John "Mouse" Wilson;
The Fearless Flyer from Texas

by Stephen Justice

John "Mouse" Wilson in Fred Rowsey's Banzai 1

The day was August 31, 1968; the place was Green Valley Raceway, Texas; and the event was the AHRA World Championship Drag Races. The AHRA World Championships would go down as a race noted not only for its great competition, but also for the tragic loss of one of it racers. As was common at the time, it was going to take five rounds of eliminations to determine the top fuel dragster winner. Over 50 of them from as far away as California in the west and West Virginia in the east were on hand for the three-day event, and John "Mouse" Wilson had his Wilson-Wilder-Schroeder-Casarez T-Bar chassis rail securely in the 32-car field at #10 with a 7.17. This was shaping up to be not just another rinky-dink race because California hotshots like Blair-Goldstein (San Diego), Don Cook (Walnut Creek), and Beebe-Mulligan (Garden Grove) were in the pits, as well as all the big guns from Texas and Oklahoma--Texans, like the Carroll Bros. and Vance Hunt from Dallas; Bobby Langley from Everman; and, the Anderson Bros. from Ft. Worth. Then, there were the "Okies" like Creitz-Greer-Donovan from Tulsa and Boyd-Griffith from Oklahoma City. Even Chris "The Greek" Karamesines from Chicago, Illinois was there. After the frantic touch-and-go pace of qualifying was completed, Leroy Goldstein was number one at 6.92, followed by the Carroll Bros. and Don Cook in second and third, respectively.

Despite the potent and talented opposition, "Mouse" Wilson looked well placed to advance in eliminations. His number ten qualifying position had him paired against #26 Dan Widner (the pairings were done differently back then: 1 vs. 17, 2 vs. 18, etc.) in round one, and then, a probable showdown against the Carroll Bros. in round two. But, round two for Wilson would never happen. As reported in the Fort Worth, Texas Star Telegram, "John Wilson of Dallas driving the first race of the first round of top fuel eliminations was killed when his dragster went out of control at almost 200 miles per hour and crashed late Saturday night." Wilson had jumped out to substantial advantage over Widner, and according to witnesses, appeared to have shut it down. When Widner's dragster started to gain ground, Wilson-Wilder-Schroeder-Casarez suddenly came back to life and moved violently to the right. Wilson tried to save the run, but the dragster's right front tire clipped a timing light concrete block, careening the slingshot out of control.

Ed Miller, a fellow racer, and current president of the Texas Timing Association, vividly recalls the moment even though it was almost 50 year's ago. "I was standing on 'the Loop' at Green Valley, right at the finish line, preparing my fuel roadster for the first round of A/Fuel Altered when 'Mouse' came thundering down the track in his AA/Fuel Dragster. While Green Valley was one of the best tracks in the country, and certainly in Texas in those days, it did not have all the modern safety improvements that are standard in the 21st century. There were no solid concrete outside guard walls running the whole length of the track and shut-off area as there are now. The metal guardrail in the right lane, in which he was running, stopped just short of the finish line. The timing lights for the finish line were mounted on large concrete blocks several feet square placed just past the end of the guardrail and only inches away from the edge of the paved track. As 'Mouse' approached the finish line, his FED began to sashay. The front end swung slightly off the track just past the end of the guardrail and clipped the concrete timing light block with the right front tire. The dragster launched into the air, came back down, and folded up just in front of the engine. The impact sent the engine up into the sky, while the badly bent car began tumbling end-over-end. The blown hemi made a tall arc up in the air and fell back down to earth right on top of the still careening wreckage of the car. Despite having a good roll bar, safety belts, and a harness, 'Mouse' never had any kind of a chance at all."


John Wilson had been a member and officer in the Poor Boys Car Club from San Antonio, Texas since the 1950s. The Poor Boys were frequent competitors at San Antonio's Double Eagle Drag Strip. Wilson, along with Poor Boy member Roland Rodriguez, campaigned a series of modified coupes, including one with a rear engine design. Later, John drove for Jesse Schrank, another Poor Boy member, who had a carbureted Chrysler fuel dragster. But, what "Mouse" longed to do was to make a name for himself drag racing in Southern California. SoCal, at that time, was considered the center of the drag racing universe. The drag strips were there, lots of them, along with a blossoming and booming aftermarket industry. So, too, were the talented engine builders with all their speed secrets. "Mouse" dreamed of being one of those well-known drivers whose names appeared in the weekly drag racing publications like Drag News and Drag Sport Illustrated. The lure was so strong Wilson moved his family to California in 1961.



There were seven drag strips operating in Southern California at the time, many offering big money for the outlawed classes that used nitromethane for fuel. These included Riverside Raceway, Fontana's "Drag City" and Pomona. John Wilson would team up with Jim Keeter in what would be "Mouse's" first top fuel dragster ride. Keeter was a recognizable face at many of the Southern California drag strips, especially Long Beach (Lions Drag Strip), Fontana, and San Fernando. Jim had been a partner with Dick Stewart in a variety of nitro classes, but Stewart was seriously injured in a racing accident at Fontana and quit the sport. Jim wanted to continue racing but was having difficulty finding a good driver for the new top fuel dragster he had just built. By chance, Keeter ran into Wilson who was working at a Chevrolet dealership in Santa Monica as a service writer. Ron Workman, a crewmember for Keeter (and later an accomplished driver in his own right), recalls the Keeter-Wilson team. "John was a good driver, not scared of anything, but at the same time, not reckless behind the wheel. There were three different dragsters during the time Wilson drove for Keeter; each painted a different color-red, black, and yellow. The red dragster was the first one and eventually ended up in a sports bar in Detroit. We raced the black one in 1963-64. The yellow car, completed in the early summer of 1964, was the last one and the best of the bunch. We called it the 'Flexy Flyer' because it approximated a successful design then being used by Woody Gilmore." At this time, Wilson had moved the family back to Texas to pursue a promising business venture. After some test runs at Lions with Dick Stewart behind the wheel, Keeter decided to take his new dragster to Green Valley for a big AHRA race. "Mouse" drove it that weekend, and was so pleased with the results, that he moved back to Southern California. He would drive the yellow car with moderate success until Keeter quit the sport after a disastrous 1965 March Meet (blew up two engines). Wilson continued racing the yellow car off-and-on with an engine owned by Mike Wynn until Jim sold the dragster.


The Keeter-Wilson black car in the pits at Lions Drag Strip; 1963


Keeter-Wilson making a run at Lions drag Strip; 1963


Tire smoke frequently engulfed the cockpit of the Keeter-Wilsom black car,so a taller wrap around windshield was added for better vision.



Wilson drove briefly for John Harbert in 1964 after the black car was retired and before the yellow car was completed.


The Keeter-Wilson yellow car at Green Valley, Texas in 1964; pictured:John Wilson, Jim Keeter; and Randy Wilson.

Wilson next teamed up with Dick Stahl and they quickly became one of the top teams on the West Coast. At the 1965 Hot Rod Magazine meet at Riverside Raceway, they qualified #3 with a 7.58. The flamboyant Stahl seemed the perfect partner for the fearless Wilson. Stahl did not put any restraints on his drivers, so "Mouse" was free to hone his "no lift" style of driving. To underscore this fact, the incomparable Ralph Guldahl Jr. made this report in Drag News after a race between Stahl-Wilson and Zane Schubert at Lions in June 1965-"… it appeared Wilson put it to the wood and just forgot about it, sparks gradually beginning to escape the hauling Stahl racer. On approaching the lights, the shadowy rig began fizzling into a bright vermillion Roman candle at or near the final trap. The chute got out as the entire clutch and flywheel assembly left the car, exploding the engine into a forward trajectory also out in front of the car, in turn shearing off the right front wheel. The pan broke open spewing oil everywhere. Zane, in the other lane, moved over as far as he could, then gazed upward and saw what he thought was a mag wheel because 'a bunch of silvery stuff' was falling off it. The silvery stuff was in actuality Stahl's motor traveling at the same speed as Zane right over his head. The true 'overhead' type motor and Zane traveled in this state for a while, then the Beard shut it down-the motor taking a bounce in front of Zane's right front wheel and continued with unchained fury all the way to Willow Avenue.

John Wilson eventually crossed in behind Schubert-Herbert, the car making the turn off perfectly, slowing on but three wheels, no motor, no bell housing, no fuel pump, no firewall, no nothing except clean frame rails. Lions' blue lights defining the direction for Wilson to follow helped save the day, and surely never enough credit can be heaped on the Roy Steen Race Car Specialties chassis in withstanding a blow like this. Both drivers were A.O.K…" Ron Workman, who witnessed this incredulous run, heard a crewman run up to Wilson at the end of the track and bark, "You ain't got no motor."


Stahl-Wilson in the traps at Riverside Raceway; 1965

John "Mouse" Wilson returned to Texas in 1966. The California dream had run its course. Nonetheless, he had made a name for himself, earned the respect of many in the sport, and learned enough to know what it would take to build his own successful team. At first, he drove for other owners before building his own car, the Wilson-Wilder-Schroeder-Casarez T-Bar dragster in 1968. Wilson's first ride back in Texas was Fred Rowsey's Banzai I, and in 1967, Banzai II. The latter was an instant success. A win at Amarillo in early May was followed by another one at Austin Raceway Park the very next week. At Austin, Banzai II won top eliminator over a star-studded field that included out-of-staters Creitz-Greer (OK), Benny Osborne (OK), John Wiebe (KS), Crower Blair & Goldstein (CA), and Al Waites (LA). The following week at a points meet at LaPlace, LA, "Mouse" added another top fuel win, and at the same time, reset the strip records for speed and e.t. (7.57-201mph). This would be the start of a long string of victories for Fred Rowsey and John Wilson that year.


John Wilson (wearing the hat) with Banzai 1; 1966


Wilson making a run in Banzai 1 at Green Valley, TX; 1966


Banzai II at LaPlace Dragway, LA; June 1967;a Div. 2 WCS race that Wilson won


Banzai II had all the good stuff: Woody Gilmore chassis; Keith Black engine; and, "Mouse" Wilson at the controls.


The Green Gang with Ray Collier (near) and Banzai II (far); Tulsa OK; 1967.


Banzai II at Amarillo Raceway; 1967; Div. 4 director Dale Ham's station wagon in the background.


John Wilson instructing Fred Rowsey on how to "read" the plugs.


In October 1967, Wilson left Rowsey when a local Dodge dealer invited John to drive his Luckey Dodge top fuel dragster. Ray Luckey owned a Dodge dealership in Longview, TX. His "Performance Specialties" top fuel dragster was brand new and top notch end to end. A full-bodied beauty built by Race Car Specialties, it was powered by a Sid Waterman 426 cid Dodge engine, and painted by the renowned George Cerny.

Joann Peters of Drag News, who penned her column Texas Tales, described it this way "…it is a rainbow starting with the dark colors on the nose-purple; indigo; blue; green; yellow; and orange and red up to the engine. The cowl piece is purple with the lace effect and The Dodge Boys caricature with John's name over it… a more sanitary looking set-up you would never hope to see." .The first time out at Hope AK, Wilson ran a 6.81-188, shutting off at the first light. At the 1968 NHRA Winternationals, the Luckey Dodge ran a 7.28-212.76 to sneak in at the 32nd and last qualifying position, but lost to Tommy Ivo in round one. Despite all the promise, the dragster was never raced that much. Ray Luckey always seemed to be elsewhere, big game hunting or pursuing some other interest. Frustrated, Wilson decided to build his own top fuel dragster. In the meantime, John drove for the Woltersdorf Bros.

In July 1968, Wilson-Wilder-Schroder-Casarez made its debut at Pel-State Drag Strip in Opelousas, LA. Although Wilson did not win the race (red light to Jimmy Nix), the dragster qualified #4 at 7.19, not far behind Bennie Osborne's pace-setting 7.10. Less than two months later, John Wilson would no longer be with us. We would never know if Wilson-Wilder-Schroder-Casarez had been the start of another of those storied Lone Star state drag racing legends. John "Mouse" Wilson once told an acquaintance that a driver had to be fearless, but at the same time, understand and respect the perils and danger of the occupation. Drag racing was a particularly dangerous sport in the 1960s. The sport was just starting to find its niche in the motorsports landscape, but safety concerns had a difficult time keeping pace with the performance breakthroughs in acceleration and speed. The risks were enormous. Winning tempted many drivers to test that very fine line that separated victory and glory from disaster, even death. John "Mouse" Wilson, the Poor Boy from San Antonio, was not one to shy away from such a challenge. He left us that tragic night at Green Valley Raceway, but he did it on his own terms, flying down the drag strip, always the "Mouse" that roared.


John Wilson (2nd from left) in Southern California to pick up The "Performance Specialties" Luckey Dodge RCS car.


The next six images show a sequence of shots of the Luckey Dodge at Houston International Speedway; early 1968.







Today, John's son, Randy, has continued his dad's legacy with the Cox-Wilson hemi-powered Nostalgia Top Fuel Dragster. Randy started racing with a '32 bantam roadster, moved up to a SBC nitro-burning dragster, and finally, the Cox-Wilson top fuel dragster. Aaron Cox built the chassis, and together, they build the engines. A bad crash in 2010 destroyed the first T/F dragster, but they were back on the strip six months later with Cox-Wilson II. Randy understands the dangers of drag racing, confiding he has "hit the wall in Denton, TX, been upside down, had hot water sprayed on him, but fortunately, never on fire. My dad told me a long time ago that you can't be scared of the race car, but you better fully respect it 'cause it can hurt you." Recently, they hired Don Sosenka, "Mr. Magoo" of NHRA fame as their crew chief. Right now, Aaron has a new car on the jig and the plan is to make it to California for one of the big NHRA Heritage Series races.


Randy Wilson's SBC T/F dragster (near) matched with John Barret (far) at Tulsa; 1998; best time was 7.70/180.

Cox-Wilson II; maiden run at San Antonio, TX.


Cox-Wilson II; best run 1/8 mile-4.21/171


Aaron Cox (left) and Randy Wilson (right)


More Stephen Justice Racer Profiles Coming Soon




Members Site Map || Visitors Site Map


Site Copyright © 1998-2017. All Rights Reserved.