Northwest Gassers: Fewer But Faster

August 23, 2016

Jim Warter’s Joint Venture C-2 Corvette was built for dual purpose racing, as a Gasser, in Modified Eliminator, or for Comp Eliminator, in D/Altered. The wheelstanding ‘Vette was highly successful in both, and Warter traveled far and wide to race. Here he leaves, wheels-up at the NHRA Nationals, running in D/Altered. (Photo by Jim Hill)

Story and Photo Captions by Jim Hill

Way up, in the land of Paul Bunyan and his legendary blue ox, Babe, the scenery is big, bold and spectacular. So are the drag racers who have learned the tricks in squeezing extra power created by the heavily forested, oxygen-rich Northwest.

Although it seems that more nitro racers have come from the massive Oregon, Washington, Idaho, Montana, Wyoming and British Columbia region, many notable Gasser racers have called this area home. Several Northwest racers who began their drag racing career in Gassers and Modified Productions moved onward and upwards, to faster quarter mile careers.

Regardless, Northwest racers are a crafty sort, relying on their own skills and ingenuity to make up for the areas of the country where speed shops and chassis builders are plentiful.

It should also be noted that because of the lengthy distance away from the California Southland, many Nor-Cal racers chose to race in Washington and Oregon rather than make the long drive south. Because of this we have included a few Nor-Cal cars in this week’s offering.

Heating the tires was an important ritual with all doorslammer racers. HereTom Turner and crew collaborate to thoroughly toast the slicks at the NHRA Winternationals, Pomona, CA. Turner was a standout NW racer. (Photo from the Jim Hill Collection, originally used in ‘Vette Magazine)

Northwest standout Jim Warter launches his Gasser career wheeling this very sharp ’39 Chevy on Northwest and California tracks. Front license tag says the car wasn’t too far from its street rod days before running in 11 lbs. per CID E/Gas class.

Jerry Ruth was later to become known as “King of the Northwest”, in Top Fuel, but his roots as a Northwest drag racer were considerably less regal. This ’38 Chevy, sponsored by Ruth Realty, was The King’s early throne with a blown small-block Chevy supplying the urge.

One of the most enduring Northwest drag strips is located at Puyallup, Washington. The venerable track has been the site of many major events and race shows as well as weekly racing.

This unique early 60’s Chevy II was one of a few built by the handy body technicians at Bill Thomas Chevrolet, in California. The “fastback” came from grafting donor sheetmetal while power was initially via 409 “W-Series” engines. Big-block 396 Mark IV Chevys were replacements for the ’09’s This Bill Thomas Fastback hailed from the Seattle, Washington area.

Towards the last days of Modified Eliminator (NHRA executed Modified after the 1981 season) a strange new breed of racers were introduced, powered by Japanese versions of the Wankel rotary engine. Their incredibly annoying exhaust note earned much derision from traditional racers, but their power output in sub-compacts such as this C/Mod Compact Mazda made them very competitive.

The NHRA Fallnationals, held at Seattle International Raceway, became a favorite major event and part of the an nual “Western Swing”. Modified Eliminator racers took advantage of the oxygen-rich air and put up great numbers. This C/Super Modified, ’67 Camaro was typical.

Gen 1 Camaros, such as the “Black Acid” ’67, were huge favorites as Gassers and Modified Productions… as soon as they became available as used cars and junkyard reclaims. This E/Modified Production entry, running at 11 lbs. per CID, has requisite Cragar Super-Trick wheels and Pro-Stock styles hood scoop. Racers often switched between Gas and MP classes at events.

Many Northern California Gasser racers made the run north, to tracks in Washington and Oregon. This ’41 Willys coupe, from Sacramento, ran in B/Gas.

“Jack The Bear” Coonrod stormed onto the 60’s blown Gasser scene from Portland, Washington, hitting the road with other A/Gas Supercharged heroes to stage multi-car match races across the U.S.

Jack Coonrod’s ’33 Willys had a chassis designed and built by Chuck Finders and blown 392 Chrysler Hemi power. The bright yellow Willys was fast, quick and consistent.

Super Modified classes were created in the mid 1970’s to encourage participation and reduce the cost to build a fast and fun doorslammer. Three classes were established, all requiring a single four-barrel carburetor and other allegedly “economizing” items. Dowty & Mangini’s ’67 Camaro was typical.

So, how’s the bite out there? Rory McNeil’s hard-hookin Ford Fairmont answers with a tall wheelstand.

Puyallup Raceway continues to present good shows that include modern day “Gassers” such as this ’57 210 sedan with straight axle front suspension and Mooneyes decals up front.

Class Gasser match-up’s still happen, even if it’s for ET Bracket racing. Here the Edwards & Young ’57 210 tudor takes on a ’55 Bel-Air Sport Coupe at Puyallup Raceway, in Washington.

There may be indecision as to which class to run, but Edwards & Young ’57 210 sedan can execute whatever the challenge. Classed as an E/Modified Production, from the days of Modified Eliminator, or a Pro ET racer, with a 10.58 dial-in, the ’57 has plenty of wheelstanding horsepower.

NEXT WEEK: California Dreaming