No. 28: George Montgomery
One of the most colorful chapters in drag racing history is the saga of the AA/Gas Supercharged coupes that created some of NHRA's most intense rivalries from the late 1950s through the early 1970s.
The combination of supercharged engines in full-bodied cars presented a readily identifiable package for the race fans, and the AA/GS entries were, in essence, the forerunners of Funny Car and Pro Stock.
In its heyday, the class boasted such talent as "Big John" Mazmanian, Stone-Woods-Cook, K.S. Pittman, Jr. Thompson, the Kohler Bros., and, of course, "Ohio George" Montgomery.
No racer in the gasser ranks could match Montgomery's record in national event competition. The class winner on many occasions at the U.S. Nationals, Montgomery drove his AA/GS machines to victories in Indy on four different occasions and also claimed an additional three titles at other events.
Montgomery's domination of Indy was especially significant because it was the only national event on the NHRA schedule for many years - hence the biggest race in terms of bragging rights.
Montgomery quickly established his reputation as the top racer in his chosen area of competition by driving his injected A/Gas entry to strong 11-second times for back-to-back class and Little Eliminator victories at the U.S. Nationals in 1959 and 1960 when the event was held in Detroit. After the race relocated to its permanent home in Indianapolis in 1961, Montgomery won his third consecutive class trophy.
Soon after the establishment of the AA/Gas supercharged class, Montgomery switched to a blown small-block Chevy engine and won both class and Middle Eliminator honors at the 1963 Nationals with low 10-second performances, and he followed with still another class win in Indy in 1964.
Drag racing's booming popularity soon caught the eye of Detroit's big three automotive manufacturers, which soon began recruiting quarter-mile talent for their own factory race teams. Montgomery was quickly picked up by Ford as one of the racers selected to develop the company's new 427-cid SOHC hemi engine.
Montgomery quickly made good use of the engine's added horsepower, racking up class wins at the U.S. Nationals in 1966 and 1967, along with a class trophy at the 1967 Nationals.
Still running his '33 Willys body at the time, Montgomery was approached by Ford to consider racing with a more current body - which was the same type that was on display on showroom floors. Montgomery agreed to begin running a new Mustang body in mid-1967 and immediately realized the benefits of the car's inherently superior handling and aerodynamic characteristics.
Said Montgomery, "The Willys was actually a very poor handling car, but I never realized it at the time because it was the only thing that I drove. There wasn't anything else with which to compare it. On the first day I drove the Mustang, I couldn't believe how much nicer it handled. But it was only when I got back into the Willys that I realized how big the difference was. I kept saying to myself, if I can just make it to the finish line, I'll never drive this thing again."
Montgomery's new Mustang benefited from the advanced technology that had been developed from the Funny Car category, which was in the midst of an explosive boom in popularity. Once again Montgomery made excellent use of the new developments when he drove the Mustang to Super Eliminator titles at the Springnationals and Nationals with unbelievably quick mid-eight-second clockings in excess of 160 mph.
Throughout the 1960s, Montgomery was one of the most frequently booked AA/Gas supercharged racers on the match race circuit, often going head to head against Mazmanian, Stone-Woods-Cook, Pittman, and the other stars of the category.
Though the 1967 switch to a late-model body improved the performances of his cars and others, the move proved costly to the class because it no longer had the identity with the fans that was established with the older body styles.
After 1970, the nitro-burning Funny Cars, which were dipping into the six-second zone on a regular basis, were eclipsing the popularity of the AA/GS contingent, and they were no longer a major match race draw. Many of the AA/GS top stars, such as Stone-Woods-Cook, switched to the Funny Car ranks, and eventual lack of participation later prompted NHRA to drop the class from the Rulebook.
Still, Montgomery looks back on his racing career with fond memories. "I guess one of the biggest kicks I ever got out of racing was that I was able to win with both my Cadillac and my small-block Chevy. Everyone else was running big Oldsmobiles or Chrysler Hemis. They'd make a big deal about who beat whom in match races on the West Coast and how fast everyone ran. But every time they'd come to Indy, they never could beat me. Though I later did switch to the Ford hemi, I never did have to race a Chrysler Hemi to stay competitive."
Montgomery has earned a number of honors for his career accomplishments, including being inducted into the Don Garlits' International Drag Racing Hall of Fame. He was named grand marshal for the Midwest Hot Rod Reunion in 1998, and in 1999, he and many of his fellow AA/Gas supercharged racers joined together for a special reunion at the NHRA Motorsports Museum in Pomona.