MOUNT VERNON — Fifty years after his last race at Pacemakers Dragway, Fred Wagenhals came back to race again, with the same car. A Marion native, Wagenhals built the car while he was a teenager and a student at Marion Harding High School. The car is a 1953 Willys, stuffed full of a Corvette engine. He raced in C gas class.
Now a resident of Phoenix, Ariz., Wagenhals was so pulled by nostalgia that he trailered the car home while attending his 50th class reunion last weekend. Monday, Pacemakers opened the gates so he could run one more time.
Coming to watch were 15 of his classmates. Making several runs down the strip, at less than top speed, he took several of them for rides. Rain had dampened the asphalt and full throttle runs were not possible.
Wagenhals said he raced at Pacemakers because it was the only drag strip in the area at the time. Success came slowly. He raced two years before winning; then he won big. He won his first race in 1957 and over a two-year period, won a 20.
Once out of high school he retired from racing, but didn’t sell the car. He learned the tool-and-die making trade, and went to work for General Motors in its Mansfield plant.
Looking for something else to do, he went south and started a company called Action Performance, making NASCAR memorabilia. It was a hugh success. Hooking up with several stock car racing stars over a 15-year period, he said he made $400 million. Last year he retired, and sold the company for $245 million.
Over the years, Wagenhals acquired a collection of cars that include several ’50s classic Chevrolets. His lifestyle allows him to own a Bentley, a luxury British sedan and a Ferrari.