Don Prudhomme, ranked number 3 of NHRA's Top 50 Drivers (John Force and Don Garlits are 1 and 2), called Kent Fuller, of Santa Rosa California, "a genius". Tommy Ivo asserts, "If it wasn't for me, Kent Fuller would never have gotten started and without Kent Fuller there would have never been a ‘TV Tommy' Ivo."
This story is about Kent Fuller, but also how Kent, Ivo, and Prudhomme's careers were so intertwined in the beginning that they became the keystones of drag racing in its formative years—plus the most successful Fuller chassis of them all, the Greer-Black-Prudhomme Fueler, currently owned by collector Bruce Meyer of Beverly Hills, California. Read how the pieces of the puzzle fell into place to make that happen.
Kent Fuller is as close to a Leonardo da Vinci Renaissance man as exists today. In fact he
Kent Fuller was born in Long Beach, California, in 1934. His folks moved, not far, to the San Fernando Valley. "We moved to Woodland Hills, then to Encino, and I went to Canoga Park High School. "I didn't graduate ... they threw me out. I majored in ditching and going to the beach," Kent laughs. "I had a '31 Model A in school that I wrecked in 1948. I wasn't supposed to be driving. (Kent didn't have a driver's license yet.) The headlights were real dim and I was going home about 8 at night when Walter Huston, the son of actor John Huston, turned left into me and tore my Model A into chunks. It was a coupe. I got a roadster body for $10, then I started gathering up fenders and stuff and started putting it back together. I fixed the fenders one at a time. I hauled them down, one at a time, on my bike to the Continental Body Shop where the owner would straighten out my fender and primer it for me for $6, which was a lot of money for me at the time. I put a Cragar head on it. There was a Japanese gardener who had a roadster pickup. He had a spare head. I was tearing down transmissions at Zimmer's Speed Shop on Ventura Boulevard in Encino for 25 cents apiece.
"When I got my license I sold the Model A and bought a '34 Ford five-window that didn't have a dent in it—it was absolutely perfect! So I had to channel it and threw the fenders in the trash. (Are you cringing yet?) I blew up the motor. I was taking my credit out at Zimmer's on parts and stuff. I got a V-8 together that had Edelbrock heads that I paid $20 for, and a Winfield cam that I bought for $6. I was almost done with the car when I got pissed off and ran away from home."
Before go-karts, young racers in the ’40s turned their talents to build and race cars in t
Home was more like a manor because Kent's parents were extremely successful: "My father was vice president of Sunkist and part owner and manager of a packing house in Canoga Park. He had 40 acres of oranges in Woodland Hills and 200 acres of walnuts."(The only oranges and walnuts in Woodland Hills these days are found at the local grocery store.)
Kent hitchhiked to Aberdeen, Washington, and worked for a friend's father who owned a mill that made the thick shake shingles for about a year. (Normally Kent would be truant from school but they kicked him out.) He found a Norton motorcycle that he rode before heading for home. He put the Norton on a train and thumbed his way back home. But the problems at home were such that his folks had split up.
Kent went back to school at Hollywood High for a couple of months: "I rode my bicycle in 1949 from San Fernando Valley to San Diego (it took 4 days and his mom brought him back by car). I stopped by Bell Auto Parts and bought the back issues of Hot Rod magazine and tucked them under my T-shirt and met Roy Richter, the owner.
This was the dragster that was sitting in Kent’s backyard that Don Johnson bought. It made
"They threw me out of school finally because I was a bum. (Kent found out much later in life that he was dyslexic, which caused most of his school problems.) I was 17 so I joined the Navy in 1952."
Kent never saw combat even though the Korean War was going on. He was sent to a Carrier Qualification Squadron Crash Crew. He put in for Aircraft Metalsmith School. Kent applied himself because depending on where a student stood in the class determined where they were sent: "Never being in the real world, I knew I had to do good to get what I wanted. Out of 260 students, I was number two in the class. Fortunately the guy who was ahead of me wanted to go to Norfolk, Virginia. I got what I wanted ... California. I got transferred to San Diego. I got to know a lot of people, including Joaquin Arnett. I used to go to Paradise Mesa Drag Strip to watch him drag race." (Arnett formed the Bean Bandits, a car club that took mostly inner city kids who were one step from a life of crime then got them interested in hot rods, many for life. If the Navy hadn't gotten Kent's act together, maybe Arnett would've.)
After Kent was discharged he went to work for C-T Automotive on Lankershim Boulevard in North Hollywood that specialized in C-T Motor Mounts, thanks to Kent: "I was doing welding on stroker cranks and motor mounts. When that got slow I put a Chevy in a '32 Ford. The guy didn't want to modify the frame so I made bolt-on motor mounts. The owner, Don Clark, thought that was a pretty good idea, so I went and got a couple of Ford frames, motors, and transmissions from the junkyard. I had four guys working for me making 125 sets a day. Then I started making header flanges. I asked the boss for a raise after working there for a couple of years, with 12 guys working for me. He turned me down. My future wasn't there.