Schrank Bros. A/FD

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History

 

In the winter of 1958 Walt Schrank made a trip to California, first to the Southern part of the state, and later, to the Bay Area. Although he wasn't exactly thrilled with Southern California, he found Northern California to be something special. Not only was there plenty of work for mechanics, there was also drag racing every weekend at Half Moon Bay, Vaca Valley (Vacaville), Kingdon (Lodi), and a new strip that had just opened in Fremont.

After finding employment at Howard Auto in Belmont, an auto repair business catering to foreign cars, Walt got brother Jesse to join him in May 1959. They worked as mechanics by day and racers by night, designing and building a dragster using the facilities at the auto shop. Their homemade chassis was welded together using 1" square tubing on top and 2" on the bottom; a far cry from the swing set and exhaust tubing most guys used. The power plant was the trusty 276.1 DeSoto equipped with (8) Stromberg '97s that fed pure 98% nitromethane into the cylinders. Their dragster was a consistent winner running low 9s and over 140 mph. Although successful as a class winner, they really had their sights set on top eliminator and the cash purse that accompanied it. Obviously, this would require a more powerful and sophisticated approach.

So, that winter Walt and Jesse paid $500.00 for a Chassis Research frame from Jim McLennan of Champion Speed Shop. Along with the pipe, they got tires, wheels, a rear end, and extra parts. The car debuted in early 1960 at Half Moon Bay (HMB) with the same engine combination they had used in their first dragster. Jesse recalls, "This dragster just worked from the get go. Before the summer was over, we held the Standard 1320 C/FD speed record at 163.63 mph". Flushed with their success and eager to step up a class, they tucked a 6:71 GMC supercharger underneath the Strombergs. Now, they were making some serious horsepower and racing guys like Denny and Jerry Forsberg and Vic Hubbard Spl. Walt, then the driver, had some scary moments at Half Moon Bay one Sunday, so The Boys decided to jettison the carburetors and get a more trustworthy fuel delivery system. As was done in those days, Walt and Jesse worked a quid pro quo deal with Al Gonzalez for a set of new injectors. At about the same time and right before the 1961 March Meet, Walt decided to vacate the seat, turning the driving chores over to "Little Brother" (the nickname given to him by Al Caldwell). Initially, the temperamental Algons caused a lot of problems from broken rods to burned bearings. But, once Al Gonzalez got the injectors right and made the engine happy, the car became a beast. It ran 182 mph at HMB in July and the stage was set for a shot at the record at Long Beach.

 

The final version of the car at the 1961 U.S. Gas and Fuel Championships. 97" Chassis Research frame, 276.1 cid DeSoto mill, 6:71 GMC supercharger; and those lusty looking Algon injectors.

 

On August 12, 1961, a partial ban on nitromethane fuel was lifted at Lions Drag Strip. Although the engines were limited to 300 cubic inches if equipped with a supercharger, there was no shortage of fuel dragsters vying for the $500.00 bond up for the winner of the inaugural event. In addition to all the top gas dragsters like Tom McEwen and Lefty Mudersbach, the pits were crowded with several nitro burners including Gary Cagle, Zane Schubert, Pfaff-Sowins, Glen Stokey, and Don Langford. Though forewarned in Drag News by Al Caldwell, author of its Northern Briefs, that there were these really bad hombres named Walt and Jesse Schrank racing a blown and injected DeSoto B/FD, few expected to see the Texans in the Lions pit that night. Yet, there they were. As Jesse explains," We were running Al Gonzalez' injectors (Algon Injectors) and he wanted to get some publicity for his product. We had just run 182 mph at Half Moon Bay, and he knew that if we went down South and made some noise, that would really help sell the injectors. He offered us $50.00 gas money, so we loaded up the dragster and headed for Long Beach". It would be a record setting night. On his first run, Jesse ran 8.66-182.18. In Walt's own words, "It looked real pretty; the smoke rolled off the tires to about half track, then she settled down and really started pulling". Jesse adds, "It was the smoothest run ever. It lifted the left front ever so slightly with smoke just hazing from the tires, but it was such a calm, straight run; I knew it was a good one".

 

August 12, 1961; Jess Schrank sets the Standard 1320 B/FD speed record at 183.28 at Lions Drag Strip.

 

Startled by this bold statement from the newcomers and at the request of track officials, Walt dropped the pan so tech man Roy Swanson could measure the bore. It was 3 5/8" stock bore, stock stroke, and stock rods. Gary Cagle, the Standard 1320 record holder for B/FD at 8.82-178.41 just shook his head and walked away. For the second run, and in an attempt to increase the rpm, Walt and Jesse changed the gear ratio in the quick change rear end. Though looking to set a new e.t. record, the car slowed slightly to an 8.73, but carded the big speed and a new record of 183.28! This was such a monumental achievement that their B/FD record would stand up for nearly two years, only to be finally bettered by Smirthwaite-Mooneyham's 185.94 run at Pomona on May 5, 1963! For icing on the cake, barely a month later at Half Moon Bay, their 8.65 e.t. gave them both ends of the B/FD record. Simultaneously, they also held the C/FD speed record at 163.63 set nearly a year before at HMB. The rest of the evening did not play out so splendidly. Jesse recalls, "I was not familiar with the starting line lights at Lions and Zane Schubert really left on me that night. Nonetheless, I took off after him, but it was an expensive gesture as we burned three pistons and created quite an aerial display for the fans". Despite getting knocked out of eliminations in the first round, the fallout over the record run was substantial and earned The Boys the coveted cover of Drag News. "Al Gonzalez really got his $50.00 worth", chips in Walt.

 

Lions 1961

 

The pits at Fremont--summer 1962; no longer blue, the car then sported a red paint job. (Bob Brown photo)

 

Tex Smith from the San Mateo Times showed up at Howard's shop one day with this cutie to hype the upcoming California State Championships at Half Moon Bay.

Tex added these pertinent facts about the trophy queen: Roberta Barton, age 19, from San Francisco; red hair (real), hazel eyes, and a 36-24-37 chassis.

 

Jesse and Walt outside of Howard's shop.

 

By 1962, the Schrank Bros. were a full-fledged member of Northern California's top fuel elite. They held both ends of the Standard 1320 B/FD record, and could run with anything the 392 cid Chryslers threw at them. Though purely unofficial, the members of this little club included Ted Gotelli, Champion Speed Shop-McLennan, Cash Auto Parts-Stuckey, Forsberg-Hubbard, Bob Sbarbaro, and Masters-Richter. Week in and week out these guys would duke it out at Fremont, HMB, and Kingdon. Though intense, the rivalries were never vituperous nor revengeful. Jesse sums up the way it was back then: "In those days guys would always be blowing up stuff qualifying, so you never knew who would show up for the first round of eliminations. But, all the racers were first rate guys. Ted Gotelli had the best car out there, but Masters-Richer probably would challenge that statement. Once at Fremont we were racing M & R and" Big" Bob Haines was having a lot of problems with the starter and twice red lighted while staging. Haines was livid with the starter, but we offered to rerun it in 30 minutes after our engine cooled down. When we finally squared off, I smoked the tires too hard, got out of it, stabbed it, did a wheelie, and watched Haines streak to victory. Class guys that they were, Sid Masters came over at the end of the night and gave us $100.00 of his winnings".

But, there were bigger and better prizes to be won; against the giants from the Midwest and the East that ventured West each winter. Starting around 1959 and in conjunction with the U.S. Gas and Fuel Championships, it had become standard practice for the big guns east of the Rockies to come to California during the winter months and challenge the "Best from the West". The time was March 1962 and the venue, Kingdon Drag Strip in Lodi. Up to this point, the East Coast lions had had a difficult time finding the victory circle. Don Prudhomme had won at Bakersfield, Champion Speed Shop won The California State Championships at Half Moon Bay, and Bob Sbarbaro and his "California kid" had been victorious at Fremont. Don Garlits, Art Malone, Chris Karamesines, Bob Sullivan, and Vance Hunt were fixing for a fight and the arena would be Johnny Soares' track. In the semis, Art "The Colonel" Malone was matched against "The Boys from Belmont". Jesse had been nicked in the semis at Fremont the week before by Sbarbaro and was looking for some redemption. Uncharacteristically, Art Malone red lighted away the race. Although Al Caldwell lobbied against it, Jesse generously agreed to a re-run stating, "We don't win races that way". On the rematch, Art squeaked out a win and then went on to race Don Garlits (Connie Swingle was driving at that time) in the final. Ironically, in that final, Art had engine trouble; Swingle blew his engine at half track, and limped across the finish line first with an anemic 8.93, leaving Walt and Jesse to ponder the $1000.00 that could have been theirs. ""We had a tremendous amount of faith in our combination; we never ran more than 50% in the tank. The DeSoto made just enough bottom end torque to hook up and not boil the tires. And, the Scotty Fenn chassis was the perfect frame (length and weight) for the amount of power the engine generated. The dragster weighed 1580 lbs. and the horsepower was managed through a Ford transmission that ran high gear only. Once, we put a Chrysler in and it smoked the tires from end to end."

 

Fremont, Jan 28, 1962 - Schrank Bros. of Belmont, CA vs. Forsberg & Hubbard (right lane) for TE.

 

Walt, Jesse, and John Phelps in the hats doing a number on Ted Gotelli and Jim McLennan at Half Moon Bay-1961; HMB's flagman was none other than Andy Brizio.

 

The Schrank Bros. out on Archie Liederbrand in the Cash Auto fueler.

 

 

Orangeline

 

 

Walt and Jesse had long planned on building a replica of their B/FD. They still had most of the original engine and drive train parts stored in Jesse's shop next to his home in Grass Valley. The one thing they didn't have was the chassis. Attempting to locate one of Scotty Fenn's original TE-448 frames would have been next to impossible, so they combed the internet to see if anyone had a pattern of that design. After months of searching, they located a gentleman on the East Coast who had the exact plans for that chassis. Jesse purchased the needed 4130 chrome moly tubing from nearby Barnum Industries, and with grandsons Scott and Kyle handling the torches, launched into the project full bore starting in March 2007. Amazingly, the complete restoration was completed in seven months, just in time for the California Hot Rod Reunion in Bakersfield.

 

Jesse's shop next to his home in Green Valley, CA was home base for the recreation. Lying there in front of the shop is the original chute from the record-setting B/FD.

 

Some of all the original parts needed for the restoration; only item missing was a pattern for a 97 inch Scotty Fenn TE 448 chassis and the hat for the Algon injectors.

 

The slicks, rear end assembly and Halibrand
tires from their original B/FD.

 

Every project has a beginning: Jesse with his grandsons, Kyle (21) and Scott (26), both certified welders, bending the bottom rails (March 2007).

 

Scott (left) and Kyle (with the torch) fitting a brace onto the bottom rail.

 

This Scotty Fenn rear end was built in 1958; and, Halibrand quick change center section-both original parts.

 

Scott, foreground, tapering the tubing for the front end.

 

Walt fitting tubing for additional cage bracing.

 

Close up of the Scotty Fenn Halibrand rear end assembly.

 

Kyle welding the rear end brace to the housing; note: Jesse's homemade aluminum firewall and clutch can.

 

Walt and Scott fitting the engine block into the frame.

 

Scott welding up the side bracing for the cage.

 

Close up of Scott's professional grade welds.

 

Scott and Jesse cutting the aluminum by hand for the panels: the bottom, the cowl, a seat, and with the help of Kent fuller, a fuel tank

 

Kent Fuller supplied the .063 aluminum for the panels.

 

Jesse's homemade clutch arm; original Scotty Fenn brake plates; drive shaft; clutch can from J E Kristek of San Antonio TX; and, the original engine pan. Kelly Machine Service from Auburn cut the drive line.

 

Jesse painting the frame rails; the '55 DeSoto in the background will be restored, and when finished, the push car at cacklefests.

 

Chassis ready for the engine.

 

Jesse assembling the original 276.1 cid DeSoto, complete with the original crank and cam.

 

Half way home...

 

 

Jesse installing the heads and valve train.

 

Jesse and Scott fitting the manifold and 6:71 supercharger (from Sterling Holloway) onto the engine; the bottom of the blower manifold was badly warped and Scott, a Chico State grad, had to extensively machine it.

 

Jesse flow testing the aircraft styled fuel pump obtained from another pair of famous Northern California racing brothers-Jerry and Denny Forsberg.

 

Throttle Merchants to the rescue: Jeep Hampshire, Joe Douglass, and Ronnie Hampshire cleaning up the blower.

 

Jesse checking the fuel lines on the original Algon injectors.

 

Jesse with wife Edna.

 

One of the last tasks to be completed: bending and welding the tubing
from Dick Brace for the headers.

 

Keith Schrank, Jesse's youngest grandson, fitting the hat onto the Algon injectors.

 

Like the runs they used to make at the drag strip, this project was completed (sans paint) in record breaking time.

 

Jesse, possibly, thinking back to that magical moment at Lions Drag Strip over 46 years ago.

 

Note: the louvers in the side panels were the work of none other than Kent Fuller.

 

Getting ready to fire it up for the first time-September 2007.

 

 

George Bolthoff, Joe Douglass, and Tom Dean-Throttle Merchants' camp ('07 CHRR).

 

 

 

The Algon injectors had more than a few people scratching their heads.

 

The restored record setting B/FD even has the original steering wheel on it.

 

Jesse in his first Cacklefest Parade at the 2007 CHRR.

 

 

 

For their first Cacklefest the brothers opted to do a static start opposed to a push start. This would change in 2008.

 

The recreation with a new coat of blue paint reminiscent of the color of their record-setting B/FD - September 2008.

 

October 2008: In The Grove at Bakersfield during the 2008 CHRR.

 

Jesse in the 2008 CHRR Cacklefest Parade.

 

 

 

Jesse fired after his first Cacklefest push start.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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