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Drag Racing Warriors: Stone, Woods & Cook Willys

Pebble, Pulp, and Chief Defeat Big June Two Out of Three at the Beach” screamed the Engle camshaft advertisement. Big June was none other than Big John Mazmanian, archrival of Stone, Woods & Cook. It was the early 1960s and the height of the Gasser Wars. Stoking the fires were those villainous camshaft manufacturers: Howards, Engle, and Isky. They openly exchanged jabs, fueling track rivalries that lasted through a good part of the decade. At the end of the day, who were the big winners? The fans, of course.


Drag Racing in the 1960s

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In a 2008 informal NHRA online poll, the Willys of Stone, Woods & Cook was voted fans’ favorite race car of all time. Swindler II in the near lane later became Swindler B. In 1965, both cars were painted an almost identical candy blue. The restoration of the near Willys to Swindler II status was chosen to not detract from Swindler A. Many people are not aware of the fact that Stone, Woods & Cook toyed with a lightweight ’33 Willys in 1963 before building Swindler A. (Photo Courtesy Dave Davis)


The drag racing team of Fred Stone and Timothy Woods came together in the late 1950s. Tim, an Alabama transplant, had settled in Southern California and started his own successful construction company. He hired Fred as an acting manager and they shared a passion for the sport. Their first venture was Swindler, a blown Studebaker driven by K. S. Pittman. The car was a terror at such Southern California tracks as Santa Ana but met an early demise in a towing accident.

The Studebaker was replaced by an equally potent 1941 Willys powered by a blown Olds and dubbed Swindler II. Before the 1961 Nationals, driver K. S. Pittman and Crew Chief John Edwards split to campaign their own Willys and were replaced by Doug “Cookie” Cook. Cookie, who had built himself a reputation with his record-holding B/G ’37 Chevy, must have felt lady luck had deserted him because the Nationals was a trip best forgotten. The team lost three engines during qualifying and was unable to compete. On top of that, K. S. and John took C/GS honors with their Willys. The final blow to the weekend was another towing accident that heavily damaged the Willys.

The guys fought back in 1962 with a new 467 Olds-powered Willys and took A/GS class at the season-opening Winternationals. They bombed the class record early in the year with a 10.25 at 140.84 mph, returned to the Nationals in September, and copped class. A Nationals win was always big news and garnered plenty of ink but the real money was being made on any given weekend where the match races between A/GS rivalries were filling the stands.


Swindler II held the B/GS record through 1961 with a 10.99 at 128.57. Doug “Cookie” Cook took over the driving chores from K. S. Pitman the same year and, at the same time, replaced John Edwards as the top wrench. Note the use of windshield wipers. Not seen in the photo are the dual exhaust tailpipes. Both were class requirements until 1962. The 425 Olds-powered car was wrecked on its return home from Indy in 1961. (Photo Courtesy Richard McInstry)


As many parts as possible were salvaged from the wrecked Willys and installed on the new car, which debuted at the 1962 NHRA Winternationals. Cookie took class at the meet running a 467 Olds. Weight breaks for a A/Gas Supercharged car in 1962 was a minimum 5 lbs/ci. This was raised to 6 lbs/ci in 1963. As good looking as it was fast, Swindler II won class at the big Mickey Thompson car show held at the Los Angeles Sports Arena prior to the 1963 Winternationals. (Photo Courtesy Richard McInstry)


Black Widow, as she was informally referred to, debuted in April 1964. The Willys used a punched-out hemi and plenty of light-weight parts to ensure the team remained King of The Gassers. Many considered 1964 to be the height of the Gasser Wars. During that time Stone, Woods & Cook needed two cars as they were running matches up to eight times per month. (Photo Courtesy Richard McInstry)



Drag Racing in the 1960s


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Drawing the majority of headlines were the teams of Stone, Woods & Cook and John Mazmanian. The rivals met regularly, facing off in the best of two-out-of-three matches. In a match anticipated by many, the pair faced off for class honors at the 1964 Winternationals with Mazmanian’s driver “Bones” Balough losing a close one to Cookie on a hole shot. The war between the two came to a head after Fred placed an advertisement challenging Big John to a put-up or shut-up showdown.

Early in 1964, Big John replaced his small-block Chevy with 467 inches of blown Chrysler. At the March Meet at Bakersfield, driver Bones dropped many jaws after cranking out a 9.77 with the new combination. With John willing and able to meet Fred’s challenge, the two rivals agreed upon an early-May showdown at the fabled Lions Drag Strip. The prerace hype ensured an eager crowd and the Gassers did not disappoint.

Bones took the first round with a 9.91 with Cookie hot on his heals with a 9.96. The second round went to Cookie after Bones jumped the light and caught a red. So it came down to the final round. Do you think anyone was sitting for this one? Fans battled for a better viewpoint as the cars inched to the line. This was what it was all about. The Gasser Wars couldn’t get any better than this!

The pair of screaming Willys left the line at the hint of green, side-by-side they battled for every inch and in less than 10 seconds, it was all over. The finish line passed under Cookie’s wheels .06 second before Bones, tripping the lights to the tune of 9.93 seconds at 141.06 mph. Bragging rights meant everything and the team of Stone, Woods & Cook had earned them.


In 1965, both Willys were painted a dark candy blue. Telling the two apart was fairly easy: Swindler A featured gold lettering while Swindler B featured white lettering. Although hardly notice-able in this 1966 photo, a gold stripe runs the length of the car. You can clearly see the lower body has been shaved as a means of dropping weight. Tim Woods considered drag racing a family venture and this is reflected in the fact his son, Leonard Woods Jr’s name adorns the car. The team of Stone, Woods & Cook broke many barriers, one being the first competitive interracial team in drag racing.


The Ed Martinez upholstery is all-original and, in typical 1960s fashion, carries over into the trunk. The bucket seats were pirated from a 1958 Thunderbird. Safety in the day came courtesy of a lap belt and roll bar. (Photo Courtesy Dave Davis)


In 1962, Gene Adams, Hilborn, Jocko, Mickey Thompson, and (of course) Engle helped the 425 inches of Olds produce in excess of 600 horses. Backing the potent mill is a B&M Hydro Stick and an early-Olds rear end supported by quarter-elliptic springs. In 1964, a hemi replaced the Olds. (Photo Courtesy Dave Davis)



If Stone, Woods & Cook were to remain King of the Gassers and meet the increasing match-race demands, a new Willys had to be built. In April 1964 the team debuted Swindler A, a lightweight ’41 Willys powered by a poked and stroked Hemi. Dark Horse, as it was unofficially dubbed, featured plenty of fiberglass and was reported to be 1,000 pounds lighter than the original Willys. It left its mark on the record books and went down as the first Gasser to top 150 mph.

The Swindler II Willys was rechristened Swindler B and both Willys received new candy blue paint jobs for 1965. When category rules were revised Ohio George introduced the sleek new Mustang to the Gasser Wars.

Stone, Woods & Cook knew what their next car had to be. The Swindler B shell was traded to Cal Automotive in 1966 for a truck full of fiberglass Mustang parts. Swindler A was wrecked the same year and a replacement was built to fulfill bookings and driven by Cookie’s brother, Ray. Swindler A was retired in 1967 and passed on to Cookie’s teenage son, Mike, who restored the car in the 1970s.

Cal Automotive made use of Swindler B, installing a small-block Chevy, and racing the Willys for a couple seasons around Southern California. It spent some time chained up behind the shop before being sold to engine builder Paul Gommi. Paul was in the midst of building a Hemi for a customer and purchased the Willys on the customer’s behalf. When Paul’s customer backed out of the deal, the Willys (minus engine) was sold to Holman-Moody employee Cotton Coltharp.

Cotton hauled the car east to Charlotte, North Carolina, where he raced it through 1969 with a Chevy motor. Looking to sell the car, Cotton placed an ad in Drag News, which was answered by Ron Ladley in Philadelphia. Ron collected Willys and had dreams of restoring the car to the way she looked in 1941. Thankfully he never got around to it. Other projects took priority and in 1972, he placed an ad that stated simply, “Willys car and parts for sale.”

Joe Troilo answered the ad and could barely contain himself when he realized the car in question was Swindler B. The car retained its original Cal Automotive glass front clip, chassis, quarter-elliptic–supported ’57 Olds rear end, Martinez interior, track bars, and more. The only things missing were the Olds engine and Hydro transmission. With no demand at the time for these early Gassers, Joe converted the Willys to a small-block Chevy–powered street cruiser. He coated the car in a light blue and attended many rodding events through the mid-1970s. The Willys was a hit and turned more than a few heads as those familiar with the car were amazed to see the once-dominant Gasser cruising main street.

With a growing family taking priority, Joe was forced to place the Willys on the block and in 1976, Mike Wales became the new owner. Mike had his fun with the car but in 2003, he was ready to begin the restoration. All the original Stone, Woods & Cook parts were tracked down and with Joe’s helping hand, the once-familiar Willys began to look as she did in 1962.

The original chassis, which had been swapped out years before, went back under the car along with a Willys front axle. Out back, the coil-spring rear suspension, which had been installed in 1966, was replaced with the earlier quarter-elliptic setup and Olds rear end. Rounding out the rear were the original traction bars that were traced to someone in New Jersey.

Coming across a 394 Olds engine was easy enough and the new engine was bored and stroked to 425 inches and fashioned with period-correct parts. A B&M Hydro transmission backed the Olds in 1962 but over time, these transmissions have become difficult to find. However, the Gasser gods had it covered and a chance discussion led a friend of a friend to a friend who happened to have a new, unused B&M Hydro just waiting for the right car to come along.


Ruben sprayed the original paint while Ed “Big Daddy” Roth performed the lettering. Larry Hook had the honor of duplicating Big Daddy’s fine work. Slicks are M&H while wheels are Halibrands. All the bright work is original to the Willys. (Photo Courtesy Dave Davis)


 Mike Cook took over ownership of Swindler A when it was retired and restored the car in the 1970s. Doug Cook initially drove both Willys. In 1966, his brother Ray took over the controls of Swindler A. (Photo Courtesy Dave Davis)


Before paint, the body was stripped and minor repairs made. The rear pan below the deck lid needed extensive work, as over the years it had been beat up pretty badly. Stone, Woods & Cook melted lead into the area to add weight. When the time came to lighten the car again, they beat the area with a hammer to break the lead down to scoop it out. Many helping hands went into the restoration of Swindler II including Larry Hook, who laid the stripes and lettered over the period-correct blue applied by Joe.

The restoration was completed in 2006 and in 2007, Mike was honored to accept the Preservation Award at the Detroit Autorama. Today, you can catch both of the restored Stone, Woods & Cook Willys at most Hot Rod Reunions, if you can make it through the throng of people that usually surrounds them.

The team of Stone, Woods & Cook went on to further success with their Dark Horse II Mustang but when a crash nearly cost Cookie his life in 1967, he chose to hang up the helmet. Stone and Woods continued on before retiring in the early 1970s, comfortable in knowing they had left a lasting legacy.


Written by Doug Boyce and posted with permission of CarTech Books


Drag Racing in the 1960s

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