Lamar “Bunky” Bobo, 1934-2016: East Coast Drag Times Hall of Fame Member, Owner & Driver of “Hemi Hurricane”

February 2, 2016

Lamar “Bunky” Bobo looks right at home again in his “Hemi Hurricane” ’40 Willys. The car ran as a 9-second, 140 mph A/Gasser in the 60’s until it was parked for a Logghe chassis Barracuda Funny Car. In 2005 Bunky and his son Tony restored the Willys to prior glory. (Dr. Marvin Smith photo)

Story by Jim Hill

Lamar “Bunky” Bobo, owner, builder, tuner and driver of the famed ’40 Willys A/Gasser “Hemi Hurricane”, a 2007 member of the East Coast Drag Times Hall of Fame, passed away January 25, 2016. His passing came as he was being cared for at a nursing facility in his home, Rome Georgia. Bunky Bobo was 82.

While his formal family name was Quincy Lamar Bobo, he was known to everyone as “Bunky”. That light-hearted nickname was perfect for the man who carried a perpetual smile and a lengthy list of homespun stories. Bunky Bobo enjoyed life to its fullest, and took great pleasure in reliving his many adventures, both in racing and during his lifetime.

Southern drag racers will remember Bunky Bobo for his famous A/Gas, 1940 Willys. The Willys was built after Bunky decided that his pursuit of a career as a bootlegger might be too risky! The Willys was originally owned by Frank Groves, from nearby Lindale, GA, who bought the car, in running condition, for a mere $300! Groves and Bunky decided to form a partnership. Groves would provide the chassis and Bunky the engine and drivetrain.

Bunky decided that a new 426 Hemi was needed. He headed north, to Chicago, to Grand Spalding Dodge, and bought a 426 Hemi powered, ’65 Dodge Coronet. Mr. Norm Kraus, owner of the Dodge dealership was nationally famous for his hefty inventory of Dodge Division’s most powerful musclecars. He advertised those race-ready new cars weekly in Drag News. Grand Spalding Dodge also accurately boasted it carried more Hemi’s than any dealer in the nation!

The Coronet sedan came as a Super Stock package car with a 426 CID, 425 hp Dodge Hemi, aluminum cylinder heads and Torqueflite transmission with push-button shift control. Back home in Rome, they squeezed in the Hemi plus the Coronet’s 8-3/4” S/S rear axle. The proven A-990 option, cross-ram, dual carburetor engine immediately put the Willys into the upper nine second bracket. Next, Bunky installed a Hilborn mechanical fuel injection system and a set of long, bell-topped ram tubes. A camshaft change and further engine tuning put the car into the mid nine’s at 140+ mph, plenty stout A/Gas performance for 1966-67.

By that time the legend of the “Hemi Hurricane” had begun. The ’65 Coronet that kindly donated its Hemi to the A/Gas Hurricane was lost in a crap game with Randy “Big Stuff” Payne. Bunky and Randy were shooting dice and Randy rolled his way into the Dodge.

Randy Payne was the second-half of the Hubert Platt & Randy Payne Ford Drag Club touring race team that conducted Ford dealership race clinics during the 60’s musclecar era. Payne, also a Rome, Georgia resident, had no use for a Mopar racer in his all-Ford shop, and wasted no time in selling the car. Its new owner dropped in a 426 Max Wedge and drivetrain and went racing with the ex-Hemi Coronet.

Bunky Bobo bought a new ’65 426 Hemi Dodge Coronet, from Grand Spalding Dodge, in Chicago. He pulled the engine, transmission and rear axle and dropped them into this ’40 Willys coupe and went A/Gas racing. The Hemi Hurricane became a Southern Gasser legend. during the 1960’s.

The Willys ran at many of the big events in the Southeast during the 60’s. In Deland, Florida, near Daytona Beach, they won the hotly contested A/Gas class at the NASCAR Drag Racing Winter Nationals, 1966. That year the weather was unseasonably cold, with temperatures near freezing, and damp. On the A/Gas trophy run the Hemi lost traction, over-revved and broke badly. By then Bunky’s son Tony was involved with maintaining the car. Together they built a new 426 Hemi. Bunky returned to other NASCAR drag racing events, running the A/Gas Willys in Competition Eliminator and winning several races in ’66 and ‘67.

A second engine was built to run on nitromethane and alcohol. That engine found its way into a Logghe Funny Car chassis with a fiberglass Barracuda body. Bunky had obtained the Logghe car when it became clear that running a Funny Car could make far more cash than in A/Gas. It would be called “Hemi Hurricane II”.

Track promoters began clamoring for injected, nitro Funny Cars both for match races and booked-in FC shows. Injected cars were loud and fast, and far more reliable than the often breakage prone supercharged FC’s. They were also considerably cheaper to book than the headliner stars. The booked FC shows were usually four or eight-car deals where everyone was paid and the payout went up as rounds progressed. For Bunky and Tony, it proved to be a money maker, and they parked the Willys in favor of the ready cash that came with the “Hemi Hurricane” fuel Funny Car. Bunky was not about to part with the Willys however, and after buying it from Frank Groves, put in his storage barn.

After the A/G Willys Bunky and Tony ran this Hemi powered Funny Car. The Barracuda body covered a Logghe chassis. The Hemi Hurricane II FC ran match races and FC shows across the Southeast. Bunky was a 2007 East Coast Drag Times Hall of Fame inductee. (Hugh Greeson photo)

Bunky ran many Funny Car match races across the Southeast. A vintage 1968 issue of Drag News carried the story of Bunky Bobo versus Gene Cromer’s Moonlighter Mustang at Miami-Hollywood Dragway. Cromer, from Anderson, SC, had himself once ran a Ford powered A/Gas Willys. The two had faced off against each other many times in A/Gas, and later in nitro Funny Cars. Bunky, Gene Cromer, Huston Platt and Robert Nance were a few of the Southern racers who regularly appeared in those FC shows.

After 30 years in a storage barn, the Hemi Hurricane needed a warm, pressure-washer bath. The car still carried all the period correct race decals from its days as an A/Gasser. Tony Bobo removed sacks of goat chow from the fiberglass front end before showing the 65 year old car the sunshine.

Gone but not forgotten, the faithful ’40 Willys was stored in a comfortable, dry barn, resting quietly for some 30 years. Then, in 2004, Tony and Bunky unearthed the Willys, moving several sacks of goat feed resting upon its once glorious fiberglass front end. Their idea was to restore the once powerful Hemi Hurricane to its glory days. Rather than hard-core racing, this time the ‘Hurricane would appear at car shows and nostalgia drag races. A concentrated project effort ensued and soon the car sat complete and ready to run again.

Completed in 2005, the car had been completely restored from top to bottom. An early appearance was made at the 2005 NHRA Hot Rod Reunion where its bright red paint, long-stacked Hemi engine and perfect drivetrain garnered that event’s “Best of the Best” award. In 2010 the Hemi Hurricane was featured on the Hot Rod Magazine web site.

Dr. Marvin Smith’s photo at South Georgia Motorsports Park, Valdosta, GA, shows off the bright red paint of the fully restored Hemi Hurricane during an event . Bunky’s son Tony and friends restored the A/Gas Willys, debuting the sparkling result in 2005, after a 30 year hiatus in Bunky’s barn.

For his long and successful racing career, Bunky Bobo was named to the 2007 East Coast Drag Times Hall of Fame. Bunky and his family were on hand as he gratefully accepted the Hall of Fame plaque and spoke of the fun, adventures, and great friends he made in racing. Of course, the now gleaming Hemi Hurricane ’40 Willys made the trip to Henderson, NC, from Rome.

Bunky Bobo’s Hemi Hurricane Willys won A/Gas class at 1966 and ’67 NASCAR Winter National drags and Comp Eliminator at ’67 NASCAR Drag Racing Division race, a strong competitor with NHRA in the 60’s and early 70’s. Hemi Hurricane ran low 9-second ET’s at 142 mph+ best as an A/Gasser.

After he retired from racing Bunky obtained an Advance Auto Parts franchise there in Rome, operating it until his final business retirement. He continued to display the famous Hemi Hurricane Willys and was a regular attendee at the annual East Coast Drag Times Hall of Fame Weekend, in October, in Henderson, NC.

Quincy Lamar “Bunky” Bobo was a great drag racing competitor and a genuine Southern Gentleman. He also served his country in the military as a veteran of the Korean War.

Bunky Bobo passed away January 25, 2016, but his legacy continues through his family, son Tony Bobo and Kay, grandchildren Josie and T.J. Bobo and Tiffany Evans. And of course, there’s that bright red, Hemi-fired, 1940 Willys A/Gasser, the “Hemi Hurricane”.