A lot of race car drivers would describe themselves as “fearless,” but only one driver that I know of actually incorporated it into his name: “Fearless Fred” Goeske, who raced Funny Cars and rocket cars for decades and left us last Tuesday at age 76.
News of his passing came to me from my old pal, former Funny Car racer Jeff Courtie, who, like Goeske, raced regularly at “the Pond,” San Fernando Raceway. The San Fernando Valley was certainly a hotbed for racing in those days, with its residents in various communities including "TV Tommy" Ivo, Don Prudhomme, Bob Muravez, and countless others, many of whom were members of the seminal Burbank Road Kings car club.
Goeske grew up in Thousand Oaks -- just west of the SFV – and enjoyed cars in high school, cruised Van Nuys Boulevard, and, after tinkering first with a World War II surplus jeep then a '32 Ford, graduated to a Chevy V-8-powered Crosley that he raced at San Fernando. His erstwhile racing career was interrupted when he was drafted in 1960, but he made connections while in the service, and when he returned to California, he started a finance company, specializing in helping servicemen get cars. He made a lot of money and didn’t mind spending it on exotic cars. He owned a Porsche and a Jaguar and even a Formula 2 race car.
It was a heady time for drag racing, as the first Funny Cars were just being hatched, and Goeske wanted in on the fun. He was friends with Don Alderson – inventor of the Milodon engine – who told him about an opportunity to buy into a sponsored deal that featured a Barracuda.
This wasn’t just any Barracuda, but the wild rear-engine Hemi 'Cuda that had already been run – and crash-landed – by Tom McEwen. Apparently, it had all of the aerodynamic qualities of a wadded-up piece of paper. A second version was built for 1966, slower and lighter than the original. Fiberglass doors, hood, and front fenders replaced the steel units, and slots were cut in the large rear window to allow air to pass through and eliminate the pressure under the body; to a similar end, the front grille openings were also blocked. It’s this car that Goeske took over, along with the sponsorship from the Plymouth Dealers Association of Southern California with the stipulation that he run the car extensively and locally, which he did through the end of 1967, tallying his biggest win at the Hot Rod Magazine Championships at Riverside Raceway in April.
Goeske went conventional in 1968, commissioning Exhibition Engineering’s Ronnie Scrima and Pat Foster to build him a new Barracuda, which he dubbed Hemi 'Cuda II and won in its debut at Lions Drag Strip. After being lost to fire, the car was rebuilt as the Bushwhacker for the rest of the year, and Goeske easily was in the West Coast’s top echelon of Funny Car racers that year.
For 1969, Plymouth Dealers Association, looking to promote the hot new Road Runner, asked him to run a one-off Road Runner body, which was built by Contemporary Fiberglass and stood out in the crowd of Barracudas and Chargers. Goeske went on tour as part of the Coca-Cola Cavalcade of Stars and scored numerous big wins on the circuit, and he claimed top honors at the prestigious Popular Hot Rodding Nationals over a field that included Don Schumacher and the Chi-Town Hustler.
He switched to a Duster body for the 1970 season and lost the car in a huge fire at Capitol Raceway after the engine blew. He was able to honor the remainder of his booking by buying his ’68 Cuda back from new owner Joe Bush, who ran the Speed Sport shop in Chicago.
Goeske ran Duster-bodied cars through the 1972 season, then switched to the very popular Vega body. He competed for several more years in Vegas until he had another bad fire in August 1976, during Portland Int’l Raceway’s Coca-Cola Cavalcade event. The fire destroyed the car and ended his nitro career.
Citing a continued need for speed but not wanting to keep pace with the skyrocketing costs of running a nitro car, including the strain on engines and drivetrain as the cars got quicker and faster, he decided that low-maintenance, hydrogen-peroxide-fueled rocket cars would fill that need. “You just pour fuel in them, and you go as fast as you can stand,” he explained.
His first rocket car was a Chevy Monza-bodied Funny Car, powered by a Ky Michaelson-built motor, and he walked away from a scary moment when the right rear tire blew at speed. Goeske later bought the famed Chicago Patrol Mustang II nitro car and converted it to rocket power, too.
He raced rocket cars through the end of 1981, during which time he experienced the worst crash of his career, in Spokane, Wash., when the parachute got wrapped around the right rear tire at 275 mph, pulling the car hard to the right and over an embankment. The car was destroyed and Goeske badly injured.
After his racing career ended, Goeske founded Design Deluxe Manufacturing in Canoga Park, Calif., specializing in the manufacturing of custom wheel adapters and repair or modification to aluminum wheels.
You can see more Goeske photos on his company website, www.wheeladapter.com.
There’s also a fine recent article about Goeske on the Driving Line website.