My Best and Worst Drag Races


Drag racing has been in my blood since I was about 12 I think.  I asked my Dad one night when I was real young how a gasoline engine worked, when he came upstairs to tuck me in one night. He took the time to explain it to me about 45 minutes or so. I think that was my hook that drug me into hot rods and has never let me go to this day. I used to get 25 cents as an allowance from my parents every week. So I used to save up my allowance and splurge it on Hot Rod Magazine when it came out each month at the drug store in town. It was 35 cents a copy then. The pictures of cars were either black and white or some green toned process. The magazine at that time was heavily into drag racing, the Bonneville Salt Flats, and street rods. In many respects it was the perfect magazine. I read it faithfully for years after. I used to go to the drags when I was in high school but not as often as I wanted. I got into some street races with my friends too. Most of my cars of that day weren’t very fast because I couldn’t afford a new factory hot rod. I finally bought a 1956 Chev from my friend Greg Mitchell. This thing had a little power pack 265 V8 in it with a three speed trans. It ran pretty good for what it was.

One race I remember pretty well was against Jerry Eisle. He had this little fairlane with a 260 V8 in it. He put a four barrel carb on it. It also had a four speed transmission. Then he came up to me in the hall one day and in a most smartass way challenged me to a drag race. My good friend Terry Lunsford heard the conversation and told me, “race him! You can beat him!” So I told him I would. A couple of days later Jerry and I met out on what is now 205. It used to be part of 82nd avenue. Nice long two lane one way stretch of highway with lots of shut down area. Terry was with me too. So I had some extra weight that Jerry didn’t have. Well the thing about cars is, even if the motors are fairly well matched in power, and all other things fairly equal the one with the lower gears will win. Just a mechanical advantage thing to the motor. My car had a three speed trans which was lower geared in low gear than Jerry’s four speed trans. So when it came down to the race we “hit it” and my 56 just jumped his Fairlane by almost a car length right from the start. Terry had been showing me how to really bang the gears, something that three speed Chev trans just didn’t like, and so I beat Jerry pretty bad on that race. He wasn’t satisfied so I wound up racing him at least 3 times maybe four. I beat him just as bad every time too. I never heard any more from Jerry Eisle about my 56 Chev.

When I got out of the service and several years later I got a 55 Chev business coupe from Ron Cameron, who in Ron’s finest form, just had an extra 55 lying around he wanted to sell. I bought it from him for $400.00! Groan!  Wish I still had it!  Anyway it went thru the Proffitt Modification Mill. I put a decent running 327 in it. It had the old “Blue Flame 216 cubic inch six in it. I bought a rebuilt Muncie trans from Verl Weldon in Oregon City. It was a pretty good car. I had Jerry Ryser give it a complete Deltron Black paint job complete with all the body work old JR is famous for. I replaced lots of the chrome stuff on it like the hood bird and tail light bezels from Danchuck Engineering.  I was working for a 4 wheel drive shop at that time and I found a great 57 Ford small bearing 9 inch rear end for it, and I found a great nodular third member for it and promptly plopped a set of Zoom 4:56 gears in it riding on a Detroit Locker differential. I used 31 spline Ford axles and it was bullet proof for any sort of ammo the 327 could shoot at it. Well I made the mistake of driving it to work when I changed jobs and was working for the bus barn in Willamette. Barb Shook was a driver there and she was the wife of a consummate racer Butch Shook. So she took an interest in the 55 right away. Barb and I always hit it off anyhow because she loved hot rods, was pretty and used to wear Winternational Tank Top T’s to work. Her physical architecture made the print on the shirt go way 3 D if you know what I’m saying. So Barb told me that I should bring it down to Woodburn and see what it would do. I told her I just built it for a street ride. Every time after that Barb would ask me when I was gonna bring it down. So I finally did. The first time I drove it down the track was a real shock. So I came up with my own bit of wisdom I tell all the young guys that I hear bragging about how fast their cars are. It goes something like this. “The first time you run your car down the track you’ll find out how slow it really is.”  This was true for me especially. I figured my car to be a high 12 low 13 second car. It ran a middle 15 first time down the track! I was embarrassed! Hell I saw some econo buckets going that fast! A little fiddling around that day with the traction bars and my technique and I got it to run low 14’s.  Not to be outdone, I kept taking the car back. I didn’t like abusing the trans and the clutch like drag racing does so I decided to put an automatic in it. Most bracket cars run automatics in them now anyway. So I did that and put on a set of Mickey Thompson 11.5 X 29.5 slicks on the back. The car went 109 mph and 13.00 flat right off the trailer that day!  Wow I guess I was onto something here!  By the end of the day I was running high twelves. Getting a car to drop a full second off of its et (elapsed time) isn’t as easy as you think.

During this time the car ran right smack dab in the middle of what we used to call “heavy” bracket. There was a nice guy there that has a 1967 Ford Fairlane with a 390 FE big block in it. It was bright red. Really nice car too. It was a just as fast as my 55. Who won was just who cut the best light at the start that’s all. Sometimes he’d win and sometimes I’d win. I remember one day I was chopping the Christmas tree down pretty good ( making good starts off the starting tree)  He and I paired up. His dial in was only like a hundred of a second different from mine so it was more or less a heads up start. I think my car was a hundredth faster. Anyway from my view-point it looked like we left at the very same time.  Small block Chevs pull really good thru the first couple of gears before they run out of breath. Well I jumped ahead of him but only by a bumper length! I remember watching the tach. I’d shift it at 6500 rpm. I’d look back and here was Steve’s Red Fairlane right beside me! I caught him looking at me with his ever-present sun glasses on with a big smile on his face.  I had him by one bumper length! That ain’t much. So I had my foot thru the firewall! I was flogging that poor old 327 for every horsepower it would give me. Into high gear pedal to the floor hear my four barrel ring! LOL!  Steve’s Fairlane was right there, one bumper length behind me. All the way thru the last set of mile per hour clocks!  Even then I didn’t want to let up but I did. We both got all over the brakes. Steve had to use the last return road.  We went back to the pits. I was surprised I hadn’t run out my dial in because it felt like the best run of the day. But I was still in .  We got back to the staging lanes and Steve was all done racing for the day. I parked the car and went over to him.  He parked his car behind his trailer and got out of the Fairlane, slammed the door and had this great big grin on his face. His picture perfect smile with his shades on as he walked over to me. We gave each other a big hug. “Man that’s the best race I’ve ever had!” he told me!  “Me too!” I told him back. Steve and I used to go out of our way to look each other up so we would at least get a chance to race each other out of all the other cars there.  I remember one of the starters at Woodburn asked me one day he said “Hey Proffitt how do you and Steve always wind up racing each other? Out of 100 cars in your class you guys always wind up racing each other?”  I told him we wanted to. Steve beat me as much as I beat him. We never really cared, because that was the highlight of my race day was racing Steve.

Then I decided pull the small block out when it finally gave up the ghost and split number # 4 cylinder. This time I spared no expense. I built a full on 427 Big Block roller motor, with Dart Heads tons of compression. It needed some tuning after I got it down to the track. After changing the camshaft and the intake system on it, the torque converter and some other stuff, I got it to run middle 10 second passes at about 125 mph. I hear lots of bullshit about how so and so’s street machine runs 10s. Don’t you believe these whopper stories. I’m here to tell you how difficult it is to make a 3000 lb car run ANYWHERE in the tens.  I have a few yardsticks that measure a car’s ability to run that fast. First of all if the car is anywhere in the 3000 lb weight range it takes a MINIMUM of 750 horsepower and almost that much torque to run the 10 second numbers. Even if you have a car that can make that kind of power you have to get it to the ground. That’s another challenge that’s not easy to do. The first 60 feet off the race is where all the cars elapsed time is established. That’s why there’s a 60 foot timer on most good tracks.  A good 60′ time is like 1.58 etc. This not a zero to sixty time. It’s a zero to sixty feet out time.  I figured my 55 would do zero to 60 mph.  somewhere in the 2.5 second range. It would run 1.55 sixty footers most of the time.

Here’s what it’s like to run a 3000 lb car that was never designed for 750 horsepower down the track. First of all you have to do a burn out. The drag slicks have to get hot so the compound in the tire gets sticky. This makes the tires hook to the track real good. So you have to do a burn out. There’s even an art to this. Most good bracket cars have line locks on the front brakes which locks the front brakes without locking up the rear ones.  So you pull the car thru the water box. That’s an area of concrete with a pool of water on it. The water’s there to make it easier to get a pair of 14″ wide slicks rolling over on bare pavement. I used to hear all sorts of methods for doing a burn out most of which said to start the burn out in second gear, somehow supposed to me more humane on the trans? Nah I always started mine in low gear. I’d get the tires rolling after I got the line lock set. You have to hold down this little red button to keep the line lock turned on. So now I have the tires rolling over in low gear at a none too fast 3500 rpm. I shift it up into second and run the tach up to about 4000 rpm. Now the smoke is starting squirt out the sides of the fenderwells. I’d rev the motor up to about 4800 rpm and shift it up into high gear and run the motor up to about 4200 rpm. When the tires get hot they will start pulling the motor down if you don’t give it any more throttle. When I could hear this I’d release the line lock and ease back on the throttle very easily. We don’t want the rear end overrunning the sprague in trans. This would allow the car to usually come out of the water slowly. If you did it right it would roll out and onto the starting pad with the old Goodyear’s making fly paper- like sucking sounds as they kiss the hot, sticky track.  Most of the time you have to fan the drivers door to get the tire smoke out of the car so you can see again!  Then you ease the car into the first set of staging lights until they come on. The starter will come over and give you the ok to roll into the “staged” lights. Number two set is lit and you and the car are where you should be for the start. Now you put your foot on the foot brake and pull the trans back down into low gear. You wait for the guy your racing to get almost staged. I used to pick the rpm up a little bit until I saw his first staging lights come on. Some guys will try to screw around with your head and dilly dally around staging their car while your motor is up. I only had one guy do that with me. When I’d see his pre stage lights come on I’d pull the motor up to about 5000 rpm or maybe 55oo depending upon how much “hook” I was getting off the particular lane I was in.  When things are set the starter turns the Christmas Tree loose and it counts down with four yellow lights .5 seconds apart. The trick is to try and leave when the last yellow goes out. If you go when it’s still on all you get is a red light and your opponent gets the win. Ok so the Christmas tree is flashing down and it’s time to go. Punch the throttle to the floor, and take your foot off the brake. The front end of the car jumps up like it’s gonna tip over backwards. The car accelerates so hard in low gear it feels like someone slugged you in the stomach, and it makes you dizzy at the same time. It’s an unpleasant feeling.  You watch the tach and before you can take a breath the bright LED shift light comes on telling you the motors at its 7500 rpm shift point. So you shift it into second and everything starts in all over again just not quite as rudely as before. Still my stomach hurts and I’m still dizzy. I can take just a bit more time and look over the car and gauges. Now the shift light is on again and you shift it into high gear. Now the car is running down the track like a flipping cruise missile and you still at half track! You have another 1/8 of a mile to let it unwind! You think Jeez I’m going plenty fast right now!  So you hold the throttle down and let her unwind right out the back door past the last MPH clock.  You let up on this car easily. It has coil over rear suspension and wrinkle wall slicks that don’t take kindly to lots of immediate brake application. The suspension settles back down and you feel a slight fish tail as the side walls in the slicks come back from outer space. Now you get on the brakes and slow this freight train down. You turn the car up the last return road and kick the driver’s door open a little  and drive her up the return road past all the drooling fans in the stands. You pick up your time slip and drive back into the pits with it hanging out of your mouth.  You take a look at it and see if it’s as good as it felt. If your car is set up right it usually is.  That’s what it’s like driving a Pro bracket, 10 second drag race car. Drag race cars are the hardest accelerating cars on the planet, period.  Even a modest drag car will embarrass some expensive European sports cars badly thru a quarter-mile. Believe it. So I dont’ get revved up over Lambos, Ferrari’s and the like. Sure I’d like to have one but I can’t afford it. I’ll just have to put up with my 1968 Old Cutlass.

Dave

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