Written By: Steve and Glenda Castelli

The Early Years

Hot Rod Willy’s legacy began in 1941. One can only imagine the excitement of the new owner when he saw that brand new car. The stories he could tell – wonder how long he had the car? Through the war years, the 50’s, the 60’, and finally in 1978 when he became a “star.” My first association with the car was in the 1978 movie “Hot Rod”. It was filmed locally and I was asked to supply a few cars. My 1940 Ford Sedan Delivery was the Disc Jockey’s and my 1940 Ford Black Woodie was also used. I remember looking at the three Willy’s that were used for the movie, but it wasn’t until the shooting of the movie ended that one of the cars turned up for sale. I bought the car and quickly started getting it ready for racing.


The Quest for Speed

I pretty much left the car stock, put in a Chevy engine, painted it the famous yellow and headed for Sears Point in 1979. I probably turned an ET somewhere in the 10’s. But I did have fun. I raced Fremont and Sears Point for a number of years – just having fun. Of course, we all want to go faster, so I added a few more horses and I got into the 9’s. And of course I still wanted to go faster and when the Goodguy’s opened up the class “World’s Fastest Street Rod”, I wanted that! So, I had Alston Chassis Works build me a new chassis.
I hold the record today with an 8:06 at 170mph with Flowmasters Mufflers. In 1992, Ray Castor, with a 1939 Chevy Coupe, and I toured the USA on the Goodguy’s “World’s Fastest Street Rod Shootout”. We raced Maplegrove, Pennsylvania, Georgia and Raceway Park at Indy. The tour wrapped at the October Goodguy’s meet. We finished the victor and have so many stories that could fill a book! That year was the most memorable of all my years of racing. In 1994, I decided to proceed on into the A/GAS category since the Goodguy’s eliminated the “World’s Fastest Street Rod” class. I had a year to get all the bugs out. I changed to a Pro-Stock motor and a Lenco Tranny. I still had the steel body, but added a few fiberglass parts to get the weight down to 2,600 lbs.. I won the Red Line Oil A/GAS Championships with the Goodguy’s and also the A-GAS Championship with ANRA. 1997 to 1998 were exciting and fun as I had finally gotten the car dialed in at 7:53 at 181mph.

ON THE ROAD WITH Steve Castelli And His ‘HOT ROD WILLYS’ 1941 – The New Willys Coupe rolled off the Willys-Knight Production Line at Toledo Ohio.

1969 – I bought a wrecking yard in Windsor, California.

1977 – Steve Castelli purchased the grey primered Willys for $1000. It was abandoned in a grassy field after being used in movie scenes for the movie ‘Hot Rod’ (aka ‘Rebel on the Road’), which had not yet been released.

1978 – Willys made its racing debut at the Wednesday Night Drags at Sears Point Raceway in Sonoma California in May 1978.

1978 – Willys stars in a TV Friday Night Movie, ‘Hot Rod’. The made-for-TV flick, which was partially filmed in Calistoga and the Fremont Drag Strip, starred actors Greg Henry, Grant Goodeve, Parnell Roberts and Robert Culp and became somewhat of a cult classic among hot-rod aficionados during the past 27 years.

1979 – I retired from the Wrecking Business and decided to go racing and build our home.

1980-86 – Raced the 10 second bracket racing class at Fremont, Sacramento and Palmdale, California.

1986 – Added a tube Chassis built by Chris Alston and was powered by an Ed Nereaux 560 CI Racing Engine with a powerglide. The combination of water on the track and a windy day, Hot Rod Willys crashed at the Fremont Drag Strip putting the car on its top. The damage was fixed within two months and raced again back at Fremont.

1990 – Raced throughout California in the Street Rod Eliminator Class with 9 second times. My first Grandson, Lukas, was born.

1991 – Won the Street Rod Eliminator class with times in the 8’s.

1992 – Ran and won the ~ Super Street & Quick 8 Classes. Won Hot Rod Magazine’s top 10 Baddest Street Rods of the Year with times in the 8’s.

1992 – Raced the ‘Worlds Fastest Street Rod USA’ Tour with Ray Castor’s, 39 Chevy at Maple Grove Pennsylvania, Macon Georgia, Indianapolis Indiana, Sears Point, Sonoma California and Seattle Washington, winning four of the five ‘Shoot Out’ races. Raced the Fremont Reunion at Sacramento and the Hot Rod Reunion at Famosa Raceway at Bakersfield.

1993 – Raced local tracks and again toured back east with the Goodguys racing at Maple Grove Pennsylvania and Raceway Park in Indianapolis, Indiana. My second Grandson, Spencer, was born.

1994 – Changed the Willys to run the ‘A-Gas’ class. Bought a Warren Johnson PS 518 CI Olds engine. Installed a Lenco Tranny at mid season and ended up placing 4th place in the West Coast Goodguy’s Series, while racing Johnny Wood; 93, 94, A/Gas Champion Terry Rose; Maryann Harmon; Scotty Neal’s Alabama Slammer; Wayne Harry; Rich Roberts; and Hot Rod Hudson, to name just a few. Also raced at Denver, Famosa, Sears Point, Indy, Maplegrove, Sacramento, and the Hot Rod Reunion at Famosa.

1995 – Raced ‘A Gas’ with a 518 CI Warren Johnson Olds tuned by Ed Nereaux Racing Engines. Won my first championship in Goodguys and ANRA Divisions with a 7.66 at 185 MPH. Raced at Sears Point, Famosa, Indy, Maple Grove, Idaho, and Sacramento.

1996 – Raced a new ‘A-Gas’ class with a 7.50 breakout. Won Goodguys and ANRA Championships with racing at Famosa, Sears point, Indy, Sacramento, Idaho, Pomona, Fallon Nevada, Old Las Vegas Speedway and Seattle Washington.

1997 – El Nino! Raced Famosa, Sacramento, Sears Point, Pomona and Fallon, Nevada. Planted a Grape Vineyard in the Russian River Valley in Sonoma County, so my racing time was limited.

1998 – Added a new Lukovich Racing Engine. Won 3rd place in ‘A Gas’ class. Raced Famosa, Sears Point, Sacramento, and Fallon Nevada. Finishing my vineyard, so racing is taking a back seat. My first Grandaughter, Sarah Rose, was born.

1999 – Won 3rd place again in ‘A Gas’ class with racing in Famosa, Indy, St. Louis, Pomona, Sears Point and Sacramento. Traveled with Jim and Linda Pace and their 33 Willys ‘Jelly Belly’ Car to the Willys Reunion in St. Louis. A loss of oil pressure on the first pass at St. Louis, set me on the side lines in St. Louis and the next week-ends Indy race.

2000 – ‘A Gas’ class slowed down to 7.60 due to so many break-outs by all the racers and NHRA was going to ban the break-out cars from racing. We still broke out! We raced this year at Famosa, Sears Point, and the new Las Vegas track and won 3rd place again in the Championship series.

2001 – Raced the ‘A Gas’ class at 7.60. It was hard to hold Willys back as he wanted to hit the 40’s. Sears Point closed for rebuilding mid-season. I raced the spring Sears Point, Famosa twice and Won in Las Vegas! Again took 3rd place in the points. Traveled to independent races in Oregon and Redding, California. Harvested our first crop of Pinot Noir & Syrah Wine grapes just days before the last race.

2002 – Won A/Gas Race at Medford, Oregon and the Governor-s Cup at Sacramento. Runnerup at the March Meet at Famosa Raceway in Bakersfield. Also won the September Medford Oregon A/Gas where I was the #1 qualifier. My second granddaughter, Stephanie Marie, was born.

2003 – Raced Sacramento, Medford Oregon, and other tracks usually qualifying #1 and winning or placing in the top three. I qualify for Social Security!

2004 – Raced the Goodguy’s Series Championship placing runner-up in Las Vegas #1 qualifier with a 7:61. Placed in the top 5 at all the races. Harvested our Award Winning 2004 wines one day before last Goodguy Race. December 2004 – Doctors implanted 3 stints in 3 valves of my heart.

2005 – What a year! Refreshed parts and a new block by Lukovich Racing Engines in Michigan, together with the fine tuning at the track by Mechanic Danny Selliman garnered my Third Championship with the West Coast Goodguy Series. Wins included the March Meet & Pomona, with Runner-up at Seattle, and another win at the Fuel and Gas Finals at Famosa in November, where the Championship was celebrated with my crew, Danny Selliman, Rob Knight, Vic Beard, Mark Spears, and Luke Knight.

2006 – Spring rains took a tole on the ‘Hot Rod Willys’ at Famosa Raceway’s March Meet as ‘Seepers’ sprung to the surface at noon on Sunday. Without a warning, the Hot Rod Willys instantly veered left into the wall on the first round of qualifying with the Hot Rod Willys being the second set of cars to go out. The Hot Rod Willys and his Corvette racing mate, crashed at the exact point of the seepers at 1000 feet, canceling the event. Hot Rod Willys was cosmetically put in condition to attend Windsor Californiab’s Old Time Celebration Car show on July 2.

2007 – Hot Rod Willys is now being taken apart and painted and put in racing condition but will not make the March Meet.

2013 Highlights

Hot Rod willys will be at the 2013 Hot Rod Reunion in Bakersfield. Check back for results in a couple of weeks.

Cheers and Thanks for the Memories
Steve Castelli,
Windsor California