"I went to San Fernando Drag Strip with my brother-in-law, Howard Jensen, who had a highboy '34 Ford roadster with a gas Buick in it. He raced against a lightweight '29 Ford roadster with an injected Chrysler on Fuel and Jensen beat him. I thought that Buick had potential. Jensen had Max Balchowsky's first stroked Buick motor that Balchowsky built. (Balchowsky, besides being a gifted mechanic, built the famed Buick-powered "Old Yeller II".)

"I started building a dragster for that Buick motor in 1956. I got it about two-thirds done when Jensen sold the Buick motor. The car just sat there in my garage till Don (‘the Beachcomber') Johnson came over to buy it."

He likened the way he constructed his chassis to a suspension bridge with a fourth less weight than his competitors: "When I started, most of the dragsters had parallel tubing ... big fat stuff. My framerails started out about 20 inches apart in the back and tapered down to nothing in the front. It had to do with the fact that a triangle is stronger than a square."


"You might say Don Johnson was my mentor," Tommy Ivo begins. "Don was sitting at Bob's Big Boy next to my roadster and leans out of his '57 Chevy and says, ‘How'd you like to take that Buick motor that's in your roadster and put it in a dragster?'"

Now if you read the Tommy Ivo story in the Sept. '12 issue of R&C you know that was no ordinary roadster. Ivo's roadster hauled the mail and set track records at every dragstrip it ran. Ivo only lived a few blocks from Bob's drive-in, close enough to sneak the full-race Hilborn-injected T roadster over to the hangout. While Ivo didn't know diddly-squat about dragsters, he was a drag racer big-time. The timing was right because it was at the end of the life of the roadster when Johnson posed the question.

Ivo was about to dive into a dragster, tooth and Nailhead: "No doubt, I would've ended up with a dragster sooner or later, but the timing was perfect. I went and looked at the dragster at Kent's place that Johnson had purchased but I was accustomed to cars with frames like my Model A that looked a lot stronger than the 0.049 tubing that Kent used. I said, ‘I'll put my motor in your dragster but I don't want to drive that thing.' Don was going to drive it."

"I had a little cottage on the beach at Malibu—that's how I got my handle," Johnson, of Channel Islands, California, says. "I was still in high school when Ivo and I went to Kent's house so Ivo could look at Kent's dragster that I bought. The car was in Kent's backyard."

"Johnson drove it at Colton Drag Strip, but we had the linkage in backward," Ivo resumed. "Johnson was starting out in high gear and shifting it into low gear. I said to let me in it. (That was the beginning folks.) I took off in high gear, it bogged down but the thing took off. I won that race. We went to San Fernando Drag Strip the following day, Sunday, and won again. I was sitting on Kent's doorstep on Monday morning to build me one.

"Kent had no intention of ever being a self-employed fabricator when I had him build my dragster," Ivo explains. "Kent worked at C-T Automotive, he had kids, and was just barely making ends meet, so it was a big step because he never thought about anything like that. Kent was building a T roadster and he said ‘If you chrome my roadster for me, I'll build a dragster for you.' So we traded."

"Tony Nancy was building a place, so I rented a shop from Tony," Kent continues. "I was going to do engine installations and stuff like that, but people just kept coming wanting dragster chassis built. Up to that point I had built four dragster chassis at home."