story and photos by Ray Alexander
The weekend before Mopars at the Strip I went to Barona, my local eight-mile strip for some last minute testing. There I bumped into John and Jen Galambos, they were also going to MATS, in fact they had missed only one of these events. He had a dedicated race car, a ’70 Dart, she had a beautiful ’68 Charger. He had just rebuilt the engine in his Dart and on the first pass he heard some ticking and backed off the power. He found a couple of pushrods that had changed color from heat. His day was done and he needed a set of pushrods in three days.
Jen said, “My car is not running as well as it did a couple of weeks ago.”
John replied, “It has to be too rich.”
He didn’t question anything, if she said the car was slower, it was the fault of the car. Her car has a pair of four-barrel Edlebrock performance carburetors that emulate the Carter AFB (aluminum four-barrel) carburetor. She yanks the tops off leaving them connected with the fuel line. I have enough trouble getting the metering rods, vacuum piston and accelerator pump aligned on one, but she is going to do two at once.
I see an ample supply of metering rods and jets. John consults his records and recommends a jet size. She doesn’t need help but John pitches in to help with the jet change. He complains about the carburetors, saying, “These carbs must have ten screws in the top.”
Jen quietly replies, “Nah, they only have eight.”
John worked as a flat rate mechanic for twenty years, working mostly on English cars; he implied there was job security in that field. They met when Jen came to work as a temporary employee where John worked, they found they had similar religious beliefs but that was the extent of it. Soon Jen moved on. After some period of time she had trouble with her ’75 Maverick, she hesitantly called John to see if he could help.
John walked blindly into the trap, a grandmother, a mother, and a daughter that all liked to go fast in older cars, but mysteriously there were no men around. I got the feeling it didn’t take long before John and his tools were assimilated into the family. The grandmother was the other “little old lady from Pasadena,” she drove a ’69 Pontiac.
At this time John was driving a black 1966 Dodge Charger, he had purchased this vehicle when he was 15 years old. He had done good things to the suspension and in the late 1990s, Dick Landy custom-made an intake manifold for this car. The engine output was 470 horsepower and 515 foot pounds of torque. It had 3.23: 1 gears and Nitto 555 tires. The car was named “Blaq Dog.”
John ran the car in autocross and at Willow Springs Raceway. The guys with sports cars couldn’t understand how a 4,400 pound car held the proper line through a turn and then out accelerated most of them.
The car and driver were featured in a couple of magazines. This was before the practice of obliterating the license plate so, with a little assistance from the Department of Motor Vehicles, John’s phone became busy. I don’t know what his answers were but I am willing to wager it wasn’t, “Go figure it out for yourself.”
John and Jen got married in 2003 and took the “Dog” on a three thousand mile honeymoon, virtually never getting off the west coast. Sadly, they didn’t make to Idaho or Wyoming. After the honeymoon Jen decided that she needed another car.
Imagine that, someone wanting to get rid of a 30- year-old Maverick. She told John, “I like Chargers, but I don’t like your Charger.” She goes out on her own, locates and purchases a beautiful 1968 red Charger. It has a 440 CID engine, a 727 automatic transmission, and a Dana differential.
John purchased his dedicated drag car with a broken engine. The car has now been rebuilt a second time. It started life as a ’69 Dodge Dart, it appeared to be a little dog-eared but don’t be fooled, all the paint in the world wouldn’t make it a tenth faster. It now has a 440 CID engine, 727 transmission, and a Ford 8 ¾” differential. It is aspirated through two Holley double-pumpers. These sit sideways and angled by the width of a rod. This was done to align the intake valve with the intake runner. John bought the manifold because it was cheap. Now that the design has been validated, it could be sold for a nice profit.
The dedicated drag car needed a tow vehicle. Again Jen got busy and found a 1975 (same year as the Maverick) Dodge Camper Special truck. It has a 440 CID engine, a 727 transmission and a big Dana differential. The vehicle was located in Hesperia on the edge of the Mojave Desert. They got this rock solid workhorse for $1100.
John liked “Smokey and the Bandit” movies, “Convoy,” and other trucker movies. The lead truck in the movie “Convoy” had a hood ornament in the shape of a duck smoking a cigar. The guy who made the duck for the movie also made the awards for Emmys and Grammys; he trademarked the duck and was proud of it. It cost him nearly $300, but John said, “It was worth it, the duck still gets the attention of a lot of truckers.”
The man who made John’s hood ornament also makes the awards for the Emmys and Grammys.
Somewhere in the bag of tricks that life has to offer, John came up with a tidbit of information; a person should love what they do for a living. He actually sat and pondered. He liked what he did, the British cars malfunctioned regularly so you always had work to do, but he couldn’t lay that lip lock of love on it. So he now teaches young students how to build hotrods at Universal Technical Institute in Rancho Cucamonga. Yes, he loves it. Jen works in Laguna Hills for a debt settlement company, they work with the person owing the money.
John ran his Dad-Gum Dart and got a 10.1. He said, “It was rich and I short shifted to take it easy on the new iron.”
Jen was not happy with her car, it was capable of the low 11s and she ran over 12; she let her car sit and drove the Dart, and on her first pass she was two tenths quicker than John.
In the afternoon she decided to drive her car as well. I had already been eliminated, so I went up to get a picture of her launching. She did a good burnout and the car quit as she was moving to the staging lights. The problem turned out to be a lack of fuel.
Jen kept running the Dart and John looked perfectly happy collecting the winning time slips for her. The car was in a large class and she was involved in the last pass of the day. She ran the Dart to runner up in their class, and left early on the last pass.
I talked with an older friend of theirs and he said, “She has the raw talent to become an outstanding driver.”
This is the first husband-and-wife team that I have met, though I know of husbands and wives that race the same car. I look forward to more interaction at the track with this dynamic Dodge duo.
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