I can't begin to thank James H. Marlett enough for this drag racing
He sent a ton of pictures and text compiled from his messages, so here goes:
All material is copyright: James H. Marlett
"Since a couple of folks asked to hear about the Kenz and Leslie High
Altitude Flathead/Inline Nationals and since there isn't much other
chatter, I'll do a series of modest length reports. If anyone has comments,
questions, or corrections, please feel free to post.
First off, what is it? This is primarily a drag race featuring flatheads
and inline powered cars. Since I don't have as much interest in the inline
part and it is off topic, I'll concentrate on the flathead portion.
It is billed as the largest flathead and inline event in the country and by
extension, I would say the world. The three day event is held annually
over the Fourth of July weekend at Bandimere Speedway just outside of
Denver, Colorado. Friday and Saturday are for time trials (and socializing)
and Sunday is the official race. Sunday there was also a pretty good sized
car show which was not restricted to flatheads, but had its fair share.
The flathead classes were Unlimited Flathead (nitro, blowers, overhead
conversions like Arduns, multiple engines - virtually anything, running
"heads up"), Competition Fuel (injected nitro burning cars running "heads
up"), Competition Gas (a bracket class using gas or alcohol fuel running
13.99 or quicker), and Hot Rod (a bracket class 14.00 sec. or slower).
It was a great event. Rick Schnell's supercharged nitro-burning flathead
dragster turned what many thought was probably the best e.t. ever recorded
for a flathead: 8.24 @ 167.75 mph. That was at Bandimere's altitude and in
90 degree temperatures. Speculation was that it would translate to a 7
second run at sea level. Needless to say, he won the unlimited class. I'd
sure like to hear about any further exploits of this car.
Bob "Whitey" McDonald won flathead fuel running 9.30s and 9.40s in the 140s
all weekend in his Hilborn injected dragster. Charlie Overfelt won
competition gas in his beautiful blown altered. Joe Abbin won Hot Rod with
his absolutely gorgeous bright orange '34 Ford Tudor powered by a blown
Other notable racers were "Unsprung" Snyder and John "Mr. Flathead"
Bradley. The restored (or amazingly well preserved) 1950's vintage Kenz and
Leslie dragster made some runs too.
Enough for report number one.
Again, my disclaimer - this is not guaranteed to be error free. If you
catch a mistake, let me know. Questions and comments are encouraged.
There were about 40 flatheads/inlines racing at Denver, so I'm sure my old
brain mixed up a few cars with what they did to keep them together, but
I was interested in bottom ends, so I made a few inquiries. I got
everything from complete girdles to claims that Ford made the mains plenty
strong and nothing was needed. I think Rick Schnell told me he was using a
girdle he made himself on his blower motor. From the outside it looked like
a King type design, but you can't really tell without X-ray vision. A
couple of the injected nitro guys said they just used Ford main bearing
caps, one saying that he thought the bar and bolt type supports did more
harm than good. So, I don't have a good answer for bottom ends. The folks
using the 180 degree crank said a billet crank doesn't flex substantially
in a flathead, so I think they may have been one of the nitro cars running
stock caps. They had a 4-bolt (aluminum?) main cap sitting on their
I was amazed at how many folks made their own heads. Some were air cooled
and one seemed to be water cooled. Rick Schnell said he started out with an
unfinned flat plate, but he added a second layer of a finned plate for air
cooling. Those heads were beautiful works of art. Offenhauser heads seemed
to be the most common store bought heads, though there were examples of
just about everything I could think of. I seriously doubt that very many of
those were just bolted on without the use of a grinder. Again, that X-ray
vision would have come in handy.
Relieving vs. not relieving the block has not been resolved. Proponents
abound on both sides of that issue.
There was some talk of putting injector nozzles on the inside of the lifter
valley pointing up into intake ports rather than down from the top. The
object was better atomization into the cylinders and valve cooling. There
was a certain amount of head shaking about that one.
One fellow was a serious advocate of coatings and some other really
innovative stuff. He had a track T street rod (absolutely gorgeous), not a
competition car, so he couldn't put his money where his mouth was. He did
make one pass, but claims a sparkplug wire came off so he just sort of
played around and ran in the 16s. Jury is still out on his ideas. That
didn't keep me from buying his home published booklet, though.
Bill Peters and I believe someone else had adapted Hilborns made for a 303
Olds to a flathead using a thick (like 1 in.) aluminum plate bolted to the
block where the manifold would go. The injector stacks are bolted to the
aluminum plate and air passages ground into the aluminum to match the
injectors to the ports. The object was cost. New Hilborns for a flathead
hover at about $1,000, but a set of used swap meet stuff from an "extinct"
Olds were had for about $300.
A few aluminum filled blocks were there, including Schnell's. He says it's
not an easy trick though - block must be very, very clean and heated to
just the right temperature before the pour or it will warp badly. It will
still warp some. Not the thing for a street engine or even for bracket
At least two or three folks had isolated the center exhaust ports with one
cylinder blowing down through the original hole and the other coming up
through the heat riser area. This is done by welding in a plate at an angle
across the area between the exhaust valves in the ports. I mean they are
completely separated, not just the common port dividers stuck in. One port
goes up and one goes down. The heat riser doesn't have enough metal to hog
it out properly, so an aluminum filled block is required or a bunch of
fancy welding. This isn't anything really new. A few folks have been doing
it for years. Those who expressed an opinion seemed to think it helped on a
blown nitro engine, but didn't do much for an injected alcohol engine.
Enough for report #2.
Maybe the most exotic thing I know about are Whitey McDonald's rods. They
are welded up from tubing by a local Wichita fellow (both Whitey and I are
from Wichita). The idea came from Jerry Livingston, a local engine builder,
for his flathead salt flat car. Jerry figured that a tube was the strongest
form for its weight, so he had someone in his shop weld up a set.
Considering that the loads on rods are pretty directional, I don't know if
this is the strongest shape for the application, but I'll let others debate
that. According to him, the big ends are the same size as a 327 Chevy which
gives him a lot of options for bearings and for grinding down a Merc crank.
The main body of the rod is a tube with gussets welded on at the big end.
I've seen Jerry's rods, but not Whitey's, so I don't know if there are any
refinements. As for longevity, Whitey is on his second season with them. I
heard that Jerry's car was wrecked and I haven't seen him for a few years,
so there are no results from him. I have since learned that rods like this
have been made commercially for a few (non-flathead) applications, but I
don't really think any are available now.
If I may stray from my drag racing subject, Jerry Livingston also machined
up a huge main bearing girdle that includes front and rear as well as the
center bearings. It bolts to the entire bottom of the engine including all
of the pan bolt holes. I haven't seen it for a couple of years, but as I
recall the whole thing is about 6" thick, maybe more. The front and rear
oil seals are in the girdle. Then a pan bolts to the girdle. I hate to
think what it weighs.
Enough flathead exotica for now. The lawn beckons. Unless someone begs me
to stop, I'll try for number 4 later.
This has just got to be my last report on the Flathead/Inline Nationals.
It's getting so I have trouble remembering I was there, let alone what I
saw. But here goes one last shot.
It might be pretty hard to pick the prettiest car there, but a sure
contender was Joe Abbin's orange fenderless '34 Tudor powered by a blown
276 cubic inch Merc. This car also won the Hot Rod bracket class. Joe sells
a really slick Weiand supercharger kit which features a serpentine belt
drive which also turns the water pumps and the cutest little Honda-style
alternator which sits right up next to the blower snout on the "empty"
side. He has two business identities - Motorhead Mart which is a bookstore
specializing in flathead books, and Roadrunner Engineering which sells the
blower kits and does computer engine analysis and design for flatheads. He
has written a book, "Blown Flathead," which is another one of those must
have deals. Full of flow test results, good advice, and a color picture of
that beautiful '34. Joe is in Albuquerque, actually is a mechanical
engineer, and can be reached by e-Mail at RoadrunnerEngr@email.msn.com.
I bought another book while there, the second of Mike Davidson's flathead
books - "How to Build the High Performance Street Flathead" or I have also
seen it listed as just "Street Flathead." Lots of good info in this one.
Want to know how a Sharp head flows compared to an Offenhauser 425 or Motor
City Flathead or Navarro or...well, you get the idea. My source for this, a
one piece front seal, and a "Real Hotrods Don't Have Valvecovers" tee shirt
was Bruce Dahl, 916 N. Utah, Davenport, Iowa 52804, who puts out a little
hand written newsletter to which you can subscribe. Three bucks for the
rest of this year. It's mostly a buy, sell, and trade thing, but has stuff
I've never even heard of like a Hexigon Tool 2X2 bbl intake manifold and
ShanaFelt heads. The one I've gotten so far has 4 pages of parts (including
a NOS Isky 404 cam) and a full page Ardun head ad from October 1950. Bruce
was racing a seriously nostalgic looking short wheelbase rail with
Hilborns, leaf spring front suspension, and whitewall slicks. Very nice.
I think I only saw one flathead with an MSD electronic ignition distributor
and I think that was Bruce's. Maybe no one knows they make them for
flatheads ('49-'53 style).
I saw one distributor that was set up like I did back in the '60s when our
Mallory Rev-pole messed up. It was a stock distributor with the advance
plate just locked in place. Actually you don't have to lock anything, or at
least we didn't. The springs held it in place well enough. I don't
recommend this for anything that you would want to have a wide power band
in or starting capability in the winter.
One of the coolest cars there was a '32 roadster powered by a 4-banger. It
was a restored race car complete with wire wheels and a leather strap over
Most flathead nostalgia dragsters run either a dry block, an aluminum
filled block, or a wet block but with no radiator. A few did have radiators
though, and one of the more interesting systems for moving water was a late
model water pump driven by an electric motor and a cogged belt (nothing
unusual yet), but the pump was about a foot from the engine and was plumbed
to it with a combination of threaded pipes, elbows and hoses coming out of
the motor plate to some aluminum boxes which were attached to the frame
rails and the pump outlets. I'll bet you could do something like that with
a lightweight racing pump originally designed for a small block C...(oh, I
just can't type that word).
In the interest of cheapness I have been trying to figure out how to feed
alcohol to a flathead using a 4 bbl manifold, which I have, as opposed to
Hilborns, which I want, but don't have. Holley's smaller 4 bbls can't be
modified for alky, I am told - not enough metal. I had thought about trying
to adapt a Holley 2 bbl, but it seems like it would create a huge plenum if
I just ground out the dividers in the manifold and it would take sharp
bends and turns to divide the flow into four passages before it got to the
manifold. Low and behold, there was someone at Denver who had put a 2 bbl
on a 4 bbl manifold using about a 2-3 inch thick block of aluminum as the
adapter. Passage ways were whittled into the aluminum and the manifold was
carved out and, if I understand it correctly, Bondo was used for final
internal shaping. It was one more thing I didn't see the all important
insides of. I've also seen sort of home brew flying toilets made from 4 bbl
Most of the serious cars in competition were running either a C4 or
Powerglide transmission with plenty of stall speed. I've been debating
which to use myself and I still don't know. Rick Schnell, winner in
unlimited, uses a C4. Whitey McDonald, winner in Competition Fuel, uses a
Powerglide. Each seems to work better than the other.
Man, this thing is long winded! If you want a report on the winners and
runners up in all the classes, Bandimere Speedway's web site has them
I have also discovered that the old Kenz & Leslie car was using the
much-discussed-on-fordnatics Olds injection and did a scan that shows it