Image credit: RaceThis.com
They say that age is simply a number.
The birth certificate of Allen, KY native and businessman J.W. “Willard” Kinzer reads April 28, 1928. That’s right, Kinzer is 83 years young today, but the energy and the drive that he exudes rivals men half and even quarter his age.
At a point when his peers are slowing down and battling health issues, this upstanding family man from the beautiful rolling hills of Eastern Kentucky just keeps getting faster. And if all goes according to plan, 200 miles per hour is just around the corner.
In recent weeks, with the opportunity to do so on the table, the owner of Allen-based Kinzer Drilling made an acquisition that has everyone in drag racing circles talking, as he added the record-shattering ’89 Mustang LX Outlaw Drag Radial machine formerly owned by Ken Nelson and driven by David Wolfe to his stable of race cars.
“I really like those Fox body-style Ford’s, and when I saw that the car was for sale, we jumped on it,” Willard explains.
The Wolfe Racecraft-built Mustang, which is perhaps one of the most dominating doorslammers in history and certainly in recent memory, is undergoing some repairs and upgrades at Wolfe’s shop in Fort Worth, Texas before Kinzer takes delivery.
“I think he kind of beat it up a little bit at his last race; tore a fender off of it or something, so he’s repainting it. The axles were twisted in it and the transmission was worn out, so it needed a few upgrades. It had 94mm turbos on it that were experimental, and those are what he used to set all those records. But he’s going to take those off and put the 91’s back on it, and that’ll be more than enough for me.”
With a car soon to be in his possession capable of covering the quarter mile in under seven seconds and well in excess of 200 miles per hour on a roughly 11.5″ wide tire, some might think the 83-year old would put a young driver in the seat and play the role of car owner. But they evidently don’t know Willard Kinzer.
Among the cars that Kinzer owns and pilots are a ’98 Corvette sporting a turbocharged 589-inch big block, a Super Stock-style Chevy Cobalt with a 427-inch small block mated with an F3 ProCharger, and a 2007 Porsche 997 Twin-Turbo. To date, he has recorded a best of 7.74 at 192 miles per hour.
“I just race for fun. Trophies only. Amateur stuff.”
Kinzer competes almost weekly at the Bristol Dragway, just a couple of hours from his home, in the tracks’ popular Street Fights series, where he’s had such success the last two seasons that the track actually has a $1,000 bounty on him at this weeks race for anyone that can beat him. He won the first Street Fights race at Bristol in October of 2008, and has rarely lost since.
“I’ve been real fortunate. We’ve won 20 straight Street Fights races down there.”
Willard professes that he’s had a life-long affair with speed, and the new alcohol-injected, twin-turbocharged big block combination that he’ll soon strap into should provide just the rush he’s looking for.
“My goal is to get to 200 in the quarter mile before the end of the year. Last year at a race in Rockingham, I got my Corvette to 192.9 and then about a week later I slipped on some ice and broke my arm so I was laid up for a while and haven’t gotten to run again.”
Kinzer plans to fly down to Forth Worth next week to take a look at the car at the Wolfe Racecraft shop, and once everything is repaired and ready in the next couple of weeks, he’ll haul it back to Kentucky where you can rest assured all eyes will be on the now-famous car once it hits the track.
And is he game for going upwards of 220 miles per hour in a heavy, small tire car?
“If it’ll do it, I am,” he responds bluntly. “The way David is setting it up with the 91’s, it won’t be as quick as it was, but it shouldn’t have any trouble running over 200.”
Kinzer is no stranger to the racing world, with four national championships in motorcycle hill climbing to his credit. The first of these was won at the ripe age of 50, and he eventually matched the record of his oldest son, Terry, with four national titles and two Canadian championships.
“I had to retire from riding motorcycles because of my age. In that sport, especially hill climbing, your body takes a lot of abuse. I retired in 1984 and didn’t have much to do until I started drag racing.”
At 83, Kinzer has very few peers still competing in the sport, and while most have hung their helmets up long before reaching such an age, the young man at heart plans to forge on as long as he can.
“I don’t really have any time set to when I’m going to quit. As long as I’m healthy and in the mental and physical shape to to race, I’m going to keep doing it.”
Willard continued, “I’ve always tried to not let my age interfere with my pleasures. I’ve been fortunate to have good health is the main thing. God has blessed me with good health and pretty good talents, and I’m just trying to take advantage of it.”
As one might expect, Kinzer is often approached at the track by fans and fellow racers of all ages, in awe of his ageless participation in the sport.
“One fella’ in particular came up to me a couple years ago and said, ‘ you know, I drag raced for pretty much all my life, but I finally got too old and just had to quit.’ So we’re standing there talking and I asked him ‘how old a guy are you,’ and he said, ‘I’m 58 years old.’ I told him, ‘well I’m 80.’ And right there he said, ‘I tell you what, I’m going drag racing again. If you can do this at 80, then I’m not over the hill, I just thought I was.”
“A lot of people get it in their heads that they’re too old to race, and once that happens, that’s the end of it,” Willard explains.
Two years ago, when he met with NHRA officials to obtain his license, they were taken aback by his age.
“I was 80 at the time, and they asked me how old I was and they couldn’t believe it. They said in all their years with the NHRA, they’d never met someone my age applying for a license.”
Kinzer’s wife, Lucy, is energetically supportive of her husband’s racing hobby despite being unable to attend many of the events in Bristol.
“She’s a bigger hot rodder than I am. She has some problems with her eyesight, but if it weren’t for that, she’d be out there drag racing too; she just loves it. She doesn’t get to go to a lot of races, but she’s doing better. She’s able to drive, but she’s not to the point where she could drag race.”
Despite his rather extreme hobby, Kinzer keeps himself involved in other activities as well. He and Lucy are dedicated members of their local church and have also worked with the small town of less than 1,000 to plan and construct new schools. He’s used the race cars and his love for racing and hot rodding to help the town raise significant funds for financing the schools. through car shows and other events.
Just as he has for the last three years, Kinzer intends to continue racing close to home in the Street Fights series at Bristol with the Mustang and occasionally in the Corvette and Cobalt, and despite his aim to keep it simple and race for the enjoyment, he won’t rule out a possible visit to South Georgia in October or a couple of NHRA Unleashed appearances.
“I’m really looking forward to getting the car out and seeing what it can do.”
So when you’re Willard Kinzer and it’s your 83rd birthday, just how do you celebrate?
“Well, we’re going drag racing tomorrow night, and hopefully we’ll run 200.”