A young mother carefully hoists her child into the driver seat of a 1942 Willys Coupe drag car. The coupe’s candy-blue paint is immaculate. Its owner, Tim Timoszyk, stands over the duo, holding back the racing belts for clearance. “You can’t scratch it any worse than I do,” he says, encouraging the two strangers. Tim has all the time in the world when it comes to young people. He’s been an automotive technology instructor at a nearby school for 32 years. The kid stands in the seat and looks out of the tinted Plexiglas, grubby hands on the metal flake steering wheel.
A few minutes later, it’s Tim’s turn in the seat, waving to the mother and kid now seated in the grandstand as he drives his car up to the staging box at Milan Dragway in southeast Michigan. Tim lines up in right lane and roasts the tires in a smoky burnout, prepping for a sub-ten second quarter-mile pass in his retro Willys gasser.
Tim and his fellow Gassers have been holding court in the pits, and blazing the strip, of Midwest dragways for 10 years now. Back in the late 2000s, Tim kept running into the same racers a vintage drag gatherings. The staging lanes at a strip rival a Black Friday checkout line. Tim utilized the downtime to build stronger bonds with like-minded gearheads. Eventually, about a half dozen of them banded together to form the Great Lakes Gassers.
How do you join the Gassers? Simple. Your drag car must be pre-1967 and have straight-axle front suspension, appropriate retro-paint job, and no electronic fuel injection. That said, there is some wiggle room in the rules. “I try to be accommodating and occasionally lenient, because I want people to come out here and have a good time,” says Tim.
Initially Midwest drag strips could book the series as a match-racing exhibition. As the group swelled from under 10 to over 20 entrants per race in the first five years, Great Lakes Gassers was able to make the jump to an official point series with individual race and year-end trophies.
The group is homegrown and Midwest to the bone. An Eastern Michigan University professor designed the logo, and Tim manages the point standings on an Excel doc. Picture lawn chairs, beer, and good hometown cookin’ at every meet. Tim doesn’t charge dues, but every time the series needs something the group pitch in to make it happen. Most recently, the crew sourced a community artist to draw several of the participants’ cars for a kids coloring book. Each member forked over some cash, while Tim’s wife (an art teacher) supplied the paper. Now, at every gathering the crew passes out a coloring book to the spectating children. Quite the wholesome indoctrination of horsepower.
Enough sentimentality, though. Tim is now rolling his vintage drag car through the cloud of burnout smoke up to the Christmas tree. These early ’40s Willys coupe are gasser archetypes; Tim hauled the shell back in 1996 and built the car from the ground up, plugging the noise hole up with a 400-cubic inch small-block Chevy V-8. His opponent is in a similar ’40 Willys—this one is bright red and owned by his uncle Dave Timoszyk, one of the original members. Engines rev, the green light flashes, and they’re off. The crowd roars, filled with voices young and old.
With dazzling on-track competition and a lack of velvet ropes, the Great Lakes Gassers have a ton of open road ahead of them. The future for this outfit looks brighter than ever. It’s a community effort, spurred on by a veteran shop teacher, that positions this series firmly at the head of the class.