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My First Pass: At the wheel of a Willys Gasser

by Dave on November 23, 2011

EDITORS NOTE: Jim Tipper bought the Basher & Cummins AA Gas Willys fully intending to go racing. The gasser, known to fans as “BC,” had enjoyed both a colorful history and a successful racing career. Built originally in the 1960’s, BC held a number of track records, including a National Record 8.595 second/162.30 mph pass in 1970 with Bill Brasher behind the wheel. Tipper bought BC in 1984, returned her to her AA/Gas roots, and brought her back to Baylands, the Fremont track where so many of her memories were made. This is Jim’s description of his first pass:


“The five-layer fire suit, boots, gloves, helmet, fire mask and goggles are all on. I’m strapped in tight, ready to fire her up. I’m taller than your average guy and I’m twisted into the cabin like a contortionist. My head is awkwardly bent against one shoulder, and forced back tight under the roll bar. My left leg is jammed between the steering wheel and door, my left foot is at a miserable angle, searching for the brake pedal. My right foot is high on the trans tunnel, looking for a comfortable position to control the throttle, without stepping into the gaping hole next to it.

I primed the oil and fuel pressure, pulled the fuel cable, and hit the mag. She fired instantly, and my crew scattered with over the wall, their hands over their ears as if she was about to explode. They’d had an hour of training. Now they were running into each other, looking terrified. I felt very alone.

Somehow I get through the water without hitting anyone and I’m ready for my burnout. Temperature is good, oil pressure is, I ratchet into third and I stomp on it. The throttle response is instantaneous, the sound is deafening, the cab fills with tire smoke, and the feeling of power is exhilarating. Keep her straight, don’t over rev, I’m coming up on half track so hit the brakes. Harder. Harder. I’m starting to cramp before she finally pulls up. Damn. This car doesn’t stop for beans. I twist over to push the safety button, ratchet into reverse, start back toward the lights, and realize I can’t see a thing. My crew eventually figures out my arm waving and runs out from under cover to guide me back to the line.

I’m ready to stage. Someone please pull the chute pins and show ‘em to me. More frantic hand waving and the crew figures it out. She’s now getting hot. The firesuit is like an electric blanket. Sweat is pouring into my eyes and my goggles are fogging so bad I can hardly make out the tree. I’m pushing as hard as I can on the old Buick drums, but every time the cam cycles, she lurches forward an inch.

My heart is pounding like a hammer. The tree starts its light show. I hammer it. HOLY SHIT! I’m pinned against my seat, my helmet smashes the headrest. The power is explosive. The smoke, the earsplitting roar, the heat, the vibration, the G-force, the smell of oil, rubber and methanol. HOLY SHIT! Shift!! No, wait! I can’t see. Am I heading straight down the track? It’s pulling hard to one side. And bouncing. Really bouncing. SHUT DOWN. Fuel off, pull the ‘chute. I feel the reassuring tug on my harness and eventually we bounce to a stop.

We’re sitting right side up, with the engine crackling as it cools down, safe and sound at half track. My vision had been so compromised that I’d run off the asphalt. A little embarrassing for her first ride, but there would be many more.”

Jim would go onto to race the car for a number of years, but eventually, tragedy struck. On a sunny afternoon track day at Baylands, Jim was making a test pass when the rear end locked up. BC flipped a number of times in the air, then rolled. A lesser man would’ve hauled her off to the dump, but Jim undertook a 25 year resurrection. The story is here.

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