ART ARFONS / GREEN
MONSTER: LEE PENDLETON
racing friend of Art Arfons's going back to the mid-1950s and was on
the "Green Monster" crew when Art set the land speed record in 1964 and
1965. In film footage of those heading days, it's Lee's Ford truck that
you see hauling the Monster's start cart. I interviewed him over the
phone at his home in Celveland, Ohio on June 11, 2009.
When were you up on the salt flats with Art
1964, when Walter was there
and ran first, and Art ran second. [Oct. 1964, when Art went 434 mph.]
with Art in ’64 when he broke the record first.
Did you return with him to the salt in ’65?
No I didn’t. Wait a
minute...Yes, I was there, come to think of it. But I wasn’t
there when he broke the record. I remember coming home, and
my wife and her friend were with us, and the brakes went out on my car.
why I would remember that.
And what about 1966, when Art had the crash?
No, I wasn’t there. But I
was in ’65.
Did you know Art in Akron, stop by his shop?
Oh yeah, Pickle Road, sure.
Did Art and Walt have their shops in one big
cut in two, or in two separate buildings?
Well, it was two separate
buildings. It started out as a feed mill. Back in the late ‘50s farming
still that close to Akron.
They ground grain and sold things. And then it kind of died and they
doing the "Green Monster" work and they loved that. The old man died
who did the
business, he was Art’s step-dad, I guess, and Walter’s real dad. [It
was the other way around.] So the feed mill
closed down and Walter had the southern end of it [the property] and
the building at the north end.
[I ask about the story of Art having the crew
car.] Do you think this actually happened?
Absolutely not. He was a
very serious racer. At Bonneville, I remember him getting, ah,
be the word. In other words, he didn’t want to talk to people the day
the big run. He would get a little serious.
Just day to day, was he sort of a gregarious,
Oh yeah. Well, not really
gregarious, but smooth. Just smooth.
But when he was on the salt he would get kind
Well, we were there the
first time about a week ahead of time in ’64 because Walt had the salt.
was just everybody’s friend and everybody liked him and he was truly a
friend. Was he...I don’t know if you’d call it gregarious...He was just
matter-of-fact guy who had a nice, smooth, easy-going attitude.
[I ask about the Monster having two seats.]
Was it the
original plan for Ed to ride along?
Was it then solely a matter of symmetry?
Yes, absolutely, symmetry.
For design purposes.
[I ask if any weight was added to the dummy
even things out.]
Later on, Art was running
with that same car, and he
switched over to Goodyears and had a blow-out. He never would take
him. Never. But this reporter stayed after him and stayed after him—I
there; Art told me about it—but this reporter kept telling him he was
give him a nice write-up and he had all these connections, and he
to go for a ride in that car on the drag strip. So lo and behold, that
trip when the front tire blew, I think it was the front tire, and
When you were on the salt, how many guys
been on Art’s team?
I have pictures that
Firestone sent out as a thank-you brochure to all the crew.
Would there have been as many as a dozen?
Oh yeah. And General
Electric sent an engineer for the engine.
Just the one time, or regularly?
I think regularly. I know
in ’64 and ’65 he was there, a big, tall, thin guy. [Lee mentions
having a box
of stuff labeled “Racing Days,” and wonders how he can get me
Deist was there, for the parachute. I just had a reason to go through
pictures because a guy named John Roly is restoring the Green Monster
to run and show in these nostalgia races. We bought it [No. 5] from Art
1957. [Later in the interview Lee mentions that Number 5 is at Art
Chrisman’s shop in Santa
You own it?
used to. I sold it to
Charlie Hall and then Charlie sold it to John Roly. [Lee is going
photos as he talks to me.] But here is a picture from Firestone, with a
thank-you letter, okay, I
see the Firestone guys, and Ed Snyder and Art, and oh, that’s Les
used to own the drag strip in Atco,
New Jersey. I don’t know if it’s Pennsylvania or New
And then there’s the official [Joe Petrali],
and Charlie Mayenschein [having trouble remembering names.] I see three
[I ask about Bud Groff.]
Yeah, I knew Bud Groff. I
can’t think if he was there or not. And then the old man, oh yeah,
[I ask how old Bud looks in the picture. Lee
him to be in his sixties, has a mustache.]
There’s another picture
here where Art blew the right rear tire. It was Les’s and my job to dig
bead off that rim. The bead was at least an inch and a half diameter.
know what the bead of the tire is? It’s the steel cable, covered with
that’s right next to the rim, and it’s what holds the tire together. It
big, you wouldn’t believe how big it was. And it’s all hard steel so we
cut it and hack it.
Do you have any memories of that blow-out?
pretty dramatic, or did Art take it in stride?
He took it in stride, yeah.
Did you ever see Art shaken by any of these
or did he stay pretty cool?
I know he could get angry
What would set him off?
People trying to promote
him, trying to get in on his act. I think that’s the only times I ever
angry. He and I started out, I was in a flathead, this was in 1954, the
year I raced.
Once Art and Walt started building racers
aircraft engines, were those really heavy dragsters, heavier than the
of most other drivers?
Some of them. Art had the
Baloney Slicer, and that was about the same weight as Garlits. And
beat by Art. [Lee refers to Green Monster # 6, with the double rear
particularly heavy. I comment that Art would get a slow start with it
catch the other driver by the end. Lee says:] Well, not always.
you had to give up too much at the starting line. It just took longer
that weight moving. My little flathead, which was a Ford early model
V8, and I was running alcohol and a little bit of nitro, he would beat
usually, but not always. In Akron
I beat him a couple times. There was a guy in Cleveland named Joe
and he had one of the first overheads, it was a Chevy motor, of course
worked out to be the hot rodders favorite motor, but he was real tough
he could beat Art.
Back when Art and Walt were working the drag
were they just getting winnings, or were appearance fees also important?
that’s what it was all about, the appearance fees.
How much could that amount to for a meet? A
hundred dollars? Five hundred dollars?
In those days $500 was quite a lot of money. Garlits could get five
most everywhere. I went on three years of exhibitions with my car when
the record, this would be ’62, I could get up to five hundred dollars.
adds that if you hustled you could work in two meets in one weekend
and make twice as much.]
Was Art using his own bus back then, working
meets in the ‘50s, or did he fix that up later?
No, I think
he had flatbed trucks. I know when he first started out he had the mill
[Lee talks a bit of Art’s tractor pulling days.] He and I always ran
we had the Number 5 car with an Allison [Lee had bought Green Monster
Art had Number 11 with an Allison, and he was a very...He raced all the
and he got to be a real ace driver. First class. So he would usually
beat us by
two or three miles an hours and he’d be fastest time of the meet, we’d
second fastest. You never got paid to go to the Nationals. You went
to have the bragging rights...See, what you’re doing when you run an
exhibition, you are being advertised in advance of the meet and they
crowd that way. And Art would get good crowds, so he’d earn big money.
late ‘50s he was probably earning 500 dollars [per meet] or more.
[I ask about Art’s lucky jacket, a black
that’s what he always wore. I guess he probably called it his lucky
Did he ever wear an oxygen mask?
No... I have
this picture before me, and there are nine people gathered in front of
of them is the big tall guy from GE [Henry Butkiewicz], so there were
eight of us on Art’s crew.
And Art has on his white Firestone outfit, without the jacket. But I do
remember a black jacket that he would wear.
[I ask about Art’s pit on the salt: Art’s
Monster, a tent, a bunch of cars.] Anything else?
truck was there with his start cart, to start the J-79. I towed that
by pickup truck. It had a camper, not a full camper, just a little
Was there a fuel truck as well?
pause] You know, you got me there. I don’t know. But you see, you
to set up a whole lot in the pits because we would run early in the
morning...I’m looking at another picture here that shows two airplanes
salt, my truck behind it with the start cart, and sixteen people, three
of them with cameras in hand and taking pictures...Here’s another
Art in the car, Charlie handing him his helmet. [Lee says that these
are his personal property. They were sent out by Firestone to members
remember asking Art while we were having dinner on the way out, “How
come up with the design underneath the car?” He said, “Well, I left the
pan off.” I said, “Why did you do that? Everybody else has a belly
said, “Because I didn’t know what the reaction with lift was going to
got a lot of horsepower. I’ll just make it dirty.” And he never had to
about it. He did have to worry about torque.
[I ask if Lee can recall any humorous or
lots of them. One day, here comes Arfons...Pickle Road was maybe a mile and
from where we would run. We ran right on the road below the Soap Box
facility, Derby Downs is what they called it. It’s like a big coliseum,
there’s a hill in there and place for a lot of spectators. They always
Soapbox Derby there every year. Anyway, there’s an access road that
the airport, and you can see the big dirigible hangar, Goodyear was
right over there. But this road that we would run on was a narrow
and it wasn’t straight. It went straight for about a thousand feet, and
took a left turn. [Laughs] Anyhow, Art would come with his machine,
all the way from Pickle
He said, “I don’t care if they get me or not.” And they never bothered
one day he came down with a trailer behind. And I looked at this thing
said, “My God.” The trailer had a 6 cylinder [car] motor on it. it was
axle [trailer] and it was driven by this motor. And he put this trailer
back of old [Green Monster] Number 6 and used it as a pusher. [Laughs]
a hard story to tell and have people believe you, but it’s the
everything changed so fast with them. They were very prolific as far as
[I ask about the story of Charlie Mayenschein
into second seat to ride in Green Monster.] Were you there when that
even heard of it. No, Art was pretty safety conscious. He had a
over the top of the front axle. [Lee is looking at a photo of the car]
mounted on some braces that extended up above the body, and also there
hydraulic cylinder at the back of the wing. And the wing pivots on
that stick up...He figured all kinds of things out. I’ll tell you, he
proud about things. He wasn’t a bragger at all. If you got into a
he would be in the conversation until it went to women or dirty jokes
something else, and as soon as that happened he look for somebody else
about something that was technical. He was a good original thinker. And
was too. I tend to short Walt because I didn’t get to know him as well.
they were both very original.
Any thoughts on the estranged relationship
good word, estranged. I’ll tell you, I always wished they could have
together. But it wasn’t about to happen. You know, the first jet
Walter’s. Walter had a year or two jump on Art. Either in ’55 or ’56,
a jet on a dragster. It wasn’t pretty, I’ll tell you that. [Laughs] I
believe it. Somebody came into my shop and told me, “We saw this jet
automobile.” And I said, “No you did not.” It wasn’t real fast, because
a small, lighter jet engine, a J-34, not real powerful.
[I ask if there was ever any dissention on
like on the Breedlove team in 1962.]
didn’t have much to be in charge of. He and Ed did most of it
did have people like me, I did some Bonneville wheels for him, and
specialties he would contract, like the paint he would have done
he did most everything himself] I’m a tool and die maker by trade—and
was telling you before about his attitude, he would talk to me about
wanted to know about, how to machine things, who the geometries and
worked. He was right into it. And before you know it, he had a lathe
little mill and some other things and he’s doing a lot of that work
himself...He would explore anybody’s mind and get answers that way. He
call and say, “What do I do about this?”
[I ask about the arrival of jet cars onto the
scene at the end of the 1950s, early 1960s] Did this cause some
the other drivers, that these jet cars were taking away attention from
sure there was. I know my feelings were that...yeah, you pretty well
yeah. They were not only taking the headlines and the hoopla away from
they were taking our appearance money. The crowds were bigger with the
the rest of us were not in as much demand.
That’s it for my questions. Is anything else
In 1964 I
went up to the East Coast to a meet they were having that was a big
the jet dragsters. There were or eight of them. Anyone I knew that had
was there because they paid them all to come. And Art just made them
silly. I mean he was right on the lights every time, and he was so much
than the rest of them. Of course he had the 79 and some of the rest of
were still running the 34s. He had worked out the afterburner, he knew
fire that at an instant’s notice. He told me that one thing he didn’t
about the way he was running to motor was...he told me the burners on
airplane were made to come in in four stages, but he said, “I just took
stuff out of there and I use it all at once.”
he would leave at Bonneville I remember—I only got to see it because I
race with the start cart down to the other end of the strip and get
time to get it turned around, but I never got used—but anyhow, I did
get to see
two or three launches, and you know the size of the hole coming out the
the J-79 is about 30 inches across. And when you would see that hole
getting smaller, the engine would sound about the same, but the car
disappear. That’s one of the wheel-driven Bonneville car’s problems,
to speed. But Art just accelerated so fast, that hole got smaller and
and the thrust was more and more.
You mentioned running down the course with
cart. Was that generally your job with Art, handling the start cart?
towed it out there so I had to have it wherever. But we did whatever
had to be
So there weren’t specific duties assigned to
individual. You all pitched in and did what needed doing.
little story. I was coming back from California
and I met Art at a race track in the west. And he said, “Hey, next week
going up to Las Vegas.
You want to come along? Thunderbird Hotel is going to sponsor us both.
have to put our cars on display in front of the casino.” Thunderbird
which is not even there any more. So I said, “Oh yeah, I’d love it.” So
[the casino people] said, “Okay, we’re comping you guys to everything.”
five days we’re going to be there, meals and everything. So we went
and did everything we could do and were covered. And then we went over
to the Lido to the big waterfall. He
wanted to see that. So we
went over to the Lido. And they had a
theater. So we said, “Hey, we’re being comped.” My wife’s with me and
alone. And that’s another thing with drag race cars, Art would go with
He’s do most everything himself. So anyhow, we’re sitting there eating
having all this fancy food and everything, and then the show’s over and
brought us a check. And we said, “Oh no, we’re comped for this. We’re
Thunderbird.” “No, sorry about that.” I think I had made $250 at Henderson, Nevada
the night before so I had $175 with us—a lot of money in those days—and
pay the tab.
Was this during the Bonneville days? Or after?
before. About ’62.
When Art was working the drag meets, did he
over the States?
he went everywhere.
Would he have gone as far as California?
He was all over.
Would Ed go along with him on those trips?
yeah. I think Ed retired and went on the road with Art.
So Ed wasn’t working at the tire factory
he was retired then.
I would say that Art was a great gentleman of racing. And he would help
whenever he could.