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
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
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
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.
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.
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.
Raceway 1962; note: Chet Herbert sitting in the driver's seat
of the Olds push car parked behind the dragster (Jeep on the
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
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.
Jeep Hampshire at
the wheel of Bill Martin's 400 Jr. Henderson, NV (1963).
Cedarquist Bros.-Ryan AA/FR
with Jeep driving; boiling the hides at Lions Drag Strip; 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.
on the return road at Lions Drag Strip; 1963.
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 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.
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
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
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).
of Speet - Part 2
..............in 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.