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Tue, 26 Dec 2017, 07:41 AM

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

Just a stone's throw from Fremont, California is the town of Hayward. In this Bay area suburb, there were three of Fremont drag strips regular top fuel competitors; Rich Zoucha with the El Lobo AA/FD and then The Californian AA/FD, and the top fuel team of Willie Kinner and Gary Ritter. The Zoucha bunch were mainly "homers" that lived and raced in Northern California. The El Lobo AA/FD was driven by Zoucha and co-owned by Larry Jordan and Jerry Stokes. When it came time for a new car in 1968, the team of Zoucha, George Stokes, Jerry Stokes, Larry Jordan and Bob Pollard teamed to put The Californian AA/FD on the drag strips of Northern California. In 1968, when The Californian was parked, Zoucha took over the controls of the Hay, Haslum, and Walsh The Wailer AA/FD from Frank Martinez. This proved to be rather ironic since late in 1968 Zoucha ran over Martinez and his AA/FD at the finish line at Fremont. The ensuing crash destroyed both The Wailer and the Martinez AA/FD. Both drivers were banged up but lived to race another day.

Now Ritter and Kinner appeared on the NorCal top fuel scene at the end of the 1960s. Willie Kinner was a Hayward based engine builder together with Gary Ritter, they purchased a Jim Davis built AA/FD and went racing. On Ritter's final run to get his NHRA Top fuel license at Fremont, his ride had a massive blower explosion at the finish line. The back plate on the blower came back and hit Ritter in the helmet knocking him out. Never mind being knocked out, somehow, he had pulled the chute and the car rolled safely to a halt in the shut-down area. The emergency crew got to Ritter, removed his somewhat dented helmet, revived him with smelling salts, and the first words out of his mouth were, "Did I get my license?" Now, that is an old school top fuel driver! Yes, Ritter got his license and his partner Willie Kinner started to spank Northern California top fuel racers at local tracks. The Hayward duo made the change to a back engine top fuel car in the early 1970s.

Enjoy the photos of these drag racers who worked hard to race with limited funds and again, stay tuned The Wailer photos including the infamous crash will show up in the next segment.

If you wish to purchase prints of the photos below or any others, they may be obtained by contacting us at Other photos for purchase may be viewed by following the links at

Rich Zoucha made the jump into top fuel racing by vacating the seat in his C/FD
and landing in the Zoucha, Stokes, and Joran AA/FD. Here in late 1966, Zoucha
took on Bill Butler driving his Bonanza AA/FD. Yes, that is a flagman doing his
starting thing. If the Bonanza car looks familiar, that is because it was the
ex-Greer, Black and Prudhomme AA/FD.

The Zoucha, Jordan and Stokes AA/FD got a new body and paint and
became the El Lobo AA/FD for the 1967 season.

The Californian AA/FD was Zoucha's regular ride in 1968-1969. The car was raced by a
group of working guys who loved the top fuel class. When money was tight,
The Californian stayed home and Zoucha drove The Wailer AA/FD.

Rich Zoucha circa 1967.

The Hayward based team of Willie Kinner and Gary Ritter were a fun team to watch race.
Kinner was known to "lean" on his 392 Hemi and Ritter was "fearless" and that made for
some rather exciting runs down the quarter mile at Northern California race tracks.

One of the nicest cars raced by the team was their Blood, Sweat and Nitro AA/FD. They ran
this car in the NHRA Division Seven WCS series in 1970 and all over California. This car was
recently found and restored by the late John Ewald.

This was the last front engine AA/FD for Ritter and Kinner before they jumped into the back engine
top fuel class. That is Gary Ritter trying out the cockpit in their new back motor fueler in 1971.

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