"Big Gene" Townley - 1940 - 2004

On August 14, 2004 "Big Gene" (sitting on the back of the Alberson Olds dragster in 1959) lost his 6 year battle with cancer. There is no need to recap his incredibly brave battle - he wouldn't want to be remembered that way. He would want to be remembered as someone who loved the sport of drag racing and the people in it.

Gene was involved (one way or another) in drag racing from 1956 till his death -- the past few years via his incredible stores. His memory was second to none and he could recount, usually in a humorous way, most everything he ever did. His stories were legendary and hopefully we can add more to this page as they come from people who may have saved them over the years. I spent many hours on the phone with him the last 6 years and I could kick my own butt for not recording many of our conversations -- mostly Gene spinnin' a great tale.   RIP Big Guy!



 Tales from Big Gene

Jim "Mad Dog" Nicoll and the Wet Chutes

By Big Gene Townley

I believe around ‘67 or ‘68 I ran into Jim Nicoll and he asked me if I wanted to go on the road with him and Don Cook for a while. I was not doing anything real important at the time so I said, "Let's go." We ran at Phoenix, Albuquerque, and on Labor Day, we went to Green Valley. We got everything ready, and then we got in line. Before we got to run, it started raining. We threw a tarp over the motor and everything else just got wet. AHRA finally pulled the plug on the first day of qualifying and we pushed the car back to the trailer. Nicoll told me he was going with Mad Dog and for me to meet them later at the motel.

I told Jim I was going to take the chutes out and dry them before I left. He said, "Those are Simpson's new chutes. Don't worry about them because they'll open." I said, "No problem -- I am not doing anything and I have the time." Jim said. "Leave the goddamn chutes alone and I don't want to hear any more about it!" The next morning when we got to the track I asked him if I could dry the chutes. He said, "Forget about the chutes, and I don't want to hear any more."

We went up to the lanes. I put him in the car, pushed him off, and he staged and made a pretty good run. Then, no chutes and into the net – junked car. We got the car off the track and Mad Dog was next. He made a pretty good run, but no chutes and into the net – junked car. Me and Nicoll were on the return road when Cook hit the net. I turned to Jim and said. "Well, did you learn anything today?" He said, "Yes, the damn track is too short." I said, "No, I mean about wet chutes." He said, "The wet chutes didn't have anything to do with it." I watched the race, then caught a ride to the airport and went back to California.



Me and John Mulligan

by "Big Gene" Townley

Back when I lived in Garden Grove, I spent a lot of time with John Mulligan. The people I worked for were right next door to The Cave. One night I was at the shop and John looked over the fence. He asked me if I was going over to our shop later because he wanted to work on his truck. Ruth was in town and there was not room at their shop. He picked me up in his Ford Econoline pickup with a V-8 Chevy and we started down Garden Grove Blvd. When we went by the Big Boy drive-in, John said, "Dave Beebe and Frank Fedak are in the Big Boy." We swung around, went back, and let the air out of both their tires. Back in those days, everyone did that. Most of us, if we were going to the Big Boy, took an air tank. Then we headed for our shop.

I had a nice shop on Trask Street that the man I worked for had built. We worked on John's truck and then someone said, "Let's get some wine." I remember it was on a Thursday night and none of us had any money. We put what we had on the table and found we had enough for three bottles. John and I got in his truck and headed for the liquor store. When we started into the liquor store, I saw a sign on the door that said, "We take BANKAMERICARD." About two months before, my bank had sent me one of these BANKAMERICARDs and I had looked at it and put it in my wallet. We went over to the clerk. I showed him my card and asked him what I could buy with it. He looked at me and asked, "Are you Gene Townley?" I said, "Yes." He said, "Do you have an ID?" I gave him my license, he picked up the phone, and when he got through, he said, "You can buy up to $750.00 worth of anything in the store." We got a case of wine, a case of beer, a box of peanuts, and a jar of beef jerky, and back to the shop we went.

After about two hours, a cop who used to come by all the time showed up with his partner -- a German Shepherd. He used to block off Trask so we could fire the motor to check it out. He talked to us awhile and then asked if he could borrow our restroom. While the cop was in the restroom, Mulligan said, "Big Gene, you ain't got a hair on your ass if you don't go get in the back seat with that dog." I got up, went over, opened the door, yelled at the dog get over, got in with the dog, and started petting him. He laid down on the seat by me and acted like he liked me -- that wine makes you do funny things. The cop came out and saw what was going on -- by now I had rolled the window down -- and he drew his gun. Mulligan asked him as calm as he could say it, "You're not going to shoot Big Gene, are you?" You guys who knew John can probably see him saying this. The cop said, "I may have to shoot the dog if he makes a move toward Gene." By now, the dog is licking my hand. The cop said, "Gene, please open the door, get out, and shut the door." I got out and shut the door but the window was still down. The cop had his back to the car, chewing me out, telling me how lucky I was Clancy didn't chew me up. I told him Clancy might attack a crook if he sicked him on one, but I was sure if he knew you weren't a threat he wouldn't hurt you. I said, "Clancy -- come here, boy." Old Clancy jumped through the window, ran over, jumped up in my lap, and I started petting him. The cop finally got Clancy back in the car. He asked us to please not say anything about this deal and left. He would still come over but he always parked three shops down.

The next day after I got paid I went down to Reath's to get our crank. As I walked in the store I saw on the window, "We take BANKAMERICARD." I guess you know where that led.

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Having Fun with Mr. C

By "Big Gene" Townley

I was at the Dollar General Store the other day. Liquor store is next door. This guy comes out of the liquor store and has a case of Boone's Farm wine. I told Glenna, "There's my next story."

In 1971 I was with Mr. C -- Gary Cochran -- and one of the races we went to was an AHRA Grand American at Marion County International Raceway in Marion, Ohio. We got in town on Thursday and went to the Holiday Inn. Most of the regulars were already there. There was a big area in front and that is where we all parked. Some of them were working on their cars, so we made the rounds. When we got to Jim Nicoll's rig, we found Nicoll, T.C. Lemmons, John Wiebe, and "Mad Dog" Don Cook there, drinking Boone's Farm Wild Mountain out of paper cups. They gave us some and we all sat on the grass. We finally ran out and Nicoll said, "Big Gene, we need some more. I will buy if you go get it." Gary's rig was still hooked up, so Nicoll said, "Take mine." Wiebe said, "Bring back a bunch of ice."

I got in the truck and went to a super market where they told me the only place to buy wine was at the state owned liquor store. I found one and went in. They told me that since I was not a resident and did not have a card, I couldn't buy any. I found a guy, told him my problem, and said I would give him $10 to get me some wine. He was a nice guy and said he would do it for free. I told him that since it was so hard to get, get me two cases. I got my wine and ice, and back I went.

When I got back, Wiebe got a wash tub out of his trailer. We put the wine in it, then the ice and some water. We all sat around and talked tune-ups and other things about the cars. These guys who ran the AHRA circuit were different; there was not a selfish person among them. They helped each other, loaned each other parts, and at the races worked on each other's cars -- a lot like this family here.

I don't know how long, but after a while this bus pulls in and it says "Loretta Lynn" on it. This guy walks over to look at the cars, so we offer him some wine. Turns out it is Moony Lynn -- Loretta's husband. He sat down. In a little while, Loretta walks over. He introduces us and we give her a cup. She only stayed a little while but old Moony stayed a long time.

The next morning we head out to the track and on the way, we go by this giant Maytag plant. I mean this place was grim -- it looked like a prison to me. I looked over at Gary and he said, "Are you thinking the same as me?" I said, "You mean, what would it be like to work at this place for 30 years?"

We ran the race -- I think Garlits won -- and after the race was over, the owners threw a party for us at their brother's place across from the track. Beer, food -- it was a neat deal.

They had a couple of outdoor toilets but after several hours, they got pretty bad. I saw one of the owners coming out of the house and I asked him if I could use his bathroom. He said sure, go down this hall, first door on the left. I went in, opened the door, and the first thing I saw was four guys with more money than I had ever seen on a table. Then I see this great big guy who was with Jim Tice all the time pointing a sawed off shotgun at me. Tice jumped up and said, "Hold it. I know him and he is OK." He asked me what I wanted. I said his brother told me I could use the bathroom. He said, "No problem; it's that door behind you," and I left.

I told Pete Talmage, the starter, what had happened. He said I was probably real lucky the guy didn't pull the trigger because he had done it before. After a while this big guy comes out, puts the money in the trunk of a Cadillac, and drives off. I went out of my way to see him at the next race and he turned out to be a nice guy.


Those Gone, Remembered

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