Jeff Bahret – “Calculated Mayhem”
By Tom Pohorilla
Back in the heyday of what we called “Junior Stock”, you had a lot of very colorful characters racing some equally colorful machinery. The classes were pretty much dominated by 55 to 57 Chevy vehicles of all types, which, due to the rules, were powered by any Chevy engine and transmission that was available in any Chevy vehicle that year. The cars were very colorful, almost all of them had names and some interesting paint jobs. Anyway, this fellow started showing up at the races with a little black Nova that had no name, no decals, no fancy paint, and, except for the Cragar SS wheels, looked like it came right off the showroom floor. With an ever-present grin, a laid-back demeanor, and an absolutely ferocious race car, Bobby Warren proceeded to kick everyone’s butt before they knew what hit them. In today’s nostalgia racing, he has a modern day counterpart in the person of Jeff Bahret.
You can’t help but like Jeff. With his big grin and friendly manner, he epitomizes everything that we like in the racing community, but don’t find all that often in the rest of the world. His car is almost cartoon-like in appearance, in that it’s a Bantam altered with a 94” wheelbase and a 568c.i. big block Chevy engine – you look at it and your first impression is “how can it possibly go straight down the track?” If you’re racing against him, you’ve just made your first (and possibly last) mistake. With a win at Bowling Green at the National Hot Rod Reunion, a runner-up at Epping at the New England Hot Rod Reunion, and strong showings at the races at Thompson, Ohio, Beaver Springs, the Gasser Racing Series, and the Empire Gold Cup, along with numerous wins locally, Jeff is a threat to win whenever he shows up, and that little Bantam is, indeed, ferocious.
His little blue altered is named “Mayhem”, which can sometimes describe its behavior on the track. “The first half of the track can get really interesting”, Jeff says, “but once it gets past the eighth mile, the wing starts to take effect, and it goes pretty straight.” And go it does, to the tune of 8.01 at 172 mph so far. Jeff is quick to point out, however, that, with the latest round of upgrades, and some tuning, the sevens are pretty much a done deal for this season. Since he usually runs on an 8.00 index, this will give him some much-needed breathing room at the finish line.
So how does one arrive at this point in such a great position? Well, in Jeff’s case, it started at home, coming from a family with multiple generations of mechanics and machinists. Though his father was not a fan of hot rodding, he reluctantly bought Jeff a car magazine in 1956, and that was all it took – the hook was set. From go-carts at age 7 to his first car, a 1953 Ford that he learned to drive and work on at his family’s farm in upstate New York, he spent years honing his mechanical skills, culminating in his first “race car”, a 1966 GTO that he got in 1969. After building a bigger engine and swapping in a four speed, and a better rear end, Jeff finally got his street/strip “Goat” to run a best of 12.12 seconds, which is quite respectable by any standards. Then, as the story always seems to go, life intervened…
Fast forward to 1999…After a nice prosperous life as a civil engineer and a street car or two here and there, Jeff finally acted on his urge to build the race car he had always wanted – a short wheelbase altered with a big engine. First, a chassis was located in South Carolina (which is a story in itself, but I’ll leave that to Jeff to tell), a body was found in Indiana, front suspension came from Illinois, and the car began to take shape. It took 5 years and most of the parts were found on Ebay. When it first saw a race track, the car was in rough shape, and Jeff was only allowed to make short passes until some issues were corrected. After making it safe and strong (and learning how to keep the front end down), Jeff was running 6.10 in the eighth mile, and 9.95 in the quarter. By the end of 2005, Jeff was starting to be competitive and going some rounds, due to “lots of luck”, as he said. Of course, the need for speed kicked in, and engine upgrades followed, culminating in the car’s present configuration which produces a lot more power and, thus, much better performance.
As we all know, there’s no substitute for seat time, and Jeff likes to get out there as often as he can, usually accompanied by his wife of 42 years, Jill. Though he is quick to credit his engine guru Steve Damon for the power, and longtime friend Tom Pellette for the knowledge and inspiration, I think the real secret to his success is the fact that he is racing the absolute ideal car for him. As he told me recently, “I’m a guy who has always loved drag racing and always loved altereds, and this is probably the only altered I’ll ever own.” Sounds like a formula for success to me!
NEXT PAGE HERE
Nostalgia Drag World - by Tom Pohorilla; photos courtesy of Tom Pohorilla