Those Wild & Wooly Gassers: Middle-Atlantic, Canada and Northeast States

July 27, 2016

Much is happening in this week’s featured image. The setting is the NHRA Nationals, Indianapolis. East Coast Drag Times Hall of Fame 2003 inductee (along with the S&S Racing Team) Dave Hales (far lane) is ready for this round of C/Gas class eliminations. Dave’s homebuilt ’40 Willys coupe was Chevy powered. He now tours with the restored car at nostalgia events.

Story by Jim Hill

The geographical profile of the Mid-Atlantic and Northeastern states region is one of great diversity, ranging from the most densely people-populated areas in the nation to heavily wooded forests. It’s also one of drag racing’s most fertile grounds, especially so for those racing cars we called Gassers and their near-relatives.

This week’s showcase carries racers and cars from as far down South as Virginia, because many racers there chose to tow both north and south of the Mason-Dixon Line to race. It also extends as far north as Canada’s Maritimes and both Quebec and Ontario Provinces. Sadly, the storied tracks on which these folks competed are now mostly gone, having fallen victim to real estate development that spread out and away from cities, into the countryside.

Drag racing in these areas was much like those densely populated areas of the Northeast… hot, heavy and seriously pursued during their all too brief warm-weather months. To meet the pent-up demands of winter-confined racers many tracks ran several events per week. These were weekends and nights where Street (Modified) Eliminator cars ran off for purse money. Only a few tracks hosted weeknights where “test and tune” or “no posted ET” runs were staged. These guys and gals wanted to race for cash, and race they did, against some of the toughest competition in the nation.

This week’s photo revue is just a small cross-section of some of the Gassers, Modified Productions, Street Roadsters and Modified Sports race cars that made for such great racing in this region. If I missed your favorite I apologize for the oversight!

-Jim Hill

NEXT WEEK: Gasser Heroes Of The Midwest

One of the original S&S team members, (and ECDT Hall of Fame member) Gene Altizer’s career began in both unblown and Supercharged Gassers and lasted through A/FX, early Funny Cars and finally Top Alcohol Funny Cars. Here he takes his A/Gas Anglia through its paces at Cecil County Dragway, Maryland. This car was later run as an A/Gas Supercharged entry withy blown small-block Chevy power. It is often seen at nostalgia events and the HOF Weekend, in Henderson, NC.

So why is Eddie Schartman’s factory sponsored, ’65 Mercury Comet A/FX running in A/Gas, against Gene Altizer’s traditional A/G Anglia at the 1965 NHRA Nationals?  Schartman’s 427 Comet had run afoul of the NHRA tech inspectors and was re-classed into A/G. No doubt the grille-mounted Moon fuel tank was one of the infractions cited. Hugging the center line, Altizer won the round as Fast Eddie lifts the front wheels going into second gear. Love those sold-out Indy stands!

The speed equipment industry’s largest and most successful warehouse operation was owned and operated by the Amato brothers, of Exeter, PA. Here Joe Amato shows off the ’40 Chevy B/Gas Supercharged he ranprior to moving into Top Alcohol Funny Car, and then Top Fuel. Amato won several NHRA TF World titles and broke ET and speed barriers. Amato’s Keystone Automotive Warehouse and Key Parts Stores retail auto stores chain brought millions to the Amato brothers after they sold out to GE Financial.

Fred Bear has been a drag racer all his life as well as touring and working with NASCAR ‘Cup race teams. As an original S&S team member he’s also an ECDT Hall of Fame member and one of racing’s all-time and best-liked characters. Winter, spring, summer of fall, Freddie Bear swears by his trusty flip-flop sandals! Fred’s supercharged, Chrysler hemi powered Willys is a regular at nostalgia Gasser races and always displayed here at the East Coast Drag Times HOF Weekend, in Henderson, NC.

Bob Bernardon’s “Jolly Dolly” ’39 Chevy C/Gas coupe may be drag racing’s best-kknown ’39 Chevy. The Spring Hill, MD resident ran very successfully in the 1960’s, winning C/Gas class at the Nationals. Flawless green paint, chrome everywhere and an injected small-block Chevy were kept clean and sparkling during its racing days and now in displays such as this at the ECDT Hall of Fame Weekend, in Henderson. Bernardon’s “Dolly” was once featured in the “green pages” of a 1960’s issue of Hot Rod Magazine!

New Jersey’s Paul Blevins made a name for himself with this G/Modified Production, ’55 Chevy Nomad. Blevins was a regular east coast Street/Modified divisional and major event winner. In 1972 he moved into Pro-Stock with a small-block Vega and built a business assembling race engines. When his kids took a fancy to Junior Dragsters Blevins started making parts and building engines for his kids and customers.

Bill Boer was a Long Island, NY Street/Modified racer, one of many very good cars that ran out of Jack Merkel’s Long Island shop. Here Boer shares a treasured moment with his greatest fan, his daughter. The tail fin belongs to Boer’s tow car, a ’56 Chevy sedan.

Not all Street/Modified Eliminator cars were Gassers. Street roadsters such as the Hine’s Auto Body, Douglassville, PA based B/SR. Street Roadsters were very competitive and popular with fans. Lettering shows a 292 small-block Chevy with Hilborn injection. American mags up front, Keystone Kustom rear wheels.

Cecil County Dragway was one of America’s most storied strip operations. Here an unidentified D/Gas Willys coupe tries out the famous Cecil County bite, hooking hard and pulling a wheelstand. Unpainted fiberglass doors look brand new. This photo was created by John Durand, long-time eastern drag racing photographer.

Tony Feil has long been one of the east coast’s most respected race engine builders and the go-to for many drag racers as well as circle track racers. Feil, an East Coast Drag Times Hall of Fame member was also once tough running in Gas Classes. His ’48 Anglia ran in A and B/Gas. Perfect paint, chrome and polished Halibrand magnesium wheels plus outstanding performance heralded Tony Feil Competition Engines.

Once Modified racers embraced the short-wheelbase, early C-1 and C-2 Corvettes for Gas and MP classes many parked their traditional cars for fiberglass. Here Tony Feil’s C-1 E/Modified Production Corvette is prepped for another round at Englishtown, New Jersey.

Some days all the stars align and things just go right! Here Albany, New York’s Don Green enjoys a win with a kiss from the trophy queen at Sanair International Dragway, St. Pie, Quebec, Canada. Green’s E/Gas ’52 Ford “Golden Gasser” was a winner this day. It also took class at the ’68 NHRA Springnationals, Englishtown, NJ. 

Dave Hales career began with this ’55 Chevy 210 sedan. Dave ran the ’55 in D/Gas before building his Willys coupe for C and D/Gas classes. Hales was one of the original S&S Parts Company team members, in Falls Church, Virginia. ’55 had American five-spoke mag wheels rear, steel stock wheels with Moon discs up front.

Few cars were as consistently successful as Dave Hales’ Willys coupe. Running in both C and D/Gas, Hales collected loads of class win trophies as well as Street Eliminator checks.

Fred Hartman’s G/Modified Production ’55 Chevy ran a 287 CID small-block Chev with a Tunnel-Ram 2×4 intake, ported heads and a five-speed manual box. 13 lbs. per CID G/MP class rules required a hefty 3731 lb. car weight. Hartman’s engine building and tuning skills brought customers to his race shop and many class wins during the 1970’s. Here he hammers the ’55 at the Popular Hot Rodding Championships, U.S. 131 Dragway, Martin, MI.

Without question, the amazing 1940 Willys coupe of Charlie Hill was and will likely be the all-time most famous, unblown Gasser ever! Hill’s “Filthy Forty” was deliberately kept in despicable condition to mask its exceptional haul-ass capabilities. Dirt, mud, grease and grunge were forgotten when driver Pork Zartman brought the rev’s up to 8,000 and dropped the clutch! Many times C/Gas National Class champ and class record holder, the Filthy Forty has become true Gasser legend.

Charlie Hill’s “Filthy Forty” Willys was known for its frequent rear-bumper scraping, mile-high wheelstands, no doubt a part of the lasting lore of this masterpiece in to-hell-with-how-it-looks, let’s go fast fables.

The late Larry Kopp owned Ted’s Towing Service, a family business in Baltimore, MD. His weekends were spent pounding a series of Modified Eliminator winners that included Camaro’s, Corvette’s and a Chevelle Malibu. All of Kopp’s cars were functionally clean and well prepared, and exceptionally competitive. Kopp won many classes and Eliminators and set numerous class records with power from Dave Alioso Racing Engines.

“Coney Island Ralph” Landolfi was legendary for his series of ’48 Anglia Gassers. Here his chopped-top Anglia graces the cover of Drag Times, a weekly drag racing tabloid newspaper. Coney Island Ralph was nationally known for his tough competitiveness in both A and B/Gas classes.

Coney Island Ralph’s second and final ’48 Anglia was the “Northwind” III. Here it sits ready for B/Gas competition in the 1960’s. The PowerShift Hydro was later replaced by a manual four-speed. Power came from a Merkel-built, injected 331″ small-block Chevy. Landolfini’s cars were described by many as “meticulously prepared and tuned”. Ralph was an East Coast Drag Times Hall of Fame inductee in 2004, before passing away in 2015.

Rochester, New York’s Bill Lindner perfected the use of a small CID Chevy with a 6-71 blower for C/Gas Supercharged. Lindner’s ’40 Willys was C/GS National class champ at Indy in 1966 and a serious threat wherever he ran. 

Sometimes classic Gassers ended up running in Altered classes, often by choice of their owners. Here Harry Luzader’s ’32 Ford, normally a D/Gasser, competed against the 426 Hemi powered B/Altered of Blackwood-Eckard-Kirk at the NHRA 1968 Springnationals, Englishtown, NJ. Luzader will be inducted into this year’s 2016 ECDT Hall of Fame in Henderson, NC, October 14-15-16.

Harry Luzader started running his ’32 Ford in C/Gas, then added weight and dropped down to D/G, where he had his most success. Harry himself is standing behind the car, at left, during tech inspection at the big shopping center on 16th Street, Indy. That tech was one of the great parts of The Nationals, a huge, free car show of every bad-ass drag car in the U.S.! Anyone could get close, crawl under and closely inspect each car, without a paid-for pit pass!

Dick Moroso was drag racer long before he became a speed parts manufacturer and race track owner. Moroso’s cars ran hard in Street/Modified Eliminator, and he took lessons learned and parts handmade to create a large, successful company that lives on today. Dick and the late Jere Stahl even collaborated on many speed parts. Ford Econoline van in background is Jerry Tyson’s, the “Chrondek Timers Man” for east of The Rocky Mountains.

>Maryland’d Ferd Napfel endured years of his first name being misspelled to “Fred”. His ’55 Chevy was one of the earliest and most successful “small engine, heavy flywheel, heavy car weight” Gassers. Ferd was many-times class winner and frequent Street Eliminator champ in his famous “Storming Bull” ’55 Chevy sedan.

From Buffalo, NY came Jim Oddy and a succession of very fast blown Gassers.  This Austin was an A/Gas Supercharged honker in its day. Here Oddy returns to the pits after a run at the NHRA Nationals, Indy Raceway Park, about 1965.

The Oehlert Brothers’ C/Gas ’41 Studebaker launches hard in this photo from Charles Milikin. Site is Cecil County Dragway, MD. Royersford, PA ‘Stude shows typical 60’s Gasser spirit with straight front axle, Moon discs up front and long traction bars.

The Reinford Brothers’ Pottstown, Pennsylvania based “Moose” ’38 Chevy sedan was always good for a great show. Drivers Horace or Paul Reinford shared putting the large, moose-like car through its paces in D/Gas where it gained a great spectator following.

After the ’38 “Moose” was sent back to the woods Reinford Brothers built this modern C-2 Corvette. The ‘Vette was equally competitive and successfully carried on the spirit of “The Moose” until NHRA killed off Modified Eliminator and sent Moose fans packing.

Ralph Ridgeway’s Hartford, CT based ’55 Chevy ran out of Deb’s Automotive. It was one of the first successful Modified Production cars and ran across the east coast. The car ran both NHRA and AHRA tracks, setting records and winning in both sanctions.

Ridgeway is credited with taking the long-runner intake originally devised in 1959 by the Ramchargers, for their C/Altered ’50 Plymouth, and adapting it into the modern 2×4 Tunnel-Ram manifold. Ralph took a Corvette Rochester Fuel Injection bed, cut off the top and mounted a 2×4 pad for a pair of carburetors. It worked so well he began selling his modified “Ridge-Runner” intakes to racers before Edelbrock, Weiand and Offenhauser began casting their own long-ram intakes. Here’s a look at the original, on Ridgeway’s C/MP ’55.

Although ungainly looking, Russo & Santo’s four-door, many-windowed Willys sedan was a bonifide C/Gas bad-ass. The car stormed to the C/Gas chall trophy in 1967 against Ron Hassel in Joe Hrudka’s chopped-top ’48 Anglia. 

Long Island, New York’s Jack Olcott bought the R&S Willys, did a resto and update on it and began seriously running nostalgia events and brackets. The old gal continues to shine on and is a favorite. Here Jack’s son John Olcott leaves hard in this great photo by Tom Molyneaux.

Famed A/GS hero K.S. Pittman made the east coast his playground in the 60’s as part of the S&S team. Pittman ran several different cars during that time, including this blown 454″ Chrysler hemi powered ’33 Willys.

New York’s Eddie Sanzo ran this ’40 Willys entry with blown small-block Chevy power by Jack Merkel. Sanzo drove and the car ran both A and B/GS. The bright red, chopped-top, Willys pick-up was a fan favorite and high revving handful.

Pennsylvania’s Dick Shroyer ran this beautifully prepared ’48 Thames panel truck in C and D/Gas and sometimes in D/Altered. Deep black lacquer, lots of chromed pieces and gold-leafed lettering matched the car’s record holding performance. Yep, opposite lane is Bill Jenkins’ A/Modified Production ’67 Camaro running Shroyer at York U.S. 30 Dragway.

When mega-bucks Rod Shop came offering sponsorship Shroyer said “Show me the money”. Part of the deal was a new, candy apple Rod Shop designed paint scheme. The car’s record holding performance matched its appearance as always.

Bert Straus came from Canada’s “Great White North” with the “Chilly Willy” ’40 Willys C/Gasser. A fast competitor and frequent winner “up north” as well in the ‘States, Straus later ran a Canadian Pontiac Astre Pro-Stock with small-block Chevy power. The car has since been restored and now runs at NE nostalgia events.

East Providence, Rhode Island’s Tasca Ford has been involved in drag racing since the 1950’s. Bob Tasca, Sr., supported racing because it sold new cars, trucks and parts. This B/Gas ’57 Ford was built by the Tasca shop with 427 FE Ford power.

Dan Weis is known more for his role as promoter of Richmond Dragway, but he was also a competitor with this ’55 Chevy Bel-Air sport coupe. The B/Gasser shows “Joe Weis” as driver in this 1961 snapshot.

Niagara Falls, New York is home to Jim Zakia and his multi-decade drag racing legacy. Zakia’s long line of seriously fast Gassers began with a red ’55 Chevy 150 sedan running in C/Gas. Zakia is scheduled to be a 2016 inductee in the East Coast Drag Times Hall of Fame, October 14-15-16, in Henderson, North Carolina.

Zakia’s next effort was a ’33 Willys, running in B/Gas. Hedre Zakia leaves the line at Niagara Dragway. At that time the track was under NASCAR Drag Racing Division sanction. 

The Willys was followed by Zakia’s ’48 Anglia, also Chevy powered and running B/Gas with a small-block. The car later got a chopped top, for aero improvement, and a big-block Chevy. It too was fast and sparkling.

Jim Zakia’s last Modified Eliminator threat was this A/Gas Opel GT. Zakia won often with this car, taking class trophies and Mod Elim checks home to Niagara Falls. Here he leaves at Dragway Park, Cayuga, Ontario, Canada, a frequent stop for Zakia’s racing.

NEXT WEEK: Midwestern Gasser/MP Heroes