NHRA - National Hot Rod Association

The Misc. Files: J … keeping up with the Joneses (and Johnsons, etc.)

18 Aug 2009
Phil Burgess, NHRA National Dragster Editor

It's hard to believe that it's been more than a month since I've pulled up a chair and cracked open the file cabinet filled with miscellaneous unfiled photos from the National DRAGSTER archives. In case you’re new to this part of town, these photos are among the lost gems of our collection, stuffed into alphabetically labeled folders because either the driver didn't have his or her own file or because the driver was unknown and the photo was filed by whatever information was available (car name, etc.).

Anyway, when we last left off July 3, you were out buying fireworks, and I had just published the H edition (I'd done the I version way earlier … long story), but since then, we all got waylaid with The Fred Files and One-Hit Wonders, so today we arrive at J. I can’t tell you the number of racers named Johnson in this folder: John Johnson, Ron Johnson, Tom Johnson, Jim Johnson -- the list goes on and on -- but I was able to get a fair mix of other surnames anyway. Sit back and enjoy!

This is Leonard Hughes of Candies & Hughes fame in the second Jake's Speed Equipment machine, a Race Car Engineering-built Dart, an early Funny Car and the descendant of his original and better-known Jake's machine, a wheelie-popping '65 Plymouth Fury. The photo wound up in the Misc. J file because there's not a stitch of driver ID on the car, which was built in late 1966 and campaigned only in 1967. The ID on the back of the photo says only "Austin," which to me means it was taken at Austin Raceway Park. Jake's Speed Equipment was based in New Orleans and operated for nearly 50 years by John "Jake" Howard Sr., who died about four years ago at age 85. In the far lane is the Don Hardy-built Camaro of "Big Mike" Burkhart and pre-Blue Max Harry Schmidt.

Another pic in the wrong place at the right time is the Jumping Joe Vega Funny Car of Richmond's Joe Weis, the father of modern-day fuel and alcohol racer Scott Weis. "Jumping Joe" mostly competed on alcohol but experimented with some pop and cackle in 1973 before reverting to alky the next year. That's Jim Wigglesworth in Charlie Scott's Highland Bandit Mustang in the other lane.

Most fans associate the Flying Dutchman name with Al Vanderwoude, but a number of drivers actually campaigned under his memorable moniker, including Tom Johansen in 1972-73 in this wildly stretched Ford Maverick. Johansen had campaigned a pair of Sour Grapes Dodges (a Charger and a Challenger) before joining forces with Vanderwoude.

While Malcolm Durham was making a name for himself in the Northeast with Funny Cars and Pro Stockers, another determined young black racer named Roosevelt Johnson was hard at work in the Deep South. Beginning with Factory Experimental Mercury Comets and Ford Falcons and carrying through this 351-powered '73 Ford Pinto, Johnson and his brother, Joe, were diehard Ford runners. Some of his other rides were in Buck Pike's Georgia Cracker Maverick and his own Super Maverick.

Here's a double J for ya: Jimmy Jones. Division 4 Top Alcohol Funny Car racers fear Jones these days because the driver of the Texas Tremor has tacked Division 4 championships on the wall of late, but there have been a lot of miles on the road to stardom. The Cleburne, Texas, pharmacist has been racing for nearly four decades and fielded this sleek-looking Charger early in his career. Tuned by his longtime crew chief, Eddie Siegmund, Jones' Jokers Wild machine is shown taking on another Division 4 vet, James Brown and the Kool Klutch Mustang II, at Texas' Eastex Dragway in 1979.

Former Pro Comp and Top Fuel driver Jerry Jefferson had been racing fuel Funny Cars for eight years when the driver of the Oklahoma Land Rush Corvette seemed to have finally hit paydirt, qualifying for the inaugural NHRA national event at Texas Motorplex in 1986 with an out-of-nowhere bomb of 5.68. That pass was a quarter-second quicker than the Choctaw, Okla., auto dealer had ever gone (5.93) and lifted him to the lofty No. 6 qualifying position, ahead of notables such as Mark Oswald, Billy Meyer, Mike Dunn, and Tom McEwen. Although a bum magneto left him sitting at the starting line against Tom Hoover in round one, good things seemed to be coming. Alas, Jefferson's run was short-lived as he got into a two-car tangle with Jerry Caminito at the 1987 IHRA Winternationals that destroyed both cars.

And yet another double J entry. Jerry Janke was in on Pro Stock's ground floor in 1970 and campaigned a line of Camaros all the way through 1982, including this '76 model shown at the old Houston Int'l Raceway, onetime (and brief) home of the NHRA SPORTSnationals. He has a little place in Pro Stock history as a member of the first 500-inch Pro Stock field (1982 Winternationals), for which he qualified No. 14 with an 8.15, and he made it to the second round by beating the "California Flash," Butch Leal, on a first-round holeshot. He nearly won the AHRA Pro Stock championship in 1978, falling in the semifinals at the World Finals in Spokane, Wash., to Shelby Jester, who went on to take the title. He also operated Janke Racing Engines in his San Antonio hometown.

How about three Js? Jim and Jerry Jokerst called their wild-looking '70 Camaro Mr. Sinister, an apt name for the brothers' wicked-looking Chevy, shown at Miami Speedway Park. The St. Louis-based car was pure Chevy, down to its 427 powerplant, and was the third in a line of cars for the brothers; Jim always did the driving. After this car came a Vega named Snidely Whiplash that the brothers campaigned for several seasons. Don Zoellner bought this car and later the Vega from the brothers, who quit racing in 1976.

Tom Jacobsen might be known to modern fans as the driver of the 1990s Soff Seal Pro Mod car, but his racing lineage goes way back to the 1960s, when he was one of the pilots of Tom Sturm's Just 4 Chevy Lovers Chevelle. Here's a pretty amazing racing family portrait from 1971 of the Jacobsen family, posed in front of their ramp truck toting their Old Blue/Gledhill Chevrolet Camaro Pro Stocker, which Jacobsen ran into the mid-1970s. Dig that '70s miniskirt and go-go boots!

And finally, what's the old saying ... "Everything old is new again"? Take a look at today's nostalgia Top Fuelers with their upright seating and compare them to this piece, Paul (P.G.) "Injun" Johnson's "funny digger" from the early 1970s. I actually found two pics of this car, built by Race Car Specialties and Jim Hume, both taken at Irwindale, but with two different car numbers: one with Johnson's (7717), and this one with Butch Maas' number (7720). Earlier this year, Bob Frey sent me a long list of cars that Maas had driven (compiled a year earlier in Pomona), but this one wasn't one of them, meaning that it was truly forgettable or that he only drove it a very few times. In the shot with Johnson driving, the car has canard wings in front of the rear meats, so I'm guessing that maybe Maas shook it down, it handled poorly, and they added the wings before Johnson took the saddle.