Welcome to Thursday Trivia where we offer up a historical automotive trivia question and you try and solve it before seeing the answer after the jump. It’s like a history test, with cars!
This week’s question: What was the ingenious feature of Pete “Sneaky Pete” Robinson’s dragster that the NHRA banned after only one race?
If you think you know the answer, make the jump and see if you are right.
In sports as in life success comes to those with an edge. For most that edge is talent, however when that runs out some contenders look for other means to reach the top. Sometimes that’s bending the rules, while other times it means breaking them. It doesn’t matter what the sport—whether it’s the PSI of footballs, slippery saliva on a baseball, or a chemical cocktail injection—there have been those that have tried to push the boundaries of competition beyond the limits of skill.
In motorsport that’s meant some ingenious attempts at staying one step ahead of the rulebook, perhaps most notably exemplified by Chapparal’s 2J and Brabham’s BT46 sucker cars. Nothing in the rule books had said anything about either of those prior to their introductions.
Others have been a little more nefarious in their attempts to skirt, or in some cases circumvent, the rules. Perhaps the most famous perpetrator was NASCAR Mechanic extraordinaire, Smokey Yunick, whose rule-bending/breaking is legendary. Yunick did everything from eking out extra track time by placing a rubber ball in the gas tank to add miles (inflated for inspection/deflated for race) to building a 7/8ths scale race car that looked normal from a distance.
A racer who was more of a rule bender than breaker was drag racer Pete Robinson. Robinson was active in the 1960s and probably would have been well into the 1970s had he not lost his life in an accident during the 1971 Winternationals. Today he’s considered once of the greatest drivers in NHRA history, but he’s also known for ordering a modification to his car that, while not banned in the rulebook at the time, would immediately be so after only one race.
When a guy’s nickname is “Sneaky Pete” you can be sure that he’s going to have some racing “innovations” up his sleeve. You can almost picture Sneaky Pete racing in an all-black suit, twirling his moustache (he didn’t actually look like that).
In the case of Sneaky Pete Robinson’s Jumping Jack Dragster, the innovation that racing officials determined had crossed the line was incredibly simple. As Robinson lined up at the start of the race, he’d use a simple lever attached to folding jack stands to raise the rear end of his car. That allowed him to rev his engine and start his rear tires spinning during the series of yellow lights that serves as a countdown for the start of a drag race. Once the race started, he’d drop the rear end, and his tires would hit the ground spinning while the other driver was still spooling his up. After one race with his jumping jack stands, National Hot Rod Association, the governing body of drag racing, banned the device.
We hardly ever learn about innovative rule bending in motorsport until after it’s been discovered and banned, and in fact A.J. Foyt is famously quoted as saying “if they don’t catch ya’ it ain’t cheatin.’” Still, governing bodies continue in diligent quest to catch rule breakers and benders alike. The innovative nature of both motorsport and the efforts of those trying to catch the edge mean that rulebooks probably need to be written in pencil just to keep up.
Image: Chris Philpot on Car and Driver