Saturday, December 10, 2011

"Magicar" / Time with... Bill Pitts

Imagine you are fourteen or fifteen, sitting on a wooden boarded grandstand with your dad, watching a golden colored dragster called "Magicar" blast down the local imagine forty-five years later you had rescued the outdated rail, restored it and had the opportunity to show it to a new generation. That is just what Bill Pitts is doing.

It goes along with the increasing popularity of survivor and historic cars. People are no longer looking at old race cars as outdated relics. They get excited about what they are seeing, hearing and the history of those cars. It's also about past owners, drivers and builders brought back to the surface, and we all get a glimpse of how it really was.

At many of the drag meets and local car shows there is a spectacle called "Cacklefest" where nitro-methane dragsters are started to wow the crowds. I had the opportunity to sit down at a Goodguys show, and do an interview with Bill to find out more about his "Magicar."

AFTR: When did you decide to get into an AA/F dragster?
BP: In 1988-89 I started going to current drag racing events and decided to not let life pass me by, I was coming up on 40 years old, so I asked my wife, "Honey, what do you think if I bought an AA/F dragster, I don't want to race it, I just want to show it off."  I remembered my heroes from back in the day and thought why not get one of these not to drive and not to just static display, but do something in between, start it up in front of thousands of fans and try to put the original driver in it. By doing that it takes me back to seeing my young heroes as a fan, and it keeps them younger when you see the smile on their faces, it's magical.

AFTR: Did you ever see it run back then?
BP: I first saw it with my dad in 1965 at the March meet in Bakersfield when it was covered in gold leaf, I remember the announcer saying, "You gotta' see the car that's covered in gold, that would be the Magicar." I thought it was the most beautiful car I had ever seen, even took movies of it, never dreaming that one day I would own it.

AFTR: What sticks in your mind from watching them back then?
BP: It was the beauty of the cars as well as the speed. They are like thoroughbred race horses, that's the only way I can describe it.

AFTR: What was it like at events in the 60's?
BP: You know, in the mid 60's over 100 AA/FD type cars would try to qualify for a 64 car field on Saturday. Then one would come out on top of the 32 car field on Sunday. Back then, you thought, wow, it's like this all the time. We didn't know how good we had it back then, until it went away.

AFTR: Where did this car run?
BP: It ran at Carlsbad in December 1964 just after the track opened in November. Also Pomona, Bakersfield, Lions, Fremont, Riverside in '65 at the Second Annual Hot Rod Magazine Championships, and at Palmdale which was called "Los Angeles County Raceway" when it opened.  In fact it won "Top Fuel" at that first meet.

AFTR: How did it look back then and who drove it?
BP: It started out covered with gold leaf and then had 3 different body changes, 3 different paint jobs and 3 different drivers. One of the most famous was, Jumpin' Jeep Hampshire, also another driver was Gerry "The Hunter" Glenn. This was the first car Glenn ever drove down a dragstrip as a young man, he went on to be the NHRA 1972 Driving Champion.

AFTR: When you found it, what did it look like?
BP: Well, it needed a paint job and a motor along with other numerous small things that we were able to find.

AFTR: Who put the engine together?
BP: Rick McDonald assembled the Hemi and keeps it tuned, he's a master. It produces 1500-2000 HP. You know, Nitromethane burns 13 times more oxygen than gas and boosts the power by 2.3 times.

AFTR: What gets you excited about doing this kind of thing?
BP: Well, it's push starting the car at the Winter Nationals or Formosa Raceway in Bakersfield with the original driver from 1965 in the seat, when it comes to life, flames shooting out and you see his arm coming out over the tail waving to the crowd. There's nothing better in the whole world! It's been a great path, to be able to tell the history, show the car, start it up, see the smiles! It's my passion!

Kent Fuller, arguably the premier dragster chassis builder of the early 60's built the chassis.

Here you can see the texture of the gold leaf on the original body. The best speed and ET turned
was a 206.00 / 7.62

Jeep Hampshire blast off the line at the 1965 Bakersfield Meet. Some of the other drivers were, Gerry Glenn, Gary Casaday, and Jim Lynn.

The Magicar at the Goodguys Car Show at Del Mar. Image © AFTR

The Magicar at the Goodguys Car Show at Del Mar. Image © AFTR
The Magicar at the Goodguys Show at Del Mar. Image © AFTR

The Magicar at the Goodguys Show at Del Mar. Image © AFTR

The Magicar at the Goodguys Show at Del Mar. Image © AFTR

Here's a video of the Magicar being started. As you listen to it you'll notice the sound as it's started on alcohol. Then at the 2:14 mark you'll notice how the sound changes and starts to cackle as it goes to 90 percent Nitromethane. This is when it changes into a living monster, you can just hear the horsepower, there's nothing like it!

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