in the world of drag racing
The latest update as of May 2, 1999 10:00 am
Aside from a mention of his condition by Larry Pfister last week, we haven't seen any further news on Bill Phillips. (In case you missed it, Bill has been diagnosed with leukemia, and at last report was in Vancouver General Hospital). The news hit me very hard, as Bill and I go back a long way, and in fact, without his encouragement and willingness to share his knowledge with me, I never would have been able to get into blown alcohol drag racing.
Before purchasing his entire inventory of 392 Chrysler parts in 1980, I spent a weekend as a helper with him at the '79 Fallnationals, at Seattle International Raceway. Surely you can remember that annual "rain festival", with one of the worst dates on the NHRA schedule at the time, the annual event that was almost guaranteed to be rained on or out.
Prior to the race, Bill and I had struck a deal for his two complete 392 engines, plus all the spare parts. The price was reasonable and even included any advice and help needed to get my first blown alky car up and running. Arriving in the S.I.R. pits shortly after the first qualifying session on Friday morning, I found Bill and crew hard at work disassembling the engine. Any problems? Oh, just a few... "We dropped a valve, wiped out two pistons, both cylinder heads and messed up a few of the bores. The spare heads aren't great, but they'll work and we've got some spare pistons. Grab a wrench and make yourself useful".
Welcome to drag racing, Bob. Then, as if on cue, it began to rain. Hard. Fashioning a makeshift canopy (with a sheet of plastic) we tore down the hurt bullet and with (180-grit) sandpaper I was given the task of "honing" the block. Are you serious? Hey, this is drag racing, Phillips-style: make the best of what you've got... 'cause that's all there is.
As the day progressed and the rain intensified, the pressure to make the next session obviously lessened and just before dark, we finished up and took a short break while Bill readied the car for a warm-up. The rebuilt engine roared into life and all sounded good and the prospects for a better day on Saturday seemed even better.
Saturday dawned bright and clear, a portent of better things to come. Yeah, right. Think again, Bob. While sitting in 13th position and vulnerable to being bumped, Bill was confident that he could stay in the field and possibly move up a notch or two... if the engine would stay together for a full pass. After several hours in the staging lanes (this was in the days before qualifying sessions were scheduled), the car worked its way to the head of the lanes and prepared to make another attempt.
The engine started, good burnout, all looked good as Bill staged, left, shifted, shifted.... then bang, a large ugly cloud of smoke and the confirmation on the PA system: "He's on a good pass, oh, oh, looks like some major engine damage... we can see parts bouncing around down there.... clean-up crew to the top end".
Making my way back to the pits, I arrived shortly before Bill and the crew. When they slowly pulled in, my questions of "what went wrong?" were met with stony silence. While Bill went inside the trailer and slowed peeled off his firesuit, the rest of the crew stared dejectedly at a very large hole in the block, where #1 cylinder used to be. A pile of iron and aluminum scrap in the back of the pickup truck consisted of pieces of crankshaft, two rods and pistons and some large chunks of cast-iron block.
To compound the misery, again, as if on cue, the heavens opened up and washed out the balance of the day and as it turned out, the weekend. Like I said earlier, "Welcome to drag racing, Bob. Now you know where the "drag" part comes from".
Maybe I should have learned some valuable lessons that weekend, like, don't ever even think of getting involved in this insanity, or save your money and just be a spectator. But as you all know, I'm a pretty slow learner at times, and now, twenty years down the road, I'm embarking on another very steep learning curve. Not to mention, a much more expensive one.
The $4000 I paid Bill back in 1979 for the remains of his 392 inventory (marked down a bunch after that one weekend) wouldn't buy much in the way of 1999 "go-fast" parts. In fact, it seems almost ludicrous to think about it now, but back then my rationale for getting into dragsters was... hold on, this is good (?!?): it was going to be cheaper than finishing the Super Stock car I'd been building. Can you believe it? It's true and just proves that truth is sometimes much stranger than fiction.
There's literally dozens of stories I could recount of adventures and mis-adventures I've had with Bill over the years. And the stories he's recounted over that time could make a very entertaining book. Seeing racers staged at gun-point, taking out the overhead timing lights at Lions (taking some incorrect clutch advice), flashlights on the front axle for unlit track match races.
Bill, I wish you nothing but the best in your current battle and sincerely hope that you can recover and come back to the sport. Your contributions to the sport of drag racing, especially in the Lower Mainland, are legendary. The battles for Pro Comp supremacy in the early days of that eliminator, the development of the Rotary-Valve engine, the fabricated steel block 426 and lately, your Donovan-powered front-engine dragster. To think that the trail has reached an end is just not an option at this point. I KNOW you'll be back Bill. Keep up your spirits, fight hard and it will happen.
As reported elsewhere, namely at Larry Pfister's Horsepower Heaven website, the demise of Cruisers Pit Stop Diner is thankfully, overstated. The bankruptcy notice published in this week's edition of Business in Vancouver apparently applies only to the (failed) franchise division. Since the BIV article listed the Langley address of Cruisers and named as creditors (among others) the Langley Advance newspaper and Aldergrove Credit Union, the logical conclusion was that the Langley operation was bankrupt.
My aplogies to everyone at Cruisers and all their loyal customers for this mistake, but I think most will agree that it was an honest mistake. By the way Larry, it must have obviously caught your attention to drag you out on a Saturday night and to stay up late doing an update on the situation.
Hope there's no truth to the rumour that there's a special menu in place for North Vancouver web-wonks.... namely, crow (baked, deep-fried or charbroiled), and egg... as in "on-face".
Just one question remains, I wonder what ever happened to my old funny car body ('76 Mustang II) that was up on the roof at one time? Obviously, an old John Force body has much, much more appeal, but if anyone knows the whereabouts of my old hulk, let's hear what happened to it. Not that by any stretch of the imagination I'd ever be even remotely interested in climbing behind the wheel of a plastic coffin. The saga of my short-lived funny car ownership is best forgotten, but for friends that know the tale, it is an amusing vignette in the alternately tragic and comic story of Wilson Racing.