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Mon, 29 Dec 2014, 17:52 PM

Kansas John
By Steve Reyes
Photo copyright 2014 Steve Reyes






It was 1964 and a young Kansas farm boy was learning to drag race with his blown 1934 Ford Coupe. That is haw John Wiebe started his stellar thirteen year career as a drag racer. Wiebe soon tired of his blown coupe and built a 1923 Ford Roadster with a blower, his roadster set records at the local drag strips. Two years after his blown roadster, Wiebe found himself at the controls of a state of the art Woody Gilmore chassis top fuel dragster at the Mickey Thompson 200 mph club race at Lions. He now had the nitro, go-fast bug. The Newton, Kansas garage/service station owner knew that he now wanted to be a "Professional tourist" with his top fuel dragster. Like Ivo, Garlits and other selected top fuel pros, Wiebe hit the road to tour the USA, match racing and racing at a few selected national events including: NHRA, AHRA and IHRA, it didn't matter, he just wanted to race.

Then at the 1969 NHRA US Nationals I finely got to meet "Kansas John." I was doing the old selling photos from the previous day circus. You know, processing film and printing photos in our motel room. Back then, I had to earn gas money to make the trip back home and selling photos is what I did. I approached Wiebe and stuck a few 8x10's in his face. He smiled and I introduced myself. Wiebe studied the pix and asked, "How much?" We wheeled and dealed and he bought my photos and told me he was heading to California so he could race for the winter months. He added that if I was at the same race, please shoot more photos every time he ran. Oh, Wow! A steady customer! I was psyched! I saw quite a bit of "Weeb" in the next four years and yes, he continued to be a great customer and friend. In fact he even stayed a couple of nights at my place when he raced at Lions. Since I lived about six miles form Lions it was a great place for a racer to bunk for the night.

With the spring thaw in the Midwest and East it was time for Wiebe to head out on tour, so Kansas John and his crew chief "Sonar" Steve Phillips hit the road. Wiebe's hard racing and good looks made him very popular with the promoters and female fans from Coast to Coast. He was runner-up at four NHRA national events including the NHRA World Finals in 1970. He posted race wins from California to Florida including taking home one NHRA National event in 1973 with a final round win over his friend and foe, Big Daddy Don Garlits at Columbus, Ohio. Wiebe became one of the cornerstone top fuel racers at AHRA Grand American events. He and Don Garlits would battle every year for the Championship title in AHRA top fuel class. Wiebe took home three AHRA Top Fuel World Championships.

Ol' Weeb really set the top fuel class buzzin' on January 1, 1972, when he ran a 6.17ET at the NHRA Grand Premiere at Lions Drag Strip in Long Beach, California. At the time Wiebe was the quickest top fuel car ever to grace the quarter mile. He did it with Ed Donovan's new 417 Hemi engine. About a month before his 6.17, John set low ET at the 1971 NHRA Supernationals at 6.53. Wiebe smoked the tires to give Hank Johnson the top fuel victory in the final round. The saga of Kansas John continued into 1973 with an all new rear engine top fuel car built by Texan Ed Mabry. The year started out great for Kansas John, he led the points chase in AHRA and collected his first NHRA national victory at Columbus, Ohio. However, things started to go downhill when he got to Tulsa, Oklahoma in August. During the first round at the big money Pro race, Wiebe faced Jeb Allen and when the tree went green, all heck broke loose. Wiebe's car headed for Allen's lane at about 200 feet out they tangled. Both cars rolled and twisted on the track. Wiebe's car went up on the guardrail and Jeb Allen crawled from his mangled Praying Mantis top fuel car. Jeb was unhurt but John wasn't as lucky. His right leg was badly broken by the ride upon the guardrail. Kansas John had to head back to Kansas with a totaled race car and a broken leg just as he was leading the AHRA points chase in top fuel over his nemesis Don Garlits.

AHRA top fuel championship points are attached to the car, not the driver. Stepping up for Kansas John was the California top fuel team of Warren, Coburn and Miller. This Bakersfield, California team was very good friends with Kansas John, so WCM painted their car Wiebe colors and lettered his name on the side and went AHRA top fuel racing for their fallen comrade. When the smoke cleared at the end of 1973, the team of WCM/Wiebe fell a few points short of series winner Don Garlits.

Over the next three and a half years Wiebe would do his "Professional Tourist" act all over the USA, but in early 1977 with racing/touring costs soaring and bookings going to funny cars instead of top fuel, Kansas John decided it wasn't so much fun anymore. After the OCIR East-West race in 1977, "Weeb" headed home to Newton, Kansas and hung up his fire suit for good. As far as I am concerned, Kansas John was one of the finest and nicest independent top fuel racers to ever race down the quarter mile.

If you wish to purchase prints of the photos below, they may be obtained by contacting us at breyes@reyesontour.com. Other photos may be viewed by following the link at the bottom of the page at www.reyesontour.com.


John Wiebe, a Kansas farm boy, in a nitro gulping top fuel dragster, circa. 1970.


The "Weeb" started driving top fuel at the Mickey Thompson 200 mph event at Lions in 1966.
Here he opened up the 1969 NHRA season at the Winternationals in Pomona, California.
Wiebe had no fear of the California "Big Guns" in top fuel racing and battled in
the top fuel class up and down the state of California during the winter.


My first encounter with the "Weeb" was at the 1969 NHRA US Nationals at Indy.
John purchased some of my overnight black and white prints.
He enjoyed seeing how his car worked, remember there were no computers
or video camcorders to record how a race car was working.
Photographs were a racers friend and could show how his car was working the quarter mile.





It seemed that Wiebe adopted the motto "If you don't win,
be spectacular!" at the 1970 Winternationals.
A first round blower explosion at the 1/8th mile blinded our hero from Kansas.
His top fuel car went into sprint car mode and went sideways big time.
The Pomona guardrail prevented "Weeb" from visiting the neighboring airport next door.
He emerged from his bent top fuel car a bit shaken but anxious to fix
his wayward race car for the next race.


For many a racing season "Sonar" Steve Phillips served as
Wiebe's crew chief and co-driver of the rig.
John and Steve put a lot of miles on the truck and trailer, racing all over
the USA and Canada during the late 1960's and 1970's.


In 1970, Wiebe won the AHRA top fuel points title and came within
one round of being the NHRA World Champion in top fuel.
Here John lost a very close race to Ronnie Martin in Robert Anderson's top fuel car.
Martin's slight hole shot 6.65 to Wiebe's better but losing 6.62 was the difference.
Ronnie Martin won the race and became NHRA World Champion at Dallas, Texas in 1970.


The first NHRA Supernationals in Ontario, California, was a big disappointment
for Wiebe when he red lighted against his constant AHRA nemesis Don Garlits.
It was a very rare red light for the Kansas based racer.


For while in the early 1970's, it seemed like Wiebe was everywhere
at NHRA, AHRA and IHRA events.
Combine those major events with match racing and you had
one very busy top fuel car owner/driver.


Back at the 1971 Supernationals in Ontario, California, Wiebe had the field covered
when he ran a low ET at 6.53 for No. 1 qualifier.
He had debuted Ed Donovan's new 417 engine and the race was his to lose.
Well, that is what he did in the final against Hank Johnson in the Dailey and Johnson top fuel car.
Wiebe smoked the tires and underdog Johnson raced to victory.
It was a very bitter loss for Kansas John.




The biggest rivalry on the AHRA and independent race circuit was
John Wiebe vs. Big Daddy Don Garlits.
These guys raced each other a lot from 1970-1977.
Wiebe had to be one of the toughest "little guy" top fuel racers that Garlits ever raced.
Both racers always brought their "A" game when it
came to racing each other and it showed.


On January 1, 1972, Weibe set the top fuel racers running for more
horsepower with a 6.17 ET with this Donovan powered top fuel car.
Wiebe laid this number down at Lion's Drag Strip's 1972 opener.
Later that weekend, Don Prudhomme matched Wiebe's 6.17 with his own 6.17 clocking.
Thus making them the two quickest top fuel racers in the USA.


While waiting for his new rear engine car to be finished,
Wiebe jumped into Ed Donovan's Winged Wonder front motor top fuel car.
I believe this car was also the last front motored car raced by
Bob Creitz and Ed Donovan before Creitz went racing with
Vic Brown in the Creitz and Dill rear engine top fuel car.


It was December 1972 and Lion's Drag strip was having its last drag race.
There was Wiebe with his new rear engine top fuel car in the thick of things.
Lion's was the first place he had ever driven a top fuel dragster in 1966
at the Mickey Thompson 200 mph club event.




One of those really great weekend's in 1973 for the "Weeb" happened at
Green Valley, Texas when he had his car photographed for Drag Racing USA Magazine
by yours truly and he beat Don Garlits in the final for another
AHRA Grand American victory in top fuel.


It was looking to be a great year for Kansas John in 1973 when his new
Ed Mabry built rear engine car was working great.
Here at one of his many match races he took on the Hot Rod Shop
top fuel car at the Great Lakes Dragway, a.k.a. Union Grove, Wisconsin.


Midway through 1973, Wiebe scored his only NHRA National win
at the NHRA Springnationals in Columbus, Ohio.
Kansas John beat his old arch-rival Don Garlits in the final and that
made the win even sweeter. That's old friend Ed Donovan with him.


1973 turned very sour at Tulsa, Oklahoma when a first round crash with
Jeb Allen totaled both cars and left Kansas John with a badly broken leg.
At the time of the crash Wiebe was leading Garlits in the AHRA points chase in top fuel.


While Wiebe was healing at home in Newton, Kansas, the top fuel team of
Warren, Coburn and Miller painted their car with Wiebe colors and lettered
Wiebe's name on the side and went top fuel racing AHRA style.
Since AHRA's top fuel points went with the car, not the driver, this was legal.
WCM raced for their fallen friend but to no avail.
Garlits narrowly won the AHRA Top Fuel Championship in 1973.


Back from his crash in 1973, Wiebe continued to race top fuel
for two and a half more years until mid-1977.
His last race was the East-West race at OCIR in 1977.
After that race Kansas John headed back to the plains of Kansas
and hung up his fire suit for good.


This is one of my favorite photos of Kansas John and
his red, white and blue top fuel dragster.
It was shot at Dallas, Texas in 1970 during qualifying.
It was almost midnight, hence the lack of spectators in the stand.





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