Frank Cannon Drag Race Pioneer
By Don Prieto


I would say that the first time anyone heard or saw the name Frank Cannon was in the pages of Hot Rod Magazine when the editors featured his Chrysler powered T Bird on the cover that January 1958 issue. The inside article titled Big Engines for Thunderbirds featured the detailed installation of a hopped up '57 Chrysler hemi being installed in Frank's '55 'Bird by the Chrisman Brothers garage. Art and Lloyd Chrisman performed the major surgery need to get that lump of fire breathing cast iron into a smallish engine compartment.

It was Cannons "need for speed" that prompted such an effort. Prior to the transplant Cannon was running a Kenz and Leslie McCullogh supercharged 312 cubic inch Y Block and it was the car to beat at the Santa Ana drags in Southern California. This three-carbed Ford engine performed rather nicely turning 109 mph in the quarter (the fastest of any street driven car) but as the Corvettes began to nip at his heels, Cannon made a trip to the Chrisman garage and ordered up a serious dose of horsepower from the two brothers who had become famous for making lots of it. Thus instigating the transplant and the resultant partnership that lasted for years and made drag racing history.

The 'Bird literally flew with its new 454 inch Hilborn injected Chrysler turning 116 mph and smoking the tires the length of the strip. After several successful trips down the quarter proving it's mastery of the street driven class, Cannon got into a heavy conversation with Mickey Thompson (then operator of newly built Lions Drag Strip. The discussion led to a $300 bet that Cannons engine would run 150 in a dragster with MT betting against it. Cannon of course turned to the Chrismans, suggesting that they build a dragster and put his Chrysler in it and take Mickey's money.

Art and Lloyd, seasoned veterans of the drag race world took up the challenge and quickly laid out the chassis on the floor of the garage---the chassis that would eventually become the Chrisman Brothers and Cannon "Hustler".


Chrisman & Cannon's "Hustler I" before paint at Bakersfield in 1959. Frank Cannon resting on the roll cage.

With the engine on the hoist, the new frame rails were rolled underneath and the big Hemi was lowered into the waiting tubing and bolted to a LaSalle three speed transmission and a quick change rear end.

A quick wraparound body was fashioned and it was off to Lions to get Mickey's money. The first pass netted 147 miles per hour and MT could see the handwriting on the wall. He paid off ahead of time. The rail was returned to the shop and an enthusiastic Cannon agreed to a partnership. The hemi equipped rail was sent to Red Rose for a full envelope body and the Chrisman's gathered the necessary parts to build a new engine equipped with a front mount blower setup. This would be an all out attempt to join the fast developing big time dragster ranks.


"Chrisman & Cannon Hustler shortly after they set the OFFICIAL Standard 1320 record of 181.81 mph in 8.54 seconds, at good old Riverside RCWY.The body was unpainted due to a bad blower explosion when Art had the blower mounted down in front of the crank, sort of Potvin style. Body's repaired but not yet painted. This car also made Great sounds!"
Photo & Commentary by Doug Peterson


The January 1959 issue of Hot Rod Magazine showed results of the Chrisman and Cannon relationship. This time it headlined "Best Engineered Dragster" along with a color photo of Art, Lloyd and Frank beside the Hustler turned out in its soon-to-be-famous Bronze and white bodywork.


Pomona, 1960. Chrisman Bros. & Cannon "Hustler I". I believe the body on this was done by Bob Sorrell.
Photo & Commentary by Doyle Hatfield

The NHRA fuel ban had been put in place at the beginning of the 1957 season and most of the local strips adhered to it faithfully. The Hustler did quite well reaching speeds of 152 mph with et's in the 9.9 range.

Meanwhile, Don Garlits and Setto Postoian and guys back east continued to run fuel and they were gathering all of the glory in the drag racing weekly paper Drag News, with speeds in the 160s and et's in the low nines. Cannon, never one to take a back seat in the top speed race, suggested that the Hustler be converted to run fuel.


Pomona, July 4th, 1960. Frank Cannon with Hustler II.
Photo by Doyle Hatfield


A trip to Riverside Raceway (where they allowed fuel other than gas) saw the Hustler run 163 on alcohol but the front mount blower exploded and blew the beautiful body work all to hell. Back to the garage. A top mount blower with a Hilborn two-holer set up for Nitro methane was added to the freshened engine and the body work redone just in time for the up coming Bakersfield "March Meet"--- the very first invitational dragster race that brought the fast guys out from the east and placed them on the same playing field with the best the left coast had to offer. When the dust cleared the Hustler was in the winners circle and the Hustler entered the history books as the first winner of the most famous dragster race of them all. Cannon was very proud.

The Hustler was a regular at weekly west coast races and the occasional national meet like the 1961 AHRA Nationals in Fort Worth Texas where it made a good showing on a very slippery track.

Not content to just participate and race with Art and Lloyd, Cannon had the guys build a separate chassis for him and they installed "Red" Wilsons blown injected Hemi Dodge in it for Cannon to learn how to get it down the course. It didn't take long and the little Dodge turned into a full race Chrysler. The engine and tire technology improved rapidly and very soon Cannon had a new Woody car-one of the first---and he was smoking off the best of 'em at place like Pomona and Lions.

In the mean time Art and Lloyd closed up the shop and took separate career paths while Cannon continued on with an even newer car from the now prominent Race Car Engineering products call Woody Cars. Hustler V was the latest hot setup with a big Hemi built and tuned for Frank by one Dave Zeuschel.

"Fat Davey" Zeuschel built great gobs of horsepower and quickly had Cannon regularly running speeds of 198 and 199 at Lions. The magic 200 mark had not been broken on the west coast---those who did exceed 200 in the east were somewhat questionable---and Frank wanted to be the first in California.


Frank Cannon hazes the tires in Hustler V AA/FD at Lions in 1964... new "zoomies" = 200 MPH for real.

Woody Gilmore's Race Car Engineering was always a hot bed of activity on any given day and it was during a gathering of racers that the idea of upswept headers pointing just above the tires might be the source of some performance improvement. The exhaust used thrust used to clear the tires of smoke and the resultant force should aid in keeping the front end down. Jim Ward fabricated a set of headers in the new shape and Paul Sutherland welded them together---planning to use them on his own car. The weekend rolled around and Paul's car wasn't ready. Enter Frank Cannon and the Hustler V. The new "Zoomie" headers were installed and the rig loaded and off to Lions.


Frank Cannon & Crew after running 2000 in 1964.
Ron Parenti Photo

It happened in September of 1964 at Lions Drag Strip, and Cannon was the one who did it. The first one to run 200 miles per hour on a drag strip where the times were undisputed Two hundred point eighty eight to be exact. The bubble had been busted. He grinned and lit one of his ever present cigars.


"Woody House Car" - AA/FD StreamLiner at Bakersfield in 1965
This is a rare shot indeed as this car only ran this one time before Woody scrapped it. It was Gilmore's first attempt at streamlining and the car was built in-house on his dime using a "Jocko" body. Frank Cannon supplied the engines and Pete Ogden drove.
Glenn Miller - Trackside Photo


Frank left us in the fall of 2002 and it was a sad day for those of us who knew him well. He was a kind gentle soul with a large streak of generosity. He helped lot of people. He is missed by all of us in the drag racing community.

Rest in peace, Frank Cannon.



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