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Rick Schnell and the World's Quickest Flathead Dragster

On August 25, 2013, Rick Schnell’s flathead dragster, known as the “Slider”, roared down the quarter-mile drag strip at Brainerd International Raceway to set a record (as far as we know) of fastest flathead in the world with a 7.695 second run, beating out previous unofficial record holder Al Burns by 0.002 seconds.

Here’s an on-board video of the Slider, piloted by Rick’s son, Joel Schnell, and its blistering 7.695 second quarter mile run at the MSRA’s Super Secret Fun Run event.

The Slider started its life as a California-built dragster sometime in the late 1960s. It later moved to Minnesota where the legendary Ron “Big Yohns” Johnson would race it with a 427 big block Chevy motor. After a number of attempts at getting the car into the Mickey Thompson 200 MPH Club, tragedy struck when a lofted blower released oil, causing the car to veer off course, bounce over the return road and hit a tree about 15 feet in the air.

What was left of the car was given to Doc Halladay, and he and Jerry Finn were able to get the car into racing condition again. Things get fuzzy from there as the car disappeared from the drag racing circuit, most likely left in storage where it would fade inconspicuously into history.

In 1987, Rick Schnell, one of the early members of MSRA, was really getting interested in nostalgia racing and was tipped off by his brother in-law, Don Bohnenkamp, about an old dragster for sale; the same dragster once owned by Ron “Big Yohns” Johnson. They went to check out the dragster, but it wasn’t much to look at. It didn’t have an engine, it was sitting on a trailer that was converted from an old camping trailer and the car itself needed a lot of work.

Despite the poor condition of the dragster, Rick brought the car home anyways with the intention of rebuilding it into a “good looking old car that would just get down the track.” Being a flathead enthusiast, Rick opted for a 1949 Ford flathead motor and started the process of restoring this retired dragster back to its former racing glory.

When building a race car, the idea of going just a little bit faster is always in the back of the builder’s mind, and it was no different with Rick. He decided to try a little nitro to “see what would happen,” (as if he didn’t already know). Fast forward to 1992 and Rick was running a 9.26 second quarter-mile, just shy of John Bradley’s 9.20 second record. With a bit more confidence and some numbers to back it up, Rick was eventually hooked on trying to get as much out of the dragster as he could.

This is when Rick’s quest for the fastest flathead in the world began, albeit unbeknownst to even him. The car went through a series of major modifications, mostly for strength and reliability. The 1949 Ford flathead was filled solid by pouring aluminum into the water jackets, the center exhaust ports were separated and the three main bearings were reinforced. Billet steel can be found everywhere, including the crankshaft, rods and camshaft. Induction is achieved with a Hilborn fuel injection system and of course, a Teflon stripped 4-71 GMC blower on a home-built manifold. The heads are solid billet aluminum that Rick machined himself. What started as an 85 HP motor eventually became a monster power unit, putting out 939 HP on the dyno with only 60% nitro.

Rick carried on like this for a few more years, but was starting to get burned out with drag racing so he sold the dragster to Al Burns from Maryland. Up until that sale, Rick’s best time in the quarter-mile was 7.72 seconds. Al Burns would later take the same dragster down the strip in 7.697 seconds, setting the unofficial record as the fastest flathead in the quarter-mile.

Rick and Al became friends over the years, and in 2009, Al made Rick an offer that he couldn’t refuse; an offer that would ultimately return the dragster, now known as the “Slider”, back to Rick.

In the four years since Rick’s re-acquisition of the Slider, he and his son Joel have been pushing the limits of the Slider, ultimately beating Al Burns’ record by 0.002 seconds during the MSRA’s Super Secret Fun Run at Brainerd International Raceway in Minnesota.

The best part about the Slider isn’t that it’s the fastest flathead in the world; it’s that the Slider has always been a family affair. Three generations of the Schnell family are now involved in the sport and Rick even has plans to build a mild flathead motor to use as a “trainer motor” so that everyone can get some experience with the dragster. All of the interest and support from their friends and the racing community also add to the experience of owning the fastest flathead in the world.

Hopefully the Slider will continue to build upon its rich history and accolades for generations to come.

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