Behind the Scenes
ORGANIZED DRAG RACING HAS BEEN AROUND SINCE THE MID’50S, AND ONE OF THE SPORT’S MOST PROMINENT PIONEERS AND MECHANICAL WIZARDS IS STILL AT IT WELL INTO HIS SEVENTH DECADE OF COMPETITION. The one they call “Lean Gene” has been setting records and breaking barriers through it all. Most notably, Gene Adams became the go-to guy for fuel-injection systems, the fabled Oldsmobile Rocket V-8, the legendary early Chrysler Hemi and the unique Arias Hemi. Surprisingly, Gene has never campaigned anything with the ubiquitous small-block or big-block Chevy engine, or the late-model 426-style Hemi. Gene thrives on the unique.
In the ’50s, Gene and his B/Gas ’50 Oldsmobile terrorized local Southern California drag strips. At the 1957 NHRA Nationals in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, Gene expanded his reputation by capturing class honors and setting the record at 13.29, 111.24 mph with the 4-71 huffed 370-cid Rocket.
The next chapter in the Oldsmobile saga centered on the dragster Gene fielded with noted fabricator Ronnie Scrima. Driven by the late Leonard Harris, whom many cite as one of the best “pure” drivers the sport has ever seen, the Albertson Olds-sponsored car dominated local competition and proceeded to win Top Eliminator honors at the 1960 NHRA Nationals in Detroit. Tragically, Harris lost his life later that year while testing another car.
One of Gene’s most notable entries was the trendsetting Shark Car driven by Tom McEwen. The Adams-built, Olds-powered car achieved success on gas as well as nitro.
But the handwriting was on the wall by the mid’60s, and with NHRA lifting its nitromethane ban, the potential of the 331, 354 and 392-cid Chryslers was clearly evident. Gene teamed up with Jack Wayre and John “Zookeeper” Mulligan, running a historic 6.95 at Carlsbad Raceway in October 1966, breaking the six-second barrier with a 420-cid (bored and stroked 354) early Hemi and a 75% load of nitro.
However, the escalating cost of fielding a Top Fueler prompted Gene to rethink his drag-racing endeavors. His next challenge was to break the 200-mph barrier with a non-supercharged A/Fuel Dragster. Driver Don Enriquez accomplished the feat, running 202.24 mph in 7.68 seconds at an NHRA race in September 1968 at OCIR. Three years later, Adams & Enriquez lowered the record to a barrierbreaking 6.94 at Indy.
In 1973, NHRA introduced Pro Comp, which combined injected nitro and blown alcohol-powered dragsters, Funny Cars and Altereds. Gene took to it like the proverbial duck to water, with Enriquez topping
Ken Veney’s injected nitro flopper with Gene’s blown
alcohol-powered dragster at Pro Comp’s Supernationals debut.
The Adams & Enriquez juggernaut continued with a rearengined Don Long car that won the 1975 NHRA Winternationals and set a Pro Comp mark at 6.71, 207 mph.
Through much of his career Gene was a technical mainstay at Stu Hilborn’s Fuel Injection Engineering consortium. Countless racers had their injector systems set up by Gene, who still offers fuel-injection services at his facility in the Northern California hamlet of Anderson, just south of Redding.
Gene is also one of the few who mastered the Arias engine. In 1985, he helped former Pro Comp antagonist Jimmy Scott set the NHRA National Record in the Asian Flew Altered, and years later he built a huge 557-cid Arias that powered Roger O’Donnel’s A/FD to an unheard of 253.16-mph record in 5.77 seconds.
Nostalgia racing came calling, and from 1994 through 2000 Gene worked his magic on Ron Pratt’s Jr. Fueler. The injected, alcohol-burning Hemi (mandated to have an iron block, stack injectors and a Powerglide transmission) won no less than four Jr. Fuel titles at the California Hot Rod Reunion.
In recent years, Gene has been involved with a car owned by
Kin Bates with Gene’s son Dean maintaining the car and serving as crew chief. The Silver Flyer is without question the most dominant car in the A/Fuel class. Bates has won nine NHRA Heritage Series championships since its inception. The car is powered by a Rodeck 392 Chrysler with Alan Johnson billet heads and topped with a Hilborn two-hole shotgun-style hat.
While some octogenarians would be happy sitting on a porch humming a tune, Gene Adams prefers a different sort of tune for his enjoyment: the sweet sound of an engine blasting down the quarter-mile. He’s a maestro.
ABOVE. The Albertson Olds, owned by Gene and Ronnie Scrima, was driven by Leonard Harris and later Tom McEwen. Campaigned in 196061, it won 12 straight Top Eliminator titles at Lions and the 1960 NHRA Nationals held at Detroit. (L to R): “Stump" Davis, Ronnie Scrima, Leonard Harris, Bob D’Olivo, Vern Tomlinson and Gene Adams.
ABOVE LEFT. Doing double duty in 1965, Gene tuned the Adams & Wayre T/F and Adams & Rasmussen Top
Gas Dragster. (L to R) Steve Kaiser (Gene’s stepson), Rick Stewart (driver and future NHRA Chief Starter), Jack Wayre, Gene Adams, John Rasmussen, Mike Snivley
(driver and first in the fives) and Gary Adams (Gene’s brother).
The Adams & McEwen Shark Car, featuring a Kent Fuller chassis, was raced in 1962. Built to compete in Top Gas, it also ran in T/F with a light load of nitro. In that configuration, McEwen beat Don Garlits at the March Meet.
In 1966, Adams, Wayre & Mulligan recorded six of the quickest elapsed times of the year, including becoming the first in the sixes with a 6.95 at Carlsbad. They also recorded three of the fastest speeds that year with a best of 221.12.
Gene and his son Dean have created an A/F monster for Dr. Kin Bates. He’s totally dominated NHRA Heritage Series A/F competition, winning the series championship nine out of 10 years. Since 2008, he’s won 21 series events (including four Hot Rod Reunions).
The Adams & Enriquez Jr. Fueler was the first unblown car to run faster than 200 mph. It was powered by a tiny 305-ci DeSoto Hemi. (L to R): Joe Squires, Don Enriquez (driving), Gene Adams. In 1971 Gene and Don fielded the first Jr. Fueler in the sixes.
Adams & Enriquez’s Double Eagle (1970) was the last competitive unblown T/F Dragster in history and Gene’s last
T/F. Photo by Jere Alhadeff.