TV Tommy and the Twin

SEMA News—May 2018


By Drew Hardin

Photo Courtesy Pat Brollier, Petersen Publishing Company Archives

TV Tommy and the Twin


It’s May 1960, and “TV” Tommy Ivo is about to leave his Burbank home for a months-long national match-race tour, taking with him his new twin-engine dragster and, as crew, a teenaged fellow Road Kings car club member named Don Prudhomme.

It was a different path than most other drag racers took. Organized drag racing in 1960 was still a new sport—the NHRA’s first national meet had taken place just five years earlier—and nascent stars such as Don Garlits would do quarter-mile battle more for the glory than for a big payout. But Ivo figured that his twin claims to fame—he was a TV and film actor as well as a record-setting drag racer—could be parlayed into cash appearances at dragstrips across the country. Race fans would turn out to watch in person the photogenic star they had only seen in movies and TV and read about in Petersen Publishing Company magazines, such as Hot Rod and Car Craft. On this, the first of many tours Ivo would undertake in his long racing career, he charged tracks $500 for an appearance, which was serious money in those days.

Don Francisco wrote a detailed account of the Ivo rail’s mechanical makeup for a cover story in Car Craft’s September 1960 issue. Twin-engine dragsters were not new, having risen in popularity following the NHRA’s nitromethane ban in 1957. But Ivo’s approach was novel.

Rather than mounting the two fuel-injected Buick Nailheads inline, as most other twin-engine dragsters did at the time, he located the motors side by side, mounting them on aluminum plates within the Kent Fuller-built chassis. That approach was “not the simplest,” wrote Francisco, “but it has the advantage of concentrating the weight of the engines where it can do the most good.”

Power delivery was achieved by meshing the ring gears on the engines’ flywheels, with the right-side engine modified to reverse its rotation. A bellhousing connected the left engine to a Cyclone in-and-out box through a Schiefer clutch. But Ivo’s innovations didn’t stop there. He was one of the first racers to affix one of Jim Deist’s parachutes to the dragster to aid its drum brakes at the end of a run.

“Tommy said the car stops as quickly as most stockers when he pops the chute,” Francisco wrote.

As of the story’s writing, Ivo was already breaking records in the car, setting a gas-class mark of 8.69 seconds at Half Moon Bay, which was “faster than the fuel record for this particular strip,” Francisco noted. Before he would move on to the even more outrageous four-engine Showboat, Ivo would break both the 170- and 180-mph barriers in the twin-engine rail.

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