Collector Car Corner – Fort Dix, N.J. and drag racing Willys Memories

Collector Car Corner - Fort Dix, N.J. and drag racing Willys Memories

Here’s a photo of Bob Mendenhall’s beautiful 1940 Willys B/Gas drag car from back in the 1960s that competed in north and south Jersey and a few tracks in Pennsylvania. (Ulmer Collection)

Collector Car Corner - Fort Dix, N.J. and drag racing Willys Memories

Dave Strickler and his Old Reliable Chevrolet 409 was a regular at Vineland in 1962 and won many match races. This is a photo from Vineland Speedway. (Complements of Ammon R. Smith Chevrolet).

Q: Greg, I really enjoyed your article about the cars from the 1950s. I have many great memories of that era. My father was a Chevrolet dealer in Canton, Ohio, and I grew up in grease and oil at the garage. In 1961, I was in the U.S. Army at Ft. Dix, N.J., and my wife and I were living in Mt Holly. We had a 57 Chevy convertible that we had bought used from dad.

While at Ft. Dix, I met another soldier from Easton, Pa., who had a 40 Willys B/Gas dragster. We would tow the dragster behind the car down to Vineland to race on the weekends when we were not on duty. It was painted metallic blue. I have lots of pictures of that car around the house somewhere. It was almost more of a show car than a racer. The interior was all blue vinyl and stainless steel. Even the roll cage was wrapped and padded with vinyl. The owner and driver was SP5 Bob Mendenhall, my friend from Ft. Dix.

We both worked for the Commanding General in the Post Headquarters Building. Mendenhall moved to California in 1963 and raced it there for quite awhile. While we were still in the Army, we also raced at Atco, N.J., and at Pennsylvania tracks in Reading and Lancaster.

The picture I attached was taken at my parent’s house in September of 1963 when Bob stopped here on his way to California. We just washed the car and were getting ready to load it back on the trailer. I remembered some more names from Vineland: Big Daddy Don Garlits was there one day with his Swamp Rat against Connie Kalitta’s Bounty Hunter. Man, this is really hard digging in my brain from 55 years ago.

I did manage to locate a few more photos from the 50’s and 60’s cars. I have two more from Vineland but the prints are very poor quality after 50 years I may try to load them into Picasa and hopefully refurbish them just a little. I also found some pictures of some of my early car; a mildly customized 54 Chevy, one photo of my sister and me in the very first 53 Corvette to come to dad’s dealership, and my 24 Chevrolet Roadster. I also found photos of our 57 Chevy convertible and our 58 Impala hardtop that we owned when we lived in Mt. Holly. The best one by far is the picture of my 55 two-tone blue Chevrolet convertible – small block V8, 3-speed with Overdrive. As you can see, I’ve been a car nut for a lot of years and really look forward to your column, which I read in the Canton Repository. We really loved being in New Jersey and think about it fondly. Thanks for refreshing our memory. Dave and Gayle Ulmer, Massillon, Ohio.

A: Dave thanks so much for your interesting letter about the good old days of cars and drag racing. I appreciate your kind words, too. I spent many a year in south Jersey watching those great races, including the many times my hero Dave Strickler raced at Vineland in his Old Reliable Chevrolets. (See photo)

(Greg Zyla is a syndicated columnist who welcomes reader input on collector cars and old time racing at 116 Main St., Towanda, Pa. 18848 or email at