Sunday, March 16, 2014

The story of the Arizona Hard Chrome Twister




Recently, the Editor came across this Richard Cordsen photo of Gene “Tiger” Brown in a sprint car and based on the sponsor name on the hood, contacted Ron Trainor at Arizona Hard Chrome to see if he knew more. Here is Ron’s story:

“That is the original Hank Arnold “Twister,” also known as the “Arizona Hard Chrome Twister”. Hank was a good friend of my dad’s and a super nice guy. My dad, Glenn, gave him free crankshafts and was surprised when Hank put our name on the side of the hood. 

photo of 'the Twister'  courtesy of Jim Carmichael 
(this may be from the July 1963 issue of Hot Rod magazine)

The name “Twister” came from the fact that Hank who was always trying something new; he tried using a GMC blower on a circle track car. (A 301 cubic inch Chevrolet engine equipped with a GMC 4-71 supercharger) The car was a huge crowd favorite but not always successful. 

There were many blown engines, but when Hank finished a race, he won, and when he won, he won big. It was not a particularly good handling car even though it was the first car I ever knew of to have a Watts link on the right rear. But it really did not matter how it handled in the corners because it was so darn fast on the straightaways.

I can still remember the sound of those “zoomie” pipes with the engine cranking out of the chassis coming off turn four and the left front wheel in the air for as long as Hank had his foot in it. 

Hank Arnold in the "Twister" inside Jerry Coons Sr. at Tuscon
photo courtesy of Bill Van Dyke 

After Hank ran the "Twister" for a few years, he met some guy that wanted to finance a newer experiment for Hank to try. Hank sold the Twister and built a conventional sprint car with a 427 Ford for power. It was also an ill-handling car because of the torque curve and the heavy weight of the engine. In June 1967, Hank was killed in an accident at Manzanita Speedway in the new car.  

Meanwhile he had sold the "Twister" to the Gibson family, another bunch of nice people to whom we also gave free crankshaft work. They kept the 'Arizona Hard Chrome' name on the side of the hood and continued with Gene Brown as the driver. 

It was not long before they built a good powerful engine and got rid of the blower. The car was never the same, but it did become more consistent, they won many races and were the Manzanita Speedway champions.  

In those days, they called the racing cars “Open House Modifieds” and they all started with T buckets or coupes but as time went by they became nothing but sprint cars with T bucket bodies. When the California guys from CRA (California Racing Association) would come to town with their fully chromed, trick painted, sleek sprint cars it would drive them nuts to get beat by a local modified, which Gene Brown did regularly with the Gibson car. 

Eventually the CRA guys passed a rule that all cars must have a sprint car tail section. They all thought that would finally put an end to the reign of the old "Twister." After all, it had a complete roll cage and it was built extra wide for the T bucket body, so there was no way a sprint car tail would fit. 

But when the rule changed two weeks before the big Manzanita CRA race, ‘Skeet’ Gibson, the dad, said “Hey, I’ll tell you what, I’ll be damned if a damn rule change is going to keep us from winning their damn race, and hey, I mean it.” The Gibson family had owned a welding shop in the North West corner of the parking lot of Manzanita Speedway since the nineteen fifties, so they were familiar with what it took to fabricate and fix race cars. 

Richard Cordsen photo

This picture is after two weeks’ worth of work the Gibson’s did to make the 'Twister' into a sprint car. Not the most graceful design, but you can guess who won the race. I do not know everyone in the picture, but from the second from left is younger son Billy Gibson, next to Billy is son in-law Gene Gilles, next is driver Gene Brown, in the center is father ‘Skeet’ Gibson. Second from the right is the oldest brother, crew chief, and engine builder Bobby Gibson, whom I still enjoy seeing on occasion. 

Hank Arnold, Gene Brown, Bobby Gibson, and his father, ‘Skeet’ Gibson are all members of the Arizona Motorsports Hall Of Fame.” 

Thank you Ron!

If you love auto racing history, the next time you visit the Phoenix area, plan to visit the Arizona Motorsports Open Wheel Racing Museum and Hall of Fame. Their website is terrific too!





1 comment:

  1. I just received the fifty year old July 1963 Hot Rod Magazine that I got off of Ebay that showcased the Twister.I remember how i could hear the zoomy headers a half a mile away on the way to manzy.

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