My brother (Floyd) and I (Ralph) were interested in drag racing in 1958-1959. We would go to Santa Ana, CA, and race a 1940 Ford Coupe with a Flathead 3/8 x 3/8 engine. The 1940 Ford Coupe was my brothers. I had a 1939 Mercury coupe with a 5/16 x 1/4 engine. They both ran pretty well, but the best was my brother's. It ran 96 mph in the quarter-mile. That is where the Grist Bros. got started.
We liked watching "Jazzy" Nelson driving his A/F Fiat Coupe powered by a Flathead. It was an amazing car. We met a man named Freddie Owens in early 1961. He had this black1941 Willys Coupe that had a chopped top and a Flathead in it. Floyd and I bought it without the engine and transmission. We first put a slightly modified 364 cu. in. Buick engine in it. Later we bored and stroked the engine and put six carbs on it. The best we ran with that combination was 114.50 mph.
Around 1962 we decided to put a 430 style Ford engine in the Willys. It was basically stock, except for headers. We ran this combination for a while and then we got some help with our camshafts and lifters from Dempsey Wilson. We started having a lot of trouble with bearings so we sought some help from Leland Kolb and Ted Cyr because they were already running the block in their dragsters (we called them rail's then). After we made some recommended modifications the bearing problem went away. At that time we were running 117.50 mph with an ET of 11.40.
We felt capable of making better times, if we could just get some better traction. We tried a torsion-bar setup at Lions Drag Strip one night and the results were not quite what we intended. After Floyd shifted the C&O Hydro (thanks Geno!) into third, the front-end lifted and a left-rear suspension part buckled. The car then shot to the left. Floyd turned the steering wheel to correct and then lifted his foot off the throttle. Well, the car then shot to the right and rolled over doing quite a bit of body damage.
Ben Ryan, of Shiftmaster fame, helped us rebuild the car, making it somewhat of a show car this time. The car actually appeared in several car shows. Joe Reath was also a big help. Besides machining our block and crank to give us 501 cu. in., he also helped us with a lot of parts. It was also about that time that Mickey Thompson started supplying us with aluminum rods and pistons. Ralph Syverson, of North Redondo, did our headwork and helped us with some Hilborn fuel injectors.
In time, we went back and held track records at about all the dragstrips we ran at in Southern California (about 8 or 9). We also held NHRA speed and ET records for about 3-1/2 years in the early 60s. All in all we won about 275 events in the 6 years we ran. We rarely got beat in our class and even won several Little Eliminator races as well as the 1964 NHRA Winternationals (we won't talk about the 1963 Winternationals!). Our best ever numbers were 129.89 mph and 10.89 ET. We sold the car in late 1964 and retired from our "racing" career.
Floyd died on his 49th birthday of a massive brain hemorrhage. That was back in 1974.
At age 71, here in the year 2002, I am still kickin' and playing around with cars the Campbell, TX, area. I've restored a 1957 Ford and put a 428 cu. in. engine in it. Needless to say, I have a lot of fun driving it. I've got another project I'm working on in the shop. It's a 1951 Ford truck. I'm trying to decide whether or not to put a Windsor stroker in it.
Floyd's son, (Fast) Eddy, has two sons, Jason and Jeremy. They are now playing around with drag racing. In 2001, Jeremy purchased a 1971 Maverick powered by a 393 cu. in. Windsor. He has been racing at the dragstrip in Wichita, KS. His best numbers so far are 117.997 mph and an 11.76 ET. Jason and Jeremy are calling themselves the next generation of Grist Bros.
I'd love to hear from any of you that remember the Willys we ran. Email me at: