Pat Foster &
his 1970 Triumph
This story begins in 1999 when
recently retired Dave West, for a fun project, went searching
for an old dragster to restore. When he couldn't find a suitable
car (with a history), West decided to do the next best thing
... recreate his favorite car of all time, the Beebe & Mulligan
"Fighting Irish" AA/FD in its 1969 Winternationals
winning trim. Problem was, there was a short list of people truly
qualified to do the project to its exacting expectations. Few
of the original craftsmen are today active, able, or willing
to fill this need. The succeeding generation, while willing and
eager, have only a few of the bones as a guide, but none ever
got close to riding the dinosaur.
To West's mind there was a singular
exception for what he wanted done and that was Pat Foster of
Foster ProFab. Over the last 35 years Foster has literally built
everything from Gas Coupes to Land Speed Record cars with every
iteration of Dragster and Funny car in between. Working with
the likes of Woody Gilmore (where he built the original Beebe
& Mulligan car), Ronnie Scrima, Frank Huszar, Jim Hume, John
Buttera, Nye Frank, Tom Jobe and Mickey Thompson... Foster was
involved in virtually every aspect of the Southern California
cum national racing scene.
Beyond his craft and innovation,
Pat was the test pilot de rigueur. Best remembered as a touring
professional, he was generally the first one turned to for the
shake down runs in a new design or to sort out a the evil spirits
haunting an existing ride. Neither reckless nor foolish, Foster
was the ultimate behaviorist when it came to sorting out a hot
rod. Today he lives and breaths due more to his technical understanding
than blind luck and bravery. Although, the latter is subject
to considerable debate.
Thus West commissioned Foster
to recreate his dream car from the ground up. These pages will
chronicle the 2000 construction of the car at Foster's shop in
Wichita, Kansas. Every effort was taken to make the car identical
to its 1969 predecessor. By all accounts the end product was
so excellent - so remindful of the original - that it literally
brought tears to many racers eyes when debuted in October of
2000 at the California Hot Rod Reunion.
For 10 years, Pat Foster has
rebuilt cars in Wichita that look, sound and perform exactly
like they did in the "good old days."
By Mike Berry
The Wichita Eagle
Pat Foster isn't living in the
past, but he is working there and loving every minute of it.
Foster, who came to Wichita about
10 years ago, is a one-man automobile manufacturing plant. But
he doesn't build just any old cars. He restores, and in some
cases recreates from the ground up, the classic front-engine
fuel dragsters he once drove as a slightly wild kid growing up
in the San Fernando Valley of Southern California.
"There's quite a nostalgia
craze in the country but not a lot of 'spot-on' (100 percent
accurate) recreations of these kinds of cars," Foster said!
That's his goal: rebuilding cars
that Look; Sound and perform exactly like they did back in the
"good old days."
'My interest (is) in creating
a piece to have the work done by someone that was there, during
that era, both as a builder and participant," he explained.
Foster, 61, originally a race
car chassis builder, was the third driver to push a funny car
through the 6-second barrier, with a 5.89-second run. His top
speed in a quarter-mile was 263 mph, shortly before his driving
career ended in 1980 with a life-threatening crash of one of
the first-ever rear-engine dragsters.
Foster knows not many racing
fans can afford his brand of nostalgia. A car that cost $1,300
to build in the late '60s will probably end up setting its new
owner back as much as $50,000, Foster said.
He charges $60 an hour, which
includes researching, measuring every dimension and angle and
then hand-fabricating out-of-production parts to build a particular
dragster. Materials are extra. A big help is the fact that Foster
still has many contacts in drag racing and regularly communicates
over the Internet with both old-timers and younger fans who appreciate
the early dragsters and know where old parts are.
He believes he has found a niche
market for his highly specialized skills. He figures he can make
a decent living even if he builds only two or three cars a year.
Foster was head of fabrication
for Nissan's exotic sports car racing program in California,
building cars that cost $1.6 million each, when his longtime
friend, Tom Hanna, contacted him in the early 1990s. Hanna, a
legendary builder of race car bodies, was living in Wichita and
was looking for help to produce his dream, the world's fastest
street-drivable sports car.
Foster moved here to work on
that project, now in the clay mock-up stage in Hanna's shop.
But he couldn't resist a return to his drag racing roots when
the opportunity presented itself. Foster has two dragsters in
the works for clients at his one-man shop, Foster Pro-Fab, at
127th East and Harry. One is the restoration of the Creitz &
Donovan fuel dragster driven by Steve Carbone. Carbone and Bob
Creitz commissioned him to restore the chassis, with Hanna reworking
The other car is a duplicate
of the Beebe & Mulligan fuel dragster that tragically crashed
at the 1969 National Hot Rod Association Nationals in Indianapolis,
claiming the life of driver John Mulligan. "This is going
to be the green car. A few people knew it as the 'Fighting Irish'
car," said Foster, looking over the low-slung chassis with
the 392-cubic-inch Chrysler hemi engine block stuffed between
the frame rails.
Dave West, 54, a retired California
sourdough bakery owner who once raced a less powerful fuel dragster,
decided to have Foster recreate the Beebe & Mulligan car
at Hanna's suggestion. "This car was kind of the pinnacle
of the whole thing," said West, who can't wait to fire up
the ear-drum-rattling engine.
"I'm pretty pumped up,"
West said. "People our age it's now or never. If
you're going to do something like this, you'd better do it now
before you run out of time," he said.
Foster arranged for Tim Beebe,
the original engine builder, to build the engine for the replica
car, and Hanna is teaching him the finer points of forming custom
aluminum body panels for the machine. "I'm finally learning
how to be a 'tin man,' grins Foster, a muscular, bearded fellow
who still wears his mostly gray hair in a '60s-style ponytail.
Ironically, Foster isn't a big
fan of nostalgia racing. That's because modern safety considerations
and speed equipment developments make those cars look and sound
differently than the originals. And museum-quality exact replicas
end up as static display cars that can't be raced, he explained.
Foster hopes to split the difference.
He wants West to experience a sort of virtual reality snapshot
of what it was like to bring the Beebe & Mulligan dragster
to the line for a run in the late 1960s. "We want to push
the car to fire the motor, blip the throttle, pull in to stage
with the motor 'cackling' and smoke the tires, maybe run it 700
feet or so," Foster said. "The car was capable of 235
mph, but we will probably only run it 180 or so."
"If I'm going to do this
car, I'm going to do it right," Foster said. "I want
John (Mulligan) to look down and go: 'Patty, that's right on.
That's my hot rod."
"I think there is a market
for what Pat's doing, and I think he's going to open the door
for a lot of people who have been sitting on the fence thinking
about doing this," West said.