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In 1960, a 15-year-old kid with a Flathead ’40 Ford Sedan, who wasn’t old enough to even drive to the drag strip knew that’s where he belonged. He talked his cousin into towing his car to a drag race in Great Bend, Kansas. Great Bend, Kansas: the quarter mile that gave birth to the National Hot Rod Association’s U.S. Nationals. But these two kids almost never got there.
Still fifty miles from the race track, Allan Patterson found himself unhooking his precious Ford from an uncooperative tow vehicle and simply driving the race car to the track. He arrived in Great Bend, alongside his drag racing heroes, with his pockets as dry as the Kansas plains he’d just crossed. But this kid wanted to race.
First run down the track. Nervous as heck. The timer had good news. Well, potentially good news. He’d just set a National Stock class record. But he still had to back it up. No problem.
Second run down that burning asphalt. The flathead started to cutting out. The Ford was out of gas. The sweet taste of that National Record disappeared as quickly as the cash he used to get there.
But that taste…he remembered.
Now, fifty years later, Allan Patterson along with his son Todd have established a long history of competing in classes from Pro Stock to Super Stock, with most of Todd’s winning in the popular Competition Eliminator category. But these two have been busy running several different eliminator brackets to running a successful business.
The Pattersons started out as grass roots racers: local Midwest AHRA drag strips, late Saturday nights, all day Sunday and sometimes Wednesday nights. Allan worked a forty-hour week in the aircraft industry, tuned the race cars in the garage on week nights, and raced all weekend. He drove a ’55 Chevy to AHRA Super Stock World Championships in 1971 and ’73.
Other racers had started asking Allan to build their engines — he seemed to have quite a handle on the secrets of drag racing. All through the seventies, Allan’s engine-building business in the garage behind his house continued to grow.
In 1977, Allan began racing at NHRA sanctioned drag races in the Modified Eliminator category with a 1962 Corvette. But without and substantial success at the national level, and with such a high maintenance race car, the Pattersons were forced to make a change.
At the U.S. Nationals in 1978, Allan fell in love with a Super Stock L 1966 Chevy II. The car had already been driven by Cotton Perry to a national event win that year. A recognizable Patterson Racing tradition emerged with the purchase of that Chevrolet. Because his family and crew insisted on a lower maintenance exterior than their shiny black Corvette, the Chevy II came back from the paint shop GM stock beige.
With the move to full-time racing and engine building in 1979, the Pattersons began to enjoy Super Stock success. In late 1983, Todd began racing for his dad, but not without some hesitancy. Todd knew, and competitors made it a point to remind him, that he had big shoes to fill.
“I just needed seat time,” Todd recalls. He began his racing career by campaigning a Super Stock I automatic 350 power-glide Camaro at local bracket races. “You can stand on the fence all day long and think you know how to do it, but until you actually get in there…there’s a lot more to it than just leaving the starting line, especially in a breakout category.”
Soon after Todd took over the primary driver’s seat, the Pattersons made the switch from Modified Super Stock ’84 Olds Cutlass to the Competition Eliminator category. This step up cost them their factory support (there are no manufacturer’s points awarded for Comp), but the breakout system had frustrated the team for long enough.
“We wanted to produce horsepower, and we felt like Competition Eliminator was the next step up for us.” Todd explains. “Not that we had a great budget for that. That’s when we got hooked up with Lee Montgomery from United Speed World.” This productive partnership would continue through 1994.
The Pattersons’ first national event win in Competition Eliminator came at the Mile High Nationals in 1986, in a street roadster. The roadster was the old Wayne County Speed Shop Modified Eliminator Car.
Todd then captured a win at Pomona and his first Division 5 championship in ’87, with a Buick Opel, the “world’s fastest A-Gas car,” that Dave Hutchens from Wayne County had driven to fame.
In ’88 and ’89, the Pattersons competed in the short-lived IHRA Factory Modified category. These heads-up, side-by-side, all-out drag races gave them a chance to compete against other V-8 small blocks and find out what they were really made of.
“In Competition Eliminator, a lot of times you’re racing against a four cylinder or a six cylinder, and you can’t really relate. You might think you’ve got the fastest C-Altered in the world, but you might get beat by some guy with a four cylinder car. He might have what we call a padded, or soft, index.”
The Factory Modified class, however, had a level playing field. “If you got out run, you’d say, ‘well, hey, that guy was just better than me.’ You went home and you worked harder on your combination,” Todd recalls.
To the chagrin of the Factory Modified racers, the class was eliminated and the Pattersons returned to full-fledged Comp racing in 1990 with a Chevy Beretta.
The ’91 Season threatened discouragement. A disqualification because of a carburetor infraction after a tough win at Pomona left a bad taste in the mouths of those recognized quality engine builders. But four weeks later, at Houston, the Patterson name was vindicated.
“We qualified number one, ran the fastest time anybody had ever heard of in a C Super Modified Car, won the event, and passed tech with flying colors,” Todd smiles.
In ’92, Todd secured another big win at the Gatornationals in a beige Lumina. “Anytime you go east in Competition Eliminator, there’s a lot of good cars. If you can win against that type of competition, you know you’re running against the best.” Todd’s second Division 5 championship came that season, also.
To the Patterson family, the words Labor Day Weekend really mean U.S. Nationals. Since 1976, they have known nothing else. Finally, in ’93, sweet victory was theirs. “That was the biggest win I’ve ever had. There are so many guys that are great racers that through their whole career haven’t had the opportunity to win the race. We had been going to that race since 1976 religiously. To finally get over that hump and win it, that’s gotta be the big one.”
Division 5 Championships also came in 1993, ’94, and ’95. Todd also clenched the number two spot in the Competition Eliminator Winston World in ’94 and ’95.
How were the Patterson able to run such a top-of-the-line operation without major sponsorship? The answer lies with a look under the hood of many of the fastest and best Comp and Super Stock cars in the nation. The widely recognized Patterson Power logo, with its bright red racing piston, can be found on valve covers across the United States, in Mexico and in Australia.
Initially, Allan Patterson got his reputation for light-weight racing pistons. The Pattersons were running pistons lighter than anyone else thought possible. The team still offers this piston-building service today, and they have even formed relationships with other engine builders because of it.
The Patterson Racing team boasts a brand-new, state-of-the-art racing shop in Augusta, Kansas, where they build these pistons, engines, and other racing components. Twelve employees, including Allan, his wife Barbara and Todd, build and freshen engines each season, sell engine kits for Comp, Super Stock and bracket racing, and keep their customers’ race cars running smoothly and winning races.
“Those guys want to buy their parts from somebody that they trust and that they know is going to be there next year, people that are in the middle of our game, rather than some guy that is just picking up the phone at a mail order place and only knows part numbers.” This philosophy has obviously proved valuable to Patterson Racing.
“Competition Eliminator has obviously been really good to us. It’s brought us a lot of customers, a lot of notoriety, but it’s not an easy place to race.” The Pattersons have experienced the frustration of having their index repeatedly lowered because they ran too fast one time too many.
“We’re in the business to sell engines. The way you sell engines is to go out and run fast. So it’s like you’re shooting yourself in the foot in one instance (getting CIC’d), but if you don’t do that (set records), then you don’t look good. It’s Catch 22, you don’t know what to do,” Todd relates.
“The bottom line was my dad was getting a little frustrated with it. We were starting to see a little bit of a burn out. It wasn’t quite as fun as it used to be. We needed a change, and whether this is going to be the right change…It could be the biggest mistake we ever make.”
Todd Patterson has enjoyed the exposure and recognition that comes with NHRA Drag racing. “I have had a lot of respect for the guys that I’ve raced against, hopefully they’ll have the respect for me, because I feel I’ve paid my dues. I’m not the guy that just had a big pocketbook. We’ve come up through the ranks. We’ve got a lot of people in the industry that respect us, and hopefully that will continue.”
After 30 years and 3 generations of Patterson’s heading up Patterson Racing, the business and team are still going strong. In 2008 Allan Patterson found himself back in the driver’s seat of a 1966 Chevy II he had bought for grandson AJ. It had been 24 years since Allan had been behind the wheel and he qualified in the #4 spot at Memphis.