I got to meet Arnie when I was 15 years old at Oswego Dragway in Oswego, Illinois. I would work at the track in the mornings to get into the races. I got to watch what real drag racing was.
Weekend racers that loved what they were doing. No big corporate sponsors just Mom and Pop Speed Shops, Gas Stations, what a great time. Names like Snake, Mongoose, Big Daddy, TV Tommy and in the Mid-West we had Arnie ‘the Farmer’ Beswick. What a showman and a fan favorite everywhere.
Years later as a photographer at Byron Dragway I got the chance to live out a dream and get my NHRA license driving Jeff Hoekstra's small block altered and who signed that license . . . Arnie ‘the Farmer’ ! Still after all these years Arnie still has a huge following everywhere he goes.
Thanks Arnie for 46 years of friendship and treasured memories.
by Mike Garland
Arnie “the Farmer” Beswick’s drag racing career is one of the most amazing of any person to ever strap themselves into a race car. His career has spanned 60 plus years, beginning in 1951 with the dawn of organized racing.
Although he actively farmed much of his career he was a formidable force in the stock, super stock, factory experimental and Funny car ranks of the ‘50s, ‘60s and early 1970s. Even more amazing is that he accomplished this without major sponsorship.
Arnie started his career in the early ‘50s racing Rocket 88s. His 1954 Olds was unbelievably dominant and amazingly never broke. Although they were very rare in 1956 and ’57, he tried his luck with the first hemi Dodges, a D500-1 in 1956 and a D-501 in 1957. He made the switch to Pontiac in 1958 and for the most part stayed loyal to that brand. He gained national fame from the very start as an outstanding mechanic, driver and showman no matter what brand of car he drove.
Arnie with his '58 Pontiac Chieftain
His dominance in a stock car was proven by the fact that he won his class at the very first World Series of Drag Racing and continued to do so for the next 9 years. This 10 year record still stands. He has also competed in many NHRA events, winning several titles. His wins include a class win at the very first NHRA Nationals held in Great Bend, Kansas, in 1955 as well as winner of the overall stock eliminator title at the very first NHRA/NASCAR Winter Nationals held in Daytona Beach, Florida, in 1960.
'60 Pontiac Ventura in Florida
He won ‘mechanic of the year’ honors at the 1961 US Nationals as well as driving wins there, not to mention wins at the California held Winter Nationals in the mid ‘60s. NHRA saved the best for last with the presentation of the lifetime achievement “Wally” award in 2008 at the NHRA Hot Rod Reunion sponsored by Holley in Beach Bend Raceway Park, Bowling Bend, Kentucky.
(L) Dyno Don Nicholson - (R) Arnie's Pontiac Tempest Coupe
He also assumed the prestigious number 1 spot on the Drag News “Mr. Stock Eliminator” list in late 1963, taking it from “Dyno” Don Nicholson. The 1963 and ’64 seasons were his most successful, campaigning three cars including a lightweight “Swiss cheese” Catalina, a LeMans coupe and a Tempest wagon. All were equipped with factory dual quad, Super Duty 421 engines. The Catalina used a standard 4-speed transmission while 4 speed automatics, using factory trans-axle set-ups, came in the coupe and wagon.
Throughout the ’63 season these cars put down everything from the Z-11 Chevies to the 427 powered Fords and lightened MoPars. His cars never seemed to lose and at the 1964 Daytona Winter Nationals, were victorious over an armada of Ford Thunderbolts.
In 1964, after GM left racing, Arnie used his innovative talents to continue his dominance in a Pontiac. He did so by supercharging and injecting a 421 S/D engine and putting it into a stock bodied GTO. As the funny car era dawned, even Arnie’s car was given that label as the Mystery Tornado raised havoc from Florida to California and back. Using this car, Arnie was the first to break into the 9’s and later the 8-second barrier with a stock bodied car.
Arnie, with his amazing win record, became a highly desirable driver in the eyes of track promoters and factory race teams like Mercury. Mercury was heavily into the promotion of their product through drag racing. They convinced Arnie to become part of their factory racing team in 1965. Although Arnie had some success with the 427 OHC-equipped Comet, the fans and therefore the track promoters, wanted to see him in a Pontiac. After only five months, Arnie gave up his sponsored ride to once again race Pontiacs as an independent.
Arnie's Comet at the NHRA Winternationals
As funny cars became more competitive, Arnie, with no major corporate support, independently rebuilt his ’63 LeMans coupe to maintain his edge. The car, now with its altered wheelbase and blown 421, was painted in orange and black tiger stripes and named the Tameless Tiger to identify with the GTO theme. It was without a doubt the most recognized nitro-burning funny car from 1966 –1968.
Arnie’s wheel stands and sometimes sideways passes in the car electrified fans from coast to coast. It took the number 1 position of ‘exhibition blown stockers’ in a National Drag Racing poll. Arnie’s popularity continued to grow with the fans in the ‘60s and into the ‘70s. He and his crew maintained an unbelievable schedule as he campaigned his Pontiac funny cars, making anywhere from 75 to 100 events a year.
In 1971 he was forced to abandon the obsolete Pontiac engines and leased a hemi-powered Dodge Challenger. Arnie worked his magic on the poorly running car and soon the year-old car set numerous speed and ET track records until it was wrecked in the fall of that year. The hemi motor was quickly installed into the Boss Bird for the 1971 World Series.
It was April of 1972 when a newly built structure on the Beswick farm, housing his entire racing operation and much of his farm equipment, caught fire and burned to the ground, destroying or badly damaging everything inside.
Beswick fire destroying or badly damaging everything inside
Being the independent that he always was and is this appeared to be the end of a highly successful racing career. However, his passion for the sport and the support of many loyal fans brought him back to the track at a drag race reunion. The event was held at Moroso Motorsports Park in West Palm Beach, Florida, in 1986. Arnie drove a ‘63 Tempest owned by Bill Blair of North Carolina.
The following year, Arnie with the help of a good friend and fellow drag racer, Jake Howard, returned to the track in a white ’63 LeMans that quickly received the patented ‘Tiger’ treatment. The car ran a consistent low 10 to high 9 second ET’s. The next car that followed in the early 1990’s was his own pro-mod version. This car got Arnie down to the mid 7-second range and had the power to do his three quarter track burnouts and quick back-ups that have become a trademark. It was in 1996 that Arnie went back to the GTO nameplate, using the all-so-familiar paint scheme.
It all seemed to come to a tragic end on August 3, 2003, at Wentzville’s Mid American Raceway, as a fire fueled by nitrous oxide ripped through the interior of the car after the parachutes were deployed at the end of a run. It was said that the heat experienced could only be compared to a blast furnace. Yet miraculously, while the car was destroyed and his face and hands were disfigured.
Arnie not only survived but prevailed as almost three years later he ran the rebuilt Tameless Tiger II down his home track at the 53rd annual World Series of Drag Racing in Cordova, Illinois, racing against longtime friend and foe, “Animal” Jim Feuer.
We all thank God that Arnie “the Farmer” Beswick is with us, doing what he loves the most. While more infatuated by a car’s speed and power in days of old, it is Arnie’s dedication to the mental and physical challenge to conquer that still drives him and others like him. His sheer determination and love for the sport and fans brought him back to the track in the car pictured here. He will always remain a friend of the fans as well as the ultimate showman.
His achievements personify the efforts of all those people that fueled the sport, making the sport what it is today. The evidence is all the lifetime achievement awards that he’s won, not to mention the Hall of Fame inductions. In or out of a car, we know he’ll still be delighting and thrilling fans from coast to coast.
by Dean Fait
NOSTALGIA DRAG WORLD - Text by Mike Garland & Dean Fait; Photos by Mike Garland
www.Magic-Photos.com and courtesy of the Arnie Beswick Collection