FUGLY: 5 Ugly Race Cars

In celebration of fifty years of attending short track races throughout California, Nevada, Oregon and Washington, I have decided to open up my personal photo archives and share with you loyal readers. All race cars hold some interest for me… open wheel cars are of particular interest. Here are a handful of images that are memorable for one reason or another and I think deserve another viewing.

The #95 was one of three decidedly different four cylinder sprint cars campaigned by Reno racer Mike Wood…come to think of it; it was very likely the same chassis with three different variations of coachwork. This configuration appeared at the Plumas County Fair races in 1987. It featured a lightweight corrugated aluminum engine cover (repurposed cooler of some kind?) and a low drag, stationary airfoil. Fellow competitor Tom “Smokey” Stover described the racer as a “hot dog cart with a wing”. All got a good look at Wood’s creation as it didn’t move quickly and failed to transfer from the consolation race.

Tony Thomas’s Wolverine sprint car originally included “sail-like” panels on either side of the tail tank and a trough nose. After he was asked to remove the panels, Thomas installed a conventional hood and this hideous elbow guard. But what made his racer truly unique were the less noticeable features; ultra-long radius rods and a single torsion tube across the front. All major components, the engine, the seat, the fuel tank, were all mounted lower and further back in the chassis than usual… and it worked. Thomas won three of the first four races he contested in the car. When asked to make more revisions Thomas chose instead to retire this chassis. Eventually it was sold and campaigned (less successfully) by another owner. Thomas readily admitted his creation was ugly; his wife in fact dubbed the car “The Munstermobile”.

In the “free-wheeling seventies” some adventuresome short track racers began experimenting with rear engine cars. Some like the Sneva family from Spokane were successful, especially on asphalt. Others, not so much. Portlander Gary Clark forsake a conventional upright sprinter for this rear engine design. I was told that he didn’t start from scratch- part of the chassis (likely the front) was scavenged from a formula car. Regardless, you really need to know your geometry to make a racer like this work on dirt and reportedly Clark struggled. Beet’s Body Shop on Mt. Tabor applied the unusual parrot green, red and yellow paint scheme. The good news was, people noticed the #42 and it actually generated more business for the sponsor.

Is there anything uglier than a wrecked race car? I think not. This flathead powered roadster belonged to Willie Anderson and was campaigned throughout the Pacific Northwest by Jack “Crash” Timmings. On the final afternoon of the 1951 racing season at Portland Speedway, Timmings blew a tire and impacted the guardrail head on. Jack was a big guy and as strong as a bull. He mangled the steering wheel where his chest made contact in the wreck but emerged from the roadster unscathed. After a quick trip to the hospital, Timmings returned to the track to see Len Sutton claim his championship. Jack resented the moniker “Crash” by the way- in an interview years later the gentle giant defended himself saying: “I don’t think I crashed any more than anyone else.”

I’ve always taken a lot of pride in the appearance of my race cars but this four cylinder modified was an exception. It was built by the Myer brothers in San Jose for next to nothing and I purchased it from them for $500. with trailer. Ready to do battle at Baylands Raceway Park circa 1988 is my sponsor John “Rooster” Horton. He didn’t win the Feature that night. Horton was a customer of mine that became a sponsor and ultimately a good friend. The car had started life as a super modified and was originally built to accept a V-8 engine. In the following years the car’s appearance improved greatly but at the end of the day, the 2×4 chassis was just too heavy for a four cylinder engine to pull. I nicknamed the car: “The Box” as an endearment… my fellow competitors however called it: “The S**t Box” or “The Penalty Box” as numerous racers were forced to drive it when their primary cars broke down.

I used to say it was so ugly, it was cute… but to everyone else it was just “Fugly.”

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