Ed Pink: “Old Master” of Motorsports
Ed Pink is a study in contrasts. Slight in stature and soft spoken, words escape from between his graying mustache and goatee with a humble gentleness. This understated manner belies the volume sounded by his accomplishments, for Pink, now 88, is perhaps the most renowned engine builder of his era. Name another whose powerplants have won both the NHRA Top Fuel title and the Indianapolis 500.
For Ed Pink, action has always spoken louder than words.
Pink is a native “Angelino,” born in L.A. in 1931. While a toddler, his parents relocated to Omaha, his mother’s hometown. But Midwest life didn’t suit the Pinks; sunny SoCal proved irresistible. So, back to Los Angeles they went, packed in the family’s ’37 Chevrolet sedan.
Ed’s father worked in the paint business, selling hues for households and motorcars. A career peddling paint didn’t appeal to young Mr. Pink – the roadsters and racers prowling SoCal boulevards post-WWII did. He took shop classes at Dorsey High School in L.A., and later he was fortunate enough to hang out – and learn – at speed shops run by Vic Edelbrock, Bobby Meeks, Lou Baney, Louie Senter, and Eddie Meyer, legends one and all.
“My first car was a 1922 Model T. I picked it up for $50,” Ed once explained to former Gazette editor John Drummond. “My very first actual hot rod was a ’29 Ford roadster. I ran it at El Mirage Dry Lake and later I ran it at Bonneville. I ran a 3-71 supercharged 239c.i. Flathead on fuel.”
Later, Ed picked up a stock ’36 Ford coupe and quickly jettisoned the stock induction bits for Edelbrock components. Since coupes were not eligible to join the SCTA – open cars only – he enlisted in the Russetta Timing Association. At this point, 1948, Pink was floating between helping with the family business and learning the alchemy of horsepower at Lou Baney’s Golden Eagle Gas Station. The Korean War briefly halted his education, but it resumed when he earned a gig at another gas station run by Frank Barron of Barron-Tattersfield cylinder heads.
Next up on Ed’s tour of famous racers was a turn with Eddie Meyer, where he honed (pun intended) his machinist skills. The ethos of motor racing was palpable at Meyer’s shop; Eddie’s brother Louis had won the Indy 500 three times!
By the late-1950s, Pink was an accomplished mechanic, machinist, and engine builder – and his reputation was such that he opened his own shop. An early customer was none other than TV Tommy Ivo, a successful local drag racer and television star. Ivo assembled his own engines after Pink did the machine work. So began the illustrious engine-building métier of Ed Pink. Early clients included racer and upholsterer Tony Nancy and “Big John” Masmanian, he of the legendary Willys Gasser. Ed developed a close relationship with Nancy, who convinced Pink to share shop space with him and chassis builder Kent Fuller. In 1961, Ed Pink Racing Engines was born.
“I was just getting started and because I had no recent business history I had to put deposits on everything,” Pink told hot rod historian Dick Martin. “The phone, gas meter, electrical – by the time I was done I had $35 in my pocket, was married and had two kids.”
The launch of Pink’s business coincided with the boom in drag racing. Pink wanted to capitalize and figured his best bet would be to build and campaign a digger himself. He dropped a Pink-massaged Hemi into a Don Long chassis. The results were magic. Off the trailer, it won at Lions Drag Strip with Mike Snively at the controls.
A portent of Pink’s engine mastery came soon thereafter. In 1965, Pink and Snively unloaded their rail at the U.S. Fuel and Gas Championships in Bakersfield, one of 128 Top Fuel entries. While eventually losing to Don Garlits, Ed’s car made a dozen or so passes during the weekend – and never had the cylinder heads off! – an unheard-of level of reliability. From that point on, Ed Pink Racing Engines never wanted for customers.
One of Ed’s most successful customers was Don “The Snake” Prudhomme. The Pink-Prudhomme combo proved nearly unbeatable, winning the Gatornationals, U.S. Nationals and the PRO Challenge in 1974; in 1975-76, the duo overwhelmed the Funny Car competition, capturing 13 of 16 national events.
The list of drag racing all-stars who would hitch their fate to Ed Pink’s powerplants would go on to include Prudhomme, Ivo, Nancy, plus Don Garlits, Gene Snow, Shirley Muldowney and Kenny Bernstein, to name but a few. Pink focused on drag racing until 1980 when the big sponsorship money changed the nature of the sport. He switched to other forms of motorsport. His engines eventually powered racers in IndyCar, Bonneville, endurance sports cars, midgets, Silver Crown sprint cars, off-road, drifting, and more.
In midgets, Pink developed both Ford and Toyota four-cylinder engines, winning more than 100 races including nine USAC Championships with Ford and multiple titles with the Toyota four-banger. In IndyCar, he managed the Infinity IRL engine program (underfunded as it was). And, the topper? Capturing the 1983 Indianapolis 500 with driver Tom Sneva.
Pink sold Ed Pink Racing Engines a few years back and has since been building hot rod and muscle car motors. He’s also a regular at Goodguys events, driving his pristine Roy Brizio-built ’29 highboy roadster, which earned the Stroker McGurk Award for Best Highboy at the 2015 West Coast Nationals in Pleasanton.
Now deep into his ninth decade of life, Ed Pink is still going strong, showing the same bombproof reliability as his famous Hemi engines did. When asked what his secret to success was, Ed paused a moment, delicately stroked his mustache, and quietly said, “I’ve only had one ethic in life, and that’s to work hard. And, it’s amazing what you can do, if you don’t know you can’t do it.”