Drivers Blog: "tv" Tommy Ivo>>drag Racing’s Master Showman

It was the Winter Nationals at Pomona California in 1974.  We were down to the last round of qualifying, with no success of making the field yet because I’d had ignition problems all weekend.  But when I warming up the car in the pits, it sounded so sharp.  I knew I’d found the problem.  But little did I know I was about to take the “E ticket” ride of my life on the next run.

Not only was it my last chance to qualify for the race, but I was also racing against a guy that I considered to be all but my real bother, John “Tarzan” Austin”. He had toured the country together with me for seven years as my crew guy.

You could actually tour a dragster in those days with only two guys,
but we were two very busy little puppies with all the work it took to
accomplish that feat.  Like the time I had a truck with two dragsters
and a Corvette parked on top of the works.  Just keeping it polished
was a monumental task.

But lets get back to my E ticket ride.  I wasn’t about to let the student teach the teacher a lesson buy getting beat by him.  I wanted to crush him under any circumstances.  Little did I know that I was the one that was slated to have a crushing experience.  Since this was the first time I had a chance to race him after he found his way to the drivers seat with another team, I hopped up so much.  I was burning pistons when I went past the Christmas tree just after leaving the starting line, but it was running like a striped assed ape.  

It only made it “almost” all the way to the finish line before it expired.  The fire was so ferocious when it kicked the rods out of the side of the block that it engulfed the rear wing completely with fire and zeroed out the down force of it.  When I felt the rear tires start to slide on my oil, I lifted off the throttle and as I back peddled it, I could feel the car start to roll over from the torque of the motor changing direction of rotation.

At first it was shear terror.  Then I decided in my own mind that I was going way too fast for this to happen and walk away from it.  I was sure this was it — it was curtains for TV Tom!!!

Oddly enough, at that point it became euphoric and became almost enjoyable.    The only thing that made me mad though was when it turned around backwards and the flames started coming past my ears.  I didn’t want to see was about to happen, happen.   So I closed my eyes — and missed the whole show!!!  Damn!!!

I opened them once and the ground was over the car, instead of under the car. and I promptly closed them again!!!  Those Ostriches aren’t stupid — it’s very pacifying.  

But all’s well that end’s well.  I didn’t get a scratch out of it.  Except messing up my armor!!!  Just kidding!!!

It was a brand new car at it’s first race, with this being it’s fourth run.  I killed everything inside the motor with the explosion.  Plus, I killed everything on the outside, by rolling it over and over.  BUT, and here comes that “but” again.  If I could only make one run in a drag race car, this is the one I would choose.  But you have to not get hurt.  Otherwise it would spoil all the fun.  It was totally worth the price of admission.  Who’s an adrenaline junkie???

I was born in Denver, Colorado in 1936 and after moving to Hollywood at age seven – I found my way to a movie carrier that lasted nineteen years and spanned the making of about 100 movies and 200 television shows.  I did everything from small parts, like the Western Union telegraph delivery boy to a staring role in my last TV series called Margie 1961/1962.

I was in the movies before they even had television.  I guess that’s why my buddies tell me that my last name  I V O  is perfect.  It stands for “I’m–Very—Old”. 

With friends like that, you don’t need any enemies,  but that’s where the "TV" in my nickname TV Tom came from.

It all started when a friend asked me to take my '55 Buick Century to the drags and I won both classes and set a track record to get two trophies in one day.  That was two Oscars in one day to an actor, and the hook was set.

After losing the Dynaflow transmission 3 times at the races, I decided to build a “T” roadster. Since the Buick engine ran so good in my Century, I thought, why look a gift horse in the mouth and started running Buick’s in all my race cars from that point on.  The “T” was never beat in class and it held the record everywhere I ran it.

But running in the lower classes only lasted so long.  A friend on mine Don Johnson, had a dragster he had bought from Kent Fuller the chassis builder.  One night when he was sitting next to me at the Bob’s Drive-In while I was have a burger and a coke in my “T”, he asked if I’d like to put that engine in his dragster. After the racing it next Sunday and winning Top Eliminator, I was sitting on Fullers front porch Monday morning when he came out of his house begging him to build one of those for me – and my dragster days were on.

NHRA had limited their tracks to running gas or fuel only at that
time.  Gas powered dragsters were the top of line and we set the
world record for that one of the first times out.

Note the door of my red and white Buick Century can be seen in this picture.  My poor, poor first race car, was demoted to being a tow truck for my new toy, my single engine gas dragster.  Life’s not fair!!!

When we ran out of horsepower with the single engine dragster, the next logical step was two motors.  Seen here in front of the NHRA Wally Parks Motorsports Museum with my pals Greg Sharp, the curator of the museum and Steve Gibbs, the then director.

They had the Tommy Ivo Exhibit set up on the inside, taking up half the Hall of Champions at that time.

The next step to more house power, was to add a supercharger to one of the motors.

Then as logic would have it, if two were good.  Four would be better.

What a sight it was to see run, with four wheel drive powering all the tires.  It was dubbed “the rolling fog bank”.

But NHRA lifted the Nitro Methane ban and I capitulated to the fact that the Hemi Chrysler was the only engine to run on nitro, so I made the change over to them from that point on.  Otherwise a six pack of Buicks was next — well maybe not!!!  This is one of my favorite pictures of my favorite car by the way.  It was my first fuel car that we broke the seven second barrier with.

I had one of the best experiences of my life on our 1964 trip to England with the United States Drag Racing Team.  Plus I guess winning the series didn't hurt matters, for me being so enamored with the trip.

My carrier in drag racing then lead me to a series of front motor fuel dragsters.

Then came a series of rear engine fuel dragsters…

I also had a number of fuel funny cars…

Then finally came my jet car. I had 36 different cars in all, that ran in 12 different classes.  My career spanned from 1952 to 1982, when I broke my back in an accident and my racing years came to an abrupt halt.  But “Oh how bright the candle burned”, while it was all going on. 

I found Aladdin when I was young and wisely used my three wishes.  The first of which, was being in the movie business.  It wasn’t too shabby  “riding” with Roy Rogers, Gene Autry and The Durango Kid when you're just a young kid and them dummy’s were paying me to do it.

The second wish was for drag racing, where I got to do my hobby as a living.  Then finally, I lived long enough to know I’d stood the test of time and got my third wish without even asking for it. Don Garlits inducted me into “The Motorsports Hall of Fame Of America” in 2005, with the likes of Mario Andretti, Dale Earnhardt and Richard Petty.

I was inducted into the first inaugural, “International Drag Racing Hall of Fame” in 1991 and was also the first to get a “NHRA Lifetime Achievement Award”. 

We set world records by being the first to run in the 8 second bracket, as well as the first to run 170 and 180 mph on gas.  Plus we were the first to run in the 7’s and 5’s on fuel, as well as 190 mph on fuel.

We have just scratched the tip of the iceberg with all this,  but Tom Cotter is writing a book now, that will have all my 36 cars in it.  There will be numerous pictures never before seen and of course, enough space to get into detail on everything.  We expect it to be released in early 2011.

In retrospect, I’m a truly contented person and how many people do you know that can sincerely say that?  

-Tommy Ivo    



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even if you dont like racing or cars, thr first picture is sure to keep your mouth open


awesome man & machines. and an excellent article.


rad story!


rad story!


Every time you guys post a fantastic piece like this, I love you more and more. Granted, I started coming here for the import and drifting news. However, what a blast from the past -- I love that you guys are sneaking in all sorts of wonderful stories like these lately, please keep it up! Maybe sneak one about "The Snake" in next? :D


Wow! Some awesome pictures. A nice retro blog.


Freaggin' awesome! The first pic and the one with the Dodge funny car are the shit!!! Most deff. got to be desktops!!! So, please? Can we have desktops of those?;;)


Unrelated to the story but very important, nevertheless; I have a special request to all of the readers of Speedhunters and to Speedhunters itself:

Please Help save Spa-Francorchamps! One of the best, most famous and the most beautiful tracks in the world is under attack by the Government for the apparent disruption of the local area... Sign the petition to keep this amazing track: Now! - Translator

Thank you:)


now that's a dream come true. i so envy this guy.


Tom - as a tiny kid I met father used to watch you on TV and at Lyons. Your life is one of the best stories ever. Much respect and honor are yours for the taking!! Let me be the first here to state: YOU HAVE A PAIR OF THE BIGGEST AND SHINIEST BRASS BALLS IN HISTORY!!! Thank you for your story!


nice write up, cool insight.


Sick!! TV Tom IVO! Can't wait for the book! I didn't know he raced until '82? That's a long career. His buick powered T is probably my favorite! I love street cars better than race cars. Cool post for sure. Gotta show these kids where speedhunting originated.


Wonderful photos! I really appreciate that you took the time to write this up for us loyal Speedhunters readers, you've offered us an insight that we wouldn't otherwise have been able to have. :)





INCREDIBLE!!!!! FOUR ENGINES?!!? That car looks INSANE! You have without a doubt, lived life to it's fullest. Reading about Great drivers like yourself are what got me into cars.



what a great driver feature... thank you speedhunters and Tommy Ivo for putting this together. Amazing photos. Please make some wallpapers from this collection!


Everything from the “T” roadster to the "Rolling Fog Bank" Impressive cars for a impressive live.


What a exciting life! Couldnt happen to a nicer person


Very cool! thanks for sharing......I can just imagine the looks when that awd machine rolled up.


Tom, you are definitely the greatest drag racer of all time (comment paid for by the John Loukas "Bowling Green or Bust" fund). All kidding aside, from a once-young lad from Minneapolis who followed your adventures through Hot Rod magazine, you're my hero too. Hopefully see you in Bowling Green for "Zanes" big day.


wow man thats one hell of a story and so many wild creations of drag cars, never seen some stuff like that, all wheel drive 4 motor'd drag car wow wtf... totally insane stuff.


Your drag racing experiences and successes are great memories for me too and I was glad to be there and be a part of it all! FYI, we've forwarded this blog on to all of our kids who only know you as an old man--not the TV/movie star and drag racing icon that you were/are!


After showing this story to my father (old muscle-car guy from LA), he said the following:

"I sure remember TV Tom, son. Your uncle and I used to see him in the twin-motor and 4-motor drag cars at Lyons in the 60's. When he would run the 4-motor car, he would smoke the entire 1/4 mile, and they had to get the push trucks to drive back and forth for 5 minutes down the strip just to clear all the smoke."

WOW. I am glad you made it to the other side Tom, please enjoy your successes, because we all owe you thanks.


Great read and pics!


Nice reward to the man that gave us the best show in town.. Ivo was the best there ever was


amazing, what a life! all those cars are so cool.


Nice write up!


Mr. Ivo, let me convey how honored we are to see such a legend write on Speedhunters! You and your quad-engine, 4WD rail are the most legendary! Ironically, I was flipping channels a few weeks back and came upon one of your old movies, "The Ghost of Dragstrip Hollow". I think it was from the early '60s; you looked like you just graduated! It's cool that you were able to combine your professional acting career and your love of racing. Thanks on behalf of everyone on Speedhunters!