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Thu, 22 Nov 2018, 13:29 PM

Drag Racing's Court Jesters- Wheel Standers
By Steve Reyes
Photo copyright 2018 Steve Reyes

Drag racing seems to have given birth to some rather "different" race cars over its extended history of almost seventy years. The high-flying wheel standers were a real "one of a kind" class of racers. Deemed a circus act by serious racers, by mid-1960s they had established a huge fan base. Bill "Maverick" Golden and the Little Red Wagon started the class rolling and he never looked back.

It sure sounds like Golden was the father of the wheel stander class but that was not so. In 1964 it was the brain storm of super stock racer Dick Branstner. Midway through 1964, Branstener stuffed an injected Hemi in the rear of a Dodge A-100 pickup to go racing. With the A/FX class exploding on the scene at drag strips nationwide, why did he not build an A/FX Dodge A-100? Well, they started out that way by reworking the A-100 to adapt it to take the 426 Hemi and race as a new A/FX. Jay Howell was chosen as the A-100's shakedown driver. Testing the pickup resulted in some mid-10 second trials but the race car was plagued by wheel stands. Branstner then fell out of favor with his Chrysler sponsor and was relieved from his duties on the project.

The project was given to Chrysler super stock racer Bill "Maverick" Golden to finish. He took his newly inherited race car to California for winter testing. Golden tried different tires, fuel blends, and anything else that would keep the front end on the ground. While testing at Lions, "Maverick" let it all hang out with the Little Red Wagon and the result was seven straight tail dragging wheel stands. Feeling like a failure, "Maverick" towed back to the pit area only to be mobbed by the crowd at Lions. At that moment, Golden knew he had something special. The rest of the winter he worked on a brake system in which to control the 'wagon on its two-wheel journey down the 1320. He developed a complete guidance system of hand controls without the steering wheel. His system was independently functioning brakes very similar to the system used by aircraft pilots to turn an airplane on a taxi-pad.

With the success of the Little Red Wagon, soon Hurst's Hemi-Under-Glass made the rounds of NHRA national events with another former super stock racer, Bill Shrewsberry at the controls. Then in 1966, Chuck Poole debuted his first Chuck Wagon Dodge bodied wheel stander. More wheel standing racers came on the scene and one of the strangest was Hollie Swingle's Back Up Pickup. Driver changes also took place with Bob Riggle taking over the Hurst Hemi-Under-Glass Cuda and Bill Shrewsberry going out on his own with his candy-striped LA Dart. This was only the early years in the class and it became a contest to see who could out do the other in wild and strange wheel standers.

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The first wheel stander I ever saw was at the 1965 Hot Rod Magazine race
in Riverside, California. Wild Bill Shrewsberry was at the controls of the
Hurst Hemi-Under-Glass 'Cuda. To be honest, the car got a rather ho-hum
reception from the Southern California crowd.

By the time the Little Red Wagon made an appearance at Fremont, California,
"Maverick" and his 'Wagon were a household name in the world of drag racing.
He put on quite a show that long-ago weekend in Northern California.
Did you get your Little Red Wagon diecast in 1998?

Ex-top fuel pilot Chuck Poole debuted his new unpainted Chuck Wagon
at Sacramento, California, in 1966. Poole had problems because his
wheel stander would not do a wheel stand. Rumor had it that Poole took
his truck home after its non-wheel standing effort. While driving it into
the garage, a very aggravated Poole wacked the throttle while in his garage;
of course, the truck stood up in the garage causing damage to the truck and
ceiling of the garage. Yes, it was repaired, painted and Poole got the hang
of wheel standing big time!

An early wheel stander battle at Fremont, California, featured Bob Riggle
in the Hemi-Under-Glass against Chuck Poole and his Chuck Wagon.
The crowd loved the spark-filled runs that both laid down on Fremont's 1320.

For me this was one of the strangest wheel standers I ever saw in the late 1960s.
We were at Half Moon Bay, California, and the feature of the day was Hollie Swingle
driving his Back Up Pickup. The fans at Half Moon Bay didn't know whether to
cheer or boo this bizarre wheel stand act.

When "Wild" Bill Shrewsberry left the Hurst Hemi-Under-Glass,
he became his own boss with this shiny new candy-striped
LA Dart wheel stander. With his typical "wild" driving style,
the fans loved his wheel standing show. To say he drove on
the edge would be an understatement.

It was in the mid- to late 1960s when I saw this truck at Sacramento.
Bob Davis' Hiccup Pickup never did do any wheel stands and this was
the only time I ever saw the truck.

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