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Early NHRA gasser star, Indy winner "Ohio George" Montgomery passes away

“Ohio George” Montgomery, one of the first superstars in NHRA Drag Racing history, passed away Aug. 24. Montgomery, who was voted No. 28 on the list of NHRA’s Top 50 Racers in 2000, was a dominant force in gasser racing for decades beginning in the late 1950s.
24 Aug 2023
Phil Burgess, NHRA National Dragster Editor
"Ohio George" Montgomery

“Ohio George” Montgomery,” one of the first superstars in NHRA Drag Racing history, passed away. Aug. 24. He was 90.

Montgomery, who was voted No. 28 on the list of NHRA’s Top 50 Racers in 2000, was a dominant force in gasser racing for decades beginning in the late 1950s and was the driver in history to win the prestigious U.S. Nationals more than once. Incredibly, by 1963, he had won it three times before anyone had even won it twice.

Montgomery first won the event in 1959 in its first of two years at Detroit Dragway. Montgomery’s weapon of a choice was a baby-blue ’33 Willys powered by a supercharged 390-cid Cadillac engine bored and stroked to 414 inches. 

Wary of traction woes at Detroit, Montgomery cast a “spare tire” by pouring concrete around a spare Willys wheel and placed the 600-pound ballast in the trunk to give the car more weight over the back tires. He handily won A/Gas class, then the Little Eliminator shootout over a fledgling speed-shop operator named Jeg Coughlin.

Montgomery won the Nationals again in 1960 in Detroit, where again dominated the competition, winning the newly-recategorized A/Gas Supercharged class and then Don Breithaupt to again win the Little Eliminator crown. Because the Nationals still was the only event on the calendar, it also made Montgomery’s NHRA’s first de facto multi-event winner. 

Montgomery won the Nationals again in 1963 at its new home in Indianapolis. It was the first NHRA national event to utilize the new Christmas Tree starting system, and Montgomery proved to be a quick study. 

Montgomery again won class and then the Middle Eliminator crown that was one of six eliminators now offered (the others being Top, Little, Jr., Comp, and Stock), defeating the vaunted AA/Street Roadster of California Hugh Tucker, whose mount wouldn’t fire, and, in the final, chased down Gene Altizer’s Chevy-powered A/Gas 51 Anglia to collect his third Nationals win in five years.

The popularity of the A/Gas Supercharged cars led to nationwide match-race bookings with Montgomery dueling with the likes of Stone, Woods, and Cook. “Big John” Mazmanian, and K.S. Pittman, who were all based in California. It was during this time that Montgomery acquired the “Ohio George” nickname in the advertising wars waged by the cam manufacturers in the weekly drag rags.

His Nationals success also led to an invitation from NHRA President Wally Parks for Montgomery to be part of a team of Americans who traveled to England in 1964 to showcase the sport overseas. Montgomery and Pittman represented the gassers and shared bunk space aboard the racecar-laden ship with the likes of Don Garlits, Tommy Ivo, Tony Nancy, Ronnie Sox, Dave Strickler, Bill Jenkins, Bob Keith and Doug Church.

Montgomery’s success also led to bidding wars among cam makers – Harvey Crane wooed him way from Iskenderian by offering a $2,000 bonus on top of the normal product-only deal – and even auto manufacturers like Ford and Chrysler were eager to not only get on the winning train but to have their engineers work with the skilled and respected Ohioan. 

After a “devastating” loss at the ’65 Nationals, Montgomery realized that he’d tapped out the Chevy engine and became associated with Ford, who initially offered him their 289, but Montgomery had his eyes instead on Ford’s new 427-cid SOHC “cammer” engine, which was having some success in the nitro ranks with Connie Kalitta, Pete Robinson, Tom Hoover, and others. Ford was impressed with what Montgomery had done with their engine, but not thrilled that he was doing it with a Willys body, and he switched to a Mustang.

Montgomery got the car, now classed in Super Eliminator, into the winner’s circle at the 1969 Springnationals, which by then was being contested at Dallas International Motor Speedway. A few months later, Montgomery claimed his fourth Indy title in the car. 

Montgomery would go on to revolutionize the sport again with a successful turbocharged version of the Mustang that won the Gatornationals back to back in 1973-74 with a car that many consider to be the father of today’s Pro Mod machines, and a record-smashing turbocharged AA/Modified Compact Pinto.

After he retired from racing in the early 1980s, Montgomery stayed busy building and servicing custom engines; from 1986 through 2001 he supplied all 100 of the Buick V-6 spec engines for the Indy Light series. George’s Speed Shop, which he opened in 1950 in Dayton, Ohio, was the world’s oldest continuously operating speed shop.

Before his passing, Montgomery also was involved in the creation of a great book, "Ohio George" Montgomery: Drag Racing's Gasser King, detailing his life and racing, which can be found on his website, and on Amazon and other online outlets.