The Grist Brothers ...


Welcome to the website.  This tribute website was first launched in September 2009.  It has been through various refinements and I expect it will continue to be refined.  I have assembled this site based on my own memories along with the help of my uncle Ralph Grist and my mother, Eulonda Grist.

— Eddy Grist

(Note:  Floyd Grist passed away on his 49th birthday in 1974.  He had suffered terrible headaches for many years and died of a ruptured brain aneurysm.)

First, a little bit of history

Floyd, the older brother of Ralph was born April 24, 1925 in Howe, Oklahoma.  Ralph was born May 1, 1931 in Dalhart, Texas.  The brothers found themselves in Southern California after the depression brought their parents there looking for work.  It was in Southern California that the seeds of racing were planted. 

After each did tours in the United States Navy, Dad and Ralph found themselves good jobs.  Dad worked for the Long Beach Navel Shipyard at a supply annex in Torrance, California.  Dad became disabled and retired in 1966.  Ralph worked for Douglas Aircraft in El Segundo, California.  They were young, adventurous, hard working, had a little pocket change, and liked to go fast.

It was on November 1st, 1947 that Dad and Mom, Eulonda, were married and the family started with me being born in 1951.  Dad and Mom had my sister, Karen, in 1955.

Some of Ralph’s recollections

Along the way I’ve heard many different stories of their street racing adventures and mishaps.  (As a disclaimer, I would like to pass on that Ralph will be among the first to tell you to take your racing to the drag strip where there are rules for safety, but back then drag strips were not that plentiful and, well, you know how it goes.)  I’ve asked Ralph to recall some of those stories to put on this website.  Here are a few he has sent to me ...

… “I remember one evening Floyd and I were discussing which of our cars was the fastest.  (Dad had a 1940 Ford and Ralph had a 1939 Merc.  Both were coupes with Flathead motors.)  The next thing we knew we were out on a good highway with little traffic and proceeded to have a race.  Well, things didn’t go so well.  After we took off and I shifted to 2nd gear, I stripped all the teeth off the cluster gear (I found out later) in the transmission.  We got both cars off the road and looked for a rope or chain but neither of us had one.  We did have an old pair of Levi’s, so we decided to tie one leg to one car and the other leg to the other.  The cars were awful close together, but it worked and we got back to the house and had a good laugh.  He was faster that night!”

… “While I was working at Douglas Aircraft, there was a guy who was always bugging me wanting to race my 1957 Thunderbird, or “Bird” as I called it, (this was before I modified it) and as time went by (about a year), the guy  (Bruno) caught me in a racing mood and I told him I would race his big Pontiac, but we would have to do it under my conditions.  He wanted to know what those conditions were so I told him.  We were to have a standing start at the bottom and go up Fargo Hill in Los Angeles.  He wouldn’t have any part of that and left me alone after that.  He didn’t know it, but I had put a 4:56 gear in the rear-end and had done some porting, polishing, and milling on the heads, upgraded the cam, added tri-power carburetion, did some ignition work plus had it bored .060.  To put it mildly, it was a different ‘Bird’ after that.”

… “I remember back in 1959, after I had hopped up my “Bird”, a good friend of mine, Ralph Syverson, had a 1953 Willys, (Aero I believe) with a 312 Ford Thunderbird engine in it.  We met at Floyd’s house and decided to try the cars out so we went over to Wilmington Avenue, which was out in the boonies back then.  There we were all lined up and ready to go and I looked up and saw a “big old cop” sitting right behind us.  I gulped real hard as he walked up to my car.  He came up to the window and said, “You guys weren’t fixin’ to have a contest were you?”, and the first thing that came out of my mouth was, "oh no, he just flagged me down and ask for directions.”  We went back to Floyd’s house and shared another laugh … and counted our blessings.”

… “My brother, Floyd, bought a 1955 Thunderbird for his wife and put a Hi-Performance 352 engine in it. It was nip and tuck between my ‘57 and his ‘55.  His wife, Eulonda (Jo as we called her), used to enjoy her 'Bird' and was known to terrorize all of the Corvettes on the streets back then.”

… “Floyd and I had a brother-in-law, Kenneth Dennison, who sort of liked to see what his new cars would do against our cars.  His were just family sedans and he didn’t drive them fast, but he always wanted to know how they would stand against our cars.  When he would buy a new car he would just pitch us the keys and let us see what it would do.  Of course, his cars never won against ours.”

Those are just a few of the stories Ralph has to tell.  As more are remembered and shared I’ll try and get them posted.

And the story continues

Now, back to our original story … in the late 50s Floyd had a 1940 Ford Coupe with a Flathead (296 cubic inches) and four two-barrels.  This was Dad’s daily driver and brought the beginnings of the Grist Bros. together as a team.  Dad took it to Lions Drag Strip on Alameda in Long Beach, California, a few times and even won a few trophies with it.  The car ran in the low 13s and high 12s and about 96 mph as Ralph remembers.  Things were starting to change.

The coupe soon after it arrived at our house.

An opportunity came for them to buy a 1941 Willys coupe from a guy named Freddie Owens in 1960. There was something special about this particular Willys coupe though as it had a chopped top.  It was beautiful.  It was an all steel body and was painted black.  The paint was so smooth you could see yourself in it.  The chop was unique in that the top was not stretched to align with the bottom after the chop.  Instead the car was fitted with the doors from a sedan, which were not as long.  The body was then shortened a couple of inches to match the doors.  This left the car with very smooth and flowing lines ... and, very unique.

Back then you could buy a car like this, less engine and transmission, for $400.  Dad and Uncle Ralph partnered together to purchase the car and then officially started their drag racing careers.

The record-setting Lincoln powerplant.

The car came without an engine or transmission.  (Freddie had been running a Ford Flathead in it.)  They started running the A/Gas class, with Dad doing the driving, and started having some success.  The first motor they put in it was actually a Buick.  Ralph’s best recollection was that it started out around 364 cubic inches and they had it bored and stroked to a little over 400 cubic inches.  It had a log intake manifold on it with six two-barrel carbs on it.  It didn't stay in there long as they purchased a 430 cubic inch Lincoln engine and started building on it.  They bored and stroked it to 501 cubic inches.  They ran a stock “nodular” crankshaft.  In the early days Joe Malliard helped with the machine work.  After Joe Malliard passed away, Joe Reath started helping with machine work and parts … like a set of Hilborn mechanical fuel injectors.  Dempsey Wilson ground all of the camshafts with his "special" grind and Mickey Thompson helped with some aluminum pistons and rods (the compression ratio was around 13 or 14 to 1).  A Joe Hunt magneto provided the spark.  A guy named Dale Klienhand arranged to have some Headman Headers custom built.  The local Autolite and Valvoline distributorships supplied weekly doses of plugs, oil and filters delivered straight to the house.

It wasn’t known exactly how many horses were under the hood, but it was more than a handful and the track records were dropping most every week.  And, Dad and Ralph were right in the middle of it.  I’ve still got some of their NHRA record-breaking certificates.

At first they had a lot of trouble with spinning bearings.  Dad and Ralph learned from Ted Cyr and Leland Colb about drilling the main oil galleys and drilled them out with a special long drill.  I remember watching them do this in the garage.  I was there almost all of the time soaking it all up.  I could recite just about every torque value there was to building that engine.  Of course, I was the chief parts washer, and coffee maker.  Dad and Ralph always said I made the best coffee they ever tasted.  I never really knew why my coffee was so special until I figured out they just didn't want to make it themselves!  Oh well, I was still there in the middle of everything.

The first time on it’s lid.

Back in those days good racing slicks were not all that great, compared to what’s available today.  They had one pair of M&H racing slicks that lasted 3-years.  They were always looking for a better way to “hook up” the tires.  A good friend of Dad and Ralph’s, named Ralph Syverson, was an engineering guy and had his own little machine shop in his garage.  He did all of the headwork on their engines.  Ralph Syverson had this idea to build and adapt a Volkswagen torsion-bar type setup for weight transfer.  On paper it all looked good.  They built and installed the setup and it seemed to be working very well.  The car would really squat on take off.  However, one night at Lions, the car squatted on take off and as Dad shifted into third gear, with the front-end slightly off the ground, the left rear suspension plate buckled pulling the left-side of the rear-end back and sending the car shooting off the left side of the track.  Dad had the wheel turned to the right and when the car didn’t respond he lifted off the throttle.  Well, off the left side of the track with wheels cut to the right and settling back down, the car shoots back onto the track and starts to rollover.  The car landed on the driver’s side and Dad had to crawl out the passenger side door.  Dad was okay, just shook up a bit.  A body man came to the house and did the repairs there.  The original steel front-end was bent and it was decidedly time for a fiberglass front-end from Cal Automotive.

Ben Ryan, Dad, and yours truly.

It was also about this time that Ben Ryan, the founder of ShiftMASTER shift linkage, came onboard as a sponsor.  Ben had good taste.  It was his idea to make the car into a show car.  Ben had the car completely repainted, upholstered and re-lettered.  This is when the car became the “ShiftMASTER Special.” 

The upholstery and carpet were red.

While at one of the Southern California strips one Saturday, Dad started talking to Gene Ciambella about transmissions.  Dad and “Geno” struck up a deal and Geno started building the transmissions and torque converters for the Willys.  A little side note, Gene later had his name changed to Gene Conway and had a rather interesting career himself running in the A/Gas Supercharged class as well as a Jeep Funny Car named the Destroyer.  You can Google his name and find some of his interesting history.

Geno did quite a bit of test-driving and transmission tuning on the car.  After making a test run at Riverside drag strip, on the long and crooked return road, Geno was bent over inside the car fiddling with the transmission linkage and veered left and hooked the left-front wheel into a washout, flipping the car.  This caught everybody off guard.  Of course Geno wasn’t wearing a helmet and he received this huge goose-egg on the side of his forehead from hitting the roll bar during the flip-over.  Geno was okay and had the car all repaired and back in shape in no time.  It was really a freak “racing” accident.  This is the last time the car got on its lid.

A run at Lions Drag Strip, circa 1963.

All along the way, Dad and Ralph had a lot of good sponsors.  Of course, Dad and Ralph put a lot of their own hard-earned money into the car.  Dad was always working on someone’s car for extra money for racing.  He did everything from brakes and engine rebuilds to paint and body.  I’ve seen it all and even helped him with some of it.  I owe my mechanical abilities today to what I learned back in those days.

Let’s put a blower on it

Sometime in 1964, a man named Linde Billings provided a Lincoln engine with a blower.  They only made few runs and never really got it tuned properly.  The best run was well into the 10s with a speed around 134 mph as Ralph remembers.  When starting it up for the 4th run it back fired and broke the front-end off the crankshaft.

Ford Motor Company was starting to get involved in drag racing and a special meet was held at Pomona.  I remember it was a weekday event and Dad and Ralph had to take off work.  It was more of an exhibition run and as a result Dad and Ralph were given a brand new, on a crate, high-performance 427 cubic inch engine, complete with two four-barrel carburetors.  Dad and Ralph tried to run with it, but really didn't have the funding to completely rebuild it like they did with the Lincoln engine.  It took a lot of money then, as it does now, to go fast. 

Was it time to walk away?

With things seemingly going well, why did they get out of drag racing?  I asked this question to Ralph and here is the answer I received.  “The sport was changing.  NHRA had started allowing smaller cars like Anglia’s to run the A/Gas class.  All of our development had been with big blocks and NHRA wouldn’t let us run it in the smaller and lighter cars.  To remain competitive, we would have had to basically start over, and at great expense.  We felt like we had had our fun, and had made our mark.  Floyd’s health was declining and we just decided it was a good time to get out.  We sold the car, less engine and transmission, for $600 in 1964.”

I remember Dad telling the story of someone taking a cheap shot at him calling him a “has been.”  Dad simply replied, “It’s better to have been a has-been than a never-been.”

About 2-years later Dad was diagnosed with a massive blood vessel malformation in the back of his head.  It was determined surgery was too risky and they attempted to treat him with medications.  Dad retired from his job and lived a fairly quite life for another 10-years.  He had a massive aneurysm burst on the eve of his 49th birthday sending him into a coma.  He never regained consciousness and died the next morning with my sister Karen, Mom, and me by his side.

Dad did come to know the Lord Jesus Christ later in life and spent his last three years serving in a small country church in Southeast Oklahoma.  Dad and I were both baptized in a small creek on the same Sunday morning.  I look forward to seeing him again.

I have many other racing memories I’d like to share as this site matures.  More memories of the car as well as more photos and maybe even a video clip or two.  Also, personal memories of mine like seeing Tommy Ivo’s 4-engine, 4-wheel-drive dragster smoke’n all four tires down the drag strip.  The sound and smells, although a little different from today's top fuelers, was awesome. 

Another memory was during time trials when Dad and Doug Cook (of Stone, Woods & Cook) came to the line together.  Of course the two cars were no match as the SW&C Willys had a supercharger on it.  Anyway, I remember the event clearly and saw Doug come off the line like a jackrabbit.  Well, Pete Millar also saw the run (at Lion’s, not Green Valley) and decided to make a cover for his 3rd issue of Drag Cartoons.

It has been many years since the selling of the Willys in 1964.  The family had often wondered what became of the car that had brought fame to the family.  Oddly enough, the car has resurfaced in the Atlanta area and is in the process of being restored into a street-rod.  There is a thread on the H.A.M.B. that has photographs of the restoration.  You can click here to go to that link.

Until next time, you can e-mail me at  I’d love to hear any comments or memories you might have.  Also, if you have any old photos I’d love to see them too.

Eddy Grist


Welcome ...

Above left: Ralph (left) and Floyd (right) showcasing their new sponsor, Joe Mailliard, circa 1960.  Top right:  Coming off the line at Pomona, circa 1963.  Bottom right:  Coming off the line in Little Eliminator at the Winternationals, circa 1964 (I need more information on this photo, if anyone has any).