The Jalopy Journal
Discussion in 'Traditional Hot Rods' started by Royalshifter, Dec 12, 2007.
Here's an article about Bob Keith, a true legend of the sport. Bob will be in Australia in December for a tribute to the 66 Drag Fest.
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Most people probably don't think of the origins of drag racing -- just that it's a fun sport to watch on television.
But the beginning days of drag racing is a vivid, exciting memory for Coarsegold resident Bob Keith, one of the first Americans to introduce the sport to England and Australia in the 1960s.
"I had always been interested in cars since I was a kid," Keith said. "When I went to high school, I heard about drag racing. I got hooked the first time I went."
Keith, almost 72 years-old, said his parents were poor, so he alone funded his newfound interest. His dad did give him his first car though -- a cherry 1949 Ford that he raced to its limits.
Keith wanted to be an auto teacher but dropped out of San Jose City College after two years to work for a Chevrolet dealer and bought himself a 1957 Chevy.
Many young men did street racing back then, Keith said, but it wasn't safe and some died in those races. Keith decided he didn't want a part of that.
"I devoted myself to racing at drag strips," he said.
Keith saw an article in Hot Rod Magazine in 1963 on a new dragster developed by Sir Sydney Allard of England.
Keith was immediately interested and sent a letter to Allard. Because the sport was new, Keith said Allard wanted exhibition runs to introduce drag racing to England.
Keith said Wally Parks of the National Hot Rod Association was putting together a drag race team to go to England, and Allard suggested Keith be a member.
"It was because of his great personality and his involvement with the NHRA," said longtime friend Gil Rothweiler, who created a single-lobe roller camshaft -- part of the engine that operates the engine's valves -- for Keith's dragster.
"They had a unique vehicle, and that's why the NHRA wanted them to go to England," Rothweiler said of Keith and his sponsors.
The team, consisting of 1964's top drag racing names and 10 drag racers, toured across England. There were no drag strips, Keith said, so they raced on World War II airstrips with 30,000 to 40,000 spectators at each meet.
"It was a very successful tour," Keith said.
The team returned to England in 1965 but took only dragsters.
Keith received another call from Parks in 1966 saying that the Australians wanted him to be part of the U.S. Drag Team and help introduce the sport in Australia.
With the help of sponsor Courtesy Chevrolet of San Jose, Keith had the first big-block Chevrolet with a super charger that increased the dragster's power. He took it out for only four test runs before loading it onto a ship for Australia.
Keith raced the car for more than two months in Brisbane, Melbourne and Sydney, and it never had a failure. It was the first American car to race on Australian soil, Keith said.
While in Australia, Keith found something even more interesting than dragsters. He met Australian Lee Cummine, and they had a whirlwind romance. They met in 1966 and were married in 1967.
"Soon after we left, England and Australia began importing American dragsters," Keith said. "The Aussies were characters, and they treated us like kings. It was quite an experience and a lot of fun. We went 200 mph over chuckholes and water on World War II landing strips."
While at the salt flats in Utah in 2008, Rothweiler said he and Keith met an Australian man who recalled seeing Keith race at surfers paradise in 1966.
Keith said he was amazed that 45 years after visiting Australia, he talked to people who had seen him race in 1966.
Lex Swane of Willowbank Raceway in Queensland discovered that Keith had parts of the original dragster and in 2008 offered to finance a restoration. Keith is rebuilding his 1965 dragster to donate to an Australian drag racing museum under construction.
Kent Fuller of Rancho Cordova and Arnold Chaves of San Jose -- both helped build the original dragster -- are helping with the restoration.
"I've scoured the world looking for the right parts to make it exactly the same as it was in '66," Keith said. "The car will be very authentic when it's done."
Rothweiler said of Keith, "He's a gentleman and just unbelievable. He's like our own family."
Keith's racing past has been included -- along with other historical drag racing figures -- in the book "Crazy Horses: The History of British Drag Racing," released in England in May. Keith traveled to England for the book signing at the Santa Pod Raceway in Northamptonshire.
There were 35,000 people at that race, a lot of them just there for the book signing, Keith said. Books ran out before the day was over, he said.
The book will be released in the fall in the United States. Keith will be in Bakersfield in October for the first U.S. signing.
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This car doesnt get the respect it deserves. It won a TON of races 67-69. Part owner/driver Leon Fitzgerald was good at building ful burning Chevies. The car ended being sold to a local So-Cal guy in 1971, who kept the name, logo and paint but ran it with an inj BBC on gas in local comp elim races
This car fist debuted with a blown Olds on fuel out of respect for their sponser, Holiday Olds
Man, I loved this car. Good looking, but short lived
That's funny I talked with Nelson last weekend,and yes he wishes he had this car back.
Almost to 700 pages!!! If all these cool b&w photos were color I'd need one of them fancy Terrabyte drives
Another tight shot of The Skunk with Dad's hand built trailer in the background.
Good news I have sorted out a bunch of pics from the Aussie Drag Fest and will see if I can get my daughter to post them ASAP.
Any shots of what might be left of Jim Reed's full bodied purple jr fueler?
UDRA circuit car?
You are correct Sir. 1970-1974. Oh, Mi, Ky, Pa, In. - tracks with D. Lahaie, P. Dakin
WCD no shots of that car it was wrecked a few years ago in Victoria, I dont know what was done with the wreck.
great stuff Dennis
Thats a shame. I was enamored that car when I first read of its victory at the 1970 Aussie Nationals, besting all the fuelers because of their mechanical mishap or lack of available traction.
Yep thats a new one I haven't seen.Adding this one to the files.
Here is a shot of Jim's junior fueller at the 1972 Nationals, with then-owner Kevin Pinkstone helming it.
The car in the far lane is that of Morrie Carlton, which has now been fully restored as Australia's first resident cacklecar by Ross Preen, poster of the above and many other photos on this thread.
I have a few other shots of both cars on my web site but I'm going to re-do them at a better resolution so they are clearer.
Thanks so much for posting these shots of Pete Robinson and his "Vacuum Cleaner". This did not work out well for Pete as a lot of trash could not be filtered out and led to blower / engine damage. Please note that Pete was a minimalist. His cars were very light in weight, there was nothing on his cars that was not absolutely necessary. This car, which weighed nothing, was, I think, the car that preceded the car that Pete took his last ride in, though these shots show the head restraints of his design identical in both cars. Pete was a very serious racer. I can personally attest to his belief to take only the essentials with you when in the staging lanes at the Winternationals we witnessed Pete strip to his shorts before donning his firesuit. I mean the guy was naked except for his briefs. The comment I heard from the back was, " ...And "the Man" drops his pants". Pete was one of the most respected of all drag racers, one of the most innovative and a tough customer in competition. A real engineer and a student of the "Tree", at that time every track had different starting systems, he was the best student. Low-key and savvy. What a guy!
this was Pete's "red" car. it was prior to the "blue" car that he wrecked. He used this car to try a lot of his ideas which also included the air starter and C6 trans. He had a starting tree in his shop that he used to hone his reaction time.
Oh, that's not all...Pete came out to the West Coast and "showed 'em all" with a small block powered dragster with built in jack stands. later banned. Pete was innovative. Some said more descriptive things about him. One thing for sure, he was a great competitor.
Oh ya, I forgot to give the name...Tinker Toy Too...
Thanks to all who posted shots of Reeds car. I have always had a soft spot for jr fuelers and thier ability to serve as a giant killers. Weight being such a concern, there were few that featured a full bodied nose piece. In the B&W magazine shot, I believe thats Peter Dykes and the ex Beebe/Mulligan car in the background, no?
Somebody help me out here here with that "vacuum cleaner" scoop on Pete Robinson's FED. I understand the concept of "clean" and "dirty air" but I'm having trouble understanding why such a low air inlet. Anybody?
You're spot on. That is Peter Dykes in the shot against Jim Read's junior fueller. The car was bought by Surfers Paradise International Raceway, painted in boring red, white and blue stripes for its Ampol sponsorship and ex-speedway racer Peter Dykes took over the controls.
below are a couple of shots of the B&M fueller. The first shows Leland Kolb at mid track at Castlereagh (love the helmet above the roll cage due to Leland's height) and the second shot shows the car when Jim Read bought it and had it repainted to the B&M colours.
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