As a teenager he bought a 1934 Ford, put a Cadillac engine in it and won the NHRA Drag Safari in 1955. Four years later he had switched to a 1933 Willys with a Caddy engine and won the NHRA Detroit Nationals. And by 1964 he had become the first drag racer to win the Indianapolis NHRA Nationals more than once, winning three times in the first four years.
In March of 2020, “Ohio George” Montgomery will join his good buddy Don Garlits in the Motorsports Hall of Fame of America in Daytona Beach. His lifetime of drag racing and engine building will put him in the company of other greats like Mario Andretti, A.J. Foyt, Richard Petty and Connie Kalitta.
Wheels found Ohio George at his speed shop, George’s Speed Shop, in Dayton, which is the oldest continuously operated speed shop in the United States.
“It’s been a great run,” the 86-year-old said from his office, the walls lined with old drag racing photos and 22 NHRA Class Record certificates.
Montgomery traveled the United States drag racing to make a living. He did it in a time before multi-million-dollar sponsorships and full-time crew members. “I traveled alone most of the time, I’d find a volunteer at the track to help me. We didn’t rebuild the engine after every run, like they do today. Unless I was gonna be gone a long time, I didn’t even take an extra engine with me,” he said.
The 1933 Willys made Montgomery famous as he beat the other top gassers in the early ’60s. “We did a lot of match racing back then, and all the top gassers were from the west coast, Like Stone, Woods and Cook. I beat them a lot and the promoters named me ‘Ohio George’ and it just stuck,” he said.
In 1967, Ford Motor Co. approached Montgomery about running a Ford engine. They wanted to boost the presence of their 289 but Montgomery was intrigued by the single overhead cam 427. Ford gave him one and he went to Indy and won the Nationals in AA Gas class with the ’33 Willys.
“I never got a dime from the auto companies, but I got parts, engines, technical support and engineering help. My Willys was the first drag racer to ever be put in a wind tunnel. We took it to the Ford wind tunnel, and we found why it was so hard to drive. At that time, they told me they really wanted me to race a Mustang and I agreed; the Willys was a real handful,” Montgomery explained.
Another breakthrough came when Ford wanted Montgomery to switch to the new 1969 Mustang.
“They showed me the car and body, and I realized I needed to make a frame for it because it was a unibody car. I checked with the NHRA and told them I was going to build a Willys frame and put a Mustang body on it,” he said. “The tech director said OK, so I added 10 inches to a Willys frame, and then got a mold made and built a fiberglass body for the Mustang. The car was so fast, the gasser boys submitted a petition to have the car banned, but the NHRA was good to their word and we kept racing. I didn’t cheat, but I sure studied every rule and pushed the envelope on all of them. At that time, it was the best engineered car in the NHRA.”
Montgomery continued to race and win through 1985 when he finally parked the gassers. Most aren’t aware that as a teenager Montgomery got an apprenticeship at Delco Products as a toolmaker and later took classes at Patterson Co-Op in advanced math, drafting and blue print reading.
He is an engineer who is recognized as one of the premier engine builders in the U.S. In 1985 he turned to providing engines for the Indy Lights racing series. “They were all Buick V6’s and Buick told me that the races are on TV and they wanted no engine failures. That scared me, but we built 100 engines for the 30 teams, and guaranteed each engine for three races or 1,000 miles, and then they returned it for a fresh engine. We had very few failures in the 16 years that we did that,” he said.
That engine operation came out of the same shop that George goes to everyday with his son, a master mechanic himself, Gregg Montgomery.
“I’m here every day, and Dad comes over in the afternoon,” Gregg Montgomery said.
There must be some engineering in the Montgomery DNA because Gregg’s son and Ohio George’s grandson is also an engineer working for Honda Motor Co.
Montgomery’s race cars are all in secure locations: the 1933 Willys is in the Henry Ford Museum in Dearborn, Michigan; the first car, the 1934 Ford hot rod, is in the Don Garlits Drag Racing Museum in Florida; the 1967 Mustang is in the Petersen Museum in Los Angeles; and the 1969 Mustang is in a private collection.
I asked Ohio George what was the greatest racing/auto moment of his career and he only paused a second.
“The one coming up in March. What an honor for a kid from Dayton to end up in the Hall of Fame! I can’t believe it, but I can’t wait to get there,” he said.
The Motorsports Hall of Fame of America will induct its largest class in recent years March 16-17 during its 32nd annual Induction Celebration in Daytona Beach.
The Class of 2020 includes NASCAR’s first-ever champion Robert “Red” Byron (Historic); flat track impresario Chris Carr (Motorcycles); early motorcycle racer, promoter and publisher Floyd Clymer (At Large); driver, official and safety advocate Wally Dallenbach Sr. (Open Wheel); Rick Hendrick, one of NASCAR’s most successful owners (Stock Cars); Daytona 500 champion Tiny Lund (Historic); Can-Am and Rolex 24 At Daytona champion Jacky Ickx (Sports Cars); quarter-mile racing legend “Ohio” George Montgomery (Drag Racing); and Baja 500 and 1,000 and SCORE World Champion Ivan “Ironman” Stewart (Off-Road Racing).
To get the whole story about Montgomery, there is a book, “Ohio George” Montgomery, Drag Racing’s Gasser King, which is available at George’s Speed Shop, 716 Brantley Ave, Dayton. If you go in the afternoon, between 1 and 5 p.m., “Ohio George” will be happy to autograph your copy.
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