by Animal Jim Feurer
Written with my trademark Animal Jim prose. No dictionary or Google needed to look up fancy words. I write to entertain and inform. Not to show off my limited vocabulary………
NOS-TAL-GIA : A sentimental longing or wistful affection for the past, typically for a period or place with "HAPPY" personal association.
My personal feeling is, we children of the long-gone past are fed up with the present and search our memories to the past's simpler and happier times. What is surprising is how many young people have keen interests in the nostalgic past. I suppose one factor may be: They are curious. They constantly hear their elders reminisce about their cars, movies, sports and products of, let’s say, my favorite era - the late ‘50s to late ‘70s.
I especially cherish my early drag racing memories. The people, places, the cars, the culture and all that went with it. Some of the best organized drag racing for me was at Oswego, Illinois, from July 20th, 1969 to the dragstrip’s end, October of 1979.
Does July 20th, 1969 ring a bell? That was the day Armstrong stepped on the moon. It was also the same day I entered my first organized drag race event with a purpose-built drag car. The Big Animal. An orange, ‘57 Mercury two-door Monterey sedan with a 406 Tri-Power Ford engine and top loader 4-speed. I amazingly won a trophy in 1D Hot Rod. And, for my auto repair and speed shop business - I realized instantly - It was "Race on Sunday and Sell on Monday." (Sorry, Tasca… I couldn’t help it; however, I did change the wording! LOL)
July 20th, 1969 was indeed a big day for mankind and Neal Armstrong. But also for me – 28-year-old Jim Feurer from Lacon, Illinois – who in 6 years would go on to the national professional ranks of Pro Stock drag racing as "Animal Jim."
During my long professional career my heart has always been with the Oswego days. I have never viewed Oswego Dragstrip since it closed. That last day to honor track manager Bubba Thurlby's request, I canceled an AHRA Pro Stock appearance with my Pinto and instead brought The Big Animal ‘57 Mercury to Oswego for a goodbye run. It was very emotional for most of us…lots of tears! To see that track after that day, I had not the heart. Oswego was something I thought would always be there. I never ran The Big Animal again, although sometimes we have displayed it at various events.
I love Madonna. Not just lustfully (what normal healthy man wouldn't, even if she is 50?). She is a dynamite performer! One of my favorite songs she sang was, "This Used to Be My Playground." It is sung at the end of the movie, A League of Their Own. The lyrics at one point warn, "…not to dwell too much on the past," but Madonna follows up with, "That is just way too much to ask." That song defines nostalgia in every line and note. The first time I heard it I thought of Oswego Drag Strip. The wistful lyrics Madonna so skillfully disclosed and how well they fit my feeling for that track, the times, people, etc. Long gone. Made me misty….
Well, enough mourning. The Big Animal has been my museum piece for 35 years. It is time for a resurrection. I plan to bring "Big" out for some fun runs in 2014. Big's Ford 427 Tunnel Port is on an engine stand and being freshened by me in my shop right now. The Big Animal has always been kept in a friendly environment so things look like it was run just last week - not 35 years ago.
I plan to keep the car just as it was, as vintage as possible. And run mid-11s as it did in the mid-and-late ‘70s. Stay slower than 11.49 and it eliminates a lot of unwanted rule issues. I just want to have fun, make a few passes and accent some fond memories. I will need new batteries, fuel lines, rebuild the 660 carbs and Holley blue pump. New points in the Accel distributor and so forth. And, of course, new tires. 12x30x15 M&H rears and Moroso 7.10 X 15 front runners.
Engine-wise: Bores look great. Just ball hone with #320. Crower .622 roller and hardware look great. Pistons and Lemans rods are fine, Lemans steel crank fine. Needs new rings, bearings and gaskets. Have a new set of stainless valves. Will use a new Comp Cam, roller-type; Pacaloy valve springs and ultra-light Comp steel 10-degree retainers (we were still using anodized 7-degree aluminum retainers in the ‘70s with a roller. Wow…they were trashy!). There will be lot of cleaning and detailing. Then, we’ll assemble the engine and paint, install 50 wt. DA Racing Oil, a K&N filter and prime.
The big top loader transmission should be fine as will my "never miss" Hurst Competition/Plus shifter I always used. I will pull the top cover of the trans - just to check - and treat it to some new DA gear lube. My Hays 40 lb. steel flywheel looks great. For a clutch, my ‘secret weapon’ used to be a Savage street and strip 11" pressure plate, but with a double-throwdown Hays Pro Stock (of the day) 11" solid-hub organic disc. That combo worked great. I called it a “poor man's slider.” The disc would wear a bit every run so I had to adjust the air gap about every 3 runs. Had to replace the disc after about 25 runs. Then change the pressure plate second time around. It would be bell mouthed .050, but would still be working.
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