Tuesday, April 22, 2008
By Tony Veneziano - Winning was what Doug Wolfgang knew best when he was behind the wheel of a sprint car. The South Dakota native began racing in the early 1970’s and quickly established himself as a front runner. Wherever there was a high-paying event, he could be found battling for the win, in true Outlaw fashion, long before the Advance Auto Parts World of Outlaws Sprint Car Series was formed.
Wolfgang competed in a number of events during the inaugural 1978 Advance Auto Parts World of Outlaws Sprint Car Series season, picking up three A-Feature wins along with way and finishing fourth in points. He finished in the Top-Five in points in each of the series first five seasons, including two runner-up showings in the standings, while still competing in number events each week all across the country in true Outlaw fashion.
The South Dakota native was inducted into the National Sprint Car Hall of Fame in 2003. He is also a member of the Knoxville Raceway Hall of Fame, the Iowa Auto Racing Hall of Fame, the Nebraska Auto Racing Hall of Fame and the South Dakota Sports Hall of Fame. He won 107 A-Feature in his career with the World of Outlaws, which is four-best all-time. In addition to this, he won hundreds of other races from coast-to-coast, including over 50 races alone in 1985. Every year from 1976 through 1993 he won at least two races, and in most of those seasons, he had double digit wins.
Wolfgang won his first career Advance Auto Parts World of Outlaws Sprint Car Series A-Feature at Skagit Speedway in Washington during the famed Dirt Cup in the series inaugural season of 1978. His last win with the series was at Big H Speedway in Texas in 1992. He won a career-best 20 A-Feature events with the series in 1981 and again in 1989. He won races in with the World of Outlaws in 15 different seasons.
Among the biggest wins of his career are: five triumphs in the Knoxville Nationals, three victories in the Kings Royal at Eldora Speedway, two consecutive victories in the Dirt Cup at Skagit Speedway and a win at the Gold Cup Race of Champions in California. He also twice bested the field at the famed New York State Fairgrounds in Syracuse.
Thoughts on the first World of Outlaws event at Devil’s Bowl Speedway in 1978 and the formation of the series: “I didn’t really understand it at the time. I was not leery at all. At that time, they called ‘Outlaws’ racing any race that paid $2,000 to win. I was more interested in the $2,000 to win. Mostly what I was interested in was the better money. In reality that made all the competition be there. You had bragging rights, if nothing else, because it brought out all the best competition. You could win one of those races and win $2,000 and your bragging rights were pretty good for a day or two or a week until the next race.”
Thoughts on the biggest challenge for the World of Outlaws in 1978: “At that time, the races normally didn’t pay that kind of money and the promoters weren’t used to that. Most sprint car races paid $500 to win at that time, so the purse was two and three times as much. A lot of people thought it wouldn’t work, but it started to draw crowds and the crowds got bigger. It drew more competition with the best race drivers there. Because the best race drivers from all over were there on the same night, the crowds came out. It kind of spread like wildfire for a while.”
Thoughts on how colorful the drivers were in the early days of the series: “Everybody has there own niche and each personal character caused a different stir. I’m sure that each one of them probably drew a different fan to the track. I remember Chuck Amati having sequins in his uniform. He had kind of longer hair and he was “Cool.” He was different than some of the other guys and yet he was the same as them. He just had a different look to him. Jan Opperman in his early days had long hair and he was supposedly a “Hippie.” Then you had Sammy Swindell who beat all of those guys and would never say boo. He never said anything. He was just quiet. Steve Kinser came along and from what everyone could see he was not that much different than anyone, but he was just the fastest guy in the world and the best.”
Thoughts on the biggest difference between the World of Outlaws in 1978 and the World of Outlaws today: “Without a doubt money. It costs a fortune to have one of these cars now. Back then even at $2,000 to win, which wasn’t that much money, if you won enough races, you could make a living doing it. Even the owner could make some money if he was doing it right. If he paid attention and got a little help, and I don’t mean a million dollar a year sponsor, he would do all right. I guess all things have evolved like that, not just sprint car racing and not just racing, but sports in general have evolved to be big mega-money deals. That’s just the way it is. That’s the biggest difference today with the World of Outlaws, is that it’s a mega-money deal.”
Thoughts on winning: “I think a lot of people around me did set goals for wanting to win so many races. When I drove for Bob Weikert, he would always tell the fans, “We’ll come out and win 60 races this year,” and stuff like that, but I never thought of it that way. I know that sometimes you win and sometimes you lose. I was always one of those guys who thought if you talked about it too much, that it was like the kiss of death. I tried to not get too excited. I was excitable anyway, especially when I lost. I didn’t like to lose. I wanted to win every night, like all of the good drivers did. I took it more personal than a lot of people at that time. I would blame myself more than most people would. It’s easy to say that a tire caused me not to win or the motor didn’t run right or the mechanic didn’t have the car set up right. In my mind, I would take it all on myself and think, if I could just be a better driver, I could win. I drove myself nuts on occasion, but on occasion I won. I won several races, but I never said beforehand, that it would be a good year if I win 30 races or anything like that. Sometimes it’s a good year if you only win three or four. It depends what you do in the other races and how big the wins are and what you do with the second place finishes, thirds and fifths and how many times you are able to be consistent.”
Thoughts on the hundreds of wins in his career: “I liked racing a lot and I liked to win a lot. I liked winning with the World of Outlaws just as much as I enjoyed winning anywhere else. I had a lot of fun racing all of them. Of course you like to win the big ones and I won Knoxville five times, but the funny thing is that no one win sticks out in my mind. Many people would die to win the Knoxville Nationals once and I won it five times. I can’t remember winning the first one. It’s been so long ago and I was so focused at being the best I could be that I was thinking about other things. At that time, I was thinking I could be an Indy-Car driver or something like that, and I never paid too much attention to the whole deal as far as how historic it would be to my career winning the Knoxville Nationals. I never thought of it that way at that time. I was younger, 24 or 25 at the time. That’s a disappointment to me that I cannot remember that.”
Thoughts on his career and all of the success he had: “The day I got hurt at Kansas City in 1992, which virtually ended my career, though I came back to race a couple more years, is the first time I really thought about it. It never crossed my mind. I was just doing what I could do and doing the best that I could do and I never really thought, “Man you are good.” It’s been 15 or 16 years since that time and I am now 55 years old, and people come in here and kids come in here that are 25 years old and they say, Doug I can’t wait to be as good as you. I ask how many times a year do you race and they say 35. I say well if you won all 35 of them and you did for the next 12 years, you still haven’t won as many as I have, let alone started as many as I have. You can’t become as good as me. I don’t even understand how I did it. I just did it. All of those guys, Steve (Kinser) and Sammy (Swindell) and them are the same. They have lasted 16 years longer than me and it’s unfathomable to know how many races they have gone to. When you go to that many, you will win a few. I never really thought about being good until I was done and got into four or five of those Hall of Fames. That’s when I said, “Uh, you must have been good.” I never really thought of it until then.”
(Pictured): Doug Wolfgang (#29) battles Sammy Swindell at the 1985 Nationals
Barry McCown Blown fuel Hallet hydro hull. Made many passes over 150 mph.
Set the NDBA record at 161 and change. Engine builder - Bobby Sykes, Sr. worked for Keith Black & built the engines for Banzai.
Don Johnson — “The Beachcomber”
Don Johnson followed a dual path in his life, achieving an MBA in business administration from Pepperdine University, while following a racing career. Even as he charged down the quarter mile, he was obtaining an education that would serve him later in life, as a marketing, media promotion, and public relations professional.
Don "the Beachcomber" Johnson became a legend in AA Fuel Dragster history, winning first place in the Baja 1000, and becoming a life member of the Bonneville Flats 200 Club. He was an original member of the California Road Kings, with Don Purdohmme and Tommy Ivo.
In 1968, he ran a top fuel dragster, built by Roy Fjastad, powered by a 392 Hemi, with direct drive, achieving a 6.795 mile quarter mile at 223.9 mph. The same car appears to have been run in 1969 and 1970.
A 1970 Chrysler press release described some of his early racing years:
Don Johnson does not advise driving 135 MPH on city streets.
But he did once and as a result subsequently became one of the nation's better drag racers.
"It was in 1956, and when the police finally caught me they took away my driving license for a year. If they hadn't my Dad probably would have grounded me anyway.”
What does a youngster whose very life is his car do for a year without wheels? Johnson moved into the family garage, pushed his Dad's Cadillac out on the street and started building a flathead-powered roadster.
He had the roadster finished and ready for the strip when his year of penance was over. "I ran it at the old strip in Saugus and the one at Santa Ana", he remembers. He also ran it into his father's Cadillac but somehow avoided another lengthy grounding. Johnson and the roadster remained pals until 1961. Then the desire to again go 135 MPH or faster made the faithful little machine passé.
Johnson's next mount was an unblown 300 cid Mopar fueler which he built in partnership with Roy Fjastad. “The engine was his,” Don pointed out, "but this was not particularly the reason for the partnership. Roy and I have the same association today.” The pair ran the machine during the year winning their share of races.
The next year they set a blower atop the engine, mounted it in an airplane wing tank body, and went after the "B Lakester" speed record at Bonneville Salt Flats. They got it with a speed of 272 MPH.
The pair returned to the Salt Flats the next year. "We made one record run, but we were rained out before we could get the back-up run in,” Johnson said. On the trip back to Los Angeles, the pair decided to sell the Lakester and get back into drag racing.
In 1965 they set a new AA/F on the strip and raced it two years with moderate success, winning among other races, the UDRA National Championships at Las Vegas, Nevada in 1966.
The following year Johnson was at the controls of a new Dodge powered AA/Fueler. With this machine he won the Mickey Thompson 200 MPH meet in Long Beach, California, set the '67 world's ET record and racked up top speed and low ET at the NHRA meet in Bristol, Tennessee. He spent the remainder of the racing season on eastern strips where he was marked as the machine to beat.
Because of personal involvement, Johnson sent the AA/F dragster back to the eastern strips in 1968 with a friend, Norm Weekly, driving. Before the season was too far along Weekly was involved in an accident and the machine was totaled. Johnson and Fjastad went to work building another, finishing it in about a week; Norm raced it the remainder of the season.
At the beginning of 1969 Johnson hurriedly re-built the dragster but did not get it shaken down in time and failed to qualify at the NHRA Winternationals. However he finished the season ranked fourth in the points standings.
Johnson was born in Los Angeles and was graduated from Harvard Military Academy in 1958. He spent the next year on a diving scholarship at Wyoming University. "I didn't like it there, and just didn't try to get good grades.”
Returning to Los Angeles he attended University of Southern California night classes, working during the day. He graduated from USC with a degree in Public Administration in 1963.
Johnson was a partner in Constructors Unlimited, a heavy equipment rental business in North Hollywood, and one of Southern California's most successful dragracers. He said three people have been influential in his career. One of these was his long time friend and chief wrench, Roy Fjastad. The second was Tommy Ivo, the screen actor turned dragracer. The third person Johnson singled out is Mike Kinne, the behind-the-scene-guy. "Without him, I don't think I'd race. He does everything, he makes the decisions, he's a top mechanic ... everything.”
Johnson might have been forgetting a fourth person---the policeman who stopped him at 135 MPH.
The biography doesn't mention it, but Don Johnson had owned other dragsters, with other drivers. In 1966, for example, his 1966 Beachcomber top fuel dragster, raced by Bob Muravez, won the Las Vegas Invitational and the Mickey Thompson 200 MPH Championship at Lions dragstrip, beat 75 Top Fuel dragsters.
The Hemi powered 1970 dragsters
In 1970, Johnson ran two Hemi-powered dragsters. Both used a Speed Products Engineering 200 inch wheelbase chassis, front axle, and laced wire front wheels, with Halibrand Mags in back; the steering geometry was fashioned by P&S Machine of Los Angeles. Six gallon Hanna Fuel tanks were mounted forward of the engine.
Ed Pink worked over the 426 Hemis; Bowers blowers with Cragar drives running 24% over crankshaft speed were stacked up top and fed a mixture of nitro through Enderle injectors and Cragar intakes. Hilborn fuel pumps were used with Milodon drives.
A balanced Moldex Crankshaft with precision fitted Federal Mogul bearings pushed ForgeTrue pistons in the big bores via MIT-Pink connecting rods. Torque to the stock Dodge 3:91 rear gear was sent directly. The flywheel and pressure plate in this popular arrangement were by Schiefer.
The camshafts, ground by Racer Brown, worked matching Racer Brown pushrods, lifters and springs. The intake valves were stock Dodge 2.25 inch while the same size Donovans handled the exhaust. The rocker arms remained standard issue. The ignition system for both Beachcombers was by Cerillo of Costa Mesa.
In the West, Johnson himself ran the first car. The second Beachcomber was raced in the East by 22 year old John Travis of Westchester, California.
On January 21st, 1963, four Southern California kids -- Ron Rivero and Norm Weekly of La Verne, and Jim Fox and Dennis Holding from Pomona joined forces. The team soon became known as "The Frantic Four".A name that was derived from the team's incredible performances with a small block Chrysler engine (354 cu.in.) and their "never say die" attitude in the pits and on the track. In 1963 alone the team established track records from Arlington, WA, throughout California to Henderson, NV. Before they were done the 'Frantic Four' moniker was a catch phrase throughout the United States.
Bobby Johns Lotus 38  (Bobby Johns): Built 1965 (third chassis built) for Team Lotus. Crashed by Roger McCluskey while testing at Trenton April 1965 and rebuilt on new tub (fourth chassis built) in time for Indy 500. For Bobby Johns at the 1965 Indy 500 (#83 qualified 22nd, finished 7th). Purchased by Ford and used as a show car standing in as 'Indy winner' show car. Sold at some point to AJ Foyt and believed to be the car that was modified by Eddie Kuzma and entered at the 1966 Indy 500 as the Lotus-Kuzma. For George Snider at the 1966 Indy 500 (#82 qualified 3rd, crashed in race). Parts of this car and of Foyt's car damaged in the same race used to built a new car for 1967. This is believed to be the #82 car destroyed in Bob Christie's accident during Indy qualifying in 1967.
Chuck Beal in shades. Chuck Beal Racing is a drag racing company owned by professional drag racer Chuck Beal. The company is located in San Diego, California. Chuck Beal started as a racer of front- and rear-engine vehicles until he changed to the alcohol funny car class and then nitro-class vehicles. His grandson Brandon Welch took over the duties of racing his Funny Car after having graduated from Frank Hawley's Drag Racing School. He also serves as the Vice President of Marketing. Other racers who have raced for Chuck Beal include Jeff Arend and Jeff Diehl. The company's vehicles have multiple sponsors, including AutoAnything, UnderCover Truck Bed Covers, TruXedo Tonneau Covers, ProZ, and TruXP.
Chuck Beal has won multiple drag racing competitions; he won one each in the 1982 and 1983 Winternationals competition, and won multiple races in 1984. His vehicle was featured on the cover of the magazine National Dragster. In October 2015, Brandon Beach was announced to be participating in the National Hot Rod Association's Toyota Nationals in Las Vegas, Nevada, for which Beal has constructed a car for him to compete. He spent about 15 years as a crew member for Chuck Beal Racing before he was entered into a competition.
Chuck Beal and his Funny Car have received positive reception from editors in drag racing magazines. His vehicle was called "one of the most recognizable of the time" for Funny Car racing by National Dragster magazine in 1984, and an editor for the National Hot Rod Association's website recounted meeting Beal and remembering it fondly decades afterward.
The Legend of Flaming Frank Pedregon
By Tom West and Ken Logan
Flaming Frank became famous because of the little trick of setting the tires of his Fuel Coupe on fire and smoking them down the strip. From what I have heard, it was primarily because of the Scott Injection. It used to pump a bunch more fuel through the motor than most of the other setups, similar to how current fuel motors are set up. It would blubber fuel out the pipes and into the wheel wells on the coupe while it sat at the starting line. When the flames came up when the car moved, it just lit the fumes, ergo ... flaming tires.
Evidently, CJ and some other track operators offered to pay Frank to show up and burn the tires down the track, which he did. Figured that if he could do it accidentally, he could really create a show by doing it on purpose. He set up a fuel squirter to pump fuel directly into the wheel wells on the car. I am not sure how long this little trick worked for him, but not long. Burned the car to the ground shortly thereafter.
Tom West TWestXRAY@aol.com
I had the opportunity to race with Frank Pedregon for several years. The truth of the matter is he didn't have a clue what made the tires catch on fire. The only thing that made any sense was that the rubber off the tires was trapped under the coupe body and somehow ignited. But your guess is as good as any. CJ booked Frank to make three exhibition runs and he couldn't make the tires light. Frank was a very talented car builder, tuner, and driver. We were good friends until the he died in a plane crash.
Ken Logan Lmprecfab@aol.com
Son of race driver Charles Kendall, Kendall began his racing career competing at the IMSA GT Championship. He drove a Mazda RX-7 in the GTU category while studying and by the time he completed his studies, he took the 1986 and 1987 championships. Later he won three other titles in the same car, which he still owns.
He later dominated the SCCA Trans-Am Series in the 1990s, scoring four series championships. His greatest year came in 1997, when he won 11 races in a row out of the 13 on the schecule—almost a perfect season. During this time, Kendall was also honored by representing the series for six IROC seasons.
On June 30, 1991, Kendall suffered serious leg injuries at Watkins Glen when a mechanical failure caused his Intrepid RM-1 IMSA GTP car to leave the track and crash head-on into a tire wall. This occurred along the same area of track where J. D. McDuffie of NASCAR Winston Cup fame was killed only a month later, and both crashes led to the addition of a bus stop chicane on the backstretch. Kendall spoke of this incident during Episode 4, Season 2 of the Speed Channel series, Setup as a "crossroads in his racing career." He returned to racing over a year later in August 1992. He also discussed his accident on Athlete 360, a sports medicine television show hosted by Mark Adickes