Drag Race Central - NHRA
Thu, 26 Dec 2019, 07:16 AM

The Rocketman Experience
By Steve Reyes
Photo copyright 2019 Steve Reyes

My phone rang at the beginning of November 1971 and on the other end was my old pal/photographer, "Lonesome" George Callaway. George was excited about his newest gig as the photographer/PR guy for Bill Fredricks newest rocket car team, The Courage of Australia. Callaway was no stranger to drag racing or rocket cars as he was the official photographer for Gary Gabelich and the LSR Blue Flame rocket car. Just about every photo seen of the Blue Flame racing across the Bonneville Salt Flats was George's work in 1970.

George got down to business telling me how Fredricks was bringing his new project to OCIR for its first full quarter mile runs. Secret testing had been completed with test driver John Paxson and now the car was finished, ready for the track. Australian Vic Wilson was to take the controls of the sleek purple rocket car. Right after George's call, jet car pilot owner Doug Rose called and asked if I was going to OCIR to see the Aussie rocket run. Sure, why not? I had never seen a "real" rocket dragster run and it could be very interesting. I made a quick call to Mike Doherty, editor-in-chief of Drag Racing USA Magazine and informed him of my coming rocket car adventure. Being an editor who really enjoyed different types of drag cars, Mike wanted to see all images of my coming rocket car shoot.

On November 11, 1971, I ventured out to OCIR for "Rocket Car" day. There was George, Doug Rose with his then wife Stephanie and of course, the whole Courage of Australia race team. George and I put our heads together so we could do our "feature" style photographs. However, Fredrick's wanted to make a run before our photographs could be taken. They turned the OCIR staging lanes into the pit and fueling area for the purple rocket. I went to the top of the OCIR tower to shoot my "fueling" photographs. It was a nice view of the entire process. Then it was time to go to the starting line and wait for the three wheeled land missile to be rolled out to the bleach box area.

Once the car was placed in the bleach box area, Wilson was strapped in as Fredricks kneeled down to "dial" in the fuel flow. More fuel flow, more power. It sounded like a simple process; the more fuel, the faster the car would run. The fuel would be pumped in to the rocket engine where it would hit the catalyst screen as it heated up. As the fuel hit the screen it expanded and created a blast of propulsion that exited through the tailpipe of the engine causing the car to move. That was how it was explained to me. All this was carefully controlled by pumps, gauges, and dials and was something that an expert on rocket engines like Bill Fredricks did well. Anyway, the starting routine for the Aussie rocket started with Fredricks signaling Wilson to heat the screen. If the screen wasn't hot enough the rocket would pump out billows of smoke, the less smoke the hotter the screen. With that process done, the car was hand pushed to the starting line and staged. It was quiet, no noise, just silence. Fredricks gave Wilson the go signal and "Whisssh" the purple missile was gone. Straight and true, stopping the OCIR clocks at 5.10 at 311mph. This run made the Aussie rocket the quickest and fastest ever to run down that quarter mile. The 1968 record of 5.41 ET by the late Chuck Soba in the X-1 rocket had been broken.

What stood out to me was how quick the car left the starting line and the "rotten egg" smell of its fuel made my eyes water. Everyone on the crew was elated that their hard work wasn't in vain. As Fredricks and his driver conferred about their record setting run, George and I decided on our photo spot. We had the crew take the car almost to the OCIR finish line, line it up and then began snapping photos. Rose's wife Stephanie came forward and posed with the car. The car looked wonderful with the very striking Mrs. Rose by its side. George and I had a great time photographing those sleek beauties together on that long-ago day at OCIR.

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

That November day really paid off for me. A Drag News cover the following week and
then the March 1972 cover and feature for Drag Racing USA. I believe that was the
first time a rocket car appeared on an automotive magazine cover.

The players in our rocket car adventure, Bill Fredricks and his very able-bodied crew.
My old pal "Lonesome" George Callaway, their PR guy and photographer, one of
the best of the old school drag racing and Bonneville shooters.

The purple beauty was carefully fueled with hydrogen peroxide and
prepped by its highly skilled crew for its soon to be record run.

Mask on, Mask off. That is Australian driver Vic Wilson just before becoming the quickest
and fastest ever to blast down the 1320. He wasn't the first to ever run in the 5-second range
but he was the first to go 300 mph in a quarter mile.

Task master Bill Fredricks carefully dialed in the fuel flow, the higher the fuel percentage,
the faster the car would go. Under Fredricks direction, Wilson started the process of heating
the catalyst engine screen. Short burst of fuel on the screen soon turned from smoke to clear.
That signaled the purple land missile was ready to rock.

After the record pass of 5.10 at 311 mph, it was time for George and I to play photographers with
model Stephanie Rose and the Aussie rocket. Driver Vic Wilson liked hangin' out with Mrs. Rose.

On November 11, 1971, Bill Fredricks' Courage of Australia rocket car, became the quickest and fastest
to blast down a quarter mile achieving 5.10 at 311mph. This mini version of the Blue Flame LSR car
signaled the beginning of the rocket car revolution in drag racing for the next ten years.

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