Mopar Memories: Autolite Sparks the Chi-Town Hustler


John Farkonas, Austin Coil, and Pat Minick joined forces in 1967 to campaign a nitro-fueled Barracuda funny car. Farkonas, an engineer, provided the finances, Coil tuned the Hemis, and Minick handled the driving chores. Minick drove from 1967 to 1971, and it was during this time, the Chi-Town Hustler earned its title of the burnout king during its nearly 100 booked in match races a year.

For those diehard enthusiasts that lined the Armco barriers of the local strips in the 1970s, merely mentioning the name Chi-Town Hustler brings back colorful memories of a series of high-performance, solid-gold, nitromethane-burning, ground-pounding Dodges that executed crowd-pleasing 1000-foot burnouts. Former Super Stock racers John Farkonas, Austin Coil, and Pat Minick joined forces in 1967 to campaign a nitro-fueled Barracuda funny car.

Farkonas, an engineer, funded the team, provided a small garage for vehicle prep, and designed several of the early Hustler funny car chassis. After marrying in 1970, he remained a part team owner, but he stopped traveling and gradually withdrew from the team. Coil was the team’s mechanical genius that developed technology still used today in the nitro ranks. After major sponsor Rislone ended its sponsorship at the end of 1984, Coil went on to crew chief the efforts of John Force Racing, and between his Chi-Town Hustler and Force teams, he amassed almost two dozen championships and 100s of wins (sanctioned and match races).

Frank Hawley was the last driver of the Farkonas, Coil, and Minick version of the Chi-Town Hustler. By the time Hawley shoed the Hustler, the match racing scene had started to dry up, so Coil and Hawley decided to run the NHRA circuit. Hawley left the team in 1984, and soon after, he started the Frank Hawley Drag Racing School.

Minick was the original shoe for the team. He drove the car from 1967 to 1971. After hanging up his helmet, Minick remained with the team, and as the years passed, his travel curtailed, but he was a dedicated full-time team manager. Minick worked with the sponsors and booked the Hustler’s nearly 100 yearly lucrative match race events during the glory years of drag racing. Clare Sanders, Ron Colson, Russell Long, Denny Salvage, Pete Williams, and Frank Hawley took their turn filling the driver’s seat over the next decade and a half. In 1971, Coil and the following week “Jungle Jim” Liberman even had one-time opportunities to tap the Hustler’s pedals.

Autolite spark plugs helped the Chi-Town Hustler team to its multiple championships. This November 1984 Popular Hot Rodding ad states the benefits of Autolite. Frank Hawley and genius crew chief Austin Coil earned two National Hot Rod Association (NHRA) championships before lack of sponsorship ended the victorious team at the end of the 1984 season.

By the time Hawley joined the team, the match racing scene was drying up. After years of tuning the Hustler to run on poorly lit, greasy, narrow, bumpy tracks with short shutdown areas and sketchy safety precautions, Coil, along with the ultra-competitive Hawley, hit the road following the National Hot Rod Association (NHRA) championship tour.

With early-season success, the team decided to run the entire season and earned their first championship in 1982. A second followed the next year. By 1984, the team had a reliable running car, but ill-timed bad luck cost the team a third championship. Hawley left the team after the 1984 season, and he soon started the most successful drag racing school in the US.

As stated in the November 1984 Popular Hot Rodding magazine advertisement, Coil and Hawley used standard street-car Autolite Copper spark plugs to push the Hustler to over 250 mph. The Autolite plugs ended the team’s problems with insulator tip damage and electrode melting.

Autolite, founded in 1911, continues to make spark plugs 110 years later, now, as part of The Fram Group. Depending upon your needs, Autolite has automotive, sports craft, racing, and lawn and garden products. As Hawley described, the plugs are designed in copper, but Autolite also offers Iridium Ultra and XP, High Thread, Platinum, and Double Platinum.

While your Mopar may not run 250 mph, stack up championships, or manage to pull-off 1000-foot burnouts, Autolite’s spark plugs will light the fuel and air charge in your late-model mill. If you cannot find the exact spark plug needed for your engine, check out the excellent selection offered at Mancini Racing.

Pete Williams drove a few Ford Hustler’s before the team switched back to a late-1970s Challenger. Williams won an International Hot Rod Association (IHRA) championship with the Dodge Challenger body covering the Coil tuned Hemi.

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Chris Holley

Chris Holley

Technical Contributor Chris has been a college professor for 20 years; the last 15 spent at Pennsylvania College of Technology in Williamsport, PA. During the day Chris instructs HVAC and electrical/electronic classes, and high-performance classes, which includes the usage of a chassis dyno, flow benches, and various machining equipment at night. Chris owns a '75 Dart, a '06 Charger, a '12 Cummins turbo diesel Ram, and he is a multi-time track champion (drag racing) with his '69 340 Dart, which he has owned almost 30 years.

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