My father Walt Ahrens started oval track racing in Nebraska and Iowa when I was still in my mother’s arms. By 1975 he was trying to get serious and move up in the world of late-model stock cars, so he led the design and development of the Camaro seen here. He built it with Bob Hatterman, who would drive it on the half-miles of Harlan, Iowa, and Corning, Iowa, and the three-eighths mile of Sunset Speedway near Omaha. A teenaged neighbor named Billy Leighton helped out. The accomplished looking fellow pictured, though, is my brother Dan. I hope other pictures turn up showing the rest of the car.
The Camaro had a big-block Chevy V-8 with I don’t know what carburetion. They built this car on a rigid space frame of tube steel like a prototype road racer might have and even went so far as inboard rear disc brakes. The idea was to realize better-handling than all others on the circuit as well as top-class power. My father approached perennial champion Bob Kosiski about teaming up on the project, but Kosiski turned him down. Hatterman had won the sportsman division at Sunset in 1974 and was moving up to the pro class.
The lettering on the Camaro’s hood says “Mickey Who?” and the cartoon over the right rear wheel presents the image of “Mickey Rat.” This Camaro had some attitude! My big contribution was to paint the wheel centers orange. I was traveling part of the summer and re-taking Western Civilization 1453 to 1789 in summer school, so I only witnessed a couple of races.
Alas, Mickey Rat’s campaign was unsuccessful. My father spoke of a big accident at Corning that bent the space frame, requiring an emergency re-do the following week. Hatterman may also have suffered a concussion. “I’m still not sure he’s right,” my father said. Also, Walt’s carb strategy resulted at least twice in melted pistons. Did they even finish the season?
I knew there was a picture of the Camaro and was happy to see it when I opened the mail one day last week. Thank you to Joe Cornish and Kate Oshima for passing it along. To give an idea of how far things had come in 18 years, you also see a pic of my father’s first car, a ’34 Ford coupe with flathead V-8, circa 1957.