With his purchase of ace engine builder
Ed Pink's famed California- based 'Old Master' top fuel dragster in late
1966, Washington, D. C. native Bruce Wheeler began what was to become a
very colorful three-year drag racing odyssey.
With the change in ownership, the 'Old
Master' was soon transformed into the 'Wheeler Dealer'. It's new home was
in the D.C. suburb of Hyattsville, Maryland, in the garage of one Dickie
Burgess, who became very instrumental in making Wheeler's venture a viable
reality, given his many years as a skilled and successful top fuel tuner.
[Although it wasn't known in late 1966,
the former Old Master was to be the first of two Wheeler Dealer dragsters
that Bruce would campaign. So, for sake of clarity, the first car will
sometimes be referred to as "the Dealer," and the second car as 'WD2'.]
Bruce originally had plans to drive his
newly purchased car himself, but, as things turned out, his long legs made
it all but impossible to drive the car comfortably (and, more importantly,
safely). So, it was at that point that an 18-year old New Jersey
native, American University student Al "The Jersey Jew" Friedman,
"volunteered" to become the Dealer's driver.
It didn't take Bruce very long to make
his decision. Although he had never driven a dragster previously,
Friedman had the right attitude and mindset, and Bruce felt confident that
he could do the job. And so, the Wheeler Dealer "team" was set ...
Al proved Bruce's intuition to be right
on the money, and demonstrated this beyond a doubt in his first ride down
a drag strip in a dragster, at California's Irwindale Raceway, New Years
Day, 1967. In his first-ever pass, Al launched hard, like he'd been doing
it all his life, smoking the car's tires like a pro. Shutting off very
early, he coasted across the finish line with a nine-second elapsed time!
Later, in March 1967, Al would be granted
his Top Fuel competition license during the Wheeler Dealer's debut appearance
at Maryland's Capitol Raceway. For the next year Bruce's team would run
the Dealer as often as there were races to compete at. During this time
they could be found at drag strips across the country, frequently racing
in their 'backyard,' at Capitol Raceway and Cecil County Dragway, Maryland,
but also at tracks in New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania, Maine, Virginia,
Tennessee, Ohio, Indiana, Oklahoma, Texas and California.
The Dealer was very successful at many
local and regional races, with an excellent win/lose record, but it always
seemed to have more than its share of problems when competing at National
Despite this, the Wheeler Dealer did manage
to get the attention of drag racing's elite, when, at the fabled 1967 U.
S. Professional Dragster Championship, held in mid-July at LIONS Drag Strip,
in Long Beach, California, Friedman piloted the Dealer to the #1 qualifying
position. In doing so he topped a huge field of 64 cars, among them the
very best in the land. And, his top qualifying time of 7.08-seconds, at
225-flat, also bettered the existing LIONS track records. In round one
at that event the Dealer won the race, and bettered its qualifying ET with
a solid 7.06, but at the expense of a wasted supercharger. Unfortunately,
Friedman found himself a loser in the next round, the victim of a 'gear
lube bath' resulting from a loose end plate on the replacement blower.
The second round loss notwithstanding, the entire Wheeler Dealer crew glowed
with pride at their accomplishments during that Saturday night at The Beach!
And, rightfully so...
Later that season, at the 13th U. S. Nationals,
held Labor Day weekend at Indianapolis Raceway Park, Friedman drove the
Dealer to 'Top Speed of the Meet' honors, turning a fast 223.88 MPH, with
a best-ever ET of 6.83-seconds. However, this occurred during another first
round loss, via the 'big red eye', to the highly regarded Don 'The Snake'
Less than a month later, while racing at
NASCAR's '67 Points Finals meet, held at Atco Dragway, New Jersey, Friedman
found himself on the losing end one more time. The difference this time
was that the Dealer lost while turning another outstanding 6-second pass,
against the popular K&G Speed Shop 'Frantic Fueler', becoming one of
the first cars ever to lose a race while running in the sixes. To top it
off, the Dealer experienced its singular most devastating engine explosion
on that pass. In the final analysis, it was determined that there was little
to be salvaged from the mess that had been created, short of the motor's
headers and valve covers!
It should be mentioned now that Al's proudest
moment, while driving for Bruce, was when he was notified that Drag Racing
Magazine had named him their '1967 Rookie of the Year', a fitting acknowledgment
for this talented young man.
The 1968 drag racing season got underway
for the Dealer with an appearance at California's Orange County International
Raceway, for the winter PDA race early that March. And although the Dealer
suffered another first round defeat, to the Ramchargers top fueler, the
Wheeler-Friedman-Burgess team took home the trophy for 'Best Appearing
Crew', awarded for the team's spiffy Las Vegas gaming dealers-theme uniforms.
It was at about that time that Al received
some personal 'bad news' in the form of a letter that began 'Greetings...'
It appeared that Uncle Sam was requesting his presence at an Army basic
training camp, thereby putting an end to his tenure as the Wheeler Dealer's
With Al suddenly out of the picture, Bruce
arranged to have his vacancy filled by one Mr. "Bub" Reese, an experienced
driver/tuner who was highly regarded on the Eastern fuel dragsters circuit.