The Re-Birth of a Historic Drag Racing Relic: Part One - Classic Cars News and Information
September 27, 2022

Classic Cars News and Information

Where Dreams Are Driven

1967 Chevrolet Camaro

By: Elizabeth Sindelar-Loy

One of the allures of owning a classic car is every vehicle tells a story and if you’re lucky enough you can find one that has an amazing tale. Well racing fans, have I got a story to share with you regarding this historic 1967 Chevrolet Camaro Drag Car.  

In 2020, the NHRA celebrated 50 years of Pro Stock racing. Fans of the sport recognize the names of today’s stars which include Greg Anderson, Troy Coughlin, Jr. and Erica Enders to name just a few. Yet, none of these current Pro Stock stars or NHRA legends Bob Glidden, Larry Lombardo or Don Nicholson would have been possible without the “Godfather of Pro Stock”, Bill “Grumpy” Jenkins and his Grumpy’s Toy Camaros leading the way. His tricks of the trade heavily influenced numerous racers and led to the creation of the Pro Stock class.

(Disclaimer: Most of the story you are about to read cannot be found in books, or online articles. Nearly all this information has been woven together through accounts given by the people that lived it – NHRA & AHRA drivers, family friends of the Kimballs and Ruffs as well as the vehicle’s owner, Mr. Ronald Ruff.)

The wild tale of this Camaro Drag Car begins over 50 years ago in the middle of the Midwest during the “Golden Age of Drag Racing”. The period between 1959-1974, when gasoline and nitromethane powered monsters dominated drag racing headlines.  As men started returning home from war, these adrenaline junkies formed numerous auto racing and motorcycle clubs. Their exposure to high performance vehicles overseas brought the hobby out of American garages into speed and auto specialty shops popping up all over the nation. 

The addition of tracks in metropolitan areas created competition to draw fans which in-turn generated large pay-outs for racers.  This quickly snowballed into weekly races that become just as crucial to enter as national events.  And the Golden Age of Drag Racing was the last time the hobby racer could afford to have a chance to compete before corporate funded teams and professionals took over the sport.

During this time sanctioning bodies were formed to get racing off the streets, institute safety and legitimize the sport. The two that ruled above them all were the National Hot Rod Association (NHRA) and the American Hot Rod Association (AHRA). Modern day race fans are familiar with the NHRA but, let me take you back to the days of the AHRA where our story takes place. 

The AHRA was founded in 1955 when drag racer Walter Mentzer felt the sport needed an organization that represented the drivers, not the drag strips.  After Hot Rod magazine did a story on the Pennsylvania non—profit organization it attracted a large amount of attention.  Mentzer stayed at the helm until being drafted in 1957. 

Don “Big Daddy” Garlits was elected president in 1958 with Jim Tice installed as vice-president.  By 1959, Garlits racing career exploded putting him on the path to become one of the winningest drag racers of all time.  Tice took over as AHRA President and turned it into a profit-making organization. At the end of the 1969 season, the AHRA could claim over 80 sanctioned dragstrips, 25,000 plus members and sanctioned over 2,400 national and regional races.

Even during its inauguration, the AHRA understood that it was in the business of entertainment not drag racing.  With Jim Tice, Sr’s viewpoint at the helm, the AHRA was responsible for creating significant drag racing history. The organization gave racers ten times the payout the NHRA was paying, and it was willing to take risks while the NHRA sat back and observed.  During the NHRA Nitro Ban (1957-1963), the AHRA provided a home to Top Fuel which drew in an enormous number of spectators to the stands. And it was the first hot rod association home for Funny Cars.

The AHRA happened to be the first organization to develop a set of qualifying sessions for their classifications and added night qualifying sessions as early as 1966.  This allowed race fans the ability to choose partial track days without missing any of the action.  There were one-and-done racers who would make a good qualifying run to get into the field and then just park. The AHRA didn’t want fans to feel cheated by these actions, therefore they docked a percentage of prize winnings if teams ignored running in the Saturday night session.

Another, change the AHRA made was to revise the Chrondek Christmas Tree starting system for professional and sportsman racing.  The full five-amber light Christmas Tree used from 1963 through 1967, was a 2.5 second countdown which resulted in many foul starts. Red light starts resulted in an elimination run was not entertainment for fans. Therefore, the AHRA instituted a simple shortened Christmas Tree that used a single amber light followed four tenths of a second later by a green light in order to make the chance of redlighting almost impossible. 

When the AHRA launched the Grand American Series of Professional Drag Racing in January 1970, it was the first time there was a program to crown individual winners in each eliminator category. Tice, Sr. decided to give a shockingly robust season-ending payout to the top ten finishers in each category. He was attempting to use the structure and lucrative nature of this new series to lure the pioneers of Pro Stock to commit exclusively to the AHRA. 

The NHRA’s Wally parks was not entertaining the idea of a heads-up Super Stock class. There is a theory that if Tice didn’t try to lure away the top drivers in that class like Bill Jenkins, the NHRA would never have debuted the Pro Stock class in 1970.  Jenkins along with other top Super Stockers drivers were offered cash for AHRA exclusivity. They turned around and gave the NHRA an ultimatum: create a professional head-up class or they would commit solely to the AHRA.

Kimball Bros & Hill “Just for Fun” provided by Chris Blakely, family friend of Kimballs & Hill

The only way Tice was able to take advantage of the situation in the first place was due to the AHRA’s successful creation of a heads-up Super Stockers a professional division in 1968 complete with a Super Stock eliminator event that same year.

At the pinnacle of the AHRA’s success, two brothers, Gary and Larry Kimball were a dominating force in the GT class. The Kimball & Hill team owned two 1967 Camaros: Grumpy’s Toy III that they renamed “Strictly Business” and their first Camaro, “Just for Fun”.  Currently, most racing fans believe the 1969 Super Stock National Championship was won by Gary in the Grumpy Toy III “Strictly Business” Camaro but what I discovered through talking to eyewitnesses is that this was incorrect.  The reality is the true champion is sitting on the stage in our St. Louis Showroom. The Kimball & Hill “Just for Fun” Camaro driven by Gary was the AHRA Super Stock National Champion in 1969. Therefore at the start of the 1970 race season, the “Just for Fun” car had the badges: ’69 A.H.R.A. National Champ, Super Stock Eliminator, National Record Holder affixed to it.

And this is where the rollercoaster of a story takes flight as this wasn’t the first time the two cars were misidentified. To be continued next Monday…

If you would like to learn more click on the link 1967 Chevrolet Camaro Drag Car, or please contact our team in the St. Louis showroom.

Gateway Classic Cars sells and consigns hundreds of vehicles each month. Do you have a classic car for sale with a story to tell? We’d love to hear about it, please email us at news@gatewayclassiccars.com to share it.

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