Thu, 30 Jun 2011, 10:02 PM
You Went How Fast?
By Bob Frey
Over the course of the years there have been a lot of different types of vehicles that have been
raced on the drag strip. Tommy Pearson from New Jersey won his class at the Bristol race in 1967 in
a Triumph and everyone at his home track in Atco, New Jersey went wild. Sam Parriott, the mayor of
the City of Industry, won lots of races in his AA/MSP and everyone in the city went wild. And of
course there have been a lot of Volkswagens that have competed, including the legendary Mori
Brothers who had a Chevrolet-powered VW that ran in the B/G class in the late 1960's. I remember
seeing it at Atco and going wild. Hey, it's what I did. And Jeff Leininger had a record setting VW
that competed and won in Competition Eliminator in the early '80's. But of all the VW's that I have
seen very few of them impressed me as much as the one driven by Todd Penn. Now Todd may not be a
house hold name and you may not be familiar with him, but you should be. That's because Todd not
only drag races his VW, he also runs it at the salt flats in Bonneville. Yep, the very same vehicle
that he uses to run twenty-three seconds with at the drags is the one that he used to set a world
record at Bonneville. Now I ask you, how cool is that?
Penn at the Drag Strip.
Todd Penn is a fifty-three year old gentleman who lives in Saskatoon, Canada and who loves
Volkswagens. "I'm in the VW restoration business and I really enjoy these cars," Todd said. He not
only enjoys them and restores them, he also owns a lot of them, including one special vehicle that
he races. When I asked him to tell me more about the vehicle he simply said, "It's a 1963 VW Type 2
single cab." There, that clears it up. "These things came to market in the early 1950's and you can
call them a truck or a transporter or whatever you want." One thing you can call them is rare, very
rare, and the way Todd obtained his could make a really good Hallmark Channel movie. "A guy was
coming through Saskatoon on Christmas Eve and his car broke down. He saw my shop and stopped by. I
got him fixed up, and when he saw the VW's that I had we exchanged phone numbers and he told me he
may have a car that I would be interested in. He called a few days later, said he had this single
cab and asked if I was interested. Naturally I was. I guess opening my shop when it was forty below
zero on Christmas Eve was a good move." I guess it was.
When Todd got the VW he wasn't thinking about racing it. "I used to drag race at some of the
all-Volkswagen shows in the mid 1980's. The VW 'Bugs' and 'Beetles' were big back then." He says
that he later found a thing that changed his life. "I found the drag strip fifteen miles from my
house. I told my VW buddies that beating a Chevy is just as cool as beating another Bug." He then
began a campaign to get all of his friends to race at the track. "It's so much fun and NHRA makes
is so safe for us. I love it." Todd, who has what he calls an "all-out race car" VW, has been as
quick as 13.04 in the quarter-mile and he already has a "Wally" to his credit. "I won the National
DRAGSTER Challenge at Saskatoon a couple of years ago and that was such a thrill."
Late last year Todd, who is obviously a real car guy, decided that he wanted to broaden his
horizons by going to Bonneville. "I was sitting around with some friends and we decided to go watch
the racing on the salt flats. Then, after thinking about it for a while I said, 'Why don't we go
race there?' They looked at my like I was crazy." A quick scan of his property and Todd realized
that finding a car to race wouldn't be a real problem. "I had lots of cars that I could take there
but I decided on the Single Cab." So off it was to the garage where Todd got a spare engine that he
promptly put in the bed of the truck and off he went, and fifteen hundred miles later he joined the
entourage arrived at Bonneville. He was dubbed the iron man for his solo journey "It was so cool
just to be there, and now I was actually going to race there. It was unreal."
Penn at Booneville
For those of you who think of the cars that run 200, 300, 400 miles an hour and faster at
Bonneville, you should know that they also have classes for, how should I put it, slower vehicles.
"They call it the Stone Stock class," Todd said. "Other than your stock equipment all you need to
be able to run is a fire extinguisher, an approved helmet and a seat belt and you're ready to go."
Todd was ready to go and he entered his ride in the "Stone Stock 36-horsepower" class. "One of the
tech guys looked at me and said, "Could you have picked a more obscure class?" Actually, he
probably could have. "I thought about putting a different engine in it, but I figured that running
the stock engine would be really neat. I had a number's matching, original engine that was rated at
36-horsepower and I thought that would be fun to race." So to put the Bonneville experience in its
proper perspective, Todd actually slowed the VW down to race at Bonneville. "Yeah, I had a bigger
engine that made more power by I wanted to run it in the stock class."
A few days and five runs after arriving in Bonneville Todd and his pals headed home with the same
VW they drove there and a certificate that showed that Todd was now an official world record
holder. "The whole thing was unbelievable. I expected everyone to be super competitive but they
couldn't have been nicer and more helpful. I didn't realize the grounds were 5,500 feet in the air
and I wasn't prepared for it, but guys came by and told me what do to, what jets to use and things
like that. Some of those ideas made me think I would blow it up, but the Bonneville veterans said
that wouldn't happen at this altitude." It didn't and Todd now has a Bonneville record to add to
his NHRA trophy.
The VWs at the Salt Flats.
When I asked Todd about the difference between racing on the quarter-mile and racing on the salt
flats he put it this way. "The whole Bonneville thing is such a great experience and it's something
every car person should do. In drag racing, once you lose you're done, while at Bonneville everyone
is still running at the end of the day. Nobody wants to go home early like you do at the drag
races." Having said that, Todd admits to really loving taking his VW to the drag strip. "It's quite
a challenge and that's what I like." He went on to say that, while he is racing at the Saskatoon
drag strip, he is also planning a return trip to Bonneville. "Now that I've done it once I know
what to expect. I'll take a faster car there this year." Faster than the 56.35 miles per hour that
he ran this year? Now that doesn't sound like much of a challenge.
When Todd returned to Saskatchewan International Raceway two weeks ago he bought the Bonneville
champion car to the races and he was met with a hero's welcome. "I really thought they would make
fun of it and the fact that I ran 56 mph to set a record, but everyone was so nice." And when he
dialed 22.99 seconds on his window he was underway in his quest for another drag racing trophy.
"This is a fun car to run because I can look over my shoulder the entire way down the track and not
worry about getting into trouble." Unlike Bonneville where you never know what's going to happen at
56. 35 mph.
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