NHRA - National Hot Rod Association

The Fred Files

10 Jul 2009
Phil Burgess, NHRA National Dragster Editor

Wow, it's been a busy week, and I've been swamped in all sorts of meetings that have sucked away the precious time I had planned to dedicate to a new installment of the Misc. Files for today, but my loss is your gain with an intriguing peek at some goodies ahead.

A few months ago, I was contacted by Fred von Sholly,  the Division 1 photographer in the mid-1960s for then Director Darwin Doll, but he also was the track photographer at Cecil County Drag-o-way, which featured a lot of match races.

Fred wanted to know if I was interestied in having a large collection of his images from that era to add to the National DRAGSTER archives.

"I don't want anything in return," he wrote. "I just feel that someone out there might appreciate seeing these photos."

Are you kidding me? I know a lot of people who would!

Fred recently sent me a CD from the late 1960s and early 1970s with images of early Top Fuelers, Funny Cars, and Pro Stockers at Cecil County as well as at legendary East Coast facilities including Aquasco, York, Capitol Raceway, and Raceway Park, some of which are in the montage at right. I've been going through them and will present some next week. There's some great early stuff of "Jungle Jim" Liberman, Don Garlits, Don Prudhomme, Don Schumacher, and much, much more – a lot of stuff that I'm pretty sure has never been seen or at least for a long while. He sent more than 500 images, and while I'm obviously not going to be able to share them all, I will cherry-pick through them and give Fred's artistry another day in the sun. We've seen a lot of early stuff from the West Coast, but not as much from the East, so this could be fun.
I also had asked Fred to share some of his memories from that era, and he responded right away with a couple of gems about Pro Stock hero Bill "Grumpy" Jenkins.

"I was good friends with the owners of Cecil County Drag-o-way," he wrote. "Back in the late '60s and early '70s, Bill Jenkins used to test his cars at Cecil whenever the mood struck him. I asked the owners to let me know when Jenkins was coming to test.

"One day they called and said that he was coming. When I got there, Jenkins was the only person on the track. I think he had one guy with him. The track caretaker was running the clocks. Bill had a car carrier with a big vise attached. I arrived just in time to see him sawing a new Holley carburetor in half. Jenkins wasn't very talkative, but since he and I were the only people around, it was hard for him to ignore me. He explained that Holley didn't build a carburetor that really suited his needs, so he decided to just 'make' one using the large primary halves of two Holley carburetors. He sawed both of them in half and epoxyed the two primaries together and secured them with a metal plate, as shown in the accompanying photo.
"He then bolted this creation on his manifold and started making some test passes. I really don't remember the actual speeds, but I do remember telling friends that he was running about 10 mph faster than the national record for Pro Stock. I don’t think that the carburetor was legal for NHRA races, but Bill did a lot of match racing in those days. He always kept a rag over his carburetor while working on his car in the pits with people around. This is what was under that rag!"

And another ….

"Every time Jenkins showed up at the track, other racers tried to get a glimpse of anything new on 'Grumpy's' car. He was such an innovator that people followed his lead as the new Pro Stock class was just developing. Back then, match races between racers like Jenkins, Don Nicholson, Dick Landy, Sox & Martin, and many others were able to fill the stands at the local tracks. 
"One week, someone came running into the tower to announce that Jenkins had shown up, and he had 3/16-inch holes drilled in the top of his headers right near the flange that attached the headers to the engine block. These mysterious holes were the main topic of conversation around the track for the next few weeks, and Jenkins wasn't talking. He did seem pleased that his modification was causing so much speculation and interest. I heard all kinds of theories from increased pressure and cool air being introduced at this point would produce a venturi effect, blah, blah, blah. Everyone had a different theory as to why 'the Grump' had drilled those holes in his headers. Before long, everyone was drilling similar holes in their headers, and while they didn't understand what they were supposed to do, they all bragged about lower e.t.s and increased mph as a direct result of these eight little holes.
"After a month or so, Jenkins couldn't keep the secret to himself anymore. He decided to let everyone in on his much copied speed 'secret.' Jenkins explained that a V-8 motor is essentially eight one-cylinder engines connected together. In order to blueprint the engine, he had to make each cylinder as close to the others as possible. One way to gauge if the cylinders were equal was to measure the temperature of the exhaust. So, the simplest way of doing this was to stick a $2 thermometer directly in the header pipe of each cylinder and compare them. In other words, the 'mysterious holes' that made everyone's car run better were solely for the purpose of inserting a thermometer! They did not enhance performance in any way. Shortly after, the popular little holes that had appeared on most of the cars in the pits went away."

That's a great story, and certainly not the first time I've heard of this monkey-see, monkey-do phenomenon or the furor created by an unknown item suddenly appearing on certain race cars: Witness "the Terrible Towel" incidents of Kenny Bernstein in the mid-1980s and Gary Ormsby later that decade. Those terry-cloth diversions just about drove their opponents insane – what were they hiding under there? The details are a little fuzzy, but I also remember Ken Veney telling me how he had playfully added an extra bolt – I believe he even had painted it red – to his intake manifold and, after he ran another trademark low e.t. blast, the clamor that arose from his peers.

Anyway, I'm going to leave you with a handful of von Sholly pics to whet your appetite and give you an idea of the treasure trove he has bestowed upon us, which will make a nice complement to the Misc. Files; we'll call them the Fred Files. Thanks for sharing, Fred!

Another Pro Stock icon of the 1970s,  "Dyno Don" Nicholson in his Maverick; love the multicolored banners over the starting line!
Gene Conway's Corvette Funny Car, circa 1970, the follow-up to his popular Destroyer Jeep Funny Cars
The late, great Lew Arrington and his popular Brutus Mustang; crew chief listed on the car as "Head Grump: Dutch Irrgang"
Before Warren Johnson, "the Professor" was Kelly Chadwick, near lane, shown with Arne Swensen in Swensen & Lani Mustang

"Big Daddy" Don Garlits in Englishtown, probably 1971 or '72, judging by the front-engined car in the other lane

So there's your sneak peek. I hope to have some more stories from Fred and show off more of his great pics in the columns ahead.