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"Dream Weaver"

Welcome to the June Issue of the "Combustion Chamber". This month I'm featuring the Hot Rods my dad built.  He's most often remembered for the blown gasoline 354 Chrysler powered Opel GT he manhandled down so many drag strips across the United States from '75-'84. While reminiscing about those days, I will help fill in the details of what he actually started and ended drag racing with, and what it was like to participate in his often hilarious adventures. I feel very fortunate to have grown up within the sport despite the gypsy nature of it all. The most rewarding parts of the experience...that I was able to watch, listen to, cheer for, learn from, respect, admire, laugh and cry with a guy I still call "Daddy". Hopefully, after reading about him you'll exit this page rewarded with a bit of the same...you can just call him Frank though. -Dawn

The flickering glow of spent welding gas, the sporadic sound of an impact wrench, or the smell of paint fumes emanating from a spray gun are just some of things that one can expect to experience when stopping by my Dad's garage. It's a fun and friendly place, so much so, that if you happen to bring over a case of beer, well...it may lead to discussions about why the small refrigerator over in the corner has an evaporation problem. It's a place I've spent many late nights, usually watching him build or paint his "dreams".

1972-Mazi

1972-Herb Turner

A '23 T would be his first, which started out as a Street Rod but eventually found its way to a drag strip in 1969. Running a small block Chevy, my dad went from touring Street Rod and Car Shows, to covering the quarter mile in a little more than 10 seconds. By 1974 though, the need for a safer vehicle took precedence and the roadster was sold. (I enjoyed the Roadster too, since I was able to participate in late night cruises and be picked up from Elementary school in it...I actually cried when the buyer came to pick it up) 
After reading about a Chrysler powered Opel Gasser that was for sale in National Dragster, my dad made a quick trip up to Buffalo, New York, to watch it run...thus leading to the purchase of this turn-key operation then owned by Jim Oddy.  Once he brought the Opel home though, he discovered that it was more of a "disaster piece" than what he bargained for. However, he stuck with it and learned some very hard lessons along the way. It is at this point in time that I finally got over the sale of the Roadster, and learned to accept this much louder and gas guzzling beast into the "family tree".
From the "If you can't be fast, be spectacular" files. This next series of photos happened during the Summer of '75 at Dragway 42, in Salem, Ohio. 
While my two sisters, the two sons of my dad's Crew Chief and I watched from the back of the car hauler, the Opel launched and began drifting over to the right lane, nearly tagging the guardrail and chasing the other competitor. It then made an immediate charge back to the left lane, going up on its side. 
My dad had to wrestle with the car, lean his body over, and maintain an "on & off" the throttle effort to keep the car from rolling over! The car serpentined down the left lane, spun off into the grassy area to the left and made its way back on to the track, again going back up on two wheels! The car settled back down through the traps, where he managed to make the first turn-off.
 When we finally pulled up to him, my dad was just getting out of the car and threw his arms up in the air and exclaimed, "Touchdown"! An eye-rolling and laughter provoking statement to the adults that were present, but to the five visibly shaken kids that were still wiping tears away, well...we were less than amused.

1975-8-shot Sequence by Jim Joyce

1975-Ken Naxer

It was later discovered that the attachment pin for the pan-hard rod had become fatigued, thus pulling away from the frame. 
It was truly amazing that the car never rolled or hit either of the guardrails! (added note: this is when Dragway 42 was a four lane track...you will notice the two Christmas trees and the lanes numbered on the crossover bridge, in the first two photos)
From the "If you can't be fast, be REALLY spectacular" files. '76...the "God of Hell Fire" meets "Mr. Christmas Tree's" concrete support barrier at the Sportsnationals held in Bowling Green, Kentucky. My dad missed the first qualifying session but was cautioned prior to the second session by fellow CC/A competitor Phil Featherston that the track was a bit on the slimy side. Deciding that he would need to lay down a decent burnout past the tree (when Comp cars were still allowed to under power), he readied the car for the next session.

1976-Rich Brady

 The images that follow, portray what happens when a Detroit Locker has a spring disengage and  unloading the rear end during a hard burnout.

1976-Rich Brady

September '76 Issue of Super Stock & Drag Illustrated-Norman Blake Photo

It's at this point that my dad was unaware of the concrete barrier supporting the 'Tree. He recalls hitting the barrier as very "slow motion", as he watched the windshield pop out, the fuel lines being ripped from the injector, and other debris flying around him and at that moment thinking to himself, "Somebody get the license # of that truck that just hit me!". When the car plopped back down, he watched one of the front springs roll down the track and The Performance People's clutchman, Bob DeVour, running up with a fire extinguisher.  Once my Dad got out of the car, he didn't think the damage was so bad from the driver's side. Obviously, he was enlightened to the extent of the damage once he made his way around to this view.

1977

Now we move into the "You never know it's potential, 'til it's blown" files. This particular quote was spray painted on the inside of my dad's garage door. To me, it had conjured up a mockery of engines minus a supercharger, whereas, it should have been an indication of what was to come during the next several years. After the Bowling Green event, my dad salvaged what he could from the first Opel, donned his trusty welding mask and proceeded to build Opel number two.
By the end of '78 he had finished Opel number three! (my Mother, who competed in the Mid-America Pro Gas Circuit at the time, rolled Opel #2 off of the end of Norwalk Raceway Park when the chute failed to open) Now that we have taken a mental visit through the "Opel Graveyard/Playground" in the backyard, I can now direct you over to the "354 Chrysler Graveyard/Garden"...Oh yeah, try not to trip over those cracked cylinder head-stones, the wounded camshafts posing as tomato stakes, or the burnt piston planters pushing up daisies!

1979

1981-Les Welch

To say that my dad experienced learning curves with the Chrysler combination would be an understatement. This is about the time I learned that the word "detonated" could be used as more than just a reference to WWII in my history class. High compression, low compression. Run it rich, lean it out. Advance the timing, retard it. More blower, less blower...throw the damn thing on upside-down! 10,10 and 10! The combinations were endless and dizzying to me but not to my dad. Patience would be his guide while autopsying the Chrysler carnage that was often spread across his workbench.
My dad was making a science out of getting his "pig" to run. (yes, that was his term of endearment for the car, and weighing in at nearly 2,700 lbs., you'd call it that too!) From the ignition to the chassis set-up, the clutch to better flowing heads, something was always being learned from, and improved upon. And while I'm certainly not as well versed as my dad was/is in preparing this combination, I really grew to appreciate the time and effort that was expended on it, and helped out where I could. 

 

1984

Working alongside him though increased my level of excitement when things went well, but also deepened my sense of frustration when they did not. It was during these times that a good sense of humor was needed, which to this day, he always has plenty of!  

When parts breakage wasn't thwarting his efforts, there was also the realization that this short wheelbase car was becoming limited to running any quicker than three tenths under the established BB/A index. (8.50 at the time) Consistency was never it's strong point, since the car enjoyed taking the occasional "scenic route" down any given race track, or as my dad would put it, "It got ignorant". When the rest of the Comp Eliminator cars started stepping up to the five and six tenths under range, the 8.20's he would consistently run, began to leave him on the outside looking in on race day. It was after the '84 U.S. Nationals, where we had failed to qualify for the first time, that he decided to sell the Opel and start construction on a new, longer wheelbase car, although saving the Chrysler power plant.

1986-Auto Imagery

From the "Straw that broke the camel's back" files. After 20 months of work, the Trans Am finally debuted at the '86 Springnationals. His dream of creating a chassis that complimented the Chrysler power became a reality. This was no more evident than at the U.S. Nationals, where he ripped off the first seven second pass for a BB/A during qualifying! I remember that run as if it happened yesterday... He staged the car, brought the rpm up to about nine grand, launching hard, bringing the front end up ever so slightly, the car was flat out marching, 
the motor never skipping a beat between gear changes.  It was just one of those bitchin' looking & sounding type of runs!  Since the e.t. didn't appear on the top end boards, we had to wait for the announcer to read off the time. When it was finally announced that he ran a 7.94, a simultaneous screaming and cheering fest erupted from our crew! I was riding in the back of the dually down to the shut down area, crying uncontrollably and thinking about all the sacrificed motors, late night thrashes and years of dedication, that finally produced this "moment". The scene became even more emotional once we pulled up to my Dad and "ganged up" on him! 

My dad enjoyed the next couple of seasons, since breakage was kept to a minimum and the car was running well between the National events and the Supercharged Outlaws match race circuit. However, that would all end in '88 while running one of those match races in Thompson, Ohio. We had just finished qualifying at the Springnationals and then loaded up and headed up to Thompson Drag Raceway for a booked in show Saturday night. It was about 60' past the starting line when the Trans Am broke loose and made an abrupt right hand move into the guardrail, silencing that beautiful 354 Chrysler sound. My dad got out of the car, looked over the damage and said, "That's it, I'm done." As difficult as that was to hear coming from him, I can't say that I blame him for having felt that way. He was mentally and physically burned out, and it was just time to walk away.

"Mellow is the man, who knows what he's been missing"...Led Zeppelin

Since then, my Dad remarried, spent a few years restoring a '57 Chevy for a friend, and also took delivery of another Opel last Fall. He has started working on it recently, but plans to make a Street Rod out of it. I know he's got some Chrysler parts, blowers, and other odds and ends collecting dust there. Should my Dad ever get the urge to stuff that Opel with what it's "crying for" and make a few passes down the quarter mile again, you can best believe I'll be standing there with a squirt bottle in my hand, waiting for the signal to "Fire the next pair". Look at how his first Street Rod turned out...it doesn't hurt to dream you know.

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