January 26, 2023


Still car-crazy after all these years

Kelly Chadwick

Kelly's Camaro on the ramp truck

Professor Kelly Chadwick and the Wild Thing II Camaro

Kelly Chadwick's Wild Thing II was the epitome of the original funny car concept. The Camaro looks stock, except for the supercharger peeking through the hood, but he wheelbase was extended and the front end lengthened.
Kelly Chadwick's Wild Thing II Camaro
Kelly Chadwick’s Wild Thing II was carefully designed to look like a stock 1967 Camaro, despite the fact it was lengthened and both the front and rear wheels were moved significantly forward. Wild Thing would remain on the trailer this day, as rain washed wawy the program at Detroit Dragway.

Kelly Chadwick was another racer who watched the rain wash away the funny car event at Detroit Dragway. Chadwick had brought his Wild Thing blown Camaro to Detroit, only to have rain spoil his chances to mix it up with the other funny cars.

Chadwick’s Camaro spent the day in the same motel parking lot as Dick Harrell’s flopper. I wasn’t particularly surprized to see the two blown Chevys waiting out the rain together. Chadwick and Harrell were good friends, and both of them relied on Don Hardy to build their race cars. I read an interview with Chadwick where he said that racing had just been a hobby. Then Harrell suggested that Chadwick could make good money match racing. Accordingly, Chadwick built an altered wheelbase Chevelle, and followed it up with a match-bash Nova known as Wild Thing.

When he wasn’t racing, Chadwick was a highly successful high school girl’s basketball coach. Because of this, he was known as the Professor or the Flying School Teacher.

In 1967, Chadwick had Hardy build one of the very first Camaro funny cars. The Chadwick and Harrell Camaros were near twins. A steel body shell was mounted on a Don Hardy tube chassis, with fiberglass fenders, doors and decklid. The rear wheels were shifted forward roughly 8 inches, while the lengthened front end allowed the front wheels to be moved some 15 inches forward. As a result, the car rolled on a 115 inch wheelbase.

Note the large aluminum air dam riveted to the front of the Wild Thing II. Can you say downforce?

Chadwick’s car is the epitome of the idea behind the original funny cars. Except for the big supercharger punched through the hood, the car looks like a stock Camaro. Racers and racing fans might immediately note the heavily modified wheelbase and lengthened fenders, but the general public might assume the car is a factory built Camaro, unless you parked an actual ’67 Camaro next to it.

Kelly Chadwick's Camaro waiting out the rain
Although the Chadwick called this Camaro Wild Thing II, I don’t think the name appeared on his ramp truck. Following the truck on the highway, you would see the car identified as “Kelly’s Camaro.”

Originally running an injected big block Chevy, by 1968 Chadwick had stuffed a nitro burning, blown rat motor into Wild Thing. While Harrell and other Texas standouts moved to flip-top Camaros for 1968, the supercharger kept the Wild Thing II in the thick of things, as Chadwick continued to race the steel bodied car though the rest of the season.

All good things come to an end, however, and Chadwick replaced Wild Thing II with a Hardy constructed flip-top Camaro for 1969.

The lettering on the ramp truck is interesting. It proclaims Chadwick owned the 1967 1/8 mile championship. I’m not sure who sanctioned that title, but apparently Chadwick earned it. He also lists his car as the 1967 Chevrolet Team National Champion. Again. I’m not sure what kind of title that is, but Chadwick laid claim to it.

Chadwick’s truck also indicates he is the 1965, 1966 and 1967 Texas State Champion. I’m guessing this has nothing to do with drag racing. Chackwick’s basketball teams were consistent championship winners, so I think those titles were earned on the basketball court rather than the track.

Steakley Chevy Town in Dallas, Texas was Chadwick’s long time sponsor. Although he has nothing to do with cars and racing, John Steakley was the son of the dealership owner. Steakley was a science-fiction writer of some note. Some of his stories were made into movies, and Streakley appeared as an actor in a few of the films. Thus Steakley Chevrolet was connected with both the basketball-coach/funny car driver as well as the science fiction writer/actor.

Kelly Chadwick went on to become a prominent member of the famous Coca-Cola Cavalcade of Stars. The Coke circuit provided eight car funny car shows across the country in the late ’60s and early ’70s. It was simple for promoters to book a great funny car show, because the just had to book the Cavalcade and the circuit would take care of all the individual details. Chadwick was circuit captain for at least one season, and won his fair share of races at the Coke shows, always running steel block Chevy engines.

Tom Bonner