Gates at Carlsbad in
Lions Drag Strip 1968
This car was built by Roger "Ramjet"
Gates in 1966 for Top Gas powered by a 392/464 Chrysler. The
tubing for the roll cage and hoops was (and still is) bent by
being packed with sand and heated with a torch. The chassis was
assembled with plywood jigs and was gas welded. Originally the
car had a 155 inch wheelbase (160"spring base with the torsion
arms trailing to effectively be the same as a 165 " SB car)
but was lengthened 3 times and re-piped several more because
of wheel stands. It also had a full magnesium body with help
on the nose, (fuel tank) scoop and cowl from Wayne Ewing. The
fuel tank was in the tip of the nose. With a cast iron engine,
the car weighed 1080 pounds after being fitted with a Halibrand
open tube rear end (Originally early Olds). The upholstery was
done by Art Trantefello and is still in the car today almost
40 years later. The original injector scoop was one of five that
Wayne Ewing built and closely matched the one on the Greer, Black,
& Prudhomme car. (It was all aluminum, not fiberglass). The
first paint by Von Dutch was a beautiful blue and silver paint
scheme complete with scales, and pin striping with eyes, ears
& a mouth with hand tooled designs engraved in the top of
the nose & scoop and was named the "Leaping Lizard"
by 'Dutch' to Roger's surprise. The car was also a test car for
Chute Metal Products
During the time Gates had the
car it ran engine combinations of Chrysler (gas & fuel),
Big Block Chevy (gas-alcohol-fuel) and 2 Big Block Chevies (2
races on gas). It ran mostly in southern California: San Fernando,
Long Beach, Orange Co. Palmdale, Santa Maria, Irwindale, Carlsbad,
Famoso, Ventura, Riverside, Raisin City and in Las Vegas, Phoenix,
Tucson and Fremont. The car had a total of 26 event wins in both
gas and fuel classes at NHRA, AHRA, UDRA, and independent Tracks
with a best speed of 223 mph at 6:42 ET.
After the 1972 season the car
gave way to the Rear Motor cars and Gates had started driving
for other people (Tom Larkin, Craklin' Rose & Howard Cam
Special). This car was eventually given to Donny Johansen (Howard
Cams) by Roger and fell off the radar until 2001 when it was
discovered by the Fenstermakers in Murrieta, CA sitting on a
trailer beside an automotive shop owned by Jack McGrath.
The following pictures are the
transformation of this race car from full body, Top Gas to short
body, Top Fuel over the six year period it was raced by Roger.
Roger and Virginia Gates
getting car ready for a pass circa 1968.
The car in its 1970 trim.
This was the end of the Chrysler
era for the car. After this race the car was lengthened, changed
to a conventional front end and fitted with the big block Chevy
engine. Since the 427 is wider and the motor had to be raised
anyway due to the drive shaft angle change when the open tube
rear end was removed and replaced with a Chrysler full floater
it was all done at once. The open tube (Halibrand) rear end has
the axle on the same centerline as the pinion and the Chrysler
is 1 1/2" lower on the pinion. The reason that it had to
all be changed is so the engine attitude would be correct. This
was the end of the "Lizard" & the beginning of
One of the many wheel stands
that necessitated numerous chassis repairs. On this one the car
was patched together with duct tape and a 2"x4" (Grade
'A' lumber of course) and finished the night runner-up.
Fenstermaker purchased the car
in late 2001 and took it to his family home in Georgia. While
dismantling the car they found the SEMA tag under layers of paint.
With some help from Don Ewald at WDIFL.com, they were able to
trace the car back to Roger Gates. Dennis looked up his name
on the computer and up popped 4-5 Roger Gates in California.
He picked one and called - and sure enough it was the right Roger
After a lot of pictures were
sent back and forth, Gates identified the car as the first one
he built for himself. Although it had been changed many times
from the original form. It was then they decided to restore the
car as it ran in 1970.
Fenstermaker came back from Vietnam
in 1970 and he wanted to restore this car in this period for
2 reasons. One was to preserve its history and to thank all the
racers who gave him memories of exciting races while growing
up in Southern California. The other reason is in memory of all
the guys that didn't make it home from Nam as he did. It was
a chance he was given to fulfill a dream of theirs and his own.
After almost two years they finished
the car and took it to the 2003 California Hot Rod Reunion. We
had a lot of help and encouragement along the way from family,
friends, Roger Gates, Del Doss, Brendan Murry, and many others.
Fenstermakers reward was the look on Roger's and Del's faces
after their first Cacklefest. To bring back so many good memories
to two people that have devoted so much time to drag racing and
now teach young kids the art of drag racing in Jr. Dragsters
- the future drivers, owners and crews of the sport.
For Fensternamker the whole experience
has basically been one giant payback. He was mostly a spectator
while growing up, so giving back to the guys that gave so much
to him was only natural but by doing this he has received more
in return than anyone can imagine. He has met many new people
and made a ton of new friends.
This is how the car looked
when purchased in November 2001 from Jack McGrath in Murrieta,
An early Chrysler rear
end and Airheart brakes were installed in the freshly painted
Early Chrysler rear end,
along with steering box and butterfly steering wheel.
Early 16 inch Halibrand
wheels with M&H slicks (old style) are added.
After completely stripping
the chassis, Cody Fenstermaker and Mark Adams prep it for painting.
Power for this restoration came
from Brendan Murry and his racecarparts.com business. Its a 468
inch big block Chevy with Arias pistons, Howards Cam and Rods,
Hilborn 4 port injection (shorty), and 671 blower. Fenstermaker
picked it up at the 2002 March Meet and carted back to Georgia.
The stripes are laid
out over a pearl white finish to match the cars 1970 paint scheme.
Frank McMillan pulls
the tape off after laying out the different colored stripes.
Newly painted body panels
are assembled on car.
With help from Mark Adams (left),
Cody Fenstermaker (right) the big block Chevy fit snugly in its
After re-chroming the
front axle and other parts were reinstalled on car.
Roger Gates and friends
prepare the car for its first fire-up at Roger's shop in Wofford
A brand new parachute and pack
stitched by Chute Metal Products and newly painted "Thank
You" List on the seat which also has original upholstery
done by Art Trantefello in 1966.
The car made its debut in 2003
at CHRR XII. The smiles express the feelings of finishing the
car and participating in their first Cacklefest.
Roger Gates, before thousands
of fans, idles the fuel burning Chevy down the fire-up road.
Gates in his spot - his
mind going back 30 years.
Proud owner, Dennis Fenstermaker
gets his ride while the team pushes him back to the pits.
Big smiles cover a nervous crew
as they anticipate the thrill and excitement of the next few
minutes. Sitting at the top end waiting to push down for Cacklefest
Fenstermaker takes his
first seat in the car for a fire-up.
Cody Fenstermaker in
the Roger Gates car for his very first Cacklefest at the NHRR
The cars next outing was the
2004 NHRR in Bowling Green, KY. Here is the Fenstermaker family
with their Roger Gates car ready to go.
Photo by David Delbeck
The cars next outing
was a trip back to California for the 2004 CHRR.
On Friday Gates suits
up for a short burnout.
Cacklefest Parade 2004
Push start & fired....
Back again in 2005. Gates
waiting to be pushed out for the Cacklefest VI Parade.
By 2005 Fenstermaker
& Gates were Cacklefest vets and always put on a great show.
Even cacklecars needs help and
this is Fenstermaker's west coast crew. At left brother Gary
Fenstermaker, Omer Ethier, John Charlton (exTop Fuel and Funny
Car driver), Ken Christy (owner of beautiful push truck &
ex gasser owner and driver).
Parting Shot from Dennis Fenstermaker:
"The whole reason
behind the Cacklefest concept is to preserve the history of our
sport and also to thank those who formed the sport and are the
true history of drag racing. The second point could not have
been more poignant than our very first Cacklefest. Del Doss,
who was partners with Roger Gates in the Ramjet & Doss Racing
Team, which taught youngsters to be the future of drag racing.
He was the very first person to sit in this car for our first
fire-up after its restoration. We lost Del on February 1st, 2004.
Every time this car is displayed, it is to honor Del Doss. We
are "Friends for Life".