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Fri, 22 Dec 2017, 11:21 AM

Homegrown Top Fuel Dragsters Part VII
By Steve Reyes
Photo copyright 2017 Steve Reyes

Continuing our short profiles of Northern California top fuel racers, we continue the story of Shorty Leventon who had lost his ride due to some poor choices and Gary Ormsby leaving him in the dust. I cannot remember a time when I didn't see him driving a top fuel dragster on the NorCal racing scene (I wasn't at the race Ormsby replaced him). Some of the cars I know he drove where the following: The Vagabond, The Renegade AA/FD, The Cheetah AA/FD, Wulf and Maher AA/FD, Wulf and Loy AA/FD, Wulf, Semus and Leventon AA/FD, B&N Automotive AA/FD, and I know there were more but some were just a weekend ride for Mr. "I drive everybody's AA/FD."

The resident craftsman in Sacramento racing world was John Shoemaker. Shoemaker not only could build you a complete race car but he drove and maintained his own AA/FD. He was a racing fixture in the area for years. Another craftsman in the area was long time owner of B&N Automotive, Noel Black. Black was a semi-regular top fuel racer because of business commitments. He had to leave his AA/FD parked many weekends to attend to other business. In 1968, he built a rather strange twin engine car, one engine in front of the driver and the other engine way out over the front wheels. The car was dubbed "The Rhinoceros." Noel made a few quarter-mile passes and then fitted the car with a streamliner body and went to Bonneville.

I was at Bonneville in 1969 and did photos for Noel. He had taped strands of wool on the car's body and wanted to see how the air flowed over the car at speed. I guess you could say it was a poor man's wind tunnel test. Then in 1970, he went back to Bonneville for speed trials. A blown rear tire flew into the driver's cockpit at 300 mph and fatally injured Noel. It was very sad as he was a great guy.

Finally, Tom Blankenship was another part time top fuel racer from the Sacramento area. I saw him at Fresno and Sacramento a few times in the late 1960s and 1970. I was told he ate his way out of his AA/FD and couldn't it in it anymore but no one has ever confirmed that.

Stay tuned for more interesting remembrances of top fuel racers of God's country, Northern California.

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I guess you could say if you owned a top fuel car in Northern California, then at
sometime Larry "Shorty" Leventon drove it or so it seems. Shorty's top fuel rides
were many over at least two decades of racing.

One of only a few successful drag chassis builders in Northern California was John Shoemaker.
John not only built the cars he drove his own AA/FD like his cross-town rival Noel Black.
John had fun going fast and testing new innovations built into his car.

Noel Black was also a Sacramento area chassis builder and fabricator. In fact, Black
stayed so busy, it was hard for him to find time to race his AA/FD. In 1969, Black took
his twin engine "Rhino" to Bonneville. Complete with a streamliner body, the "Rhino"
made a few test-runs and Black vowed 1970 would be even better for the "Rhino" at
Bonneville. The 1970 trip to Bonneville proved fatal for Noel Black. The "Rhino" blew
a rear tire at 300 mph and part of the tire breeched the cockpit killing Black instantly.

Now a guy I didn't see race much in the late 1960s was Tom Blankenship. I saw him race
at Sacramento and Fresno in the late 1960s. In fact, he scored top speed at Sacramento's
Governor's Cup race in 1969. When I asked around about Tom, the only reply I received
was that some people thought he quit because he got too big for his race car.

In 1965, Greg Maher was setting out to be the next Sacramento based top fuel star.
Then he drove his AA/FD and discovered he enjoyed financing the car and was more than
happy to have Larry Leventon become the regular driver for the Wulf and Maher AA/FD.

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