In 1966, I was one of the many hot-rod crazy kids who'd been drafted and ended up at Ft. Hood, Texas. We would hear ads on the radio for Green Valley Raceway; and if possible, would hook up with someone who had a car and make the long journey to see some Drags!
My favorite cars of all time, are the A/Gas Supercharged cars. I went to Woodburn Dragstrip (here in Oregon) in 64 or 65 to see a match race between Coonrod & Harry's yellow 33 Willys coupe VRS [and] the Stone, Woods & Cook Black car! SWC took the match 2 out of 3.
Green Valley Raceway announced that the four top A/GS cars would be there for a match race. I believe this was mid summer 1967. This was the chance of a lifetime for a poor old G.I.!
We left Ft. Hood at zero dark thirty so we could get to the track early and not miss anything. As I remember it, we beat the A/GS cars to the track! They arrived in a caravan and pitted in the prominent area where the overhead walkway ended in the pits. I watched as each car was unloaded and prepared for the race. After I took pictures of each car; I headed for my favorite, the SWC car. I wanted to spend the rest of the time watching the crew ready it for the race.
At the SWC car, I didn't notice anyone who I recognized as either a Stone, a Woods, or a Cook. There were two guys prepping the car. One was wild eyed, wild haired and excitable. The other seemed more even keeled and normal. He took some spare mags with slicks mounted on them, and started to polish the rims. I knelt down and said: "I was at Woodburn Dragstrip when you guys Matched Raced Coonrod & Harry."
The guy polishing the mags simply said, "I wasn't with them then." I was right, maybe neither of these guys were SWC! Trying to find out who he was, I asked: "What's your name?"
You said: "Chuck Finders!"...
Well, that just floored me! A big time LA area chassis and suspension guy who's name was on three of the four A/GS cars! I didn't say anything for a couple of minutes while my mind raced, trying to think of something intelligent to say so I could learn some racing stuff from you! I asked you how you got started in suspension work. You told me the story of being in High School and wanting to rework your car, but you couldn't afford to pay anyone, so you set out to learn and do it yourself.
I was in A/GS heaven! After you'd polished the mags, you jacked up the car to change tires. Because the brake drums had been re drilled, you needed someone to sit in the car and stomp on the brakes as hard as possible to center the drums while you tightened up the lug nuts. You asked me if I'd do that! Oh man, WOULD I????? Chuck, that was the neatest Drag Race thing I'd ever got to do!
While I was stomping on the brake pedal, you double checked, and asked me if I was pressing hard. Man, what ran through my mind was: "What if I'm not getting the brake drums centered and he has trouble stopping????? Man it'd be all my fault!" (Although Green Valley has a nice uphill shutdown area, sand trap and then a fence!)
I was hooked! Between rounds I hung around the SWC car and tried to learn as much as I could by watching. My scrapbook notes show KS Pittman as the overall winner with a 9.12 as the quickest run. His times were; 9.24, 9.13, and 9.12. I have the SWC car down running a 9.41, 9.36, and a 9.34. Ohio George ran 9.42, 9.33, and 9.27. Jr. Thompson ran 9.41, 9.34, and 9.27. I didn't record the round pairing's or MPH.
After the race was over you let me help load the car on the trailer. I never did know the mechanic's name. I have Larry Valequez, ex-driver of the Vagabond AA/FD. Last year at the AA/Gasser meet at Woodburn, I wanted to get all the driver's autograph's, so I copied off the pictures of the four cars, hoping that'd get me in the door with the drivers. It worked like a champ. I wanted to get Steve Wood's crew chief's autograph, because he's such a character. I went up to him during a slack time and at first Sal said I couldn't possibly want his autograph, but I simply took out the A/GS pictures, and that changed everything! He called Steve over to have a look. He studied the picture of the guy who toured the SWC car with you, and asked me who that was. Sal used to drive AA/FD, and I told him who I had thought it was, but wasn't certain. Sal said he was sure he knew the guy, but couldn't remember the name!
I wanted to build a wild A/GS Style Hot Rod when I got out of the army, and the time you took to talk to me and tell me how you got started, was the beginning of my dream! All the time in the army, I kept a small notebook and, wrote down ideas, sketches, overall outline, etc. I knew which type of car I wanted to use, and whose house it was parked behind here in Mill City! (It was still there when I got out, and was the very first thing I did the next morning! Paid $25 for a straight 50 Plymouth SW. Everybody thought I was nuts!)
My unit, 2d Sqdn 1st Cav, shipped out for Viet Nam. We were an armored Cav unit, all tanks & tracks. We were attached to the 4th Inf Div at Camp Enari near Plieku. Our main job was road and bridge security. I was a medic. When I left, there was only one other guy who'd been on more patrols than me. It was SFC Whitehead who lead most of them!
At Firebase Blackhawk (on the north end of the Ahn Khe Pass), some friends said I needed to meet this guy in maintenance. His name was Paul Paolozzi. He was from Torrance, and raced a 62 Chevy 409 at Lions. His brother Mike was in high school, but worked part time putting stock away for Sig Erson. Paul knew most of the guys I'd read about in Hot Rod magazine who were racing A/GS. He was pretty good friends with "Bones" Balogh. Paul gave me a letter to read from Bones one day at the firebase. Paul had worked at Venolia Pistons before he got drafted.
I thought they'd forgotten me, cause I was 21 or 22 when I got drafted. Same for Paolozzi. He was 24, and told his Dad, he thought they'd forgotten him too. Well, his Dad had fought the Pacific Islands in WW2 and upon hearing that, promptly took Paul down to the Draft Board and said they'd forgotten him and that just WOULDN'T do for no kid of his! Paul, flabbergasted beyond description was drafted right on the spot!!!!
Paul and I spent all of our free time talking racing and planning to go racing. I had a 50 2-door A40 Austin that I figured we could build into an A/GS car. I got out 4 months before Paolozzi, and spent the time building my hot rod. When Paul got out, he and his brother Mike, drove up in Paul's blue VW to see my almost completed hot rod.
In California, Paolozzi was making the rounds and drove past C & O Hydro's and saw the MGM C&O HYDRO'S 48 Austin PU outside minus engine and Trans. Gene told Paul he was too busy with shop work to race it. Paul asked Gene if it was "for sale". I think he paid either $1200 or $1500. This would be late summer 68. I made plans to go down in the fall and go racing with Paul. I left California in Nov 68, with a rambler heater hastily rigged under the dash to provide a little heat and run the defrosters. As I got close to the border it got snowy and icy. I started to lose a rear axle bearing on the freeway 10 miles from Roseburg. It was the middle of the night when I limped into a 24 hr Union 76 station. Kid working let me put the car on the hoist and confirm my suspicions.
Slept in the car, freezing, bundled up in an army parka w/liner, running the engine more than I wanted it to idle; to stay warm. Next morning, slowly limped it across town to a parts store with a machine shop. Bought a bearing and had it put on my axle. (was running 55 Chevy rear end, blew six gear sets before I got a posi unit!) The end result was I put my tail between my legs and went back home. Paul Paolozzi raced the old MGM C&O Austin PU without me. Of the few things in my life I would change, going to Torrance, to go racing with Paolozzi is the MAIN one I would do! What a major mistake not to have followed through on that.
The moral of the story:
While you were touring the most famous A/GS car of all time, you befriended a poor G.I. who was far away from his home and hot rodding! Honestly Chuck, you reinforced the idea that it was possible to build a hot rod yourself. You set me thinking and keeping a notebook to sketch ideas out in. When I got home, I already knew in my head and in my notebook what I wanted to do! Only change was to a 350hp 327 & Muncie 4 speed, rather than the 354 Hemi & TFlite I'd originally planned on runnin'. You had a positive influence on a young kid. I was thrilled by every second of it! Of course, from time to time, I show people the picture of the SWC car and tell them I got to sit in it, but for the most part they just think so much BS!
I bought some back issues of Gasser Wars Magazine from Phil & Dee at Woodburn June 21-22 and was thrilled to see an ad for your shop. I'm so glad you're still here and building race cars! Reading the Willys reunion Gasser Wars thoroughly, I saw your Blue 33 Willys with SWC and Chuck Finders on the door. I'm sorry to say I've been pretty outa touch, and had no idea you'd teamed up to build another SWC A/GS car, looks Great!
I'm enclosing a copy of all the pictures I took at Green Valley Raceway for you. An interesting side note, Paul Paolozzi's wife grew up at Green Valley. She said her Uncle used to manage it! Small world. Also enclosing some other weird and misc that you might enjoy!
Have you given any thought to writing your Hot Rod Story, because it sure looks like you were there through all the A/GS growth. If you have, I'd sure like to buy a copy! If you haven't, would you give it some thought!
Thanks again Chuck, Getting to hang out with the SWC car and help out is something I've never forgotten!!! Thanks for taking time with a hot rod crazy kid in the Army.
Paul's commentary really provides some Cool story line to the Photos
Thanks Paul for sharing this story.