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Tim McCray thinks that his dad Tommy got a good deal back in 1961 when he traded a ’40 Ford gasser for a near-boneyarded ’51 Henry J. Today, son Tim is still reaping the benefits of the swap – he has a Henry J C/Altered for the nostalgia and bracket drags, its original 301-inch Chevrolet engine that is awaiting future service, and a cool car for cruising down the boulevard near his Augusta, Georgia home. This car, after all, has somewhat of a pedigree.
“My dad found it in a small town called Millerburg, in Missouri, between Kansas City and St. Louis. He was drag racing this ’40 Ford with a punched-out 301 Chevrolet with Jahns pistons, and he wanted something better,” McCray says. “He found the Henry J in town and knew it was the car he wanted, so he swapped the car out. The people he got it from had started to make a drag car out of it. His best friend, Larry McCubbin, who lived around the corner, was his racing partner. It was built in a chicken coop behind a neighbor’s barn. His father didn’t like hot rodding, so he told him they couldn’t work on it at his house,” Tim says.
The coop had a dirt floor. Tommy raced the J with a three-speed. The rear end was out of a ’56 Ford station wagon. Everything was bucks down, maybe as it should have been.
Tim, an elevator maintenance man for the Otis Elevator Company, took over the Henry J from his father only within the last few years, after Tommy passed on. It has been “all in the family” since 1961, and now Tim’s 16-year-old son Kaleb works on the J, along with his two little girls, McKenzie and Alexis. “Every time I push the car out of the garage, they’re there. I can’t be under the car without Alexis lying next to me,” he says.
Tommy McCray and racing partner Larry McCubbin raced the Henry J every weekend, at Pacifica Raceway in Illinois, just outside St. Louis, at Mid America Raceway in St. Louis, and at the old Kansas City International track --- indeed, all over the Midwest. In October 1964, Tommy set a world record in the eighth-mile in the American Hot Rod Association and the Kansas City Timing Association at an 8.63 in C/Altered. It was five years before Tim was even born. The date just happened to be his birthday. “I’ll tell people that back then that was real fast. Nowadays you can buy a Mustang and outrun it. The weekend after that, they went to Kansas City International and broke the record again, by a couple of hundredths. My uncle then broke it again later on in the year,” the younger McCray says.