The Stones Racing Team's story - Part 3

As told exclusively to

By 1978 the Stones team had a ex Raymond Beadle Mustang Funny Car and a new Allan Herridge-built Pro Comp dragster Hemi Hunter II. Both were competitive and in Pro Comp the car was so quick that the team got heat from officials over rules, none of which stuck. After many wins, 1983 was a turning point with a bad fire in the Funny Car and the Hemi Hunter II rolling later in the year. It was the end of Dave's driving career, but Gerry carried on with another dragster and in 1986 handed the controls over to Dick Cruse who raced the renamed Starliner until the team disbanded in 1988 after two decades in the top echelons of European drag racing.

Rules and equipment changes

Dave Stone:: In the alcohol class Steiner Stolen ran a 6.80 in September 1980, I remember Dennis Priddle saying 'No-one's going to compete against that' and he had some of his gear on it as well, and so we bought that bird catcher inlet and ran a 6.79 in October 1980. We said 'We can do this and we haven't got your supercharger and all that kind of stuff'. We eventually went 6.59, we were pushing the horses out then.

That's when they had the rules meeting in Gothenberg. We would get on the ferry at Felixstowe take 24 hours to get there. I remember Dave Wilson said 'According to the rules we [hemi valve head] have to weigh more and you [canted valve head] can weigh less. He said 'What? We can't compete against you now!' The hemi valve head was considered more powerful than our canted valve head and had a heavier weight break. Dave was saying he would have to go over to a Chevy engine because he couldn't beat us with a Hemi. After that, they altered the rules and said we had to have the same weight break as a Chrysler Hemi. And that's when Norm Wheeldon went ballistic. He said 'That's not fair because everyone now has to run a hemi, effectively they've banned small blocks'. The rules tend to mess a lot of people up.

When we went to alcohol in '79 we had a two speed transmission, all the others were running three speeds. We were running 7.1s and qualifying in no.3 or 4. We borrowed Jim Read's three speed to measure it up with, put it in and there was a picture showing you not being able to reach forward because the g-force went up so much, and I showed Gerry the picture and said look where your head is. We had to put rope around the back to force you forward because Gerry couldn't reach the shifter, and after that, we were able to do six seconds in Hemi Hunter II.

Hemi Hunter II at Santa Pod March 1978-September 1983

An American racer came over and couldn't believe the gearing we were running. We had a 4.56 final gear and 2.24 first gear. Put those together and you have 10:1, nothing could out accelerate that. The launch was fabulous. The 60ft time was 0.8, Top Fuel territory. Dave Wilson's driver (Steve Martin) said 'By the time you get to the Christmas tree if you're not in front, you've lost because you can never keep up with the acceleration' yet we could never do 200mph, we ran out of revs. We put a 14/71 supercharger on it with the same tyres. You look back now and say 'Why were we so slow?'.

We were doing alcohol in September and Gerry qualified first with a 7.0 and took it out of alcohol and put it into Top Fuel. They said 'How can you qualify first and say you're not quick enough? We said we can't do a six, we'll run it in Top Fuel. Well the other alcohol drivers had a good moan and said 'You're belittling the class, you're number one and you're pulling out'. We said 'We weren't quick enough.'

Sometime after we stopped racing, Steve Read asked if we could give him a hand as he was short of crew. So I went to work for him, but what was interesting was that there was no shortage of any spares. I said 'This lifter's broken, we would have to make one of them'. I said 'I could work with you but couldn't work for you because we would fall out', and we've remained friends. I was working for him with Bob Meyer when he ran his first five at Long Marston. Everyone else had to go home and it was the three of us packing up. They were doing the hog roast at the time. I remember going over to it and seeing this great big tray of crackling and Bob Meyer couldn't believe that Steve Read and I were eating all this crackling, he said 'It's all fat!'

At Hockenheim once, Bob Meyer was looking round, saw an axle and said 'I know that axle, that's one of mine', he had a good eye on him. He wouldn't build funny cars because he reckoned they were death traps.

I often wonder what we would have had if we had unlimited finances. A racer from Oregon, Fred Mandolini had made these special cylinder heads for Rodeck blocks and they were running really low sixes. I phoned him up and they had to have special valves, special springs and special manifolds, they were so non-Chevy. We were just running iron heads.

While I was on the phone talking to Fred Mandolini but who should come down the path but Jim Read. I thought this could be awkward, he went into the garage and talked to Daddy Stone, and Fred said he would need $12,000 which is peanuts today but then may as well have been $12m. So Jim said who was that then? When I told him he said 'Oh no!' because he knew we would be running low sixes long before anybody else.. There was a bloke in Sweden named Forsberg who also made his own cylinder heads, very knowledgeable and he couldn't understand why we were making iron heads better than his billet heads.

Our iron heads didn't last very long when they got hot, but when they did get hot they made a lot of power. In Sweden they were accusing us of running nitro, because we originally had. The Swedish cars did about five burnouts with dry hops, we were only going to do one. The marshals wanted us to do more. The hotter it got the more power it made and the exhaust note changed and it started popping. Gerry would look at me as if to say, 'It's on one - but it's going to hurt!'. It would really go.

Rear end of Hemi Hunter II

On this wild burnout, Hemi Hunter takes aim at starter Stuart Bradbury

It's hard because you would set the clutch for when the detonation to come in but it would need a lot more weight than before.

And then the Swedish officials sent a marshal to come up with us in the Bedford van. When we got around the bend at the top it was such a long tow back, we would pull the half shafts out so that it was free running and didn't wind up the transmission. So we were there for a while and they said 'Ah! They're draining the nitro out of it. And they stuck a marshal to watch what we were doing and he went back and said 'No, they're just taking the axle out.' And they weighed us on the weigh bridge every single time. Everyone else got weighed once, but we were each time. We came unstuck once, we weren't cheating, it was still legal but we forgot to fuel it up. The tank was large enough for nitro and held eight gallons, but we only needed three gallons, so we forgot to fill it up completely which meant that it was 20lbs light. They wouldn't tell us what the limit was. I was great friends with Torsten Dahl at the time and he was very clever and we wouldn't get off the weigh bridge and by this time a big queue of stockers and all the rest was building up. So I said to Trevor 'Let's turn the car around and call this our pits, so we started working on the weighbridge on the car. They said 'You have to move'. We said 'No, I'm not moving'.

Gerry Andrews: They were going to ban us at one point or disqualify us.

Dave Stone: So we got Torsten over and the talked about it and they said 'That's fine, go, you're still in the race, just go.' The bloke I was talking to about the weight break said there is a tolerance of 5%. If I told you what the minimum weight is you would go away and build the car 5% lighter because you know the weight our weigh bridge is going to accept you at. I said 'It's not something I'm going to do, to save 5% on a 2000lb car I would need to take the engine out. So they were just embarrassed.

Gerry Andrews: When they said 'You're cheating' I hit the roof and said 'I've never cheated in my life!' It was a bit arrogant but I said 'This car's so fast, it doesn't need to cheat'. I was looking at Dave and Trevor and all of a sudden they went 'Shhh!' and said 'We just forgot to fill it up!'

Europe and US visitors

Simon Groves: Your first trip to Sweden was in '73?

Dave Stone:: I took Tee Rat when it was injected. The shut off area was a 50mph Formula Two bend. For whatever reason we had run out of alcohol and went up to 50% nitro and ran 8.02. Bjorn Andersson was running his blown fuel funny car and said 'You're making me go too fast'. He went 7.95, his first seven and he said that's your fault. But we couldn't compete against him because we ran off the end of the track and bent the axle and there weren't any facilities there for straightening it. At that time it was reckoned that out of all the Altereds outside America, Tee Rat was about the third or fourth quickest in the world and that was only injected and the others were blown.

In 1982, Roy Phelps organised international races in France and Holland

The promotional leaflet for the Holland race shows Gerry racing Andy Craddock in the Frontline fueler

A packed Le Mans saw Gerry against Jim Read after officials decided it was safe enough to race

Simon Groves: Did you go back to Mantorp?

Dave Stone:: We went back when the Pro Comp series started. Dave Riswick: You got everyone's attention overseas so when you had visitors come and meet you they were surprised how nonchalant everything was because you had everything so organised.

Dave Stone:: On the dragster we had the blower and manifold off so the cam valley was open and a lifter had broken and it had machined the camshaft where the wheel of the lifter had broken, it had left two pins and they had been used as a lifter and they had worn the cam and left just a quarter inch of cam in the middle and Raymond Beadle and 'Waterbed' Fred Miller came up and said 'Look at the state of the camshaft, how can it go that fast?' They said 'We've been there, they've all done it', just get another set of bearings in and then get a file and take the high spots off the crank.

Simon Groves: When the Americans came over as well as commenting did they offer advice?

Dave Stone:: Beadle had been a Schumacher driver, he drove the Wonder Wagon. We were putting a tyre on over in No. 6 hanger and Beadle was standing there in his parka and we were pumping it up and the and we got it up to 70 or 80lbs and it suddenly popped and blew his hat off.

Gerry Andrews: One of the most satisfying things was when we blew the Rodeck up we stuck an iron engine together with Evo Stick holding the rings in. That was the fag paper engine, we used to wipe the rear main bearing out and fix it because something was well out of line with it but as a spare was good so we put a piece of cigarette box at the back. We blew the Rodeck up in Monza.

We had nothing for Zandvoort so we had to build an old iron engine. And because the track was so crappy, it was near the beach, and the sand blew over the track it was nearly impossible to get traction, it beat Dave Wilson . He came up with a knife as the engine was painted black and scraped the paint and said I'm sure it's a Rodeck under there! It wasn't, it was just an old truck engine. Gerry beat Steve Read in the final and he was so depressed, Jim said 'Go and have a word with Steve'. On that kind of track a cooking engine was just nice.

Dave Stone: We stuck the o-rings to the block. We would tell people and they would say 'It's not possible. We've got a $30,000 engine and it just blew us away with a piece of junk. It was perfect for the eighth mile.

At Le Mans in 1982, the first one, they wouldn't let us race side-by-side because it was too narrow, but Jim Read and Gerry did some exhibition runs together because they trusted each other.

When John Rodeck came over at Christmas '79 he would tell us what to do and then send us over some bits. He sent us over a seven cylinder camshaft which is what they experimented with over there with Rance McDaniel and some special pistons.

The ex Blue Max car painted in the same Stardust livery and run on nitro

Dave on a typical wheels up, full throttle launch

Stardust suffered a fire at the 1983 Big Go at Santa Pod leading to the car's demise

The car was in the field on fire, Dave had exited by this stage

After it was extracted from the field the extent of the damage could be seen

Hemi Hunter IV

Simon Groves: In '83 you had the Funny Car fire and the dragster rolled...

Gerry Andrews: The fire happened in May to Blue Max, the crankshaft broke in Hemi Hunter which led to the demise of the car as it stretched the chassis and then I rolled the car in September. To end a horrible year we lost Bootsie in November.

Custom Car published a sequence of the crash by Hemi Hunter II at the SPR World Finals in September 1983

Hemi Hunter II suffered a broken crank which caused the car to roll over, however it was robust enough to be able to be repaired.

We got a new chassis that had been Roz's Maneater or Alleygator from Santa Pod and we rebuilt that. At the first meeting in '84 Alan Ritmeister got killed. I was staging, there had been a delay they were treating me with kid gloves, I had to stay in the car but I knew it was bad because of the amount of time, but I didn't want to get out of it in case I couldn't get back in. We had done the Rodeck in and put the iron engine in the car.

When I departed, the panels were called Starliner were put on the car for Dick Cruse to drive it. They are a mixture of Highway Patrol, Maneater or Alleygator because Allan was building them on a production line. Some were long, some were short.

We were doing shows in Europe in the winter, it was the only way we could make some money by taking the cars on tour and displaying the car at an auto show. We would go to Liege and Ronnie Picardo's car would go to Milan and then we would meet up at a gas station which was fairly central, change all the body panels and the same cars would go back to the same shows. So instead of Hemi Hunter they would get Highway Patrol but it was still the Hemi Hunter chassis.

The successor to Hemi Hunter II was confusingly named Hemi Hunter IV, pictured at Hockenheim in 1986

The Stones ran in the inaugural year of Top Alcohol

Dick Cruse had new body panels, lower wing strut and a 'nasty thing on the nose'

The new body pieces on the same chassis had little impact on the car's performance

Simon Groves: How did Dick Cruse join the team?

Gerry Andrews: I finished in '86 and Dick asked Daddy Stone if he could have a drive.

Dave Stone:: We also let Ron Kiddell drive it but because he was driving street cars he couldn't change gears. We were a Lenco car and every time he would change gear he would come off the throttle. It was just a habit, it wasn't his fault. We took him to North Weald, it has that ghastly network of patches and tyre shake is a nightmare. He had a run in it, and it shook something terrible he came back and said. 'Christ, my head hurts'. We did another run and it was going to be a three run demo and he said 'I can't do three' and he wouldn't drive it any more. Tyre shake you have to live through sometimes, you got it sometimes, other times you didn't.

The End

Simon Groves: The team's last year was '88?

Dave Stone: I can't think back that far because it's not a time I like to think about. I can't remember.

Simon Groves: Did you make a conscious decision 'This is our last race'?

Dave Stone: No, it was money. It chucked a rod out. Every piston ring has got a gap and you have to be careful how you put them in depending on how good you make the bore. So trying to get the leak down values I would get 10-14% but most people were getting 40-50%. I read about it and talked to Bjorn Ardin who said 'You have a top ring and if instead of having a gap there is no gap, you had got 100% sealing'. The ring was in two parts and the gap was inside and it would open and shut.

We thought 'This has got to be good so we had a go at doing this and in the pits it would smoke oil and we asked where this was coming from. We took it to pieces and the intake manifold would be full of oil. We rebuilt it different ways and got to the start line, did a burnout, went up the track and it was as good as gold but in the pits it was diabolical.

What happened was the rings had become vacuum rings and if the plug failed to fire just once, because you've got a closed chamber with the valves both shut, the piston has gone down on its exhaust stage it created a perfect vacuum which sucked all the oil out past the piston ring, up into the chamber and it burnt oil. When it was on chat and the plugs were working it was fine, but on idle if one plug failed one time...

Well me and TK Colin pulled the engine apart ten times and on the side of the trailer was dripping with oil we were changing rings. I was talking to Bjorn Ardin and he said 'Yeah, we had that trouble for a while' but he didn't tell us how he fixed it. We had Champion plugs and Steve Read said 'Why don't you try NGK plugs'. I put the plugs in. They had electrodes which they said were less likely to fail and what a difference.

We started it up, there was no smoke, and we whacked the throttle and it chucked a rod out in the pits while we were warming it up in the pits. I think we had wrecked it with all this oil. And it stopped. We said 'It's got a hole in it and we didn't even get to the track', we took the sump off and it had obviously wrecked the block and the crank. And that was it. The Rodeck couldn't have done many runs but it was back in the trailer.

We were so far down the qualifying. It was the bank holiday Monday we got home, I had a new set of rods delivered on the Tuesday morning; if they had been delivered Friday, it wouldn't have happened. I couldn't afford to rebuild another engine so end of. Not only that it would have been at the level of performance at the time which if I had rebuilt that would have been good for 6th or 7th qualifier.

It wasn't a competitive car, so to make it better, we would have had to have spent more money. If it wasn't there it can't be done. What we should have done, and Dad agreed, was to sell it as it as was, a current race car with engine and transmission, but we hung on to it too long.

It was a good car we built after the write off. We got it down into the 6.5s again at 214mph. But everyone else had moved on and Steve Read was running 6.2s. a good act to follow, and had the latest equipment. We were still running iron heads which were ten years out of date.

When I went to Krister Johansson's garage and workshop in Gothenburg there were spares on the shelves but no backup engine, and when he went to America he would buy the spares he needed. At one point we had three spare engines, so many back-ups so if at the event something happens you pull one out and put another one in so you're getting a result and when you get back to base you put things back together. It's what the Americans are doing now because they are blitzing through engines rather than repairing them as NHRA cut their turnaround to 55 minutes (at live broadcasts) and they've got 10 people working on the team and everyone's got their own job. Dave Grubnic took us on a tour of Kalitta's factory and he had 14,000 clutch discs. We had five, and only three of them were working with two as backup.

Gallery: click on any thumbnail for a large image.

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