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History Who Ran Nitro First

Discussion in 'The Hokey Ass Message Board' started by Speed Gems, Dec 28, 2019.

  1. Speed Gems
    Joined: Jul 17, 2012
    Posts: 2,572

    Speed Gems

    Seen question the other day on who was the first to run nitro on another website, and although I didn't follow the debate I got to wondering who it was. Seems to me it might have been Isky or Vic Edelbrock Sr. with a V8 60 in his midget sprint car with fran Hernandez building the engine. I think among the first drag racers to run it were Cook and Bradwell and I don't know who ran it first at the lakes.
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  2. saltracer219
    Joined: Sep 23, 2006
    Posts: 749


    Tony Capanna was also a very early Nitro pioneer.
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  3. stanlow69
    Joined: Feb 21, 2010
    Posts: 4,321

    from red oak

    Those guys with the model airplanes.
  4. Hnstray
    Joined: Aug 23, 2009
    Posts: 11,431

    from Quincy, IL

    Seriously? I did not know that was the fuel...........I had .049 cu in control line models in the mid '50s with a can of 'something' for fuel. Or was nitro a specialized fuel for upper class model racers, akin to the race car hierarchy?
    What about the tether cars of the '30s?

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  5. drtrcrV-8
    Joined: Jan 6, 2013
    Posts: 1,260


    The early '50s Model Airplane racers(as well as the "Tether Cars") often ran a 2cycle fuel named "Franny's Hi-Nitro" which was VERY POTENT!! It had just enough Castor oil to keep the engines from seizing, but was Methanol with a high percentage of Nitro Methane(the smell alone was a "give-away"!!)
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  6. BadgeZ28
    Joined: Oct 28, 2009
    Posts: 1,044

    from Oregon

  7. I know that the US military did experimental test during WWII.
    Realized that it was lethal to engines.
    If I can remember the quote I read,,,,” although tremendous power gains can be realized,,,catastrophic engine failure is the end result. “
    Not exactly words for words,,, but very close.

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  8. oldolds
    Joined: Oct 18, 2010
    Posts: 2,968


    Yup. Airplane guys used it first! A lot of the speed secrets came from the war effort. You had a lot of paid people trying to figure how to go faster and stay together as long as you could.
  9. Truck64
    Joined: Oct 18, 2015
    Posts: 4,056

    from Ioway

    Gasoline, at least high octane flavors suitable for high performance piston aircraft, was in very short supply during the World War 2.0. All the scientists around the world on every side were working on ways to try and extract more gasoline from a barrel of crude, and much research into synthetics and better ways of cracking and coal gasification.

    Water injection was one interesting avenue that resulted as well. The shortages were one reason I never for a second believed the "100 mile carburetor" for V8 engines that were rumored in later years. If it were possible, they would have done it then, guaranteed.
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  10. badgascoupe
    Joined: Jul 22, 2011
    Posts: 135


    I had heard the planes taking off carriers in WW2 needed the extra boost from nitro to take off.
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  11. pitman
    Joined: May 14, 2006
    Posts: 4,918


    My cousin Dave Sanderson used it in '56-'62
    on various strips in NE, and Kansas Nats.
    Last edited: Dec 29, 2019
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  12. Truck,,,
    You are right,,,,when the wolf is at the door,,,,there is no tomorrow.
    You do whatever it takes today !

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  13. Correct Edelbrock used nitro in his V8 60 to compete and win against the Offy (Engine) powered midgets.

    They used Nitro in qualifying at the Indy 500

    The failed Indy “nitro ban”
    By -Kevin Triplett

    Nowadays, the use of nitromethane to boost the horsepower output of racing engines is well known, but such was not the case in the nineteen fifties. Produced by the treatment of sodium chloroacetate with sodium nitrite to create the chemical compound CH3NO2, an colorless oily liquid that is very effective as a power adder because carries its own oxygen. Nitromethane is 52-1/2 percent oxygen by weight, so it needs much less atmospheric oxygen to burn and release its massive energy.

    The theoretical stoichiometric air/fuel ratio of nitromethane ne is 1.7:1, which means it takes 1.7 pounds of air are needed to burn 1 pound of nitromethane. By comparison the stoichiometric air/fuel ratio of gasoline is 14.7:1 and methanol commonly used in Indianapolis racing engines has a stoichiometric air/fuel ratio of 6.45:1.

    As far back as 1919 Arthur A Backhaus of Baltimore Maryland patented a fuel mixture of gasoline, alcohol and nitro benzol, but Backhaus did not make any claims of increased power output. In the nineteen thirties, Carleton Ellis, Standard Oil’s pioneering automotive chemist, patented several mixtures of nitro-hydrocarbons as ‘anti-knock” additives for lower octane gasoline.

    Prior to the outbreak of World War 2, the Mercedes and Auto-Union racing teams both used nitro compounds to boost horsepower; the German teams used a mixture of 85-percent methanol, 10-pecent nitromethane and five-percent acetone. While the mixture increased horsepower, nitromethane was also corrosive to the internal components in the engines and fuel system which required a strict program of draining a flushing the fuel system between races.

    In 1949, Southern California hot rodder Vic Edelbrock was introduced to nitromethane by midget racer Eddie Haddad, who had been given a gallon of nitromethane by the trio of pioneering tether car builders the Dooling brothers. Edelbrock experimented with the use of nitromethane in his Ford flathead V-8 60 engine to keep up with the purpose-built Offenhauser four-cylinder racing engine which had a significant power advantage over the Ford V-8 60 cubic inch power plant.

    Through trial and error Vic learned that the use of nitromethane required the metal portions of the fuel system to be nickel-plated and the use of spark plugs with a cooler spark tip. Edelbrock's late-night work paid off as on the evening of August 10, 1950, Vic’s midget the seventh Kurtis-Kraft car built driven by Rodger Ward to victory at the famous Gilmore Stadium with a 20% blend of nitromethane in the tank, then Edelbrock and Ward followed up the next night with another URA midget race win at Orange Show Stadium in San Bernardino.
    The growth of the use of nitromethane in American open-wheel racing paralleled the wide-spread use of fuel injection as both spread east from the West Coast. Following his service in World War 2, Jim Travers partnered with Stuart Hilborn to develop and sell fuel-injection systems, but that venture failed. Hilborn returned to working at night in his home garage to perfect his system while Travers fulfilled his promise to his war-time buddy Elinor “Swede” Lindskog to go midget racing full-time.

    Lindskog from “backwoods Washington” was a pre-war midget racing standout, and with the “Swede” driving and Travers on the wrenches, the pair were very successful, but their partnership was tragically short-lived. On the evening June 27, 1946, “Swede” set a new track record of 14.78 seconds on his first timed lap on Gilmore’s quarter-mile track, but on his second lap, Lindskog’s midget crashed into the outside retaining wall and rolled over three times. Just 29 years old, “Swede” died enroute to the Hollywood hospital and Jim Travers swore to quit racing.
    Eddie Haddad soon persuaded Travers to join his team which was owned by Southern California garage owner John Balch. Shortly afterward, Balch sold the team to Superior Oil Company tycoon Howard Keck and before long Keck wanted to add a second mechanic to the team and Jim Travers suggested his dry lakes competitor, Frank Coon.

    In 1948, with Keck’s backing, Travers and Coon ordered a new front wheel drive chassis from Los Angeles metalsmith Emil Diedt to try to conquer Indianapolis. During the 1948 Indianapolis ‘500’ driver Jimmy Jackson ran just outside the top five for most of the race, but a good finish was spoiled when a wheel spindle broke on the sleek maroon machine with seven laps to go and Jackson spun into the infield and was placed tenth.

    Early in 1949 Stuart Hilborn left his day job to devote himself full time to the manufacture of his injectors, with the first production run for the 105-cubic inch Offenhauser midget engine with Eddie Haddad as one of the salesmen and pioneers of the use of the fuel injection system. Hilborn then advanced into building injectors for the 270-cubic inch Offenhauser engines for Indianapolis cars.

    The prototype Offenhauser 270 injector system was fitted to the Keck machine and Jimmy Jackson qualified with the first Hilborn fuel injectors at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, but the team switched back to carburetors for the 500-mile race.

    By 1950 there were seven Hilborn injection set ups at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway and some of the qualified teams rented their set-ups to other teams for qualifying. Car owner Howard Keck and his mechanics, “the Whiz Kids” Travers and Coon hired three-time Indianapolis 500 winner Mauri Rose who liked the Hilborn injection system.

    Rose averaged 132.319 mile per hour (MPH) to qualify on the outside of the front row as the highest qualifying injected machine, then Rose and five other cars raced in the 500-mile race with the revolutionary Hilborn injectors installed.

    The use of nitromethane was first discussed publicly after the 1952 race - most railbirds figured that about half that teams used a mixture of 10-12% nitromethane for qualifying. In 1952, on straight methanol the 270-cubic inch four-cylinder Offenhauser engine developed 345 horsepower but a dose of ‘pop’, as nitromethane became known, added at least 40 horsepower, and could add up to as much as 100 horsepower depending on the amount of nitromethane used. In addition to the cost - nitromethane cost $5.35 a gallon in 1952 ($50 a gallon today), too strong a dose of nitromethane could quickly destroy a racing engine.

    A 1954 Society of Automotive Engineers (SAE) paper prepared by E.S. Starkman a University of California professor entitled “Nitromethane as a Piston Engine Fuel” found the when added to methanol, nitromethane increased power by 13 percent, but Starkman’s experiments found that nitromethane percentages above 20% created unfavorable pre-ignition conditions in the cylinders.
    Jim Travers, left and Frank Coon, right are congratulated by
    Indianapolis Motor Speedway President Wilbur Shaw
    at the 1953 "500' Victory banquet as the mechanics on the winning car.
    Photo courtesy of the IUPUI University Library
    Center for Digital Studies Indianapolis Motor Speedway Collection

    It was widely believed that in addition to adding the liquid for time trials, several teams added a small percentage of nitromethane for the running 1952 Indianapolis 500-mile race. Those teams included oilman Jack Hinkle’s team with driver/mechanic Jack McGrath, J.C. Agajanian’s team with chief mechanic Clay Smith and driver Troy Ruttman, the Granatelli brothers team from Chicago with driver Jim Rathmann, and Bill Vukovich, the new driver of the Keck “Fuel Injection Special” team. Those teams dominated the 1952 ‘500,’ and among them led all the laps of the race, which Ruttman won after Vukovich’s Kurtis-Kraft roadster broke a steering gear on lap 191.

    Tommy Milton, the first two-time winner of the Indianapolis 500-mile race and the race’s Chief Steward from 1949 through 1952 gave a provocative interview published in the May 1953 issue of Popular Mechanics magazine. that discussed among other subjects, the use of nitromethane. In the article entitled “The 500 as the Experts See It” Milton and his long-time friend C.W. Van Ranst revealed the details of “the so-called nitro fuel” a product most racing fans knew nothing about in 1953.

    Milton explained that nitromethane was added to the base methanol fuel, and stated that the fuel was dangerous, because “the bravest guy will win - the driver who is willing to put the highest percentage of nitro in his fuel will go the fastest until the engine flies apart.” Milton stated that “they” wanted to eliminate nitro, but that “they” would “have a hard time trying to police the ban. No matter how they change the rules the minute the rules are out, everybody goes to work to find out how to beat them.”

    In early 1953, the National Championship Car Owners Association (NCCOA) a group comprised of car owners on the AAA (American Automobile Association) championship circuit led by Ed Walsh started a movement to ban “high explosives in fuel” for the 1953 Indianapolis 500-mile race. The NCCOA sought to ban the use nitromethane, nitrobenzene, nitropropane or “any other liquid explosive” (the powerful Novis used acetone, propylene oxide, benzene, and hydrazine fuel additives) because they thought they were dangerous, but the ban had been not included on the entry blanks sent out for the 1953 International 500-mile Sweepstakes.

    Although three-time ‘500’ winner and Indianapolis Motor Speedway president Wilbur Shaw said that a chemist had told him that nitromethane “in proper hands was not too dangerous,” the Speedway wanted to go along with the car owners group. Shaw forwarded an agreement to ban the fuel additives to all 83 entrants; acceptance had to be unanimous for the agreement to become effective.

    An Associated Press wire story reported on April 30, 1953 that only 73 car owners had signed and returned the agreement, then on May 4 the Indianapolis News sportswriter J. E. O’Brien reported that NCCOA President Walsh of St. Louis, a car owner and partner with Frank Kurtis in Kurtis-Kraft, Incorporated had told the writer that there was one holdout that killed the proposed ban.

    During the 1953 race run on the second-hottest day in race history to that time, fourteen drivers sought relief, sickened by the heat and exhaust fumes and driver Carl Scarborough died of hyperthermia. The day following the 1953 race, Indianapolis Motor Speedway officials announced their intention to ban “nitro” based on the belief that the fumes from the “nitro” fuel was what had sickened many drivers during the running of the ‘500.’

    The 1954 nitromethane ban never came to fruition and nitromethane or nitro compounds continued to be used by many teams that raced at Indianapolis particularly in time trials. It was the advent of turbocharging in the later nineteen sixties that brought the end to use of nitromethane and other exotic fuel additives. With turbocharged engines, mechanics could “turn the screw” on the turbocharger wastegate to increase the turbocharger boost level and create more horsepower with straight methanol.

    @Speed Gems called them midget sprint car

    Midgets and Sprint are two different types of cars.
    Midgets date back to pre war. Then there were Midgets and Big Cars (Indy Cars)

    Sprint Cars first appeared in the mid 1950's. Midgets tend(ed) to run 1/4 maybe 3/8 mile tracks, and the Big Cars were leaving the 1/2 mile short tracks and becoming speedway only cars.
    Sprint Car were to fill the void left by the Indy Cars

    Pre War Midget

    Pre War Big (Indy) Car my great uncle stooged on this car.

    Post war midget
    Post war sprint car

    Lee Wallard 1951 Indy 500 winner these cars half mile, one mile, dirt and asphalt.

    By the mid fifties the Indy cars become what is know as Indy Roasdters and were speedway only cars, by the mid sixties evolved into the rear engine cars.


    The traditional bodied Indy cars became what is now known as USAC Sliver Crown.
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  14. jimmy six
    Joined: Mar 21, 2006
    Posts: 6,350

    jimmy six

    Great read, thank you. Knew of this but definitely not all.
    With today’s better parts even vintage engines can run a higher % of nitro than ever imagined in the 50’s.
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  15. loudbang
    Joined: Jul 23, 2013
    Posts: 29,063


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  16. Speed Gems
    Joined: Jul 17, 2012
    Posts: 2,572

    Speed Gems

    Another great read @Robert J. Palmer .I never knew Indy tried too ban nitro also.
  17. Pete1
    Joined: Aug 23, 2004
    Posts: 1,764

    from Wa.

    I sure wasn't the first but I was an early (1952) user of nitro at the drags. (50%)
    I also experimented with hydrazine and picric acid.
    I still get a laugh every time I look at a sign in my shop that someone sent me years ago.

    Gasoline is for washing parts.
    Alcohol is for drinking.
    Nitro makes cars go fast.
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  18. lippy
    Joined: Sep 27, 2006
    Posts: 4,582

    from Ks

    My brother gave me a sign that says, "Toxic children at play". LOL.
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  19. Great stuff guys. Very informative as well as interesting. Thank you .
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  20. In the late 30s Auto Union ran a mixture of methanol, nitrobenzene, acetone and water. While it isn’t nitromethane it’s technically ”nitro”.

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  21. morac41
    Joined: Jul 23, 2011
    Posts: 532


    I used it in the '50s in motorcycle engines mounted in 3/4 dirt track cars
  22. alphabet soup
    Joined: Jan 8, 2011
    Posts: 1,386

    alphabet soup

    I think the Germans did...they used Nitrous first.
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  23. rooman
    Joined: Sep 20, 2006
    Posts: 4,050


    The Germans were the first to use nitomethane (pre WW II GP cars) along with nitrous oxide and hydrogen peroxide (WW II aircraft) as combustion enhancers/fuel.

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  24. By the time I came around the gas planes on a tether were running nitro as fuel. I don't know about the early planes. I had a friend that had a radio control helicopter in the '90s that I gave 5 gallons of nitro methane to. he was stoked.

    I think the problem with anything like this is who ran it first just may not be the same as who is the famous guy/gal recognized as being first. Perhaps *Terrance Williams grandpa ran it in his whiskey hauler, we will never really know.

    *If you know or are Terrance my reference to you or yours is entirely by accident.
    Last edited: Dec 31, 2019
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  25. Hnstray
    Joined: Aug 23, 2009
    Posts: 11,431

    from Quincy, IL

    Classic it!

    Happy New Year, Benno!

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  26. Right back at ya my friend.
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  27. Blues4U
    Joined: Oct 1, 2015
    Posts: 4,671

    from So Cal

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