Some of The Snizek & Dodge Racing Team's accomplishments with The Pacers' Tasmanian Devil include:
by Ron Crable
“Until you feel a AA /Fuel Altered going off the line you can’t image it
– it’s like somebody punching holes in you.” – George Snizek, 2010
I am not sure if there has even been a clearly defined set of criteria about what constitutes an East Coast car from a West Coast car. There is always the discussion of stance, design, build and other tangible and intangible factors that come into play.
In the case of the Pacers Auto team there has always been one dynamic that has set them apart from both East and West Coast cars – in a word, class. The Pacers were known from the beginning for well engineered, top performing and top appearing cars and crews.
Charles Fred Hagenmayer and George Edward Snizek were born seven years apart, Charlie in Richmond Hill and George in Valley Stream - New York, that is. As with so many other race teams their paths, although separate, contained similar automotive footsteps which would eventually lead them to walk the same path as racing partners.
Charlie Hagenmayer had a seven year head start on George Snizek, and in 1954, after getting his Army discharge, began his career in the Parts Department of Steven’s Dodge at the age of 23. George was still only 15 and in High School.
That year Charlie rode shotgun for well known drag racer Mike Sforza on a very wild 120 mph ride to Daytona Beach, Florida, where Mike was scheduled to race his 32 Ford – “The Pride of the East.” Without a doubt, attending this event planted the thoughts of drag racing in Charlie’s mind.
After their return, with urging from Mike Sforza, Charlie transplanted a ’53 Dodge Red Ram Hemi into his ’40 Ford to go racing. Two things that would stick with Charlie the rest of his life resulted from this engine swap.
First would be Charlie’s almost legendary ability to make a Hemi engine scream on the drag strip. Second would be his name. Mike Sforza’s reference to Charlie’s Dodge engine would soon evolve into Charlie’s new lifelong nickname – Charlie Dodge.
By 1954 George Snizek was 16 and like most other kids his age was immersed in the hot rod car culture of the time. Clubs were everything at the time, and George and his friends wanted to start one. In the basement of George’s parents house the Valley Stream Pacers Hot Rod Club was born, with George and founding members Bruce Keller, Tony Marchesi, Ritchie Allen, Edwin Overholt, Eddie Johnsmeyer, Artie Hendrickson, Eddie & Donald Clemens and George Weick.
By 1955, his high school graduation year, George had picked up a ’55 Ford Victoria and immediately installed a Mercury 312 cubic inch police interceptor motor in it and painted it the same color as the Ford engine. It was a sleeper; it was almost impossible to tell what the engine really was even if you looked under the hood, but when you came up against the car you knew there was something special about it.
George got a job as a mechanics helper at a local Valley Stream service station, home of the “Ace of Spades” modified stock ’37 Ford driven by The Count of Monte Cristo, Al D’Angelo, a colorful character and one of the best stock car drivers of the time. The car was so successful that it didn’t carry a number on it - only the ace of spades symbol. Al raced at many of the area tracks such as Islip Speedway and Flemington Speedway in New Jersey, very often with George in tow.
George was crazy about cars and was excited to be able to go to the tracks with Al. Before long George decided to go to his first drag race at the newly opened Westhampton Drag strip. He discovered two things on this trip. One, that those cars were going faster than the circle track guys - which impressed him. And two, that all he needed was a helmet and seat belts and he could go race his own car at the track, which he did, until he and the club had a better idea – why not build a regular drag car.
So George started looking around at different cars including Sforza’s Pride of The East, but wound up buying a channeled ’32 Ford 5-window coupe from Johnny Clegg, a fellow racer from Oceanside, Long Island. The flathead engine powering the car was not up to the level of performance the Pacers wanted so in went a 354 cubic inch Chrysler Hemi with dual carbs and custom flex pipe headers.
The Valley Stream Pacers now had a competitive car and headed out to Westhampton Drag Strip. They didn’t do too well the first couple of times despite the big stock Hemi engine. With questions in their minds about what to do to bump up performance, a couple of the club members talked to Charlie Dodge, a racer and mechanic they had met at the track.
George relates, “so Charlie told them, ’hey, I can make this thing go fast,’ you have to put a cam in it and a couple of different carbs on it.’ So that’s what we did.” The car went to Henny’s Welding in Jamacia, NY, a shop owned by Mike Sforza where Charlie did speed work. The club had Charlie do the work he suggested and the next week the group was once again heading to Westhampton to try it out.
George continues; “the car ran like a bandit but we blew the rear end on one of the runs. So back we went to Charlie and told him the car ran great but the rear end went. So Charlie explained that with all that extra horsepower weak links were going to start showing up all over the car. So we put in a new rear and a new transmission and went back to the track again.”
This time the car held together and ran great, and George was doing well driving it. So well, in fact, that Charlie asked George if he would like to partner with him on another race car. George turned him down, citing the fact that he couldn’t afford to be a partner in a race car. But Charlie explained that he just needed another pair of helping hands on the car while he was working on it. Who could turn down that offer – obviously not George.
Charlie and George were both working full time with friend Ken Braun servicing luxury cars in Manhattan at the George Haug Company. They found a small garage in Hewlett, NY to rent where they could build their race car and work on their own cars after work and on weekends. They called it Pacers Automotive Service. The race car Charlie wanted a working partner on was a 1930 Ford Model A roadster powered by another ’53 354 Chrysler Hemi, this one with six Stromberg carbs on a manifold fabricated by Charlie.
George and Charlie ran the new Pacers’ “Snizek & Dodge Roadster” at Westhampton and were pleased with its performance - and the attention it got – the car actually landed them a guest appearance on Dick Clark’s new American Bandstand show. At that time there were not too many heavily modified pure drag cars in the area, the bulk of the local cars were stockers or less powerful flathead powered altered drag cars not capable of running with the well engineered roadster’s 11.60 times at 132.70 mph.
The money situation was improving for George and by 1959 he was able to invest in the partnership generating the funds necessary to build a stable mate for the roadster. The team’s new B/Dragster was assembled from a Scotty Fenn frame kit and was powered by a six carb Chrysler Hemi stroked to 454 cubic inches.
This dragster’s life was to be short lived though, as George crashed the dragster on June 15th, 1959 while racing in Montgomery, NY. That day there was a terrible cross wind at the track and George started to drift about 200 feet out. He thought he could correct it but the car continued to drift, taking out the timing clocks at the top end at about 130 mph and flipping the car end over end - Charlie said “like someone flicking a cigarette”.
The resulting accident left George seriously injured with a broken back, a fractured skull and multiple lacerations. After a month on his back, and after being fitted with a brace, George was released from the hospital. Fortunately, the damage to his back didn’t result in any paralysis.
As a side note, the drag races at Montgomery were NASCAR sanctioned, and after hearing about the accident, Bill Franz, Sr., president of NASCAR, called George in the hospital and told him that he was going to take care of his hospital bills. Can you imagine that happening today?
The team decided to build another dragster in 1960 to replace the totaled car. This new B/Dragster used a new TE-440 Chassis Research slingshot frame as a foundation for the now injected 454 cubic inch stroked Chrysler Hemi. A removable Simca body was also mounted on the injected dragster allowing the team to run in the Competition Eliminator classes where the purses were a little more lucrative.
Through the 1959-1960 season Charlie drove and wrenched on the car as George was not sufficiently healed to compete on the track until later in the season. By the time George was able to get back into the cockpit, it became apparent that they had to decide who was going to be the dedicated driver. In a gentleman’s agreement, they decided that whoever turned the fastest time at Westhampton Dragway would be the sole driver. George turned the fastest time and won the driver position and Charlie became the dedicated tuner.
The team spent the winter of 1960 building a new car that would launch a sequence of events that would bring the Pacers Auto team into the drag racing limelight. Charlie and George installed a fiberglass Bantam body on a brand new Chassis Research R-16 100 inch wheelbase roadster frame, stirred in another 454 Chrysler Hemi – this one with a GMC supercharger and Hilborn injection – and wound up with the foundation which would become the fastest and quickest AA/Altered in the country. Numerous track records for MPH and ET fell to the hard charging roadster with George at the wheel and Charlie tuning.
The car had a brutal top end pull and left blazing trails of tire smoke behind it the whole run– but what would you name a car like this? Easy. At the time a new Warner Brothers cartoon character was gobbling up everything in his sight in a tornado-like trail. George and Charlie felt that they were actually racing the automotive incarnation of the “Tasmanian Devil” cartoon character so that became the name of their ferocious new roadster. “Charlie suggested the name and I loved it,” relates George, “besides, we thought Snizek and Hagenmayer sounded too much like a delicatessen!”
In 1963 the Pacers expanded into a new ten-car shop in Oceanside, NY. “Taz” got a Hollywood facelift in the form of a new Cal Automotive fiberglass 23 T body sporting a unique turtle deck and full wrap-around belly pan like the bantam body had. This is the version of the “Tasmanian Devil” that achieved the greatest recognition and is well remembered as a feature car in multiple magazines of the time.
But “Taz” was not all about looks. On its debut performance at Island Dragway in May of ’63, the Snizek & Dodge Racing team set a new track record and unofficially blasted the national record of 9.79 with a run of 9.63 at 159.86 mph. The following month they officially set the new AA/Altered mph class record at Atco Dragway with a 154.90 mph run on June 16th 1963.
Young film-maker Walter Ungerer’s twenty minute 16mm film appropriately titled, “The Tasmanian Devil,” captured the run and the Pacers’ prep work that went into making the fastest AA/Altered roadster in the country.
At the heart of the “Tasmanian Devil’s” performance was a 392 Chrysler Hemi, stroked 5/8” to 454 cubic inches - Mickey Thompson pistons filled the holes. A Crower Imperial cam with Chrysler 300 rockers actuated the valves and fuel was fed to the GMC 6-71 supercharger through a four port Hilborn fuel injector. A Vertex magneto lit everything off.
A narrowed Ford rear with Halibrand quick change gears spun the 8.20x15 Racemaster slicks which were mounted on American Racing Torq Thrust mag wheels. American Racing 12-spoke wheels provided the steering direction.
The beautiful Arctic White paint – which showed up well in magazines, photographers loved it - was offset by gold leaf lettering by Wendell John Paolo. The black Naugahyde tonneau cover and seat were stitched by Carl Lombardi. A 16 foot ringslot Deist drag chute hauled the 1860 pound AA/Altered to a safe stop.
Thoughts of becoming National record holders and winning a national meet were starting to form in their minds, and what better place to try then the ’63 National Championship Drag Races in Indianapolis. Charlie worked his magic tuning the car and George gave it his best shot but they did not qualify for the main eliminations.
They were also having engine oiling problems at the time, which almost seemed impossible to solve. The bearings were being eaten up and had to be changed at the end of every run. By chance, another racer who was watching their struggles asked if they had an oil block off plug in the main oil gallery, it was a Milodon manufactured part with a cost of about five bucks.
This got them thinking and after getting back to New York they ordered one and installed it. Problem solved. It seems that instead of oil circulating through the filter it was bypassing the filter when the oil pressure went up. It just goes to show, never estimate the importance of a five dollar part when the National Championship Drag Races are at stake.
But George and Charlie did not walk away from their first Nationals without an accomplishment. The Pacers immaculately appearing race car and an equally immaculate and color coordinated 1957 Chevrolet tow/push vehicle, combined with their always spotless and matching white crew uniforms got the attention of Autolite’s Art Chrisman. He awarded them Popular Hot Rodding Magazine’s “Best Appearing Car and Crew Award” at the ’63 Nationals for their team professionalism. An award not to be taken lightly, and besides, there was always next years Nationals.
The “Tasmanian Devil” continued to tear up the East Coast tracks and gobbled up its own speed and ET numbers like a whirlwind scattering the competition. By 1964 the Pacers decided to try the Nationals again and this time they hit the mark.
“Taz” was bear a to get started and cleaned out, needing at least 300 feet of start up road to fire it up clean. Only 200 or so feet were available at the Nationals so they were not able to get it firing right on all eight before tripping the staging lights. But as George describes, “after it got cleaned out it came on like a freight train.”
Although they didn’t win the Eliminator crown, they set both ends of the NHRA AA/Altered record at the Nationals with an official 9.56 seconds at 161.87 mph but had actually set the record 3 times during the Nationals ultimately having a best ET of 9.40 and MPH of 162.45.
The Pacers “Tasmanian Devil” would defend the National AA/A record for three years, an impressive feat when you consider how quickly the sport and the cars that participated were improving during that time period.
Through their association with Marty Schorr, Editor of CARS Magazine, “Taz” and Pacers Auto became even better known thanks to Marty’s articles. He covered every aspect of the “Tasmanian Devil” in great detail along with other race car projects that were being worked on in Pacers Auto. Marty also lived close by so it was easy for him to bring down new factory cars to get reviews from the national record holders as they tested them. This led to George and Charlie becoming Road Test consultants for both “CARS” and “Speed & Custom” Magazines.
CARS Magazine was looking to increase their circulation and had put together a Super/Stock sponsorship deal with Chrysler and the NY/NJ Plymouth Dealer’s Association for a hemi Plymouth set up for S/SA racing. They wanted George and Charlie to go on tour with it. They planned to test and evaluate race sessions through the magazine but found themselves without a deal because the brass objected to one of the driver’s names - Charlie “Dodge” - being lettered on the door.
Fortunately, CARS Magazine did sponsor George & Charlie despite that setback. For the 1965 season, CARS decided to back the Pacers Auto record holding “Tasmanian Devil” and go all out with it, running one hemi on gas and one on nitro. It would defend its AA/A records or match race anyone running fuel and the coverage would be written about in CARS.
On its maiden run at the NHRA 1st Regional Meet of 1965 at Cecil County while running as an A/Fuel Dragster on a 45% nitro mix, “Taz” ran an 8.81SEC ET @ 166.35 MPH even though George shut it off 200ft before the lights. The crowd loved it and voted it "Best Appearing Car of Meet”.
“Taz” was the lead car of the CARS Magazine Racing Team and received a fresh makeover to match. The “Pacers Auto” logo was beautifully reworked in gold leaf by Wendell John Paolo who also lettered “CARS Magazine Special” on the cowl.
To get closer to their readership CARS Magazine also decided to become part of a competition AA fuel dragster that Pacers Auto would build. It was to be known as the Pacers’ “CARS Magazine Special” AA/Fuel Dragster a.k.a. the “Beast from the East”. Its entire build and its performances also were covered in the magazine. The roadster would carry the burden of the CARS Magazine Racing Team until the dragster was completed.
George and Charlie built the 392 Hemi powered AA/Fuel Dragster using a chassis design that Roy Steen and Frank Huszar of RCS called the "Haze Series" and they bodied it with a Fiberglass Trends D-102 nosepiece and D-116 tail section from Marv Eldridge. In continuing with their race track public relations theme of “show and go” the Pacers built a fully enclosed, color coordinated trailer for the dragster, something totally unseen at the time. It served as a rolling billboard of Pacers Automotive advertising them as East Coast distributors for Nitro-Alky Racing Fuel and jokingly stating “THIS VAN CARRIES 1000 HORSES…more or less” on the rear door.
On March 20th 1966 the Pacers debuted the new CARS Magazine Racing Team sponsored AA/FD at opening of Gil Kohn's NY National Speedway and set low et of the day with a 7.93ET-199 MPH on its first run. Immediately after the meet, they towed it into Manhattan to take place in the International Auto Show.
The record setting continued with both cars, but there was often a problem when it came to running the roadster because at that time there was no set class for fuel altered race cars. During a race at Island Dragway on May 22nd, they were told they would have to run against the dragsters in the CC/FD class. They didn’t care, they just wanted to run, which they did, and promptly set the CC/Fuel Dragster mph record at 166.35 with an ET of 9.34. They bested their mph record the following month at Sanford Dragway in Maine on June 11th 1966 with a faster mph of 167.59.
Although the dragster was a good looker and very competitive, the Pacers did not have an edge on the other cars and drivers – they pretty much ran neck and neck with the other Div. 1 dragsters in the area, never quite breaking the magic 200 mph mark which totally frustrated Charlie with the 199 mph times George was consistently turning. Following a suggestion from another dragster team, Charlie called their cam tech out in California and told him what car they had and what engine they were running. A new cam was sent along with simple instructions – install it and don’t change anything else. So he did, and George broke 200 the first run off the trailer.
George accomplished another feat with the new dragster that would stand unchallenged for quite a few years. At York US-30 Dragway, on July 17 of ’66, George won Supercharged Eliminator with the Roadster running CC/FD and Top Fuel Eliminator with the Dragster both in the same day. The “Double-Up” put George into a pretty exclusive group, since only a few other drivers won comparable “same day” Double-ups during their careers.
1967 brought some changes for the Pacers Automotive team. Although the Pacers were having a lot of fun, winning everything in sight, and thrilling the crowds with traditional fuel altered antics, in reality there was little money to be made running one. It cost the same to run either car but the dragster class paid better.
Focus shifted entirely to the dragster and the decision was made to retire the “Tasmanian Devil” roadster, with well over 150 wins to its credit. It must have been a hard decision, as “Taz” was the car that originally brought them into the limelight. “Taz” had competed – and set many records across the AA/Altered, A/Fuel Dragster, CC/Fuel Dragster and AA/Fuel Altered classes over its 7 year run.
With the CARS Magazine Special “Beast From the East” fueler now running consistently over 200 mph it was time to head for a major meet, the 1968 Springnationals at Englishtown Raceway, NJ to be specific. But they almost didn’t make it; the week before at NY National Dragway on Long Island, George missed the release handle for the chute and sailed off the end of the track into the woods. George was unhurt - except for his ego - but the car was extensively damaged.
With no time left to repair the car before the Springnationals George and Charlie borrowed a roller AA/FD from a friend of theirs in Brooklyn and installed their own motor in it so at least they could make it to the event. Winning an Eliminator crown was not to be, but they did run respectable times of 7.54 at 206.88 mph and a firstname.lastname@example.org. They finished up the 1968 season in 10th position in the NHRA Division 1 points race.
By the fall of 1968, the strain of campaigning a race car and raising a new family was wearing thin on Charlie so he decided to retire from competition. George was not ready to retire yet, and for 1969 signed on to drive Tony Pasalacqua’s “Purple Gang” AA/FD. But by the end of the year, George too, had decided to leave drag racing. As with many racers that lived in that era, the fun was starting to leave the sport, and it was becoming too much like a job.
Although George and Charlie had left the racing arena, they never left the automotive sport and continued on with various endeavors such as a stint as designers and builders of custom Dune Buggies known as Sand Cats – “The Cat With Scat” and as owners of Paceco Auto Parts distributors which was the evolution of Pacers Automotive.
They say that cats have nine lives, and it seems that in the case of Tasmanian Devils, as far as the Pacers are concerned, they have three lives.
In 2006, the “Tasmanian Devil II”, a 23T roadster built to resemble the original “Taz”, was conceived by ex- New York firefighter and policeman Jerry Joaquin as a memorial to his fallen brothers killed on 9/11 and as a tribute to the Snizek & Dodge Racing Team.
The task of constructing the vehicle – with George acting as a consultant - was given to South West Custom Trucks in Apache Junction, Arizona. They agreed under one condition, that Jerry get his license. He enrolled in Frank Hawley’s school in California and was taught by Fast Jack Beckman.
While “Taz II” is a faithful tribute to the original in appearance and markings, and has a supercharged 392 Chrysler Hemi for power, it was built on a 100 inch certified funny car chassis to actively compete. Jerry’s plan was to keep the appearance as close to the original as possible, while making a car that would satisfy all current NHRA safety requirements.
An unforeseen problem with “Taz ll” was that it actually confused many fans. People thought it was the original car of the original team despite it being called the tribute. The confusion was magnified after press coverage of it having wrecked at the Kingman AZ Street Drags event.
No one was hurt and “Taz II” was fully repaired, but any confusion of the two was cleared up after George Snizek and son Scott and their friend Dennis Quitoni got together with some Long Island top fuel friends and backed the build of another car “Taz III”. This time, the new car would be built as true and accurate to the 1965 original as possible – while being a cackle car. Master fabricator and former AA fuel driver, Bernie Schacker, was chosen to build the chassis at Tony Giresi’s Racecars shop. The build was code named “PROJECT PACERS”.
Amazingly, the elapsed time from start to finish – including the acquisition of all period correct parts – was only six months. The new car now confuses crowds wherever it appears as many fans find it hard to believe that it is not the actual car that Charlie and George built and raced.
The six months build time included three months for Bernie Schacker to build the Chassis Research R16 frame from blueprint measurements obtained from Brad Studley. Having a photo from an old Chassis Research catalog along with loads of Pacers reference photos made the job easy for Bernie. Chrome moly tubing was chosen - instead of mild steel as in the original - for its superior welding quality. The body was molded by Rod N Race fiberglass, fit by Bernie, and then finished up at Billy’s shop, Atlantic Auto Collision.
Powering “Taz lll” is a 1958 392 Chrysler Hemi with a GMC 6-71 supercharger from Red Lang capped with Cragar end plates. The bell tipped weedburner headers were a signature look on the original car and proved to be a challenge to recreate in stainless steel. The headers were a team effort and the results were outstanding.
Jeff Smith did all the immaculate polishing and Jon Wright did all the spectacular bright work on the car. Long Island upholsterer, Dondi, fitted the Pacers signature tonneau cover, seat and scoop cover and Don “Figgie” Figliozzi and Scott Snizek handled all the lettering and graphics.
As George relates, “this car hit the mark, it’s one of the most talked about recreations of any car out there, and you are going to have to look long and hard to find one thing that isn’t correct.”
The Pacers were always mindful of appearances and the crowning touch to the Pacers’ effort in recreating the “Tasmanian Devil” was the building of another 1957 Chevrolet Step Side that carries the traditional Pacers Automotive colors. After all, what’s “Taz” without its well known push truck.
“The roadster was always a top end charger, it came on strong in the traps, the noise would get louder and louder and all the other drivers would see was “Tasmanian Devil” written on the turtledeck at it went by them,“ George recalls, “it was a lot of fun, we had a lot of good times with it, although the dragster was a lot easier to drive, even though it was going 40 mph faster. The roadster got us a lot of press when we went to the track - we always had a crowd around the car. The East Coast guys were setting trends and records but never got the recognition the West Coast guys did. Now, it gives me chills to see the new car.”
In 2008, the East Coast Drag Times Hall of Fame recognized the Pacers achievements and inducted George, Charlie and Pacers’ team members Otto Qualliotine and Ken “KB” Braun (RIP 1935-2012) into their Hall of Fame.
In 2009, the National Nostalgia Drag Racing Association inducted George and Charlie into their Legion of Honor in York, Pa.
Charles Hagenmayer – “Charlie” Dodge – passed away in November of 2002, years before the Hall of Fame inductions and before either new iterations of the “Tasmanian Devil” were built. As with many racers that have passed before and since, Charlie left a legacy of stiff competition, incredible talent and friendship within the sport of drag racing that will always be a part of the Pacers Auto story.
George Snizek is still attending shows and events with his family and “Taz” the 3rd. They still all wear matching Pacers uniforms and have one of the best looking cars and crews that have ever graced a drag strip. That’s class.
-Article appeared in Traditional Rod & Kulture Illustrated Issue #27 October 2011.
© 2012 Scott Snizek. The Official Website of Pacers Auto, Inc.® Tasmanian Devil Character © Warner Bros. Entertainment Inc. All Rights Reserved.