This page chronicles
the search, finding and restoration of the last front engine
Top Fuel dragster John Buttera ever built. Today it is one of
the staples at "Cacklefest" and other events.
County International Raceway, 1969
AZ - 1970
Prologue: In late 1968 Don Ewald
contacted John Butera in Wisconsin and told him he wanted a "big
brother" to the Jr. Fuel car he'd built for fellow Californian,
Richard Lockerman. It was a magnificent piece but too small and
light for Top Fuel. Butera informed Ewald he already had it -
a car he had built for himself but was not going to race. He
was relocating to SoCal and would deliver it when he came out.
In February of 1969 the car was delivered to Ewald in Long Beach
and his expectations were met in spades. It was virtually complete
less engine (below). The price tag: $1,750!
it was delivered in February of 1969.
car was originally built by John for himself, it had a lot of
"trick" parts (like the steering wheel, brake handle,
throttle pedal, chute release, brackets etc.) which were all
chromed. The Lakewood bell housing and custom fuel tank were
polished. All the aluminum Hanna body parts were anodized gold
and other parts red. And the kicker was a complete Strange Eng.
full floater 8 3/4 rear end with chrome housing. Dual Hurst-Airhart
disc breaks and a Simpson chute. Basically, all Ewald had to
do was add paint, a plumbed engine and nitro.
Dick Olson and Kenny Youngblood:
The late Dick
Olson (Ewald's partner in the F-Troop Jr. Fuel car) insisted
on painting the car. He asked what colors they wanted and took
it from there. It was pearl white, candy blue with candy gold
trim. It all came together when Kenny Youngblood did his magic
on the cowl. At the time the BankAmeicard was a new deal and
Ewald had used his to the max getting the car done. When he told
Kenny that, he came up with the "BankAmericar" logo.
Here Fred Smith and Don Ewald pose with the car when it was race
ready in March of 1969.
392 engine was a real mutt - but parts were all good. Ewald bought
a ton of stuff from Lou Baney just after he retired as a car
owner. He also got a lot of parts from Reath Automotive. A boneyard
A-1 block and crank were prepared by Gary Slusser. Ed Donovan
kicked in the valve covers and valve train. Larry Ofrea at the
then new Valley Head Service did the cylinder heads. Joe Pisano
supplied the pistons and rods - Crower the cam and clutch. Paul
Schiefer kicked in a magneto. Cragar supplied the blower manifold
More Help: Bill Simpson and Fred
Crow gave Ewald a new firesuit, belts and chutes. Bell Helmets
sponsored Don then and for years to come. Champion stepped up
for the spark plugs and Valvoline the oil. Sid Waterman gave
them all the help they could afford. Cyclone sponsored the headers
and John Ewald and his team (J&M Racing Photos) suppled the
car with "ink" in the papers.
Long Road Home
campaigned in Top Fuel from 1968 until mid 1971 (Best ET &
speed ... 6.38 @ 228 in 1971). Ewald then teamed up with Rob
Mason and Jack Kay to join in the rear engine deal in mid 1971
and this car was sold for $750 (chassis, body and front wheels)
in 1972 and headed east to Indiana for a new life as an A/FD
(injected fuel hemi).
Being the only
car he ever wanted back, 1998 Don Ewald started searching for
it. Your proverbial needle in a haystack. After posting photos
of the car on WDIFL.com he finally got a lead in 2000 when Mark
Polson of Atlanta contacted him saying he thought they had the
old BankAmericar. Ewald flew back and saw the car at Darlington
in 2001 and confirmed it was THE car. But Polson wasn't ready
to sell it - they were racing it! Ewald put first bid on the
car when they were ready to sell. Finally in November of 2002
they were. John Ewald paid over twice what the car cost new to
get it back very used. What follows is more of the details with
The car in 1997
with Mark Polson at the wheel. Obviously it had gone through
several changes since it left Cerritos, CA in 1972. However,
at this point the chassis is still "virgin" (almost).
Ewald has no clue where the car was or who had it from 1975 to
By the time Ewald
saw the car at Darlington in 2001 Polson had upgraded the chassis
to meet the NHRA 7.50 specs and installed a blown alcohol big
block Chevy. This 35 year old car was going 200 mph in 2002.
chassis updates only included a new cage, kidney bars and a new
cowl. Polson kept the original cage and cowl which they got back
with the car. Removing the kidney bars and extraneous brackets
was no problem.
Getting the car
back to SoCal from Atlanta proved to be almost as hard as finding
it in the first place. After several delays, Rick & Matt
Stambaugh finally got their rig together and headed west in April
of 2003. This is what the car looked like at John's house in
Brea, CA after they took it out of the trailer. What a sad sight!
In early May
2003, John Ewald took the car over to John Buttera for a damage
assessment. We can't print what John said about his last FED,
but the bottom line was it was well within the salvage range.
John no longer has a shop but offered to do the "small stuff"
and said he'd advise Bruce Dyda (who's next door to Lil John's
buddy, Don Long) on the cars restoration.
The car arrived
at Dyda's shop in Gardena in mid May of 2003. He had the same
reactions as Buttera - the difference being they weren't personal.
Bruce pours over
the stack of photos to assess what the car looked like when it
was racing. Fortunately John took a lot of photos that ultimately
allowed the reconstruction to be dead nuts perfect.
cage sans the kidney bars made all the difference in the world.
But note how far the main rails were stretched to get the Big
Block Chevy in! This is where the car stood as of 06-12-03. The
chassis was moving along at a rapid pace. In the meanwhile, it
was all about collecting parts for the engine.
Dyda sets up the engine alignment.
in one piece.
Bruce Dyda is
a fabricator and restoration expert. Being a student of the classic
dragsters (which can be seen in the "look" of his Surfers
Paradise NE1 car). He studied the many photos of the BankAmericar
carefully to determine the original configuration and made it
match. He had to replace some damaged parts with fresh pipe etc.
as there was no way to repair parts that have been raced for
over 30 years.
along, Dyda repaired or replaced the parts needed to replicate
the original controls (steering, throttle, clutch, chute-fuel
handles and brake).
end has been repaired and reinstalled.
push bar was reinstalled.
What Ewald found
with Dyda Engineering is that Bruce not only does perfect fabrication
but he does it without lunch breaks!
The body had
been anodized gold again and here Dyda attaches the windscreen
and was getting close to done. The car would leave his shop and
be taken completely apart for powder coating, chrome and anodizing.
The body then went to Jerry Seivers at Paint-n-Place for paint
is done and electro-painted black (a process they didn't have
Back at Dyda's
from chrome and paint the car was ready for a final assembly.
of Baer's Canvas & Upholstery crafted a perfect replication
of the original upholstery. He he used less padding than ordinally
for more "older butt room".
Back at John
Ewald's garage Alex Mikkelsen and Ronnie Rapp were putting the
392 hemi together.
along, with the body painted, Kenny Youngblood spent two days
recreating the graphics he did 34 years ago. These were taken
at Paint-N-Place on 9-22-03.
After its incredible
makeover, the car left Dyda's and returned to John's garage.
Here Ronnie Rapp, Larry Mersch, Kenny Youngblood and Alex Mikkelsen
take a break before the heads go on. The 2003 California Hot
Rod Reunion was just two weeks away.
The cars CHRR
debut did not go as planned but turned into a rewarding experience
and a saga much too long to visit here. If you would like to
see and hear about the whole ordeal click the link below.
Paint: Paint N Place
Graphics: Kenny Youngblood (
who came up with the name BankAmericar as he painted
it in 1969 due to the use of a Bankamericard credit card used
to buy parts for the dragster).
Tires: Firestone Drag 500 mounted
on American Racing Wheels
Arias Pistons - Brooks Rods -
Heads by Valley Head Service - Littlefield Blower - Velasco Crankshaft
- Chet Herbert Cam - K&N Filters - Kendall Oil - LaPole Headers
- Cirello Magneto - Donovan Gear Drive - Two disk Scheifer clutch
by McLeod - Enderle Fuel Injection & Fuel Pump.
The end result of the aforementioned
2003 CHRR "saga" was the BankAmericar being unanimously
voted as the car that best represented the era and the overall
spirit of Cacklefest. Pictured L to R: Alex Mikkelsen, Rick Kepler,
Bruce Dyda (who did the restoration) Ronnie Rapp, Greg Sharp,
John & Don Ewald.
Don Ewald in the pre
Push start Cacklefest
Push start Cacklefest
Cacklefest V - up close
Ewald to his spot Cacklefest
Since its auspicious
debut in 2003 the BankAmericar has more "fire-ups"
than any other Cacklecar on the planet. In 2004 it appear at
17 events and was fired up 178 times. In 2005 it was the centerpiece
for Firestone tires at all their events west of the Rockies.
The car was fired 218 times.
Over the last 13 years Cacklefest
has spawned many "spin-off" events and no one took
them to more levels than two car owner, John Ewald. With the
help of Bridgestone/Firestone Auto Service Centers, Ewald appeared
at countless events throughout 2004-2014 until he passed away
in 2015. His enthusiasm and commitment to the cacklecar phenomenon
introduced myriad new fans to drag racing and its genesis.
75 year old veteran
racer/blower builder Gene Mooneyham. Gene passed away in January
of 2006 and will be greatly missed.
At the San Francisco
Roadster Show they did two fire ups. This is a roadster show
known for high dollar display cars, some worth up to over a million
dollars... so why would the people who attended be interested
in a restored top fuel car just idling? These aren't drag racing
fans per se... well as the photos show they pretty much emptied
the buildings on both fire ups. Alex (the crew chief) got the
crowd cheering every time he whacked the throttle. They had the
TV crews, the newspapers shoving each other to get e good shot....
huge cheer when they shut it off...yep, I think the "cackle"
cars are alive and well.
One of the highlights
at the 2005 Grand National Roadster Show at Pomona, CA was when
American Graffiti / LaVerne & Shirley star Cindy Williams
got into the seat for a cackle and she loved it, especially when
Alex whacked the throttle.
Adding to the
list of celebs getting seat time in the BankAmericar was Candy
Clark of the American Graffiti fame. She wasn't sure about it
at first but certainly enjoyed the cackle. AG co-star, Cindy
Williams got a fire-up in the car at the 2005 Grand National
66 - 2005
Force got a cackle at the Force Racing open house.
Chip Foose, star
of the hit TV show "Overhaulin" took some time out
from filming an expsode at Paint N Place to get his first taste
of nitro up close and personal.
In November of
2004 the BankAmericar was first dragster to appear on the cover
of Hot Rod Magazine in 40 years.