"SWINGIN' SAMMY" HALE EXITS FROM CHAMPION SPEED SHOP COCKPIT, BEGINS HIATUS by Cole Coonce, NR 11-4-99, Novato, CA--The driver whom many drag strip pundits consider the Nureyev of the form, "Swingin' Sammy" Hale has relinquished his position as...
"SWINGIN' SAMMY" HALE EXITS FROM CHAMPION SPEED SHOP COCKPIT, BEGINS HIATUS by Cole Coonce, NR
11-4-99, Novato, CA--The driver whom many drag strip pundits consider the Nureyev of the form, "Swingin' Sammy" Hale has relinquished his position as driver of the Champion Speed Shop/Juxtapoz front-motored AA/Fuel Dragster and is taking a hiatus of unspecified duration from dragster driving. At 58 years of age, Hale has driven nitro-fueled dragsters for the Bay Area-based Champion team sporadically since 1961, a partnership whose longevity was a major factor in its fan appeal.
In addition to the rather unprecedented continuance of their partnership, other details contributed to the team's tremendous Q factor, not the least of which is their choice of propulsion: a small block Chevy, an engine whose delicate geometry has turned off virtually all other nitro warriors because of the volatile challenge the engine presented. Although Hale expressed frustration with idiosyncratic performances of the Chevy-powered machine during the 1999 season, he acknowledged that other-worldly performances such as a barrier-breaking 5.87 elapsed time last March and an event win at the Goodguys Hot Rod Nationals at Indy tempered a few rather fiery incidents during the course of the year. Hale cited other reasons for the primary motivation for his departure from the Champion hot seat, most specifically familial commitments as well finding a new location for his business, Sammy Hale Crankshafts.
Despite his departure from the cockpit, Hale was emphatic, however, in pronouncing Champion's choice the de facto approach to rotating the Earth. "Every time you pull up to the line," he said, "you should be trying to put up your best numbers." Because of its diminutive weight, Hale has been a proponent of the Chevy mouse. Later in the conversation he conceded the tremendous strides made by big block Chevrolets in the front-motored fueler wars, but he also expressed bewilderment at why anybody would not run a combination similar to Champion's. His sentiments in this regard emphasize the mental battle between those who favor the more conventional and sturdy Chrysler hemi and unorthodox approaches such as his former team's.
Hale was non-committal about the length of his leave of absence from the sport. Underscoring how amicable the departure was, Champion team owner Bob McLennan expressed hope that Hale would grace the team with continued intellectual input, an element both McLennan and co-tuner Tony Bernardini have mentioned as a contribution to the recent success of what assuredly is the most avant garde entry in front-motored fueler racing. But even McLennan admitted that posting numbers like the 5.87 karate chop this year, Hale had "done what he needed to do."
"It was a great year (for us), but by his standards it was not a successful year," Bob said. "He is by far the most competitive person I know."
Indeed, it is that ravenous approach to competition that is upsetting the balance he is trying to maintain in his life.
"The First thing on my agenda is to relocate the shop... I'm in the middle of a traumatic business relocation," Hale emphasized. "This (his crankshaft business) is a one man deal--I don't wear the Juxtapoz seven days a week.."
Once that is sorted out, Hale says he "wouldn't be deaf to some ideas about (running a fuel car). I still have some different ideas about cylinder heads which got sidestepped with the Champion car."
CHAMPION SPEED SHOP POSTSCRIPT: One thing Sammy wanted to convey was that many of his ideas as applied to the collaborative effort that is the CSS/Juxtapoz digger were actually the result of various riffing and consultations w/ Mike Demarest of "Groundshakers" fame (infamy?)... He said, "Throughout my whole tenure (with Champion in the post-disco era) my main mentor about good ideas concerning tuning, camshafts, valve timing, flex in the chassis, etc. was Mike Demarest..."