind of like Yogi, that racing was half about the people and half about preparation and travel then the rest was the racing. That math works out if you realize those who are most successful have to give more than 100%.
Having to be paired last round with close friends, Bob & Etta Glidden was bittersweet for sure. Bob & Etta are both heroes and like family. If I am fortunate enough to continue in this competition I will have to throw down a great Glidden yarn about secrets that at one time allowed incredible dominance in drag racing.
I think some of the best stories are of racers not racing. About traveling and playing tricks on each other, but there are still some pretty good race stories as well.
If you don’t play golf you won’t appreciate a story about the day when I lived with the Gliddens and Bob came in the shop and told Billy and I to get our overnight bags and golf clubs four days before Christmas.
For the record, even before global warming it was still c-c-c-cold in Indy that time of year, not that that kept us knuckle heads from playing our share. We soon learned that at least water hazards are no problem as they all freeze. Also, seldom was there any waiting for another group. Anyway we figured we were going south a couple hours into Kentucky to play where at least there was no snow on the ground.
Instead Bob said we were going to drive south to where we could play in golf shirts. In only the Glidden way, we drove straight through to Tampa, Florida where we played 88 holes of golf the first of a three day golf vacation. The Glidden’s only way to do anything is W.O.T.
As Lincoln said, “It isn’t the years in your life; it’s the life in your years.”
Most people who know me these days are surprised I used to be a drag racer, as I have spent the last 25 years as a professional road racer. I doubt the drag race guys would like to hear some of those stories; like what goes on during a 24 hour endurance race in Daytona or LeMans. So I am going to go way back down the trail when I hailed from Tucson. I made friends with a couple guys from Detroit racing a Ford Pinto.
Over the years we hooked up at a lot of races and they certainly had a fair amount of success. These two were an odd couple for sure running in the new Pro Stock class. The driver, Wayne Gapp, was as easy going as you would ever find a racer. He most characteristically could be seen chomping on an unlit cigar. His partner, Jack Roush, was extremely intense to say the least. Over the years Wayne did most of the driving, but several times Jack took a spin behind the wheel and I mean that in every sense of the word. Jack might even have used a few of his 9 lives in some of those episodes proving the John Force axiom that a Cat always lands on its feet.
I guess there are enough stories between this duo to fill a few chapters in Rick Voegelin’s promised book on Pro Stock, but I will confine this to a single race in the Panhandle of Texas in 1973.
Wayne and Jack left from Detroit and I drove with Bill Nelson from Tucson, Arizona. Bill, an NHRA Super Stock champion, was an old pro at full thrash mode and driving all night. We drove straight through to Amarillo via some God forsaken short cuts in the New Mexico badlands. I think Bill used this route to dodge the scales with his semi truck or something. I actually thought several times we would end up buzzard meat alongside the road, but Bill had it wired and we arrived for first day of qualifications, albeit somewhat tired.
Back then NHRA ran the Professional classes in both Divisional races and National events. You acquired enough points to qualify for the World Finals which was this single race in Amarillo, Texas. Back then I think Pro Stock only had about seven official national events. You had six races before the Finals and then the Supernationals in Ontario, California after the Finals.
Due to the altitude the Cleveland big port headed Fords had a slight advantage over the small block Chevy of Bill Jenkins; who had been pretty dominant for the prior two years. After all, I don’t think Wayne had won a single race that whole year. The Mopars with the Hemi, were all but written out of the rule book by NHRA and mostly stayed away from Amarillo.
Everyone fought the thin air and I felt incredible pressure with so much at stake on just this one race. Gapp and Roush were rapidly making a statement in the now very popular factory hot rods known as Pro Stockers as a power to deal with. In those days, the rules were changing so fast and furious that Butch Leal once commented a new car could be obsolete a month after it first raced. Guys were playing around with big blocks, small blocks, big cars, little cars, old cars, Camaros, Vegas, Pintos, Javelins, AMXs, Demons, Colts, Mustangs and even a 4-door Maverick called the Tijuana Taxi.
It was a wild time in racing for sure and extremely popular with the fans. It had character and it certainly had some characters from Grumpy to Flash.
We had started using the Lenco planetary 4 speed transmission earlier that year. We had found that by draining the fluid out every other run you picked up a couple hundredths or three. That was one of my jobs and before the finals, I was doing just that while Wayne was changing the fluid in the rear end and Jack did the same with the engine oil.
Normally Pro Stockers drove to the staging lanes, but Jack said we were going to push the car as he wanted to make sure it didn’t get too hot. I thought he had a long staging duel planned. Back then there were few rules. Some guys staged both bulbs right away and some guys took 20-plus seconds to light the second bulb if they were second in. Wayne did a very short burnout and just staged it and waited at a dead idle.
I remember standing behind that Pinto and feeling butterflies and was amazed at how calm Wayne was. Having spent most of my career as a driver, I have always contended that being a crew member or crew chief is twice as hard as being the driver. The driver has some control over the race. The crew just prays everything they did holds together and by the way, they have to stand there in front of the crowd as the driver high tails it at 175 mph down the track. As it turned out there was no big staging battle and while I think Bill left a little bit on Wayne, that Gapp and Roush horsepower drove around him and won the NHRA World Championship in Pro Stock.
Interestingly, I think that one race more than any other, changed the Pro rules and the venue with NHRA forever. From then on, the points were tallied towards a championship all year and the finals have been in California (near sea level) ever since then.
Years later I was at SEMA talking with Jack Roush and a Ford Engineer came over. Jack advised him that we had both been “students” of drag racing many years ago and we shared this race story with him. Jack is a great story teller and has been through many wars. The part Jack revealed at that moment, that I had not known for the 30 years between, was that while I drained the Lenco fluid, Wayne drained the rear end fluid and Jack drained the engine oil. No lubricants were added in anything. Oil pan technology was not what it was today and Jack said he had mistakenly run an engine on the dyno with no oil in it and saw a 14 horsepower gain.
” What the heck,” he said, “you never know when your next chance to win a World Championship will come”. I remember how nervous I was during that run back in ‘73. I can’t imagine how I would have felt if I had known that there was no oil in the engine or the rear end. I guess Jack kept me from puking my guts out that day. What we don’t know doesn’t hurt us. That cat didn’t have his hat back then, but Jack Roush has always had a handful of tricks up his sleeve and still does.
As I always say, every race has a story…