Watching a jet car lumber down the 1320 was okay, but the jet vs. top fuel dragster was a unique experience and my favorite match race at Fremont. These match races were like watching the tortoise and the hare and in early 1965, it was really bizarre. The pairing on that long ago day at Fremont was Sonoma's John "The Sultan" Batto driving the Batto, Valente and Bings top fuel dragster versus Al Biscay in the Romeo Palamides California Kid jet dragster. The first race between the two went to the J-47 5000 pound jet dragster but the second race went to the Woody chassis, 392 Hemi-powered top fuel car. Then it was time for the third and final race to decide who was King of Fremont, a jet dragster or a nitro burning dragster. Looking down the Fremont quarter mile the jet was placed in the left lane and of course Batto's top fuel car was in the right lane. At this race, I was playing Mr. Movie with my 8mm EUMIG movie camera and placed myself on the jet car's side of the track almost to the spectator fence. All was ready and the signal to fire the jet was given. The jet gave out a slow high pitch whining as it came to life and the batteries and starting plug were removed. The sound of the J-47 was getting louder and louder as the jet slowly idled to the starting line. The signal was given to Batto's waiting top fuel car to fire the nitro gulping 392 blown Hemi and it was quickly pushed to the starting line and sprang to life.
Now timing is everything when staging a jet vs. top fuel car race. The jet can't be held up because its brakes can't hold at the starting line running at full power and the top fuel car must be given time to warm up so it must be timed to the split second for a successful pairing. The Fremont starting line crew was flawless and both were ready to go. Flagman Mike Mahay (yes, a flagman) sent the flag skyward and Batto's top fuel car exploded, his rear tires in billows of white thick smoke. Biscay hit the afterburner in the California Kid and the J-47 powered jet surged forward off the starting line. As the jet went into full power the left front wheel buckled under the powerful surge.
So here is the picture, a 5000 pound jet dragster making an incredible right turn at full power about three feet off the starting line. As the back of the jet swooped around I felt the full blast of hot air and pounds of dirt and rock blasting from and around the wayward jet's tail pipes. All I could see was smoke and smell of raw jet fuel filling the air and Batto as he was crossing the finish line. Now with the smoke clearing I could see a full size jet car pointed directly at the grand stand with smoke still pouring from the tail pipe. I felt bad for those folks in the grandstands because they didn't know what to do. The quick action of jet driver Al Biscay saved the day. When he felt the wheel break, he hit the engine kill switch which flooded the engine with raw fuel and turned the engine off. His quick thinking saved a lot of lives that day including mine. A quick examination of the jet found the front wheel spindle had failed when the jet went into its burner phase of the race. Anyway, that was my fun day at the races on April 4, 1965. Yes, my movie looked very cool with lots of smoke and dirt.
Jet dragsters continued to be paired with top fuel dragster all over the USA. Tommy Ivo, Chris Karamesines and Don Garlits have all raced jet cars while barnstorming across the country. Ever since the first day, Walt Arfons put his jet powered Green Monster on a drag strip, there have been folks that hate "Weenie Roaster" and folks that love them. One thing is very true, they are fun to watch from a safe distance.
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In 1981 at Martin, Michigan, TV Tommy Ivo's jet dragster competed against Mike Evergens Earthquake jet dragster. Ivo was one of the first big named touring pros to switch from a funny car to a jet car. Ivo sighed the cost of nitro and maintenance on a fuel funny car vs. the lower costs and more books for the jet. Being a businessman, he made the switch. It proved very successful for TV Tom.
When top fuel dragster were starting to run 280 mph., Aggie "Hi-Speed" Hendricks was cranking out 300 mph runs with her boyfriend Wayne Knuth's Odyssey jet dragster. Aggie was a big fan favorite in the Midwest when she sizzled the quarter-mile at 300 mph. When Aggie left the cockpit of the Odyssey an unknown kid from the Chicago area got his chance to go fast. His name was Tony Schumacher, ever hear of him in today's top fuel lineup?
With the cost of racing a nitro funny car starting to skyrocket, longtime drag racer Al Hanna found a way to save money and still race a funny car. That's when his Eastern Raider jet funny car came about. Al and his son Rich quickly let any and all other jet car racers know they were the car to beat in the class.
Now let's discuss the saga of the jet dragster known as Fred Sibley's US-1. It was built by Bill Fredrick's for Bonneville and was originally named The Valkyrie. Insurance problems kept it from running at Bonneville, so they took it to the drag strip at Bakersfield, California in 1963. The Valkyrie was the other half of the first side-by-side jet race with the other half being The Untouchable.
Mickey Thompson purchased the car from Fredericks and renamed it US-1, then he sold it to Art Malone. Malone had Lucky Harris drive it until he was killed in a crash in it on June 3, 1966. The car was rebuilt, restored and purchased by Chuck Suba. Suba had Fred Sibley drive the car for him but unfortunately Suba was killed driving a friend's top fuel dragster at Rockford, Illinois on October 13, 1968. Thus Sibley purchased it from Suba's estate and still used it to burn cars and put on shows in the Midwest. I guess the US-1 is the oldest drag car still functioning and making money at 50 years old.
Tired of nitro-burning funny cars, Roger Gustin sold his nitro funny car in 1972 and purchased a slightly used jet funny car from Bobby Tatroe. His "new " Time Machine jet funny car would start Gustin and his brothers on a storied career of jet car racing spanning over 40 years.
The great state of Texas had its own jet car star in the late 1980's and 1990's in the form of Charlie Hand and his Lonestar Lightning jet dragster. Hand's driver was the very capable Marvin Celsur.
Just passin' through the state of Ohio and I was able to stop long enough to witness this great fire show by Otto Jackson and his Master Blaster jet dragster at Dragway 42 in West Salem, Ohio.
Jet car guys were just a little bit different than your regular ol' drag racer. Mike Evegens needed a special way to transport his Earthquake jet dragster so he built a custom motor home to keep his race car safe while on tour.
Before he had his awesome tri-engine jet truck and after the blown altered roadster, Les Shockley had a jet funny car called the Shockwave. Here we have the Shockwave posed in front of Dispensa's Kiddie Kingdom, a toy store in the Chicago suburbs. This was one of my favorite backgrounds to use with a racecar.
I was on a ladder almost behind the Bushmaster and his Starjet jet dragster when I learned the hard way about wind shifting as the jets do their fire show. After this photo, I had no hair on my left arm, no left eyebrow, and my tan got darker on the left side of my face. Just having fun with jets at Maple Grove Raceway in Reading, Pennsylvania, in the early 1990's.
Not to be outdone by jet dragster's, Dick Rosburg's Fighting Irish jet funny car could produce one heck of a fire show. Rosberg was a veteran top gas, top fuel and nitro, funny car driver who found his niche in jet car racing. Besides the Fighting Irish jet funny car he also drove the Northwind jet funny car. Rosberg also built a very unique jet powered Dodge full-size pickup truck which no one got to see run because it was totaled while testing. Dick was okay but the new truck was junk.
This was one of my favorite jet funny cars, the Maxi Taxi, driven by Butch Orand and owned by Fred Sibley. It was match raced across the United States including Union Grove, Wisconsin where I photographed it on Memorial Day weekend in 1973. The following July, Orand lost his life when he crashed it in Baton Rouge, Louisiana.
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