Jeep & Ronnie Hampshire
By Stephen Justice




Jeep (Gerald) and Ronnie Hampshire both sped into the world in 1938; Jeep in January and Ronnie in December. The family lived in Reseda, which at the time, was a town of some 4,000 individuals, and a landscape still dotted with numerous small truck farms, the dominant economic activity of the area. However, by the mid 1950s when the brothers were in high school, Reseda, like most of the San Fernando Valley, had been transformed into one of those tidy little bedroom communities of Los Angeles. Both brothers initially attended Canoga Park High School although Ronnie would transfer and graduate from a newly opened Reseda High School., The focus of their free time centered on cars and hot rods which inevitably led them to the drag strip and a life long association with the Throttle Merchants.
NOTE: some other notable Throttle Merchants-- George Bolthoff; Tony Nancy; Roy Steen; Frank Huszar; Dick Donnelly; Joe Douglass.


Jeep Hampshire the drag racer got his nickname from an uncle. It was inspired by the Eugene the Jeep character, the friendly little guy who made the sound "jeep" in the Popeye comic strip.


Jeep and Ronnie will now send us back to the early days of drag racing and give us a glimpse of the way the sport was before television coverage and corporate sponsorship.

Ronnie and Jeep: Our older brother, Donald, had a friend who owned a 1947 Chevy, and they would take us to the Saturday night drag races at Saugus; this was our first exposure to drag racing.

Jeep: My first car was a 1935 Ford which I bought for $25; a stocker because it took all the money I had just to purchase it. By the time I graduated from high school in 1956, I had owned a couple '35 Fords. Despite all my interest in cars, I never had a job related to automobiles or racing; it was always heating and air conditioning or grading and paving.

Ronnie: I drove all the hand-me-downs. Unlike Jeep, I worked in muffler and tune up shops.


Jeep and Ronnie, in their plaid shirts, standing in front of dad and mom.


Ronnie and Jeep (top row) had seven sisters and one older brother (Donald).


Jeep and Ronnie: In 1956 we finally took the leap from being spectators to racers. We started with a 1934 Ford sedan (Ron's) powered by a flathead mill (Jeep's) which we ran in C/G. Once a month, the Rusetta Timing Association hosted a race for its members at San Fernando Raceway. RTA actually provided all the timing equipment for the track back then. The Throttle Merchants Car Club was a member in this association and we were invited to join the club in late 1956; we have been active members for 50 years.

Jeep: I immediately started building a race car at the Throttle Merchants clubhouse, a garage in Frank Huszar's backyard; the year was 1957. I wanted to create something really radical so I settled on the concept of a rear-engined modified coupe. Everything was handmade back then and this endeavor took almost two years to complete. Two giants in our sport helped me finish the project: Frank Huszar welded up the chassis and Arnie Roberts formed the aluminum body; it was affectionately called the Platypus. Initially, it was powered by a 354 cid Chrysler with a ½" stroker, injected on gasoline that ran high gear only. The first time out at San Fernando, I ran 135 mph and George (Bolthoff) almost died of a heart attack. The plan all along was to run it as a fuel modified coupe, but that required additional resources. So, Roy Steen and I pooled our parts together and we dropped a 470 cid blown Chrysler motor in it. There was this big meet in Bakersfield (not the March Meet) coming up, so Roy and myself loaded it on the trailer and headed up to Famoso. We never got there; a drunk driver, literally, ran up onto the trailer and completely destroyed my Platypus.

The Platypus; Jeep's truly original rear-engined modified coupe that died an unceremonious death on a tow to Bakersfield.


Ronnie: In 1960, one of the Throttle Merchants, Jerry Palmer, bought the original Sidewinder from Chuck Jones. He had Kent Fuller freshen up the chassis and enlisted Michael Scott to make a new body. But, Jerry did not like the look and refused to pay Scott for his work after which Michael had the sheriff impound the dragster. I negotiated a settlement with Michael, paid him $450.00, and took ownership of it. We put our (George Bolthoff and myself) 340 cid blown and Algon-injected Chevy engine in it and raced it in B/GD throughout 1960. It looked pretty cool with its "Tony Nancy Orange" paint job, but was a real menace to drive. One night at Lions I actually asked Jack Chrisman, the original driver of the Malliard-Jones Sidewinder, to make a pass just to reassure myself that the car was OK. He was such a master at slipping the clutch and actually squeezed a 9.30-162 out of it that night. Nonetheless, George and I gradually phased out the sidewinder and put the motor in "Fat Jack" Bynum's new Fuller car. We ran it so much that we actually wore out the motor, but not before running an admirable B/G dragster time of 9.09-168 mph.


Ronnie's first dragster; The Sidewinder with the 340 cid Chevy engine; this car was really jittery and always wanted to come around on the driver.


The Bolthoff-Hampshire sidewinder at San Fernando Raceway; note: who needs a guard rail when one has hay bales for safety?


Jeep: After the demise of the Platypus, Roy Steen and I started to put together our first top fuel dragster. Roy was still in high school, but even back then, a real talent with the torch. We assembled a huge 470 cid (5/8 stroker) blown Chrysler with Enderle barn door injectors, and hit the drag strip. Back then no two cars looked the same and the Hampshire-Steen AA/FD with its gray chassis, red paint, and plywood wing was pretty unique. We had moderate success with the car, winning numerous times at San Fernando, plus a big event at Fontana. At the 1962 March Meet, we qualified and beat Jack Chrisman in round #1 before losing to eventual winner Don Prudhomme. We raced this dragster every weekend throughout the spring of 1962, eventually blowing the rods out the side of the block, relegating us to the sidelines.


Hampshire-Steen, Smoker's Meet, Bakersfield CA (1962). Just a week later at the big Fremont race, Don Garlits promised Roy and Jeep he could get the car to run 185 mph (best of 179 mph up to then); "Just bring me your spark plugs after every run", but a broken rear end killed that opportunity.


Jeep: In April 1962, Chet Herbert approached Roy and I with an offer that was just short of miraculous. In fact, it would be truthful to say that Chet was more instrumental than any other individual in supporting, shaping, and promoting my drag racing career. Chet always loved dual engine, inline dragsters, and was tinkering with this concept for a top fuel dragster powered by two F-85 Olds engines. All Roy and I had to do was stick to his plan and he would pay all the bills. If there was ever a win-win situation, this was it; the equivalent of drag racing for free. Chet went out and bought some engines from an Olds dealer and we put the car together in my parent's garage. These engines were super trick with 180 degree cranks enhanced with 1" strokers that carried half the weight (19 lbs.) of a normal piece. Although we won a lot of races with this car, it did have a downside, too. The piston speed of these engines was so fast that the rings never sealed, and I would get an oil bath if they were not replaced every four or five runs. It was super quick out of the hole, but not so stout down track. I would always hear those supercharged Chryslers growling at me from behind as they tried to pass me up. We raced this combination throughout most of 1962 and even went to Texas for an AHRA national event. On the way back, we stopped at Phoenix for a race. They did not have electronic win lights and the judge was a guy stationed at the clocks. I had to race Steinneggar (Larry) and Eshenbaugh (Al) for top eliminator three times that night. Twice, the judge told everyone it was too close to call. Things were starting to overheat and I don't mean the engines. Finally, with a committee of guys stationed at the 1320, we ran the final round a third time. I got the decision over Al, but it was a real close race and probably could have gone either way. Unfortunately, the Hampshire-Herbert-Steen arrangement did not last the year. Roy and I had different ideas on how to race the car, and unable to reconcile our differences, we dissolved the partnership.


The Hampshire-Herbert-Steen twin F-85 Olds AA/FD at San Gabriel Raceway, 1962; note: that is Phil Bellamy, photographer and creator of Drag Sport Illustrated, shooting in the background.


Hampshire-Herbert-Steen, Pomona Raceway 1962; note: Chet Herbert sitting in the driver's seat of the Olds push car parked behind the dragster (Jeep on the left).


Jeep racing against Wayne King in Martin's Market at Pomona (1962).


Ronnie: In 1961 George and I put our engine in a car owned by Accessories Ltd., the gas dragster previously campaigned by Bob Muravez and Ed Janke. We raced this car throughout 1961 and the early months of 1962. It was then we commissioned Kent Fuller to build us a new gas dragster. While it was under construction at Fuller's shop, Jim McLennan, Sammy Hale, and the boys Champion Speed Shop stopped by Kent's shop one day. They saw our dragster on the jig and pestered Kent relentlessly to sell it to them. Kent eventually relented, but it turned out OK; we got his next car which was longer yet lighter; weighing only 940 lbs. While all this was going on, Uncle Sam notified me that my services were needed by the U.S. Army for two years. I was inducted into the army in June 1962 and sent to Monterey (Ft. Ord) for basic training. Meanwhile, George and Jeep worked hard to finish up our new gas dragster. I came home almost every weekend and we had an arrangement where George would drive the car at Lions on Saturday and I would drive it Sunday at San Fernando. Ft. Ord was not that far from the tracks in the Bay Area, and occasionally, we would take the car to Fremont or Half Moon Bay. Fremont Raceway reminded me a lot of Lions Drag Strip. Both tracks ran north to south, were close to water and at sea level, and had reputations for being very fast strips. At one particular race at Fremont that summer, we set both a new track B/GD record of 8.75 and won top eliminator over Bob Sbarbaro and his California Kid top fuel dragster.


George Bolfhoff in the background; a youthful Ronnie Hampshire in the seat; this was their record setting B/GD that Kent Fuller built for them in 1962.




What a combination of sporting events: hydroplanes, dragsters, and roller derby; note: the Middle Eliminator winner at HMB.


Ronnie: I was stationed at Ft. Ord for ten months before being transferred to Ft. Lewis, Washington right after the 1963 March Meet. I started going to the drags at Kent and Puyallup and soon became acquainted with a lot of the well known racers in the Northwest. A lot of teams needed drivers and I was more than happy to oblige them. At first, I drove for Mike Grimm and Tip Angel who had a blown Pontiac A/GD, but I also spent time in the seat for Walt Austin and Dave Jeffers. By this time, George had replaced the Chevy engine with a blown Chrysler and the victories really started to pile up with the gas dragster. I got out of the army in June 1964. That summer, the Bikini Beach movie starring Annette Funicello and Frankie Avalon hit the big screen and the Stellings-Hampshire dragster was contracted to do a month long tour of the Midwest to promote the film. While in Chicago, and adhering to a time honored ritual practiced by many touring drag racers, we stopped by the Greek's shop on West 68th Place. I met John Kranenburg, John Hogan, and many of the Greek's gang that Saturday afternoon. We did a little racing at Martin, MI and then towed back to the coast. In September, Ed Pink contacted me about driving the Ansen-Pink top fuel dragster. Tommy Dyer had retired and Ed needed a driver; this would be my first top fuel ride. It only lasted a couple months because Lou and Ed split up in October 1964. The most lasting memory from that first nitro experience was one night at Lions. I was in the opposite lane against Boyd Pennington on the race in which he lost his life; nobody ever forgets a tragedy like that.


Ronnie behind the wheel of Walt Austin and Dave Jeffers' A/GD; Kent WA.


Jeep: Right about the time Roy (Steen) and I had our amiable split, a similar thing was happening between Dick Goss and Don Yates. Old "Cement Head" Yates was real stubborn and probably drove Dick nuts. Anyhow, Chet had our chassis upgraded over at Lefty's shop (Mudersbach) and we put Goss' supercharged 392 cid Chrysler motor in it. Goss-Hampshire really made some noise at the 1963 Bakersfield meet when we set top speed and became the first dragster to exceed 190 mph (190.46) on the Famoso strip. Camshaft design was a big part of the performance thresholds that were being surpassed in 1963, and Chet's #70 cam was the secret behind all our big speeds. While everybody else was destroying parts left and right, we were running 195 mph with minimal breakage. But, with the #70 cam the engine could burn so much nitro that if held on the line too long, it would literally run out of fuel before a run was completed. Once at Lions, "Fat Jack" even refueled it while I was fired and getting ready to race; he just unscrewed the cap to the tank and poured in the nitro. Chet really loved this car because he got so much mileage out of his promotions, but Goss hated it because fuel costs made it very expensive to race. We only raced the car with this set up for a couple months before we split up; I just gave the car to Dick and we went our separate ways.

A little later I went out to the "Pond" to watch George Bolthoff drive Bill Martin's 400 Jr. top fuel dragster. The Cedarquist Bros.-Ryan had their AA/FR in competition, but Butch was laboring getting the car down the track. Tim wanted me to make a pass in it just to make sure the car wasn't at fault. I declined, but Tim was so persistent that I finally agreed to make a run on condition that he upped the nitro percentage to 50%. With a more potent mixture in the tank, I whipped that roadster to a personal best of 9.10-179 mph that day. Somewhat emboldened, the brothers impetuously challenged the legendary Mooneyham-Sharp fuel coupe for the No. 1 spot on the Drag News Jr. Eliminator list. I only drove the roadster a few times, but on the night of the big challenge, it was #52 defeating the infamous #554 blue coupe. In round #1, Larry (Faust) was out on me but at about half track the engine detonated with a deafening concussion and I roared past for the win. Gene Mooneyham was unable to repair the carnage so the Cedarquist Bros. walked away with the #1 title.


Cedarquist Bros.-Ryan AA/FR with Jeep driving; boiling the hides at Lions Drag Strip; 1963.


Jeep Hampshire at the wheel of Bill Martin's 400 Jr. Henderson, NV (1963).


Jeep: If Chet Herbert opened the drag racing door of opportunity for me, then it was Larry Stellings who invited me to stay for a while. Larry owned a beautiful Fuller car with Joe Graffio and Don Moody. It had all the best parts including a 392 cid Keith Black engine. Moody, who worked for Engle Cams at the time, had decided to go drive for Dave Zeuschel (Zeuschel-Fuller-Moody), and Larry needed a driver. This would be the precursor to the better known Stellings-Hampshire Red Stamp Spl. I started driving this car during the summer of 1963 immediately after a short stint in Bill Martin's 400 Jr. Officially, we were known as Stellings-Hampshire-Schiefer (Carl) although I did not have any money in it. Unfortunately, the car didn't have a long life span; I crashed it at Fresno in September of that year. I was on a qualifying run and paired with Kenny Safford in the Safford-Gaide-Ratican Olds fuel dragster. It was one of those deals where the throttle stuck wide open and the parachute fell off the car, but I figured it would just run out of fuel or blow up. Fresno Raceway was 100' wide and the run off was forever. Blackie Gejeian, the track manager, had just mowed all the weeds for about a mile down track and they were all piled up in one gigantic mound. Of course, I ran right into the world's largest haystack and totally destroyed the car. There I was, upside down, nose bleeding profusely, with my goggles rapidly filling up with blood. I finally got the helmet unfastened, and in disgust, hurled it a good 50 feet from where I lay. When Larry and the crews arrived at the scene and saw the car and the location of my helmet, they decided it was a scene they did not want to investigate too closely. Finally, after a very long wait, I had to yell at them to come and free me from all the wreckage.

I felt really bad about crashing Larry's dragster, but by the following Wednesday we were back at Fuller's shop making plans to build what would be known as the Stellings-Hampshire Red Stamp Spl. The unpainted Stellings-Hampshire debuted at Lions Drag Strip on November 8, 1963 and promptly set low e.t. and top speed of the meet at 7.97-191.08. Before the end of the year, we would hold the speed record at both Lions (194 mph) and Fontana (197 mph). At the 1964 Winternationals, the one won by Crossley-Williams-Swan, we set low e.t. of the meet at 7.81. A few weeks later at the March Meet, we qualified with a 7.97, defeated the '63 winner, Art Malone, in round #1, but stumbled and lost to Hank Clark in the next round. At the very next race, the West Coast Championships at Fremont, we set top speed of the meet with a blistering pass of 203.16 and got barely nudged out for low e.t. by Don Prudhomme (7.74-7.78). The Stellings-Hampshire dragster was a magnificent race car. It was beautiful, powerful, and so calm to drive. On October 18, 1964 at Fremont we set the Standard 1320 speed record for AA/FD at 204.54. It was a record that would endure until Ted Gotelli's driver, Denny Milani, ran 211.26 at Sacramento Raceway in May 1965. In January 1965, the Winkle-Fuller-Trapp "Magicar" was completed and ready to hit the drag strip. I turned over the reins of the S&H Red Stamp Spl. to Big Bob Haines and embarked on a new phase of my drag racing career.


Originally, this was Stellings-Graffio-Moody; Jeep replaced Don, and it has been said, because the driving compartment was getting a little tight for the "Mood".


Stellings-Hampshire-Schiefer on the return road at Lions Drag Strip; 1963.


Stellings-Hampshire vs. Greer-Black-Prudhomme; note: Keith Black with his hands over his ears (background).


Stellings-Hampshire won the Sunday portion of the UDRA two-day race at Lions Drag Strip May 17, 1964 (Warren-Coburn-Holloway won on Saturday); there were close to 100 top fuel dragsters entered!! In Sunday's final, he beat his ex-boss, Bill Martin, who had Ronnie's former partner, George Bolthoff, at the wheel.


Stellings-Hampshire: 130" Fuller chassis; Arnie Roberts body; 398 cid Chrysler with Herbert cam, Schiefer clutch and magneto, and Crager blower drive; Ramona (San Diego County); 1964.


The caption to the cartoon humorously said something to the affect that this is what makes Sleepy Jeep run!


Staged shot of the Stellings & Hampshire car at Pomona Raceway; 1964.


Larry Stellings (Schiefer shirt), Jeep packing the chute, and Don Gaide; Puyallup WA, (summer 1964).


Ron Stender of S&S Photo captured this magnificent shot of Jeep at Lions Drag Strip with this wheels up launch.


Ronnie: In late 1964, Ed Pink and Lou Senter retired their fabled Ansen-Pink car (originally, the car Don Prudhomme won Bakersfield with in 1962). Ed was having Don Long build him a new top fuel dragster and I was left without a ride. At the same time, Sid Waterman needed a replacement driver for Ronnie Martin who had broken his leg when he crashed the Waterman-Martin car at Pomona. Sid got a lot of his parts from Reath Automotive in Long Beach. Sid did not want the car to "sit" and asked Del Reath to recommend a driver while Ronnie (Martin) was on the mend. Del put in the good word for me and that is how the Waterman-Hampshire team got its start. Winter in Southern California was a great time to set records; cool, dry weather with hardly any water grains in the atmosphere to replace the oxygen. Larry Faust in the Mooneyham-Jackson-Faust A/FD had just set a new Standard 1320 record of 7.53 at Lions. But, at Fontana on January 24, 1965 we set a new world record at 7.51 and backed it up with a 7.62. One of the requirements for a 1320 record was to run within 2% of the time at a second track. We went to Lions on January 30, 1965 to officially set the record; all we needed to run was 7.66. On the very first run off the trailer, we ran 7.57, the quickest time ever recorded at Lions Drag Strip. But, on the back up run, a header bolt came out down track and I had to click it early. Even though we did not get the record that night, I became the permanent driver for the team. In early 1967, Sid retired the car, but not before Sid Waterman, Bob Bradley, and "The Hangman", had won many a top eliminator from January 1965 through February 1967.


The Waterman-Hampshire chassis was of a design that Roy Steen and Frank Huszar called the "Haze Series". It accelerated over the first 300 feet so hard, Big Bob Haines was heard to remark, "it doesn't cloud 'em, just hazes 'em".


Waterman-Hampshire was a RCS "legs underneath" powered by a 354 cid Chrysler with a 5/8" stroker kit.



Tom Mitchell, Ron Martin, Sid Waterman, Sam Nicolosi, Bob Bradley, and Ronnie "The Hangman" Hampshire; Fontana Drag City, January 24, 1965. This was the day the team set a new world record of 7.51, and backed it up with a 7.62.


Ronnie Hampshire and Sid Waterman; drivers knew they had become a star when they got a nickname: Ronnie became "The Hangman" thanks to his buddy on the right.

Ronnie leaving a wispy silhouette of smoke behind; excellent visual evidence of the effectiveness of this RCS design.


Again, look how hard the Waterman-Hampshire car has left on the "Vipe"; who needs a Mongoose when the Hangman 'is a hangin'.


Waterman-Hampshire at Fontana Raceway; Ronnie preferred running on the outside part of the lane where the "bite" was better; of course, the inherent danger of this tactic was obvious (check out the direction of the front wheels). the days when a driver had to hold in the clutch with the left foot and bring the rpms up with the heavier right one; big difference from today's centrifugal clutch.


Merchants of Speet - Part 2




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