In 1963, the NHRA realigned its divisions. This realignment, and young Walt Knoch's temper, would cause him some problems at the 1963 U.S. Nationals. During time trials, Walt's Puffer II was running in top form but his time slips were blank-no ET or speed. Jack Chrisman said to Knoch, "Damn, you got your car running really good." Chrisman told Knoch he was running ETs in the 9.60 range. Knoch asked Chrisman how he knew the times when his slips were blank. Chrisman explained he saw the times on the clocks when he was in the tower. He encouraged Knoch to go to the tower and find out what the problem was. "I walked in and Eileen Daniels [wife of Bob Daniels, then NHRA's Division 3 Director] was there," says Knoch. "I told her I wanted to see the times that I ran. She started to give them to me and then this woman in a red jump suit came over and said, 'Are you Wally Knoch with the Walt's Puffer cars?'" After confirming his identity, the woman in red instructed Daniels not to give Knoch any of his times. An NHRA divisional realignment changed the numbering system for the A/Altered cars and the NHRA had assigned Knoch's Fiat the number 385. Knoch wanted to retain the 285 number that had been on his car for years and was also on the AMT model. "Everybody knew that car by the 285 number, and I wasn't about to change it," exclaimed Knoch.

They directed Knoch upstairs where he could plead his case directly to Wally Parks (NHRA President) and Ed Eaton (NHRA's Competition Director). "Eaton and Parks both disagreed with my point of view-I was right and they were wrong," says Knoch. Unfortunately for Knoch, Parks and Eaton had control of the event. The next time Knoch pulled up to the line to race, he was given the cut signal and not allowed to run. An irate Knoch stormed to the tower. At that time young Knoch was 6'4", 200 pounds and buff as any WWE wrestler. "The timing tower was probably three or four stories high and they had a couple of security cops at the bottom of the stairs," recalls Knoch. The two guards asked him where he was going and they told him he wasn't allowed in the tower. "One guy stood up and took a swing at me, or something like that, and-bam-bam-two guys were down on the ground. I went upstairs." Someone yelled, "Get this guy out of here!" and two Indiana State Troopers grabbed him. Before he could be escorted out, Knoch was asked to go upstairs to again meet with the NHRA officials. "I went upstairs with the cops following me. Wally Parks and Ed Eaton were up there-they read me the riot act." They threw Knoch out of the event, and the Troopers escorted him to the gate and made sure there was no more trouble. Walt Knoch's driving career ended shortly after when NHRA officials approached the senior Knoch and told him, "We'll allow your cars to run, but your kid can't drive 'em."

In 1999, Knock pulled Walt's Puffer II out of storage and, along with friend Jerry Dotson, restored it. When it appeared at Detroit's Autorama it brought back a flood of memories to its many fans that recalled its glory days of race wins and full quarter-mile tire-smoking runs.

Fast Facts
'39 Fiat Coupe A/Altered
Owner: Walt Knoch, Inkster, Michigan

  • Mopar Power Nothing says vintage Altered power like a 392 Chrysler Hemi. This one is running on pump gas, so let's go for a drive. Up top, is a 6-71 Blower, Hilborn injectors, Isky cam, and Zoomie style headers
  • Transmission: We don't need no stinking transmission. It's got an in-out box. You're either in gear, or out of gear.
  • Rearend: Vintage Ford with quick-change center section, 4.11:1 gears

Sure-Grip

  • Suspension: If that's what you want to call a suspension. It's only a solidly mounted rear end with a buggy sprung straight axle up front. Imagine a blast at 140-plus mph and hitting a bump.
  • Brakes: Rear-only that are actuated by a hand lever. This means the end of the track comes along really quick.
  • Tires & Wheels: Vintage 8.00x15 M&H Racemaster slicks and front runners on Halibrand magnesium wheels

High Impact

  • Body: '39 Fiat Topolino coupe chopped, fiberglass nose
  • Paint: Red, just plain red with yellow lettering.
  • Interior: Surplus aircraft seat, modified brand-X steering wheel.