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A Visit with Jeffrey Foulk

A Visit with Jeffrey Foulk
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Story and photographs by Jeffrey Foulk

Edited by Richard Parks

Photographic consultant Roger Rohrdanz  

   Like Bill Cosby, I started out as a child. I was born August 23, 1943, in Mineola, Long Island, New York.  My full name is Jeffrey Llewlyn Foulk.  My middle name is due to our Welsh heritage.  My parents were William F. Foulk, Jr, whom we called Bill, and Gladys Smith Foulk.  We are descended from a family of Welsh Quakers, who immigrated to the new world, and established a family homestead in Gwynedd Valley, Pennsylvania in 1698.  As with me, Dad was the oldest child of his family.  He attended Blair Academy, and Cornell University.  After college, he went into the family business.  Mom was more from a middle class background, and had a secretarial job with the FBI, in Manhattan, when she and Dad met.

    My Grandparents were William and Emily Foulk, of Searingtown, Long Island and Ernest and Olive Smith, of Astoria, Queens.  Grandpa Foulk was born in 1890, and graduated from Wesleyan University.  He also studied horticulture in Holland, around 1912.  According to family lore, he was a mischievous youth, who delighted in tipping outhouses into canals, sometimes while they were occupied.  He was the second generation Foulk, in the nursery business.  Grandma Foulk, I know much less about. Her maiden name was Humm.  My grandparents, on Mom’s side, both immigrated to the United States in the early 20th century; assumedly through Ellis Island.  Grandpa Smith was English, and had been a soccer player, as a young man.  Grandma Smith was born in Belfast, Northern Ireland, in 1895.  She had experienced the religious strife that plagued the country.  I can only speculate that she still was there, while the Titanic was under construction; interesting speculation, at any rate. She outlived all her children, finally passing, at 104, in January of 2000.  That means she lived in parts of 3 centuries!  I think that is really cool.

     Long Island, in the 1950’s, was not the wall to wall suburbia we think of today. There was still farm land, and open space.  We lived on the edge of the property, comprising the family business.  My family had been in the wholesale nursery business, for several generations, and owned The Bloodgood Nurseries, which was the oldest continuously operating nursery in the United States dating back to 1790. It was responsible for importing and developing many varieties of plants, amongst them the first plant material to come to America, from Japan.  This was before the Civil War.  George Washington visited, while President, when the nursery was in Flushing, Long Island, and the nation’s capitol was New York.  Supposedly, some of our plants are at Mount Vernon.  The nursery thrived at various sites, on Long Island, until being moved to Pennsylvania in 1956.  It remained in the Foulk family until 1972, and is still in operation today; 222 years, and 4 centuries!  Acer palmatum atropurpureum Bloodgood; the Bloodgood redleafed Japanese maple is still a popular variety today. Google it on the internet and you can see what it looks like.

     Imagine a child who loved being outdoors, being loose on 100 acres of open space. In that aspect, it was an idyllic setting.  The downside was the only children I saw were at school, which contributed to a social awkwardness that has continued all my life.  I was always very shy, and the isolation didn’t help.  The upside was that I learned to be creative, and imaginative.  I have never been at a loss to amuse myself, even while alone.  The downside was always feeling clumsy, dealing with others.  I developed asthma, at the age of 4, which was fairly severe at times. I was also plagued by bad tonsils until they were removed at age 7. So, as a young kid, I was sick a lot. The protectiveness of my family further reinforced my introverted nature.  I would describe myself as a timid child; I was afraid of everything.  What a total contradiction, to grow into what I became, and to evolve into an older adult who isn’t afraid of things he should be.

    When I got to be about 8 or 9, I started to become interested in sports, especially baseball.  I always had perceived the esteem my Dad felt for ballplayers, and other athletes.  From my youngest recollections, I had perceived that there were ordinary people, and special people.  I always wanted to be different from anyone else.  I don’t know where that view of the world came from; perhaps it was absorbed from my Grandparents, who were well-to-do, and traveled in the upper circles of society. I have never felt like I was better than other people; just different.  I never have felt that having superior abilities was anything to be ashamed of. If I was better at something than another person; so be it. I have always prided myself in never making exaggerated claims.  I have always been a put up, or shut up guy.  My money is always were my mouth is.

    So, at an early age I set off to find that one significant thing that I could do as well, or better than anyone else.  As a youngster, I was not a very motivated student. To this day, if something does not interest me, I tend to give it short shrift. This led to my being good in some subjects, and poor in others. I was always good in English.  Math confused me, but science fascinated me.  And why would I want to speak a foreign language?  During my school years, it seems like I took 50 years of French.  The only thing that has done for me is have a certain idea of how to pronounce the language.  I still don’t understand any of it, but I can pronounce it.

    For whatever reason, I was kept in private schools, until the 9th grade.  Of course, I had no say in it. I first attended the Manhasset Bay School, until it closed, after 4th grade.  Then, I attended the U.N. International School; a private school originally set up to accommodate U.N. diplomats’ children.  I attended there, through 7th grade, when we moved from Long Island to Bucks County, Pennsylvania outside of Philadelphia.  My first year in Pennsylvania I attended the Buckingham Friends School.  This was remotely to do with my family’s casual adherence to the Society of Friends [Quaker] faith.  This school only went to 8th grade, so from 9th through 12th grade I attended, and graduated from Central Bucks West High School, in Doylestown, Pennsylvania.  I was still a disinterested student, although I did make honor role in my final senior quarter [where did that come from?].  I was going to go into the family nursery business; what was all this other crap about?  Little did I know.

    My whole outlook changed when I started college.  I enrolled in Temple University, at the Ambler Campus, in the fall of 1962.  I was enrolled in the School of Ornamental Horticulture, to learn Landscape design, and the other disciplines associated therewith. Now things were different; you didn’t have to be here, if you chose not to.  Furthermore, they would flunk you out if you didn’t meet up to academic standards.  My pride, and fear of failure, dictated that I pay attention to business.  I bore down academically and finally started to emerge from my social shell.  I made a lot of good friends in college, and even though I was still shy, I felt a lot more involved.  I blossomed as a student, and took pride in my work. I graduated in 1964, with an Associate in Science Degree, with Honors.  My College GPA was 3.23; not great, but way better than anything else I had ever done.  I think I was 3rd or 4th in my class, for a 5 semester degree.  Although I wound up using very little of the knowledge gained, in my later life, I always said that what it taught me was how to think.  I still remember those days as some of the best of my life.

    I have always referred to my class [1964] as the last “straight” college class, in the old sense.  By that I don’t mean sexual orientation; I mean we were the last to take what we were told, as the truth.  The Kennedy assassination, the Warren Commission, and LBJ’s administration took care of that.  My classmates were believers that what the government said was the truth.  We did not fool with drugs, and I doubt anyone in my class could have come up with marijuana, if our lives depended on it.  We did do our share of illicit drinking, however!  I dutifully reported for my physical for the draft, in 1965.  Fortunately that day, I was suffering a mild asthma episode, and was classified 4F for the service.  It was probably a good thing, since I would dutifully have gone, and willingly put myself in position to get my ass shot off.  Vietnam was just ramping up; I was very young and not worldly wise.  I would have had my eyes opened quickly.

   In ’63, Ford had actively entered Indy car racing, with the Lotus/Ford entries.  These were basically Colin Chapman’s Formula One cars, with stock block Ford 260 cubic inch engines.  They were radically different from the dinosaur Offy roadsters that were the mainstays of Indy racing.  Jimmy Clark would have won, but the story goes that J. C.  Agajanian talked the stewards out of black-flagging the oil leaking car that Parnelli Jones was driving during the last 50 miles of the race.  The Ford finished second, and the handwriting was on the wall for the roadsters.  In the spring of ’63, Ford came out with their Sprint version of the econo Falcon body with the same 260 V-8 engine.  They promoted the car, by winning the Monte Carlo Rally, with one.  This sounded like my kind of car, so we bought one.  Pop was enthusiastic to support my new found interest in cars [at that point I knew far less than most of my age group].

    During 1964 and ’65, two things happened that completely changed my outlook and focus, on life.  First, Ford Motor Company became actively involved in Indy car racing, using their stock small block motors. The second life changing event was the death of my Grandfather, just after New Years, in 1965. He died, at age 75, of emphysema.

    What little automotive background I had came from my Dad, who had been an active participant in the post war sports car craze that was very active on Long Island, in the ‘50’s.  He had had a series of different European cars, starting with a very pure ‘48 MG TC, and continuing on through several Alpha Romeos, an Astin-Martin DB4, a Mercedes 300 SL, and two Allard’s, the second a J2X model, with a dual quad Cadillac engine.  The Allard’s were as close to street funny cars as you could imagine, and although I was way too young to drive, I sure liked riding in them.  I didn’t know much, mechanically, but I was not afraid of going fast.  His last sports car was a Frazer Nash, which we brought with us to Pennsylvania.  While still on Long Island, he used to regularly participate in rallyes [this is how I recall the usage; might be European influence, in the day, or just defective memory], car shows, and an occasional speed trial.  He was a member of several sports car clubs [Sports Car Club of America and Long Island Sports Car Association], and would have raced, if my mother would have stood for it.

    We outfitted the Sprint with a Cobra tri-power carb setup, and a dual point distributor; all of which we bought right from our local Ford dealer.  Further upgrades were made, in the form of traction bars, and a set of cheater slicks.  Now that we had made these changes, it only seemed natural to see what the car would do, so we ventured to our local drag strip, which happened to be Vargo Dragway, in Perkasie, Pennsylvania about 20 minutes from where we lived.  Our first foray was late April, 1964.  I will add here, that atypical of most of my peer group, and racing colleagues, I never believed in, or engaged in street racing.  I would go out, and practice, on the country back roads, but never racing anyone.  It went against my grain, as unusual as that may be.  Racing was for the track; street racing proved nothing, and [in our area] paid poorly.

   My track career started off slowly, because I had no experience whatsoever, and Dad had no drag racing experience.  We started off slowly, and experimented, watched, and learned.  Not to sound too cocky, but basically, I was a natural.  The first couple of times we went, Vargo Dragway was still using a flagman starter. However, they soon switched to a Christmas tree, in June 1964, and it didn’t take me long to figure out that the staging beams allowed you to get a jump, if you learned how to time it right.  No one told me this; I figured it out myself.  We had to make a further upgrade, to a Hurst shifter, after I tore up the stock one.  We started out running 16.30’s, at 84 mph, but finished the ’64 season with bests of 15.34, and 90 mph. I established myself as a better than average leaver.

    After the season was over, we started mulling ideas for the ’65 campaign. The Factory Experimental classes were hot, and offered plenty of match race opportunities for good running cars.  I quickly perceived that match racing, for up to $750 a shot, several times a week, was a potentially lucrative proposition.  A/FX was the marquis class, but this was also where all the factory backed boys were.  A 427 SOHC engine was a necessary, expensive, and scarce commodity, if you planned to be competitive in A/FX.  We briefly considered a drag package that Ford offered; an F-100 pick-up, with drag suspension, and a 427 wedge engine.  Its interest with promoters was speculative, and the performance was debatable, given the trucks unfavorable front weight bias.  We realized we were probably not seasoned enough to make such a big leap, in so short a time, so we were leaning toward a B/FX Mustang, with a 289 High Performance engine.

   It was early January, 1965; and then my Grandfather died.  Being the family patriarch, and the president of the business, things were thrown into immediate turmoil. The biggest effect was on my thinking, in regard to my own health.  I was still having frequent problems with my asthma. In March, during a doctor’s visit, I was told that my latest chest X-ray showed the changes related to the eventual onset of emphysema. I was 22 years old.  This is a somber outlook, at that age, and coming on the heels of my Grandfather’s passing.  It really set me to thinking, and my thought pattern was, “if I may only live to be 50-something, did I really want to spend it pruning trees?”  I was very taken with racing, and decided that I ought to “go for it.”  I continued to work in the nursery for another year and part time in the horticultural trade for a few more years. But my main focus was on drag racing.

    In early ’65, we took delivery of a ’65 Mustang 2+2 fastback, with a 289 HP engine. The engine was fitted with 4 Weber 48 mm downdraft carbs, a factory FX hood, and fiberglas doors, with Plexiglas windows.  The suspension was worked over, and 8 inch M&H slicks fitted.  The rest of the car and engine were stock.  We obviously didn’t know diddly, and the car ran like it.  After a mid–season balance and blueprint and the addition of an Isky roller cam, performance improved somewhat, but we were far from competitive.  We did attend the ’65 NHRA Nationals, in Indy; the only time I raced there. We lost in the first round, but someone must have thought we were a threat, because they got under the hood, and totally screwed up the setup on the Webers, over night, while the car was on our open trailer, in the hotel parking lot.  Dad had to thrash like hell, race morning, for me to make eliminations.  I suppose the only consolation to be taken from the whole thing was the comment, by an NHRA tech inspector, that we were probably the only legal car, in the 6 car B/FX field.  The class winner was disqualified during post race teardown.

    After the Nationals, a local Ford hotshot racer talked us into letting him drive and tune the car, on the premise he could do better. All that resulted in was a dropped valve, and a blown engine.  We rebuilt the motor, and ended the season with bests of 13.0 e.t. and something like 112-114 mph.  The National record stood in the 11.3’s.  We weren’t even close, and FX cars had to be that model year.  We could have faked the car as a ’66, but if we were going to get anywhere, it was time for drastic change.

    For once, the jump was in the right direction, because F/X became extinct; to be supplanted by a series of classes designated X/S, or experimental stock. This was NHRA’s move to acknowledge the swing to funny cars, lest they be left without a class for drag racing’s new craze.  Top fuel dragsters had always been the staple of the sport, and its main attraction, spectator wise.  They were the kings of the sport, and were prolific, in number, in southern California, which was the hotbed of straight line racing. The mid west and east coast soon jumped on board, copying the model set by the SoCal stalwarts.  Guys with less money, parts or balls made their presence known in more stock vehicles.  Dragsters were still the stars. F/X cars became more and more popular, starting in 1964.  With the factories involved, it was go fast or bust.

     That is when it all changed.  Someone added nitro to the tank of his erstwhile F/Xer, and the genie was out of the bottle.  Because of their short wheelbase, and full suspension, adding nitro to the equation instantly created a phenomenon of irresistible nature.  These cars were beasts, going every which way but straight, and created an instant sensation, with the fans.  This was particularly true on the east coast, which was less steeped in the dragster tradition and mystique.  Add the flavor of southern stock car heritage, mix in southern style “run what you brung” match racing and the whole thing took off like a raging wildfire!  Trust me that I am not exaggerating; this thing was wild, and it’s growth phenomenal!   Much to NHRA’s chagrin, the full bodied funny car was the sports new most popular attraction. They rapidly stole top fuel’s gloss, to the point that many dragster guys either switched, or added funnies to their stable.  Match race and multi car exhibition shows were everywhere, and tremendously popular.  New cars literally sprung up out of the ground, as drivers clambered to get on the band wagon. Stockers were stripped and gutted, injectors and nitro added, and away we went. It was a really cool time to be racing.

    In mid-’65, we had started working with Carliss and Schall, a locally based race fabrication shop.  They were basically sports car racers, but were interested, and talented enough to tackle drag racing projects. It was decided to take the Mustang, and further modify it, by altering the wheelbase, and setting the engine back 18%.  The biggest change was a new engine configuration.  I paid $2400 cash for a Crankshaft Company 5/8” stroker kit, which took the displacement out to 348 cubic inches.  The heads were fully ported, with bigger valves, but the Webers were retained, as we would be running C/XS, on gas.  These cars were similar to early Pro Stocks, with more liberal chassis and body modifications.

    The car ran OK, but not really competitive.  Late in the season, we made the switch to Hilborn’s, and nitro.  Just 10% at first, but we soon worked up to 25%. The difference was startling.  The car had run pretty straight on gas, but now became a raging beast, leap frogging out of the chute, going every which way but straight, wheelstanding, and torquing the left front wheel off the ground.  It was a very entertaining ride.  As things stood, at the end of ’66, the factory flip top Comets had set the class on its ear, and were completely dominant.  There were also only a handful of flip-top cars in existence. The field was wide open; even for local guys who didn’t have great equipment, and lots of dough.  Local tracks were anxious to book local guys, for lower fees, to highlight weekly local shows.  All you had to say on the radio was “funny cars” and the people would show up.  Staying involved was never in question, just how.

    On a deer hunting trip, to upstate Pennsylvania in late November ’66, our plans came together.  The Carliss and Schall guys came on the trip, and during one evening bull session, Kent Carliss said, “I’ll build you a tube chassis car, cheap!”  As soon as we came back from hunting, the wheels were put in motion.  Making the plans were one thing, paying for it was another matter.  About this time, I was approached by a casual friend, Tom Ely, with an interesting proposition.  He was fully aware of the funny car craze, and being a racer, without car, or parts, wanted to buy into the enterprise, and “ride my coattails” into the racing business.  He had no money, either, but had the initiative, connections, and balls to propose a novel solution; borrow it from the bank!  Lo and behold, this wild long shot hit the bull’s-eye and with $5000 in funding, we went into high gear.  Selling the Webers added a $1000 to the war chest.  Now the planning really hit stride.  This rather unique financial approach led to the name for the car. I commented that since we were financing this by borrowing money from a bank, rather than a sponsor, we should call the car “The Finagler.”  We had been mulling names, but after that it was never anything else.

     And so the work began. There was a lot to do, and a short time to do it.  We had the driveline, which we transplanted from the Mustang, but little else. Time was important, because the sooner you hit the track, the sooner you could start making a name for yourselves.  Fortunately, in that stage of evolution, funny cars were making it up, as they went along.  There were some basic rules, but since most of your racing was on the match race circuit, you could do pretty much what you wanted.  We never had to go through tech.  If you pulled through the gates with a funny car, the world was your oyster.

    Kent Carliss’s chassis design was quite innovative, and showed heavy influence from the sports car side. Drag racers generally were not sophisticated in the chassis department.  We are hot rodders. This has worked to the detriment of the sport, over the years, by slowing progress, in my view.  The basic layout was similar to the Logghe chassis, but was constructed of square mild steel tubing.  However, the tubing was special spec, in terms of the fact that it was radiused on the inside; giving it extra strength, while remaining light in weight.  You had a round tube on the inside, with a square exterior. It was being used in military helicopter construction, which is how it came to Kent’s attention. Front suspension was typical coil over shock, but the rear suspension used Airlift air bags, inside coil springs. I instigated this design, because I had seen it on other cars, and liked the ultimate adjustability it offered. The whole thing was what was called a stressed frame design, because by the time everything was bolted together, the entire car was a stressed unit. You had to draw the motor mounts together, in order to bolt the engine in, which made it part of the chassis; not just hanging on for the ride. The trans mount would only fit by using a carpenter’s clamp to suck the frame rails together to line up the bolt holes. Therefore, everything was loaded, and in tension, which increased rigidity and strength.

    I’d like to say the shake down period was easy, but I would be lying.  We went through a lot teething and development problems. We should have known what was coming, because our first trial runs were at Atco Dragway, in New Jersey, following a morning press day, for us and a bunch of other cars. We got to make some burnouts, and a half pass, before the strip was closed and commandeered by the fire department, for use in fighting a forest fire in the Jersey Pine Barrens.  Other problems followed.  The car would not hook, only skate off the line.  This was solved, once we called Airlift, and they said it was no problem if the air bags protruded through the spring coils.  They were supposed to work that way.  We wound up running 17 lbs on the right rear, and 7lbs on the left, to bias the chassis, and make it run straight.  Once we had it figured out, the chassis worked great, in spite of being limited by rule, to only a 25% engine setback.

    Another problem came with the driveline.  Being super stock racers, not to mention stubborn, we attempted to stay with a four speed, manual trans.  The torque of a nitro motor in a light weight car, plus the problematic proposition of shifting a four speed, with the stick between your legs doomed this to failure.  After breaking the welds on the rear housing, we gave in and switched to an automatic.  Joe Lupo and Fairbanks Racing Automatics became our only real sponsor, and provided the C-4 transmissions that allowed us to succeed.  We finished the ’67 season, without ever getting out of the low tens.  It was not very auspicious, or encouraging.

    Racing is about a never ending evolution of knowledge, and technology.  A good deal of tenacity doesn’t hurt. It is a humbling sport, and when you are running a high profile car, you had better be ready for the people who want to tear you down.  You can’t go hide in the pits, or garage, and plead that you are a poor, bucks down racer. That may be true, but if you can’t cut it, maybe you should just go home, and give up.  That is not my nature.  It always amused me, how your most vocal critics never had an answer to the question, “well if you are so smart, and so great, where’s your car?”  The small timers were always jealous.  The other funny car guys were supportive, or kept their mouths shut, and just raced. They knew it did not come easy.

    1968 started off on the upswing. The first week out, on new tires, we went 9.90, at Maple Grove Dragway. But progress was slow, and hard to come by. In early fall, after struggling to run 9.70’s-138 mph during a match race at Englishtown, New Jersey, I decided enough of this.  It was time to make some big changes.  Way back when, we had been told by reliable sources, that the small block Chevy guys all had success running their cam timing 6* retarded.  So that’s how ours was.  It turned out that the little Ford didn’t like that for a damn!  Not to mention the fact that slow burning nitro doesn’t like anything retarded.  After the Englishtown fiasco, I went back to the shop, and we set the cam back to straight up.  We returned to Englishtown, the following week and the car responded with a 9.56 at 141 mph.  Suddenly, the wick was lit and would respond to tuning!  It was like night and day.  It taught me to listen to other’s ideas, sort the info, but keep my own counsel.  The result was a tune-up that would not work for anyone else, but worked for my combination.  And I wasn’t being paid to tune for someone else!  The season ended with a best of 9.43 and 143 mph.  It was a huge step, because even with the little motor, we could now at least compete. It is hard for a driver to make up a second, but I was quite comfortable working with 2 tenths.

    They say that good things will come to those who wait. In December of ’68, we got the break that would change everything.  One evening, I got a call, out of the blue, from Tom Smith, who was a funny car driver, and a drag race promoter. He was organizing a traveling circuit of injected funny cars, to fill booked in shows, up and down the East coast.  This traveling circus would be known as the East Coast Fuel Funny Car Circuit, and would soon evolve into the country’s premier injected car circuit.  It would also foster the racing careers of a number of big name pro’s. He was recruiting cars, and wanted to see if I would be interested, and he was interested in me. The idea was to qualify an 8 car show from a 12 car contingent.  This would cover the problem of race car breakage, or guys breaking down on the road, so that we and the track promoter would be assured of an 8 car show.  The payouts were $750 to win, $250 first round losers, $100 bucks for non-qualifiers.  Sounds paltry today, but I had been running local booked match races, for $250, with no chance to make more, so this was very attractive. For perspective, gas was 35 cents a gallon, and nitro $150 for a 55 gallon drum.  This was good money for the day, and it made an attractive package for the tracks [especially the smaller ones], because they could get 8 cars for the price of 2 big name blown cars.  The times were still such that all you had to say was “funny cars” and you had the people’s attention.  We also put on a damn good show, with some really well performing cars.  I would love to put together a similar show today. If you could stay within reasonable traveling distance, you could still make money.

    After an organizational meeting, in late January, our first circuit date was set for Manassas, Virginia, on the last Sunday in February.  We trailered down the day before, and were anxious to see what awaited us.  Manassas was an 1/8th mile track, so we were hopeful this would be in our favor.  What it turned out to be was rain. The race was cancelled, and the trip home became snowy, by the time we reached Pennsylvania. It was a miserable trip home.  Not the start we had all hoped for.

    Our next date was outside of Greensboro, North Carolina in mid–March.  This was the longest we had ever traveled to race. It was an eye opening experience; in several ways.  When we pulled up to the gate, the track wasn’t open yet.  My first introduction, to my fellow circuit members, was walking up to a bunch of them, pitching quarters, outside the track gate.  We ain’t in Pennsylvania; these are good ol’ southern boys! Once the owner arrived, we headed to the pits, and set up.  When we went up for our first qualifying run, it became even more apparent that we had left the world, as we knew it.  The crowd was huge, and totally out of control.  The spectators crowded right up to the edge of the track [the pavement; no guardrail]. To stand that close to early day, nitro burning cars required a basic lack of sense.  Those things were loud, and produced profuse nitro fumes.  Then, again, what’s not to like!  Just to dodge disaster, one of the cars sheared the wheel studs, and ran off the track. Fortunately, it was far enough down track to have thinned the crowd, and no one got picked off. The scene, all day was pandemonium, and was totally surreal. Thankfully, no one was hurt, and it was the only time we ever had to deal with a scene like that. We qualified, and although losing in the first round, made more money than we had ever made in one day [$250].

    The season rolled on from there. We had some success, early on, making it to the final at Altoona, Pennsylvania but the year was a mixed bag. I basically wasted a lot of potential, by sticking with a crummy set of tires that obviously wouldn’t work.  If I had spent $250, and got a better set of hides, we might well have won a couple of races. Our season bests were 9.09 e.t., and 150 mph; all on only 75%, because we couldn’t hook up more power.

    Over the winter, we freshened things up, and sprang for a new set of tires. We also had a new twist to the circuit; in order to book more dates, Smoker split the circuit in two, with a cheaper, albeit slower, group running the second side.  Dates on the big show were on a fill in basis, but we got a number of appearances, and overall ran more races.  Even though it only paid $400 to win, there was no qualifying, and you could still do okay if you ran well; and this year we did!

    Like many good things, the start can be tough.  We towed all the way to Savannah, Georgia for the first race, and the car would not start!  What a drag!  We discovered a bad fuel shutoff valve, and replaced that, before our next race, at Hagerstown, Maryland.  Two shutoff early passes of 9.0 [still on 75%] got us to the final.  That’s when I unleashed 82% into the motor.  An additional bit of drama was added, when the tree malfunctioned, in the second round, and the track manager had to flag off the remaining rounds.  In the final I unloaded an 8.53 e. t., to win our first race!  That remained the season’s best time, mated with 156 mph pass, and a second win at Fayetteville, North Carolina at mid-season.  Wrapped around that were a number of good performances on both circuits.  When we lost on the big circuit, it was to one of the good cars.  We were consistently in the 8.70’s, on a good run.  The motor was still brittle, and most losses were related to breakage.  All in all, we were pretty happy with the results.  We were always out-gunned, but with my driving, and the little engine that could, we always had possibilities.  We could keep them honest; the other guys had to make a clean run to beat us.

    The 1971 season was pretty much the same scenario.  We ran quite a few dates on the big circuit, including races where we had to qualify.  I cannot recall missing qualifying at any of those races, against all of the big guys.  At this point in time, the ECFFC was the quickest injected circuit in the country.  With my 4 year old car, 348 inch motor, and C-4 trans, we ran a best of 8.35 at 156.96 mph.  I am pretty proud of that performance level. To put it in perspective, the national record, for funny car, was 8.28, although lots of guys were going quicker, at unofficial events.  On the other hand, knowing what I know now, using parts available then, I believe I could have run well into the 7’s. That would have blown a few minds. But we never gave it enough tire or fuel, and I could have solved the mechanical weaknesses [it was hell on head gaskets]. The chassis was no longer legal after ’72, so we had to update, or go home.

    By 1974, all the circuits were going to blown alcohol funnies.  Since I didn’t have the dough to make multiple changes, and with the advent of Pro Comp eliminator, we took a different route.  We built a 366 inch version of Ford’s new 351 Cleveland engine.  And we bought a used Logghe chrome moly chassis. To top it all off, I decided to go totally outlaw, and adapted an aftermarket sports car body, modeled after the Ford GT 40 Le Mans car. The car was slick, and only weighed 1540 lbs.  The motor, most of which was my own design, made loads of power, but what should have been a great combination was nothing but frustration, and aggravation.  The car had been converted to solid rear suspension, and no matter how big a tire we put on it, all it would do is smoke and spin, off the line.  When it started to eat transmission, despite no traction, we had to park it. It remains the biggest frustration of my life!

    This was the end of my racing career.  It was over in an all too brief 10 years.  It was a shame because all false modesty aside, I was a hell of a driver. I was uncanny on the full tree and best of all, extremely consistent.  Let’s just say that I knew how hard it was, and how easy it felt.  A strong desire to do things my way pretty much kept me from doing what I should have done; drive for someone else.  That was the biggest mistake of my life.  Interestingly, both my cars are being, or have been restored. The GT 40 still races, at my old stomping grounds in Pennsylvania and New Jersey.  It gives me a lot of satisfaction, knowing that my life’s work lives on.

     Here is a list of the racers I competed with, and against. I apologize in advance for undoubtedly omitting some people; that is the hazard of writing a biography when you get old.  These guys were opponents, during early match races, at places like Atco, Maple Grove, and Englishtown; Ben Cardillo – Barracuda, James Keese – Camaro, George Weiler – Camaro, Ken Pofferberger - Poff’s Puffer Corvair.
    
     The guys I raced with during the Circuit days were: Kenny Warren - Virginia Twister Charger and Challenger, driven by Tom “Smoker” Smith.  Kenny also fielded a Barracuda, driven by Jim Wigglesworth.  All the cars were tuned by Bill Barrett.  Gene Altizer - “Weasel” Corvair and Chevy II.  Carlton Brothers - “Swinger” Camaro, with John Carlton driving.  Brickhouse Brothers - “Bananacuda” with Barracuda Ray Brickhouse driving.  Segrini Brothers – Camaro, with Al Segrini driving.  Butch Kernodle – Mustang.
Tommy Smith - “Jolly Green Javelin.”  Ray “Pooch” Hart – Charger.  Charles Lee – Javelin.  Oren “Pop” Whitt - “Hippie Hemi” Barracuda and Charger.  The drivers were Bubba Newman and Randy Bray.  Joe Weis “Jumpin’ Joe” – Dart.  Tommy Old and Dick White - Chevy II, with Dick White driving.  Charles Scott, “Highland Bandit” Mustang, with Junior Rice driving.  Billy McDuell - Barracuda.  Wallace Knotts - Cougar.  Jesse Batts “Raunchy” Barracuda.  Jay Miner - Barracuda.  Drake Viscome “Carmel Ford” Mustang.  Dave Strickler - Corvette.  Lee Pappas - Mustang.  Nick Boninfante Sr “Homicidal” Corvair, with Rich Maiocco driving.  John Skistmas “Jersey Rattler” Cougar,
and Charlie Grey’s “Mini-Brute” Opel, with Dan Smoker driving.  This was a great bunch of guys, and really good grass roots racers.  Some of the names will ring bells, as they went on to greater things after our circuit days.

    I want to also acknowledge my deep gratitude, to several people who were directly instrumental in making my whole career possible. Thanks go first to Tom Ely, for having the audacious idea that made it possible.  He only stayed with the project for 2 years, before having to get a real job. He didn’t get to enjoy the best part, but it never would have happened without him.  The person most instrumental in my success was undoubtedly Charlie Gilmore.  He was just about the perfect crewman. He was knowledgeable, dedicated, and had the perfect job, to allow him to get away, for long weekends on the road.  He was the Postmaster, at a small town Post Office, in Pennsylvania and could pretty much set his own schedule.  He was also a major league character [not an unusual trait, among racers], who helped keep things loose, and enjoyable.  We went lots of places, and saw and did lots of neat things together.  It was the time of our lives.

    Jake Arms, who worked for my Dad, in the shop, took over for a couple of years, when Charlie encountered some marital discord.  Jake and I went a lot of places, too, and he helped in some of my more memorable adventures. I would like to thank Don Sedo [Cougar], and Tim Hansberry [GT-40] for restoring my cars, and keeping my legacy alive.  And lastly, the person who I would think to thank least, but should thank most would be my Dad.  Pop lived a lot of experiences, vicariously, through my racing. I can’t say that he was my biggest encouragement, but he was my biggest prod. Frequently, I would raise a new idea, and his response would be, “ah, that’ll never work!”  Most father/son relationships work that way, to some degree.  When he would say that, it would only make me more determined to prove him wrong!  Finally, one day, he shook his head, and said, “I don’t know how you’re doing it.”  He could stand there, behind the line, on numerous weekends, and watch me drive and tune us right there with everyone else.  We shouldn’t have really been even close, but we usually were, and the results will back me up.

     I would like to add a personal insight here, although doing so breaks the traditional “code of silence” that all drivers seem to observe. But to those who have never driven, it may open a door on our mindset.  When I drove stockers, you psyched yourself up, just as I had done in track and field.  That’s what produced good performances. But as the cars got faster, more instinctive reactions were required.  Things happened too quickly to think.  My personal epiphany came one spring day, at Maple Grove, in 1968.  A local racer rolled his C/A over the guardrail, and was killed, leaving a wife and kids. I thought to myself, “I wonder if that guy was really committed to that being a possible outcome?” It occurred to me that panicking, in a critical situation, could get you killed.  So how did you prepare yourself?  My way was to embark on a self designed purposeful campaign of desensitizing.  I thought constantly about dying; mashed, mangled, burned and destroyed, in every imaginable way.  This went on for months, and one day I woke up, and was no longer afraid.  I had never been anxious, but now I was totally fearless.  I was committed to do my best, no matter what the consequences.  For me, that was what it took to liberate whatever talent I had.

     I will deal with all this, in detail, in the long version of my autobiography.  It will be titled “High Intensity, a racer’s story.” This bio is the rough outline.  I have known I would write it, and what the title would be since 1972; If God grants me the time to finish it.  If not, at least there will be this.  All my memories and stories of life, and racing will be in there.  I hope the insight will allow people to understand why I have been hard to know, harder to like [for some], and why I was generally a hard ass, all my life.  It comes at a price, because underneath is that shy little boy, and a very sensitive, emotional, and introspective adult.

    After racing, Dad and I tried to parlay our racing notoriety into an auto repair business.  Success was mixed, as frankly, I am not a particularly shrewd business man. I enjoy the creative side of automotives, rather than the purely financial.  My naïve point of view is that if you do a good job, the reward will take care of itself.  Real life doesn’t work like that.  When Dad died suddenly in 1980, I was already pursuing other employment.  He was only 62.

    As auto technology moved into the computer age, during the 1980’s, I perceived an opportunity.  I was never interested in general mechanics [i.e. don’t break my ball joints, and real cars don’t use sliding brake calipers].  I sensed that the average mechanic would not want to put aside the “gravy” jobs [that term makes me gag] to have to learn how computers work, or having to deal with systems where .10 of a volt was of astronomical importance.  Until I was forcibly retired, during the recession of 2008-09, I worked as a drivability and emissions tech, mostly for GM dealers.  My “feel” for engines was always a great help.

    On the family side of things, I have been married three times. Racing is not a profession that nurtures personal relationships.  Neither is any type of competitive sport. The pursuit of excellence becomes consuming, and one tends to be driven to succeed. The time demanded for practice, or the endless thrash of maintaining a race car, especially on a tight budget, takes up the lion’s share of your time. The wife is usually the victim in the plot. To be good, you must, to a certain extent, be ruthless.  Add in the fact that we were young, and naïve, and you have a jeopardized relationship.  My first wife, Patricia Ennis, just wanted a normal, quiet life.  White picket fences are not me! We divorced, after 9 years.  My second wife, Margaret McCarthy, came along after racing, but the outlook and behavior patterns were already ingrained, and we eventually drifted apart.  We were also married 9 years.  My present wife, Lynne Greenspan, and I have been married for 21 years; just to break the mold. Hopefully, this is my last. We are peering down the road to old age, wondering what awaits us.  I have two step kids, Jay and Jennifer, from Lynne, and one beautiful 6 year old grandson, Aidan, from Jay. I feel, and treat them as my own.  I never had biological children of my own.

      Over the years, my primary recreation has been the passionate pursuit of golf. I can honestly say that I have approached the game with just as much intensity as I applied to racing.  I just wasn’t quite as good at it. I took it up at 16, and if I had pursued that, instead, I believe I could have been a pro [of course, don’t all golfers think like that?] I certainly could have made a living in the sport, even if I didn’t cut it as a tournament player.  My other interests have included hunting, and shooting sports.  After moving to Florida, I became enamored of salt water fishing.  I moved to Florida, in 1984, thinking,”why should I wait ‘til I’m old to enjoy nice weather?”  The move was definitely beneficial to my golf game [no more winter layoff].  During the ‘70’s, I had played ice hockey, to keep busy during the winter.

    After “retiring” I got to undertake one of my bucket list items. I planned, booked, and executed a golf trip to the great links courses of Scotland.  It was an awesome experience and after returning I wrote a book about it called, “Over the Ocean and To the Links, a golfer’s journey [available on Amazon].  With the assistance of my son, we were able to publish it.  It makes me quite proud.  That just shows that kid, back in college, really could write.  It has been quite a ride and as I approach 70, I am still optimistic that good things are still to come. I have a revolutionary engine idea, but as usual, no money.  Of course, that didn’t stop me the last time. Time will tell.

Gone Racin' is at [email protected]