There’s a saying that a leaf never falls far from the tree. And in the case of the Arfons family, a father’s creativity and love of speed has taken seed in a successful jet turbine business for the son.
Recently, Tim Arfons brought the sights and sounds of turbine dragsters to an entirely new generation of racers and fans thanks to the life-lessons and hands-on expertise he learned from his father, the legendary Art Arfons.
Arfons has painstakingly remade the famous Green Monster front-engine dragster to better-than-new condition and is using it as a high-speed history lesson for today’s drag racing fans. The reconstructed car made its initial test pass at Quaker City Motorsports Park in Salem, OH, in October 2012, and over the past few years, the racer went through a number of exhibition and grudge match racing at tracks throughout the Midwest.
“Between bad weather, we were rained out twice and my NASCAR work schedule, we were only able to make five passes this year,” said Arfons.
The Legend of the Green Monster Dragster
Like so many trend-setting race cars, the Arfons’ Green Monster #19 has a colorful story about its build and race history. Tim recalls, “Dad always wanted to have a competition car to drag race in both the International Hot Rod Association (IHRA) and American Hot Rod Association (AHRA). We knew that the NHRA (National Hot Rod Association) would never allow turbines to race, but the IHRA and AHRA both gave us a waiver that would permit us to run a turbine-powered car.”
Turbine-powered race cars had just set the racing world on its ear with impressive showings at the Indianapolis 500. “Andy Granatelli had just run the STP turbine car in the ‘67 and ‘68 races at Indy,” explains Tim. “Dad saw the performance potential of turbines in race cars and decided to build a top fuel-type car in 1971 and as a 15 year old kid, I was right there with him.”
The origin of the front-engined style chassis that would serve as the foundation for the Arfons’ revolutionary drag racer. “We bought the front engine chassis from a racer in Cleveland because at that time, everyone was going to rear engine dragster chassis. No one wanted a front engine dragster anymore, so dad was able to buy the chassis at a good price.” As it turned out, this was to be the only front-engine drag car the senior Arfons would every build.
To power the car, Arfons went with a compact General Electric T58 gas turbine. First run in 1955, the GE T58 turbo shaft engine was designed for use in helicopters and became the first turbine engine to receive FAA certification for civilian helicopter use in 1959. But like so many things coming out of the Arfons shop, the engine also had a story behind it.
“Dad bought the engine from Craig Breedlove,” says Tim. “We actually bought three GE-T58 turbines from Craig,” says Tim. “So that was the engine dad decided to use in the dragster.” Always the wheeler-dealer, the senior Arfons knew how to score a good deal. “Breedlove had lost a lot of money on something and he needed cash,” remembers Tim. “So we were able to get a very good deal on the engines.”
Being an eager 15-year old that enjoyed spending time with his father, Tim learned to use many of the shop’s tools by building components for the car. “I was 15 in 1971. I did my best to do whatever dad told me to do. He built his own gearbox so I learned how to run the mill and of course, helped him test run the turbine engines on the test stand.”
The Arfons’ newly completed turbine dragster made its debut in the summer of 1971 at Rockingham, North Carolina. “I remember that trip like it was yesterday,” says Tim. “It was me, dad and Ted Austin, our driver. At the track, dad held the turbine’s nose starter, I ran the generator in the truck and Ted drove the car.”
At Rockingham, the Arfons’ revolutionary front-engined turbine dragster ran a little faster than 180 mph in the 1/4-mile. Later that year, the Arfons’ car qualified for a couple of IHRA events and an AHRA event at the bottom of the field and was never very competitive.
“The first time I got to drive the front engine T58 dragster was at Thompson Raceway on my 16th birthday,” recalls Tim. “I believe I went 170 or 180 mph. I only got to race it a couple of times a year while I was 16 and 17. Dad really didn’t want me running the car by myself, so I had to give it up.”
“We ended up doing some match racing with other turbine and jet cars,” recalls Tim. “Then in 1973 at the Union Grove Jet, Rocket and Wheelstand Nationals, our front-engined dragster won top honors and went undefeated on Saturday night.”
Never one to rest on his “mad scientist racer laurels”, the senior Arfons decided to “push the envelope” even more by building drag racing’s first J-85 powered dragster.
“With Ted getting the J85-powered jet dragster, that meant that I got to drive the front engine car,” explains Tim.
In 1975, Tim qualified the Green Monster for the IHRA Nationals at Dragway 42 in West Salem, Ohio. “It was so much fun to race against the ‘big guys’ like Don Garlits, Shirley Muldowney, Don Prudohmme, TV Tommy Ivo – all of them were there,” recalls Tim. “Here I was, just a kid… about 19 at the time. My pit crew was dad and Mike Weicht, a high school buddy who was my best friend at the time.”
The Last of its Kind
“We raced it off and on for a couple of years. Then, much to my disappointment, dad decided to pull the engine and the gearbox out of the front engine dragster to build a pulling tractor instead. I really didn’t want him to do it – I really wanted to keep running the dragster, but dad wanted me to go tractor pulling. Being the good son, I did as I was told.”
Eventually, the Green Monster’s front-engine chassis was sold to a tractor puller who then converted it into a mini tractor puller. “Today, that chassis would be worth a lot of money,” notes Tim.
Looking back, Tim is happy with the direction that his father took the family business with the switch to tractor pulling in the mid-1970s. “I honestly believe that I wouldn’t be where I am today if it wasn’t for switching to building and campaigning turbine-powered pulling tractors.”
As it turns out, the front-engined Green Monster #19 was the last of the Green Monster dragsters to make a pass on the drag strip – making its last pass in 1975.
The Green Monster Returns
Fast forward to 2012. “I’ve always wanted to get back into drag racing,” says Tim. “So we set out to resurrect the Green Monster front-engined turbine dragster.”
“A few years ago, I built a J85 dragster that I sold to Darren Bay. That brought back so many memories and especially, how much I enjoyed racing that first front-engine turbine car from back in the day.”
Tim then made the conscious decision to pick up where he left off with the front-engine car. “I’ve always had a feeling that the T58 dragster car was way capable of more performance and I took it as a personal and professional challenge to see if I could build one and go even faster than the original car.”
“When we started building it, I made everything in it absolutely perfect. In fact, I went overboard,”he said.
“It’s as much of a show piece as it is a race car. Every piece on the engine is polished. It has a beautiful SCS gearbox, a Dustman Brothers chassis, with a body from Rooman from Indianapolis – the same guy who does the metal work on all of the top nostalgia drag cars you see today. Everything we could chrome, we chromed, and then of course, it had to be finished off with a legendary Arfons green paint job.”
As a final tribute to the car that he and his father built and campaigned in the early 1970’s, Tim named the new car Green Monster #19.
The Same, Only Better
People who saw the original Green Monster #19 race back in the day want to know what’s different about this recreated car. “The original car was always slow to come off the line,” explains Tim. “I always thought it needed a drive-line brake to get a better launch off the line. So, to get a better ET, that feature was incorporated in to the SCS gearbox. Also, the original front engine T58 car never had a reverser, so we added that as well. Now we can do some awesome burnouts and get the car back to the line under its own power.”
“The turbines themselves have come a long way since the late 1960s,” notes Tim. “We’ve selected a much better engine – essentially a newer style General Electric T58 that has 300 more hp. Now we’re looking at 1,325 total horsepower. But, that also means that we had to have a much better rear end. When you get down to it, it’s really the same car, only better and truly built for heavy duty fun.”
The new Green Monster #19 made several test passes in the fall of 2012 at Quaker City Motorsports Park. “The car worked perfect,” says Tim. “On its second run, it had a better E.T. than the original car… and I even shut off at 700 feet.” The car then went 170 mph at Quaker City in Oct. 2012, with Tim shutting it down just past half track.
“It’s been more than 40 years since I last drove a dragster,” says Tim. “I was a bit apprehensive about getting back onto the track…it was a little more than what I expected. The ride was more intense than what I expected. But, when I got to the other end of the track, I felt great. We accomplished what I set out to do – come back to the drag strip 40 years later with basically the same type of car that I made my first ever turbine-powered pass in.”
Green Monster Sightings
Due to Tim’s track drying commitments, the Green Monster #19 had a limited number of appearances in 2014. And since getting the dragster back on the track, he’s added a “fire show” so now it has 30’ of flames at the starting line before he takes off.
Arfons said he plans to run the vehicle next year, hoping to pass that 200 mph mark.
“Main changes to the car were an improved electronic governor, a new intake screen, improved fuel delivery and of course the fire show,” Arfons said.
“The last race (in October this year) was only a thousand feet, but we have picked up five mph at that point so we will definitely be over 200 mph next year,” he said.
Nostalgia With Technology
“People who do come out to see the new Green Monster can expect to see a little slice of racing history recreated with some new technology and a driver that’s still as passionate as ever about using turbine power for as many cool, go-fast vehicles as possible.”
What should spectators expect at a Green Monster appearance? Surprisingly, the crowd can expect near silence. “Just like the turbine cars that ran at Indy back in the day, it’s really pretty quiet,” explains Tim. “People in the stands say they can actually hear the tires chewing at the pavement, trying to find traction and they can hear the parachute pop open at the end of the track. People look at it in wonderment, it’s definitely one of a kind,” he said.
“People also tend to wonder why I sit behind a jet engine. Well, this is exactly how dad and I had the car configured back in the day – and this is my way of sharing a little bit of my father and my history with today’s drag racing fan.”