Dave Kanners, who partnered with Richard Maskin to campaign the American Motors Hornet X Pro Stock car from 1973 to 1976, died Friday, March 27, after a 4.5-year battle with pancreatic cancer. He is survived by his wife, Sue.
Kanners was one of the drag racing stars to emerge from Detroit’s famed Woodward Avenue generation of competitors who appeared on the scene in the mid-1960s during the peak of the muscle-car craze, and his colleagues included Maskin, multi-national-event Pro Stock winner Wally Booth, 1968 Super Stock Nationals winner and Booth’s engine-building partner Dick Arons, two-time world champion Mike Fons, 1968 Nationals Street Eliminator champion Sam Gianino, and many others.
Kanners’ best performance in Pro Stock was at the 1976 NHRA World Finals, where he qualified No. 1, set low e.t. of the meet, and was runner-up to Booth in the only all-AMC Pro Stock final. He also had three top 10 finishes in the NHRA Pro Stock standings: seventh in 1974, third in 1975, and fourth in 1976.
But perhaps Kanners’ best contributions were during the winter of 1973-74, when he and Maskin spent the off-season on the West Coast testing new cylinder-head and camshaft combinations developed by Booth and Arons.
Dave Kanners drove the AMC Hornet X that he campaigned with partner Richard Maskin to a runner-up finish against AMC teammate Wally Booth at the 1976 NHRA World Finals. Kanners earned his final-round berth with victories against Roy Hill, the Reher-Morrison Monza driven by Richie Zul, and Bob Glidden.
Said Booth, “There’s no doubt in my mind that what Dave and Richard did during that winter played a major role in the success that we had with the AMC Pro Stock program. Dick and I would test heads and cams on the dyno, and we’d send the parts to them for track testing, and more often than not, they backed up our findings on the dyno. When I won my first race at the 1974 Gatornationals, I ran a pair of heads that they had tested that winter. Dave was one of the most upbeat persons I ever met. His glass was always full. Even after he was diagnosed with cancer, he never complained at all. I don’t think that any of us could have handled it any better.”
Said Maskin, “Dave was a good friend as well as a partner and was involved in the forward thinking that ultimately led to the creation of my own cylinder-head and engine-building operations. He was right there, contributing with his ideas, when we started to make all of this stuff work.”
Fons said, “I met Dave when we were both in our early twenties. There was a lot of racing talent in our Detroit area, but what struck me was how Dave was brighter than most of us. You cold always look to him for good guidance and the right direction to go. He was bright not only in racing, but with his business sense as well.”
Kanners, second from right, got together with several of his racing buddies of the past last October. From left are Joe Pappas and Ted Spehar of Motown Missile fame, Mike Fons, and 1968 Nationals Super Stock winner Arlen Vanke.
Arons said, “I was really impressed with the work that Dave and Richard did with their Hornet program. After the final round of the ’76 World Finals, I told Dave that I wanted to buy their engine. If we could have had that engine in Wally’s car, stand back.”
Following his retirement from drag racing in 1977, Kanners raced motorcycles for a brief period, then became one of the country’s premier runners in long-distance events. He ran approximately 75 marathons and ultramarathons (races of 31 miles and more), including an ultramarathon in Antarctica and a marathon at the North Pole. Kanners was also an avid mountain climber, and he scaled the tallest mountains in 49 of the 50 states in the U.S., missing only Mount McKinley in Alaska.
Kanners’ sister Marilyn Beckhem said, “Dave remained very active after he was diagnosed with cancer in 2004. He continued his running, and it was his goal to climb all the states' high points again. He did 42 of them the second time around.”
A memorial gathering for Kanners is tentatively planned for late April. Details will be announced when they are finalized.