Ray, his boys and Jimmy, have now decided to rebuild the original King & Marshall nitro funny car. It turns out that King still had the original chassis even though the 1980 Duster body was burned to the ground the last time Jimmy was in the car in 1982 at New England Dragway. Ray has a fresh 526 cubic inch, 14:71-blown alcohol engine ready to go. When at the shop doing this interview they were working on the car to get it ready for the upcoming Hot Rod Reunion at New England Dragway Ray runs a 7.00 @ 178 MPH at NED in Epping, where Cody is slated to drive the car. At present, all systems are a “go” as they wait for the body to come back from the paint shop. I’ll do a follow up story on the car, its restoration and performance at a later date. As my interview came to its completion, I realized that King and Helger have both traveled a long road to get to where they are today as racers and friends.
Donny Marshall was successfully racing his fuel bike at the time, but when they became partners in 1969, the decision was made to sell the dragster and the motorcycle. A cross-country trip to Don Long’s shop on the west coast resulted in the beautiful 185-inch wheelbase top fuel dragster that would eventually etch the duo’s names into the record book.
For a powerplant the pair selected the standard of the day – a Chrysler 392 cubic inch hemi, plucked from a junkyard Imperial. With a .030 overbore, it was fitted with Venolia pistons, Engle roller cam, Donovan gear drive, a set of Joe Mondello’s aluminum heads and topped with a 26% overdriven Moonyham 6:71 blower. The stout engine fed its 2200+ horsepower through a 3-disc Hays clutch back to an Oldsmobile rear end with 4.10 gears.
With King driving and Marshall as crew chief, the pair was a success, winning many top events including the 1970 Long Island Summer Meet and numerous New England Dragway 32 Funny Car/ Top Fuel events. Perhaps their biggest moment came in1971 when they won the NHRA Gatornationals Top Fuel title. Before it was sold, the 1600-lb. car’s best times included a 6.53 e.t. at over 232 mph. Donny always gave Jimmy a safe car and was noted as one of the smartest crew chiefs around - one who could tell you exactly what was going on with the car at all times. King’s driving ability and Marshall’s tuning quickly led their competitors to label them with the moniker “The Beast from the East!”
When I sat down and talked to Jimmy about the car, it was a pleasure to hear some of his stories. One of the more amazing ones
involved racing Chris “the Greek” Karamesines at Lions Dragway in Long Beach, California. When the Greek’s engine blew, it lifted the blower which flew back and knocked him out as both cars raced toward the finish line. After winning the race, and when he looked over and saw that his competitor was apparently unconscious, King, not thinking of his own safety, went to help his fallen competitor by pulling his dragster alongside and then against Karamesines’ car until they both came to a safe stop.
He also told me a story of the King & Marshall car at the U.S. Nationals at Indy when they unfortunately became the first top fuel dragster to have a blowover. The car had launched very hard and with so much traction that it went into a massive wheelstand that ultimately flipped the car all the way over. The next day the car was dropped off at Sid Waterman’s shop for repairs and to Jimmy and Donny’s surprise when they came to pick it up, Sid had mounted a castor wheel on the top of the roll cage as a joke. They had a good laugh with that one, and the castor wheel is still on the top of the roll cage to this day. These are just some of the stories that the King & Marshall Team had in their great career together with the dragster before selling it in 1974 to build a series of hard-running nitro funny cars.
He has accumulated an amazing collection of classics and hot rods and some great nostalgic drag cars. Included among those are some of my favorites: his ‘40 Ford gasser, a beautiful flathead-powered dragster along with a wild, blown small-block dragster, and a killer barn-find A/Street Roadster right out of the ‘60s with an injected 409 cubic inch Chevy. When he fired that up for me and did a burn out, it certainly brought me right back to my younger days with my dad!
Ray was also racing a 150-inch dragster with a 6:71-blown, 400 cubic inch small-block, posting times of 7.80s at 185 mph. When asked to drive a friend’s blown, big-block-powered Altered in 2005, it led him to cross paths with one of his boyhood idols, Jimmy King. Soon, the two became fast friends.
Helger had always dreamed of owning the King & Marshall Top Fuel dragster, so you can imagine how excited he was when he found it in 2007 and the owner was willing to sell. Ray jumped at the chance but not until he has asked his new friend Jimmy King if he would help him work on the car if he bought it. King said yes, the deal was made, and the car came back to Rhode Island!
The car is now 100% original from its racing days of 1971 when they won the Gatornationals. They do all the work in their garage with
Jimmy taking care of the head work and Ray maintaining the rest of the car. They’ve raced the car from 2007 to 2013, but with the chassis
limitations they’re only allowed to make 1/8th-mile passes, where they’ve had a best clocking of a seven-second-flat at 178 mph, shutting off well before the thousand-foot mark. Donny Marshall was helping out with the car from time to time until his untimely passing in 2010. Jimmy felt it was like losing a brother, so he and Ray have put a special tribute in his memory on the car.
Story and Photos by Richie Coury
in the Media...
Jimmy would like to thank his family along with the New England Plymouth Dealers for their support through the years. Ray would like to thank all the guys at the shop and his friends and family. Together, the team of Ray Helger and Jimmy King will continue to build their dream cars and carry on the memories of Drag Racing Legends, while making a few memories of their own.
Today, they bring the King & Marshall Top Fuel dragster to car shows, cacklefests and promotional events. They were invited to display the car at the recent NHRA New England Nationals inaugural race at the beautiful New England Dragway in Epping, New Hampshire. Over 85,000 race fans throughout the four day event had the chance to marvel at this nostalgic Top Fuel dragster along with its original trailer. A real treat came on Sunday - race day - when the NHRA officials and General Manager of New England Dragway, Joe Lombardo, asked Jimmy and Ray if they would like to do a push start from the top end to wow the crowd. With Helger driving the 1966 Buick station wagon push car and King in the “hot seat,” the packed crowd gave the pair a fantastic ovation as the big Chrysler roared to life in front of the grandstand. Jimmy - always the showman – zinged it a few times with the crisp hemi singing as he crossed the starting line and drove it all the way to the trailer. This was also a great way to advertise the upcoming Inaugural NHRA New England Hot Rod Reunion. It was announced that Jimmy King would be the Grand Marshall for the coming event in September.
Helger and King have developed a father and son relationship which is very cool. When asked about it, Ray said he was very proud to be Jimmy’s friend, and even if he hadn’t bought the car they would still be friends. Seventy-six-year-old King was adamant that his pal “is a determined and hardworking young man that won’t stop until he gets it right.” And right is just what Ray has done with his relationship with his twin 21-year-old sons, Cody and Jesse. Like father, like son, as they’ve followed in dad’s footsteps and have been drag racing since they were 15-years-old. No Junior Dragsters for these kids – one started out with a blown,small block nostalgia dragster; the other, an injected flathead nostalgia dragster. I might add that both have become very accomplished drivers.
Forty-three years ago a very unlikely pair of east coast drag racers – fuel bike racer Donny Marshall and dragster pilot Jimmy King made the fateful decision to join together in what would become one of the legendary partnerships in nitro fuel racing. As different in appearance as the vehicles they competed with – Marshall, at 6’2” and 200 lbs. loomed over his small bike while the diminutive King, at 5’6” and soaking wet at 150 lbs., was almost lost in his dragster’s seat. But when the long-time friends decided to join forces that day in 1969, New England top fuel drag racing was definitely put on the map! Jimmy King started drag racing in 1958 with a 1941 Ford Gas class car. In 1965, he built his first dragster, a 92-inch wheelbase, blown small- block Chevy that would pull the wheels so high the flag man at Connecticut Dragway said that usually all he could see was the car’s chrome oil pan coming at him! An oft-repeated story about the fearless King relates the time he ran off the track and plowed through some hay bales. With three of his tires now flattened he never lifted, blasting through the traps at well over 150 mph with only one back tire left.