Peter Gallen - Poverty Stricken - Prostalgia Funny Car
(Story by Bob Wilson)
So just who is Peter Gallen and what could be remotely "Poverty Stricken" about a nitro-burning Funny Car? The nickname for the car goes back to before the beginning of Gallen's racing career, when he was still in high school and helping his industrial arts instructor campaign a car by the name of.... you guessed it: Poverty Stricken. The work ethic and dedication to achieving the most with the least stuck with Gallen and when he was finally in a position to campaign his own race car, the Poverty Stricken name was an obvious choice.
During the first segment of his drag racing life, starting as a volunteer driver in a struggling BB/FC in the old Pro Comp days, through a successful partnership with Rich McPhillips, Gallen got to experience first hand what a strain it was financially to run a competitive race car and nurture a growing family with two girls and three boys, Kelly, Kristen, Lil Pete, Tyler Marie, & Ayden.
Soon after graduating from high school, Gallen found himself behind the wheel of an old-school A/Altered. You know the drill: 99-inch wheelbase, iron big-block Chevy for power. Drop the clutch, hit the throttle and hang on. Gaining experience at driving and wrenching on this car, Peter soon was ready for his first funny car ride.
T. J. Rebert, his old shop teacher bought a stake in the Bob Dalton BB/Funny Car and after a few races of watching Dalton trying to make competitive runs, the decision was made to give young Gallen his first shot at handling a blown alcohol car. And the rest was history, as the cliche goes.
His first license upgrade pass was a low 7-second effort at 201 mph - the first time this car had ever eclisped the double century mark and in very short order, Peter Gallen became a bonafide Funny Car pilot. Shortly thereafter Dalton left the scene and the Rebert and Gallen partnership was born.
They immediately jumped in the deep end and joined Nick Boninfante's east coast funny car circuit, still running the iron Chevy with the standard parts of the early 1980's. Their first year on the circuit saw virtually a clean sweep at the season-ending awards banquet, as Gallen took the points championship, driver and rookie of the year. "The car was full of trophies when we finally got out of there", Peter related.
The years of racing and a few different cars rolled past quickly until Rebert ran out of the passion and money to continue and as soon as he left, new partner Rich McPhillips stepped in to fill the void. The influx of help and money soon led to the construction of Gallen's first brand-new built for him car out of the shop of famed chassis builder Bob Jinkens. In it, Gallen won his first NHRA national event at the Molson Grandnational in 1987 at Sanair, Quebec.
Despite his success in business, the dollars came and went as fast as the race car ran. And speaking of fast, Peter Gallen will always be remembered as the answer to the ultimate Alcohol Funny Car trivia question. We all know - or the really serious drag racing fan should know - who was the first driver into the five-second zone in an alky flopper, Bob Newberry, but who was the second?
Yes, it's Peter Gallen and the way the barrier breaking performances occurred on the afternoon of May 7, 1989 will forever remain etched in his memory. But for a very unlikely sequence of events, it could well have been Gallen first in the fives, and Newberry as the afterthought. In qualifying for a Division One event at Old Bridge Township (Englishtown) on the previous evening, Gallen and McPhillips ripped off a low e.t. pass of 6.00 to easily outdistance Newberry's struggling, at least by comparison, 6.11. With lane choice in the first round of eliminations on the following day, McPhillips made the decision to have the car run in the last pairing.... unintentionally opening the door for Newberry's epic achievement.
After his struggle in qualifying, Newberry changed literally everything from the rear-end to the fuel pump in an attempt to get on top of his combination and running ahead of Gallen in the first round, blasted through the biggest alcohol racing barrier with a 5.952 clocking. Running in the last pairing iof the round, Gallen's 5.97 time was lost in the glow of Newberry's pass. Oddly enough, Gallen did hold the national record for nearly two hours, as his 5.97 backed up the 6.00 from qualifying and held the record until Newberry cranked out a 6.00 in the second round, eliminating Gallen in the process, and taking the national record away also.
As Peter related the story of that amazing day to me, the question 'what would have happened if you'd run ahead of Newberry and been the first 5-second alky funny car?' gained prominence in my thoughts. And Gallen answered in just the way I imagined he would: "In retrospect I was glad it wasn't me to break the mark. I may have regretted it for a week or two, but as time went on I began to think myself lucky for having the made the 'wrong' choice at the time."
His main reason for not wanting to have broken the mark first was the extra pressure it would put on him to keep campaigning the car as hard as they were at the time. Remember, this was just before the dam broke, so to speak, when Norm Drazy opened the pandora's box of blower technology and unleashed the PSI on an unsuspecting drag racing world. We all know what happened then, as performances quickly escalated, but not any quicker than the cost of racing.
The way the first installment of Gallen's career ended was not by design, but strictly by chance when a would-be racer walked up to him at an event and asked "How much would you sell your car to me for?". Not thinking the potential buyer to be serious enough to meet his demand, Peter dropped a rather large number on him and waited for the inevitable "thanks, but no thanks". To Gallen's immense surprise, the asking price was met and suddenly his racing career reached a major crossroads.
He had literally a life-changing decision to make and it didn't take him long to accept the offer, sell the car and quit drag racing. Maybe not for all time, but definitely for the foreseeable future. Gallen's reasons for accepting the offer were manifold: the cost of racing and the work required to stay competitive was getting out of hand, his business(es) could use the infusion of cash, his young family needed him around, and "frankly, it was just an offer that you couldn't refuse".
Gallen took the money, invested it in his business holdings, and became a full-time father and was able to devote more time to both his family and business without the time and money demands of the race car. While he still followed drag racing, he wasn't in the least tempted to return to the sport, until finally, nearly 18 years later, the bug bit just enough to see him hanging out at a few races with his old partner, Rich McPhillips.
For a number of years McPhillips had been running a competitive injected nitro-burning A/Fuel Dragster and the aroma and allure of the "nasty yellow fuel" slowly took hold of Gallen's pysche. It was a slow process, thinking of just where he'd like to race, and in what, but in the end it was a case of "do what you know best" and a nostalgia nitro Funny Car seemed like the best combination of affordability (relatively, of course), competition, and most importantly, fun.
Taking his time to weight the options carefully, Gallen assembled the necessary components to build a competitive car, ready to run with the best right out of the box. "There's no sense doing this by half measures; while it's always going to be fun, it's not any fun if you're not competitive", Gallen continued. Starting with a barely run ex-Scott Kalitta chassis built by Chuck Attac, and a one-off Vega body hand-laid by crewman Rich Rosetty, Gallen put the car together ready to race by the beginning of the 2009 season.
Debuting the car barely two years ago at some low-key Goodguys events and booked-in match races, the car paid immediate dividends, running as quick as 5.80 and as fast as 246 mph in the car's first season. Proud of the performance record, but even prouder of the car's reliability, Gallen stated "the original block is still in the car; no windows, no saddles, no damage." He takes the position that the best way to improve is to learn how to make the car run without blowing it up. "Yeah, you can run fast, but if you keep breaking things to make it run fast, what have you really accomplished?", he concluded.
After the success of their first season in nostalgia funny car, the Gallen team decided to branch out and take on a more serious level of competition by joining the IHRA Nitro Jam tour last year and appeared at 8 out of the 10 races on the schedule. Steadily improving their performance numbers, the car ran as quick and fast as 5.78 at more than 251 mph, enroute to a 21 - 6 won-loss record during the season.
Now we're into 2011 and Gallen's second year on the IHRA tour, with appearances scheduled at 7 out of the 9 Nitro Jams, and he's already off to a great start on the season, running low e.t. and top speed of the year (so far) with a 5.72 at 250 mph at the Palm Beach race, and followed that up with back to back Ironman wins at Baton Rouge. While he failed to win here in Tuscon last night, he did set top speed of the evening at over 247 mph, despite nearly 4800 foot air, and the team looks to improve on both ends of the performance equation during this evening's action.
Then it's on to San Antonio for the fourth stop on the Nitro Jam tour and finally homeward bound the following week. Peter and Ashbey and their four children, from the youngest, Aden at just two years of age, to the eldest, 30, and their volunteer crew will all we happy to close out the "Fun Tour" and get home. With six weeks before their next event, at Pittsburgh, the rest will be just what the team needs to recharge before heading into the busiest part of their 2011 schedule, that sees a total of 13 races on the calendar.
Asked why they came all the way to Bakersfield for the March Meet and tentatively plan to be at the season-ending California Hot Rod Reunion at Famoso Raceway in October, Gallen frankly stated, "We wanted to see how we matched up against the 'West Coast Guys'. No other reasons; we just really wanted to see if we could handle the pace." While they didn't completely set the world on fire during the first foray to Bakersfield, they "learned a lot; saw air like we've never run in before, and found we could run with the big(ger) dogs," he continued. A pair of 5.8 times, two laps in excess of 240 mph and a #5 qualifying position outdid the vast majority of the field to let everyone know they were definite contenders. And that was just for starters.
The team will re-evaluate their situation after this current tour and decide on a month by month, and sometimes race by race basis whether the fun continues to outweigh the costs and the work. "If we stop having fun, we'll stop coming to the races", Gallen opined, echoing the sentiments of a number of the nostalgia gang. "We're not in this for the ego, for the recognition, for the money (as he laughed loudly), simply for the fun," he concluded.
The biggest reckoning will likely come at the end of the year when Peter and his wife will sit down and review their expiring three-year "contract". "She made a deal with me when we started this in 2009 to let me do it for three years. That time will be up at the end of the year and we'll have to decide whether to negotiate another contract or let it lapse and park the car. But there's lots of time and lots of races between now and then, isn't there?" he quipped.
Many thanks from SpeedZone Magazine to Peter and Ashbey Gallen, the McIntires, Bob Rossety, and the entire crew for the patience and assistance in helping us put together this story. The one thing that kept coming up time and again was the "fun factor" and the desire to keep it being a "family thing" rather than just racing. From their home in Pennsylvania to the groves of Bakersfield to the Dixieland bands at Baton Rouge, to the desert in Tucson, this is one team that just wants to keep on having fun, and if that fun involves nitro-powered drag racing: all the better.
Postscript: Gallen picked up the pace on the second and final night of the Arizona Nitro Jam, lighting up the track with a second-best 5.81 in the first round, then taking the measure of fellow easterner, Mike McIntire in the final with a low e.t. and top speed of the meet performance of 5.777 - 250.97 mph.
That not only took the Ironman trophy, but gave Peter new national e.t. and mph records in Prostalgia Funny Car, breaking his own marks set at Baton Rouge last year. From the disappointment of not completing his mission in Bakersfield to the top of the heap in Tucson, life is very good in the Gallen pits tonight.
March 16-20, 2011
December 29, 2010
A new NFC team in the NW and it is from... no surprise, Alberta.
AB - The Sitko Family Racing team and Ace Manufacturing have
patriarch, George Sitko has been drag racing for 50 years. He has
'77 Arrow body will be painted in the very recognizable Team Ace red
Family Racing would also like to welcome back Hyperion Laser
Ken Sitko is preparing the team's spare motor, George Sitko
A couple features on the two baddest NFC's from the two main sanctioning bodies. Peter Gallen has dominated the IHRA for 13 races beginning in 2010. He has taken time to run a few NHRA Heritage events, Good Guys and Match Races.
Tim Boychuk primarily runs the NHRA heritage events but also a few IHRA Nitro Jams, Various Open events and Match races on the West Coast as well. Both sanctioning body's run under different philosophy's and rules. One is a match race Chicago style (IHRA) and one is an open qualified field (NHRA Heritage) The rules for both bodies are different as well, but both drivers conform to the NHRA VRA set of rules.
Photos courtesy Bob Wilson, Bob Snyder, Mark King, Bill Jeffery, Pat Welsh and Dean Murdoch
Tim Boychuk - Troy Lee Designs - Prostalgia Funny Car
(Story by Bob Wilson)
Our second racer feature of this event is about as far removed from the bucolic countryside of Pennsylvania as one could be, as Tim Boychuk hails from the frozen steppes of the northern Canadian prairie of Edmonton, Alberta. After a number of years of oval track racing, in a variety of vehicles, ranging from sprints to stockers, Tim decided to go straight and fast by getting involved in drag racing in 2005.
His first taste of the sport was at a Doug Foley Drag Racing School hosted at his hometrack in Edmonton, in conjunction with the IHRA Rocky Mountain Nationals. Shortly after, he joined up with Cal Tebb on a '74 Vega blown alcohol funny car to run as part of the Alberta-based International Blown Alcohol Association. Their partnership got off to a fast start with a low qualifying 7.509 (on a 7.50 index) at their first event at Mission Raceway, but it all went south in a hurry when a return engagement two months later gave Tim his first taste of the downside of the sport.
A big wheelstand ended with a hard landing, which turned into a broken a-frame (front suspension) and led to a quick trip into the guardwall. The resulting damage turned the chassis into scrap and the body was only fit for a commerative wall-hanging which Boychuk still displays in his shop. Tebb and Boychuk changed colours and makes for the 2007 season and bought the ex-Jeff Gaynor "Renegade" '71 Mustang which was re-painted and re-named as the "Happy Hour" special.
Not content to continue racing soley under the confines of an index, Boychuk cast his vision further afield and found another mountain to climb when a chance introduction by old friend Ron Hodgson to Top Fuel owner Barry Paton in early 2008 led to a radical change in direction for his racing career. Paton at that time had a car but no driver, as son Todd had recently accepted a major position with Racepak, the pre-eminent data recorder company in drag racing. Not able to work on competitor's computers and see their tuning data while racing against them, Todd was forced to vacate the seat and the family team had to park the car.
This is where chance and circumstance met in a fortuitous combination and very quickly, like literally overnight, an agreement was reached to put Boychuk in the Paton Top Fuel dragster. With veteran crewchief Jimbo Eermalovich calling the shots, the team immediately became competitive at IHRA events, debuting at the Rocky Mountain Nationals in his hometown of Edmonton, qualifying third and reaching the semifinal round, only to lose despite making his first four-second pass, a 4.98 at 286 mph. Quite an impressive debut and it just got better from there.
In the car for his second race six weeks later, Boychuk was down to his final qualifying chance, but ripped off a 4.75 at 294 mph to jump into the sixth slot. He nearly repeated those numbers in a first round loss as the car started to show some real consistency. And just three weeks later he was into the 4's again at Tulsa, but lost traction and the race in the first round again.
It all came good in September, during a magical weekend at Epping, New Hampshire's New England Dragway when he qualified sixth, then ripped off his first 300-mph run in a first round win, and the beat continued into the semifinals with another 4.7 pass at 301 mph to advance to his first Top Fuel final in just his fourth event. Matched against Terry McMillen in the final, Boychuk defied the odds and laid down his third consecutive 4.7 - 300 clocking, winning easily with a 4.75 - 306 against McMillen's up-in-smoke effort. Four races, one national event victory. A great start to a fuel racing career.
With that first win under his belt, Boychuk was seriously hooked on Top Fuel and quickly started looking for an even bigger challenge: NHRA racing. Running with the really large hounds. Just one week after his Epping triumph, the Paton-Boychuk team found themselves competing at the inaugural Carolina Nationals at the new Z-Max Dragway in Charlotte and in a solid debut ended up in the first alternate position. "We were close, but the first question I had when we missed the show, was where's the next race?" Tim related.
Ennis, Texas was the answer and a few days later they arrived at the Texas Motorplex to continue the quest. Another solid performance, which included Tim's first 3-second pass (3.98 at the 1000 ft distance) again failed to qualify, ending up in the frustrating first alternate position again. Feeling the need for a little rest and recharging, the team skipped the next event at Memphis and showed up in Richmond for their next outing. And show they did, as a one shot effort, due to the short field and for budgetary reasons, put Tim into his first NHRA national event Top Fuel field with a great 3.90 at 304 mph pass.
He put up a strong effort against Doug Herbert in the first round of eliminations, but was left behind by Herbert's low e.t., top speed performance and a first round runnerup was his fate for the day. At his next, and final IHRA race of the season in Rockingham, Tim moved one more notch up the ladder with yet another career best in the first round, at 4.66 and 310 mph and quickly moved into his second consecutive IHRA final around with a consistent 4-second, 300+ mph win in the semifinals to meet Mike Strasburg in the final. The fairy tale continued as Tim easily outran the tire-smoking Utah racer for his second straight IHRA victory in just his fifth national event. Despite competing at only half of the ten-race schedule, Boychuk finished 7th in their final Top Fuel standings, setting himself up for a strong campaign in 2009.
With the IHRA season done, Tim again looked for more chances to race as the hook was truly set deep by this point. It was decided that a back to back Las Vegas - Pomona schedule would nicely wrap up his rookie season and make a nice round total of ten races for 2008 - five in each association. A solid performance in Las Vegas ended in another first round loss, courtesy of a very strong run by Hot Rod Fuller and Pomona saw Boychuk matched up against the toughest opponent in the world, Tony Schumacher, and wasn't able to stay close to Schumacher's low e.t. of the meet. Despite the loss, Tim improved his personal bests to a 3.89 at 306 mph to put a great cap on quite an initial season in the Top Fuel ranks.
Unfortunately the best laid plans, etc.... came into play and the 2009 season started out wrong and stayed that way too often. First round losses at the first two races were the precursor to a rebounding performance at the short-lived Dallas Raceway, where Tim topped qualifying and went to the semifinals. Between the season opener at Baton Rouge and the second race at Rockingham, Tim made his only foray of the season into NHRA territory with a frustrating and expensive outing at the Gatornationals where he ended up in the dreaded first alternate spot yet again.
In mid-June he returned to the IHRA winners circle in Tulsa, laying down a series of consistent 4-second passes to claim the Ironman. Then Tim's fortunes wavered over the next two events, with a first round loss at his home track, Edmonton, and a semifinal finish at the other Canadian race on the schedule in Grand Bend, Ontario. He followed that up with another semifinal and a first round loss at the following two races, and vacated the seat in favour of Todd Paton for the final two events of the season.
As it turned out, Tim's appearance at Epping in September was his final Top Fuel race at IHRA events, as the open qualifying format was replaced with a new Nitro Jam format beginning in the 2010 season. With a total of three wins and a runnerup finish in just 13 career IHRA events, Tim was left with not too many alternatives for continuing his fuel racing career. That and the financial pressure of continuing to run a car without any serious sponsorship income.
But 2009 was a successful year in other areas, as he and equal partner Ron Hodgson finished putting together a new '77 Firebird for some serious nostalgia racing. Equipped with nothing but the best components, and crewchiefed by one of the icons of Funny Car racing, Roland Leong, the car made a successful debut at the Rocky Mountain Nationals, putting Tim in the stressful position of doing double driving duty with the flopper and the dragster.
Hodgson, who possesses a wealth of knowledge and contacts in the fuel racing business, made a key move when he secured the services of Roland Leong as crew chief which made the car instantly competitive. Added to the personnel mix were longtime Edmonton-area drag racers like Bob Papirnick, who campaigned his own fuel funny car in the 1970's, and Wally Protz, long-time partner in and crew chief for a number of competitive alky and nitro cars over the years.
Beginning the 2010 season with the focus on his new nitro funny car, Boychuk and team set off in search of races to compete at, ranging from two back to back IHRA Nitro Jam events in mid-season, to match races at Edmonton and Mission, and NHRA Heritage Series events at Bakersfield, among others. His two IHRA appearances were very successful, with a runnerup one night at Salt Lake City and two wins the following week in Edmonton. Then, less than a month later, a series of dominating and track record-setting performances at the Mission Raceway National Open, culminating with a new personal best of 5.70 at 253.66 enroute to the event title. Tim followed that up with another win at the famed Nightfire Nationals the following month in Boise.
The team's final appearances of the season were at the California Hot Rod Reunion in Bakersfield and a match race at Phoenix's Firebird Raceway, before an exhibition pass at the NHRA Auto Club Finals in Pomona. The car qualified well at Bakersfield, but lost in the second round; qualified even better at Phoenix and won the event, then set the nostalgia funny car ranks on their collective ears with a 5.631 - 258.12 pass at Pomona. What a way to punctuate the season.
While the funny car was achieving some serious success, the absolute nadir of Tim's Top Fuel career occurred last October during his sole NHRA appearance for the season in Las Vegas, when in one of the worst (for oil-downs) qualifying sessions in national event history, the car blew the oil filter off when Tim hit the throttle on the burnout, and spilled the entire contents of the sump from the starting line to the 150 foot mark. The slimy trail even put Boychuk into the wall as he was backing up from the burnout, sliding through the virtual lake of oil. Without even being prompted by the nabobs of NHRA, the Paton-Boychuk team loaded up the car and effectively ended their collaboration.
Moving into his current endeavours as we enter 2011, Boychuk is firmly planted in the Prostalgia (or Nostalgia) Funny Car camp, but still harbours ambitions to return to Top Fuel racing... if a sponsor with deep enough pockets emerges. He's done it on his own "nickel" but those truckloads of nickels evaporated quicker than a melting popsicle in the Arizona sun and he's determined not to follow the fatal path of so many before him and sink his life savings into a losing battle. The cost of operating a nostalgia nitro funny car is much more to his liking, even though it doesn't come as cheaply as some might expect.
With sponsorship help from Troy Lee Designs, and a well-constructed website and marketing campaign, Tim has built a solid foundation for a long and successful career in the sport, showing the ability to drive a variety of cars and master them all relatively quickly. A consistent driving style and excellent concentration are two of his greatest assets in the car and a businesslike approach to the monetary side of the sport when he's out of the car have carried him quite a ways in a very short period of time. Barely five years after debuting a '74 Vegas nostalgia alcohol car, he's at the top of the nitro nostalgia funny car game and looking to improve on his already lofty status.
The past year has seen the car winning the majority of the races it's entered, set low e.t. and/or top speed at nearly every event and lay down the quickest (5.631) and second fastest (258.12 mph) numbers yet seen from a nostalgia funny car. Next goal? The 5.50's and 260's. Next stop? Either next weekend at the IHRA Nitro Jam in San Antonio or the Ignitor at Boise's Firebird Raceway in late April.
To finish this story, Tim and the gang had an up and down weekend at Tuscon, enjoying the southwest hospitality, meeting lots of new fans and loving the atmosphere created at this small facility, but not having the best, most consistent on-track performance that they desired. They carded two wins and two losses and ran a cumulative best of 5.83 at 236 mph. It was a bit of a step back from the 5.79 at 246 bests achieved at Bakersfield just a week ago. But with Leong, Papirnick, Protz and Hodgson in his corner, Tim will certainly rebound and move the goalposts ever farther each time they appear this season.
SpeedZone Magazine would like to extend our thanks to Tim Boychuk and Ron Hodgson and the entire crew of the Troy Lee Designs race team for their assistance and hospitality that greatly assisted the writing of this story. Special compliments to the chef for a great dinner too.