Pete Robinson’s new blower drive business was lettered on the cowl of the 1961 Nationals winner soon after his Indy win. The Nationals winner featured a bored-out 283 with a 3.50” stroker crankshaft for a 354” small-block Chevy. Tire smoke from the potent gas burning Chevy shows power output that netted Robinson & Word an Indy best 8.44 at 170+ mph. This photo is of an actual run. Crowd-pleasing burnouts came later, around 1967, when slipper clutches mandated heating the tires via burnouts, before making a smokeless run.

NHRA’s ’61 Indy Premier:

The Nationals Finds a Forever Home and Sneaky Pete Upsets the Party

PART 1: Pete Robinson and Bill Word build a dragster

The U.S. Nationals is NHRA’s premier national event and a Nationals win is considered the crown jewel in a drag racing career. The first Nationals, in 1955, were contested in Great Bend, Kansas, followed by Oklahoma City and then Detroit, but it wasn’t until 1961 that The Nationals found a permanent home. That year proved to be a benchmark, not only because the race would be held at Indianapolis Raceway Park, but because of who won its Top Eliminator title … and who didn’t.

When drag racers or fans gather now, the term “Indy” means the U.S. Nationals and over a half century of memorable drag racing. The first-ever Nationals held at IRP, and its big winner, began a page of “firsts”. That year, a couple of unknown Atlanta racers went to Indy on a hunch that their nearly new AA/Dragster could run with the fastest in the nation. That hunch not only paid off, but launched the career of Pete Robinson, who would become known as “Sneaky Pete.”

Born Lew Russell Robinson, his nickname “Pete” was acquired in childhood. At an early age he showed a strong mechanical aptitude and even greater curiosity. As a teenager he became fascinated with hot rodding, pursuing this passion in the unlikely suburbs of Atlanta. In the south, auto racing was an outlaw sport defined by legendary moonshiners and their hopped-up whiskey runners. These “tankers” were often found on Sunday afternoons, banging fenders on red-clay circle tracks. Not Pete.