HEART OF A RACER
The Kenny Youngblood Story
by Rick Krafft
Imagine looking back at your childhood, and realizing that even then you had begun living your destiny…where your earliest recollection of each day revolved around the one thing you’ve always loved to do. Not many people are living their life the way they first thought they would, however one person in particular truly is.
Born on November 2, 1945 Kenny Youngblood grew up with a pen in one hand and sheer drive in the other. He was always drawing pictures of things around him, but had a special tendency towards machines and mechanical things like trucks and boats, airplanes, and especially race cars. As time went on his pictures got better and his talent got the attention of everyone he knew. Especially from his Mom who - being a gifted artist herself, took time to nurture his rare abilities and rightfully become the one who Kenny proclaims “she was the best teacher I ever had”. The fact is, Kenny Youngblood has become perhaps the world’s most renowned motorsports artist of this millennium. His work comes from a natural ability to dig deep within with his soul then charter his hands to the exact brush strokes of his imagination. In fact, people often believe they’re looking at a photograph instead of a painting until they notice his trademark signature placed somewhere near the bottom. Part of that richness in detail comes from a little known fact that Kenny’s heart is also embedded with the fire and smoke of his drag racing heritage. And although drag racing isn’t the only motorsport Kenny has successfully employed, it was certainly near the first. Please enjoy the following snapshot of a very special drag racer to “Nostalgia Drag World Magazine” with: “Heart of a Racer”…The Kenny Youngblood story.
Kenny’s roots as a thoroughbred race car driver began at the tender age of 12 years old, while he was leafing through his older brother’s Hot Rod magazine and stumbled across an article regarding what was known as “The World’s Fastest Dragster”. That car was none other than the Cook and Bedwell nitro burning dragster. That Hemi powered car completely overtook Kenny Youngblood’s imagination…wearing out the two page magazine spread and dreaming of the day he would become a race car driver too. With that seed for inspiration it wasn’t long before Kenny’s life actually began going that way.
Still at only 12 years old but ready for the feeling of speed, his Dad willingly loaned him the $75 he needed for his first set of wheels; a garage-built go kart that his friend John Kaiser’s dad, George, had designed and built specifically for competition. Both Kenny and John helped building the cart too, absorbing everything George could teach them about how things with engines really work. Soon both Kenny’s dad and George were taking the boys to local cart racing tracks where for several years had brought home trophies for their efforts. (Ironically, that cart worked so well that George used Kenny’s cart as a prototype to eventually go into the cart building business for others!) One cart racing track they competed at regularly however happened to be a stones throw from one of the most famous drag strips of its time, that being San Gabriel Dragstrip, where Kenny’s ears were often perked up listening to the remarkable power being unleashed by blown fuel cars just up the road. It only made sense then for Kenny, who was now approaching legal driving age to somehow find a way to step up into the arena of real drag racing where he could live that lifelong dream of his. So that’s exactly what he set-out to do.
At barely 16 years old, Kenny and his friend John were already putting the finishing touches on their first real drag car. It came about by the inspiration of (yep) George Kaiser, who with wife Ivy Kaiser had owned a successful machine shop business. Besides being a great cart builder, George also happened to be quite the motorhead, having successfully competed on the stretches of the California dry lakes. Not only did George realize the boys were truly serious about drag racing but he believed they could be good too. With that for motivation, George found and then graciously bought them a semi-complete ’32 Ford Coupe drag car destined for NHRA’s B/Altered class. He then nurtured the boys in every aspect of completing the car, including buying the parts or helping make the parts to finish things off. Being in the machine shop business also meant George had plenty of friends, including well known cam grinder Kenny Harmon who ground a cam just for their application. Then Doug Robinson of Horsepower Engineering bent up and welded the spaghetti pipe exhaust headers and Jim Hughes (who originally owned the car) welded up a Weiand log-type intake manifold so the 6 Stromberg carb’s could set on top of what became a very stout 354 cid Hemi engine. The engine then got coupled to a LaSalle 3 speed trans. by way of a very heavy duty home built scattershield made from a used steel truck rim! The insides of the cockpit were all business too, with a well laid out roll bar, nice tinwork, Zolatone custom interior, and an aircraft bucket seat in the car’s center. To this day Kenny loved that first race car and gives much appreciation to his family and friends John and George for teaching him how to properly assemble a car built for speed. Kenny say’s “I usually learned things by watching others or reading whatever I could, however without their help and support things would have certainly been different for me”.
Race day finally came, and Kenny quickly recalls his very first pass in the coupe. “We were racing at the San Gabriel Drag Dragstrip: John and I took turns driving. What a thrill to be in that stripped down coupe with the roar of that Chrysler beneath me! With a flag starter in front, I revved it up and dropped the clutch! The car had a LaSalle 3-speed trans so you were shifting too. I believe I ran a little faster than John at 110 mph. I was so hooked!” And hooked he was!
Kenny and John spent the next 1-1/2 years collecting class trophies at Fontana and Irwindale drag strips and loving every blast they could make in their Hemi powered hot rod. However things soon changed, as shortly before they both graduated high school, John had the experience of becoming a “family man” a little sooner than intended…whereby his very displeased dad George pulled the plug on the entire deal. Kenny was now suddenly on his own and not sure how he’d ever race again.
Then came 1964, and Kenny - now at 19 years old knew he was certainly not done with drag racing. In fact his new-found independence led him to a “Drag News” classified ad where he ended up purchasing his first car specifically built for drag racing; a 150” Pete Ogden dragster chassis complete with Eddie Potter aluminum body. “It was actually a sturdy car and looked pretty cool with the enclosed chute bodywork - like the Greer, Black and Prudhomme car but without the nose”. Kenny had assembled a new pit-crew too consisting of tuner Fred Smith and help from a friend Bill Keller. A 354” Hemi naturally found its way between the frame rails, however for the first time Kenny was now contemplating how to really run this car. With so much experience racing with gasoline the natural thing might have been to run the dragster the same way. But with a new car capable of so much more the idea of gasoline quickly went back to cleaning parts and a potent charge of nitromethane found its way into the fuel tank. Kenny’s first runs in the “Vagrant” dragster were certainly respectable at over 150 mph, but tuner Fred Smith kept tinkering with things and soon, young nitro drag racer Kenny Youngblood was blazing the slicks at over 180 mph. But then disaster struck. Continued on next page. click here... (move mouse over photos to view captions)
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