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 halftime 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 seems that Captain Jack bought one of those new-fangled things called a computer, and when he did a search on his name in Google, 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 midwife 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 race car drivers that ran Moonshine for a living. 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 never did get caught. I would out run them every time they came after me.
You know they still make moon shine down south it’s 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 Earnhardt, 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.Jack how did you end up building a hydrogen peroxide go kart?
I raced with some of the biggest names in Stock Car Racing, Like Ralph Earnhardt, 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.
Jack how did you end up building a hydrogen peroxide go kart?
I was going to buy a hydrogen Peroxide motor from Dick Keller But one day I was at Tampa Speedway standing there talking to a bunch of racers when the racing announcer saw me and said over the P.A. system. See that guy standing there that’s Captain Jack he going to build a Hydrogen Peroxide Rocket Powered Go Kart that’s going to go over 200 mph. This guy by the name of Orville Porter came running over to me, and almost talked me and shouted out I already have a thousand pound thrust hydrogen peroxide motor I will sell you So Orville sent me a picture of it, and I bought his rocket motor immediately.Soon after that Glenn got work and built me my Hydrogen Peroxide Kart He built the frame out of 4130 chromoly tubing Glen also built the fairings over the tanks and two adjustable canards on the front of the Kart To give it a streamlined look and to help keep it on the ground, It took about 4 weeks to get it build.
Jack when was the first time you drove the Peroxide Kart?
Glen Blakely and I took the Kart to sunshine speedway in Clearwater Florida A friend of mine told me he was worried that I would get sucked right off kart at high speed So I ran the kart without the body panels. And we put the canards at a steep angle to hold it down on the track at high speed.
Tom Jones the track manger, and Fred Sibley where also there to give us a hand.The first run I made I shut off early the thing went 170 mph. The track was right next to a horse ranch and there was a white horse that had his head through the wooden fence he tore the fence down and stampeded the rest of the horses. Because of all the noise the rocket made.
I called Larry Carrier the owner of Rockingham raceway he said oh I remember you, but if your looking to get booked into the track for the upcoming race season, I already spent my money for year. I said no I would like to come out and run Rocket Kart for nothing Fred Sibley gave me a seven-foot ribbon parachute so I wanted to test that, and get some exposure and hopefully you would book me track next year.
When I got to the track I saw that there was a lot of big name racers there, including John Paxton with the Courage of Australia Rocket Car. All of a sudden they started advertising over the PA we had a Go Kart that can go over 200 mph. Some those there hillbillies started laughing when they heard that. Larry came over to me and said don’t hurt yourself now, and you make sure you shut off that thing off early As soon as I did a burnout on the line with rocket, those hillbillies quit laughing. It was so quiet you could hear a pin drop. I made my run and shut the rocket off early and still went 170 mph the crowd went wild, they had never seen anything like that before. Larry ended upbooking me about 15 times that year. On his other IHRA Sanctioned tracks.
The next place I ran was at The Empire Dragway in New York, I had never see a track as smooth as that track I planned on going 170 mph again so I lifted the throttle and hit it one more time. The run felt fast so I was angus to get my time card I could not believe my eyes when I read it 215 mph in 6 seconds in fact I went quicker then Shirley Muldowney that day.
After the race my wife and I went to a party at Carl Moors beautiful home. Carl was the chairman of the board of IHRA. There were a number of professional drag racers there.My Wife had a few too many drinks and she really liked her Scotch, anyways she and I was standing together when Richard Thorp came over to us and said I want to drive that Go Kart. Mywife said you don’t have the balls to drive that Kart. All of a sudden Richard pulled his pants down. The place was packed. We all soon found out Richard Thorp didn’t have any underwear on.
Well, my wife she was just a little gal and she kept on drinking Scotch when she went into the bathroom she locked the door but when she tried to leave she count unlock the door. So she started beating the door down well so I thought we had better go back to the Motel before she got into any more trouble. That turned out to be a big mistake because she was not done raising hell when she got the Motel she took her frustrations on fire extinguisher that was in a glass case on the wall with her fist, well the glass broke and she severally cut her hand. So now we ended up going to the emergency room at the hospital her hand was bleeding real badly. After about a half hour I saw a Doctor walking down the hall so ran down there grabbed a hold of him and dragged him down to where my wife was. It seems the Doctor didn’t appreciate it, so he called the Cops, we’ll all of a sudden I get arrested and they hauled me down to jail They started to take everything out of my pockets and said why are you doing that he said because we are going to jail, and I said but I can’t I have to race my rocket powered go kart tomorrow I can’t go to jail. Just then the Police Captain said are you Captain Jack McClure? I heard the ads on the radio. I really lucked out they let me go.
The next day we went out to the track and we all had hangovers, especially my wife she was sicker than a dog. Richard Thorp looked at us all and said, “Are you ready to let me drive Rocket Kart yet?”
I brought the kart out to California to talk to Wally Parks the President of NHRA and Jack Hart, to try and get the Rocket Kart licensed so I could run on NHRA tracks. They said it was too dangerous and risky to license it so I never did run on a NHRA track.While I was out in California I ran the Kart at Orange County Raceway, as you know every just about every big name in racing was there that night, and the spectator stands were full.I remember that you were there Ky, and you said how fast will this thing go? And I said,” I don’t know?” And you said let’s find out, and then you cranked up the regulator to where I was afraid the tank was going to blow up. I don’t remember the speed but I did go faster than any Dragster or Funny Car that night. “Yeah Ky them were the good old days”.
From there we went up to Fremont California I head Glen Blakely install some pieces of titanium under the kart so they would drag on the ground they would make a show of sparks as I went down the track. After that run I had spectators come running up to me and said they thought the Kart blew up and I was going to crash.
How did your unique driving suit come about I was racing at Rockingham Speedway and I met Bill Fredericks and John Paxton, John worked part time for Deist Safety equipment where try made Drag Chutes, and racing fire suits. John told me the drag chute I was using was to big to use on my Kart so John suggested we meet out in California and he would introduce me to Jim. We went up to his shop in Burbank to show Jim the chute that I was using Jim said he would build the right size chute for my Kart. He also was concerned because there was no roll bar on the Kart. I had no protection if I ever crashed so he suggested that he would build me a fire suit with two parachutes built into it, so if I ever came out of the Kart at speed the chutes would come out and hopefully would stop me from getting seriously hurt or even killed.
Over the years Jim built this same set up for boat racers and they worked every time when a boat would crash saving the drivers life. Jim told me that he had never tried one on land before, and said we should test it before I went back on the racing circuit.Jim said he knew where there was a grassy area that we could test it. I ask Jim how were we going to do it and Jim said that he was going to have me sit on the back of his Pontiac station wagon and go a 100 mph and all I had to do was jump off. And hope the chutes opened up. Luckily it rain out all the time I was out in California so we never did get a chance to try it out and I was never unlucky enough to never crash my Go Kart to see if it worked.
Jack what was the quickest you ever run with the Peroxide Kart?
The quickest run with the peroxide Kart was at the AHRA Spring Nationals in Phoenix Arizona You see if I wanted to go quick I would hold the fuel pedal down until I ran out of fuel.If I wanted to go fast then would hit the pedal, than lift and coast for a second then I would hit it again I would drive it all the way through the timing lights then I would get a high speed but my E.T. was not as quick. So at this event I had the 1500 lb thrust motor in it and I made three five second runs 5.90 5.95 and 5.99 E.T.
After 4 years of Jack campaigning his Rocket Powered Go Kart across the country, he decided to sell his Go Kart to Ramon Alvarez and Russell Mendez, who lived close to Jack’s home, in Tampa Florida, Jack felt it was time to do something else, so he used that money to buy a commercial fishing boat.
For many years Jack wondered what ever happened to his Rocket Powered Go Kart. 34 years latter Jack was up in Minneapolis to see his friend Ky Michaelson, to look at his collection of Rocket Powered Vehicles. When Jack went back to Florida he decided it was time to look for his record setting Go Kart. Jack started searching Google to see if there was any information, he ran across a site where this guy claimed to own it; there were pictures of him sitting in it. The guy said he was going out to Florida with the Kart and he would stop by and show it to Jack, as it turned out Jack ran across another site that talked about a car show in Florida. That featured Elvis Presley’s Mustang car, and a Rocket Powered Go Kart in it, The car show was put on by the Marion County Sheriff’s Department. Jack called the Sheriff’s Department and found out the man who brought the Go Kart to the show was married to Ramon Alvarez daughter, Celeste, Ramon passed away, a three years ago, the Go Kart was stored at her place. After a couple of weeks of negotiating with Celeste so in 2011 Jack bought the Go Kart back.
The Go Kart was in rough shape after setting for all those years, so Jack drove up to Bloomington Minnesota with the Kart to have Ky give it a complete restoration, after the restoration Jack brought the Kart back to Florida to test it with some slow runs, everything seemed to work fine just like it did 40 years ago, Soon after that Jack was invited to run the Go Kart at the South Georgia Motorsports Park, Jack is now 87 years old so we were concerned if Jack could still handle all the G forces, because of his age so he made a number of runs. Their best of 136 mph in 4.73 seconds in the 1/8 mile. While we were at the track a race track promoter from Aruba as us to come over to Aruba to run Jack’s Kart that proved to be a big undertaking getting the Rocket Go Kart, the 90% Hydrogen Peroxide and all of our equipment while we were there we had the opportunity to meet an incredible amount of nice people, Aruba is one Happy Island. Jack made 3 runs there with the best of 169 mph in the 1/8th mile we started to think the catalyst pack was going old, or we were having problems with the fuel.The next time we ran the rocket Go Kart was at Brainerd International Raceway, the best Jack ran there was 155 mph in 4.60 seconds in the 1/8th mile, Jack send the rocket motor to Kurt Anderson’s shop where the Rocketboys rebuilt the catalyst pack. We have not had a chance to run it again, but Jack’s goal to go 200 mph in the 1/8 mile.