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Arnie Beswick: Drag Racing’s Consummate Underdog

The Farmer's Scrapbook

By Steve Magnante, Photography by Arnie Beswick

I’m pretty sure this picture shows my Star of the Circuit GTO racing Jungle Jim’s Chevy II at Capital Raceway during one of their King of Kings shootouts. I think this might have been the run where we both got really loose, crossed into each other’s lane but kept on it before crossing the finish line, side by side. The crowd gave us a standing ovation as we passed the stands on the return road to the pit area. I might have been known as one of the more fearless drivers on the circuit, but you can be sure I met my match any time I lined up against Jungle. The word "fear" was not part of that man’s vocabulary. I loved Jungle Jim. In many ways, we were like brothers.

When I heard the NHRA was starting the Pro Stock category, I wanted to be part of it. I built a Ram Air V-powered 1969 Judge called The Righteous Judge, seen here in testing at Jacksonville, Florida, prior to the Daytona Speedweeks event. By the late 1960s, Pontiac engineering, like Chevrolet, was dabbling in some exotic metal. The RA-V program was an outgrowth of the Trans Am 303 engines that were considered for SCCA use. They had even-spaced exhaust ports and huge intake ports, more like tunnels. The motor had ungodly rpm capability, but the low-end torque wasn’t much better than a basic D-port head. They worked best with a supercharger on my Funny Car. I wasn’t competitive against the likes of Grumpy, Dyno, Ronnie, or other big-name racers. Plus, the Funny Car was in such high demand, I only ran the Pro Stocker about a dozen times.

I built the Boss Bird for the 1972 race season, but splayed-cap Ram Air V engine blocks were impossible to get. I only had one Ram Air V block left, and I didn’t want to wreck it, so by the end of the season, I switched to a 426 Chrysler Hemi. This picture was taken at a small gas station in College Park, Georgia, I used to visit on my way south each year. Model kit maker MPC did a 1⁄25 scale plastic model kit of this car. I hear there is talk of it being re-released by Round 2, the outfit now in control of the MPC kit tooling. Round 2/MPC already re-released the kit of my 1969 Super Judge GTO. I’ve had many of my cars modeled in scale. I sell them at ArnieBeswick.com.

Funny Car chassis technology was progressing so fast I had the Logghe Brothers build me an all-new car for 1969 based on one of their superlight frames. It had the right suspension geometry for high-speed stability. I named it Super Judge, and I guess you could say it was my first professionally built car. Here, I’m running Hayden Proffitt’s Grant Rebel SST at Oswego, Illinois. Like Pontiac, AMC had very few off-the-shelf pieces available for supercharged engines. Hayden ran an honest-to-gosh AMC 343 engine bored out to 438 inches. When it ran well, it’d go 8.11s at just more than 180 mph. I was still running Turbo 400s in my cars. I really have to give a big thanks to Tom Nell, the Pontiac engineer who helped me rework the Turbo 400 to live under the strain of blown fuel racing.

This picture of the 1972 Boss Bird was not staged but sure is fitting, what with me being a corn farmer. But seriously, I ran at many cow pasture strips and cannot begin to count the number of times I blew through makeshift fencing then plowing through corn or beans after running out of shut-down area. It was a bigger problem after I put the Hemi in my Boss Bird and started running more than 220 mph. Sadly, I had a huge fire near the end of 1972 that saw the loss of everything I owned, including my farm equipment, race cars, haulers, and tools. It put me out of racing for many years.

After the 1972 fire, I quit racing to focus on rebuilding my farming interests. But in 1986, I played part in a Blast From The Past nostalgia drag race show. At first, I drove a friend’s 1963 Tempest with a carbureted 455 street engine but got the bug again as Dyno Don Nicholson, Ronnie Sox, Malcolm Durham, Phil Bonner, Dick Brannan, and others also came out to play. My current race fleet consists of a 1963 LeMans with a 462 Pontiac engine and this 1964 GTO with a 572-inch Pontiac-type Pro Stock motor. For several years, I raced the Tempest against Dyno Don’s 1962 Impala. At a three-day Labor Day race at Great Lakes Dragway in 2003, I beat Dyno three nights in a row in a best-of-3-out-of-5 match race series. He came up to me, mad, and asked if I’d let him win the next pairing. I said, "Dyno, in our years of racing, how many times did you let me win? None." I wouldn’t do it. He turned and said "F you," then walked away mumbling to himself.

By Steve Magnante
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