Jack How did you come up with the idea of putting a rocket on your Go Kart?
One day I was reading a magazine and I saw an advertisement for a company called Turbonique the Company sold Rocket and Turbine engines, so I sent for an 8 mm film showing various applications of the rocket motors. This really sparked my interest so I called Gene Middlebrooks the owner of Turbonique. I told him I had the fastest Go Kart around, but I wanted to go faster.
Gene said if I put a rocket on the Kart it would go faster. Gene also said that I would be the very first person to put one of his rocket engines on a Go Kart. So I bought My Dart Grand Prix Kart down to Orlando Florida Gene installed a T-16 Rocket motor with 300 lbs of thrust. It took Gene about 3 days to finish it. This was in March of 1963 I brought it to a racetrack up in Georgia. I never tested it before so this was a new experience for me. I fueled it up The kart had a dimmer switch on it start the Rocket Engine So when I pressed the foot switch for the first time I didn’t know what to expect there was allot of fire an noise The Kart would only about a 100 mph So the track promoter wasn’t happy. He said I hired you to go 125 mph and he wasn’t going to pay me so I took my 4 engine West Bend powered go kart out of trailer and ran 125mph so the track promoter would pay me. I needed the Rocket Go Kart to go faster if I wanted to make money with it, so I went down to Florida to meet Gene in February of 1963 he said I should try two Rocket Engines on my Kart so we added another T-16 Rocket Engine to the Kart. We took the kart out to and old metal shack in back of Gene’s place that had equipment in it that could measure the thrust, and fuel flow. When we first test fired it Gene told me to stand outside with a fire extinguisher in case there was a fire. As I was standing out there I noticed there was a concrete and brick wall in front of the steel building so I started to wonder how safe were these Rockets, if you had to stand behind a brick wall.
This was the first time two Turbonique T-16 engines were fired at the same time. There was a small fire after the engines shut down. I went back into the metal shack looking Gene he wasn’t there so I went outside and found Gene hiding behind a railroad car. I asked him why he was behind the railroad car he said because I have a wife and two kids.
What kind fuel did the Turbonique run on?
Turbonique called the propellant that used Thermolene fuel. One of the big draw backs was the cost and availability of the fuel came in five gallon cans, I decided to buy a 55 gallon drum of it as I was cleaning off the top of the drum with a rag the black paint started to come off so I kept on rubbing it because I saw a label underneath the black paint. The Name of the plant was Ethel Corporation in Orangeburg So Carolina I found out that the fuel was really Normal propyl Nitrate Thermolene fuel was just a Turbonique brand name.
Jack, over the years I heard a number of stories about you and Tommy Ivo Racing each other and you beat him with your Go Kart, so let’s get the striate scoop from you.
I still get a good laugh out of that story I brought the Twin Turbonique powered Go-Kart out to Billy Herndon’s Tampa Dragways. Tommy Ivo was they’re making some exhibition runs at the track with his red top fuel dragster. We had a burnt nozzle on one of the rocket motors so we could not run it. Gene Middle Brooks the owner of Turbonique asked Ivo if he could take picture of his my go Kart beside his car when he was doing a burn out. So they put the Go Kart out about 100 feet from the starting line. If you look close at the picture you can see Billy Herndon and his wife sitting in the bleachers.
The rest is history the picture went nationwide everyone thought I beat Ivo. With my Rocket Powered Go Kart. Let me tell you Ivo was mad as a hornet. The next time I saw Ivo was down in Dallas at an IHRA meet. When Ivo saw me he came up to me and said if I ever get a chance I will run right over that Go Kart.
Later on after we worked the bugs out of the Kart, I did beat some big name racers like Bill Grumpy Jenkins and a number of dragsters over the years.
Jack Here is an Email I received from TV Tommy Ivo after I told him I was doing an interview with you. So this is Ivo’s side of the story.
The truth is even worse than this. The "thing" blew up before we raced and they just placed him out there on the track to get a picture. AND it was my "bright idea" to put him out there a ways so I could have a good plume of smoke up for the picture. BUT the "bustards" took the picture early!!! You can see in the next picture in the sequence here, I had already caught him in the next 10 feet (since he was standing still --- look at his relation to the grand stand in the background --- either that, or he made a hell of a move for 20 feet and then stopped ---- NOT!!!). AND he’s putting his right arm up getting ready for the "blast" from the headers!!! GOT HIM GOOD!!! BUT as you can see from the first picture for the ads, they put out. That I and my bright ideas once again let my alligator mouth overload my humming bird ass ---- AGAIN!!!. Which proves the point that "Good guys (me) finish last"!!! SIGH!!!
Say Hi to him for me. And tell him if he doesn't back up my story (and admit it's the truth to you) ------ he's going to get a ticking package in the mail!!!!!!!!!!!!! <Grin>
That’s one thing about Ivo, he has always had a great sense of hummer.
Jack as you know I was also a Turbonique distributor I think one of the things that got me convinced to be a distributor was the endorsement letter that you wrote to the Turbonique Company about the evaluation and testing of their products, did you write that letter, or was just a part of their advertising strategy?
Gene Middlebrooks founder of Turbonique Inc, asked me to write an endorsement I told Gene I just don’t have the time. So Gene said give me a piece of your company stationary and I will write it for you, so he wrote the endorsement letter and A few days later I signed it.
Gene was very quiet and secretive kind of a guy but he was also a very sharp guy, that wouldn’t let anyone hang around his shop. I met his wife and two daughters once. I remember there were two others that worked for Gene; one of them was a machinist that talked every little to anyone.
Gene showed me an 8mm film of a Micro Turbine powered Go Kart that spun the tires so fast that the axel bent right in the middle from the high rpm. He then put large tires on it. Then all it would do was do was do wheel stands.
Jack I have seen pictures of your Turbonique Kart with very large nozzles on it, did you ever run your Kart with those nozzles on it?
That’s a real funny story One day when I was at Turbonique Gene hand me two of those Nozzles and I said what are those for? And Gene said these nozzles are made to operate in space, and I said how high do you want me to go? And we all started laughing. Well those things were made out of aluminum and they would melt right off if I ever ran them. He asks me to take them and put and them on my Kart went I showed my Kart in Car Shows. But I never did run the kart with them.