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Sun, 23 Dec 2018, 10:18 AM

Wing Thing Part One
By Steve Reyes
Photo copyright 2018 Steve Reyes

It would be about fifty-five years ago that I decided to be a big-time photographer in the world of drag racing. Since then, I have done okay in my chosen profession and had a lot of fun in the process. Early in my career, I had a pretty good idea what a race car (a.k.a. dragster, roadster and gasser) should look like. For me, wings belong on an airplane and not on a race car. Back in my early day, hanging a wing on a race car was just plain silly. The first wing I saw on a race car was the one Garlits bolted on top of the engine of one of his 1960s Swamp Rat Fuelers at the NHRA Winternationals in 1963.

I don't think the NHRA officials knew what to think about the Garlits winged thing at their Pomona, California, season opener. Maybe it was a fad or experiment, only Garlits knows for sure and he's not talking. Anyway, the first "real wing" that I saw on a top fuel dragster would have been in early 1965 when Rick Stewart and the Bay Harbor Chrysler AA/FD made the tow run from Los Angeles to Fremont so they could race against NorCal's AA/FD's.

The car was beautiful, painted in multi-hues of blue and bolted on the front axle was this beautiful translucent mini-wing. I thought that was the coolest accessory ever on a top fuel dragster. Very soon after their appearance at Fremont, mini-wings started to adorn some Northern California AA/FD's.

Some of NorCal's AA/FD's removed their funky metal style front spoilers for the light weight aluminum mini-wing. For me, that is how the wing thing started in Northern California. This first part features one of my favorite classes in drag racing, the fuel altered. A fuel altered with a wing? I bet the car that comes to mind is Willie Borsch in the Winged Express.

I believe those guys, Harrell, Borsch, and Muse started the wing thing in the AA/FA class. The original Winged Express was built in 1960 and was one of, if not the first ever AA/FA to grace the 1320. The monster wing was added in 1963 and the true Winged Express was born with Wild Willie Borsch one handing the car down the race track.

Hey, if a wing works on Borsch's ride, why not on others in the AA/FA Class. From about 1967 on, wings appeared on AA/FA's; some small, some medium and of course larger wings. A few cars even had their wings built into the body. All of this was a hit or miss science as no one had access to a wind tunnel for air flow under or over wings.

Many a race team sought out still photos of their car at speed to see how their wings were helping or hindering the car's performance. In the early days, it was trial and error with the hope of finding the correct setting on their winged things...

Here is a photographic journey in the winged wonders in the AA/FA class. Enjoy the voyage back in time! Our next venture will be into the winged wonders of the AA/FD class.

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Northern California's own version of a Winged Express came in the form of
Steve Wood's nitro burning 392 Hemi-powered winged four door Anglia Prefect.
For me this was one of the coolest cars to race down Fremont drag strip in 1967.
When Woods debuted the Anglia, it had no wing and handled like it wanted to
crash on every run. A visit to San Jose Speedway to watch the winged modifieds
race and the next thing you know there was a super modified wing atop Wood's
nitro burning Anglia. The wing did help stabilize the car but it still proved to be a handful.

Butch Pipins piloted the Pipins and Green AA/FA at Irwindale in 1967.
Bolted on the front axle is one of the translucent mini-wings. I never heard
if it worked but it looked very cool. Then in 1967, the original Winged Express
did its winged thing at Lodi, California. Two years later, Borsch crashed the car
at Martin, Michigan, while on tour. Willie flipped the car and the wing flew off
onto the return road. A couple of rabid race fans jumped the fence, grabbed
the slightly bent wing and headed toward the exit, never to be seen again.
The new version of the Winged Express debuted in 1970 with a rather small wing atop
the roll bar. When the small wing didn't pan out, a larger wing was put in its place in 1971.

Just before Don Green went funny car racing in 1972, his original Rat Trap AA/FA
sported this rather strange two wing set-up. Back in Northern California, Nick Otto
and Frank Pitts added a small wing to the front of the Warlock AA/FA. I don't know if it did anything but the Drag News decal looked great on it. Over in the Lone Star
State of Texas, Delmar Hines and his Die Hard AA/FA had a mini wing bolted on his
AA/FA roll bar. Maybe he put it there to shade the driver on those sunny Texas days?

Now for AA/FA's with wings built into the Fiat bodies. There was Gary Southern
driving the Red Baron Fiat AA/FA at Pomona, California. As you can see the car's
body was built to be one big air foil. This Fiat was a handful and Southern is the
only driver I ever saw make a full run in the Hippo powered AA/FA. In 1977, this
was the new look - The Mob AA/FA - gone were the roadster/roadster pickup bodies,
it now sported a built-in air foil Fiat body. Driver Ed Moore was always fun to watch
drive and The Mob AA/FA and this one was no exception!

Mack McCord, Mitch King and Louis Sweet started the new age AA/FA's movement.
McCord's The Gorilla was lower, longer, with a huge wing high above the cage.
The wing was high to catch clean air for a better down force. The Gorilla also featured
a custom wing on the front and built in min-wings on either side of the body.
Mitch King's AA/FA also featured a high in the sky wing over the cage and a slant board
style wing in the front. Louis Sweet's Sweet Thrills AA/FA featured a monster wing
in the sky and a custom nose piece that covered the fuel tank, front axle, and front wheels.

Not many fans got to see Dave and Lynn Hough's Winged Nanook AA/FA when
it debuted at Irwindale. The wing was only run for a very short time and then
discarded because of its weight.

So how about the Wing-less Express at Irwindale in 1970? Yes, Borsch did a
burnout and the wing broke off. An alert crew member removed the broken
wing and Willie brought the now wing-less AA/FA to the starting line. The tree
went green and the car charged down the Irwindale quarter mile, well not really
a quarter mile, about 300 feet. At the 300 feet mark the car decided to search for
a place to go. Willie had to shut off, maybe that wing did help stabilize the AA/FA?

Before the Lawce Brothers and Gunn shipped their AA/A to a new owner in England,
they added a wing to their Division 7 based AA/A. This did help stabilize the car at
high speed and also helped to keep the front end on the race track.

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