|The following three segments provide a brief history of Mike Sullivan's racing career.
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The Early Years
Top Fuel Buicks
A New Kind of AA/FA
The Early years
|Mike Sullivan is best
known for his Fuel Altered exploits, but he has occasionally strayed in
to dragster territory. His first experience with fuel was at the controls of the Highland Speed Shop Jr
fueler of Tom Camblin and Bob Price. Camblin and Price had
put together a tribute to the principle of minimum weight with
their 300 cubic inch De Soto powered dragster. Weighing in at just a tick
over 800 lbs without the driver, this car featured only one
brake caliper, had headers so thin that they couldn't be bent, a body
so thin it sprung flat when removed from the car, and a block filled
with manganese powder. While never a consistently successful
car, Mike gained valuable driving experience and just as importantly
learned the importance of weight and chassis design in affecting the
performance of a combination.
While driving the Jr fueler, Mike began building his first Fiat altered. He ignored common building conventions of the day and instead built what was essentially an altered version of the dragster he had been driving. Started in 1966 and completed in 67, Mike had built in his garage a car that bore more resemblance to a modern altered or funny car chassis than it did to his contemporaries. The car sat low with the engine flat between narrow frame rails, abandoning prevailing notions of weight transfer at a time when altered engines reached for the sky and funny cars were still built with wide frames and suspensions- more car and less funny.
Initially configured as an A/FA with a injected fuel 392 Chrysler, the all white San Bernardino Racing Equipment sponsored fiat had some success chasing down supercharged rivals. Blown fuel altereds at this point in history had excessive power for the poor tires and track surfaces available, making them vulnerable to a consistent injected performer. All of this began to change when clutch technology caught up to engine technology, and as the tire smoke went away, so did the chances of catching the blown altereds. A new 392 was assembled with M/T rods, lower compression Venolia Pistons, and an Engle camshaft. With a blower built by Gary Read and fresh blue and white paint by Al Hawkins of Magnificent 7 fame, Mike and partner Steve Haight were ready to go AA/FA racing.
In AA/FA trim the car was immediately successful and became a frequent winner at local tracks like Lions, Irwindale, and OCIR. Several AA/FA track records were set with the car and one of the more notable achievements was to be the last AA/FA class winner at Indy before NHRA removed the class. During this period many of the famous southern California AA/FA's would go east on tour for the summer, while cars like Dave Hough's Nanook, Bob Hankins' Blue Blazer, Randy Bradford, the MOB, and Mike's Fiat kept up the action on the home front.
Years of weekly racing had taken a toll on the car and it eventually had to face retirement. Rather than build another car himself, this time Mike enlisted M&S Racecars to build a new Fiat. Lower and meaner thanks to a quick-change rear end and with a crowerglide in place of the old pedal clutch, it was just as quick. In it's first outing at the 71 March Meet in Bakersfield, the still unpainted car promptly won the race. Al Hawkins was again enlisted to paint the car, this time applying the very popular stars and stripes over a pearl white base. For the next 4 years this car ran everywhere from Mexico to Boise, recognized all over the west for it's distinctive paint job and consistent low seven second performance.
By 1975 the new responsibilities of family life, the increasing expense of racing, and the slow extinction of AA/FA racing all conspired to bring about retirement from active competition. The car was sold to the Trillo brothers, who continued to campaign it with their own Chevrolet power while Mike settled in to raising his two sons. Mike remembers these years as both great fun and a lot of work, made possible by the assistance of friends like Steve Haight and Chuck 'Chucko' Ogawa.
Top Fuel Buicks
|After years away from the sport, Mike Sullivan and Steve Haight were feeling the itch to go racing again, and Mike had an idea. In the early 80's GM was busy pushing their new V6 engines and Mike saw an opportunity. The Buick version was building up an impressive after market of performance racing parts, and these engines were typically right about 250 cubic inches. 250 multiplied by 2 just happens to equal 500, the cubic inch limit for NHRA Top Fuel dragsters. Thus was born the worlds fastest (and only) V12 T/F dragster.
Two 250 inch stage II engines were coupled together and timed as a singe V12, each with their own 6-71 supercharger, fuel system, and magneto. The power train was placed inside of an ex Shirley Muldowney dragster that had to be stretched to accommodate the twin engine setup. Steve took on the driving chores this time around, and they begin testing the car in the high desert at LACR. Initially plagued by severe parts failure and unexpected challenges, the combination was beginning to show some promise when the parts stopped coming from Buick. With no more corporate backing and little prospect for it, the car was briefly run without the superchargers and finally retired.
A New AA/FA
By the late 90's, the growth of nostalgia racing had brought renewed interest in AA/FA racing. Steve Haight and Mike Sullivan again teamed up to build a new Fiat altered. Using a seasoned 125" Sherm Gunn chassis for the new car and an iron 392 Chrysler for power, longtime altered and top fuel driver Howard Haight was selected for driving duties. Sullivan and Haight picked up were they left off and managed to run the car well in to the six second range, but quickly realized that the best opportunities for racing required a different combination.
AA/FA racing never completely died but had slowly evolved over the years, surviving on rare match races at friendly tracks like LACR, Tuscon, and Boise. Drivers like Rod Hynes, Ray Higley, and Mac McCord had kept the spirit alive using modern funny car chassis and engine components. The decision was made to move in that direction, and soon new 500 inch BAE engine components were being assembled.
|The next few years saw a steady progression of hardware and increasing performance. With veteran driver Gary Read in the seat of a 23 T bodied 125" Plueger chassis, they moved in to the five second zone and became a consistent force at annual events like the Fuel Altered Nationals in Tucson and the Nightfire Nationals in Boise.
Eventually switching back to a blue and white modified Fiat body, the car ran as quick as 5.46 and as fast as 273 MPH, setting the track MPH record at Firebird Raceway. An accident at the Tucson Fuel Altered Nationals in 2004 brought the progression to an end and led to another break.
This break was to be short lived, as a new partnership emerged. Though hard to imagine, it seems that Mike Boyd wasn't getting enough excitment doing 1/4 mile wheelstands in the Winged Express. Along with partner Terry Crossley, Boyd was able to work with Steve in getting a new car together and Hansen Chassis built a brand new 23T to receive the Sullivan and Haight power plant.
This car went on to run as quick as 5.43 at 273 mph, but the writing was on the wall as the continued growth of Nostalgia Top Fuel and the explosion of Nostalgia Funny Car racing steadily erroded match race opportunities.
Though sometimes derided as not "real fuel altereds" and virutally always ignored by drag racing media, cars like these filled an important niche for decades- and were a hell of a lot of fun.