Volume III, Issue 2, Page 13

"There's this racer..."

“I know this racer that I think you need to be working with.”  It was during one of my frequent phone discussions with Jere Stahl in early ‘70s. He was expounding on a header customer of his that he reckoned could use some intake manifold help.  “I’ve never seen someone that thrashes as hard as he does,” was another tidbit Jere offered.  Looking back on the occasion, his comments evolved into understatements.  I learned as much from “this racer” as he might have learned from me.

So we talked.  The NHRA Indy Nationals were a scant few months away, and it seemed appropriate that we tailor an intake manifold for the small-block in his Super Stock Camaro.  It was about 0.12-seconds quicker than the out-of-the-box one he’d been using.  I was soon to learn that it was his focus on hundredths of e.t. reductions that formed the underpinnings of this racer’s winning ways.  And he’d go to incredible lengths to find them.  This resolve combined with an uncanny ability to mentally file away bits of seemingly useless information, and an un-ending desire to win were chiseled by his view of competition. When it came to trying ideas, nothing was sacred.

I recall when the Edelbrock Tarantula manifold was morphing into the Torker and then into the Scorpion.  We’d been having problems with a high-rpm stumble and hadn’t been able to isolate it to either the Rochester Q-Jet frequently required in NHRA SS classes or cylinder-to-cylinder mixture distributions in the manifold.  So we enlisted the help of “this racer.”  Methodically, and run after run, he made singular changes to the intake/carburetor package.  Jetting, metering rod hangers, distribution fixes in the plenum floor…and on and on.  With each change, he’d make back-to-back passes.  Finally, after about forty runs (if memory serves), he discovered that the secondary throttle blades were opening slightly past vertical (at WOT), thus upsetting mixture distribution to cylinders 7 and 8 and creating the high rpm miss in high gear.  The fix led to his SS Eliminator win at the previously-mentioned Nationals.

After some successful years in NHRA SS, he graduated to a new category called Pro Stock. Jumping from Chevy to Ford, he built a Pinto and ventured into the world of high- rpm 351 Cleveland engines.  In comparison to his previous successes, the Pinto was a disaster.  On a Saturday afternoon at the Edelbrock dyno he and I were wringing out a combination when the engine expired at about 8,000 rpm. We removed the intake and both heads and discovered the intake valve head in the #2 cylinder had departed from its stem, passed back up that cylinder’s intake port and runner in the manifold, journeyed across the plenum chamber to intake runner #7, made the trip down that passage (and intake port), embedding itself firmly in the top of the piston.  End of test…in a fashion that pretty much characterized “this racer’s” experience in Pro Stock.

And could this boy eat. The first time we invited him and one of his crew members to dinner, we’d finished the meal and I had requested the check. He asked to re-visit the menu, whereupon he ordered another dinner. I soon learned this to be common practice, especially if there’d been no noon meal.  In fact, his entire life seemed to revolve around unusual activities or events.

He called one Sunday evening, as he did on a regular basis, to recount the day’s racing events. He began the conversation by saying that he wouldn’t be back to the track for a while. He’d been in the cab of his slant-bed race car hauler between two crew members and as the rig was entering the pit area that morning, after passing up other rigs and winging over a blind railroad crossing, “I looked to the right and there was the locomotive.”
The train cut the hauler in half, right behind the cab that tumbled down the exit-side of the crossing.  Race car and back-half of the hauler stayed wrapped around the nose of the locomotive that spark-showered to a halt a quarter-mile down track. 

When he was building his next car, he called one Sunday evening and commented, “You know, Jim, I think I’m just going to stay home for a few days and let some of this pass.” While going home from his shop sometime after midnight the previous night, he’d been on his Kawa crotch car and traveling at race-car speed.  Apparently, the T-shirt he’d removed and stuffed into the bungee-tied helmet behind him had snaked out and found the sprocket and chain. The back wheel locked up at about 70 mph, creating a genuine E-ride until the chain broke and allowed the bike to be stopped while still vertical.   Actually, the chain of events ran longer than this.

NHRA Comp Eliminator became his stomping ground. There, he restored his winning ways while electing to expand a hobby into a business. Gradually, he drifted in and out of competition. The business was growing and demanded more of his time. His modified Corvettes, long-standing relationship with Chevrolet and certain specialty-parts manufacturers and selected media friends, became noteworthy…on a global basis.

During this period, he once emerged in NHRA Pro Stock Truck (a Chevy) and then became captivated by the potential evil resident in small-displacement turbocharged engines.  It was here, in the Sport Compact community (in an attempt to back up a record he’d just set) during a crash at Pomona that he met his final challenge. He did not survive.

I’ve never encountered a more inquisitive, hard-working, and dedicated drag racer and friend as John Lingenfelter. And, Jere, if I’ve never thanked you before, I do so now. 

 

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