Drag Racing, Feature Article, Washington — November 26, 2004 at 4:47 pm

Al Chinn (issue 62)


By Steve Heeb

As this edition of Inside Track headed to the press, Al Chinn didn’t know how good his 2004 season was going to shape up to be.

Sure, he had earned Bremerton Raceway’s Super Pro title, pulling ahead of longtime racing friend Ray Kuhn by more than 140 points by season’s end. But the good folks in the Handler’s Racing Association soon would be adding to Al’s accomplishments for the year.

“It’s probably the best season I’ve had since ’96 or ’98,” Al says, reflecting back to winning track championships at Mission Raceway Park in British Columbia.

“I won the first two points races,” he explains of the past season. “I fell back to Ray Kuhn for a week, then got the lead back and held it to the end.”

All told, Al would win four points races during the 2004 campaign at Bremerton, the Grey Chevrolet Chevy race, the Easter Bunny Nationals as well as a Wide Open Performance winner at Pacific Raceways.

“Al’s been tough all along,” Ray says. “I can’t remember when he wasn’t good.”

Ray estimates that he and Al probably have split their head-to-head racing evenly, but shares how Al came to his rescue when Team Bremerton was competing in this year’s Race of Champions at Mission.

Ray had broken the rear end on his car and had no choice but to pack up and head home. An auto mechanic by trade for more than 30 years, Al simply wouldn’t hear of that. Instead, Al encouraged Ray to leave the broken racer in the pits and zip home to fetch the necessary parts to repair the car.

“When I got back Al had torn the car apart,” Ray continues, recounting how Al had cleaned and prepared the car by the time Ray finished the six-hour round trip.

The two repaired the car in time to race the following morning. “We try to help each other out. He saved me.”

But long before Al was hauling his ’64 Chevy Nova from his home in Auburn to the airport dragstrip, he got his start behind the wheel of a ’55 Chevy on the mean streets of Skyway, near Renton, Wash.

“It was my first car,” Al said of the shoe-box Chevy he had when he was in his 20s. Then he adds with a laugh: “After about 36 speeding tickets, I realized I was working to pay the city.”

To avoid spending all the money he was making as a roofer just to pay speeding tickets, Al shifted to more organized drag racing at nearby venues Seattle Int’l Raceway and Puyallup Raceway.

He started racing a ’57 Corvette “Half Pint” that had the front of the body removed like a Vintage Modified you might see at a local circle track.

“It was kind of silly,” Al says of the car’s looks. “But I won quite a few trophies back in those days.”

Ray sold Al his ’67 Camaro “The Baron” that Al raced in as “The Pepsi Challenge” through the ’82 season.

Soon after that Al and Don “The Worm” Elgin hooked up so that Al could take on co-driver duties in Elgin’s Super Street ’64 Tempest.

“I took him around to the points races,” Don recalls of the days when the pair hit the road together in Don’s ’77 two-seat Dodge ramp truck.

Elgin had already earned back-to-back AHRA World Champion titles in his Stock ’69 Tempest Wagon when Don and Al won World Champ titles together for Stock and Super Street, respectively, in 1985.

“He made me some money,” Don says with a hearty laugh as he tells of the time they traveled the racing circuit together in the ’80s.

All told, Don strung a series of four-consecutive AHRA championships between ’83 and ’86, then added another in 1989 with a NHRA Division 6 Stock championship also that year.

Ray was earning his keep during that time period, too, with a Bremerton Pro title in 1981, Seattle Int’l Raceway Pro championship in ’88, The ’87 Division 6 Pro title.

Skip ahead a few years to 1993, when Al made a deal with friend “Quick Nick” Hayes, who was fielding a Nova wagon at the time.

“He won a lot of races back then,” Al recalls of Hayes’ racing when he put the car up for sale. “He said to me: ’You gotta have it!’”

Al couldn’t afford the $16,000 price tag in one lump, so he spent a year paying off his debt for the wagon, trailer, a pair of 454 big blocks, six trannies, and a slew of extra parts.

But in the years since, the car certainly has paid off.

In 2000, Al won the Thursday-night opener for the Bracketeer race at Firebird Raceway. In the Sunday final round, Al missed out to Dan Laferty. His runner-up finish was enough to secure third place for the overall event and netted him a check for $5,000, still displayed in his Al’s’ Auto Repair shop in Auburn.

He also has career wins in Medford, Ore., and Renegade Raceway near Yakima.

“I’ve won 85 to 90 trophies in that car,” Al estimates. “Maybe a hundred.”

It’s hard to get an accurate count since he parted with many of the trophies when he and Marion moved briefly to Arizona. After a couple months in the heat, the two decided to return to the Northwest. Of course he held on to the eight Oscars that are displayed prominently in his living room.

But more than trophies, Al races for the satisfaction he gets from his only real hobby.

“The trip to Vegas is always good,” he says of the chance to compete some of the nation’s premier dragstrips. “But I have fun wherever I go.”

The switch from foot-braking to computer-assisted racing also has helped boost his fun at the dragstrip.

“I love the electronics,” he says without hesitation. I respect the foot-brakers, but I can’t do it anymore. I tried it again, but can’t get consistent. Electronics is a better way to race for me.”

In addition to Don and Ray, Al is quick to credit a few friends that have helped support his racing. He thanks DG Machine’s Dale Green and Bob Johnson for their engine work, and Dan Hurley at Automotive Specialties for his help and input.

He says he still thinks of Ron Baker like a dad.

Al says his biggest supporter, by far, is his companion Marion. He says she often has to work Saturdays while he is at the race track, but luckily gets the chance to come out for the Sunday events.

She’s sure to be by his side during Bremerton Raceway’s banquet at the Red Lion Silverdale Hotel Nov. 20. when The Handlers make the surprise announcement that Al has been selected as Bremerton’s Driver of the Year.

He’s come a long way from that kid who spent his paychecks to pay off tickets.

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