- Published on Wednesday, 20 March 2013 01:49
NORWALK, Ohio – It was one of those forever remembered moments that Rodney Fazekas sees best by looking back on life.
A handful of years old and the youngest of four boys in a hard core drag racing family, Rodney Fazekas walked the pits with his father, also named Rod.
“I can remember seeing Al Hanna there, and the Eastern Raider,” said Rodney Fazekas, 43, Pottstown, Pa. “My dad used to talk about Al Hanna, and what a good guy he was, because no matter how busy he was, he would take the time out to talk to somebody. And I always remembered my dad saying that.
“It’s funny because my dad was long gone before I started working with Al,” Rodney Fazekas said.
Living in the country, the Fazekas boys – Dean, Daryl, Dwayne, and Rodney -- knew they wanted to race before they could drive.
“We were pushed out as soon as we could balance ourselves,” Rodney Fazekas said. “We had a race track set up at our house with pits and stuff. We were out in the middle of nowhere. Then we raced five horsepower Briggs and Stratton engines on mini bikes. And now we’re up to 2,000 horsepower Funny Cars.”
A parallel thread of memories through most of Rodney’s life includes racer Jill Canuso, from Bensalem, Pa.
“I met Jill racing flat track motorcycles. She was seven or eight when I started. She had pink handlebars,” Rodney Fazekas said. “I was nine or 10. “I always remembered her because she was always beating the guys with the pink handlebars.
“My friend had to race her,” Rodney Fazekas said. “She would beat him.”
Rodney never lined up against Jill.
“She was racing smaller bikes,” Rodney Fazekas said. “She stayed in it. I started going into drag racing. I kind of lost track of her.”
The Fazekas family made memories at the tree.
“My dad raced ’32 Fords with Hemis,” Rodney Fazekas said. “He had a lot of cars that were in magazines. My mom, Pearl Fazekas, used to race his cars. He was known for very nice quality show cars. He passed away in ’91. My dad was a hard core race guy. And I have three older brothers who were always trying to outdo each other.”
Up to his elbows in oil before he reached his teens, Rodney attended Owen J. Roberts High School in Pottstown, and Northern Chester County Technical School in Phoenixville, Pa. to specialize in automotive.
For 12 years Rodney Fazekas plied his creativity on fabrication and installation at S&W Race Cars, Spring City, Pa.
Then in 1990, Rodney Fazekas hung a shingle for his own fabrication and custom automotive business, Rod’s Custom Fabrications.
“I did mostly door cars on my own,” Rodney Fazekas said. “A lot of odd stuff, too, bikes and cars.”
About 12 years ago, Rodney Fazekas started wrenching for the man he’s admired since his toddler days: Al Hanna, owner of Hanna Motorsports Inc., Connecticut, known for world record setting Jet Cars and the Queen of Diamonds Jet Dragster.
Meanwhile, Jill Canuso raced everything with wheels, including professional competitions in a Monster Truck.
“We’ve always been parallel from each other since we were kids, but never crossed paths,” Rodney Fazekas said. “We raced the same motorcycles. I used to build Monster Trucks. We had the same circle of friends. We knew each other when we were six, but we didn’t get together until we were 40.”
About seven years ago, Hanna Motorsports needed a driver for the Queen of Diamonds Jet Dragster.
“A friend of mine built motorcycles,” Rodney Fazekas said. “He mentioned Jill’s name. That’s when I called Jill to see if she would be interested in the dragster ride.”
At the same time, Rodney Fazekas toured dragstrips with the Hanna Motorsports Jet Funny Cars.
“Every time we went to the races with the Jet Cars, Funny Cars kept popping up in popularity with the nostalgia.
“I mentioned to Al about the idea, and he said he knew where his old one was,” Rodney Fazekas said. “So I asked him to call the gentleman to see if he would be willing to sell it.”
So in 2009 Rodney and his brother packed up for an East Coast road trip.
“Original paint. Original trim work. It was the rolling chassis the way it was in 1980. The guy put a tarp on it and that was the way it sat,” Rodney Fazekas said. “The guy kind of bought collector cars and stuck them in the garage. It was the right timing, and it was good for me.
“Al always said it was his favorite car. So I bought it, pretty much original. The only thing that was not original was the motor and transmission,” Rodney Fazekas said. “It’s basically like a top alcohol Funny Car.”
To buy a complete nostalgia Funny Car costs about $120,000, Rodney Fazekas estimated. He towed the Eastern Raider to his four-car garage, and rolled up his sleeves.
Rodney installed a 500 cu.in. blown alcohol Keith Black Chevy engine and a 3-speed Lenco transmission.
“We went back to the guys who did Al’s motor back then, Norm Case and Dale Hall,” Jill Canuso said.
“The only thing I had to change was the roll cage and pedals, because Al is so much bigger than I am,” Rodney Fazekas said. “He’s six-foot-four; I’m five-foot-two.”
As if a labor of love on the Eastern Raider weren’t enough, at the same time Rodney fell for a dynamo of a Jet Dragster driver.
Since Jill Canuso’s dad, Denny Lautenbacher, followed her to the race track, Rodney devised ways to warm up a working relationship.
“I started asking her dad and buttering up to him before I ever asked Jill,” Rodney Fazekas said.
“At the same time, Al was saying to me, ‘Rodney seems nice. What do you think about Rodney?’” Jill Canuso said. “I was getting it from both sides. We started dating because Rodney needed seat belts. I was working for M&R Products. They made seat belts.”
“She brought me seat belts, I took her out to dinner,” Rodney Fazekas said.
“I tried to hook him up with everything I could…tie down straps, safety straps,” Jill Canuso said. “It didn’t take long. We kind of fell for each other fast.”
“I must go pretty fast,” Rodney Fazekas said, “because she goes 300 mph and I still caught her.”
Now Jill Canuso works for S&W Race Cars, where Rodney Fazekas started his automotive career.
Early in 2013, Hanna Motorsports announced plans to build a state-of-the-art Queen of Diamonds II Jet Dragster in a radically new design, with Jill Canuso as the designated driver. For more information click on Queen of Diamonds II.
Rodney Fazekas’s role is to install brake lines, fuel lines and electrical systems, and to crew for the Queen of Diamonds II when racing schedules allow him to go with Jill.
“This year is going to be crazy busy and fun with building and testing the Queen of Diamonds II and figuring out the new engine combinations,” said Jill Canuso.
Hanna Motorsports fires up the old Queen of Diamonds alongside Rodney’s Eastern Raider at the North Eastern Rod and Custom Car Show, March 22-24, 2013 in Oaks, Pa.
Then Jill Canuso races the old Queen of Diamonds for the last time on April 27, 2013 at the Funny Car Fox Hunt on April 27, 2013 at Summit Motorsports Park in Norwalk, Ohio. For information click on girls get in free.
Jill Canuso and the Hanna Motorsports Queen of Diamonds II return in 2013 to Summit Motorsports Park for three more feature events:
• May 17-19, 2013, the Mickey Mart Rewards Cavalcade of Stars presented by Budweiser, a part of the Harley-Davidson Drag Racing Series and the National Hot Rod Association Lucas Oil Drag Racing Series.
Al Hanna, owner of Hanna Motorsports, expects Jill Canuso to debut the Hanna Motorsports Queen of Diamonds II at the Mickey Mart Rewards Cavalcade of Stars presented by Budweiser. For event details click on fabulous family fun.
• July 4-7, 2013, the Summit Racing Equipment NHRA Nationals, part of the Mello Yello Drag Racing Series. For event details, click on vacation destination.
• August 10, 2013, the Auto Plus Night Under Fire presented by Kelly Services. For event details click on fifty years of fun celebration.
Perhaps a nostalgia Funny Car nudges up to memories in your heart. How can you find her?
“Just talk to people at the race track,” Rodney Fazekas said. “You can go to nostalgia racing with techniques that they used back then. To find an actual old car that is worth restoring is difficult. Most of these guys find cars that are so far gone, they end up being new cars with old paint jobs on them.
“I’ve been building cars pretty much all my life,” Rodney Fazekas said. “I bought (the Eastern Raider) in the fall of 2009, and just slowly rebuilt it with the help of Jill and sponsors.”
“Do your research,” Jill Canuso said. “Try to talk to someone like Al Hanna, the racers who were racing those cars in the 70’s and 80’s are still around. Talk to them. Racing does keep you young, so they’re still young and peppy.”
Another necessity, Rodney Fazekas gathered Dean, Daryl, Dwayne, Pearl, Roger, Denny, and Jill to crew on the Eastern Raider, with the horsepower increased to produce six-second passes and 200 mph speed.
“But no matter how fast I go in my Funny Car, Jill will always go 100 mph faster,” Rodney Fazekas said, proud of both of them.
“It’s one of the only nostalgia Funny Cars with original 30-year-old paint,” Rodney Fazekas said. “It looks show room condition. The body was brought out and waxed.”
Check out this beauty of a nostalgia Funny Car by clicking on Eastern Raider.
Like a favorite old toy, the patched 1980’s Fiberglas body drips with history from the Eastern Raider’s war stories.
“Eventually I would like to retire the body,” Rodney Fazekas said. “The car was the one everybody remembers."
Al Hanna crashed the car, then within eight days they fixed the chassis, the body, the plumbing and electrical and made the next race, Al Hanna said.
"It was stolen from Englishtown, New Jersey at a National event," Rodney Fazekas said. "Al and Ellen Hanna went out for their anniversary dinner. When they came back, the car was gone.
“The body was burned to the ground. The chassis was found in New York in a car theft ring,” Rodney Fazekas said.
The process to recover the chassis lasted about five months, said Al Hanna.
Racing friends took it upon themselves to restore various portions -- the body, paint, lettering, etc. -- of the Eastern Raider for free, Al Hanna said.
“It’s been through rough times,” Rodney Fazekas said. “It’s a survivor.”