Continuing the Breed-lovefestTuesday, April 03, 2012
I finished this column last Wednesday night, before we learned the sad news about the passing of Bill "Grumpy" Jenkins. I'll share some of your great "Grumpy" stories in a future column. We now return you to the wheel-pants thread.

(Above) Craig Breedlove, left, and engine builder Dave Carpenter with the new and still unpainted Spirit II outside of Quinn Epperly's shop


(Left) Breedlove held a model of Spirit of America I, which had wheel fairings on the rear tires when it set the land-speed record in 1963 and inspired the front fairings on the Spirit II dragster.

There have been a couple of interesting developments in the last few days in regards to our ongoing discussion of wheel pants and Craig Breedlove’s streamlined slingshot Spirit II dragster.

Bob Frey clued me in to a nice two-page story on the Breedlove car that ran in the March 6, 1964, issue of National DRAGSTER and further explained the thinking behind the design.

The detailed article, written by then-DRAGSTER Editor Dean Brown and accompanied by photographs from Associate Editor Dan Roulston, was packed with technical details about the design and its “wetted” areas – “all of the skin area that touches the airflow over, around, and under the car,” according to Breedlove. “Consider the air as molasses, and it’s easy to see that as it rubs against the body surface, it creates drag and slows the car. Less surface, or ‘wetted,’ area results in less drag and more speed. It’s probably more important than the frontal area to the success of the car.”

One might think that covering the engine and the front and rear tires would add surface “wetted” area. But Breedlove explained that the total surface area of all of those elements – including things like the magnetos and rear brake -- was, in fact, larger than the surface area of the body. Beforehand, Breedlove, with aerospace worker Bernie Pershing, had charted all NHRA record holders, noting two factors -- aerodynamic drag to vehicle weight and tire thrust to vehicle weight ratio -- that he considered most important to dragster design, then plotted those against his design for Spirit II and found the results quite promising.

You’ll also note that Spirit II had no air-disturbing external drag link steering or radius rods as was common for slingshots of the day but instead used a straight shaft connected to a Fiat steering box welded to the front axle.

Because the subject of the day (month?) is wheel pants, I won’t go into a lot more detail about the dragster's full design, but when the article was written (before the car had actually been down the strip), Breedlove and body builder Quinn Epperly estimated that the front fairings alone would cut air drag by 30 percent and were good for about 10 mph not because of their clean lines but because they would eliminate the turbulence that the uncovered front tires would kick up and tumble onto the rest of the car. As noted previously, this benefit largely went unnoticed (or at least was not mentioned in any of my readings) until Don Garlits rediscovered the fact in 1985, which led to his covering the front tires on his semi-streamlined Swamp Rat XXX.

Last Tuesday, we speculated that the front fairings on Breedlove's Spirit II were inspired by Frank Lockhart's late-1920s LSR car -- which I just discovered was re-created last year; story here -- but we missed an intermediate step as the story reports that they instead were modeled after the fairings that covered the rear wheels of the Spirit of America I LSR car pictured above (which may have been inspired by Lockhart).

Dennis Friend passed along the Kaye Trapp photos at right, taken from one of the weekly drag rags (he can’t remember which), that show a car remarkably similar to the Breedlove machine but with a caption that purports it to be a twin-engine fuel dragster conceived by Nye Frank, Epperly’s longtime tin-bending pal and onetime Breedlove crew chief.

Friend huddled with George Klass, one of the major players in the Breedlove (and other) camps of the era and deduced that these photos are actually of a 1/4-scale model of the Breedlove car constructed for wind-tunnel purposes.

“I am 99 percent certain that the wind-tunnel model and Craig's dragster are for the same car,” said Klass. “I think all the confusion is due to Nye's name being used with the wind-tunnel model. Remember, Nye was the crew chief for Breedlove. Since Craig's dragster was built first, it's also possible that Nye based his own streamliner body on the data they got off this model. I believe that Nye did have quite a bit of input into the design; however, the twin Chevy car came out after Craig's car. The twice-motored dragster body was fiberglass, and Craig's car body was aluminum. They were similar but in no way the same. Craig's car was never designed or intended to be a two-engine car. The biggest issue was it had to use Goodyear drag slicks, the very first drag tires they ever made, and they were TERRIBLE, like racing on grease.”

I don’t know if Frank had planned a twin-engine twin to Breedlove’s car or if the caption writer had it wrong. More of history’s mysteries …

Back to wheel pants …

Eagle-eyed David Hapgood spied this advertisement for wheel pants in the May 16, 1975, issue of National DRAGSTER.

Following up on the wheel-pants-wearing El Toro fuel altered, its current owner, John Hoyt, sent the photo at right showing the car so equipped at the 1977 Toledo Auto Show. It’s a cool look, but I’m still waiting to see if the car was ever run in this configuration.

By the way, Hoyt is in the process of restoring the car, which he found last year in lower northern Michigan, “still in wonderful condition, with all original parts and aluminum panels still attached, except the winglet style that I am still looking for. I have been able to contact five of the drivers of El Toro but no luck so far. If I can’t find the original, I will have Al Bergler build us another one. My real problem is finding an old '70s iron Hemi for the rebuild. I now have a 546 Chevy injected alky engine it; that’s OK, but that's like kissing your sister: It’s a kiss with no meaning; the only thing that counts is a blown fuel Hemi! The goal, a six-second pass at 200-plus mph.”

By the way, I mentioned Tuesday that an online article cited El Toro as one of only two true competition vehicles to win the prestigious Ridler Award from the Detroit Autorama.
 
I found a list of Ridler winners online and discovered that that’s not true. Bergler’s sleek, canopied More Aggravation AA/Coupe won the first award (1964), and Maynard Rupp’s rear-engine Chevoom “Funny Car” won it in 1966. Bob Sweatt’s El Toro won it in 1976, and then I see Dale Hunt’s Pontiac Grand Am Pro Stocker as the 1986 winner. Could be that Hunt’s car never actually ran on a track, but we know that Aggravation and Chevoom did. I found an interview online with Bergler, who called the Ridler Award the most important accolade of his career and one for which he is still widely known. Bergler, a member of the Michigan Motorsports Hall of Fame,  has attended the Motorama since the 1950s. [Late update, 4/6/12: According to Bret Kepner, Hunt's Grand Am was actually a Super Gasser which, because of ISCA rules, competed in the Pro Stock class at the show. Kepner also noted another competition car that won the Ridler in 1995 Ridler, Bob Rizzoli's RCD-built '92 Mercedes-Benz 560 SEC C/Altered; "arguably the most deserving drag car to ever win the trophy," he opined.]

By the way, the Ridler Award is named in honor of Don Ridler, who was hired by the Michigan Hot Rod Association in 1957 as a promotions agent and publicist for the show. He booked popular bands like Duane Eddy and The Big Bopper to boost attendance at the show. He died in 1963, and the Ridler Award was established in his honor the next year.

 

Tom Nagy sent this shot by his good friend Jerry Bennett at U.S. 131 Dragway from the 1975 Popular Hot Rodding Championships that confirms my suspicions that the 1975 Tommy Hendricks car was the 1973 Tommy Ivo Top Fueler. “Those wing struts look unmistakable to me,” he agreed.

More English wheel pants: Johnny Cola sent this photo of an injected dragster called the Turbo Saxon (which does not appear to be turbocharged) and mused whether the English called the aerodynamic aids "wheel trousers."

And then there's this late-1970s/early-1980s gem from Steve Reyes, showing that wheel pants aren't just for the asphalt: the Swain Bros. sand dragster on the course near the old Ontario Motor Speedway.

The 1977 Rulebook cover showing Chase Knight’s Golden Gator Alcohol Dragster wearing wheel pants in the very publication that outlawed them brought Mike Hedworth to suggest that the real focus of that photo was his opponent in that third U.S. Nationals round, Ken Veney, and that “They probably thought people would use common sense that this was a picture from '76 when the pants were legal and not an example of what configurations were legal.” I don't know that I buy either argument; Veney was neither the 1976 Indy champ (Dave Settles) nor world champ (Brent Bramley), and although it's understood that the images are from the previous year (the Rulebook is typically available in the winter), my guess is this was an oversight and not something that would happen today, for sure.

Knight also had an interesting comment about that notorious photo: “Although it looks as if I’ve put a decent holeshot on Ken Veney, I had indeed red-lighted. I was always perturbed about that as I knew that I saw the yellow (there were no reaction timers in those days) and hadn’t even bothered to look at the Tree as I went by. It wasn’t until many years later that my old classmate (and Insider contributor) Jim Hill sent me a picture of that run from his perspective. You can see Jim in that photo, at the right guardrail, in the blue shirt and straw hat. He caught the moment of launch, and the heavy old Gator (nearly 2,350 pounds) had picked the wheels up out of the beams. It didn’t have a tendency to do that, but that image did ease my mind a bit regarding that mystery. That was the third round, in a 32-car field. We were running 6.70s and had gotten by Dave Beatty in the first round and Dale Hall in the second.”

And finally … Want to own a famous wheel-pants dragster? Frey also alerted me that Ivo’s restored 1974 wheel-pants dragster – the one that flipped in the lights at the 1974 Winternationals – will be on sale at the Mecum auction May 15-20 in Indianapolis, where Don Prudhomme’s 250-mph-barrier-breaking Pepsi Challenger Funny Car (Lot S182) will be sold. The Ivo car (Lot S200), which was mostly destroyed in that top-end tumble but rebuilt and campaigned later that year, was purchased by Funny Car hero Bruce Larson in 2001 and restored in 2007. Scrolling through the amazing list of cars that will go on the block, I also spied Breedlove’s famous 1968 Javelin (Lot F333), which covered the flying mile at Bonneville at 161 mph in 1968, setting a C/Production world record that stood for years.

Get those checkbooks out ...

 

Farewell to the grumpy oneFriday, March 30, 2012

Everyone loved Bill Jenkins, but perhaps none more so than Linda Vaughn.

I had a whole other column ready to go – ahead of schedule even – when I got the news via text yesterday morning that we’d lost Bill “Grumpy” Jenkins, but I wanted to jump in right away to share a few brief thoughts about the king of the Chevrolet engine. I’ll present the other column here Tuesday.

I’m a bit ashamed to admit that I didn’t know “Grump” very well, my contact being limited to a very narrow window that spanned the beginning of my employment at NHRA (May 1982) through the middle of the decade when he retired as a team owner. Further hampering my “Grump” quota was that during those years, I primarily covered Top Fuel and Funny Car for National DRAGSTER, so my interactions on the gas ‘n’ carbs side were kinda limited.

Besides, there’s not much really that I could add to the very thorough bio that ND’s John Jodauga – a longtime and good friend of and former publicity manager for Jenkins – wrote for us when Jenkins was voted No. 8 in 2001’s Top 50 Drivers poll, copy that I used for the obituary I put together yesterday morning. Combined with an outpouring of fan reactions, it’s a pretty good summation of not only the man’s career, but also what he meant to so many whom he inspired. (I particularly love the one about the guy Bill Edwards, whose dad named him William Tyler after Jenkins’ first two names, and how his mom thought his name was Timothy Martin Edwards until she saw the birth certificate that Dad had completed.)

The way I know Jenkins best is through the anecdotes of those who did know him, and I’m hoping that many of you will share your “Grumpy” stories with me. ND Senior Editor Kevin McKenna (@ThatguyKMac) Tweeted a funny remembrance: “Best Grump memory. Dick Moroso's holiday party. Grump in a hot tub with 3 girls who didn't add up to his age!!”

My favorite is an old chestnut that a former staffer says he witnessed at a trade show. Hurst had one of its new four-speed units on display, bolted to a table for people to try. After watching a group of people meander their way through the H-shaped gear pattern, “Grump” walked up, placed a skilled hand on the shifter knob, and turned the shifter into a blur as he quickly worked his way through the pattern with such vigor that the entire display was shaking. He stopped, paused, and simply grunted, “Hrmph,” and walked away with a pleased smirk on his face. (I’m not sure that my spelling accurately captures the flavor of a Jenkins grunt, but I tried; if you ever heard one, you know the sound.)

I’m going to go out on a limb and risk offending some of the many drag racing legends whom I call friends, but I’m going to say that I feel that, strictly on a historic perspective, the loss of Jenkins is the biggest one the sport has ever suffered. I’m sure that at the time that heroes like Pete Robinson and John Mulligan died those impacts were staggering -- as they were when we lost Eric Medlen and Scott Kalitta -- and the recent losses of such legends as James Warren and “Dyno Don" Nicholson left huge voids, but to me, Jenkins was on a rare plane in the pantheon of drag racing legends. I put only a handful of people at that level – folks like Don Garlits, Don Prudhomme, Shirley Muldowney, Tom McEwen, and Chris Karamesines – and although there are plenty just a shade below those, this was a day that I’d worried about for so long but knew would come (as it will for all of us), the falling of one of the true titans of our sport.

How do you say goodbye to someone as well-known, accomplished, respected, and admired? It seems that no matter what you do to try to salute a life or career, it will never be enough to match what he or she gave and what he or she meant to so many.

Jodauga was on the phone all day yesterday tracking down comments and memories from some of Jenkins’ contemporaries and biggest fans and will include them in a big tribute to Jenkins planned for next week’s National DRAGSTER. JJ will be in Las Vegas this weekend for the big show, where he'll continue that work and where I know that Jenkins’ passing will be a major topic, yet I know that his passing will be felt for a long time.

Farewell, “Grump.” Thanks for the memories.
 

Smarty pantsTuesday, March 27, 2012

Today’s history lesson on wheel pants comes out – literally -- of the clear blue sky from fellow drag racing history freak Bret Kepner, who pointed out that, “It was the airplane racers of the 1920s who, while competing in one of the top spectator sports of the day, attempted to streamline the non-retractable landing gear of the early biplanes and monoplanes to decrease drag and gain speed.” Alternately called "fairings" or "spats," these aero aids can still be found in place today.

Kepner also pointed me toward what almost assuredly is the first earthbound vehicle to use wheel pants, which Kepner figures was inspiration for Craig Breedlove and his wheel-pants-equipped Spirit II slingshot of 1964.

“Like all hot rodding kids of the '40s and '50s, Breedlove was heavily influenced by the long list of land-speed-record racers who were making attempts since prior to the turn of the 20th century,” Kepner wrote.

"Breedlove was active in dry-lakes racing during his early drag racing career and was well aware of the LSR series. Those who remembered the pioneers in all-out speed efforts knew, from the minute they saw them, that Breedlove's front-wheel coverings were almost direct copies of those on the ill-fated Stutz Bearcat LSR vehicle of Frank Lockhart, which ran well over 200 mph in 1928 before killing its driver on the sands of Daytona that year. Lockhart is often credited with inventing the term 'wheel pants,' but, in fact, the air racers were using that moniker a decade before him.”

Kepner pointed me to this page, www.automobiliac.com/automobiliac/tag/frank-lockhart, which has a pretty thorough accounting of the effort that ended tragically on April 25, 1928.

Lockhart’s record effort was remarkable in that he flipped common form on its ear, going away from designs like Malcolm Campbell's Bluebird -- heavy cars powered by airplane engines – in favor of a small lightweight powered by a 16-cylinder automotive engine (two straight 8s mounted together) and adding the wheel fairings to aid the aero.

Lockhart’s fairings were locked in place and did not turn with the wheels, which had only a small degree of movement, which may have led to his demise when he lost a tire at speed. An earlier crash had forced him into budget mode, and he scrimped in the wrong places, trading proven Firestone tires for less reputable Mason rubber in exchange for $20,000 in "sponsorship money" from the company.

Attempting to better the record of 207 mph, he made a run of more than 200 mph into a headwind, and, with a high tide closing in on the Daytona beach, he quickly turned his car around for a downwind sprint. Because the fairings took so long to remove and reattach, Lockhart did only a cursory examination of the tires and did not see that the right rear tire had been cut by a seashell. Perhaps the cut had been under the portion of the tire hidden by the pants.

The tire gave out on the return run at about 225 mph, and the 26-year-old speed seeker – perhaps handicapped in his recovery efforts by the fairings -- lost control of the car, which overturned multiple times, throwing him from the car and killing him instantly. The page linked above includes many more photos of the car, a video of the crash, and a diagram explaining the crash. Interesting story; thanks, Bret.

Tommy Naccarato has fond memories of the Breedlove machine from the early 1970s, when his grandparents lived in North Hollywood, Calif., home to George Barris' Kustoms.

“I had been fortunate to make a pest of myself there on many occasions -- and those that know me will attest to this tenacity of my personality, which no doubt weighed heavy on Mr. Barris himself on occasions,” he admitted. “On one of my trips there, I noticed a rather long covered dragster-looking car. Knowing I was going to get in trouble for peeking, I did exactly that until caught, but in very uncharacteristic Barris fashion was told that I could take the cover off, only if I put it back on after I was done. I lifted the cover, and, sure enough, there were the front-wheel-pants fairings, painted stars and stripes, red, white, and blue, and instantly I knew I had struck gold in the dragster department.

“I gently but quickly removed the rest of the car cover, and here was Craig Breedlove's Spirit II, which I had only seen in pictures up to that point, and it had been obviously repainted from its original ‘Breedlove Blue,’ which seemingly graced many of his other race cars. I was transfixed on the car for a good two hours plus, just standing there looking, thinking, dreaming of how glorious this car must have been on the track in its day, which, looking back, wasn't all that many years before.

“While in this dream stupor, a Barris customer with his girlfriend came up to me and was looking at the car himself and fell prey to my giving him a detailed history and tech specs of the car itself. This went on for many minutes. He then turned to his girlfriend and said, ‘Honey, I don't think I've ever seen a kid that loves a car more!’ All of this action of course got Barris to come out of his office to make sure I wasn't driving one of his customers crazy. The guy picked up his Pantera, which Barris Kustoms had been working on, and away he and the girlfriend jetted into the afternoon sun. It was here that Mr. Barris said to me, ‘Kid, you don't even know who that was, do you? That was Jermaine Jackson of the Jackson 5.' Now please, get the dragster covered back up!’

“That was the last time I had seen the Spirit II, that is until seeing images of it in Garlits' museum and reading of its journey to that haven of once-famous race cars in your column. I can only hope more old great race cars never die but go to heaven in a museum as such. It is simply just wrong not to honor and reminisce about these great machines. Someday I hope to get to see the car again in the Garlits museum and have ‘Big’ tell me it’s time to leave the car alone!”

Still on the Breedlove front, Wes Verinder wrote to report that the photo of Breedlove’s Screaming Yellow Zonkers rocket was taken at Dallas Int'l Motor Speedway in 1972. “I remember that the car ran off the end of the racing surface and into a drainage ditch or lake, even though the total straightaway of the road courses was right at 5,000 feet from the dragstrip starting line,” he wrote. “DIMS was way ahead of its time but built on the floodplain of Lake Dallas, which contributed to its demise. I worked there in 1973 until it closed after the Long Horn Nationals.”

Rich Hanna, son of Eastern Raider patriarch Al Hanna, sent the photo at right, showing Bob Beaulieu blazing the hides in the wheel-pants-equipped Eastern Raider Top Fueler at Connecticut Dragway. According to Hanna, who pilots the GOJO jet Funny Car, the photo is labeled 1977 but must be 1976 based on the timeline that I assembled. Hanna also noted that it was Beaulieu’s red-light at the Maple Grove Dutch Classic in May 1977 that allowed Bob Edwards to advance to the next round in which he lost his life. Edwards, who entered the drag racing trivia books as the runner-up to Shirley Muldowney in her first Top Fuel victory, at the 1976 NHRA Springnationals, died when the front axle collapsed after a wheelstand, sending the car into the guardrail.

“Beaulieu red-lit the win away as they had Edwards covered,” Hanna said. “Bob told me they loaded up but before leaving, they watched the next round of eliminations from the fence where the accident occurred. Amazing how most accidents are a chain of events that maybe shouldn't have happened half of the time in the first place.”

I also heard from Shawn Dill, who works on the Al-Anabi Top Fueler driven by Khalid alBalooshi and restores vintage race cars as a hobby. Restoring Terry Capps' 1973 Wheeler Dealer car is his latest project, which has been under way for a little more than two years (“Progress is slow when you travel as much as we do,” he noted) but is nearing completion. According to Dill, the car was originally built by Woody Gilmore with bodywork and wheel pants by Nye Frank.

“The car was updated several times by Al Swindahl and was run until the team debuted its new wide-cage/square-body car at Indy in 1980,” he reported. “The car then went through the normal decline, first a few years in Pro Comp with a blown big-block Chevy, and then the bracket races for almost 20 years with a small-block and Powerglide. The car was purchased by former Alcohol Funny Car owner Dr. Brian Friesen, and I have been working to return the car to its 1975 configuration.

“This project forced me to learn some of the history of the wheel pants. I think the ones on Breedlove’s slingshot were built by Quinn Epperly. Nye Frank certainly made most of the aluminum units on the left coast, but it seems that Bob Sweatt (El Toro AA/FA) may have had a hand in pulling a mold off of one of Frank’s creations and then reproducing them in fiberglass. It seems many of the Midwestern or Eastern cars had fiberglass units. Unfortunately, Bob and Nye are both gone, so I am unsure of my facts; maybe one of your readers can provide some clarification.

“Anyhow, I needed a set for my Wheeler Dealer restoration, and fortunately, my good friend Dave Crane in Michigan was able to help me with one of the fiberglass units that had been made some 30 years ago. I had a mold made and had a couple sets made. I thought they would be the ultimate garage art, paint them like Hot Tuna, Ivo, Keeling & Clayton, or whatever you want. I took one to the reunion in Bakersfield to stir up some sales, and much to my surprise, most people didn't recognize the shape in its unmounted, pale white gel-coated form. I actually had several people ask if it was a Boogie Board. Californians!

“Another side note is the wheel pants on the Barry Setzer liner in Garlits' museum are incorrect. I first suspected this just by looking at pictures; the originals were slightly longer and had a distinct shape as compared to all the other fairings. I confirmed my suspicion while at the museum by reaching my hand inside (don't tell Garlits I reached under the ropes!) to find it was fiberglass. I'm pretty sure a car built by two of the greatest METAL fabricators in recent memory would not have had fiberglass fairings. And the final proof came while visiting a friend who purchased the remains of Setzer’s race shop. Guess what he has hanging on the wall in his garage? The ultimate garage art: the original wheel pants still with their beautiful distinctive paint and two-bolt center brackets (all the others used a four-bolt star bracket). Small world; very, very small.”

Several other Insider readers, most notably Gene Kozak and David Paine, verified Sweatt’s manufacturing of the fiberglass wheel pants.

“I built the Mr. Motec SS/AA car and took it to Bob Sweatt's paint shop for its paint,” recalled Kozak. “Working there with Bob on the car, he showed me the fiberglass wheel pants that he was making for the dragsters. I saw the two halves before they were put together. I also saw the molds that were used to make them. Bob was in partnership on these with Bob Farmer of Bob's Drag Chutes. Bob also had a set of them on his AA/FA called the El Toro."

I couldn’t find a photo of the El Toro with the wheel pants on, but Paine provided the pencil sketch above. The Tom Nagy-shot photo that I did find at right – part of an article on El Toro penned by Kepner and Danny White -- shows the car with an aerodynamic-minded front wing that shielded the front tires but was not full wheel pants.

According to the article, the pretty El Toro fuel altered won the prestigious Ridler Award at the Detroit Autorama in 1976, one of only two drag racing machines to win the award. The car was campaigned as a blown fuel altered until Sweatt put Doug Gordon in the seat for NHRA Division 3 competition as a AA/Altered (you can read Gordon’s account – and see a few more pics – here) but was sold in 1978 and parked for six seasons before being purchased by Rick Cortino, who raced it under the name Taboo in IHRA Top Sportsman and Top Dragster competition in the late 1980s and the 1990s. There’s no mention I can find of the car ever wearing the wheel pants, which would seem odd for a guy who built them, but maybe I just haven’t found it yet.

More English wheel pants: Pete Aughton passed along this photo of Tony Froome’s Sundance Top Fueler making a run at Santa Pod, courtesy of the accelerationarchive.co.uk galleries.

And finally, a big tip o’ the Insider cap to the Insider Nation as a whole for the continuing support and input, but this week, I gotta give it up to Insider regular “Chicago Jon” Hoffman and quarter-mile collectibles king Mike Goyda (goyda.com), both of whom sent me an extra copy of the 1977 NHRA Rulebook after my musing last week about the hole in our library. I never expected this kind of generosity and shared interest in getting the story straight, but I’ve seen it time and again.

 
  The 1977 NHRA Rulebook, in which front-wheel fairings were outlawed in both Top Fuel and Alcohol Dragster, nonetheless featured a photo of Chase Knight's Golden Gator dragster with the wheel pants, shot in Indy the year before.

Anyway, as you may recall, the reason I wanted the 1977 Rulebook was to try to close the information gap on the outlawing of wheel pants in Top Fuel in 1977 and see whether that same edict was true for Alcohol Dragsters. I’ve noted that several Alcohol Dragster teams ran the wheel pants in early 1977 before being asked to remove them, and this seems to be a classic example of, to quote from Cool Hand Luke, “What we got here is ... failure to communicate.”

Sure enough, on page 20, under Top Fuel Class Requirements, Fairings, in bold-face type: “Front wheel fairings are not permitted." Flipping back to the Pro Comp section on page 33, for both fuel and alcohol dragsters (AA/DA), the Class Requirements read: “Same as outlined under Top Fuel Eliminator.” The Class Requirements for Top Fuel stretch two and half pages, so I could see why NHRA wouldn’t have wanted to gobble up pages unnecessarily reprinting the same information, and, if you read the entire thing, there are enough references to AA/DA within the Top Fuel requirements to let you know that this was done on purpose. So, though it doesn’t specifically address the use of fairings in Pro Comp, the line drawn is pretty straight (if not 100 percent clear), which might explain why the alky fairings lasted only as long into 1977 as it took an NHRA official to see them. As to why Chase Knight’s wheel-pants-wearing Golden Gator Alcohol Dragster was on the cover … well, that’s anyone’s guess.
 
I'll see you Friday ...

Breedlove's sleek slingshotFriday, March 23, 2012

Showing off Craig Breedlove’s Spirit II wheel-pants-equipped front-engine dragster here last week raised a little clamor for more information about a car that I also admittedly knew little about and about which there’s not a whole lot of information online. I was rescued by regular Insider contributor Marc Bruederle, who instantly dug out his June 1964 copy of Hot Rod from his collection of about 10,000 magazines and had wife Laura scan up the feature shot by the late, great Eric Rickman.

The timing of this column about that car is especially apropos as today is Breedlove’s 75th birthday. Happy birthday!

Now, I’m sure that most of you know the famous Mr. Breedlove for his numerous successful land-speed-record runs, but he also used the dragstrip as a test medium for his Bonneville Salt Flats activities. Although his drag racing rides were limited to this car, a few guest shots in the famed Freight Train, and a controversial rocket dragster in the 1970s, he considered himself a hot rodder. He told Samuel Hawley, author of the great Bonneville-based book Speed Duels (which I devoured last year on one plane trip), “I didn’t go set the land speed record with the intention of being a celebrity. I was a hot rodder. I wanted to pursue setting the speed record. That is an ego gratification to do that, to go to Bonneville and set a record or to go win a drag race or whatever you’re gonna do.”


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At the time that Breedlove had this dragster built in 1964, was the land-speed-record holder, having driven his three-wheeled Spirit of America to 407.45 mph the previous Aug. 5, and, after watching his record bettered twice in early 1964 -- first by Tom Green (413 mph in February), then Art Arfons (434 mph in May) -- he reclaimed the record Oct. 13 with a speed of 468.719 mph.

But at the time that he commissioned William Moore to design the car and master metalsmith Quinn Epperly to bring the aerodynamic body to life, he still held the Bonneville record and wanted to add the FIA Standing Kilometer record to his accomplishments.

Working from scale drawings, Epperly hammered the sleek body out of .040 3003 H14 aluminum sheet while Breedlove himself welded the 4130 chrome moly chassis. Breedlove was not just a pretty face but also a skilled engineer, having worked as a technician in structural engineering at Douglas Aircraft in Santa Monica, Calif., after graduating from high school.

(Brag time: Breedlove and I are both graduates of Southern California’s Venice High School -- Go Gondos! -- sharing those roots with former Nationals champ Leonard Harris, Mike Sorokin of Surfers Top Fuel fame, "Jazzy Jim" Nelson, and many others; see my 2008 column, Be True To Your School. Breedlove street raced in and around my teenage stomping grounds in Culver City, Calif., hanging out at the 1960s hot rod heaven that was The Clock drive-in and racing up and down Culver Boulevard, where, at the tender age of 16, he flipped a ’32 coupe during one memorable duel, splitting open his head and causing a small fracture in his neck. But back to our story …)

Dave Carpenter built three engines for Spirit II, a stock 354, a 370, and the killer engine, a 494-cid Hemi fitted with a GMC 6-71 blower. Longtime hot rodder and flathead expert Al Sharp, partner on the record-holding Mooneyham & Sharp coupe, supplied the heads. According to one report I read, the car was outfitted with the first dragster tire ever made by Goodyear.

Not many records exist of the car’s time on the strip other than its well-photographed appearance at the 1964 Hot Rod Magazine Drags at Riverside Raceway in California. I’ve not seen any actual recorded performance of the car, but the word is that Breedlove only made a handful of passes in the car, which, like many cars of an experimental nature, like the streamlined, wheel-pants-wearing  Barry Setzer dragster -- was deemed too heavy to compete with the contemporary rail jobs.

The car went through several owners before landing in Carl Casper’s show circuit and eventually ended up in the hands of none other than Connie Kalitta, who, according to the Don Garlits Museum of Drag Racing, bought it "for experimental work." Kalitta donated it to the museum in the fall of 1983, where it resides in red, white, and blue regalia.

After losing his fifth speed record to fellow ex-drag racer Gary Gabelich in 1970, Breedlove returned to his dragstrip test bed to test and drum up sponsor support for a new land-speed-record effort that would employ an engine similar to the ones used by NASA to lift the lunar module off the moon for its return flight home.

The car itself had been borne out of a relationship with American Motors Corp., which contracted Breedlove to build a highly streamlined, wheel-driven car powered by a supercharged version of its AMC 390-cid V-8 automobile engine. AMC spent in excess of a quarter-million dollars on the car, which had a coefficient of drag of just 0.25 and an overall frontal area of 10 square feet. AMC had to drop out of the project due to financial woes, but Breedlove kept the car and added the rocket engine.

Unfortunately for Breedlove, NHRA wouldn’t allow the car because it used unsymmetrical dimethyl hydrazine (UDMH), a caustic and corrosive acid, as fuel, and nitrogen tetroxide (NTO) as the oxidizer. I’m no chemist, but I read that the combination of these fuels was "hypergolic," meaning that they would explode upon contact with one another, so no ignition system was necessary. It reportedly developed 10,000 pounds of thrust for a car that weighed just 1,600 pounds, a staggering power-to-weight ratio of 6.25.

Breedlove ran the 300-mph-capable rocket dragster under various sponsorships – most memorably in bright-yellow livery representing 1970s snack-food fad Screaming Yellow Zonkers – from 1971 to 1973 but usually had to chop the power early to be able to stop the car in time. In late 1973, Breedlove took a modified and lightened version of the car to the Salt Flats to see what it could really do with a virtually unlimited shutdown area.

Breedlove was credited with a new Federation International Motorcyclist (FIM) quarter-mile speed of 377.754 mph in the traps, peaking at 425 mph with an elapsed time of 4.654 seconds, but the car darted out of control when he deployed the chute and cartwheeled down the salt. He was not injured and continued to pursue his need for speed. Last November, he announced plans to break 800 mph with a project scheduled for 2013, intending to eclipse the now-15-year-old mark of 763 mph by Britain’s Andy Green and, in true hot rodder tradition and -- ahem -- the spirit of America, bring the record back to the United States. Go Craig!
 

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