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
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.
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.
The Schrank Bros. out
on Archie Liederbrand in the Cash Auto fueler.
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
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)
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.
Scott, foreground, tapering
the tubing for the front end.
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
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
The slicks, rear end
assembly and Halibrand
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
tires from their original B/FD.
Scott (left) and Kyle
(with the torch) fitting a brace onto the bottom rail.
Every project has a beginning:
Jesse with his grandsons, Kyle (21) and Scott (26), both certified
welders, bending the bottom rails (March 2007).
This Scotty Fenn rear end was
built in 1958; and, Halibrand quick change center section-both
Walt fitting tubing for
additional cage bracing.
Close up of the Scotty
Fenn Halibrand rear end assembly.
Jesse in the 2008 CHRR
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
Kyle welding the rear end brace
to the housing; note: Jesse's homemade aluminum firewall and
Kent Fuller supplied
the .063 aluminum for the panels.
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
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.
Chassis ready for the
Jesse painting the frame rails;
the '55 DeSoto in the background will be restored, and when finished,
the push car at cacklefests.
Half way home...
Jesse installing the
heads and valve train.
Jesse assembling the original
276.1 cid DeSoto, complete with the original crank and cam.
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.
Jesse checking the fuel
lines on the original Algon injectors.
Jesse with wife Edna.
Throttle Merchants to the rescue:
Jeep Hampshire, Joe Douglass, and Ronnie Hampshire cleaning up
Keith Schrank, Jesse's
youngest grandson, fitting the hat onto the Algon injectors.
One of the last tasks to be completed:
bending and welding the tubing
from Dick Brace for the headers.
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.
Getting ready to fire
it up for the first time-September 2007.
Note: the louvers in the side
panels were the work of none other than Kent Fuller.
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.
George Bolthoff, Joe Douglass,
and Tom Dean-Throttle Merchants' camp ('07 CHRR).
For their first Cacklefest the
brothers opted to do a static start opposed to a push start.
This would change in 2008.
October 2008: In The
Grove at Bakersfield during the 2008 CHRR.
The recreation with a new coat
of blue paint reminiscent of the color of their record-setting
B/FD - September 2008.
Jesse fired after his
first Cacklefest push start.