Project: ’57 Pontiac “Joker” Nostalgic Drag Racer

Project: ’57 Pontiac “Joker” Nostalgic Drag Racer

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A two-tone green ’57 Pontiac Star Chief two-door hardtop can be seen at Greg’s Speed Shop (www.gregsspeedshopllc.com) in Waupaca, Wis., if it’s not off racing in Ohio, Illinois or two dragstrips closer to home. Best known as “The Joker,” the car is a project that got off to a dismal start, according to Leah Stelse, whose husband Greg owns it.

”Greg purchased the Pontiac from a man who had it stored away in n old garage in Missouri,” Leah told Hot Rod Hotline. “It had suffered in terms of rust and deterioration from all the years it was stored. In fact, the ’57 Pontiac body was just a shell back then.”

Plucked from what Leah calls “the depths of despair” in 2014, the car fit into a vision Greg had. “He wanted to make The Joker a worthy vehicle once more,” Leah says. “And he wanted to be behind the steering wheel when it was racing down the track again.”

Greg brought the car into his shop where he and his crew tore it apart and put it together as a straight-axle dragster designed to compete in nostalgia drag racing events. The initial Joker build was a success. The car was raced and it was also the featured vehicle at the 15th Annual Pardeeville Community Car & Truck Show in September 2018.

Greg also opened the Speed Shop in a modest steel building in 2018 and soon added two larger new shop buildings so his talented crew could do restorations and hot rod builds. In between these projects, Greg traveled coast-to-coast meeting hot rod celebrities such as Jo Coddington and Gene Winfield. At home, he worked seven days a week, except on those weekends he took the ’57 Pontiac race car to a drag strip such as Union Grove or Rock Falls in Wisconsin, Byron in Illinois or Drag 42 in W. Salem, Ohio.

The car’s best run was a 10.08-second pass at 135 mph. “That was fast enough,” Greg told us, but “fast enough” isn’t the goal for Stelse. He started tearing The Joker apart again to make it even quicker. “The car can actually run 9.5s all day and our real goal is an 8.5-second run,” he explained. “I plan to race against the Southeast Gassers.”

Author’s note: Southeast Gassers (www.southeastgassers.com) is a group based in Columbus, N.C.  that is committed to bringing back authentic drag racing from the 1960s by putting on family-oriented shows featuring cars from the 1930s to the 1960s that are as close to period-correct as permitted under modern racing rules.

During its latest rebuild, The Joker received an aluminum floor, an aluminum trunk and a specially-made plastic windshield and back glass that together shaved about 700 lbs. off the car. After wrecking three engines this past summer, Stelse had Butch Patterson of Competition Products build a bullet-proof 1,000-hp big-block Chevy V-8 that was attached to a G-Force four-speed transmission and a Moser 9-inch Ford rear axle.

“We keep dreaming up projects to make the car faster and faster,” Greg stressed. “I’m always trying to figure out how I can accomplish that. The car has a leaf spring front suspension, a straight axle set up, 10-inch wide tires and no computers. It’s all up to a driver’s skill when you go nostalgic drag racing in a period-correct old car.”

Stelse has a dream of making the rejuvenation of the Joker into a how-to-do-it cable television show. Also, when the car is finished—which won’t take a real long time since he wants to retain its overall old-time drag racer looks—he wants to enter The Joker in the Hot Wheels™ Legends Tour and hopefully win more than races with it.  “I don’t think anyone ever made a ’57 Pontiac toy,” Greg complained. “Maybe someone should.”
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Project: ’57 Pontiac “Joker” Nostalgic Drag Racer

Project: ’57 Pontiac “Joker” Nostalgic Drag Racer

Project: ’57 Pontiac “Joker” Nostalgic Drag Racer

Project: ’57 Pontiac “Joker” Nostalgic Drag Racer

Project: ’57 Pontiac “Joker” Nostalgic Drag Racer

Project: ’57 Pontiac “Joker” Nostalgic Drag Racer

Project: ’57 Pontiac “Joker” Nostalgic Drag Racer

Project: ’57 Pontiac “Joker” Nostalgic Drag Racer

Project: ’57 Pontiac “Joker” Nostalgic Drag Racer

Project: ’57 Pontiac “Joker” Nostalgic Drag Racer

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About John Gunnell 136 Articles
John “Gunner” Gunnell has been writing about cars since ‘72. As a kid in Staten Island, N.Y., he played with a tin Marx “Service Garage” loaded with toy vehicles, his favorite being a Hubley hot rod. In 2010, he opened Gunner’s Great Garage, in Manawa, Wis., a shop that helps enthusiasts restore cars. To no one’s surprise, he decorated 3G’s with tin gas stations and car toys. Gunner started writing for two car club magazines. In 1978, publisher Chet Krause hired him at Old Cars Weekly, where he worked from 1978-2008. Hot rodding legend LeRoi “Tex” Smith was his boss for a while. Gunner had no formal journalism training, but working at a weekly quickly taught him the trade. Over three decades, he’s met famous collectors, penned thousands of articles and written over 85 books. He lives in Iola, Wis., with his nine old cars, three trucks and seven motorcycles.

8 Comments on Project: ’57 Pontiac “Joker” Nostalgic Drag Racer

  1. Got a big kick out of such a car exsisted. I’m disappointed it didn’t keep the Pontiac engine. They could be made to run strong.

  2. the old Tin Indians were always cool! I get the Rat Motor conversion due to economics. Pontiacs can make power also, but at a sometimes prohibitive cost. I ran both in the 70’s, both were strong, but the Bow Ties were cheaper to get power from.

  3. Love the patina – neat old stuff! Anyway I could get
    a pic to hang in my car barn / man cave for display?
    Growing old is mandatory / Growing up is optional!
    @ age 70, guess I haven’t grown up yet.
    Each day is a gift!

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