Name:

Bill Tucker

Age:

69

Region:

Central

Hometown:

Blue Springs, Mo.

Racing Class:

American Iron

Sponsors:

None

Day Job:

Residential real estate management

Favorite Food:

Steak and baked potato

Favorite TV Show:

Discovery Science Channel

Favorite Movie:

“Out of Africa”

Favorite Book:

“West With the Night”

Favorite Track:

Hallett Motor Racing Circuit

Dream racecar:

1980s Group C prototypes e.g. Jaguar XJR12 or Porsche 962
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Bill Tucker can stop his Camaro Z28 with his bare hand. And he can do it lap after lap after lap.

Paralyzed from the waist down after a fall from a ladder in 1995, Tucker used to hold a private pilot’s license, and spent three decades buying, repairing and selling small airplanes for fun and profit. However, his thrill-seeking streak didn’t end after the accident, and he was looking for another fun hobby. Tucker and his brother used to race go karts when they were younger, so when a friend suggested he look into racing a GM F-body, they went to Hallett Motor Racing Circuit to check it out.

“We went to a race to see the cars to see if he could get in and out of one, and I could,” Tucker said. “That was my concern, the ingress and egress with the cage.”

So he turned his sights to racing and ended up buying a Firebird in New Jersey, which he modified and used to attend Skip Barber Racing School, where he earned his regional license.

“I got my regional license and ran that car until I smacked a wall with it one day, going backward,” he said. “I replaced it with the Camaro.”

Tucker built the hand controls for his American Iron Z28. Here’s how they work. There are two “paddles” to the left of the steering wheel. The outside paddle works the brakes, which he pushes with his fingers to slow the car in moderate speed corners, and with the heel of his hand to brake hard from fast straights into slow corners. The inside paddle is the throttle, which he pulls toward him to accelerate. But what about the clutch? Well, for pulling away from a dead stop, he uses a hand-operated hydraulic clutch lever on top the transmission tunnel, just behind the shifter.

“I can’t do it very easily without being strapped in, but when I’m strapped in, I can pull that lever up with my right hand and reach over with my left hand and move the gear lever into first gear and then move my left hand back to the throttle,” he said. “Once I’m in motion, I don’t use that hand clutch at all.”

That’s because his car is fitted with a Jerico five-speed transmission, which can be shifted without a clutch. It has the same gear ratios as the usual Borg Warner T5. For downshifting, Tucker installed a motorcycle twist-grip throttle on the shift lever, which he uses to match the engine speed with the speed of next lower gear. He does that in a straight line while braking, which is another process unto itself.

“There are only a few corners on a track that are really severe braking corners,” he added. “The rest of them are gradual, moderate braking corners and for those I just push with my fingers. If you take your own hand, and push against the wall or push against the desktop with your fingers rigidly locked with your fingers straightforward, you’ll see you can push pretty darn hard and it doesn’t hurt.”

Early on his efforts, he tried automatic transmissions. But with all the downshifting and the heat that built up inside the transmission, he went through too many of them, no matter how large a cooler he installed.

“It just did not work,” he said. “In fact, everybody who sold me these things told me that this was probably not going to work the way I wanted it to, that it was going to tear up the clutches. And it did. Sometimes a transmission would last literally 10 minutes and all I’d have left is reverse.”

While he was running his Camaro, he also bought and modified a Spec Miata, which had an air cylinder that operated the clutch and brakes. The cylinder was about the size of those used to operate soda fountains, and it would last about seven or eight weekends between refills. He bought some hand controls and fashioned an air pressure regulator that could be switched between a slow release for the clutch, for pulling away from a dead stop, and quick release for shifting on the fly. He used a push button on top of the shift knob to activate the clutch.

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“That worked very well and it was a lot of fun,” he said. “What it came down to was, I really liked the V8 cars. I just liked the sound, liked the grunt. It was hard enough getting one car ready to go. Getting two cars ready to go proved to be an impossibility, and so I just reverted back to the Camaro.

“But to this day I think about that Miata a lot,” he added. “That thing was so much fun.”

Having V8 power lets him minimize downshifts so he can minimize the number of places his hands have to be at the same time. Sometimes it can be awkward, but the critical and most important thing is keeping the car on the track.

“It doesn’t matter what gear you’re in if you’re on the grass,” he said with a laugh.

As this issue was going into production, Tucker had been cleared for his competition license, and he was headed to Hallett Motor Racing Circuit for his first race in American Iron. He was eager to compete, but he maintained an attitude that is essential for all amateur racers.

“I never get in this car that I don’t remind myself I’m just doing this for the fun of it,” he said. “This is just for fun.”

Topeka548 20130526-John Hiatt IV-3395
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Images courtesy of Brett Becker and John Hiatt IV