George Crittenden Presents

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"Jack Kulp"

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The name Jack Kulp may not be a household name when it comes to drag racing history, but during the formative years of the sport, Jack Kulp was a major player in eastern racing.

Kulp was a quiet gentleman that did most of his talking with his right foot and skilled mechanic hands.  He began racing about 1946 around his hometown of Penndel, Pa. (near Langhorne) even before he had a driver’s license.  He raced on the streets and learned how to make cars go fast.  By the 50’s he was well established as one of the best mechanics in the booming “hot rod” field.  His cars were fast and he took pleasure in building and running the out of the ordinary, in the cars he chose, including a blown Olds powered Chevy panel truck, a notorious AA/GS Simca as well as a long line of nationally respected gas and fuel dragsters.

Kulp build hundreds of racing engines for customer’s through out the 50’s, concentrating on the hot Olds engines for most of this period.  Kulp presuued racing with a fervor that encompassed nearly all his working hours.  He turned times in the 12’s with an un-blown Olds sedan and went into the 11’s with a super-charger, with speeds ranging from 112 to 115 with engines in the 324 to
371 cu. in. range.  In 1955 he was really cranking and his garage business was really booming.

Top eliminator awards became commonplace for Kulp and his cars, but something inside him loved that “underdog” status.  So Kulp built himself a tow truck that his friends called the “bread truck”.  It was in-fact a bread truck that he had purchased from a near-by bakery.

He installed a 322 in. Olds with three (3)-2bbl carbs in the truck and used it to tow his racecar, but when the “real” racecar broke he brought the truck out for ¼ mile competition and turned low 12’s at near 110 mph.  He won the Maryland
State Championship in 1958 using the truck that by then had a super-charger and set countless top speed and low e.t. records.  The truck was one of Jacks all-time favorites.  

The next car for Jack is what many believe to have been the first ever “40 Willys Coupe” for A/Gas racing.  In 1958, Jack took the car on its first run at the then popular Vineland Dragway in Southern New Jersey.  His first run was very successful, running 126 mph on a 112 mph record.  So of course, as soon as he arrived back in the pits, the NHRA tech guys were there to check his fuel for nitro and the man who did the checking was none-other than Bill “Grumpy” Jenkins, who himself was just starting his fantastic career.  But check as they might, they could find nothing but gasoline.

Later that year, Kulp moved to a larger garage in Bristol, Pa. where it became common-place for the like of K.S. Pittman, Red Lange and many others to use his garage as a home-base while on tour in the area.  As soon as he had his garage setup and going, he built what was his most unusual ride, a 1959 Simca for AA/GS with a 444 in blown Olds with Hilborn 4 port injection, all completely under the hood. But problems arose over the car’s legality, as NHRA rules said no foreign bodies and though Kulp insisted that one year, the rules didn’t outlaw foreign cars, the car did not receive a timing slip that day or for a long time after.

The car finally received a time slip at Atco clocking a 136 mph run while blowing an engine at the 1000 ft. mark.  The car was then changed to a blown 283 Chevy and before being retired, ran 10.0 at 128 mph.

In 1960, Jack retired the Simca and started his illustrious career in Top Gas as fuel was banned by NHRA until 1963.  Together with George “Atlas” Van and Joe Nocentino they built and raced one of the most feared rails in the country, whose crowning moment came in 1962 at York Dragway in Pa. during the running of the NHRA Divisional Championship.

It was called the “Big Go East” and among those entered were the new world champs, Mickey Thompson and Jack Chrisman.  Kulp was running a 454 inch
“Hemi” with a 8-71 blower.  It was the first time anyone in the country had tried an 8-71 according to Jack.

Thompson’s twin-engine Pontiac rail with Chrisman driving was the talk of the crowd that night, but little did they know that a big upset was brewing when they met Kulps car in the semi-finals.

Though George Van put a half car on him out of the whole and stretched it to a full car by that time they reached the finish line, the record went to Chrisman with his time slip reading 8.81 and Kulps reading 8.48.  Jack could never figure that one out and the story goes that they had already engraved the trophy with Chrismans name.  The trophy still exists today in the hands of Jack’s son along with some of his cars and a lot more memorabilia.

Regardless at who got the records, Kulp established himself that night as one of the top engine builders in the country.  He was never afraid to try new things and the front page of the National Dragster spread the news of the team’s success.  From that day the71 became the blower at chose for all blown classes.

By 1964, Jack had about quit racing to concentrate on his family that grew to three sons and a daughter.  He worked for a new car dealer in Bristol, Pa. as a service manager and only occasionally dabbled in racing.  There was a short period in 1969 with George Van at the wheel again and with nitro now legal they did some racing and the car went as fast as 228.

They gave it another try in 1971 but after some pretty serious crashes, Jack was happy if the car made a pass without a fire or a crash and though they made a few more attempts, Jack was out of the Top Fuel Racing by 1976.

Jack and his wife suffered a great personal tragedy whey they lost two of their sons to accidents, but along with son Bobby and daughter Nancy, Jack continued to run his garage business and even played a little with a SBC power
Triumph TR-7 at the local track.

Although Jack Kulp is no longer with us, his dedication to trying the things that weren’t suppose to work and his innovative thinking that put his cars at the top of their classes will live on as he was truly one of the “Pioneers and Innovators” of drag-racing.

I want to thank Bob Kulp and his friend, Chris Lenker for all their help in supplying the articles, clippings and photo’s that made this feature possible.

George Crittenden
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