Assorted Nuts From Rocket J. Squirrel

by Rocky Entriken on August 18, 2009

We celebrate multiple national solo champions, and right now John Thomas with his 15 titles sits as the Zeus among solo gods. We haven’t heard from E. Paul Dickinson for a quarter-century now, but he was the first to do it more than once.

In fact, he was the first to do it as many as four times, winning A Stock (that was the top stock class then, children), the first four years of the solo Nationals. Yes, that means of all the 15 champions who won at the first Nationals in 1973, E. Paul was the only one to repeat the feat in 1974.

Dickinson drove a Porsche 911T, which he was proud to point out was underpowered compared to the S and E models of the same car, not to mention the Lotus Elans which also helped populate the class. But he studied what made a car fast, or more to the point, what made a driver fast in any car.

Dickinson’s parents were dancing instructors, and E. Paul spent his time on the studio floor helping teach the fumble-footed. He brought many of those teaching techniques with him when he opened a driving school in West Virginia. I went out to do his school in 1976, and wrote a story about it for SportsCar Magazine. Although I’d been autocrossing more than 10 years then, it was really the first time I’d been formally introduced to such concepts as late apexes and looking ahead, taught that these were speed secrets superior to cubic dollars thrown at the car.

Dickinson, a member of the Ohio Valley Region, ran and won those first four Nationals and then laid off for a while. He returned in 1980, now in a race-prepped Lotus 7 Series IV in A Prepared, to win a fifth title.

Gene Hanchett of San Francisco Region didn’t go to the first Nationals in Wentzville, Mo., but made the second one in Lake Geneva, WI. He won C Prepared in a Camaro Z28 beginning a six-year streak becoming the first to win five (also the first to do five in a row) in 1978. He also won in 1979, got podium finishes the next two years, and took his seventh victory in1982 at the 10th anniversary Nationals in Chicago. That was Hanchett’s last appearance, but his record would stand until 1990.

Over on the distaff side, the ladies lagged behind until Charlotte King came on the scene. But first there was Saundra Lee Kline, the only driver to win in all three versions of the Ladies classes. Driving a Porsche 914-6 set up for A Prepared, out of Washington DC Region, Kline won the 1974 Ladies Class when all 19 female competitors were grouped into one class with their times based on an index calculated against the men’s times. Yeah, we didn’t call it open then as the idea of the gals running heads-up against the guys was still a little radical then.

But after just two years it had become apparent that the index was a poor way to determine a National Champion, and so instead four Ladies classes were created — essentially top and bottom Stock, and top and bottom Prepared. Street Prepared didn’t exist then, and the powers that be really didn’t think the delicate little ladies would be showing up in Modified. Ho ho, wrong-O!

Four Mod gals came to the 1975 Nationals, Fran Sinclair won an unofficial Ladies Modified (officially they ran in the open class), and the next year there were five ladies classes.

Meanwhile Sam Kline won B Ladies (top Prepared) in 1976, 1977 and 1978 and by then it was finally determined that even the top/bottom concept really didn’t work. If we will have Ladies classes, there must be parallel classes, and in 1979 Kline won her fifth championship, now properly in A Prepared Ladies.

That was the same year Hanchett won his sixth. He would stop at seven, where the men’s record would stay for the next eight years. But the women’s didn’t.

Charlotte King of San Francisco Region made her first appearance in 1978 winning A Ladies in a Tui Super Vee prepped by her husband Bob. That began an 11-year streak for Charlotte (Bob would win four), driving the Tui for three years and then the Sprite RX-Z a Sprite body on a Datsun suspension with a Mazda rotary motor in E Mod. That car was a zinger that later would also win championships for Bryan and Jean Kinser.

Charlotte passed Gene Hanchett in 1985 and her 11 in a row still stands as the second-longest winning streak.

On the men’s side, Hanchett’s mark was finally eclipsed by Ron Flier of St. Louis Region, who got his eighth in 1990 in a B Mod Lola. Flier’s earlier seven had all been in Lotus door slammers.

Chris O’Donnell of Cal Club ran off a series of D Mod wins in a pristine Lotus Elan and became the first at nine, 10 and 11 championships, his last coming 10 years ago.

Meanwhile, Joyce Looman of South Bend Region had run off 10 championships in a Solo Vee before changing to a Dulon Formula Ford for four more. She got her 15th in a Royale in 1995.

Karen Babb of Northwest Region is the current top mark in the Ladies classes, with a total of 20 championships; eight in ASPL, five in APL and seven in DML, all with a Lotus Elan and the last coming in 2005. For the past three years she’s taken on the open DM class.

John Thomas of Mississippi Region tied Looman’s 15 just last year. He was the first to reach 12, in 2003 when he won the last of an 11-year win streak in E Prepared aboard Tom Lombardo’s Honda Civic wagon. Going back to his FP Datsun 240Z, Thomas needed a couple of years to get it back in shape before beginning a new winning streak in 2006. His closest challengers are John Ames, who hasn’t been seen at Nationals since 2006, and Tommy Saunders, who won BM last year, both at 12 wins.

No active female is within seven wins of Babb’s tally.

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