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Folks Of Interest Just a Wee Bit of Drag Racin' History About "Akron Arlen Vanke"

Discussion in 'The Hokey Ass Message Board' started by Salty, Jun 17, 2009.

  1. Salty
    Joined: Jul 24, 2006
    Posts: 2,259

    from Florida

    So, I call my pops up tonight to give him an update on my project, and after I'm done talkin he tells me, Hey I talked to your Uncle Andy (who grew up in the Akron/Canton area) the other day and he asked me if I knew Arlen Vanke as there was a article about him in the latest issue of Muscle Car Review.

    Now my pops grew up in the same area and was thick in the circle of drag racing during the early 60's into the 70's with a brief hiatus for a Vietnam tour.

    Dad went on to say, "Yeah I told Andy that I didn't know the cat...well, Andy mailed the issue of the mag to me and I just finished reading it and I saw a picture of the car...and the guy that beat my vette...and I just about shit myself, I recognized the face, and the car."

    This is how the story goes (per my father and the 1.5 hour conversation about racin)....

    The year was 1966, I had a 1965 Vette that was a monster...streetable but barely, the cops loved to run me outta and my buddy Guss used to take our cars up to Dragway 42 and tear it up legal. That night the first car I went up against was a 1950 Willys coupe gasser and I wasted him, I was pretty proud of myself seeing as I was just a weekend warrior.

    The track then matched me up with "Akron Arlen Vanke". He was drivin a 1965 Belvedere and word had it that he was in the big time and did alot of racin on the pro circuit for plymouth.

    Well we lined up and did our customary burnout and squared up on the lights. The lights went green and we were off; it was a good match as we were neck and neck, I was crankin through the gears as was Arlen. Now the Vette wasnt losin but I wasn't spankin him like I did that Willy's...and then I shifted into third...I must have shifted pretty hard cause all hell broke loose as I broke the shifter off at the base of the trans and put my fist still attached to the shifter through the radio/dash of the vette...

    And I realized, Shit, that HURT! and I backed outta the throttle just a little bit when I realized I was bleeding all over the place and Akron Arlen took the win by a scosh.

    Seeing as I needed stiches and my car that I drove 40 miles to get to the track was now broke me and Guss packed up and headed back to the third gear the whole way. And thats the last I saw of him. Soon thereafter I got drafted and the vette got sold.

    Turns out Akron Arlen Vanke is getting inducted into the NHRA hall of fame and my pops went head to head with a legend and has the scars to prove it.

    Seems that my father heard a rumor that Arlen is now living in Deming New Mexico. If anyne knows how to get ahold of him, drop me a PM as my pops would like (if it's ok with Mr Vanke) get together and chat (my dad lives in Albuquerque NM).

    Dad was also tellin me about a gent that his father knew that was a big shot engineer for Mr Gasket in the 1950's. Dad was pretty little but remembers going to this guys garage (all he can remember is the last name of "Anderson" in Brecksville ohio and seeing all sorts of cool go fast stuff and weird cars...(not alot if info I know) but if anyone has any additional info on anyone meeting that description we'd like to know about him as well.

    My Pop is cool....Never heard that story till tonight...
    Last edited: Jun 17, 2009
    Joined: Apr 17, 2001
    Posts: 6,189


  3. Salty
    Joined: Jul 24, 2006
    Posts: 2,259

    from Florida

    Thanks FC....I was meanin to post the same pics that I Googled however I was unable to find any photos onna Belvedere campained by Arlen....could be my pops memory is rememberin a Duster or a Cuda though...
  4. ryno
    Joined: Oct 6, 2005
    Posts: 3,471


    bitchin story.funny how something so important to us just seems like nothing but memories to them.
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  5. caseyajones
    Joined: Nov 21, 2007
    Posts: 600


    Here's the car your father probably raced against:


    How Arlen Vanke Spoiled Grumpy’s Day
    It was the summer of 1969 and we were having a ball racing my original ’63 Dodge 426 Max Wedge “Drag’n Wag’n.” My friend Arlen Vanke had originally built the engine and was involved in every step of preparing it, and from the onset, that Dodge was an outstanding race car, capable of running under the national record whenever and wherever it needed to.

    Since we raced off of the national record, it was important then to be able to run quicker than it; there was no index. Meanwhile, Arlen was running rampant over the other NHRA Super Stock cars in Division 3 in his manually-shifted SS/B Hemi Barracuda; the car could clock 10.20s-10.30s on the 10.64 record, and he and Ronnie Sox were winning many of the national events.

    Unfortunately, with the NHRA World Finals only a few months away in Amarillo, Texas, things were not going so great for the guys at Chrysler’s Performance Product Planning. What had happened was that Chevrolet had just succeeded in persuading NHRA to approve the new ZL1 Camaro for Super Stock C stick. These were lightweight Camaros with high-compression, mechanical-cammed 427 motors, decked out with aluminum parts. To be legal, they had to make 50 of them, but many people felt GM reached that number using mirrors. What really compounded the problem was that Bill “Grumpy” Jenkins and Dave Strickler quickly got the ZL1s dialed in to where they could run 10.90s on the soft SS/C 11.31 record. Now, you may not like the Grump because of his affiliation with the Bow Tie brand, but he was truly way ahead of everyone else when it came to Chevrolet engines, and was absolutely brilliant when it came to setting up a drag car. Strickler, with an uncanny sense on the tree, was recognized as a great driver; put him in a car with black Jenkins Competition arrows on the rear quarters, and he was awesome. Running off that soft class record, they would be a real problem to beat.

    So Arlen got a call from Dick Maxwell at Chrysler Performance Product Planning. Can Arlen find a ’65 A990 car to build into an SS/C machine? Sure. Oh, and by the way, can you have it done in the next couple weeks to run at the NHRA points meet at National Trail Raceway? You see, at the time, you could only set a record during NHRA-authorized record runs at events, and that new record would be the subsequent class index. If you were more than a tenth of a second under your class record during eliminations, you automatically lost. The only time this rule was waived was if you went to the final round; in that case, you ran whatever you could, and that number could count as a new record if applicable. Arlen assured Dick that, yes, he could get this done and would be at National Trail Raceway (current site of the Mopar Nationals) to set the SS/C mark low enough that the ZL1 would not be a problem. Arlen told Maxwell, “Start shipping parts, I’ll find a car.”

    With only a couple of weeks to do it, Arlen ended up getting the Golden Commandos old back-up car, an A990-code Plymouth. But since it had never been used as a race car, it needed extra preparation time for a tach, electric fuel pumps, and wheelwell reworking, among other things, plus the manual transmission. Time was the one thing Arlen didn’t have, but a lot of people, to a small extent myself included, got busy helping him make it happen, while he put together an engine, transmission, and rear end himself. As the event drew near, we knew we would get it done, but it was going to be close.

    Saturday morning at the National Trail event featured tech, time trials, and record runs, with Sunday reserved for eliminations. Needless to say, Arlen got in late; that big fresh Hemi hadn’t even been fired yet. The car was unloaded, he set the timing and drove it for the first time ever, taking it to get teched in. It passed without problems, and since it was new, Arlen had a couple of friends drive it around in the pits to get some time on the engine and driveline.

    Now, everyone at the track figured something was going on. “Akron Arlen” Vanke had one of the strongest Hemi Barracudas in the country, and he showed up at a major event like this with a ’65 car? The rumors were rampant, but, as we all eventually realized, there are no real secrets in drag racing. Somebody had let the cat out of the bag, and, lo and behold, who came through the gate as a spectator but none other than Bill “Grumpy” Jenkins himself! (Remember, I told you he was smart.)

    So, with some pit time in on the engine, Arlen pulled into the staging lanes, but instead of making a time trial, he pulled into the lane for record runs. When he got to the front of the line, it seemed like everything at the track stopped. There was no water box then, so Arlen did a series of dry hops to warm the tires. The car sounded threatening; he would wing the motor, dump the clutch, and have it stopped in a couple of feet. Staged for the run, the five-count tree came down, Arlen matted the gas, and I swear you could hear that Super Stock Hemi five miles away. WHAM. At the flick of green, he let the clutch fly and the car began what would surely be one of the quickest runs ever for an A990 car. But it was not to be; moments later, the car wouldn’t shift into Second gear, the rpm fell, and Arlen coasted through the traps. I figured the worst had happened, that something must have broken. I knew Arlen would not be happy, and I knew that Grump would be smiling. However, an inspection revealed that the number 7 header pipe had interfered with the clutch linkage. As quickly as possible, Arlen got the header off, flattened that tube with a hammer, and prepared for another try at the number.

    Once back in line for his second attempt, the whole place knew that C record was going down, and going down hard. Man, I knew it—I was grinning from ear to ear—the Grump was history. As the Belvedere came to the line, everyone was standing, and at the last yellow, Arlen’s foot came off the clutch pedal and the monster was loose. This time, a smooth shift to Second. This was it! He was on one! Then nothing; the front end dropped down, the car wouldn’t shift into Third, and it was over. By now, the day was late, and the opportunity was past. Something more serious had happened, and there would not be another chance to set the record. I didn’t even want to go to his pit; Arlen had to be hurting. What could I say? What could anybody say at that point? Arlen had told Maxwell that he could do this, made every human effort to make it happen, and had failed. The Grump, probably now wearing the grin I had had only moments earlier, left for Pennsylvania, knowing his record was intact. Or was it?

    Sunday dawned a little overcast, but was a perfect fall race day. Overnight, Arlen had returned to his shop in Akron, pulled the transmission, and repaired the blocker ring that had caused the Third-gear problem. He worked most of the night, got very little sleep, and then returned to the track for the race. Record runs were over, but perhaps we could still salvage some round wins with the new car.

    Up against a full field of Super Stock entries, I was able to see Arlen win the first round with an 11.50 on the 11.31 index. That monster Hemi growled on every run, caught up with its opponents and then inched ahead at the finish. But, as I watched, I noticed Arlen never extended the car, running just good enough to win without going under the record. By now, a lot of onlookers figured that Arlen had built a good 11.30–11.40 machine, nothing less and nothing more. Then, in the late afternoon, there were only two cars left in the Super Stock: Dewey Cook in a similar ’65 A990 Hemi car, and Arlen.

    At that moment, everyone suddenly realized that if Vanke indeed had a record-setting car, he could do it right then. His failures yesterday had all been mechanical; this car had never been run flat out. So when they called the final for Super Stock, you could feel the excitement in the air. The two big Hemi cars were fired and ready, carefully staging for the money run. Arlen’s car had a sound all its own. At the final yellow, Arlen dumped the clutch, and, by the green, the monster jumped out of the gate. We were on our way! Bang! Second gear came quickly and the car was moving. Oh, man, let him get Third this time. Got it! Cook was dropping back—he must have been having problems. In Fourth gear, Vanke’s Hemi was roaring as it hit the traps. His win light came on and pandemonium broke loose. There were no scoreboards in this era, and we waited to hear announcer Clark Rader’s voice through the speakers.

    “Arlen Vanke wins and resets the national record to10.64!”Seven tenths of a second! The record was hammered! Of course, at the time-card shack, NHRA officials were waiting as Arlen came down from the top end and he was escorted to the scales. No problem; the car was legal by a solid 20 pounds. Next came teardown to ensure that, indeed, no funny business was going on, and like Arlen’s other cars, it passed with flying colors.

    I was with Arlen when he won Indy, and I had been there for some of his other wins, but this fall points race was the proudest day he ever had. While it was good to win the race and good to set the record, I will always believe that to Arlen, the most important thing was that he had done what he had promised Maxwell and lived up to his word. As for Grump, well, Sox would win the ’69 World Finals. That afternoon was one of the sport’s finest hours in my mind, and I am fortunate to say, “I was there.”
    Last edited by a moderator: Jun 1, 2014
  6. Salty
    Joined: Jul 24, 2006
    Posts: 2,259

    from Florida

    Wow....Just keeps getting better and better...

    I'm gonna go pick up the issue of the rag that pops was talking about and scan the applicable pages in (I already looked online...didnt find squat)

    Yeah I know its a pair of years after the HAMB cuttoff...but damn, my dad just keeps on getting cooler and cooler
  7. James Maxwell
    Joined: May 6, 2006
    Posts: 549

    James Maxwell
    from So-Cal

    Awesome story and great details --- fantastic!

    Please post more pics if you got them, I remember that wagon, only saw b /w photos of it however.
  8. Salty
    Joined: Jul 24, 2006
    Posts: 2,259

    from Florida

    The funny part that struck me was a comment made by my father....

    "Yup, I remembered the car cause that was the bastard that broke my vette"

    then he kinda paused and said...

    "Not like it was his fault or anything....but I'd like to think it was"
  9. Algon
    Joined: Mar 12, 2007
    Posts: 1,215



    Any inside on Arlen's time at Knafel Pontiac?

    My grandfather used tell stories of how good Arlen's old man was with tuning the "stock" injected 57 Pontiac they had early on along with anything else. His thoughts on the matter being the old man was the secret to Arlen's early success. Supposedly he lost at least one race to gramps and a friend's 55 Chevy at the Akron Airport return road, Arlen got ticked off at the loss, and drug his dad out of bed to get the Rochester back in shape, after such he was back to winning. Could be bull but its a good story...:D

    Another thing do you happen to know who the person was that originally owned/built the orange "Arlen Vanke Enterprises" 60 ElCamino ? The car has been repainted many years ago but the lettering still shows through. The little Chevy in it still sounds wicked too that last I'd seen the car... Arlen once admitted to it being authentic but not much more.
  10. Wesley
    Joined: Aug 12, 2006
    Posts: 1,670


    I am friends with Arlen's former daughter in law, I will see if she knows how to get in touch with him.
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  11. Salty
    Joined: Jul 24, 2006
    Posts: 2,259

    from Florida


    Dad said he prob wouldn't remember him....but that he might remember the vette....
    I think it would be cool personally just to get two old timers together...
  12. texoutsider
    Joined: Jul 6, 2005
    Posts: 826

    from Frisco, Tx

    Arlen is a personal friend of ours...........will make a call and get you a number and address in the morning. And, yes, that story is very should hear him tell

    When we took our "NEW" Nostalgia Super Stocker to its first big race back in 99 there were 6 or 7 B/NSS cars there...after it was all said an done, our first ever race with the car was against Arlen.........he commented that it had been a very long time since we had raced each other........and that we were the oldest drivers there...Arlen had a 65 Hemi car and we were running our 63 427 Ford Galaxie...One hell of a drag race.........saw both win lights come on...did the math later and Arlen won by .006..........but we ran a 10.501 on a 10.50 index...was #1 qualifier for the Sunday shootout...........Arlen made the statement..."don't lift on that red Ford"........."hardest charging Ford I have seen in many years"..........It still is..Engine is out for a bit of freshening....after 507 passes, and the only thing sealing the rings is the vac. be in Charlotte for the NMCA race in haaaaaaaaa

  13. buckeye_01
    Joined: Jun 20, 2005
    Posts: 1,441


    Louie was the head machinist at Goodyear Aerospace. He retired from there in the 60's. He never worked for Mr. Gasket.
    Joined: Apr 13, 2011
    Posts: 15

    from AKRON, OH

    In regards to Arlen Vanke......... Drop me an e mail at KJW9701@YAHOO.COM and I will send you his number..... He is now living in NM, taking care of his Mother.
  15. Dale Fairfax
    Joined: Jan 10, 2006
    Posts: 2,585

    Dale Fairfax
    Member Emeritus

    Kinda off the wall but any idea what Guss's last name was? (Born in Akron).
  16. Salty
    Joined: Jul 24, 2006
    Posts: 2,259

    from Florida

    I don't....HOWEVER I'll be talkin to Pop tonight...they're still friends and talk often....I'll update inna few hours.
  17. rosco gordy
    Joined: Jun 8, 2010
    Posts: 648

    rosco gordy

    Oh man the world finales these storys are the best thank you there was a lot! of dragracing before mr force.....

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