Now That's Different: Motorsports' Most Unique Rides
There's something about motorsports that brings out the best and worst in people.
You have the individual who would rather cheer on a Chevrolet than a Ford.
There's people who would drive in a straight line rather than make turns.
Some prefer the unique challenge of dirt rather than the asphalt.
Whatever the case may be, there's a huge portion of this country that are fans of some type of motorsports.
Most of the time, the biggest argument is about what type of vehicle one cheers for. Is it the stock cars? The high-powered dragsters? The dirt-slinging sprint cars?
Each one has unique characteristics that make them one of a kind. But there are some vehicles that are so unique, so distinct, they belong in a category of their own.
We all recognize when a NASCAR Sprint Cup machine comes rolling to the starting grid.
The sight of an NHRA dragster as it smokes the tires is one everyone is familiar with.
And who doesn't recognize the launch of an F1 car when the light board goes green.
However, I've decided to look at seven of the most unique vehicles that motorsports has ever seen. They may not be as recognized as the No. 3 of Earnhardt or the Ferrari of Michael Shumacher, but they are distinct in what they did for motorsports.
NOTE: All photos are property of their respective owners.
All Aboard: The Orange Blossom Special
In the sport of truck and tractor pulling, most of the time the classes were of two distinct categories. Throughout the 1970s and a majority of the 1980s, the two featured classes were the modified four-wheel drive trucks and the modified tractors.
As popular as these classes were in their own way, one man decided to take a risk and showcase a new concept in the sport.
Allen Gaines, who by trade was a tobacco farmer from Georgetown, Kentucky, decided to build a two-wheel drive, exhibition only, pulling truck. With his four-wheel drive known as the Orange Blossom Special (named after the train), he elected to use the same name on his new piece.
But what he did was create the most unique, and possibly most recognized, pulling truck in the country. The Orange Blossom Special is a 1937 Chevrolet short-bed pickup, with a supercharged, big block Chevrolet engine for power.
The truck was popular not just because of its look, but because of how Gaines drove the truck. Before he ever hooked up to the sled, he would get in the truck and take his cowboy boots off. Yes, he drove barefoot, claiming he could feel the track better.
Then, after hooking up to the sled (which weighed 50,000 pounds), Allen would blow the whistle like a train and ease off the brakes. This lifted the front end up in the air before ever leaving the starting line. At that point, he'd stand on the accelerator and go down the track.
The truck sparked the two-wheel drive pulling class that began in the late 1980s. Gaines still owns the truck and does shows with it on occasion.
Fans back then knew that when the whistle blew, the Orange Blossom Special was rolling out of the station.
On Tracks: Bigfoot Fastrax
While monster trucks seemed to be one of the up-and-coming attractions in the mid-1980s, along came a new car-crushing phenomenon. They were known as the monster tanks.
Old army tank chassis, some of which saw combat during the World War II era, were being converted to destroy some unwilling automobiles.
Bigfoot creator Bob Chandler, knowing that he needed to compete with this new class of vehicle, had to come up with something that would be difficult for the other drivers to run against.
After purchasing an M84 personnel carrier chassis from a gentleman in Colorado, Chandler built what has been classified as the fastest monster tank ever created. The tank was known as the Bigfoot Fastrax.
The tank itself had a full suspension, using torsion bars to cushion the ride. It was powered by twin, 460 cu. in. Ford engines, putting out over 1000 horsepower. The body originally was a Ford Econoline van, but in 1989 it was reworked to have a Ford Aerostar look, complete with roof scoops for exhaust.
Chandler himself drove the tank for many years, but the popularity soon faded as the monster trucks took off with the addition of the tube chassis.
The Bigfoot Fastrax sits mostly on display at the Bigfoot Shop in Missouri, allowing fans to walk up for photos with the vehicle.
Always wanting to be at the lead of the field, Chandler's monster tank is still one of the most unique vehicles to ever crush a car.
Fast and Faster: The Boss
When it comes to the four-wheel drive class of truck pulling, Gary Collins created a truck that is simply the class of the field.
His truck goes by one name: The Boss.
In the 1980s, Budweiser was a top sponsor for the USHRA pulling circuit, and they approached Gary to sponsor his team. At the same time, Gary had built a truck that was simply overpowering the competition. The two came together to create his machine, then named the Budweiser Boss.
His truck had two, 540 cu. in. Keith Black Hemi engines out front, putting out over 3,000 horsepower. Fans and announcers alike knew when this truck hooked to the sled, it was going to be full-tilt to the end of the track.
During a show in California, the track crews set the stadium to have two pulling tracks, one for each class. Crews moved one sled, and Gary then hooked to one at the end of where the third base line would be in baseball.
He went full throttle down the track, and the weight box on the sled topped at around the 150-foot area of the 250-foot track. Gary was still on the gas as the truck didn't slow down.
Then, he just turned the wheels to the left and proceeded to go down the other pulling lane with the full weight on the sled. Fans couldn't believe the sight.
In 1988, Ford Motor Company approached Collins to give a fresh look to his truck. What was covering the chassis was a 1989 Ford Heavy Duty Aeromax pickup. This gave fans a different perspective on both Gary's truck and Ford's new product.
The body was designed for better aerodynamics for truck drivers, and Collins decided to put flags on the bed to show it's effects. On a pull down the track, the flags would turn backwards, as the air around the truck spun them in the reverse direction. But, underneath was the same chassis and power that made the truck popular.
Budweiser left Collins in 2007, but he still owns the truck and does displays. It is quite possibly the most powerful 4x4 pulling truck ever created.
When pulling fans hear the phrase "The Boss," they know who and what is being talked about.
Found on a Farm, Meant For a Showroom: Midnight Express
As stated in a previous slide, Allen Gaines set forth a new class in truck pulling back in the late 1980s.
At the same time, he still was looking for new ideas to bring to the pulling circuit.
One day in 1978, Gaines was on a farm when he came upon the body of a 1925 Ford pickup. He brought the truck back to his shop and came up with a concept combining two classes in truck pulling.
In 1988, that truck became the Midnight Express.
Gaines stretched the wheelbase front and rear, and decided to put not only one, but two supercharged Chevrolet engines in the truck. The engines were bolted crankshaft to crankshaft and provided more power to the four-wheel drive transmission.
But as the picture shows, the truck has six tires. The reason for this—the Midnight Express is a four-wheel drive, wheelstanding truck. The four rear tires provided the pulling power while, much like his other truck, the front end would be in the air.
Gaines didn't skip out on making the truck look great. The bed and body accessories were made of mahogany wood. Gaines said that each day his truck wasn't racing, he'd get out a can of Pledge and keep the wood protected and shiny.
This truck, as well, is still at Gaines' home in Kentucky and looks just as good today as it did when it was created.
Time for Lift-Off: Art Arfons' Green Monster
The main attraction at any truck and tractor pull show is the modified tractors. With their long wheelbase and unbelievable engine combinations, they are the most powerful vehicles in the sport.
But, one vehicle stands alone among popularity in the class.
Art Arfons was well known for being one to go fast. He has set numerous speed records at the Bonneville Salt Flats in his jet-powered vehicles. But as the speeds increased, so did many dangers.
He began having trouble controlling his cars at high speeds, sometimes crashing at a high rate of speed. So, at the urging of his family, they asked him to use his knowledge of aircraft engines to go into something different.
Arfons decided to go into tractor pulling, and his creation became the vehicle to watch when hooked to the sled. The Green Monster, named after his line of Salt Flat cars, was powered by two GE Turbine airplane engines. The combined horsepower was in excess of 6,000. They were set in reverse, with the exhaust exiting in front of the rear tires. Arfons sat in the middle of the tractor, between the engines.
However, after the chain was tightened, the wait was on. As the engine temperatures built, the power increased. Arfons then hit ignitors in both exhausts, just showing a hint of fire.
Then, with his right hand on the throttle, he lifted off the brakes. The neon lights in the tires lit up, and fire shot out behind the two engines. The run down the track had the flames going full tilt as he controlled the tractor.
Right when the run ended, the flames went out and the engines let off the pressure, sounding as if a plane was landing right outside the building.
Arfons' daughter, Dusty, and son, Tim, were both in the sport of pulling as well, each driving vehicles powered by jet engines.
The tractor has been sold and now is campaigned as "The Legend,." Arfons passed away in 2007. But now and forever, his Green Monster is the king of all modified tractors.
No Problem in Traffic: Bigfoot 5
You ever wish you could get out of a traffic jam just by rolling over the cars in front?
If that's the case, this truck will get the job done.
Bob Chandler's Bigfoot No. 5 is the Guinness World Record holder for the biggest monster truck. Standing at an incredible 16 feet tall and 13 feet wide and weighing over 24,000 pounds, it overshadows any regular pickup truck. This is due to the 10-foot tall tires that Chandler found in, of all places, a junk yard.
The tires were used in Alaska on land trains during World War II to get supplies to soldiers. Chandler bought four tires, then soon after got the other four that the scrap yard had. At one time, the truck ran duel tires on each corner, making it 20 feet wide.
Eventually, Chandler reworked one of his other trucks to sport the other set of tires and sold it to a restaurant in Florida. Bigfoot 5 remains on display at the Bigfoot shop, which makes it an easy target for tourists.
I have actually seen this truck up close. To put this into perspective, my height is 5' 11", and I was actually able to stand inside the rim. The gap between the front and rear tires is wide enough that I can go underneath and look up at the chassis.
Getting into the truck is no easy chore. The driver must climb along the chassis, axles, and the rim just to stand on the tire. Then he must stretch to reach the door and crawl inside.
But once inside the cab, the view is incredible.
It's a record holder for good reason, and it's massive size makes it simply one-of-a-kind.
No Rails Necessary: Orange Blossom Express
This vehicle is, without a doubt, the most unique and wildest piece of equipment that has ever been created.
When the popularity of the monster tanks began alongside the monster trucks, Allen Gaines decided that he would take a chance and build a tank machine as well. He went to the people at the United States Hot Rod Association with an idea and, with their blessing, set forth on his mission.
Two months after that discussion, Gaines rolled out a piece of equipment that can only be described in one word: incredible.
His tank chassis was a 1940, M4 personnel carrier, which many competitors were using. But what made his creation over the top was what he put above it.
In order to stick with the theme of his other trucks, Gaines went out and found a replica of an 1800's steam-powered locomotive. Yes, his tank was going to be a train.
Equipped with a 510 cu. in. Chevrolet engine, the exhaust was made to blow right out of the train chimney. It had a bell like the old trains back then, along with a classic whistle. Gaines himself sat in the back like the conductor would. His crew went as far as to build a cow catcher for the front of the chassis, just like an old train.
The entire vehicle was built in 30 days, with another four weeks to tear down, paint, and rebuild. It was simply the most unique car-crushing vehicle ever created.
Gaines does not own the tank anymore, but has said that it was a learning experience for him and he loved it. The fans definitely couldn't get enough of the Orange Blossom Express.