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The ChiZler returns

For over four decades, Chris Karamesines, nicknamed the “Crazy Greek”, the “Golden Greek” or simply “The Greek”,  symbolized one of the most colourful and popular characters in drag racing history.  In the days of the front-engined, tyre smoking fuelers, there was no one more fun to watch.  As early as 1960 he established a reputation as a fearless driver, “Big Daddy” Don Garlits calling him his “fiercest competitor.” In the days before guardrails, Chris could pull a giant wheelie, drift off into the dirt and, never lifting, get back in the groove and often still beat his opponent. Sideways at 180, or powering out of a wheelstand, it was all the same to “The Greek”.

In April, 1960, Chris stood the drag racing world on its ear when he was credited with a 204.54 mph pass at Alton, Illinois. Controversial to be sure, coming years before consistent 200 mph times, it nonetheless cemented the Greek’s name in history. Unpainted, the Chizler was simple but to the point with a hogged-out Ford I-beam axle and transverse leaf spring up front, a mid-year Olds in the rear and a Chrysler Hemi for power. Punched out to 450 cubes, the motor was fitted with a coveted “5-cycle” Isky cam and  the late, great Don Maynard’s 90 percent nitro tune up.

Drag racing rose to a new level of recognition when the 204 mph “Chizler” was enshrined in the Chicago Museum of Science and Industry in the mid-‘60s.  Two decades later it was moved to the Don Garlits Museum of Drag Racing in Ocala, Florida. For four decades it remained a static museum piece. Until now. Yes, the original 204 mph “Chizler” cackled to life once again with “The Greek” himself at the wheel during the Cacklefest at the 4th annual Holley NHRA National Hot Rod Reunion, presented by DuPont Automotive Finishes. It will also appear at the California Hot Rod Reunion at Bakersfield, October 6-8. And, between events it will be on display in Pomona, California at the Wally Parks NHRA Motorsports Museum presented by the Automobile Club of Southern California:

Besides Chris, the man behind re-igniting the Chizler is Ron Johnson of  Ron realized if he didn't get behind the project and pull everything together, it would be one of those great opportunities that somehow just never happened. Instead, Ron got with Steve Gibbs and Dusty McWilliams who liberated the car from the Garlits museum. Next, Ron got with Chris’ old friend John Loukas and pulled the running motor out of the 1964 Loukas-Preising Bantam-bodied Coupe that was sitting in the Wally Parks NHRA Motorsports Museum. Chizler and said motor were shipped over to Alex Mikkelsen’s American Roadster shop in Placentia, California:

Nothing’s easy in this business though and rebuilding the rear end became a big challenge. Thankfully though Mark Lintner of Pro Gear in San Diego, Bob Meyer of Bob Meyer Race Cars in El Cajon, Ronnie Rapp of famed Purple Gang car, along with Frank Genco, John Ewald and Bob Stange of Strange Engineering all worked together to make it happen. Heck, Loukas even came out from St. Paul for a week to oversee the swap. Finally, to make the swap as authentic as possible Red Greth came through with one of his Speed Sport Special scoops reworked to look like the original.

According to Mikkelsen this was one of those typically straightforward jobs that turned into a nightmare saying, “On the surface, it looked simple but getting the right parts to restore the car to the way it was was quite difficult. However, to meet and work with all these guys, many of whom were my heroes, was pretty cool.   

Karamesines, now well into his 70s, still occasionally races his modern Top Fueler at an age long after his contemporaries started collecting Social Security. “Age is just a number, “said Karamesines, the oldest licensed Top Fuel driver, in a 2004 interview with Quad Cities Online. “You try it [drag racing] once and you get hooked. You want to see how fast you can go. I started in 1952 and have enjoyed it ever since. It keeps you young.”

Likewise, the Chizler, with a lot of help from friends and fans will once again be a crowd pleaser at the NHRA Hot Rod Reunions.

Story & photos: Tony Thacker

ChiZler on track at Beach Bend - photo courtesy Vic Cooke 

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