JACK McClure Interview by Ky Michaelson
Over the years I have had the opportunity to meet hundreds of interesting people; Jack McClure was one of the coolest guys I ever met. I first met Captain Jack McClure in about 1972 at the Great lakes Dragways. My old friend Bob Metzler, the track promoter, introduced Captain Jack to me. Captain Jack was one of the good old southern boys that you took a liking to the second you met him, but the big thing that got my attention and the crowds attention was The one and only Captain Jack would jump into a Rocket powered Go Kart and drive it over 200 mph in the quarter mile. Everyone said this guy was either crazy or he had a death wish. Jack was neither of them. Jack was an entertainer; he also had the best half time act in drag racing for a number of years.
On 8-12-07 some thirty plus years later I received a Call from Captain Jack McClure.
It seams that Captain Jack bought one of those new fangled things called a computer, and when he did a search on his name in Goggle, he found out that lots of people were still talking about him after all those years. Including me so the Captain gave me a call. After about an hour of swapping stories, I asked Jack to do an interview with me. So here we go.
Jack how old are you?
Back in my racing days I kind of fudged my driver’s license by ten years, you see I am a hillbilly; I was born on 2-7-26 in Haywood County North Carolina. A mid wife delivered me; my birth date was written in the back of a Bible. So I never had a birth certificate
How did you get into racing?
You see I lived in Mooresville North Carolina, and I knew a guy that made moonshine. He was one of those good old boy bootleggers that made some of the best moonshine that money could buy. The funny thing about it he lived less then a block from the police department. One day he asked me if I would start running moonshine for him. At the time there were a lot of guys that turned in to racecar drivers that ran moonshine for a liven. I never did touch the stuff. You know those hillbillies in those days would treat me really good every time I delivered a new batch of moonshine. They would always ask me if I was hungry, and if I said, "Yes!" They would go out and kill a chicken just so I would get a fresh home cooked meal. “Them are my kind of people.”
I got into many police chases in those days, but I have never did get caught. I would out run them every time they came after me. You know they still make moonshine down south its still a thriving business.
Well, I moved to Columbia, South Carolina and started racing my 1939 Ford in what NASCAR called the Modified Sportsman Division. My license was signed by William Tuthill, Bill Frances partner and Secretary of NASCAR. I raced with some of the biggest names in Stock Car Racing, Like Ralph Earnhart, Gale Yarborough, David Pearson, and Lee Petty. I raced in NASCAR from 1953 to 1968 but every year racing kept on getting more expensive until I walked away from it.
So Jack how did you get into go Kart racing?
In 1959 I started racing Go Karts with West Bend motors on them I won 4 Championships so once my name got out there I opened up store called Jack McClure Racing Products. We sold Go Karts and other racing equipment.
I put two west Bend racing motors on my Go Kart and took it out to the Orangeburg Drag Strip. That thing would go 100mph in the Quarter mile. The promoter said he would give me twenty-five bucks and a trophy if I would race a Super Stock, and if I beat the Super Stock he would give me a hundred dollars. That was the first time I was paid to race another vehicle. Later on I built a four engine a Kart with 4 West Bend engines let me tell that Kart was real fast. It would easily go 125 mph in the quarter mile. I was a little crazy back then, after I made the quarter mile run I would go down the return road at 80 to a 100 mph then in front of the crowd I would do a 360 degree spin and keep on going the return road the crowd went crazy. I decided to put 6 West Bend engines on my Kart. Thinking the Kart would gain another 10 or 15 mph. But the thing was so darn heavy it would not go much faster then with the 4 engines, and it just handled terrible, so I went back to running the 4 engine Kart.
On the side of my trailer I had a sign that said Fastest Damn Kart in town. That slogan got a lot of attention. One day a guy came up to me and said what town are you talking about? And I said what town is this?
Jack I know you are a fiercely competitive guy, and I also know, you would do just about anything to win a race. What was your most hair-raising experience?
Well, I remember one time when I was racing in Danville Virginia at the Danville Enduro Regional race. This was an I.K.F. sponsored event, but the Civil Air Patrol had control of the raceway. They had sports cars races scheduled for the next month or so, even through it were raining, they decided to go ahead and run the race. Pete Berlt From Huntington West Virginia and his Father were on my pit crew. Pete said: “Ill give you the seconds you are ahead of behind on the blackboard as you past the pits.”
“After we lined up for the start, and got the green flag I took the lead on the first corner. The first time past the pits I knew I was in the lead. On the second lap’ Pete flashed the sign “10 seconds”, the fourth “29 seconds”’ and so on until I had built up a lead of 148 seconds. Then I ran over a spark plug on the track and blew a tire.”
“After making one lap on a flat tire I came into the pits. Pete was standing in front signaling me where to stop, and Garner was getting ready to change the tire while Pete refueled the Kart. As Garner got ready to make the switch, he discovered that the wheel was stuck on the axel in such away that it took him 1 minute and 48 seconds to knock it off and put another on. In doing so, he inhaled so much of the alcohol and oil fumes from the exhaust that he past out before he could get the axel nut tight. So off I roared with the nut still loose. But the lucky stars were shining. The wheel stayed on and I won the race by a lap and a half.
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 a 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 wonted 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 out side with a fire extinguisher incase 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 out side 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.