How a Tennis Celebrity & a Caddy-Powered Dragster Assist Gas the Fifties SoCal Racing Scene

How a Tennis Celebrity & a Caddy-Powered Dragster Assist Gas the Fifties SoCal Racing Scene


Many tennis historians contemplate Pancho González probably the greatest gamers to ever choose up a racket. (Picture/Greg Gonzales)

Even an informal tennis fan will undoubtedly acknowledge the identify Richard “Pancho” González.

Throughout a tennis profession that stretched from the late Nineteen Forties to the early Nineteen Seventies, González racked up a jaw-dropping listing of Main Titles, information, and Professional and Novice Championships. In reality, from 1952 to 1961, González was the No. 1 ranked tennis participant on this planet for ten years.

However with all his success on the court docket, González nonetheless discovered time to pursue his different passions, notably scorching rods and drag racing.

To study extra about this lesser-known facet of the tennis legend, we spoke along with his eldest son, Richard Gonzales and Pancho’s nephew, Greg Gonzales.

When he wasn’t on the court docket, there was a great probability you’d discover Pancho within the storage. (Picture/Greg Gonzales)

Pancho González Will get Bit by the Hotrod Bug

“His love for velocity developed most likely the second he obtained round an engine,” Richard says. “The sound was unimaginable to him. He had an unimaginable ear for it.”

Greg rapidly chimes in. “One of many issues they used to say is that he performed tennis so he may afford to go racing.”

So it’s truthful to say that Pancho’s ardour for hotrodding hit onerous and quick—very similar to his tennis serve—nevertheless it actually started to evolve when he had a little bit of downtime early in his fledgling tennis profession. Throughout that interval, Pancho introduced residence a Flathead-powered Ford three-window coupe that he’d gained in a poker sport.

Pancho Gonzales (left) poses with some mates on the native Saugus, California monitor. (Picture/Greg Gonzales)

Pancho ended up giving the Ford to his brother Ralph, who then started to tinker with the automotive.

“He and his buddies began attempting to soup it up and [Pancho] got here by and requested them what they had been doing,” Greg recounts. “And that was it.”

Pancho owned a number of Fords again within the day, together with the 1933 you see right here. They usually had been all frequent sights on the native Saugus dragstrip. (Picture/BakerRacingPix.com)

From there, Pancho and his brothers immersed themselves within the exploding Southern California hotrod scene of the Fifties, tuning engines, swapping components, and doing something they might to make their automobiles carry out higher. Greg even tells us that Pancho’s 1934 Ford was considered one of many quickest avenue coupes in SoCal.

“Anytime he obtained a automotive, you knew he was going to do one thing,” Richard jokes.

Fairly quickly, Pancho was having his Ford Flathead engines constructed by drag racing pioneer Lou Baney. And when he obtained his palms on a then-new Cadillac OHV V8, Richard explains “he obtained into the primary stream of drag racing.”

In a serendipitous flip, that new motor launched Pancho to an up-and-coming camshaft maker named Ed Iskenderian. The 2 labored collectively to develop a potent camshaft grind for the Caddy engine.

With a displacement of now 389 cubic inches and an experimental Isky cam, Pancho’s scorching Cadillac powerplant would quickly be pushed into historical past.

Pancho González and Ed Iskenderian constructed a robust friendship, and Iskenderian even featured Pancho’s Isky-cammed dragster in his ads. (Picture/Greg Gonzales)

A New World Document!

Pancho was rapidly constructing a community of mates and racers in Southern California, and that circle included proficient dragster builder Joe Itow.

After Itow rolled Pancho’s 1934 Ford on the prime finish of the monitor in San Fernando, California, Itow challenged Pancho to place his Caddy engine into an Itow-built chassis that was owned by driver Don Rowe. And with that, a brand new race group started to take form.

In reality, not too lengthy after the trio assembled that Cadillac-powered dragster, Rowe would pilot it to a brand new World Fuel ET Document of 9.70 seconds in 1957 at that very same San Fernando strip. 

(Picture/Greg Gonzales – Don Nickles)

Although the file wouldn’t final lengthy, it cemented the Gonzales identify into the SoCal drag racing scene.

However that record-breaking dragster was just the start. Within the years that adopted, the “Gonzales Brothers” campaigned different automobiles in quarter-mile competitors. On the time, Pancho had some constraints along with his tennis contract obligations, so Ralph took over the driving duties whereas Pancho dealt with the tuning.

A “New” González Dragster Takes Form

Sadly, these authentic automobiles are misplaced to the sands of time. But Richard, Greg, and one other of Pancho’s sons, Dan, have begun recreating one in all his later rides—a chassis that was owned outright by Pancho and his brothers.

This explicit dragster was raced beneath the “Gonzales Brothers” group identify within the seasons that adopted the sooner file run.

In later years, the Gonzales Brothers ran this dragster in occasions just like the 1958 NHRA Nationals in Oklahoma Metropolis, Oklahoma—the place they certified second. (Picture/Cornell R. Miller)

To get the dragster recreation venture off the bottom, the trio introduced on highly-respected builder and former racer Wayne King “The Peregrine” to steer the group.

King’s first cellphone name was to grasp fabricator Jim Hume. Hume’s resume consists of rides for people like John Drive, Raymond Beadle, and Don Prudhomme—so Pancho’s “new” dragster is clearly in good palms.

Dan Gonzales (left), poses with fabricator Jim Hume throughout the dragster buildup, whereas a cutout of Pancho seems on. (Picture/Greg Gonzales)

Although the unique motor is lengthy gone, the group labored with distinguished West Coast engine builder Hugh Reynolds to find a 1959 Caddy engine, which will likely be matched to a vintage-spec 4-71 supercharger.

Right here’s a more in-depth have a look at the Caddy engine—and its 4-71 blower—throughout the meeting course of. (Picture/Hugh Reynolds)

If there wasn’t sufficient star energy behind the venture already, the group reached out to Arias Pistons. Seems, Nick Arias Jr. was a childhood good friend of González, and Pancho used Arias’ pistons in lots of his engine builds over the course of their friendship.

Legendary racer Wayne King is main Pancho’s dragster recreation venture. (Picture/Greg Gonzales)

…And sure, the group even obtained assist from Ed Iskenderian himself.

“Isky had the outdated cam on a shelf,” Greg laughs. “I suppose he’s obtained all the things at his place there.”

The fellows additionally enlisted the assistance of well-known former nitro gas Harley driver Bob Thomas (seated) to make sure the brand new dragster stays true to its period-correct roots. Chassis builder Jim Hume seems on. (Picture/Greg Gonzales)

Due to the NHRA’s Nitro ban on the time, the unique dragster ran on gasoline, however Richard tells us that the brand new one will drink nitromethane, so it may well actually make an impression throughout Cacklefests.

Right here’s the chassis mockup for the Gonzales Brothers dragster. It must be able to run by this summer season. (Picture/Greg Gonzales)

The Pancho González Legacy Lives On

Sadly, Richard “Pancho” González handed away in 1995.

Within the years since, Richard, Greg, Dan, and the remainder of the Gonzales household have labored onerous to make sure Pancho’s legacy, each on the tennis court docket and the drag strip, continues to develop.

The Pancho Basis labored with UTI to introduce college students to skilled drag racing on the latest NHRA Arizona Nationals. Right here, scholar Tucker Grey talks with some members of Tim Wilkerson’s Humorous Automotive group. (Picture/Greg Gonzales)

They usually’re notably happy with the Richard Pancho González Youth Basis, the place they’re capable of prolong Pancho’s ardour for tennis to the kids the muse reaches. “We offer a studying basis for them,” Richard says.

Greg additionally explains that studying basis consists of drag racing as nicely.

“The NHRA has a STEM program and I took a few of the children to the Nationals and so they LOVED it,” he beams. “They completely cherished it!”


So as soon as the recreated dragster is prepared, Greg and Richard plan to make use of it as a nitro-breathing science show-and-tell for the youngsters too.

…And we all know someplace above, Pancho is smiling about that.


Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published.*



December 2022