Gary Weldons first pass at Bonnevilles Speedweek in the Watson & Weldon speedster is etched in his memory like a fresh tattoo. We had no idea how it would handle, and I just planned to make an easy pass, he says. It was really exciting. So, I started to calculate in my head, how fast is 125 mph? Im guessing 4,100 rpm. Well, you should have seen the look on their faces! It was over 133 mph.
Its 2,150 miles from the Canadian town of Millgrove, Ontario, to Bonneville. It takes 3-½ days of solid driving44 hours one-way to the salty dry lakebed in Utah. Each August since 1999, Gary Weldon and Harold Watson have loaded the trailer, packed the truck, and made the trek. They pull out early on Tuesday to reach Iowa. By the second day, theyre into Nebraska. Thursday leads into Wyoming, and if all goes well, theyll be across the Continental Divide on Friday and into the SCTA inspection line by noon.
A mecca for speed-thirsty souls, Speedweek has a class for everyone: coupes, roadsters, lakesters, streamliners, trucks, motorcycles, and even electric or turbine vehicles. From there, the SCTA subdivides the classes by engine displacement and fuel. For Watson & Weldon, who run in the A/GR class, the A denotes an engine size from 440 to 500 ci. The GR in the name refers to Gas Roadster, which, as defined by the rulebook, must have a production roadster body or an exact replica of a roadster body produced between 1928 and 1938. Other rules state that any type frame may be used and the body may be channeled to the bottom of the lower framerail. Driver location is optional as long as the drivers entire body is between the firewall and rear axle centerline.
Smashing their goal of passing tech, the homegrown Canadian team made several successful passes in the summer of 1999, and by the end of the week, they were holding their D license. For Speedweek 2000, they added Hilborn injection and ran the car up to 170 mph. Like so many other land-speed racers, the team quickly discovered that they needed more weight, so they added 150 pounds of ballast, pushing the flat-black roadster to 181 mph and a B license.
Gary and Harold pieced together their 28 roadster the old-fashioned way. Every weekend, one of them found another piece, often at a swap meet or a trade with a friend. Harold located the rare Latner quick-change up in Stoney Creek and the Moon tank from a productive swap meet at the old fairgrounds in Ancaster.
On a tip, Gary discovered a Hilborn fuel-injection unit sitting in the window of a transmission shop. Somehow, an old racing nailhead in the backroom became part of the deal. With Harolds nose for horse-trading, it wasnt long before their thrashed 27 Model T body turned into a rough 30 body, finally transforming into a straight and worthy 28. With a donation of gauges, rollbar padding, and steering U-joints from Bob Kurtz at the local rod shop, the car began to take shape.
To rebuild the nailhead, they enlisted the help of local racing legend Jack Greenhalgh. Still working in his shop at age 73, he put half a century of experience into hopping up the 401, punching it out to 460 ci. Jack also built a slew of one-off parts, including forged pistons, a crankshaft girdle, a flywheel, a scattershield, and a block-protector plate. He says, These guys are dedicated! It took me two weeks to machine the pistons. They have unbelievable persistence. High-performance nailhead camshafts are scarce these days, so Gary had Carmen down at J&C Auto Parts in New York nip and tuck an Isky plug to specs.
Next, Gary called friends from his old car club, the Road Runnersthe two Dons (Don Harrington and Don Nicholls), Jeff Harrington, Fred Stott, and Wayne Hamilton, along with some family, Barb and Scott Weldon. Now they had a race crew.
In 2001, they tasted the hardships of wrenching on the salt when First and Second gears seized in the Muncie four-speed. Hey, pull em out and run Third and Fourth, declared one of the crew. Who would have guessed 184 mph? Not wanting to wait another year for Speed-week, plans were made for Maxton (near Myrtle Beach, South Caronlina) at the East Coast Timing Association, a November event held on an old runway. There, they posted a speed of 167.598 mph, grabbing up their first ECTA record in the A/GR class.
Fortunate to still have vintage parts around for barter, it took seven enjoyable years of Wednesday-night work sessions drinking coffee and telling lies to produce a record-holding A/GR powered by a nailhead. Harold jokingly admits, Yeah, maybe next well shoot for the Canadian Gas Roadster record, since we already have the Worlds Fastest Nailhead in an Early 28 Ford Roadster locked up tight. Then he adds, Im trying to talk Gary into some nostalgia drag racing, so by the time were 65 or 70 well have something fun to do!