Header__ARTICLESmall
richardwillba roger

Richard & Roger

A Visit with John Hollansworth
03-05-09
Written by John Hollansworth, edited by Richard Parks,
 photographic consultant Roger Rohrdanz

 

My parents came from English, Irish, and Scottish background as near as I can tell. My mother's name was Dorsie Woody and she was born in Harrison, Arkansas, however her parents came from Tennessee and points east. My father's name was Arthur Hollansworth and he was born in Lewisburg, West Virginia and came to Missouri where he met my mother. They married and moved to Kansas City, Missouri. My father worked for a dairy as route man and foreman for years and then followed that with some time on the railroad both as a fireman and conductor, then

JH  011AA

John at his shop in Hot Springs Village, Arkansas. 2005

he was a carpenter and cabinet maker, before his retirement. My mother raised two boys; John and Paul, who was born in 1934. She was a homemaker and worked at Montgomery Wards sometimes.  I was born in Kansas City, Missouri in 1931 and grew up in that area, attending Askew grade school and East high school graduating in 1948. I took woodworking in high school and my friends were Bill Stewart, Alex Fetters, Jim Elleman, Leroy Gott, Maurice Turlo and Bill Hill. We didn't have a formal car club back then, but the guys just got together at the local Drive-In. From the age of ten I had an interest in cars; starting with driving milk trucks and whatever else I could talk my dad into at that early age. I was more into the driving part although we also needed to work on them too. In 1948 there was no organized drag racing; I guess there was some in California, but nowhere else that I knew of. We did our own drag racing on streets and abandoned roadways. Matter of fact I even went to the Police Dept in Kansas City (KC as we refer to the city) and asked them to consider sponsoring a place where we could run to keep us off the streets.

   I bought a new 1949 Dodge Wayfarer roadster. The car had a fluid clutch and was very lightweight and I had written to Andy Granatelli in Chicago, Illinois to see what he had for that kind of car. He sent an Edmonds head and a Mallory ignition, and with those parts installed I could outrun most '49 Fords that my buddies, Bill Stewart and Bill Chenault had. I finally traded that car for a 1950 Olds convertible, which was also very quick. I was working as a teletype operator for Western Union, in Kansas City, Missouri. At the time I was a money order clerk, branch manager and waiting for the time to come when I would go into the service. Midget racing was very big in KC at Olympic Stadium, as anyone who went to Indy came via the famous track. Olympic Stadium was a large fifth or small quarter mile dirt bullring track located on East 15th Street in Kansas City.  It was all board grandstands and fences. We also raced at Riverside Stadium in North Kansas City. It was a one quarter mile dirt track with only one grandstand on the front side. If you spun out you went over the high berm. If you were lucky enough to stay upright and keep it running you could re-join the race. Jud Larson and several of the other top drivers would purposely spin over the berm on the start if they did not get the pole shot. I flipped my old B Class midget there one night which was my first year of racing midgets. Ironically the only other serious midget accident was the last year that I ran with ARDC in Hershey, Pennsylvania, where I also flipped the car. I attended there regularly and thru another high school friend, Bill Chennault, was able to get into the pits and get involved. Chennault landed a ride in an Offy powered car and I latched on to a ride in a B midget powered by a V8-60 Ford.

   I competed for just one year running in the B class in and around KC until going in the Army in 1953.  I had worked for Western Union as a kid delivering telegrams and after high school I went to work as a teletype operator and branch manager for Western Union. In the army after finishing basic training at Fort Riley, Kansas, I was assigned to Camp Carson in Colorado Springs, Colorado. I was assigned to a unit in personnel so I had some control over my schedule. The old type stock cars were running three nights a week in Denver, Colorado Springs, and Pueblo. I wanted to continue my racing interest but not knowing anyone there at the time it took awhile, but I finally came up with enough money to buy an old B class stock '37 Ford to compete in the local races. The first night we had the car I won the slow car heat and the B main event in Pueblo and made enough money to pay for 

JH  030AA

John Hollansworth winning the Colorado State Championship Race, Englewood, CO. 1954.

the old car. I got my Army boss interested in racing so the next season he bought me a much better car. Toward the end of the second year we had an accident in Denver resulting in severe burns over a lot of my body. Since I was in the Army I was taken to the Army hospital at Fort Simmons, where I received excellent care. As a result of that care and God's healing I was able to get out in a couple of months. One of the fellows in Colorado Springs offered me a ride in his '32 Ford for the State Championship race in Denver. I accepted and won the championship, a very nice experience after my prior experience. I was discharged from the Army in January 1955 and returned to KC and went back to work for

Western Union for a few months before being offered a promotion to move to Oklahoma City.

There was no midget racing in Oklahoma City either, but they did have modified stock cars. I was able to get a ride Pat Patterson and Larry Nailon and competed regularly at Taft Stadium and the Fairgrounds in Oklahoma City and the Fairgrounds in Tulsa on weekends while I was working. One of the guys who we ran against in Oklahoma City was Lloyd Ruby who went on to Indy fame. Buddy Cagel, Denny Moore (who was Jack Zinks mechanic), Bob Eichor and several others were involved in our circuit there. I met and married my current wife, Jane in 1956,  and stayed there until 1959 when Western Union transferred me to New York City. We made that move but were only there one year. I had been going to night school for four years at Oklahoma City University all the time I lived there and was almost finished, but I was able to complete my degree at New York University night school during that year. I studied at night and took classes and in the daytime I traveled on business for Western Union. I did try to secure a sprint car ride while 

JH  035AA

John Hollansworth takes Trophy Dash and Main Event at Tulsa Fairgrounds,Tulsa, OK.1958.

I was in NY during 1960. I competed for a ride, but it went to Bill Holland instead. I always thought that was sad, because after Holland's fine Indy record, he had to come back and run sprint cars in a non-USAC circuit.

JH  031AA

Big John, the Main Event winner at Lakeside Stadium in Denver, CO 1964

JH  033AA

Fortunately for me I was transferred to Colorado Springs with Western Union to interface with the North American Air Defense Command (NORAD) Cheyenne Mountain Project in 1961. I was able to renew my friendships and racing contacts and get involved with the Midget racing circuit racing out of Denver. I started with a Ford powered car and was able to win the top non-Offy class in 1962. The following year I secured a ride in an Offy and won the first feature of the season. I drove for a couple of different owners; Glenn Scott, Vern Shaver, and I won a respectable number of features and dashes. The Rocky Mountain Racing Association history is covered in Bill Hill's book Decades of Daring. I enjoyed running pavement and like most guys always wanted to try my hand at Indy (The Indianapolis 500). I was transferred to Belleville, Illinois with Western Union in 1965, but having run some races in IMCA, I still wanted to try for Indy. A former car owner in Denver, Ozzie Osborn had a laydown roadster built for Jimmy Bryant that was for sale. The roadsters were on their way out, but some were still running the Indy circuit. Paul Hollansworth, Grier Manning and Junior Knepper were interested enough to help me and we bought the roadster, rounded up

JH  037AA

In the pits at Belleville, KS. John Hollansworth in the Shaver Offy  1964

enough spare parts for Grier, my good friend and fellow racer in Colorado Springs, to put together a motor. I had gotten acquainted with Junior Knepper in Belleville and he agreed to recondition the chassis.

We put the project together with the chassis in Belleville and the motor in Colorado Springs. While that was happening I made an appointment with Henry Banks, director of competition at USAC to see if I could get a Championship drivers license.  I had run midgets in the Midwest so I had some name recognition. He told me if we could get the car to Phoenix in January that Don Branson was

there tire testing for Goodyear and if Don would sign off on me running, then he would give me a license. We did make it to Phoenix and Don Branson signed off on our performance and so we entered the car in the first Indy race at Phoenix in March of 1966. Grier Manning, Junior Knepper, Bill Hill and Buck Shaver were my crew. We finished 10th and we were pleased with that result considering our car and the competition we faced. The plan was to run the best we could on the circuit and hopefully get a ride in the 1967 Indy 500 in a rear engine car. The season was difficult with mechanical problems
We did finish 15th, I think, at Trenton, New

JH  038AA

John's Indy Roadster at Jr. Knepper's shop in Belleville, Ill.  1966.

Jersey, which was always the second stop on the circuit. The Milwaukee 200 had over 40 cars so they had a non-qualifiers race which we did ok in. We ran a dirt car for Louis Seymour at the Atlanta, Georgia race which was a 150 miles, and qualified at 148 mph, which was the fastest a dirt car had even gone I believe. The wind buffeting was tremendous. We blew a head gasket at the Springfield, Illinois race. That track is still in operation and is a dirt mile. We finished 13th at Pikes Peak, Colorado with the old roadster and only a two-speed gear box. We got invited to the Indy Race of Japan. Only the 33 starters were to go but since a couple could not make it, we were invited. That was a road course at Mt Fuji, and we finished 13th in that 200 mile race. The final event on the circuit was back at Phoenix where again there were 44 entries and only 28 could make it and we qualified 29th, so it was a long ride home.

   I had a commitment from J.C. Agajanian in 1967 to run at the Indy 500 in the back-up car if Ronnie Duman got the first car in. Duman used up the engine in his car, then the engine in the back-up car as well. Aggie was a fine gentleman. I had met him while I lived in Colorado Springs and he came to town to promote the Pike's Peak Hill Climb. He wanted my son, John Jr to lead the parade in his quarter midget, which he did. I did run a USAC stock car on Pikes Peak that year finishing 5th. I was transferred by Western Union again that year back to New York City and it became increasingly difficult to get time off for racing. I did run with the ARDC midget group for the season in 1968, before deciding to pursue my Western Union career. I can't remember what the ARDC stands for, but they are the oldest midget sanctioning body in the country and still operating today. Some other promotional opportunities came along which sent me to Boston, and then to Washington, D.C. I retired early from Western Union as a corporate VP and relocated to Dallas, Texas in 1982. The next year I moved to Raleigh, North Carolina with a start-up company and in 1983 I went to Annapolis, Maryland as Vice President of a mini-conglomerate called United Nuclear Corp (UNC). We purchased ETC, an aircraft engine overhauling company in New Jersey and I ran that for a year in 1986 and then I retired and moved to Hot Springs Village, Arkansas in 1988. 

   I have two sons and both were interested in motor sports and did their own thing. Jeff Hollansworth is involved with motorcycles, Go-Karts and some SCCA racing. He is now the owner of a real estate company here in Hot Springs Village. John Hollansworth Jr graduated from law school, and he has been involved in motorcycle and Go-Karts, but became seriously involved with SCCA racing. He won several championships in the SCCA and I believe he is one of the few SCCA grads who made it to Indy. He ran at the Indy 500 in 1999 and was the fastest rookie qualifier. That was the heyday of the dotcoms and since they were the sponsors of his car, his Indy racing career was short. He is currently working for Mecum Auction Company, who by the way, have just acquired the very rare GT Shelby coupe that Bondurant won the world championship with. My love for the automobile has continued and when I finally moved to Arkansas in 1988 I got involved with the Great American Race. It is a race of old cars going cross country. I have run that race 15 times in various cars with several respectable finishes, a couple of 5ths and several daily wins. The most racy car which I still own is a 1917 Peerless, an old board track racer. I call it the Green Dragon. It isn't the original one that Barney Oldfield drove, but it is a Peerless, with one of the first V8 motors. I have a shop in the Village and we restore old cars, re-restore some and buy and sell one every now and then. I have one of the original Kurtis Kraft midgets, which I drove as well as John Hollansworth Jr's Indy car. I also have a restored dirt champ car, an old stock car like we used to run and a 1930's county fair racer. If you happened to have caught Dennis Gage's My Classic Car program that he did from my shop, he was driving the county fair racer all over this area! I was chosen to serve on the advisory board of McPherson College in 1998 when it was formed. McPherson College is located in McPherson, Kansas. As you probably know, this is the only Liberal Arts College in the country with a four year degree in Auto restoration. Jay Leno is on our board too, though he does not come to our board meetings. 

   The following are some excerpts from my remarks in the 2006 Annual report. The foundation was started in 2003. "The Collectors Foundation is an educational grant-making organization financed by collector vehicle and classic boat enthusiasts to serve young people - the future generation of collectors. As a public charitable foundation, the foundation has two functions; it gathers financial resources from collectors, and distributes these resources in the form of scholarships and grants to viable educational programs and institutions that demonstrate commitment to passing on knowledge, craftsmanship skills and appreciation for historic vehicles and vessels. The vision for this organization came from McKeel Hagerty. Hagerty Insurance Agency has underwritten most of the administrative costs to get the foundation up and running. In addition the companies Hagerty Plus Program annually contributes $1 from each membership. So far the foundation has distributed over 1 million dollars in this effort. While Hagerty still remains a major contributor, we have expanded our contribution base to over 20 companies and even more individuals," Hollansworth said. "The board of directors for the college are Ken Gross (Hamilton, Virginia), McKeel Hagerty (Traverse City, Michigan), Jean Hoffman (Clifton Park, New York), John Hollansworth (Hot Springs, Arkansas), Bruce Knox (San Antonio, Texas), Keith Martin (Portland, Oregon), Raffi Minasian (Walnut Creek, California), Mike Stowe (Boyne City, Michigan), and Corky Corker (Chattanooga, Tennessee). Our fund raising to date has been through personal contacts as well as attendance at selective auto and boat activities," Hollansworth concluded.

   I have always had an interest in the Bonneville Salt Flats, and several years ago I had the opportunity to meet Marvin Jenkins, son of Ab Jenkins. Over several months and a lot of research I determined that there was an AB Jenkins Special and after researching the history of the car, found out it had either been cut up or disappeared. My interest peaked wondering if I could re-create that car and maybe even use it on the Great American Race. Marvin was interested in my project and provided me with detailed pictures and criteria. I was able to get a young man at McPherson, Jamie Hart who was an expert on the English wheel to take on the body project. Hart was an instructor at the college and was responsible for the fabrication of the car. He made a complete wooden model and then began the fabrication. I was able to find a Pierce chassis in California and had that shipped here, started researching a motor and found one that a fellow in our shop, Armour Titus, had begun to build. The intake manifold had 6 carbs so that was fabricated by Ron Blissit, a long time Pierce expert in Oklahoma City. The car was finally finished and I wanted to take it to the Salt, but they do not have the old 10 mile track that the original car ran on (126 mph average speed over 24 hours), but thought I could run it on the straight course. We took the car to Little Rock, Arkansas, the closest dyno, to make sure it would hold together. I had a Gear Vendor Company overdrive built for it and hoped that the old motor would hold. We did take it to the Salt, and Dennis Gage came out and did shots for his TV show. Marv Jenkins also brought the Mormon Meteor III out for a demo run. We ran the car in an actual run recording 114, not quite the original 126 mph that I wanted, but it sure did feel like 126 mph and more. It was a great effort, and a fantastic project and we had fun with it. I finally sold the car to a private collector in Salt Lake City, Utah, which is where the car belongs with all of its history. 

   For a complete story on the Ab Jenkins Special you could refer to Salt of the Earth written by Ab Jenkins and Wendell Ashton. To try and summarize it, Ab Jenkins is from Salt Lake City and was the icon of the salt, starting with bicycles and then motorcycles. He was the influence that got Sir Malcolm Campbell and other English racers to come to the salt flats. The Pierce Arrow Motor Car Company made fine cars like the Packard and Peerless (the 3 P's). They developed a V12 motor, but they were having trouble selling them in competition with their 8 cylinder cars. They hired Ab Jenkins to come to their factory and try to refine their motor for more speed, etc. Ab did that and they brought a 1932 Pierce Arrow Roadster with his re-done engine out for test runs. They attempted to get the AAA to come out and verify the speed, times, etc, but the AAA refused. Distraught, the engineers returned to the factory and Pierce Arrow commissioned Ab to build a speedster, which he did with the help of his young son, Marvin Jenkins. They brought the speedster to the salt in 1933 and by then the AAA had finally agreed to come and authenticate their run. At the time there was only a 10 mile track on the salt. Ab ran the "Ab Jenkins Special" 127 mph for 24 hours without getting out of the car. This was recorded by the AAA as well as videos which I have a copy of. Following that successful run the car was taken to dealers around the country to help promote the Pierce Arrow motor car. Pierce Arrow went out of business around 1936 and the car disappeared. This was the fascination that I had to recreate that car. Ab's quest for speed continued and he built the first Mormon Meteor, which was powered by a Duesenberg motor. That car set many records, and then with the competition from overseas, he felt they needed more horsepower so the Mormon Meteor III was built with a Curtis Aircraft engine. That car set many records and was retired to the State Capitol building in Salt Lake City, Utah for many years.

   We continue to have fun with our old cars; one of the guys in our group loves Jags so we are just completing a 1956XK 140 roadster which we will put on the show circuit later this year. We took a trip two years ago to Alaska and back for my 76th birthday celebration. I will probably take my old champ dirt car to the Miller meet in Milwaukee where I can charge my personal battery a little and listen to the old Offies run. I am planning a motorcycle trip to Nova Scotia, Canada later in the year. 
 
Gone Racin' is at RNPARKS1@JUNO.COM

JH  012AA

John (l) talking with Marv Jenkins. 2003 Bonneville, UT.

JH  013AA

John and navigator Earl Hammond driving John's 1917 Peerless #42, winning the one leg the 1999 Great Race that ends in Hot Springs, AR. The final destination that year was Anaheim, CA.

JH  016AA

John Hollansworth (l) with Dennis Gage of "My Classic Car" TV show. 2003 Bonneville

JH  019AA

Ab Jenkins "Mormon Meteor" with Marv Jenkins (l). John Hollansworth with his recreation of Ab Jenkins "Pierce-12-Special". 2003

JH  028AA

The 2002 Great American Race team. Evelyn Stewart, John Hollansworth (in car), Armour Titus (in car), Jerry Stewart (kneeling), Gil Frahm (kneeling right)

JH  014AA

John Hollansworth recreated this Ab Jenkins, Pierce-12-Special, 2003. The mountain peak on the right side of the background is "Ab Jenkins Peak".

JH  015AA

The "Pierce-12-Special" ran this Pierce-Arrow 12 cylinder engine with 6 carburetors.

JH  025AA

(l) Grier Manning, Buck Shaver (They restored the #42 Kurtis Kraft Midget) with John Hollansworth. 2000 Colorado Springs, CO.

JH  026AA

John Hollansworth seated in his 1917 Peerless "Green Dragon" race car, somewhere along the 2004 Great American Race

JH  027AA

John (on left) as Jay Leno (in the "Green Dragon”) acts concerned.

[Home Page] [2009 Show Coverage] [Classifieds] [Press Releases] [Vendor Directory]
[Buyers Guide] [New Products] [Barn & Field Cars] [Blast to the Past] [Book Reviews]
[Build Articles] [Club Directory] [Event Listings] [From our Friends] [Garage Shots]
[Guest Columnists] [www.hotrodhotline.com/md] [Newsletter Archive] [Our Heroes]
[Order a Catalog] [Rodders Forum] [Rodders Row] [Shop Tours]
[Young Rodders] [Advertising Information] [Modern Rods]

Copyright 1999 - 2009 Hot Rod Hot Line All Rights Reserved
No Portion May Be Used Without Our Written Permission
Contact Us Toll Free (877) 700-2468 (US) or (208) 562-0470 (Outside US)
230 S. Cole Rd, Boise, ID 83709

mailbox