Old School Nitro Funny Car Fun – Racing with the G-Men
Rarely in the world of today’s drag racing can you truly get a feel of “the good ol days”. Even in the National Hot Rod Association’s Heritage Series, a series NHRA put in place to help preserve NHRA’s rich history and tradition while capitalizing on the success of nostalgia drag racing competition, it is difficult to replicate the 50s, 60s and 70s vibe of being at Lions Drag Strip, OCIR, Riverside, Fremont and many other tracks not only in California, but across the country.
We found the closest form of true nostalgia drag racing when we spent an evening with Wally Giavia, Pete Jensen and the “G-MEN” Nitro Nostalgia Funny Car team on a warm summer evening while racing in Spokane, Washington.
Wally and Pete grew up street racing each other in South San Francisco in the late 60s on El Camino Real, the “go-to” Friday night cruisin’ strip back then. Both gearheads from early on, Giavia and Jensen regularly found themselves hanging out at Gotelli Speed Shop and taking turns traveling with “Terrible” Ted Gotelli racing his Top Fuel Dragster, sometimes hitting three different tracks in a single weekend.
Over the years, Wally found his niche as a driver while Pete fell in love with the mechanical and tuning aspect of drag racing. The two drifted apart while Wally found himself behind the wheel of various cars, including a 10 year stint in the NHRA’s Fuel Funny Car class in the late 70s and into the 80s driving cars like his “Pandemonium” Dodge and stints in Ray & Shirley Strasser’s ‘Insanity” Corvette in the 1990s . While Wally drove, Pete focused on tuning nitro-powered hemi’s and was the man behind multiple event wins and championships in the 90s and into the early 2000s with the Goodguys Vintage Racing Association.
It wasn’t until five years ago when the G-MEN Nitro Nostalgia Funny Car came to fruition with Wally and Pete teaming up once again to go “Big Game Racing”, their play-off of Big Game Hunting – a David vs. Goliath mentality.
Competing in modern day “Nostalgia” Funny Car racing is a bit of an oxymoron. In a class riddled with aerodynamic, lightweight carbon fiber “Pro Mod” bodies, air shifted transmissions and computers reading sensors ranging from blower boost to G-forces, Giavia and Jensen choose to keep it old school, focus on the basics and they’re doing a hell of a job in doing so.
For example, the G-Men 1979 Dodge Challenger body you see is more than 30 years old and when Wally picked it up, it was literally in pieces. It was a jigsaw puzzle putting it back together which easily makes it one of, if not the heaviest bodies out there – but it’s truly a one-of-a-kind and it looks period correct. As well as rebuilding the body, Wally built the tubular chassis at his house in Klamath Falls, Oregon and does all his own engine building and maintenance between events. That makes the G-Men car a winner in our book – a garage-built nitro burner!
You won’t find a computer in the G-MEN trailer or any sensors on their car, and frankly, Jensen doesn’t need that info for his tuning purposes. The spark plugs tell him all he needs to know, just like he learned how to do it growing up. When going down track, Wally chooses to rip a handle to shift the car into high gear not wanting to rely on the ease of pushing an air-shifted button – 100% manually operated driver controls inside the cockpit of the G-MEN ride.
The lack of these creature comforts and the uphill battle of racing without relying on modern technology hasn’t hindered Giavia, Jensen or their crew. In fact, they’re always a threat at any given race and have proved that by qualifying well for some of the toughest events while putting up a good fight in the elimination rounds. The G-Men Dodge has run a best of 5.80/248mph to date. At their most recent big outing in Idaho during the Boise Nightfire Nationals, they qualified in the 6th position with a 5.86/233mph run outpacing cars with all the bells and whistles. That’s worth a beer or two in the pits!
The new parts and pieces are available to be purchased, but these two old timers like to keep it as old school as possible. Although to others it may come as a disservice, retro racing is the only way Wally and Pete would want to do it.