BACK HOME IN SCOTT-LAND
The Scotty’s Muffler Service Special is, once again, owned by a guy named Scott with an exhaust shop.
FAMILY. You were a lucky little son of a gun if the sperm lottery landed you in an automotive nest. Those gearhead relatives provided an advancedplacement course, a head start in hot rodding. If you were further fortunate, the folks let you drag some hopeless hunk of vintage tin home even before you came of driving age. If you were really, really blessed, your people were racers who hinted that if you kept your grades up and your nose clean, maybe you’d get to make a pass or run a lap someday. (“Meanwhile, get down there and pull the pan!”)
Billy “The Kid” Scott was the luckiest kid ever because Charles Scott must’ve been the coolest dad ever. What other father ran flatheads and Arduns at the dry lakes and drags and had his own muffler shop, to boot? Charles W. Scott was so cool, he started his boy in quarter midgets at age five. When the time came to move the kid up to fullsize race cars, Dad brought home this well-used slingshot, along with a second vehicle with which Charles planned to persuade Mrs. Scott to approve Billy’s graduation to Top Fuel— at 13 or 14. That sensible car was an ambulance, fully functional, to ensure prompt medical attention to her son at whatever outlaw strips allowed ninth-graders to drive fuel dragsters.
Evidently, Mrs. Scott was not the coolest mom ever. According to a story that Billy “The Kid” would still be telling as a senior citizen, Mom looked at the dragster, she looked at the ambulance, and she announced that grownup race cars were out of the question before Billy turned 16. Instead, the ride went to Billy’s older best buddy, a barely legal Mike Snively.
Perhaps the biggest contribution made by this ancient, overpowered, bolt-together chassis was its role as training wheels for the youngster who famously graduated to Roland Leong’s Hawaiian Aa/fueler and won both of NHRA’S biggest events, the Winternationals and U.S. Nationals, in 1966. Snively’s driving talent kept the car competitive well beyond its time. Drag News
reported respectable e.t.’s as quick as 8.17 seconds in late 1963, with speeds consistently in the mid-180s, before Charles started transplanting his nitro-burning 327 Chevy into a state-of-the art slingshot that Billy would drive after turning 17. Ralph Fuller purchased the old car and ran it briefly with an injected Chevy before putting it out to pasture. Hopelessly outdated by the mid’60s, a tired, bolt-together chassis could not realistically be kept competitive, had little resale value, and was presumably scrapped by someone at some point.
“It should’ve been cut up and thrown into the scrap pile,” says the fourth Scott to enter our tale, current caretaker Scott Cochran. “This was a wing-strut, 1950s chassis running against state-of-the-art cars in the mid-’60s, a period of drastic change. The car never crashed, and nobody bothered trying to update it. It’s truly a piece of history.”
Loved the Fuelers
The Scotty’s Muffler Service Special made Snively a local star in 1962-1963 at San Gabriel and especially Colton, which never buckled to the fuel ban imposed by other Socal strips in 1957 and nationwide by NHRA a year later. A local phone-company employee named Mike Cochran “would’ve been running to the fence to watch this thing run,” says his son. “Dad was at the drags every weekend. He even volunteered as an official whenever tracks
were short on help. He was a Chevy guy, and he loved the fuelers. They were a huge influence on me, too. I’ve always wanted an old dragster from his era. I went on the hunt after Dad passed away. We lost him on 1-14-14.”
This is not to suggest that Mike and Scott enjoyed a fairy-tale relationship. Like other strong-minded, rebellious offspring, the young man didn’t always accept fatherly guidance. Mistakes were made in his 20s, he admits. Feelings got hurt. As Bruce Springsteen suggested in the lyrics to Independence Day, a song about leaving his dad’s nest, “I guess that we were just too much of the same kind.”
Scott cites a series of intimate, uncomfortable, invaluable man-to-man conversations that ultimately guided the son down parallel paths to a new business and an old race car. “Dad had leukemia for 22 years,” he explains. “We had a few hard talks the
last year, when this thick-headed, super-alpha-type guy let his guard down, finally. His hobby was hot rods. His passion was telephones. He worked on phones for 38 years, installing and fixing them, climbing poles. I became an electrician. I had a trade. But Dad knew I loved cars. He said, ‘You ought to do what you love and enjoy it. Life is too short. I got kind of cheated, shorted. I just worked, clocked on and off. Find something you’re passionate about.’ I was always passionate about front-engined dragsters. I’m not religious, but the way this all worked out, he’s gotta be up there, pulling strings, making things happen. There have been some really unique scenarios.”
Turning 30, Scott decided to heed that final fatherly advice. “I was tired of working for the man,” he explains. “You put your heart and soul into a job, then get canned in the end. I was never
passionate about being an electrician, anyway. I wanted to do something with cars that didn’t compete with anyone locally. Nobody up here was doing specialty custom exhaust, so, I cashed out my retirement—every penny, paid the big penalty—and started looking at benders. I thought, instead of chasing down individual machines and equipment, why not look for a whole shop; somebody folding up? I got on Craigslist and found one, made a deal over the phone, rented a big-ass U-haul, drove eight hours, and loaded up everything in the building. I even took the toilet paper out of the bathroom and the giant muffler off the corner. I had no experience, so I watched a few Youtube videos. I’d bent conduit for so many years; it was the same concept. I also had to teach myself to weld. I had lots of 1 7 ⁄ 8- inch tubing for practicing. You can burn up tubing all day long and learn more than working for somebody who’s looking over your shoulder.”
Thus was the Cochran Garage Exhaust Shop unofficially born in late 2015 inside a shop that Scott already rented for his family and hobby vehicles. A year later, a life changing text arrived from buddy Tom Duttrey.
“It’s Friday night, I’m at the fair with my kids,” Scott recalls. “I
pull out my phone and there’s a screenshot of an ad for an old dragster that’s lettered, ‘Scotty’s Muffler Service.’ Tom typed, ‘You should buy this car. Dude, it’s already got your name on it!’ I got this weird feeling that my dad was lining shit up, wherever he’s at. Something about this car; I gotta have it. What I didn’t have was all 15 grand, or time to raise the rest. The seller, Dave Young, had already been screening people who wanted the car. I called and wound up telling him all about losing my dad, how he’d probably seen the car run, that my name was Scott, that I had an exhaust shop. Those connections sealed the deal on the phone. He said, ‘I think it should be yours.’ He even offered to hold it until I could get down to southern California. My friends were telling me not to wait. One of them had some extra cash and insisted that Kelly and I borrow the balance.”
Scott, Kelly, and their pal Tom hit the road “on Friday night at seven o’clock and drove 24 straight hours, 1,200 miles,” Scott explains. “That was a real emotional ride, feeling my dad watching. Dave Young had been gradually selling off a whole collection of traditional hot rods to pay for two kids in medical school. The dragster was last to go, the final sacrifice to get his last daughter through college. Dave grew up in San Bernardino, watched this car run, went to Scotty’s Muffler as a teenager. He searched 10 years for it, planned a restoration, but never had the time because of work. I asked what he did. When he said, ‘I’m a phone man,’ I lost it. We both got tearyeyed. It all transpired in an hour. Kelly and I got back to town at 11 Sunday night, super tired. Instead of shoving the trailer in the shop, we decide to unload this thing. We stayed until one o’clock, nobody else around, staring at the car, like, That just happened!”
“What Are You Doing with My Car?”
The weirdness did not end with the weekend. Soon after rolling the car into its second muffler-shop home, Scott received a spooky call from the great beyond—or so it seemed when a strange, serious voice asked, “What are you doing with my car?” It was Billy Scott himself. Cochran said, “Wow, I thought you were dead.” Billy laughed and replied, “Not yet.” Thus began an intense, four-and-ahalf-month telephone relationship during which the young Scott picked the old Scott’s brain, logging every detail in notes. Billy repeatedly expressed regret about missing chances to buy his dad’s old rail in the 1970s, when he was busy racing Indy cars, and in the 1990s, when he hesitated just long enough for someone to snatch it away. Imagine Cochran’s discomfort when his new hero asked to buy it now. Imagine Billy’s relief when Cochran agreed.
“I told him that it was not for sale to anyone else. I said, ‘This is your car, Billy. I’m attached to it, but your dad bought it for you, your best friend drove it.’ He was talking big numbers, six digits; enough to buy the shop property and make a down payment on a house. He wanted us to bring it down to his place, invite his racer pals over for a BBQ, set the car out by his pool. I thought, Maybe I’m supposed to have this car for a year. I get to be part of Billy seeing it for the first time since 1965, sparking memories of his dad and best friend. I get to see him relive that, and meet my dad’s heroes, in a legend’s backyard, drink his beer, then come home with life-altering cash and an empty trailer. That was the anticipation.
“My last conversation with Billy was April 26th . He died on the 28th.”
“We had been talking all the time,” Cochran said,“but I hadn’t heard from him in two weeks. I knew he was figuring out the funds, hitting up pals to help. He was gonna call any minute and say, ‘It’s on, we’re doing it.’ I went to his Facebook page and the posts all said, ‘RIP.’ I’m like, What just happened? Now, Billy doesn’t get to see it. That made me determined to bring it back out, make it run again—on fuel. These guys are dropping like flies. Now that I know how important this car is, we’ve gotta take the reins and do something with it; do it for Billy, for his dad, for their legacies.”
“We’ve built some amazing friendships because of the car,” he reveals. “It’s a circle that I wish I could’ve been in my entire life. Wayne King, who’s been doing this since before my dad’s day, is incredibly helpful. Those connections make it all worth it. If we can belch some nitro out of the pipes, that’s just icing on everything good that’s already happened.” By the time these pages reach your news rack or mailbox, a period-correct, blown smallblock should be barking between the aircraft rails, igniting ancient memories while breathing new life into a 60-year-old artifact. Scott Cochran can hardly wait to let the clutch out for his first push start. The late Mike Cochran, Mike Snively, Charles Scott, and Billy Scott would all surely be pleased to see this fueler back home where it’s always belonged: surrounded by pipe in a muffler shop owned by a guy named Scott.
> Just beyond that scenic treeline is the former Puyallup (Washington) Dragway. Photographer Mike Ward got as close as possible with indulgence from Doug Millar, who runs the adjacent private airport and moved parked planes to ensure a clear, colorful background. The oversized gap in the aluminum body and a glob of weld on top of each frame rail, several inches ahead of SBC motor mounts, might be evidence of the Jimmy six that one oldtimer claimed to recall from the mid-’50s. This nonfunctional 327 came with the sale. The new owner was still searching for period-correct replacement parts when our photos were shot. Wheelbase is 100 inches. The rusty rear rims are being replaced by genuine Romeo Palamides mags. Neither the paint job nor lettering is authentic.
> Cochran wasn’t the first respondent to Dave Young’s 2016 online ad. After interviewing the rest, Dave determined that the fifth known owner of his beloved Scotty’s Muffler Service Special should rightly be another Scott with a muffler shop.
> A race car that once lived in a San Bernardino, California, exhaust shop owned by a guy named Scott now resides in the Graham, Washington, exhaust shop of a guy named Scott. Whoever built the separable, bolt-together chassis used military-surplus wing struts made for the Navy’s PBY Catalina flying boat. Readily available and inexpensive following WWII, the oval tubing bridged the technology gap between early 1950s’ “rails” based on production-car frames and the custom-built dragsters that followed. This unique application unbolts fore and aft of the rearend housing, enabling side-by-side transport in a pickup bed. The dry-rotted, aircraft seat belts are original. Cochran has been told that the chassis builder might’ve been local racer Ed Babbitt. (See more shop photos on Facebook: The Cochran Garage Exhaust Shop.)
> Luckily for a six-foot-one, 220-pound caretaker, the cockpit was built for large drivers. The unique plastic windscreen was missing until the day a stranger showed up at seller Dave Young’s house, introduced himself as a friend of Charles Scott’s, and handed over a souvenir that had been sitting on his shelf for decades. Appropriately—and terrifyingly—the substantial roll bar was bent from muffler pipe. > Friction shocks were already obsolete by the time this fueler became locally competitive. At some stage, the longer wishbone superseded one mounted much closer to the dampers (at the white patch below the word “Service”). Incorrect, undersized pulleys and belt came with the dummy 327. The blower drive is being backdated to deeper, 1963-vintage pieces.
> Note how the rearend is a stressed part of a chassis designed for transporting in two pieces. Now imagine topping 180 miles an hour in a car held together on each side by five bolts through a flange welded to the housing. The chromed Franklin steering box, covered and protected all these years by the cowl, illustrates the show quality of Charles Scott’s dry-lakes and drag-race cars. > Back when drag slicks were skinny recaps, weight transfer was critical to traction. A front suspension floating out ahead of the chassis must’ve been plenty flexy. The red tank carried water. Bungs for radiator hoses are welded underneath. Cochran has learned that, in lieu of any pump, inertia and momentum alone moved enough liquid to buy extra idle time and prevent overheating. Scott bent up the temporary headers in The Cochran Garage Exhaust Shop to make the motor presentable for the car’s surprise reemergence at the 2017 NHRA California Hot Rod Reunion. Permanent weedburners will be in place for cackling.
> One race car, two family crews, separated by a half-century: Scott, Kelly, Haley, and Charley are reviving a famous Chevy fueler that last snorted nitro in 1963 or early ’64 for Charles Scott (in hat) and Mike Snively (seated). The kid with his hand on the injector is Billy “The Kid” Scott, already a seasoned circle-track pilot. At 17, Billy graduated from the Adams & Rasmussen gas dragster to Dad’s next fueler—and won Top Fuel, first time out! > As we were wrapping up this issue, Tony “The Willys Man” Stewarts answered the call for a rare pair of the four-hole, smallwindow Palamides mags that parted company with this car after Charles Scott sold it. “They weren’t even for sale until Tony found out what car they’d be going on,” explains their grateful new owner. “He said he’d love to help us out with correct wheels. I’ve got new slicks coming from Towel City, which also gave us a good discount.”