Eddie Knox Finds His Newest Direction
Occasionally we hear that a boat racing team has made the transition to asphalt; Eddie Hill, Jerry Toliver, Shane Westerfield and others. And now, Eddie Knox is the latest to make the move.
Like so many others before him, Eddie Knox is a champion and one of the most successful boat racers ever! He owns the Problem Child and did own the Evil Twin until last month! Both Top Fuel Hydros! World Champions! And now he’s building a nitro funny car. As soon as I heard the news, I sent him a message and asked him if I could interview him right away. He agreed, and this is the result.
When Eddie and I met on the phone for this interview, he was immediately likable, grounded, very informative and funny. And why not, he and his family are people who love life. Theirs has been one of adventure and excitement. A better phrase might be that they are living life on their terms. Full lives that involve much more than boats, sand dragsters, or funny cars.
Eddie was born on the East Coast. In his teens, the family moved to Downey, California. It didn’t take long to learn that the California lifestyle was much different than what he had experienced growing up back east. The sun shined a lot more, his new friends dressed a little differently and they had different interests. Most of all, they loved dirt bikes, cruzin’, flat bottom boats, and girls! Eddie quickly fit in.
One of his new friend’s father drove a blown fuel flat-bottom. After seeing one performance with that boat, he was bit. He was addicted! After that introduction to boat racing, Eddie could often be found at Parker, California on the Colorado River and King’s River in Central California. Places loaded with shiny beautiful boats that were stuffed with big-ass engines. This was hog-heaven for Eddie. He’d found his nirvana!
Eddie didn’t have a cool car in high school, but he did have a job. It was his first; he was working on a top fuel hydro cleaning the oil pan. He was quite happy doing that for a while; happy just being there. Being part of the culture. That and he started learning from there. His job was also in the center of several manufacturers of hi-performance racing equipment; Keith Black was a couple of blocks away; Enderle Injectors was just down the street; Venolia Pistons was around the block; Gene Mooneyham lived in the area, plus many other racing businesses and people, as well.
When he was just 24 years old, Eddie Knox purchased his first home. The following year he refinanced it and bought his first racing engine; a BBC 454 that he morphed into a 565 monster. His family and friends all told him that he was crazy. That he should be putting a pool in his backyard instead of buying engines. None of that phased nor deterred him. He just went about his business. He had an older flat bottom that he placed his new acquisition into and headed out to the Parker strip. One day while he was out there hot dogg’n, he had a 120 + mph near miss. Enough of a close call that when he was 26, he made the decision to move to organized racing; you know, where they mandated helmets, had medical personnel and ambulances on the property and established rules and records. As hard work and luck would have it, Eddie won the third race he entered. That gives him some notoriety and recognition. It also got him torn down on the spot. Which was a good thing because people, especially his competitors, learned that he didn’t cheat, which helped build his reputation even more.
Soon after that, he met his wife-to-be and at 28 years of age Eddie got married and he and his wife had two great kids along the way.
As a young man, Eddie Knox was an auto mechanic earning $28,300 a year. Certainly not enough to race boats. His resources were so stretched that one day on his way to a race he had to stop by the machine shop and get a set of heads out of hock. Because things were so tight he learned to modify and manipulate everything that got him to the race and once there, how to make his entry the one to beat. He also became very good at appreciating and managing his money. In fact, he told me to the penny off the top of his head, exactly what it cost him to make one full pass in his Top Fuel Hydro.
But I’m getting a little ahead of myself. Eddie is self-made. He bought that first engine and kept going. Eddie’s first entry was that blown gas, flat-bottom. Next came a blown gas hydro, then a Top Alcohol hydro and later, a Top Fuel Hydro, a boat he has never driven. After 30 years of racing, Eddie hung it up and retired from driving. He’s also thought more than once about selling everything and relaxing.
With Eddie Knox, 54, boats, cam degreeing and getting every ounce of power from an engine has never been something that’s always on his mind. Eddie and his kids are truly an activity-based family that enjoys each other’s company as often as possible. He has a Remote-Control track in his front yard, a private golf driving range, and a shooting range where he and his kids and friends work on their game and practice shooting. He lives in the Palm Springs area so he’s only 90-minutes from the beach, 90-minutes from the Colorado River, and 90-minutes from skiing in Big Bear, CA. He truly has the best of everything.
Well, onto the rest of the story. One day while at the sand drags with his team, Eddie received a call from a guy who was looking to buy a top fuel boat. To make a long story short, he told the guy that he’d rather trade the boat for a funny car. That rather than taking the money and paying some bills, he’d like to go funny car racing. About 15 minutes after that call, Eddie received another call from a fellow looking to purchase a hydro if Eddie would be interested in trading a funny car for his boat! It seems that the guy who first called Eddie was a friend of the second and knew that he, the second guy, was looking to trade a nostalgia nitro funny car roller for a top fuel boat, less the engine. Damn, there is a God! Eddie could not believe his good fortune. The guys made a deal and on Friday of this year’s California Hot Rod Reunion, Eddie and the funny car owner swapped toys right out in front of everything happening at the Bakersfield track. Eddie gave up his Evil Twin hydro for the former Bays and Rupert “Black Plague” funny car! What a great deal for both men!
Although, he’s had a few bad-ass hot rods and his son, Eddie, Jr and his daughter, Amanda, have both raced Jr. Dragsters, Eddie himself has never taken the green light on an asphalt track. Still, he has lots of friends who do drag race. When Eddie was building his first top fuel hydro, his partner was a guy named Larry Bless. A man who had a great deal of success in drag racing. In fact, at the time Eddie was building his hydro, Larry and his drag racing partner, Brad Thompson, were busy building a front engine nitro dragster. Since then, Eddie has gone to several drag races with Larry and Brad. He’s gotten to know a lot of racers and become good friends with many. So, it’s not surprising that Eddie has gone this direction.
At the March Meet, Brad asked Eddie to take the lead as their crew chief, so he could get an idea of what running a nitro car was like. And while there are similarities between running the boat and a funny car, there are major differences, too. As Eddie found out. Even starting the car was different because with the boat you’re out in the water by yourself and with the car, you need more than one person. It’s a little tricky. But Eddie has more than a few friends that he can call on for advice as the needs arise.
Eddie had a great time at CHRR that weekend, but he was anxious to get back to his shop and get started working on his newest toy.
Billy Morris, a 7-time champ and the driver of Rick Morris’ sand dragster, will pilot the nitro funny car and Eddie and Rick’s crew should be able to learn and handle the duties the NF/C will require.
When I spoke with Eddie, he’d already had the car tore down and everything that needs certification sent off to their respective companies for that certification.
The chassis was built by Grant Dowling at Chuck and Del Worsham’s shops and is being fitted for Billy Morris as we speak.
Eddie has engines and driveline components he will use in the car. So, they should be ready to go testing within the month. He wants Billy to get some good solid seat time in the car before the March Meet.
While it’s tougher than ever coming up with sponsorship money to run a Big Show boat, he is still actively seeking sponsorship for the funny car. A few potential backers have called and he’s looking for things to come together soon.
Eddie admits that he has always had an underfund handmade whittled race team. And it won’t be any different with this team. But, that way has worked well for him as the 13 world records he’s set. He’s held 15 world championships and he has 48 trophies in his house to show that the hard work he and his team put forth, has paid off in Spades. He’s made it to the top and has sustained it for a while. He fights fair, by the rules, and, he’s ready. He may win or not win but be sure he’ll give it his level best.
As our conversation continued, Eddie talked about how much he appreciated the people that are in his sport. Helping each other during the day and during the evening, sharing a beer after the racing day is done. Families, barbeques and music. Something that didn’t go unnoticed about our sport, drag racing, when he visited the 2017 California Hot Rod Reunion. It’s just the same as a day of racing boats. There are competitive but very nice people in both communities. It’s heaven!