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Mon, 26 Nov 2018, 13:38 PM

By Steve Reyes
Photo copyright 2018 Steve Reyes

Starting out in the sport of drag racing, I met a vast array of "different" people. Some were good guys, some were con-men, and most common were the "want-a-be's." The one person who really stood out among the group was a kid about my age, Bill Wishart. Wishart was a "regular fan" at Fremont drag strip. He could always be found around the top fuel dragster pits and anywhere you smelled nitro in the air. He was easy to find because he was that skinny kid in a wheelchair. Being wheelchair bound wasn't a big deal for him and he tooled around the race track like it was no big deal.

Bill could be a pest at times with his myriad of questions about racing top fuel cars and his incessant bragging about how he was going to race his own AA/FD one day. Most racers would nod and smile when Bill started talking about his soon to be built AA/FD. Wishart and I became fast friends and he would swing by my place, picking me up in his high-performance Cougar. His Cougar was complete with hand controls and it would scream down the back roads of the Fremont area. Riding with Bill was a thrill a minute and a true "E" ticket ride.

A shooting accident when Bill was a young boy put him in a wheelchair for the rest of his life; but, he just brushed his misfortune aside and went out to accomplish what he wanted. Heck, he had to go top fuel racing or so he would tell anyone who would listen. One thing about Wishart, he wasn't afraid to party hardy. One night, we were both barely twenty-one and downing adult beverages at his favorite watering hole and feeling no pain. When we left the building, we decided that the wheelchair land speed record should fall to us in the parking lot of the Fremont bar. Taking my place behind his chair, with a firm grip on the chair's back hands, we were off on the quest of parking lot glory. We cranked it up pretty good until we hit an unseen pothole. Yeah, we flipped and he went flying out of his chair and I went over the chair and splat on the dark parking lot pavement. There was Bill spread out on the ground laughing his butt off and me, well, I hurt! I gathered up Bill and his wheelchair and limped to his mighty Cougar for the two-mile drive to his Fremont home. Later he found out he had broken some toes but because he had no feeling in his feet, he didn't have a clue.

Soon after our endo, I got a call from him to accompany him to Pete Ogden's chassis shop. Heck, why not? Ogden was a good guy and one heck of a chassis builder. Upon arriving at Pete's place, we were met by long time top fuel racer Bob Sbarboro. Sbarboro had raced in top fuel with his Renegade and Cheetah AA/FD's during the mid-1960s. I wondered what Sbarboro was doing there. He had quit top fuel and was running a racing water pump business. As everyone, Wishart, Ogden, and Sbarboro started talking, it became very apparent that Wishart's top fuel dream was about to become a reality. With his trust fund that kicked in at twenty-one years old, Wishart had started writing checks to make his top fuel dream come true. Sbarboro handled the basic engine and assembling duties for Wishart. Pete Ogden supplied the chassis and components. Now the one big thing this race team needed was a driver; and that needed to be a veteran of California top fuel wars. Sbarboro made a phone call to Southern Californian Bill Alexander and the Bill Wishart AA/FD had its "wheel man." Wild Bill was not stranger to Northern California top fuel racing. He had a stint in Sbarboro's Cheetah AA/FD before it had been sold to Howard Cameron in 1968.

Everything came together for Wishart and soon his candy red full-bodied fueler was in Hot Rod Magazine and charging down race tracks in both Northern California and Southern California. Wild Bill and Sbarboro kept Wishart's AA/FD in show car condition and Bill, well he could be found on the starting line watching his "dream" thunder down the quarter mile. When asked who owned the candy AA/FD, Sbarboro would point to the kid in the wheelchair with a really big smile on his face.

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Wild Bill Alexander piloted Bill Wishart's AA/FD off the starting line at OCIR.
Wishart's AA/FD raced mainly in northern and southern California.
The team ventured to Salt Lake City, Utah to race at the NHRA Division 7
event at Bonneville Raceway. Chassis builder, Pete Ogden, and car owner,
Bill Wishart posed with the all new AA/FD for Hot Rod Magazine.

No stranger to hard core top fuel racing, Bill Alexander was brought into the
Wishart team by Bob Sbarboro. Sbarboro maintained the AA/FD for Wishart.
Alexander had driven Sbarboro's Cheetah AA/FD in 1966 and early 1967.
Here in 1966, Wild Bill left a bit early on Fremont flagman, Mike Mahay in Sbarboro's AA/FD.

Wishart's chassis was built by NorCal craftsman and good guy Pete Ogden.
Ogden was no stranger to the top fuel class having built and driven in the
top fuel class in the 1960s. Pete retired from driving in 1966 after a bad crash
at the 1966 March Meet and went on as a full-time chassis and component builder.

This is the meeting of the minds at Pete Ogden's Northern California shop.
Bob Sbarboro and Bill Wishart check out the progress of Wishart's AA/FD chassis with builder Pete Ogden.

Car owner Bill Wishart went from a pit rat in a wheelchair to a top fuel owner
with the help of his trust fund. He always told everyone he would race in
the top fuel class. Bill proved dreams can come true.

This was a shake-down run at Fremont and Fresno under the watchful eyes of
crew chief, Bob Sbarboro. Sbarboro was no new comer to the top fuel class.
He raced in the class during the mid-1960s. He raced the only Garlits chassis
fuel car on the West Coast, The Renegade. After the Renegade, he raced the
Cheetah AA/FD. The Fremont shake-down run was captured by Jim Handy
who was Fremont's track photographer at the time.

The Wishart team could be found racing all over California.
Here at the 1970 Supernationals, the Wishart fuel car went
head to head with Midwest legend Dick Lahaie. At Fremont's
Northern Nationals, Alexander put Kenny Safford in Larry Bowers
AA/FD on the trailer back to Southern California in 1971.

As you can tell, Bill Wishart's AA/FD rode on the highway on a no-frills
trailer pulled by Bob Sbarboro's newer station wagon. The team raced
on a shoe string budget but had fun in 1970 and 1971.

The memory of Bill Wishart's dream still exists today.
The sleek red AA/FD has been restored and can be found at
reunion events on the West Coast. Somewhere Wishart is smiling.

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