Albertson Olds

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History

 

The "Albertson Olds" (their sponsor) gas dragster was owned by Ron Scrima, Gene Adams and originally driven by the late Leonard Harris and later by Tom McEwen. It had a short life span for cars of that era as it only ran for the 1960 season and part of 1961. Below is the whole story as told by Greg Sharp, Curator of the NHRA Wally Parks Motorsports Museum.

Engine builder Gene Adams already was a drag racing legend from his exploits with his famed dark blue '50 Olds fastback that dominated the coupe and sedan classes from Saugus to Santa Ana. His engine found its way into everything from Vern Tomlinson's '34 coupe to a fiberglass sports car, holding several records simultaneously. Adams' brother, Gary, and Mort Smith also used the motor in a Ronnie Scrima-built dragster that they campaigned successfully throughout Southern California.

Driver Leonard Harris owned a Seaside service station in Playa Del Rey. He was a well-known street racer with his yellow '56 Olds, as was his buddy, "Stump" Davis. After tiring of the tickets and hassles that resulted from street racing, Harris bought the former Ostling & Argento Fiat competition coupe with the intention of building a blown Olds engine for it.

The Albertson Oldsmobile dealership was a short distance down Sepulveda Boulevard from Adams' home. Longtime Albertson parts manager Don Farr introduced Adams and Harris in early I960, and at Fair's urging, Adams agreed to put his 407-cid Olds engine in Harris' coupe.

 

The Albertson Oldsmobile Racing team posed for this publicity shot at the Culver City dealership in spring 1960. From left, kneeling, are Gene Adams and Ronnie Scrima; standing, Lou Albertson, Leonard Harris, and sales manager Phil McNab, Albertson Oldsmobile was the first dealership to become a household name among race fans nationwide.

 

Chassis builder Scrima, Adams' close friend and occasional crew member, purchased a Chassis Research K-88 dragster frame. Chassis Research, founded in 1957 by outspoken and controversial Scotty Fenn, was the first company to produce dragster frames commercially. The company eventually produced more than 2,000 complete chassis. Scrima removed the small top frame rail and Fenn was not happy about this modification, but it sure worked...and made identifying the car very easy. Scotty thought it was dangerous that way and wanted to sever any connection to it.

Harris' driving ability and the willingness of Albertson to provide sponsorship in the form of engine parts, paint jobs, and lettering brought the trio together. The Albertson Olds dragster debuted April 24 after Adams' Olds was taken from the Fiat and lowered between the K-88 chassis' huge three-inch by .095-inch framerails.
The combination of a chassis that worked, abundant reliable horsepower, and a naturally skilled driver clicked immediately. Harris broke Tommy Ivo's San Fernando track record with a 9.30, set top speed of the meet at 163.33 mph, and won the event. He repeated the feat a week later at Lions.

Harris, a former top-ranked gymnast who won two national championships on steel rings, possessed tremendous body strength, coordination, and concentration despite his slight five-foot, six-inch stature. He could finesse the clutch and throttle off the starting line to avoid smoking the tires and muscle his way through any handling difficulties.

 

This remarkable photo by Petersen's Bob DOIivo captures the essence of Leonard Harris' driving talent. Notice the black stripes behind the slicks just off the slippery Detroit starting line and the absence of smoke. Harris was sliding the clutch before anyone discovered it as the quick way to get down the strip.

A straightforward driver, Harris would enter the staging area with the engine just above idle; he never winged the throttle or abused the motor. He would stage, bring up the motor, then leave. He seemed to have a sixth sense about who he had to leave on, who he could drive around, and he did only what was necessary to win.

On May 15, at the Inyokern NHRA Record Meet, Harris set the national class record before a spun bearing broke a rod in Adams' trusty Olds. In search of more power, Adams built a 462-cid replacement using a '59 block and a 6-71 blower. On May 21, they broke it in with a 9.08,163.33-mph pass to begin an amazing string of 12 straight Top Eliminator wins at Lions, then the most hotly contested Top Gas track in the country with fields often in excess of two dozen entries.

After only a six month reign of terror, Leonard Harris was killed in another car at Lions in late 1960, Scrima left the team and Tom McEwen took over the driving, beginning a long and successful partnership with Gene Adams. It was necessary to add a second hoop to the roll cage, as McEwen was quite a bit taller than Harris. According to Gene the car never lost a single round of competition at Lions during the fuel ban. But then the car became obsolete quickly, and was sold for something newer, longer, and lighter. The additional bar was another sure sign of the car's authenticity.

 

After Harris' fatal accident in another car, the Albertson Olds became the first in a string of successful Adams & McEwen collaborations. Long before he became "the Mongoose," Tom McEwen praised it as one of the few s/ng/e-eng/ne cars that could run with the big twins. The addition of a second roll bar, due to McEwen's height, and the parachute are the major differences from the Albertson trim. Here, McEwen was out first against eventual Top Eliminator Jack Chrisman in the Howard twin, setting the fastest single-engine speed of 170.77 mph.

Photos by Eric Rickman, Bob D'Olivo, Randy Fish, and from the Petersen Photo Library and the author's collection.

 

 

Lions Drag Strip 1960

 

Pictured here at a big Lions meet, the Olds is at the far end, preceded by Joe Tucci's Lyn-wood Welding Chrysler, the Mudersbach-Herbert Cams twin Chevys, the Guzzler Chrysler of Chicago's John Kranenburg, the Magwinder, the Howard Cams-Chrisman twin, and Hayden Proffitt's Miss Tuned blown Chevy.

Gene Adams (foreground right) tuning, the late Leonard Harris driving. This picture was taken on the Tuesday night before the NHRA Nationals at Detroit in 1960.
Dave Dewars photo

 

To qualify for Top Eliminator at the Nationals, the Albertson Olds crew first had to wade through a field of 35 A/Dragsters. Harris then beat the AA/D class-winning Two Thing Drag-master before beating Red Dyer in Raymond Godman's A/MR Tennessee Bo-Weevil in the final. At right is starter Joe Guiterrez of the Dust Devils car club.

 

NHRA Nationals at Detroit in 1960
Ron Johnson Photo

 

NHRA Nationals at Detroit in 1960
Ron Johnson Photo

 

After winning the 1960 NHRA Nationals L to R: Ronnie Scrima, Leonard Harris, Gene Adams, Vern Tomlinson, Stump Davis, Starter ?

 

Bob DOIivo, third from right, presented the Motor Life Low El trophy to the Albertson Olds crew at the 1960 Nationals. From left are team members "Stump" Davis, Ronnie Scrima, Leonard Harris, Vern Tomlin-son, and Gene Adams.

 

Minnesota Dragway 1960
Dave Dewars Photo

 

The weekend after Detroit, September 10th and 11th, Adams, Scrima, Harris "Albertson Olds" (below) came back to Minnesota Dragways for a Mr. Eliminator match-up with the Big Wheel. Both cars had 12 race winning streaks in class (A/GD) going into Detroit, where Leonard trailered Bruce Norman in the Big Wheel twice. 13 for Harris, 12 for Bruce. At Minnesota Dragways, in the race for the Mr. Eliminator title Leonard did it again. However the streak ended the next run. In the race for A/Gas Dragster class Bruce made a better start. The Big Wheel, was the winner of A-Gas class with a 9:13 e.t.

 

Minnesota Dragways 1960 - Stump, Gene, Vern, Ronnie and Leonard.


In the pits at Long Beach in 1960.

 

 

Summer of 1960 at Lions

 

Inyokern 1960

 

Tom McEwen vs. Tommy Ivo - Fontana, 1960

 

 

McEwen & Adams at Fontana, Dec. 1960 with Stump Davis in the seat.
Doug Peterson photo

 

Orangeline

 

Restoration

 

After being passed around SoCal the car eventually was owned by a guy named Charles Finley, who lived either in Alabama. Over the years the car was basically abandoned, and was quietly rusting away. Somehow, the late "Big Gene" Townley discovered the cars whereabouts, and the newly formed NHRA Historical Services Department bought it. John Zenda was running the "pre-museum" at that time, and he drove to Finley's place to pick up the car. Don Ratican was paid to do the restoration. By all accounts he did nice job putting the car back, as closely as possible, to the original configuration. It was even in running condition (almost). This would have been '91 or '92.

When the new museum was done, the car was among its original tenants. In 2004, after the overwhelming success and popularity of Cacklefest the good folks at the museum put on some finishing touches and had the old girl making noise. It was first taken to the 50th U.S. Nationals in 2004.

Though three decades have passed since their six months of glory, the entire Albertson crew has remained active in racing. Adams is a major force in fuel systems through his Gene Adams Performance shop in Oceanside, Calif.

Tomlinson has been a mainstay at Fuel Injection Engineering (Hilborn) for nearly 35 years, and Davis has worked for Hilborn, Shelby, and Dan Gurney's All American Racers.

Scrima built many famous dragsters and Funny Cars at his Exhibition Engineering business through 1975. Since 1979, he has operated Racing Engine Service in Arlington, Texas, which specializes in motorcycle engines for all types of racing, including mini-sprints and SCCA.

Albertson Olds still is in Culver City and run by the Albertson family, as it has been since 1948.

 

When the late John Zenda and Don Ratican picked up the remains of the Albertson Olds at Charles Finley's Birmingham, Ala., lake house (above), there was just enough left to identify it as the real thing. One of the all-time greatest Oldsmobile racers, Don Ratican, with his wife, Rose (below), beamed with pride at the outcome of their restoration efforts.

 

 

As they prepared to leave for the cars debut at the 40th U.S. Nationals, Ratican's rig was an impressive sight with its beautifully restored '57 Olds coupe tow car. He didn't miss a detail, right down to the Albertson Olds license-plate frames on car and trailer "California Hot Rod Reunion III -33".

 

Orangeline

 

The car made its debut at the 50th US Nationals Cacklefest in 2004 with Jimmy Scott in the seat.

 

 

 

It's next appearance was at the 2004 National Hot Rod Reunion in Bowling Green, KY

 

It then made it back to the west coast for the 2004 CHRR at Bakersfield.

 

 

Goob Tuller got the driving job for Cacklefest V.

 

 

 

 

 

 

In 2005 the car sat in the NHRA Wally Parks Motorsports Museum until Cacklefest VI at the CHRR. Here it is parked with some of its cacklecar friends.

 

 

For this event Jim Adolph got the ride.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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