Bits From The Pits - by "Stormin Normin" Weekly

 

#1

Date, 12-08-63. Place. Pomona, CA. Race for the #1 spot on the Drag News Mr. Eliminator list between Chris "The Greek" Karamesines and "The Frantic Four". First I FF-Greek 1would like to explain how the "Mr. Eliminator deal worked for the people that don`t know. If you were going to challenge for the #1 spot you had to be one of the cars on the top 10 list. You would send your challenge in to Doris Herbert at Drag News and the holder of the spot had 30 days to name the track the race would be held at. At the time "The Frantic Four held the # 3 spot and "The Greek" held the #1 spot . If we won we got the # 1 spot and "The Greek" took over our # 3 spot. Also, since "The Greek" held the # 1 spot he got all the money for the match race. That might seem unfair, but it did work out for everybody in the long run. In this instance it was $1000.00 and that was very good money in those days. That is the fee "The Greek" worked out with Pomona. Why Pomona? We were the home town boys and we felt it was a natural for the track. We approached Chuck Griffith, who ran the track and Stan Adams, who was the announcer and P.R. man for the track about getting the race there. A little side light here. Garlits had already put in a challenge to the winner. Chuck said fine as long as the winner of our race agreed to defend it at Pomona for the same price against Garlits. Done deal ( Don if you happen to read this, if I spelled your name wrong I am truly sorry, We have been such good friends. <wide evil nasty grin> Just a little inside joke as anybody in the game knows we were never friends, but that is another story.

"The race and mind games" -- First at this time all cars usually made a warm up run
FF-Greek 2before a match race. "The Greek" shows up and does not make a warm up run. I would like to say at this time I new it was going to be along day. "The Master" in my mind was playing with the kid. Another thing I should bring up at this time is with our 354, she was a little weak out of the gate. You could not bring her out at and idle like a 392, but she would make it up on the big end. To get around this I would stage at about 4,000 RPM and she would leave fine, because of this I would never stage first. I got burned down once staging first and learned my lesson. First round. I got "The Greek" to stage first I staged counted to one and left and got away with it. Well "The Greek" is no dummy. Second round. I pull up wait for "The Greek" to stage and when I stage, I realize he has not staged. I sitting there at 4000 RPM and I can`t bring the RPM down, because I know when I do he will stage and I will not get the RPM back up in time and she will bog on me. I could almost hear him laughing in his car. He let`s me sit there for a while and then decides he has made his point. I figure the second he stages the starter will throw the flag. I leave and get the big red. By the time I get out of the car at the big end I am hotter than the engine. I tell the crew to get the car back to the pits.

FF-Greek 3As soon as we are there I send one of our crew men over to the concessions to get 50 pounds of ice. "The Greek" wants to play game. O.K. After we get the motor cooled down I start putting ice water in it. 3rd round. I wait to the last minute to fire the car because I figure it is big time burn down time. What does "The Greek" do ? He stages right away and here I am with a cold motor and the starter Mel Dale is looking at me like stage or he is going on a single. I stage, nail it, she back fire`s tosses a blower belt and goodbye # 1, only "The Greek" is not through about 200 feet out he takes one hand off the wheel raises his arm and gives me the finger. When he brought is hand back down he hits the steering wheel and crosses the center line and we win. We are out of the cars at the big end and he comes walking over to me and I am thinking O shit I am in deep shit. He walks up and shakes my hand and says take good care of the #1 spot Kid. What a class act and that was the day he became my "HERO" Not because I was lucky enough to walk away with the spot, but I was the one that was playing mind games too and he understood. Norm.

 

 

Second story through my eyes as a driver: Around the time we won the #1 spot from "The Greek", I started driving a second car "The O.C.M.P. Special". When I first got OCMP 1into the car I did not realize the people that were doing the engine work were not too sharp, but I had been spoiled by Demar Ray, Jim Fox and Dennis Holding.

To explain, we broke parts in "The Frantic Four" car, but they were not being tossed at me as they were in "The O.C.M.P" car. I never went for "The sitting low deal", sorry Pat (Foster). After the first week in the car I went to the owner and told him some changes needed to be made if I was going to continue to drive the car, like new engine people. He said O.K. who? I told him Fox and Holding. He got together with Dennis and worked out a deal. We got the car over to Fox and Holding`s shop and they got the engine straighten out.

We then challenge "Waterman and Goodsell" for the #8 spot and won. Now I hope you understand this is not and ego trip, but we were feeling pretty good about ourselves. We had the # 1 spot with the orange car and the #8 with the O.C.M.P. car. I could be wrong but I think the only other person to hold two spots at the same time was Vance Hunt. We are at the shop one night and I will be honest with you, pretty full of ourselves, at least I was, and wondering what we could do to top what we had done. Somebody said let`s race both cars at Pomona next weekend. It could have been me. I have never been shy. So that is what we did with me driving both cars. I want to make this very clear, I don't think any of us thought we would get both cars to the final round. Reason being, the O.C.M.P. was not in the same class as the orange car performance wise. I think I should know about that.

Well as they say when you hot you hot. We were lucky enough to get both cars to OCMP 2the final round. Now the fun begins. Since I am under contract to O.C.M.P. I have to drive that car in the final round. Ron Rivero our partner was there, but he had never driven the car before. However he did have good experience in other cars in Texas when he was in the service. We put him in the orange car. Now back to the fun part. At the time Ronnie weight about 140 pounds and I weight 175, so I told Ronnie to pull 10 pounds off the front of the orange car. I don`t like to ever lose a race, but I wanted the orange car to win. We go to the line, I leave and keep waiting for Ronnie to go by me. I get in the lights and still no Ronnie. I knew then something had to happen to the orange car. He did a giant wheel stand and when it came back down it broke the left front wheel. To this day he thinks I set him up by pulling the weight off the front end. Not me <grin> and really Ronnie knows better. I just guessed wrong.

Next story. How I lost all confidence in my driving ability after "The Rat" blew me off two straight and I ran quicker and faster both runs for the # 1 spot and it was the beginning of the end for the orange car, or how to get humble real fast! Norm.

 

 

FF-Garlits 1Jan 26th 1964. Defending the # 1 spot against Garlits. First I would like to say there will be some personal things in this story. That is the only way I can tell it. I am not trying to make excuses or sugar coat it. Another reason is since we held the # 1 spot and the # 8 spot at the same time with the two cars most people would think we had the world by the tail. Things are not always what they seem to be. Also, whatever was going on in my personal life did not affect me when I was in the car. The minute I hit the mag switch and the car lit I was in another world.

When Garlits was in SoCal he kept his at Bud`s mufflers in West Covina. I was friends with Bud. When Bud found out we would be racing Garlits, every time I would see him he would tell me I was going to lose two straight. Me being me, I would tell FF-Garlits 2him, "In your Dreams". I should also explain that I had three different leaves I use with the car because I hated red lights. If I had a guy covered I would not push it at all on the starting line. I would rather look bad as a driver and drive around them than red light. This was because of the good motors Fox and Holding put in the car. If it was a car that was running close to us E. T. wise I would semi push it on the starting line. If a guy had us covered, and that did not happen to often, it was called hang it all out. 1st round. I left with a good leave (I thought), but got beat even though I ran quicker and faster. 2nd round. I went with my #1 leave and still got beat and ran quicker and faster again. I have no excuses, Garlits out drove me and I felt like I'd our whole team down. To top this off, when the crew took the car back to the shop and pulled the motor out the car broke in half. The motor was holding the car together. That is not and excuse either, just a side light of a very bad day at the office. That was the beginning of the end for the orange car, with all the wheel stands and runs it had made, the car was worn out.

FF-Garlits 3Dan Whitz who owned Airline Auto Sales wanted to build a new car and would pay for everything if I would let Bobby Edmonson build it. Bobby built and drove The Airline Auto Sales sprint car and that is how that car came about. As far as the personal side. I was married to my child hood sweetheart and our marriage was going down the toilet because she had become jealous of the race cars. I will leave that right there. The only reason I brought it up is like I said, not every thing is like it seems to be. By the way she served me with divorce papers the night before we left on our 1st tour.

I also got Garlits back with the Airline Car, but that is another story. <grin>. Norm.

 

 

1964 Winternationals. I would like to preface this story again by saying it is through my eyes and I am not trying to make any excuses. In my eyes there is no excuse for losing, but we all do and we take our lumps and go on from there.

Again we are running two cars. O.C.M.P and the Orange car. I would like to say this was not and easy job for Jim Fox and Dennis Holding and our crew. They did not have a crew of 20 people for each car like the big boys or girls have now, plus the two cars were very different. The Orange car had the 354 and the O.C.M.P. car had a 392. Although both chassis were built by Rod Pepmuller. Now back in 1964 NHRA did things different. On Saturday they ran class elimination`s. A/FD and AA/FD. A/FD got a trophy. AA/FD got to sit out elimination`s and ran the winner of the low 8 cars on Sunday. I won A/FD on Saturday, beating Logge, Steffy and Marsh in the final round. In AA/FD in the O.C.M.P. I lost to Bobby Vodnick in The M&R car in the first round. He ran 8.18 & 187.50. I ran 8.11 & 184.42. I got another whole shot put on me, after Garlits did the same thing to me when I lost the #1 spot to him a couple weeks earlier, to say the least I was not feeling to good about my driving ability! To add insult to injury the 8.11 put the O.C.M.P. car in the 9th spot and they only took the low 8 cars.

Sunday. S&H was low qualifier at 7.86 and the Orange car was in at a solid 7.96 and Kenny Safford was #8 at 8.10. Now the fun begin`s. For some reason Garlits did not qualify. That really broke my heart <Wide evil nasty grin>. About two hours before the first round Garlits comes running up to me with his firesuit and helmet and says let Garlits in Frantic 4me drive your car. As I said I was really down on myself and I told him let me talk to Jim Fox and Dennis Holding... although I had already made up my mind. I owed to much to Jim and Dennis to let them down again. So we put "The Rat" in the car. The word in the pits spread like a wild fire. Garlits is driving for the frantic four. Now the really, really fun begins. Here comes T.V. Tom Ivo and he is not a happy camper and I get the ass chewing of my life. I want to make this very clear, it was not that I put Garlits in the car that had him upset. It was that I would put anyone in the car. I would like to say everything he said, but it is not for print.<grin> In essence he told me if I wanted to feel sorry for myself, just hang it up for good. He also said you are the hero for that car and I better start acting like it. Well the first round Garlits red lights and drives the car out the back light and hangs 8 rods out the bottom of the pan. Thanks to T.V. I was able to get my act together and win a few more races.<grin>.

This is a great side bar story to the one above (and the photo of Garlits in the FF car). It's from Chuck Quenzler, Jr. written to Norm. You can only see Jim's (Fox) hands in the pic. That's me with the Autolite hat, and of course Dennis (Holding). When this pic was being taken Dennis was telling Don that the Frantic 4 car might not leave as hard as the Swamp Rat, cause it was a 354 style motor, not a 392 like he ran. Big Mistake! Donald left so hard he boiled the tires of the car. It was freewheeling so bad Jim said, as we watched from just behind the starting line, "It will never make it to the end"
"Norm wouldn't ever over power the M&H's like that." Jim was right. It blew about the 1000 foot mark. Jim commented, "I think that's the first time the car ever oiled down the track" since you guys got together.

If you remember, 'Big' also redlighted, and the guy we raced either went off the track, or crossed the centerline. I remember that, cause you and Dennis argued with the NHRA officials, while Jim and I, and I think Lynn Hawthorne, took the car to the shop, and changed the motor. You and Dennis were arguing that we should be let back in cause the car we raced, did such a dangerous thing, compared to a red light. All to no avail, as in the next run, our would be competitor, made a boring single, shutting off, after a few hundred feet. As a direct result of this incident, You probably remember, NHRA started the "First or worst" rule before their next race. This was the Winternationals, the first year NHRA used the "Christmas tree". I think it was 64. you can look it up.

I remember I was working for Demar Ray, at the time you and Ron broke your only motor. I Think you had a Drag News Top 10 challenge in to a team from Oregon, or Washington, ( or maybe you were to race "TV Tommy Ivo" up there) and I suggested to you that, Jim and Dennis have some fresh motors, as they had just split up with Bill "Fix or repair with a hammer" Adair. And that was the beginning of some great things.

We were racing at San Gabrial dragstrip, for a Drag News spot, and when Jim and I were thrashing to change head gaskets, between rounds, Steve Gibbs was announcing, an said "Weekly, Rivero, Fox and Holding, are working on their motor trying to get back here on time, for the next round. Those four guys are frantically trying to make the 1 hour deadline" If I remember rite, it was Dennis who picked up on that comment, and the "Frantic 4" was born!

PS Jim said you wanted to know if I was working with the OCMP car at a certain race. If I recall correctly I only worked on it at the shop, and when it was at a track, with the orange car, home in the shop. Cause I helped out Garlits, when he was on the west coast, I chewed for him, when he was racing there. I think I had worked it out with Jim, that when he was scheduled to race you for the #1 spot, I was to help him. But then, I think, he lost his spot to Chris, and we didn't race Garlits after all.

That race was the Infamous controversy of Chris crossing the center line when near the lights, Some months later at a different race he told us, as he turned slightly in the car to give you the finger, he steered his car over the center line. I remember we all laughed about it, even Chris..
Chuck Quenzler, Jr.

 

 

9-14-1963 - Fontana Drag City. First I would like to say I am sorry that I have not posted more story`s, but with what has been going on with our crackelfest car it is kinda hard to stay on track. At the time of this race we more or less ruled Fontana drag city. At the same time Greer, Black & Prudhomme ruled Lions. Little did I know that my partner, Dennis Holding was going to put a challenge to G,B&P in Drag Sport to come out to Fontana and try us on. I would have rung his neck if I would have known. LOL. I mean it was like going to the bank every week. At any rate, they took the challenge and on their second qualifying pass Prudhomme ran a 193.54 to tie the top speed record we held at the track with Wenderski & Winkel.

In the end, we qualified # 1 with a 8.18 which also stood for low E. T. of the meet. As fate would have it, in the semi finals it was us and G,B & P so the stage was set for the "challenge". It was a very cold night, but we had a little trick we used out there to make sure the car fired. Tom Jobe will kill me, but we learned it from them. LOL. Oh by the way that is Tom Jobe from "The Surfers" car. Something about putting alky in the injector imput line. <grin>

Anyway we pushed down and G,B & P didn't fire - Dennis Holding and Jim Fox were screaming at me to make a single. I thought about it and said "no way". As cold as it was, I knew I could sit there for a good five minutes at idle. I keep motioning for them to push the G,B & P car down the track and get it fired. They finally got the message and got it fired. I had them right where I wanted them. The minute "The Snake" got his car fired, I stage. He has no choice but to do the same. I know his motor is cold, but who ever said we play fair ! <wide evil nasty grin>. We beat them and went on to win Top Fuel in the last round against Jim Ward.

Please understand the G,B & P car was one of the best of it`s time, but when you have them by the ball`s you do what you have too. A little side note for Don Ewald, since he worked for Keith Black and knows what am ego he had. I always had the greatest respect for him and after I quit driving for "The Frantic Four" I had a chance to drive some of his cars, but he always vetoed it because he never forgave me for that night. I guess both of our egoes would have not fit in one shop. LOL. Norm.

 

 

This is the story of the rematch with The Rat (Garlits) at Island Dragway NJ. for the Drag News # 1 spot, through my eyes. First I would like to say this was also a NHRA record meet, where you could try and set new records. Back in those day they had just certain meets you could do this. Also by this time we had retired The Orange Car and had the new Airline Auto Sales Car. I will not say what the car weighed, except to say it was the lightest car of it`s time and the most ill handling car I ever drove. On the plus side, performance wise it was the best car I ever drove, even if the little bitch tried to kill me on every pass I made. <grin>.

 

 

Back to the performance side. When we took the car on tour in 1964, we only lost one match race and got jobbed on that one in Atlanta for the # 1 spot. Plus the car beat the Rat for the # 1 spot, Won A/FD and set top time at the Indy Nationals. Back to the race with the Rat for # 1. Like I said it was a record meet. We set a new e.t. and mph record for A/FD early in the day, but we had two problems. First like I said the car was very light and to run A/FD we always had to put and extra 10 pounds in the car. For some reason we forgot to do it and after the run we realize it. Before the officials get`s down to the end of the track, Dennis get`s my fire suit and puts the 10 pound weight in it and puts it in the car. I told Dennis to forget it. If we get caught we will look like shit and everybody will think we always cheated and we never did. I want you to understand this is in no way a knock at Dennis! He was trying to do his best for the team and he told me to put it in the story.

Second problem came when we crack a cylinder wall on the record run. We go change motors in a old barn by the track. Now it is time to race the rat. First round. I run 7.95 and 197.80 and lose. Going back to Pomona that is three straight he has beat me. As I am packing the chute I am thinking, what do I have too do to beat this S.O.B. Second Round. I run 7.78 and 197.80 to his 7.79 and 185.00 and I win. The monkey is finally off my back. I am ready for him now and the third round! It is starting to get dark and the rat goes up in the tower and says over the P.A. system it is to dark to race. Little did he know we had a spy in his camp and he had crack a cylinder wall in the second round and no spare motor. Dennis tells me get up in the tower and lay it on him. I did telling the fans it is not that dark and if the fans would park there cars along the dragstrip with there headlights on we could do the last round. This is after the rat said on the P.A. system that only a dumb kid or a monkey would race under these conditions. We raced I won and I new he red lighted, but I drove it out the back light with the wheels three feet in the air and ahead of him! Pay back is hell and it sure was nice to get the monkey off my back, not for just me but the team.

Thank you Jim Fox and Dennis Holding for having faith in me and us ! Now for the kicker. One of the greatest days in our life, we go to the motel and I am so mentally tired I can not see straight. I step in the shower and all I get is rust water. What can I say. <grin> Norm.

 

 

 

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