Walt’s Puffer: The Last of the Michigan Fuel Altereds
Okay, I’ll admit it, this might not be the very last Michigan based fuel altered. There were a few others around. I remember El Toro owner Bob Sweatt regretfully telling me “They [the NHRA] took our nitro away from us,” which forced Sweatt to downgrade to alcohol in his EL Toro. And I am still trying to find information about the Peddler altered I saw at Cobo Hall in the late ’60s.
But Knoch has to be considered the dean of fuel altered stalwarts in Southeastern Michigan. Walt’s Auto Parts on Inkster Road was a fixture when I was growing up, with is large fuel altered murals on the outside of the shop. The place was a haunt for a variety of touring AA/FA teams. Even Willie Borrsch could be found hanging out at Knoch’s shop.
Michigan Fuel Altereds: A Rarity
Detroit was never a hotbed for fuel altereds. I’m not sure why. There were funny car events at various tracks nearly every weekend in the seventies. Before that two car match racers between top fuel, gasser and Pro Stocks were common. But altered shows were thin on the ground, even before NHRA yanked the sanction of the nitro burning altereds.
So I was particularly excited to see Walt’s Puffer parked in the pits at Detroit Dragway. I was there to see funny cars; Gil Kohn had booked in eight or twelve floppers for an evening show. Knoch didn’t have anyone to run against, apparently he brought the T-Bucket to the track for a test session.
I’m not sure who was driving that night. Walt Knoch Jr. drove for his father in the early years, but some other hired guns spent time at the wheel of Walt Senior’s race cars.
The only Fuel Altered I Saw make a pass
For all the races I attended, and thousand’s of cars I watched blaze through the quarter-mile, Walt’s Puffer is the only nitro-burning fuel altered I ever witnessed make a pass. All manner of race and exhibition vehicles passed in front of my lenses, but AA/FA machines were noticably absent.
I wish I could say my sole fuel altered experience was amazing. Unfortunately, the T-Bucket had handling difficulties. The driver made two runs, both consisting of a series abortive on and off throttle passes. In comparison, the nitro funnies laid down strong, full throttle runs with flames shooting above the roofs.
I am not suggesting Knoch’s series of Walt Puffer machines weren’t competitive. Walt Jr. captured a couple of A/Altered titles at the US Nationals
By now,  the Walt’s Puffer II Fiat had reached legendary status in the Midwest. Its tire-smoking runs brought the fans to their feet wherever it ran. Walt Knoch was treated like a rock star when he drove into Detroit Dragway with his black ’62 Corvette pulling the chopped Fiat on a trailer. Model car builder AMT noticed the attention that car received among young fans. So much so that when AMT released their Double Dragster model car kit, the Chrysler powered Fiat included in that kit carried the number 285 on the side-the same as the Walt’s Puffer II. (Note: That kit was just re-released.)
While the Knoch family is best known for their altereds, the cash to be had in the funny car ranks couldn’t be denied. Knoch went funny car racing, first with a Mustang driven buy Roger Kyle. Knoch then built a slick Monza and installed the legendary Wild Wille Borsch behind the wheel.
I saw Borsch in the Monza several times. The car wasn’t a giant killer, but it did run well. I just wish I could have witnessed the ’23 T make a few all out passes.