Our Roots in Racing
Our story really begins in the late 50's with Jerry Ross, the founder of our industrial chemical division. After graduating from high school in 1957, he lost his driving privileges one night after racing an off-duty police officer in his '56 Chevy.
Various distractions had made it difficult for him to concentrate on his college studies. Chief among these was his obsession with cars. In the winter of 1957, after dropping out of college and having no driver's license, Jerry found himself with quite a bit of "spare time" on his hands.
Imagine his father's "delight" when he dragged home the shell of a '33 Ford and boldly proclaimed that he was going to build race car.
The project was initially funded by his earnings from working in the family grocery store, as seen in the background of the photo below.
By the summer of 1958, the car was fully assembled and ready to fire up for the first time. But disaster struck, as a rod went through the block and destroyed the engine. Jerry was flat out broke, as he had invested every dime he had in the car. That was it, game over, time to call it quits and move on. His older brother, Tom, intervened and invested in the project, saying: "You've come way too far to quit now!"
Jerry welded and sleeved the damaged engine block, bought new Jahns pistons, a new crank, and began by balancing the reciprocating mass in order to prevent another catastrophic event. Incidentally, he would later attribute much of his success with this engine to his balancing job, as most engine builders in the late 50's didn't take the time to balance engines. He spent the entire winter of 1958 polishing the heads and valves.
The '58 Olds engine was bored to 407 cubic inches, and the valve train consisted of a custom ground Howard cam, solid lifters, magnesium adjustable rockers, and oversize valves. The fuel system consisted of a front-mounted Moon tank, and fuel injection by Algon, with a magneto for ignition.
The drive train included a lightweight aluminum flywheel and Schiefer clutch with brass face. Jerry says the clutch NEVER slipped, since it was a metal-to-metal facing, and attributed success to this setup as well. The transmission was from a 1939 Cadillac, and ran only second and third gears.
Rear wheels wide enough to accommodate Jerry's choice in tires were not readily available. So he bought two sets, cut them in half to spec, and welded them together. Because gear swaps between rounds weren't possible, Jerry sometimes swapped rear tires instead. Running 29 inch rears would yield a lower E.T., and running 31 inch rears would yield a higher speed. His opponents were left to guess which he was running.
Jerry Ross and The Lemon after one of many race victories in 1959.
The car debuted for the 1959 season as "The Lemon." The name was derived from the 25 coats of Candy Lemon lacquer used to paint the car. Jerry raced all across the Midwest, at Flightland (Omaha), Lincoln, Grand Island, Sioux City, and Great Bend. The car weighed only 1,980 pounds, and competed in the A/Altered and AA/Altered classes. His best ET was 11.05 and 116 mph, though the car did break into the high 10's during a few unofficial runs. Jerry frequently laments what the car could have done with better tires, as it typically didn't hookup until over half-way down the track. Driving The Lemon was "a handful."
The end of the 1959 season found Jerry undefeated, having won every race, and taken Top Eliminator at many events. He competed in the 1959 AHRA Nationals at Great Bend, Kansas, where he was handed his first-ever defeat by Herb Hoover's 1933 Ford. Click here to watch The Lemon compete at the 1959 AHRA Nationals.
The Lemon, right, lines up for the final round in the 1959 AHRA Nationals, its only defeat.
Jerry came back for the 1960 season after a winter of fine tuning. For Christmas that winter, his brother Tom had bought him beautiful chromed injection ram tubes. By this time, Tom estimated that they had "about two thousand dollars" invested in the venture. Tom also frequently served pit crew duty, along with some of Jerry's closest friends. On the several occasions when Jerry offered to let Tom take a pass in the quarter, the response he got was always the same: "Nooooo way."
The crew of The Lemon: From left, Tom Ross, Bob Elic, and Jerry Ross.
He continued his winning ways during 1960. When the desk and dresser in his bedroom at home were completely covered in trophies, his mother started giving them away to the neighbor kids to make room for the new ones.
At the 1960 AHRA Nationals in Kansas City, The Lemon competed in the finals against Ted Cooper's beautiful blue/green, lightweight, blown and injected '37 Fiat called "The Pipe Dream." The car had come all the way from San Diego, California to compete. According to Jerry, it was an incredibly impressive machine, with "chrome everything."
Ted Cooper's Pipe Dream, a lightweight '37 Fiat with blown/injected 354 Hemi.
During time trials that day, The Lemon's engine block had developed a water leak. The car didn't have a cooling system, but water was kept in the coolant passages within the engine block. Ironically, the source of the water leak was the area where the engine block had been welded after the catastrophic event back in 1958 when the car was fired up for the very first time. When race officials spotted water dripping under the car, and threatened to disqualify Jerry from competition, he needed an immediate plan. Jerry wired a sponge to the side of the engine block to absorb the leaking water, which was enough of a solution to allow him to continue competition.
It would be an epic run. The torque of The Lemon's Olds engine beat The Pipe Dream off the line. The Pipe Dream also bogged, as it ran a single gear. But about mid-way down the track, when Jerry shifted into high gear, he could see The Pipe Dream gaining on him... and fast! As Jerry recalls, just a split second after The Lemon crossed the lights for victory, The Pipe Dream blew by him. Jerry's hole shot and speed of 118 mph was just enough to beat The Pipe Dream, which ran a speed of 135 mph!
To read an October, 1964 feature of The Pipe Dream in Hot Rod Magazine, click here.
When Jerry rolled to a stop, race officials ran over to The Lemon, and taped the fuel cap and fittings so they would not be tampered with prior to their final inspection and tests. The owner/driver of The Pipe Dream came over to Jerry and demanded a rematch, as he was so upset about having lost to a car that ran a much lower speed. Content in accomplishing his dream of winning the Nationals, Jerry declined the Grudge Match, and called it a day.
Adjusting the valve lash in the Olds powerplant of The Lemon between runs in 1960.
So, Jerry would be the first Nebraskan to ever win a national event in motorsports.
After winning the 1960 AHRA Nationals, he had a difficult decision to make. It was obvious after running against The Pipe Dream that he'd have to up his game to remain competitive at a national level. He had already purchased a Potvin front-mounted supercharger, which would easily fit under hood due to the engine setback. But the addition of the supercharger was going to require additional, pricey enhancements to the car. And in order to find real competition, he would have to travel further, which would add even more costs. It was either time to "get serious" about drag racing, or "get out."
Jerry also recalls that drag racing was already beginning to change. Whereas ingenuity and hard work won races in the early years, sponsorship and dollars were the new keys to victory. His crew of buddies and his brother were also getting worn out. So Jerry made the very difficult decision to sell The Lemon. The car was dismantled and each component was sold. Most of the proceeds funded Jerry's return to Omaha University, where he achieved a BS in Chemistry in 1964. But there was some money left over, which Jerry used in 1961 to purchase his brother Bob's 1951 Oldsmobile Super 88 Holiday Coupe, a car that he still owns to this day.
The '51 Olds Jerry Ross bought in 1961 from his brother, Bob, and still owns to this day.
Jerry still laments what his life would have been like if he had stuck with racing. And there are still many times he wishes that he still owned The Lemon. But he is the first to acknowledge that drag racing taught him the most important lessons in life. First, it got him off the streets, where his street racing was getting him into real trouble and endangering his, and other people's safety. Second, it taught him discipline and structure that would pave his way to later success in life. Third, the proceeds from selling The Lemon paid his way through college. Ultimately, it would be the best decision Jerry ever made, as the success he achieved over the years in the chemical business far outweighed what he likely would have achieved in racing.
As we all know, once racing is in your blood, it's there for good. In 1961, Jerry donated his Potvin supercharger to George Roseland, a good friend who ran a front engine dragster. This earned Jerry part-time driving rights, and in 1961 Jerry piloted "The Burson Roseland Special" to its best top speed of 152 mph.
Jerry Ross, standing, with George Roseland, seated in The Burson Roseland Special dragster.
During most of the 1960's, Jerry performed virology research, and developed several livestock vaccines that would be approved for use in agriculture. In 1970, he changed gears and entered the field of industrial water treatment. He spent most of the 1970's in various management roles with Dearborn Chemical, the specialty chemical division of W.R. Grace. And in 1980 he returned to the role of pioneer, founding his own industrial water treatment and engineering firm that continues to operate today.
But he has never been far from racing. In the early 1990's, he was partial sponsor of the twin Olds engine powered Beef America "Double Vision" dragster. Click here to watch the Beef America Double Vision dragster run the quarter mile.
As a racer and a chemist, Jerry has been instrumental in the development of our products. Using his deep experience and knowledge in the area of chemistry to develop products to help racers and car enthusiasts has really brought things "full circle" for Jerry. As such, our products have truly been developed by car guys, for car guys just like you.
DID YOU KNOW... No-Rosion was in the cooling systems and fuel systems of twelve award-winning classics at the 2017 Pebble Beach Concours d'Elegance!
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