Dedicated to the memory
of Pete Burkholder, 1939-1999
The story of Pete and Harry Burkholder
began in the sleepy lumber town of Yreka, California. Pete was
born in 1939 and Harry, one year later. Five months after Harry
arrived in 1940, the family relocated to a small flat in downtown
Sacramento. An older cousin, Bob Zetz, also lived in the building,
and Bob was a big street rod and dry lakes racer. It was Zetz,
along with his buddy Joe Radan, that got Pete and Harry interested
in cars and hot rods. Through Joe and Bob, the brothers got to
know members of the legendary Thunderbolt Car Club-guys like
Don Argee, Lawrence Brocchini, Ed Cortopassi ("The Glass
Slipper"), Dick Bertolucci, and Harold Bagdasarian. It was
a formative time in Pete and Harry's young life, and their association
with some of the "Thunderbirds" would be pivotal in
shaping the direction they would go. From then on, all the brothers
wanted to do was build hot rods and race.
By the time they were teenagers,
they both had jobs working at a neighborhood gas station. Harry
recalls their coming of age during that era of hot rods and cruisin'
main street; "Pete and I went to Sacramento High School,
but neither of us took any automotive school classes there. However,
we both worked after school at Ed Smith's Shell station on 23rd
and F St. We did it, mainly, to be able to work on our cars.
Pete's real passion was painting cars and he soon got a job prepping
and painting automobiles at the Wion Brothers Body Shop. His
first car was a 1940 Ford coupe powered by an Oldsmobile engine;
a real beauty that he entered into the Sacramento Autorama. My
first car was a '41 Ford I bought when I was only 14 years old.
I fixed it up-had it painted and upholstered before I was old
enough to get my driver's license. Like many hot rodders back
then, we were just a couple of self-taught kids. I worked on
many of my friends' cars doing Olds engine swaps in their old
Fords. When we started racing, I did all the design and engine
work and Pete did all the fabrication and painting. We spent
our evenings hanging out at the local drive-ins and cruising
Sacramento's K St."
Future drag racers Pete
(age 3) and Harry (age 2)
When Harry lost his driver's
license from too many speeding tickets, the idea of building
a car just for racing came to be. Pete and Harry rented a garage
in downtown Sacramento from car show impresario Harold Bagdasarian
(Sacramento Autorama car show) and the brothers set about building
the first of what would be a long line of short wheel-based altered
coupes and roadsters. That first altered would come from a beautiful
'34 Ford coupe that they cut up. The chopped and channeled body
was set over a pair of Model A rails given to them by cousin
Bob Zetz and Joe Radan. The engine was out of a '54 Olds that
Pete had totaled--the result of an accident on a rainy night's
drive home from work. The 354 cid Olds was bored .030 over with
a 3/8" stroker crank and boxed steel rods. With a Vertex
mag, 6:71 GMC blower, and Hilborn injectors, this gas altered
coupe was a menace for the competition from the time it hit the
strips in February 1959.
Pete, by now an experienced body
and paint guy, kept the gas altered in fine trim while Harry
did the engine and chassis work. Harry did the driving, but Pete,
being older, also wanted to take a crack at it. It was late 1961
and they were racing at Vaca Valley's weekly event. Harry recalls
the day with clarity, "I knew Pete wanted to try some runs.
So, after qualifying the car at 144 mph, I told my brother it
was his turn. We did a few practice starts on the backstretch
and everything went OK. He made a good pass at 142 mph, but the
war surplus chute failed to deploy. The globe valve fuel shutoff
did not have a 90-degree stop and did not completely close. Pete
sailed off the end of the strip on the big-banked turn and flipped
three times before landing on his head. It was a damned good
thing it did not go over one more time as I do not think it would
have stayed in one piece. The moral of the story? If you want
to build a better race car, put your brother in one and crash
it." That was the end of the first altered and Pete's driving
career. However, before Pete's accident, the "Flyin' Fox"
was a regular at all the local tracks like Kingdon, VacaValley,
Redding, and later, Fremont, competing in AA/A, eventually running
a best of 9.90 at 150mph.
The altered was fired up for
the first time on a side road in North Sacramento. It was February
1959 and shown here are Richard Wantz (left), Joe Radan (center),
and 18 year old Harry Burkholder climbing into the race car.
The "Flyin' Fox" got
its name from Harold "Baggy" Bagdasarian, the Sacramento
businessman who started the Sacramento Autorama. Bagdasarian
was the brothers' first sponsor and "fox" was one of
The "Fox" in the pits
at Kingdon (Lodi, California). The number 202 was also one of
"Baggy's" favorites and Pete and Harry would use it
on later race cars.
The blown and injected Olds engine
had to fit under the aluminum hood so the "Flyin' Fox"
did not have an injector scoop. Left to right: Richard Wantz
(high school buddy), Harry, and Joe Radan at Kingdon Drag Strip.
Car totaled and pride wounded,
but Pete and Harry would rebound and have a new car on the strip
before the end of 1961.
There were several versions of
the second AA/A that Pete and Harry campaigned between 1962 and
1967. Harry designed and built the car, and Pete did the body
and paint with his usual aplomb .The car was easily recognized
by its large radius roll bar and leading arm torsion bar suspension.
NHRA still required steel bodies on the altereds, so Pete and
Harry decided to use a Fiat body. They located one in such good
shape that the doors still opened. They took the engine out of
the deceased '34 Ford coupe and put it in the Fiat, eventually
getting down to 9.30 at mid-150s. At the time, Pete was working
for Aerojet General, which was building engines for the space
program. Harry, who had just married, was working for Proctor
& Gamble, or "the soap factory" as he called it.
They now had the resources to assemble what they called the "monster
Starting with the 394 cid Olds
block, Harry installed a huge 5/8" stoker crank with Mickey
Thompson aluminum rods and homemade (with a little help from
Aerojet ) 4-bolt main caps. While the "monster motor"
was being assembled, Pete and Harry joined up with another local
team to race a fuel altered. In 1962, Drag News, the most popular
weekly drag racing publication at the time, created a Junior
Mr. Eliminator List for gas and fuel altered roadsters and coupes.
Well known Sacramento racers Don Argee and Lawrence Brocchini
were automatically voted No.2 onto the initial list. But, Argee
and Brocchini had sold their '27 T roadster and did not have
a race car to match race. Teamed up with Pete and Harry, Don
Argee put his blown Chrysler engine into the Burkholder's chassis
and Pete outfitted it with a '27 Ford roadster body. The car
set a Standard 1320 record for fuel altered roadster of 170.77
in December 1962. It also won #3 Eliminator at the 1963 March
Meet, and retained the Junior Mr. Eliminator number two spot
as Argee-Sorenson (Don)-Burkholder Bros. for most of 1963.
The team disbanded in 1964 right
around the time Pete was drafted into the army. Harry continued
to race the Fiat on a limited basis while his brother was in
the army. While completing his military service Pete's enthusiasm
for drag racing started to wane. He even talked about selling
out so he could buy a Corvette to drive across the country after
he got out of the service. But, when Pete found out that Harry
had set a new track AA/A record at Fremont (157 mph) all such
talk about quitting racing dissipated. Invigorated, Pete now
could not wait to be discharged and get back out to the drag
The first fire up of altered
number two outside B&M Automotive in Sacramento; left to
right: Dave Gilcrest, Don Tognotti, no ID, Pete, and Gilbert
NHRA still mandated a steel body
for altered coupes in 1961, so Pete and Harry used this '48 Fiat
body for altered number two shown here at Kingdon Drag Strip.
Harry: "While stopping for
dinner after a race at Fremont, a potographer followed us into
the restaurant and asked to shoot the car; this photo was taken
at McKinley Park in downtown Sacramento."
The Burkholder Bros. held the
Fremont Drag Strip AA/GA strip record with the big "stroked"
Olds engine at 163.13. Note: push vehicle none other than Harry's
'40 PU; Olds-powered, of course!
set a Standard 1320 record for AA/FA roadster at San Gabriel
Drag Strip in December 1962. They also held the AA/FR record
at Fresno Raceway with a 172.63 mph.
The next rendition (number 3)
of the altered was built as a roadster instead of a coupe. NHRA
finally allowed fiberglass bodies, so Pete and Harry put a Bantam
body on their chassis stuffed tight with the "monster"
Olds engine. They named it "Outcast" because at the
time NHRA was not sure what they wanted to do with the altered
classes and a lot of the teams just felt like that-outcasts.
Pete was back home from the army and working at Aerojet General
again. AJ had fabulous machining facilities and let the brothers
use their shop to build a trick set of heads for the Olds engine.
The heads were furnace brazed in the exhaust port area, enlarging
and separating the paired center ports into matched exhausts.
Likewise, Harry was allowed to use P&G's machine shop after
work to make 1/8" offset valve guides so the larger valves
could fit. It took many hours of grinding to make everything
clear, but in the end, the hefty Olds had the lungs it needed
to flex its muscles.
The "Outcast" started
out running AA/A on gasoline, but now and then Pete and Harry
got the itch to try a more potent combination. Fuel altered racing
was becoming extremely popular, so the brothers decided to pour
in some alcohol and see if they could make some of those 16-car
shows Fremont was hosting. With methanol and 10% nitromethane
in the tank, that big hefty 470 cid Olds engine purred like a
lion after dinner. The Bantam qualified for every race they entered
and went several rounds most of the time. Nevertheless, it was
time to move forward. So, after five years of racing, Pete and
Harry sold the chassis and Bantam body.
A 24-year-old Harry Burkholder
posing with the Bantam for an article that appeared in the August
1964 issue of Drag Racing Magazine. This photo was taken by Leland
Norene at the rear of the Safeway store at 24th and Florin Rd.
The Bantam at Sacramento Raceway;
Harry: "Sacramento Raceway was our home track. We ran most
of their events and held the track record for AA/A". This
was another photo done by Leland Norene and used for the Drag
News cover for the Aug. 19, 1966 issue. (see below)
In 1967 and on 15% nitro trim,
"The Outcast" set the track record at Sacramento Raceway
This was the original paint scheme
applied by Pete after his return from military service. Running
AA/GA, the Bantam set a track record of 9.35-165.44 at Fremont
The Outcast in action at Fremont
Raceway; Pete and Harry ran the Bantam on fuel just a few times
and only when the track offered a 16-car fuel altered program.
By 1967, the fuel altered class
was beginning to gain notoriety and legions of fans. Tracks like
Lions, Irwindale, OCIR , and Carlsbad were regularly booking
8 and 16 car fuel altered shows at their tracks. The brothers
decided it was time to move up, drive down, and mix it up with
the "big boys" from SoCal. With that in mind, Harry
built an100 inch chrome moly chassis with leading arm Halibrand
torsion bars (like the ones originally designed for sprint cars).
Constructed in his two car garage,
the "homemade" chassis needed to be certified by a
professional chassis designer. This was done by none other than
Don Garlits while both were waiting in the tech line at the '68
March Meet. The hand-formed aluminum shell was unique in that
it consisted of two '23 T roadster bodies joined to create a
touring style look. Pete applied a pearl yellow finish, and with
the "monster" Olds engine, won an Outstanding Competition
Car award at the '68 Sacramento Autorama. Sponsorships came in
from Tognotti's Speed Shop, (now Pete's employer), Simpson, Crane
Cams, and Hays Clutches. They also got help from Valley Ring
& Rebore and Harry Lynis and his "Heads by Hal."
Pete and Harry raced the '23
T for two years, mostly on gas, but occasionally on a10% nitro/alcohol
cocktail. It was a consistent mid seven second runner and recorded
a top speed of 202 mph. The highlight of the car's tenure on
the strip was a final round appearance against Willie Borsch
and "The Winged Express" at Irwindale in 1969. It took
everything Borsch could muster up to barely edge out the Burkholder
Bros. that night at "The Dale."
A work in progress; the '23 T
in front of Harry's house with young son Jeff behind the wheel
The '23 T's first time on the
strip at Kingdon, March 1968; they went on to win Combo Eliminator
Up on the tires in the
lights at Fremont in 1969.
This Tom West photo was taken
at OCIR shortly after switching from the Olds to the Chrysler;
Hariri's brother-in-law, Ralph Garrison, lurking in the background
with the VHT.
Pete and Harry were finding themselves
running more and more in the Southland as 1969 wore on. If they
could "go rounds" with a big Olds engine on low nitro
percentages, they certainly could do better with a hemi on a
big dose of nitro. Harry went to work assembling their first
hemi-powered fuel altered. Starting with a 392 cid Chrysler block,
Harry had it bored .030 over with a 3/8 stroker crank by Valley
Ring in Sacramento. A Crane cam, Howard rods, Hampton blower,
and Hilborn 4 port/ manifold system provided the finishing touches
on the engine. When NHRA allocated the fuel altereds to its Competition
Eliminator class, they were put at a disadvantage. It was extremely
tough matching up with a Gasser running an automatic transmission
and a two second head start. Therefore, match racing and all
fuel altered shows came to be the events to race. However, tracks
like Fremont and Sacramento in the north, OCIR and Irwindale
in the south cooperated by offering up many all fuel altered
shows in the early 1970s.
It was at one of these shows
that Harry earned his nickname of "Hairy " by Drag
Racing Magazine writer Henry Walther. Participating at a race
at Fremont, the car launched hard and straight, broke a spider
gear in the rear end, and began dirt tracking across the grass
between the strip and fire up road. Captured on film by the Jackson
Bros., an embarrassed Harry finally got the altered under control,
and idled back to the pits directly in front of several startled
fans. Before it was retired in 1971, the touring T won the 1970
March Meet , beating "Nanook" in the semis and Mike
Sullivan in the final. Pete and Harry also went on tour that
year, defeating Willie Borsch and "The Winged Express"
at La Place, Louisiana, and Charlie Smith three straight at Tulsa.
"Hairy" in the lanes
at Sacramento Raceway; the nickname was coined by Henry Walther
who worked with Pete at Tognotti's and also wrote a column for
Final round win for Fuel Altered
Eliminator at 1970 March Meet-Hairy defeated Mike Sullivan.
Winner's circle, 1970 March Meet;
left to right: Darrel Sullivan, Pete, Linda Vaughn, Hairy, and
"Look Ma, no hands";
Hairy removing his goggles at the end of a run at Sacramento
Raceway in 1968.
(Steve Reyes photo)
This Bob McClurg photo was taken
at OCIR in 1971 and was the featured
centerfold picture for Hot Rod Magazine.
Clutch systems were improving
in the early 1970s and between round maintenance on the race
cars was becoming more demanding. Pete wanted a "flip up"
body style to make it easier to access the clutch can, much to
the chagrin of Hairy who loved driving his '23 T roadster. The
body and paint guy (Pete) won out and a Fiat body was substituted
for the '23 T in 1971. The Fiat would be the last of the famed
altereds built by the Burkholder Bros. The best performance for
the Fiat came at a race in 1971 at OCIR. Going into this event,
there was a lot of pre-race chatter about this race giving up
the first six second run for a fuel altered. That night, Pete
and Harry set the record at 7.06 seconds at 205.94 mph. However,
they lost the final to Miko Yoshioka on a hole shot (7.15 to
7.14), a memory that still galls Hairy. In 1973, the Burkholder
Bros. sold the Fiat. At the same time, funny cars were gaining
popularity and earning big money for the racers. The next time
Pete and Harry ventured onto the drag strip, it would be with
a 1970 Barracuda funny car.
Governor's Cup at Sacramento
Wheels up qualifying
run (7.16) at OCIR-1971.
Les Welch photo from OCIR--a
large oil painting of this shot was commissioned by Tognotti
which adorned the north Sacramento store for many years. It is
now owned by nostalgia top fuel driver Terry Cox.
Best Appearing Car and Crew Award
at OCIR-1972; kneeling left to right: Pete, Hairy, and Ron Buzdas;
standing left to right: Jo Ann Burkholder, Jeff (Hairy's son),
Arlene Burkholder, and Ron's wife.
Qualified at 7.16; R1firstname.lastname@example.org;
Gary Densford photo
..Pete was the dream
partner to be teamed up with. He let me do whatever I wanted
regarding the tune up and chassis/engine combination. Pete did
all the paint and body work, took care of all the logistics of
getting us to and from the races, sometimes driving late into
the night so I could make a Sunday night graveyard shift