CORDOVA, Ill. — For the first time in four years, Arnie Beswick’s signature Pontiac Tameless Tiger II was in action at this weekend’s 66th annual O'Reilly Auto Parts World Series of Drag Racing at Cordova International Raceway, thanks in part to local drag racer Anthony Layne.
The 47-year-old Morrison native runs Layne Automotive & Speed in Fulton. And 15 years ago, Arnie bought him an axle to have a bearing pressed on.
“I hand it back to Arnie and he’s like, 'What do I owe you?'” Layne recalled. “And I go, 'First gear in that hot rod of yours.' … Since then, there’s a couple other things I did. So I said, 'We’re up to fourth gear now Arnie, I want to drive that car.' That was about six years ago and he didn’t forget that.”
The car sat idle until Beswick, now 89, said he needed a mechanic as well as a driver.
“I said absolutely,” Layne said. “To drive this car is an honor.”
“I know he does eat and breathe racing,” Beswick said of Layne. “He’s probably as good of a pick as you could get.”
Driving the iconic car requires a fair share of work. And the GTO Nostalgic Pro Stock needed some TLC to get where it is today.
“It was sitting for about three years,” Layne said. “We had to fix a lot of bugs and stuff to get it going. Now we’ve been to a few events getting the bugs worked out and it seems to be running real well.”
Two of Layne’s “weekend warriors” nearby on Saturday, Marty VanHeule and Bucky Owens, are among those volunteering to help him with the car. Layne said it takes a team effort at races and in the shop to be successful.
Now, the unmistakable vehicle can be a crowd pleaser on the track as well as off once again.
“We’re here to put on a show to replicate Arnie’s driving and his ability to drive,” Layne said. “In fact, the car is actually in the same shape that it was when he drove.”
“Arnie drove by the seat of his pants, and that’s how he wants me to drive the car. And that’s what we’re doing. We’re trying to keep it as authentic as we can.”
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Beswick spent the weekend signing autographs and talking with fans of all ages, even visiting with some of his great grandchildren. His grandson, Ryan Wiersema, also raced this weekend.
Layne, an experienced driver with 30 years of visiting the World Series of Drag Racing under his belt, drove three other cars this weekend. “What I have is fast bracket cars, top dragster, and Super Comp dragsters," he said.
Layne said he was “court-appointed” to drag racing after getting in trouble for street racing when he was younger. He used organized drag racing as a positive outlet and it paid off.
“It’s turned into quite a business for me,” he said. “We’ve won multiple Super Comp Championships, class championships, track championships, multiple high-dollar bracket races across the Midwest, everywhere.”
Layne couldn’t deny the sense of history he felt when stepping into the tiger-striped dragster. The original Tameless Tiger was destroyed in Beswick’s 2003 accident.
“You don’t get to race a piece of history like this,” said Layne. “I remember seeing this car, years ago, go 7.14 at this track at the World Series. And I’d love to see it go 7.14. We’ve got some tuning to do, but we’ll eventually get there. (Arnie) hasn’t taught me all of his tricks yet.”
Layne said Beswick can still get behind the wheel and instantly connect with the vehicle after warming it up.
“He can get in that car and tell you what may be bad or not with the clutch, with the shifters, how they pull, he can reach for everything and he knows everything by sight and feel. He hasn’t forgotten anything,” Layne said. “You take that 89-year-old guy sitting over there, he turns into a 20-year-old kid when he gets in that car. Or even around it if we’re working on it.”
Beswick said destroyed property not covered by insurance: After some smoking bales of hay were moved inside a three-story barn at his farm within the past few weeks, the resulting fire destroyed car parts, rare memorabilia, models, trophies, tools, tires, and some of his daughters’ gymnastics equipment.
“A lot of my models and stuff that you can’t even find any more, if I can afford them, I buy them,” Beswick said. “I can’t tell you how many models were in there.”
He said his insurance company does not cover “anything automotive related.”