The Record Setting Day
On August 12, 1961, a partial
ban on nitromethane fuel was lifted at Lions Drag Strip. Although
the engines were limited to 300 cubic inches if equipped with
a supercharger, there was no shortage of fuel dragsters vying
for the $500.00 bond up for the winner of the inaugural event.
In addition to all the top gas dragsters like Tom McEwen and
Lefty Mudersbach, the pits were crowded with several nitro burners
including Gary Cagle, Zane Schubert, Pfaff-Sowins, Glen Stokey,
and Don Langford. Though forewarned in Drag News by Al Caldwell,
author of its Northern Briefs, that there were these really bad
hombres named Walt and Jesse Schrank racing a blown and injected
DeSoto B/FD, few expected to see the Texans in the Lions pit
that night. Yet, there they were. As Jesse explains," We
were running Al Gonzalez' injectors (Algon Injectors) and he
wanted to get some publicity for his product. We had just run
182 mph at Half Moon Bay, and he knew that if we went down South
and made some noise, that would really help sell the injectors.
He offered us $50.00 gas money, so we loaded up the dragster
and headed for Long Beach". It would be a record setting
night. On his first run, Jesse ran 8.66-182.18. In Walt's own
words, "It looked real pretty; the smoke rolled off the
tires to about half track, then she settled down and really started
pulling". Jesse adds, "It was the smoothest run ever.
It lifted the left front ever so slightly with smoke just hazing
from the tires, but it was such a calm, straight run; I knew
it was a good one".
August 12, 1961; Jess Schrank
sets the Standard 1320 B/FD speed record at 183.28 at Lions Drag
Startled by this bold statement
from the newcomers and at the request of track officials, Walt
dropped the pan so tech man Roy Swanson could measure the bore.
It was 3 5/8" stock bore, stock stroke, and stock rods.
Gary Cagle, the Standard 1320 record holder for B/FD at 8.82-178.41
just shook his head and walked away. For the second run, and
in an attempt to increase the rpm, Walt and Jesse changed the
gear ratio in the quick change rear end. Though looking to set
a new e.t. record, the car slowed slightly to an 8.73, but carded
the big speed and a new record of 183.28! This was such a monumental
achievement that their B/FD record would stand up for nearly
two years, only to be finally bettered by Smirthwaite-Mooneyham's
185.94 run at Pomona on May 5, 1963! For icing on the cake, barely
a month later at Half Moon Bay, their 8.65 e.t. gave them both
ends of the B/FD record. Simultaneously, they also held the C/FD
speed record at 163.63 set nearly a year before at HMB. The rest
of the evening did not play out so splendidly. Jesse recalls,
"I was not familiar with the starting line lights at Lions
and Zane Schubert really left on me that night. Nonetheless,
I took off after him, but it was an expensive gesture as we burned
three pistons and created quite an aerial display for the fans".
Despite getting knocked out of eliminations in the first round,
the fallout over the record run was substantial and earned The
Boys the coveted cover of Drag News. "Al Gonzalez really
got his $50.00 worth", chips in Walt.
Drag News Vol. 7 No.
39 December 23, 1961
So, what was it with this 276.1
cubic inch DeSoto? Why were they the ones that could get it to
respond, and particularly, with the fickle and temperamental
Algon fuel injectors? To understand the genesis of their genius,
one needs to go back in time; all the way back to San Antonio,
Texas and the year 1955.
Ed. Note: The Algon injectors
were used by a number of teams in the Bay Area, including Ted
Gotelli, Forsberg-Hubbard and Champion Speed Shop. Al Gonzalez'
shop was located at his house in the East Bay on San Pablo Dam
Rd. in El Sobrante.
The Bluebonnet Years
The year was 1955 and Walt had
just gotten out of the service. Mechanics and welders by trade,
it didn't take The Boys too long to channel their substantial
mechanical skills into a project that involved a hot rod. Walt
owned a '34 5-window coupe and they took it to Martindale Airfield,
which was a concrete, abandoned WW2 training facility. About
once a month there was an organized drag race, and Walt and Jesse
raced A Open Gas. Spurred on by some success with their new hobby,
they parked the coupe and built a rear engined '27 T roadster.
Originally outfitted with a nitro burning flathead, they quickly
replaced the old-style engine with the now infamous 276.1 cid
DeSoto hemi. As Walt tells it, "We really cut our nitro
teeth with the roadster; actually had two roadsters at one time.
We equipped it with big heads, 2" intake valves, 1 7/8"
exhaust valves and won our class at the AHRA Nationals both in
1957 and 1958. It was racing the roadster that taught us so much
about nitro racing and what the engine wanted. Also, we stayed
with this same engine design the entire time we raced out of
Texas. This gave us a wealth of experience to draw on when we
decided to build the dragsters. We always believed that this
engine was perfect for the time, considering the limitations
placed on the race cars by tires and clutches".
Nitro racing continued to grow
in popularity in the late 1950s and early 1960s despite a ban
on the racing fuel at NHRA events. Many drag racers like Walt
and Jesse simply ignored NHRA's nitro ban and raced at AHRA and
other strips that did not prohibit the use of nitromethane. In
1959, the Smokers of Bakersfield announced that they would hold
an annual U.S. Gas and Fuel Championships at Famoso every March;
the meet was a stunning success from the start. Fans, clamoring
to see the top fuel dragsters, packed tracks like San Gabriel,
Riverside (including ½ mile drags), Fontana, and Long
Beach (Lions) week in and week out. When it became clear that
fuel cars were here to stay, NHRA finally relented and lifted
their nitro ban starting with the Winternationals in 1963. The
following images were taken by Walt at Great Bend, Kansas during
the 1958 AHRA Nationals.
Bobby Langley's "Scorpion
Don Garlits' "Swamp
Walt and Jesse won A/FMC with
this Austin Bantam coupe powered by a 330 cid DeSoto fueled by
six Stromberg carburetors.
John "Mouse" Wilson,
member of the Poor Boys, drove many top fuel dragsters; he was
killed in 1968 at Green Valley Raceway.
Bob Rodgers from Kansas
Lynn Huiet from Houston,
TX; check out the outfit on the back-up girl!
This is Hank Garner's
Tex-Sun; a Speed Sport look-alike.
Left to right:: Rufus Walker,
Benny Cass, Henry Garner, Rubel Mungler; and Carlos Andarza.
The Tex-Sun in its
Lyle Fisher and Red
Greth's legendary Speed Sport Spl. A/FMR.
Mackey & Veselka
No fancy haulers or enclosed
rigs in those days-removing the tow bar; Jesse Schrank nearest
Go West, Young Man
By 1958, the bloom on the Texas
rose had started to wilt. That winter Walt made a trip to California,
first to the southern part of the state, and later, to the Bay
Area. Although he wasn't exactly thrilled with Southern California,
he found Northern California to be something special. Not only
was there plenty of work for mechanics, there was also drag racing
every weekend at Half Moon Bay, Vaca Valley (Vacaville), Kingdon
(Lodi), and a new strip that had just opened in Fremont.
After finding employment at Howard Auto in Belmont, an auto repair
business catering to foreign cars, Walt got Jesse to join him
in May 1959. They worked as mechanics by day and racers by night,
designing and building a dragster using the facilities at the
auto shop. Their homemade chassis was welded together using 1"
square tubing on top and 2" on the bottom; a far cry from
the swing set and exhaust tubing most guys used. The power plant
was the trusty 276.1 DeSoto equipped with (8) Stromberg '97s
that fed pure 98% nitromethane into the cylinders. Their dragster
was a consistent winner running low 9s and over 140 mph. Although
successful as a class winner, they really had their sights set
on top eliminator and the cash purse that accompanied it. Obviously,
this would require a more powerful and sophisticated approach.
So, that winter Walt and Jesse paid $500.00 for a Chassis Research
frame from Jim McLennan of Champion Speed Shop. Along with the
pipe, The Boys got tires, wheels, a rear end, and extra parts.
The car debuted in early 1960 at Half Moon Bay (HMB) with the
same engine combination they had used in their first dragster.
Jesse recalls, "This dragster just worked from the get go.
Before the summer was over, we held the Standard 1320 C/FD speed
record at 163.63". Flushed with their success and eager
to step up a class, they tucked a 6:71 GMC supercharger underneath
the Strombergs. Now, they were making some serious horsepower
and racing guys like Denny and Jerry Forsberg and Vic Hubbard
Spl. Walt, then the driver, had some scary moments at Half Moon
Bay one Sunday, so The Boys decided to jettison the carburetors
and get a more trustworthy fuel delivery system. As was done
in those days, Walt and Jesse worked a quid pro quo deal with
Al Gonzalez for a set of new injectors. At about the same time
and right before the 1961 March Meet, Walt decided to vacate
the seat, turning the driving chores over to "Little Brother"
(the nickname given to him by Al Caldwell). Initially, the temperamental
Algons caused a lot of problems from broken rods to burned bearings.
But, once Al Gonzalez got the injectors right and made the engine
happy, the car became a beast. It ran 182 mph at HMB in July
and the stage was set for the record runs at Long Beach.
Drag racing northern
California-style; Top Banana vs. Glass Slipper, Lodi (1959).
Nice close-up of the
"Slipper" in the pits at Kingdon.
Hank Vincent's Top Banana
had been one of the Standard 1320 B/FD record holders before
The Boys from Belmont; sadly, Hank was fatally injured in a horrific
crash at Fremont in 1959.
Just one of Forsberg-Hubbard's
record setting drag cars from the late 1950s and early 1960s;
their B/FR held the 1320 record at 9.46-164.60.
Walt and Jesse's other
home--Howard Automotive on Karen St. in Belmont CA.
Built in 1959 and patterned
after a Chassis Research design, Walt and Jesse built this C/FD
from ground up. They would race this car for only a short time
and replaced it with a genuine Scotty Fenn rail.
The first rendition of the
record setting Scotty Fenn slingshot; carbureted on nitro, it
established a new Standard 1320 C/FD speed record at 163.63 in
The final version of the car:
97" Chassis Research frame, 276.1 cid DeSoto mill, 6:71
GMC supercharger; and, those lusty looking Algon injectors (1961
U.S. Gas and Fuel Championships).
The pits at Fremont--summer
1962; no longer blue, the car now sported a red paint job. (Bob Brown photo)
Tex Smith from the San Mateo
Times showed up at Howard's shop one day with this cutie to hype
the upcoming California State Championships at Half Moon Bay.
Tex added these pertinent
facts about the trophy queen: Roberta Barton, age 19, from San
Francisco; red hair (real), hazel eyes, and a 36-24-37 chassis.
The Boys (Jesse and Walt)
outside of Howard's shop; hey, what happened to Roberta?
By 1962, The Boys from Belmont
were a full-fledged member of Northern California's top fuel
elite. They held both ends of the Standard 1320 B/FD record,
and could run with anything the 392 cid Chryslers threw at them.
Though purely unofficial, the members of this little club included
Ted Gotelli, Champion Speed Shop-McLennan, Cash Auto Parts-Stuckey,
Forsberg-Hubbard, Bob Sbarbaro, and Masters-Richter. Week in
and week out these guys would duke it out at Fremont, HMB, and
Kingdon. Though intense, the rivalries were never vituperous
nor revengeful. Jesse sums up the way it was back then: "In
those days guys would always be blowing up stuff qualifying,
so you never knew who would show up for the first round of eliminations.
But, all the racers were first rate guys. Ted Gotelli had the
best car out there, but Masters-Richer probably would challenge
that statement. Once at Fremont we were racing M & R and"
Big" Bob Haines was having a lot of problems with the starter
and twice red lighted while staging. Haines was livid with the
starter, but we offered to rerun it in 30 minutes after our engine
cooled down. When we finally squared off, I smoked the tires
too hard, got out of it, stabbed it, did a wheelie, and watched
Haines streak to victory. Class guys that they were, Sid Masters
came over at the end of the night and gave us $100.00 of his
But, there were bigger and better
prizes to be won; against the giants from the Midwest and the
East that ventured West each winter. Starting around 1959 and
in conjunction with the U.S. Gas and Fuel Championships, it had
become standard practice for the big guns east of the Rockies
to come to California during the winter months and challenge
the "Best from the West". The time was March 1962 and
the venue, Kingdon Drag Strip in Lodi. Up to this point, the
East Coast lions had had a difficult time finding the victory
circle. Don Prudhomme had won at Bakersfield, Champion Speed
Shop won The California State Championships at Half Moon Bay,
and Bob Sbarbaro and his "California kid" had been
victorious at Fremont. Don Garlits, Art Malone, Chris Karamesines,
Bob Sullivan, and Vance Hunt were fixing for a fight and the
arena would be Johnny Soares' track. In the semis, Art "The
Colonel" Malone was matched against "The Boys from
Belmont". Jesse had been nicked in the semis at Fremont
the week before by Sbarbaro and was looking for some redemption.
Uncharacteristically, Art Malone red lighted away the race. Although
Al Caldwell lobbied against it, Jesse generously agreed to a
re-run stating, "We don't win races that way". On the
rematch, Art squeaked out a win and then went on to race Don
Garlits (Connie Swingle was driving at that time) in the final.
Ironically, in that final, Art had engine trouble; Swingle blew
his engine at half track, and limped across the finish line first
with an anemic 8.93, leaving Walt and Jesse to ponder the $1000.00
that could have been theirs. ""We had a tremendous
amount of faith in our combination; we never ran more than 50%
in the tank. The DeSoto made just enough bottom end torque to
hook up and not boil the tires. And, the Scotty Fenn chassis
was the perfect frame (length and weight) for the amount of power
the engine generated. The dragster weighed 1580 lbs. and the
horsepower was managed through a Ford transmission that ran high
gear only. Once, we put a Chrysler in and it smoked the tires
from end to end."
One of Al Caldwell's all-time
great Drag News covers; left to right and top to bottom: Don
Garlits, Denny Milani, "Jet Car" Bob Smith, Jesse Schrank,
Tommy Ivo, Chris Karamesines, "Big" Bob Haines, Art
Malone, Frank Silva, Bob Sullivan, and Conrad Kalitta; a contemporary
collage of the time's top fuel heroes.
Chris "The Crazy Greek"
at Fremont with his Stuckey car; that's the Greek knelling on
Bill Butler and Warren Welsh's
Shoehorn from Reno NV; this little A/GD did in many a Chrysler
with this set-up.
Walt, Jesse, and John Phelps
in the hats (courtesy Al Caldwell) doing a number on Ted Gotelli
and Jim McLennan at Half Moon Bay-1961; HMB's flagman was none
other than Andy Brizio.
The Schrank Bros. out on Cash
Auto and Archie Liederbrand: "These are the guys I wanted
to beat the most. Archie was a stand up guy, but Ivan, the owner
of Cash Auto, was a very difficult man to
get along with".-Jesse
This is the Ansen-Stuckey
car which was campaigned as the Cash Auto Spl. (above) in 1961.
Lou Senter sold the car to Cash Auto but repossessed it when
Cash Auto failed to pay for it. Lou then sold it to Keith Black
who had Fuller updated. It debuted in June 1962 as the now infamous
Greer-Black-Prudhomme dragster. (commentary by Don Prieto)
Picnic in the back yard (left
to right): Jesse's wife Edna, Edie Wilson, Sandi Barnett, Bud
Barnett (Gotelli's driver); and Jesse.
As 1962 unfolded, it was clear
drag racing was moving in a new direction fueled by a huge performance
aftermarket that was growing and prospering, especially in California.
Not only were there better engineered components for the engine,
but also light weight kit chassis' and other high performance
accessories. This meant more money was needed to compete with
the better funded teams. As Jesse recollects, "Though we
really didn't have it (money), we persevered, even building a
new car for the 1963 season. It was a real nice dragster with
an aluminum chute pack. Then a tragic, discouraging event occurred.
Floyd Head (Head-Justus A/FD), a Poor Boys member, friend, and
racer from our San Antonio days, had come West with his top fuel
dragster to race Champion Speed Shop at Fremont. Their driver,
Rex, was killed when another car hit it while still on the track.
That deeply affected both Walt and I because of how tight the
San Antonio gang had always been. Shortly thereafter, and on
a day when Walt could not make it, I really had a bad and costly
engine explosion at Fremont. That was just the end of the line.
I kept the chassis for a long time, but it eventually got the
torch. And, the record setting Chassis Research frame? I set
it outside the shop one night and by the next day it was gone."
After nearly a 20-year hiatus
from the drag strip, The Boys teamed up with Jesse's son, Jerry,
to race in pro comp eliminator. Now as before, they built a 276.1
cid DeSoto to run on nitro. Initially, they raced a car previously
owned by Steve San Paolo, but later had Don Long build them a
real beauty. It wasn't the terror like the earlier one, but it
was stout enough to run 6.83-185. Jesse adds, "We raced
on the West Coast until 1986, but thinking there might be other
projects in the future, I kept my license current through 1990."
Jerry ruefully laments, "I sold the Don Long frame to a
kid in Lubbock, Texas. I don't recall the young man's name, but
he had no clue of what he was getting into; I sure wish I had
that chassis today."
Like all of Don Long's
creations, the workmanship on this dragster was immaculate.
..I used to fit
in these things real easy"; Ryan, Jesse, Jerry, and Danny
Hoppes preparing for a run at Fremont Raceway.
Walt, Edna (Jesse's wife),
Jerry (back turned), and Dennis Franco; Fremont Raceway.
1992 San Antonio Poor Boys/Road
Runners Re-union: R. C. Waldendorf, Bobby Joe Rutledge, Bobby
Langley, Henry Garner, and Jesse Schrank.
Floyd Head getting ready to
cackle his fueler (Poor Boys/ Road Runners Re-union, San Antonio
1992); crew is Bobby Joe Rutledge, Peters, and Max Lang.
Five "no lift leadfoots"-
(standing left to right): Jeep Hampshire, Jesse Schrank, Ron
Hampshire, and Denny Forsberg; sitting: Joe Douglass (CHRR, 2005)
Outside Edelweiss Restaurant
in Auburn Ca. spot for the Throttle Merchants' weekly lunch-(left
to right): Jesse Schrank, Kent Fuller, and Joe Douglass.
Grass Valley CA -The Restoration
Walt and Jesse had long planned
on building a replica of their B/FD. They still had most of the
original engine and drive train parts stored in Jesse's shop
next to his home in Grass Valley. The one thing they didn't have
was the chassis. Attempting to locate one of Scotty Fenn's original
TE-448 frames would have been next to impossible, so they combed
the internet to see if anyone had a pattern of that design. After
months of searching, they located a gentleman on the East Coast
who had the exact plans for that chassis. Jesse purchased the
needed 4130 chrome moly tubing from nearby Barnum Industries,
and with grandsons Scott and Kyle handling the torches, launched
into the project full bore starting in March 2007. Amazingly,
the complete restoration was completed in seven months, just
in time for the California Hot Rod Reunion in Bakersfield.
This was home base for the
restoration--Jesse's shop next to his home in Grass Valley, California.
Lying there in front of the shop is the original chute from the
Trophies, awards, and memorabilia
from the 'Golden Age of Drag Racing' adorn the wall of Jesse's
Jesse still has the Ratti
Italian racing goggles he used driving the record setting B/FD;
these were highly esteemed by the Formula One drivers during
the pre-WW2 period, including one Juan-Manuel Fangio.
Ghosts of drag races past--note
the Ratti goggles wrapped around the white helmet in the background.
Some of all the original parts
needed for the restoration; only item missing was a pattern for
a 97 inch Scotty Fenn TE 448 chassis and the hat for the Algon
The slicks, rear end
assembly, and Halibrand tires from their B/FD.
The Beginning: Jesse's grandsons,
Kyle (21) and Scott (26), both certified welders, bending the
bottom rails (March 2007).
Scott (left) and Kyle
(with the torch) fitting a brace onto the bottom rail.
This Scotty Fenn rear end
was built in 1958; and, Halibrand quick change center section-both
tapering the tubing.
Walt fitting tubing
for additional cage bracing.
Close up of the Scotty
Fenn rear end assembly.
Kyle welding the rear end
brace to the housing; note: Jesse's homemade aluminum firewall
and clutch can.
Walt and Scott fitting
the motor into the frame.
Scott welding up the
side bracing for the cage.
Close up of Scott's
professional grade welds.
Scott and Jesse cutting the
aluminum by hand for the panels: the bottom, the cowl, a seat,
and with the help of Kent fuller, a fuel tank.
Kent Fuller supplied
the .063 aluminum for the panels.
Jesse's homemade clutch arm;
original Scotty Fenn brake plates; drive shaft; clutch can from
J E Kristek of San Antonio TX; and, the original engine pan.
Kelly Machine Service from Auburn cut the drive line.
Jesse painting the frame rails;
the '55 DeSoto in the background will be restored, and when finished,
the push car at cacklefests.
Chassis welded up
and painted-ready for the engine.
Jesse assembling the original
276.1 cid DeSoto, complete with the original crank and cam.
July 2007-half way
Jesse installing the
heads and valve train.
Jesse and Scott fitting the
manifold and 6:71 supercharger (from Sterling Holloway) onto
the engine; the bottom of the blower manifold was badly warped
and Scott, a Chico State grad, had to extensively machine it.
Jesse flow testing the aircraft
styled fuel pump obtained from another pair of famous Northern
California racing brothers-Jerry and Denny Forsberg.
Throttle Merchants to the
rescue: Jeep Hampshire, Joe Douglass, and Ronnie Hampshire cleaning
up the blower.
Jesse checking the
fuel lines on the original Algon injectors.
Jesse with wife Edna;
his Texas rose.
One of the last tasks to be
completed: bending and welding the tubing
from Dick Brace for the headers.
Keith Schrank, Jesse's
youngest grandson, fitting the hat onto the Algon injectors.
Like the runs they used to
make at the drag strip, this project was completed (sans paint)in
record breaking time.
Jesse, possibly, thinking
back to that magical moment at Lions Drag Strip over 46 years
Note: the louvers in the side
panels were the work of none other than Kent Fuller.
Getting ready to fire
it up for the first time-September 2007.
The Grove at the 2007
California Hot Rod Reunion in Bakersfield.
George Bolthoff, Joe Douglass,
and Tom Dean-Throttle Merchants' camp ('07 CHRR).
The restored record
setting B/FD even has the original steering wheel on it.
The Cacklefest of
the 2007 CHRR; 'Little Brother' behind the wheel.
Jesse, Bob Muravez, and a
third gentleman-The Grove at the '07 CHRR.
The replica car with a new
coat of blue paint reminiscent of the color of the record-setting
B/FD - September 2008.
At the 2008 CHRR Cacklefest
The Boys From Belmont put on a great show with the car performing
flawlessly. You can bet they will be back in 2009.
The Boys from Belmont-- Walt
and Jesse, looking good for 75 and 73 years young, respectively.