December 1, 2022

Vintage-Nitro

Still car-crazy after all these years

Bill Schifsky Bear Town Shaker Mustang Funny Car

Rick Johnson in the Bear Town Shaker Funny Car

It’s 1976, and Rick Johnson has just taken over the reins of Bill Schifsky’s Bear Town Shaker Mustang II funny car. Although Johnson hailed from Oklahoma, car owner Schifsky was from White Bear Lake, Minnesota. Hence the car’s name.

According to Draglist, Johnson crewed for Gene Snow, before stepping into the driver’s seat of the Lone Star Longneck AA/FC owned by the Martinez Brothers out of Texas. He only drove the Longneck Pontiac for a few months in 1976. That’s when Schifsky offered him the seat of his Mustang II.

Before the Bear Town Shaker

Schifsky owned and drove a succession of Top Gas and Top Fuel machines in the ’60s. He also engaged several “hired guns” to drive for him.

In 1970, Schifsky moved to the funny car ranks, teaming up with fellow Minesotian Tom Hoover on the White Bear Dodge machines. Hoover drove the car and continued to campaign the White Bear Dodge entry into 1973.

Although Schifsky remained partial owner of Hoover’s Charger, he managed to convince the Cox Company to sponsor a new Pinto-bodied flopper in 1972. Cox was well known for producing tiny nitro-burning engines for model planes and “tether cars.”

Cox produced a model version of Schifsky’s Pinto to be sold in hobby shops around the country. The main difference was that Schifsky’s funny car was powered by a full-sized 392 Hemi, while the model relied on a 0.49 Cox engine. To this day, second-hand copies of the Cox Pinto still turn up on eBay and other bargain outlets.

Draglist shows Schifsky as the original driver of the Pinto. As time went on, he employed other wheelmen, including Doc Halladay. I’m not sure how many model Pintos Cox sold, but the sponsorship was active into 1975, an indication Cox was happy with the arrangement.

Johnson signs on

In ’75, Schifsky sold the Pinto and put Topper Kramer behind the wheel of the new Bear Town Shaker Mustang II. The following year Johnson replaced Kramer and the team ran a number of NHRA and AHRA national events, in addition to match racing.

Johnson and Schifsky should probably be more well-known than they are. As far as I know, they never won a national event, but that isn’t due to a lack of trying. They were very active in the NHRA points trail, and Johnson qualified second at the ’77 Gatornationals.

Regrettably, the car shown in the photo was destroyed in a crash during the ’77 season. Johnson suffered a broken leg but recovered sufficiently to drive the replacement Bear Town Shaker; another Mustang II. Johnson continued driving for Schifsky until 1979.

He ran his own car in the later part of ’79, then for 1980 Johnson transferred to Phil & Fred Castronovo’s Custom Body Enterprises funny car. He drove the CBE entry for several seasons before TV Tommy Ivo came knocking.

Tommy Ivo’s four-engined Wagonmaster

According to Ivo’s website, while campaigning the four-engined “Wagonmaster” exhibition machine, Ivo damaged three vertebrae and could no longer drive. Although Ivo’s site doesn’t mention any names, Draglist identifies Rick Johnson as the Wagonmaster’s replacement diver for 1982.

Johnson closed out his career with rides in a variety of top fuel dragsters.

In 1980, Schifsky switched body styles and employed Mike Dunn to drive his Chevy Citation, still under the Bear Town Shaker name. That same year, he signed on as crew chief for former driver Doc Halladay. Halladay toured extensively with his Telstar floppers, with either Schifsky or Jerry Newman serving as crew chief. As late as 2015, Halladay was still running nostalgia funny car events with an entry called Telstar. Considering he started driving Charlie Proite’s original Telstar in 1976, that has to be some kind of record for funny car names!

I found a trailer manufacturer in White Bear, MN operating under the name Schifsky Trailers. It seem likely it is related to Bill Schifsky.

Thus ends a quick look at the men behind the Bear Town Shaker. That’s a considerable amount of nitro and a host of quarter-mile passes from competitors who are relatively unknown today!

Tom Bonner