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May 13, 2010 Author: Bobby Martin

"This is totally different from driving a Funny Car"

It's time to let the music do the talking. After all the excitement surrounding Spike Sterling's new Rush Willys, we're gonna get it on this weekend.

"Let the music do the talking" is a quote/philosophy of Aerosmith guitar hero Joe Perry. He even put out an album by that name. Joe believes that talk is one thing, but when it comes down to it, a guitar player's ability is only truly shown when the music starts. The excitement surrounding Spike Sterling's Rush Willys has been awesome. It's one of the few (the only one I know of, actually) '33 Willys in the Pro Modified genre of drag racing. A lot of people have been saying the car is fast. The truth is, we haven't even made a full run yet. What that shows is there's a certain mystique about the car and that's a good thing.

I remember back in the day at Niagara Dragstrip, Big Daddy Don Garlits was in town. He was the man then as he is now. He ran a 6.10, which was a national record run at the time. I was impressed. Here was a guy with a huge reputation. But he delivered the goods. That just cemented him as a hero in my book. This situation in no way compares to Big Daddy, except for one. There will be people at the track who want to see the car run. I gotta tell ya, this car has been generating excitement just rolling off the trailer, but now we're gonna line 'em up.

Pittsburgh Raceway Park is a special place in my career. It's actually the site of my very first win. I was running a bracket class with my '71 Nova. I don't remember the class, but at the time the car was small block powered and ran in the low 13's. It was my birthday. Back then, a girl would write your ET and speed on the time slip with a pen. She wrote Happy Birthday with a smiley face on the slip for the final. (I didn't even own a trailer. My good buddy, Bill DiCicco, hauled 'er to the track for me) In those days, the track was known as Keystone Raceway, or "Keystone," as we called it. Since then I have run the Battlestar Funny Car there in match race action, and later the CAP Avenger, which has morphed into the current CAP CHARGER. As I recall, the CAP Avenger was just making solo exhibition runs. I felt like a hot dog. But she broke traction on one run, spinning the tires. The rpm's were building fast, so I short shifted into second. Apparently that sudden change from almost no load to a big load, and the drop in rpm caused the motor to fill up with fuel and it broke a valve. It ran something like a 6.24 at 224, which wasn't bad for an exhibition run at the time, but I tore up a lot of stuff.

So this appearance will be very special. It's been a number of years since I've been to this track. I haven't run before a "home" Pittsburgh crowd since the CAP Avenger, which was more than 5 years ago. Now it's Pittsburgh Raceway Park. The new owners have done great things with the facility. Management has promised us that the track will be sprayed and prepared fully to the finish line, which in the case of the Pittsburgh Pro Mod events is the eighth mile mark. And this will be my first time in competition in anything but a Funny Car since those bracket days. Spike, his wife Christine, Lori, Mike Meeks, Kevin Wilhelms, and Randy (a long time friend and crewman of Spike's) are extremely excited about this event.

Spike Sterling has run a lot of different cars over the years including dragsters and altereds. Interestingly, the only thing he hasn't owned is a Funny Car. Most recently, he has owned and driven fast door cars. Actually one was a fast door truck. A big block powered full-size Chevy. He later piloted a killer Firebird that was just shy of a Pro Stocker. But the Rush Willys is his wildest, most powerful creation yet. I call it Frankenstein, because it's a monster created out of the best parts. But these parts, namely an Oddy engine, Spitzer chassis, and Willys body, have never been put together this way before.

This is totally different from driving a Funny Car. First, the driver sits on the left, not in the middle. It makes judging the groove very tricky. Furthermore, with the radically chopped top, the mail slot windshield doesn't provide much room to see. And what little there is is blocked by the massive Littlefield blower and huge buzzard catcher fuel injector on top. Now take that motor and move it way up front. While you're at it chop ten inches off the wheelbase. Then, put all that on a suspension, so the car can rock and bounce to make the ride even more confusing. That's a Pro Mod. I've been snapping my foot off the clutch to cut a light for more than a dozen years. Now I'll be taking my foot off the brake. But that still isn't the start of the race. I launch the car by letting go of the trans-brake button. Sounds easy, but you have to stop the car, set the trans brake, let go of the foot brake, floor the throttle, and react to the tree by letting go of the trans brake all after the stage light comes on. That's a lot of activity all while you're trying to cut a good reaction time. Furthermore, when you let go of the button, you know that you're unleashing 2500 horsepower and have to handle this itty bitty car with the giant engine and try to keep in straight long enough to get to the finish line under power. That's a wild ride, my friends! One thing that will be the same is that we will be running on VP Racing M1 Methanol. It's available right at the track along with all the other popular VP Racing fuels.

My understanding is that there are 20 great cars scheduled to appear for the Pittsburgh Pro Mod event. You'll see everything from brand new 2010 body styles to our radical '33 Willys. Only 8 cars qualify. But, because so many great cars will be there - as a special treat for the fans - there will be a special eliminator for non-qualifiers. There will also be a special bonus for the first car to make a run in less than 4 seconds. "First in the 3's." The track is Pittsburgh Raceway Park, 538 Stone Jug Road in New Alexandria PA. That's on Route 22 east of Pittsburgh. Now the race is supposed to be a Friday night bash, with qualifying beginning at 6:30 on May 14th. But just in case it rains (a distinct possibility at this point) the show moves to Saturday the 15th, starting at 3pm. As the cool but excitable Spike Sterling likes to say, "I can't wait!"

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