Those Wild & Wooly Gassers – Part 2: Goin’ Straight Down In The South
Lamar “Bunky” Bobo built and ran this 426 Hemi powered A/Gas ’40 Willys coupe in the 60’s, scoring frequent wins on both the NHRA and NASCAR Drag Racing circuits. The famous red Willys was a nine-second, 145 mph performer. After resting idly in a barn, Bunky’s sons dug out the fabled Willys and performed a complete restoration to its fighting days! Bunky’s racing was centered around his home town of Ringgold, Georgia. Here Bunky occupies the driver’s seat once again, shortly before his passing.
Gassers, Modified Productions and the other varied “street legal” vehicles that populated Street Eliminator and later, Modified Eliminator were a huge influence on the development of drag racing. That influence stretched nationally, from east to west, north to south as well as Canada.
Gassers, both unblown, “normally aspirated” and supercharged, were highly popular with spectators. They were also the genesis for many a famed drag racing driver who began his (and her!) career driving cars in Modified Eliminator.
This week’s installment of our Gassers story will focus on the region of the U.S. regarded as the Southeastern states. Drag racers in the south were known for their fondness for full bodied race cars. That stemmed from the strong influence stock car circle track racing and its illegal cousin, the “sports enterprise” of building and running highly modified “liquor cars” had on racing. Powerful engines and suspensions that applied that power to the ground were keys to success in both forms of motor racing.
Since we all love viewing photos of those now long-gone days, this week’s offering will focus on Southeastern Gassers, Modified Productions and those heroes of this region. Instead, we will offer a selection of these cars with a bit of info in the captions attached to each. The cars featured here are, of course, only a shallow cross-section of all the fabled heroes who ran in the region. If someone deserving has been omitted (and there are no-doubt many!) it was purely by accident. After the Southeast, we will continue with the rest of the geographical regions of America! So hang on and view these with us over the next few weeks. If you like these, please pass along the website address to your racing friends. Now, enjoy!
Editor and Author
Tommy Shinholster drove this chopped-top, ’40 Willys coupe to several wins in the 70’s, running CC/Gas. Shinholster, from Titusville, Florida, used a blown small-block Chevy for power with an automatic transmission. His blue Willys was exceptionally loud and equally fast, making it a fan favorite.
Hubert Platt began seriously racing with this small-block Chevy, four-speed equipped ’38 Chevy business coupe. Hubert would later become a Ford factory sponsored racer in A/Factory Experimental, Funny Car, Super Stock and finally, Pro-Stock racing during his five decades career. Although born in South Carolina, Hubert and his brother Huston, made their reputations and careers in the Atlanta area. Huston built the 301 CID Chevy in Hubert’s B/Gas ’38 Chevy, shown here in the pits of Newton County Dragway, east of Atlanta.
No, it’s not a Gasser, but Memphis, Tennessee’s Joe Lunati took this homebuilt, Devin bodied A/Modified Sports car to many Street Eliminator wins during the 1960’s. Lunati later formed Lunati Cams & Cranks. His AM/SP car used a small-block Chevy for power. Joe later removed the Devin body and dropped on an all-steel Corvair body to run as an early Funny Car before building a tube chassis, blown big-block Chevy with a flip-top, fiberglass Corvair body. This was shot at an NHRA World Championship Series race in 1965, at Palm Beach Int. Raceway. (Jim Hill Photo)
Four-door race cars may be scarce in drag racing, but M.A. Madden made this ungainly ’40 Willys a regular winner feared in NHRA’s Southeast Division. Madden’s Anniston, Alabama based “Chicken Picker” nickname came from his business as a poultry processor. Several different displacement injected small-block Chevys with four-speed transmissions powered the ’40 Willys in B, C and D/Gas and later in D/Altered, Competition Eliminator. (Jim Hill photo)
Cotton Perry capably drove and Jim Hedrick built the inline six-cylinder Chevy engines for the Perry & Hedrick “Pocket Rocket” H/Modified Production Chevy II Nova. Over the 70’s decade this team nearly always won H/MP class and a score of Modified Eliminator events. The late Jim Hedrick’s Race Engine Design engine shop, in Rossville, Georgia, specialized in big-inch dirt track modified engines, but his six-banger power ruled Southeastern drag racing. (Jim Hill photo)
Anderson, South Carolina’s Gene Cromer began drag racing with this big-block Ford 427 powered ’41 Willys. Gene later switched to the match race Funny Car circuit with a topless roadster he dubbed “Moonlighter”. It too was powered a a big FE Ford with injection and a healthy dose of nitro. Cromer raced on weekends, and within driving distance of making it back home to be at work on Monday morning. Cromer still owns his Willys, and the Hall of Fame member often brings it to the ECDT Hall of Fame Weeks, at Henderson, NC.
Bob “Rapid” Dwyer ran this 301″ Chevy powered ’32 Victoria in A/Gas at South Florida area strips in the late 1950’s and early 60’s. Dwyer later gained fame as Ollie Olsen’s driver for the A/Gas “Wil-A-Meaner” ’40 Willys. Here Dwyer legs it at Miami’s Masters Field, USMC airfield drag strip. Dwyer eventually sold the Vicky to Ft. Lauderdale’s Steve Porter, who installed a 427 big-block for A/Modified Production. Porter called it “Rum Runner”. The car continues to exist today as a fully restored, flathead powered street rod. (Jim Hill photo)
Athens, Alabama’s Billy Holt was highly regarded for his supercharged Gassers. This ’41 Willys B/Gas Supercharged was small-block Chevy powered and among the east’s fastest. Holt was an inductee of the East Coast Drag Times Hall of Fame and a mentor for many southern drag racers. He later ran alcohol Funny Cars under the name “Alabamian”, and was a trusted friend of racers for many years. (Billy Sciler photo)
Many southern tracks would line up the qualifiers for Sunday afternoon’s Little Eliminator racing, giving the appreciative spectators a close-up look at the cars they would soon cheer. The fastest Gassers, usually A, B and C/Gas, were called upon to run in Little Eliminator, which preceeded Street and later, Modified Eliminator. Here’s the program at Newton County Dragway, near Dallas, Georgia. The ’57 Chevy at left and the ’38 Chevy to its right are both owned by Hubert Platt. Hubert and brother Huston often shared driving chores in the early days. Both Platt brothers are ECDT Hall of Fame members.
C/Modified Production class trophy run at Paolm Beach International Raceway, 1965, found Bill Bussart’s ’55 Chevy (left) facing Roger Vinci’s ’57. Bussart, from Miami, and Vinci, from Orlando, were regulars at the West Palm Beach track. A homebuilt 301 CID Chevy with two AFB Carter carbs on an Edelbrock Tunner Ram intake powered the Bussart & Cochrane ’55. Vinci ran out of Bo Laws’ Orlando shop and later became a well known Corvette tuning expert. (Jim Hill photo)
Ollie Olsen’s ’40 Willys coupe sported a full-steel, stock Willys front end with 352 CID of stroked 283 Chevy and Hilborn fuel injection. Driver Bob Dwyer shoed the Willys to an A/Gas Nationals class win in ’61 and plenty of Southeastern wins. Olsen built the car and engines in his West Palm Beach, Florida shop. This photo was shot at Ameila Earhart Field, 1960. Ollie leans into the car with input as driver Bob Dwyer readies for another ten-second run at Hialeah, Florida’s Amelia Earhart Field. (Jim Hill photo)
A tiny 292 CID small-block, Hilborn injection, Crane roller cam and heads, 8,500 rpm and hefty 3,700 pounds are what’s needed to run successfully in F/Gas. Bill Bussart lets it out in this photo at Miami Hollywood Dragway. Bussart and Dan O’Connell were Miami-Hollywood regulars and NHRA Division 2 Street Eliminator champs plus F/Gas class winners at NHRA Nationals, Indianapolis, 1970.
Ron Hassel made a name as one of the original “Ohio Gassers” during his early years growing up in Cleveland. In 1965 Hassel came south to work as Sales Manager for Crane Cams. Naturally he needed a race car to try new parts, and that led him to Ronnie Cox and Joe Garrison, who had a ’48 Anglia. Hassel installed his 327 CID injected Chevy and Borg-Warner four-speed and the team ended up winning NHRA Nationals B/Gas class in 1966 as well as setting B/G records. Hassel & Cox (Garrison left the team earlier) ran often and always successfully at Miami-Hollywood Dragway. Anglia was no-frills, no-nonsense, all-go! Hassel is also an ECDT Hall of Fame member. (Jim Hill photo)
Wally Duncan’s famous “Orange Crate” ’48 Anglia A/Gasser ran a big-block Chevy and automatic trans for high eight-second, 150 mph blasts at tracks across the South. Virginia’s Cline Automotive built Duncan’s race engines. Note the high profile, “Formula 5000” inspired hood scoop for the twin Holley 4500 carburetors. Photo was shot at the NHRA Nationals, Indy Raceway Park, as famed NHRA Starter Eddie H. “Buster” Couch watches. (Jim Hill photo)
Running Gas classes was labor-intensive as well as fun. Racing at major events such as The Nationals required patience, as shown here as Bill Carroll (left) and Roger Taylor (right) wait in the staging lanes for C/Gas class eliminations. Driver Carroll and tuner Taylor won C/Gas class at the ’66 Nationals with this homebuilt ’40 Willys. Both are now ECDT Hall of Fame members. (jim Hill photo)
Pete Arend was a young man with considerable financial resources, and he wanted to go drag racing. He spent wisely and freely, making his “Mongoose” ’63 Corvette coupe a major force in 1960’s Gasser and later B/Altered racing. Here he leaves the line at Palm Beach International Raceway. (Jim Hill photo)
Russ Barfield’s South Florida “Russ’ Auto Service” was home for many area racers. Russ’ machine work, race engines and precision tuning were legendary and he was always ready to help an aspiring young racer with honest and solid advice. Russ ran a long string of Gassers, including this ’55 Chevy C/Gasser, shown leaving under the flagman at Masters Field, Miami. The South Florida Timing Association bus in the background held all the timing equipment for drag racing at the three different airfields used by SFTA in the 50’s and 60’s. (Jim Hill photo)
Here’s a classic Gasser match-up for B/Gas trophy in the early 1960’s! Larry Crawford’s ’34 three-window coupe (left) and Dave Boyd’s ’34 five-window show the heart of hot rodding from this era. Crawford’s three-window was powered by a 389 Pontiac with twin AFB carbs. Boyd’s car sported a Hilborn injected 301 CID Chevy. Both used Hydro-Stick transmissions. Boyd and Crawford were members of the Cabriolets Road Club, a premier Southeastern hot rod club of the 60’s. Location is Masters Field, Miami. (Jim Hill photo)
NEXT WEEK: Northeast and Middle Atlantic Gassers ride again!