Mike Kosky: Alcohol Runs Through This Hall of Fame Member’s Veins

December 4, 2015

Mike Kosky’s career as weekend Sportsman racer has earned him several wins in NHRA Divisional racing as well as on the major event circuit. He’s known as a serious and inventive racer with tremendous engineering, fabrication and welding skills plus tuning and driving talents.

Kosky has remained with the supercharged Hemi-based, alcohol fueled TAD combination rather than an unblown (normally aspirated), nitro-fueled engine. His efforts have produced 260+ mph performances and a reputation as one of the most competitive TAD cars in the nation.

Mike Kosky 2015 HOF

Story by Jim Hill

Cuddy, Pennsylvania’s Mike Kosky has been addicted to alcohol for nearly 50 years, but it’s OK with his wife and longtime racing supporter Janet. It should also be noted that Kosky’s addiction is not through excessive personal alcohol consumption, but it’s his fuel of choice for a long line of exceptionally competitive Top Alcohol Dragsters.

Kosky’s career as a drag racer spans six decades, but his participation has always been as a Sportsman racer, a “weekend warrior”. Like most other Sportsman racers, Kosky worked Monday through Friday, often clocking m,ore than 50+ hours per week, and prepared his race cars at home, in the evenings.

Kosky is now retired from the daily eight-to-five grind, but he once spent long days managing a fleet of municipal vehicles. These were essential to civil service and included street sweepers, snow plows and dump trucks. Winters in Mike’s Pennsylvania community are well known for presenting a wide variety of unique challenges, and municipal workers are often faced with heavy snowfall. Kosky’s after-hours were spent with the more enjoyable tasks of building and maintaining his race cars.

Kosky’s first race car was built with his late brother, Butch. This resulted in the eclectic combination of a stripped-out, gutted ’32 Desoto sedan and a Studebaker V-8 engine, and all of the initial components were scrounged from a local auto salvage yard. The Desoto was somewhat less than a winner, but served the brothers as a hands-on training vehicle for their expanded drag racing ambitions.

Wanting to go faster, the Kosky brothers next built a homemade, short wheelbase dragster. That car was powered by an Olds V-8 acquired after another junkyard exploration. The Olds engine was backed by a four-speed Hydramatic transmission, the most popular racing auto trans of its day. This first effort resulted in 130 mph performances but was equally unremarkable. Once again this frugal approach served as a learning platform for better, faster race cars to come.

In the mid-60’s Mike and Butch built an A/Altered powered by one of the then-new big-block Chevys. The itch to go even faster grew stronger, and the A/Altered was replaced with a front-engine, Kellison chassied A/Dragster. The brothers again chose an injected big-block Chevy. Kellison was one of the first to offer a complete, ready to outfit, chromemoly tube, three-point cage dragster chassis with a shorty style, molded fiberglass body.

Mike Kosky’s next racing step was a major leap when he purchased a Logghe dragster chassis. At the races, Kosky had by-chance made the acquaintance of legendary racer Connie Kalitta. Kosky mentioned that he was planning to step up his operation by buying a more modern chassis. “The Bounty Hunter” referred him to Gene Logghe at Logghe Stamping Company, in Mt. Clemens, MI.

Interestingly, Mike’s Logghe chassis was fabricated and welded by Chuck Kurzawa. Kurzawa had notched several top-flight rides as driver of the The Ramchargers Top Fuel car and later, the Bob’s Drag Chutes Top Fuel cars. His credentials as a chassis builder were obviously enhanced by his own personal seat-time, and that knowledge went into every car that Kurzawa built.

Kosky’s Logghe car was also fitted with a handmade aluminum body created by Logghe’s favorite tinsmith, Al Bergler. Bergler’s widely acknowledged aluminum artistry was home-grown in Bergler’s nearby Mt. Clemens, Michigan shop.

Kosky chose to run his new Logghe car in Top Gas Eliminator. This class featured single-engine cars and twin-engine cars, all running on pump gasoline rather than alcohol or nitromethane fuels. Kosky turned in a steady string of solid performances with success against name teams such as Frakes & Funk, Bill Mullins, Motes & Williams, Gordon Collett, Peters & Frank’s “Freight Train” and even Shirley Muldowney, an early Top Gas driver (twin-engine small-block Chevys) before she moved into nitro Funny Cars.

An early proponent of minimizing weight, Kosky embraced the advantages of a weight-saving aluminum alloy engine block and heads, especially for a supercharged engine. That led Kosky to obtain and modify an original 1969 Chevrolet C.O.P.O ZL-1 aluminum block for supercharged racing use. The ZL-1 engines were offered only in 1969 Camaros, and built in limited vehicle numbers (Only 69 Camaros were assembled with the ZL-1 option of aluminum block and heads, although additional engines were built and offered through the Chevrolet “Heavy Duty Parts” program.) The factory Chevy block came with cast iron, pressed-in cylinder liners, but was nearly 100 pounds lighter than a cast iron Chevy 427 block. Being aluminum, it could also be repaired via heliarc welding, a cost effective advantage for a budget racer.

The big-block Chevy was an enormously successful engine both in racing and car and truck applications. But it did have a few shortcomings. Kosky quickly discovered that the iron cylinder liners and aluminum alloy blocks were incompatible. Expansion rates of the two metals are notably different, and in a supercharged configuration, head gaskets and sealing were compromised. Through trial and error and home garage machining processing Kosky fixed the problem.

Kosky improved the factory alloy blocks, and his ingenuity led Mike to design and produce his own variation of the ZL-1 Chevy block. Kosky’s hybrid design proved plenty tough for Pro Comp and later Top Alcohol Dragster (TAD) competition as well as tractor pulling and drag boat applications as word spread of the durability of Kosky’s aluminum blocks for Chevy applications.

Working a weekly day job, maintaining a competitive race car, developing and manufacturing a capable aluminum block proved to be challenging and exhausting. Mike, supported by his wife Janet, persevered, and he somehow managed to successfully multi-task all these activities.

Mike’s success in Top Gas was derailed in 1971 when NHRA abandoned Top Gas Eliminator. Kosky moved into Comp Eliminator, with an unblown, injected big-block Chevy. When NHRA created Pro Comp Eliminator as an alternative to Top Gas, Kosky and many other racers were quick to respond to its possibilities.

The new Pro Comp category was a somewhat confusing mixture of blown, alcohol dragsters, Funny Cars and even supercharged altereds as well as injected, nitro burning A/Fuel Dragsters. All of the various car types ran against each other heads-up. To maintain competitive parity, weight and engine displacement rules were created among the entries. Car counts jumped and racers embraced the new category. Pro Comp has since evolved into two separate Eliminators, Top Alcohol Dragster and Top Alcohol Funny Car Eliminators, and are popular with racers and spectators.

Kosky’s first Pro Comp car was a rear-engine Stebbins chassis dragster with a blown, alky-fed big-block Chevy, planetary transmission and slipper clutch. Kosky’s baseline remained close to that same combination, although with competitive updates worked in over the years. After he sold the Stebbins car Kosky began building his own cars using all he learned during decades of racing both front and rear-engine dragsters. His current TAD entry is the latest in a now lengthy line of Kosky-built cars.

Like any racer who regularly exceeds 250 mph, Kosky has experienced a few close-calls. However, it took a 2007 crash at under five mph to seriously injure the veteran driver. Kosky’s mishap came while riding his home lawn mower. Kosky bounced back quickly from his injuries, however, many of his racer friends suggested a tube steel roll cage for the offending mower!

Interestingly, Mike Kosky is the only NHRA Top Alcohol drag racer to have won major NHRA events using three different engines! His big-block Chevy earned him his first win. That was followed by an Alan Johnson big-block, an aluminum Oldsmobile DRCE and finally his current Brad Anderson alloy hemi.

Mike and Janet Kosky have been married 46 years. As she has from the beginning, Janet remains a vital part of their racing team effort.

Kosky’s current TAD is powered by a Brad Anderson aluminum hemi. The switch from trusty Chevy power came reluctantly. However, the demands of currently competitive TAD racing were far too much for the now 50 year old Chevrolet Mark IV engine design. Extreme engine speeds (rpm) and high supercharger boost pressures pushed the Chevy’s capabilities over the edge. Mike’s new “Brad Motor” has an extra margin of strength built in, thanks to its creator Brad Anderson’s own many years of racing experience with blown, alcohol fueled race engines.

Mike Kosky’s many years of racing winning, utilizing his own talents and a carefully managed, out-of-pocket racing budget rank him among the most successful sportsman racers of all time. It’s also a mark of his worth not only as a racer but a person in the long line of people who quickly volunteer their praise of Mike and Janet as “good folks”.

The East Coast Drag Times Hall of Fame salutes 2015 inductee Mike Kosky.