The glory days
Although not yet known as the “Spaghetti Guys”, original team partners Fred Becchetti, Pete
Fitzgerald, and Terry Kalvestran combined their resources to field the first of several Top Fuel Dragsters in 1965. They were local Minneapolis kids and met while attending DeLaSalle High School. Like many boys from that era, they were interested in hot rodding and became members of the “Cogs”, a local car club.
Drag Racing was becoming very popular and two local tracks, Minnesota Dragways and Twin Cities Speedway, were conveniently located in the north metro area. Wanting to go faster, Terry acquired a very crude dragster chassis, but didn’t have a motor. Fred and Pete had a motor they were running in a ‘32 Ford A/G sedan with fellow DeLaSalle student Dennis Kowalik. After breaking many transmissions, they wanted to put their motor in a dragster. The BFK partnership was formed, however after examining Terry’s chassis, they decided it would be a better idea to start from scratch.
The Glory Days Continued
Fred’s dad owned a machine shop, Bond Tool and Die, and conveniently had the necessary equipment to facilitate the new chassis’ fabrication. The chassis joints were gas welded, annealed carefully, and tested to ensure suitable adjacent tube strength. This would become the first car and was raced on nitro with a blown 354 Chrysler Hemi. Nitro was fairly inexpensive in those days, as it was sold as a cleaning fluid, and additionally the AA/Fuel Dragster category usually got paid to race. The team was learning about running a motor on fuel and how to competitively race.
In 1966 NHRA changed the rules for chassis and the chassis now needed to be SEMA certified for safety concerns as the cars became faster. They decided to have George Wepplo at Minnesota Custom Fabricators construct an upgraded chassis for the 1966 season. This car had a wheelbase of 182 inches, and was modeled after noted West Coast builder Woody Gilmore’s flexi-flyer designs. The chassis incorporated saddles which rested on the lower frame rails, allowing the car to flex, providing excellent weight transfer and handling with little if any additional front end weight. The car also was then painted with a beautiful gold and maroon scheme by House of Kolor founder Jon Kosmoski. Also, by this point the team had switched to the larger, more powerful 392 Chrysler Hemi.
Terry had always been the team’s primary driver, but by mid 1967 career and family obligations were taking more of his time. He was working at Metal-Matic, a local tubing manufacturer, and attending extension night classes at the University of Minnesota. Fred and Pete were full time students also attending the U of M. It was an interesting time in history when a group of college kids could get together and field a competitive top fuel car. Dave Anderson, a local speed shop owner in Minneapolis, was gaining a reputation as a very talented driver and persuaded the team to let him drive the car.
Also, Dave Edstrom, a skilled tool and die maker, had become friends with the guys through the “Cogs”, and Gopher State Timing Association (GSTA), and started helping on the car. Edstrom had spent time in California working for Crower Cams. He learned some of the tricks of the west coast competitors, and was able to implement some of those ideas on the car. The team was traveling throughout the midwest and Canada competing at Division 5 events as their schedules permitted, often setting track e.t. records and usually running at the top of the pack.
In July 1967, with Dave Anderson at the controls, the team gained significant notoriety and a place in history when they became the first AA/Fuel Dragster in the Midwest to break the 7 second barrier with a blistering 6.86 second pass at Minnesota Dragways. At the time, Minnesota had a wealth of talented nitro racers like Tom Hoover, Cassidy & Boldenow, Doc Halladay, Finn & Manke, Bill Schifsky, Walton & Vern Anderson, and Ross & Stewart, making this an even more impressive feat. Unfortunately, an earlier 7.01 wasn’t quick enough to back up the 6.86 for an NHRA national e.t. record. It was around this time that the Minnesota Dragway track announcer came up with the “Spaghetti Guys” moniker, and the name stuck. Anderson would continue to pilot the machine through the end of the season, but would leave to start his own team for the following year. Dave Edstrom now took over the wheel for 1968, having run his own Top Gas Dragster, and having previously driven several Top Fuel cars on the West Coast.
END OF THE ROAD
In May of 1968 at a divisional race in Denver, Colorado, the car became the first Top Fueler to break the 200mph barrier in the high altitude with a special high compression motor built specifically for running in the mile-high air. Edstrom would also set the strip e.t. record and take runner-up honors. Several weeks later, and with the “flatlander” motor back between the rails, the team advanced to the finals at an event at Minnesota Dragways. This would be the last run for the car as Edstrom suffered a violent crash after the crankshaft broke and parts came out of the car as it neared the lights at close to 200mph. The dragster barrel-rolled, destroying the car, but fortunately Edstrom only suffered a broken wrist in the incident. Fred and Pete watched all of this from the starting line, and feared the worst, but the roll cage and driver’s compartment held up as it was designed.
The team decided to have George Wepplo construct another chassis, and trying some of George’s ideas went to a longer chassis, around 220” wheelbase. The car eliminated the saddle design and featured welded upright tubes instead of the saddles. Unlike the flexi-flyer chassis, the design also required the team to add additional front end weight to keep the car down when Edstrom hit the throttle. They also changed their paint scheme to a bright green color featuring black scallops. They debuted the car in the summer of 1968, and ran successfully across the midwest well into the 1969 season. While attempting to qualify for the US Nationals that year, Edstrom again suffered a crash with the guardrail after breaking a blower belt in the lights. The incident effectively ended racing for the team as the three original partners focused on careers and family.
END OF THE ROAD Continued
Dave Edstrom drove several other cars and after relocating to Oshkosh, WI with his wife and two kids in 1972, purchased his own Top Fuel dragster. A new rear-motored dragster was built for the 1974 season and ran the UDRA circuit until a parachute failure at the end of a 6.36/236mph pass at the PHR meet in Martin, MI caused the car to crash off the end of the track. This was the last pass Edstrom would make as diabetes, and gradual blindness forced him to stop racing.
By 1976 he was completely blind, but was determined to return to the sport he loved. He would come back to the sport in the late 70’s as a team owner and tuner, using his hands as his eyes, and appropriately naming his dragster “Blind Faith”. He had several drivers in his car until his son, Mike, turned 17 and took over the driving. They later switched to Nitro Funny Cars in 1985 and enjoyed considerable success match racing, and at IHRA national events through the 1990 season.
Some 50 years later, newly-retired surviving partners Fred Becchetti and Terry Kalvestran would join with Dave Edstrom’s son, Mike, to faithfully recreate the ‘67 car as a cackle car.
the BFKE AA/FD Recreation
Former partner Terry retired from a successful engineering career as VP at a major tubing manufacturer located in Minneapolis. Likewise, Fred had recently retired from academia (U. Michigan) after 40 years of teaching and research of Applied Physics. A meeting in Minneapolis in early 2016 finalized the plans for the recreation project with Mike. The team contacted well-known and respected chassis builder Keith Burgan of Rooman Motorsports in Brownsburg, IN to recreate the 1967 chassis as close to the original as possible.
The Recreation Continued
They collected the few remaining photographs of the original car and provided those to Keith together with some personal recollections of the chassis details, such as using known valve cover or wheel dimensions, to get the car dimensions as they did not conform exactly to the dimensions of the original. Likewise the team had originally made many of the chassis components themselves and duplicates could not be purchased but had to be made again.
Construction of the chassis began in the summer of 2016. In parallel with the chassis construction, it was necessary to locate period-correct magnesium wheels, a rear end, and a third-member closely matching those used in the original car. A pair of Halibrand 16” x10” magnesium wheels was located on the West Coast together with a gently used early Olds narrowed 4.11 rear end, axles and magnesium M/T third-member. Trips to the Hot Rod Reunion at Bowling Green in June of 2016 and later Bakersfield in October of 2016 resulted in acquiring front wheels, a period-correct Schaffer magneto, and retro MH slicks. Likewise, Bredan Murry at Performance Motorsports in California helped supply many of the other retro parts they needed.
These again all closely matched as much as possible the original components used on the 1967 car. The magneto was sent to Cirello Magnetos for refurbishing since it was intended to run the car as a cackle car with a nitro-powered engine matching the original as closely as feasible, at least in appearance. The latter however would not include machining adapters, blower pulleys, the flywheel, and other components on a lathe or Bridgeport mill as originally done, nor going to a junkyard or Army surplus store buying and then rebuilding a 671 GMC truck supercharger to run.
Since the car would be built from the ground up, it started as a rack of chrome-moly tubing, aluminum sheets, steel plates, and aluminum plates.
This was basically similar to all that was left of the original chassis after the crash. The rear end and third-member that had been acquired were sent to Rooman Motor Sports and placed in the chassis fixed on the welding jig together with a 392 hemi engine block. The 0.058 in. thick 4130 chrome-moly chassis tubing was then tack welded by Keith.
The cockpit was made a bit larger than the original to accommodate the older, larger and slightly “wide-body” race partners. The Halibrand mags were sent to Shaun Dill in Brownsburg, IN for cleaning and application of Dow7 treatment to match the look of the original rear wheels. As noted, Keith had to make many of the needed chassis parts based on pictures that were available of the original car. This included the VW type front torsion bar suspension, bell-crank and steering set up, etc.
While the team had originally built their own trailers, this time they contracted for the construction of a custom light-weight 7 ft. x 24 ft. twin-axle all aluminum Rance Lightning enclosed trailer. The dimensions were based on a sketch for the car trailer which Kevin at Rance Trailers, Elkhart IN, after a short visit, turned into a working design and then supervised the construction.
The trailer was delivered to Rooman Motorsports late 2016, and is designed for easy towing and for a total weight with car inside to be < 4500 pounds. After completion of TIG welding most of the chassis, work started on the aluminum panels for the short body, seat and the gas tank.
Again these all were fabricated by Keith to match the original car as close as possible although the fuel tank was made a bit larger (ca. 8 gals.) to accommodate running the engine longer if needed. Finally in March 2017 the rolling chassis was complete and the car loaded in its trailer and taken to the Twin Cities.
After the ten hour trip back to Minnesota it was unloaded at Stanke Motorsports in St. Paul where the initial engine block installation and fitting of major components was done before taking everything apart for chassis paint, body paint, chrome, and upholstery.
As mentioned the new chassis was made wider than the original by several inches, and this proved to be a problem as the early-Olds rear end we had purchased was several inches too narrow for proper and safe installation of the brakes and wheels without using thick wheel spacers. It was decided to send the rear end out to Mark Williams Enterprises in Colorado for widening and new axles. This also required some modifications to the side body panels.
A special Crower cam, period-correct Enderle injectors, Brooks rods, Venolia pistons, and a Crower 3 disk pedal clutch plus flywheel completed the engine set up. A set of custom 2 ½ in headers, matching the original set was made by Don Ross at his fabrication shop in Texas and would later join the other parts at AAA Metal Finishing in St. Paul for chrome plating supervised by Raul. Don also made the in-out box now required for cackle cars.
After assembly and check out of the short block, the long block was assembled and mounted in the newly-painted chassis.
The headers were mounted, checked for clearance, and then sent out for chrome. This was followed by installation of the blower and injectors.
The completed engine in the chassis went through a final check out and for installation of the parachute, throttle linkage, and fuel lines in preparation of the first start up. Likewise, after one last check, the body panels were sent to Bryan Mahler and Paintworks in St. Paul for paint matching the original House of Kolor multi-color paint scheme. The cowl lettering and pin stripping was then expertly done by Scott Berosikin St. Paul.The seat was sent out for upholstery and roll-bar padding to Jenny the StichBitch of Stillwater.
Curt at Creative Metal Works helped with the final fitting of body panels. In the meantime, a gently-used RCD starter was acquired along with the blower cogs and a Grand Prix Auto (Tulsa) battery pack. As usual, the start up procedure will include starting first on methanol and then switching to 90% or higher nitro mixture.
Finally, after more than a year of building, the car was near completion at the end of June 2017 and was ready for the first start up.
The car was first shown at the Brainerd International Raceway NHRA National event on August 20-21 2017 and is being shown regularly throughout the MIdwest (see our Gallery section).