This month The American Hot Rod Foundation would like to dedicate our AHRF Member of the Month series to the recently departed John Wolf, who passed on September 15th of 2021. As some in the racing and hot rodding world will know, John was a very important and successful part of our hot rodding’s history. That said, many won’t be aware of this thanks to John’s incredibly humble and quiet demeanor. He was a literalist, a gentleman and a bottom line guy. If a race car or boat did well with one of his masterfully built engines you’d be hard pressed to get anything more out of John than a “that was a good day.” As someone who was active in drag racing at its very beginning, we enjoyed asking John about his early experiences in the sport but would oftentimes receive answers like,”A lot of guys were doing it.” This is why record keeping and our reliance on accurate race records is so important to our work. If not for that, some budding historians may not come to know that John Wolf was a member of the So-Cal Speed Shop team starting in 1949, racing his ’36 Ford coupe at the drags (running a consistent 100mph), dry lakes and Bonneville, or that he built the 250 cu in Dodge engine that set several International Records in the famous Shadoff Special streamliner which went 236.36 at Bonneville in 1953. This was all part of a lifetime of exceptional work that consistently gave winning results to anyone lucky enough to be running a John Wolf engine or have John guiding their racing effort. After decades of these successes, John Wolf returned to Bonneville in 1994 with a ’27 T modified roadster that he built to go after the E/Blown Fuel Modified record. No surprise, John and his team established a new record of 256.970. Just for fun and while they were at it, John had his old friend Alex Xydias hop in the car to get a new Bonneville license by clocking 156 and 176mph in the car at that same meet. John and his team then returned the next year to go 216.305 in E/Fuel Modified Roadster and followed that in 1997 with a D/Blown Fuel Modified Roadster record of 257.699.
During the process of writing this dedication to John, we decided to call AHRF Advisory Board member Alex Xydias to get any comments from him regarding his old friend. Alex had this to say; “John did such a great job with everything he did. Right from the start you could see that John knew what he was doing. His cars were always tip top and ran real strong. He wasn’t boisterous, like a lot of guys. He just outdid most anyone he came up against and that was how he proved it. In ’94 when we went to Bonneville and he let me use his freshly built ’27 roadster to renew my license I’ll never forget the Bonneville inspector coming up to me after John ran the car through tech. He said, ‘You know, I think this is the first 100 point car I’ve ever inspected?’ And that’s how John did everything. He built that car from scratch and that was the reception it got from a guy who had seen everything at Bonneville. Imagine that? There is no doubt that John Wolf should have had a much bigger name in the hot rod and racing world but he never wanted that. He just kept his head down and did the best work he could. It just so happened that he did better work than most.”
In 2007, hot rod pioneer and legendary flathead builder Tom Sparks said, ”When everyone started going back to the early style hot rodding with the flatheads and all about 10 years ago or so, I got all these calls to build flatheads for guys and it just wasn’t anything I wanted to do. I did them for a couple of guys but that was it. I was retired and didn’t want to do the porting and relieving and all that. So anytime someone would ask me I’d tell them that there were three guys that I trusted to build me an engine; Ed Pink, Art Chrisman and John Wolf.”
And with that, we invite you to take the time to honor John Wolf by visiting his AHRF Pioneer page to learn more about his life and accomplishments.
We thank John for everything he did for our sport and hobby, for being a friend and supporter of the AHRF since day one, and for being one of our earliest AHRF supporting members.
Godspeed to you, John Wolf.