John Vineyard - Double World Champion

By Jim Luikens

When John Vineyard wanted to run Top Sportsman he commissioned Ken Bowers to build him a “brand new” 1933 Ford Roadster. However, the roadster competed in only one race before the rules were changed and roadsters were outlawed in T/S. This is the story of John Vineyard who wanted to run Top Sportsman but instead has won two world championships, including the 2003 IHRA Quick Rod title.

Like many racers John grew up as a car nut. Unlike many of today’s racers however, his automotive interest was not following in the family’s footsteps. In fact, despite his two world championships (he also has one from NHRA in Super/Gas) his father still thinks he’s nuts for doing what he does.

As a youngster one of the people that lived on John’s paper route was a racer who worked at General Motors. That person served as his first real motorsports mentor and John was able to learn quite a bit from him. Other well-known racers also lived in the area like Bruce Sizemore and Mark Fotiu. Mark, who ran the counter at the local auto parts store, was always ready to share a helpful suggestion with a young racer.

John got his racing start at the now long-closed Motor City Dragway near Marine City, Michigan. At the age of 17 he began racing his hopped-up, street-driven Volkswagen. Since Motor City didn’t have any class that was near suitable for John's combination they created their own class just for him, Bug Modified. As that class’ first competitor, he became the track record holder the first time down the strip.

Because bracket racing was becoming the new big thing at that time John switched his focus to bracket racing, which he then did for a number of years. In 1982 he gave his real first indication of what he was capable of when he took his car to nearby Central Michigan Dragway for a points meet. Now racing a 1963 Chevy II, he entered it in Super/Street. Unbelievably, in his first ever taste of national level competition he won the event.

Even more unbelievable was the fact that, despite this initial success, he didn’t try that type of racing again for another seven years. Instead he bracket raced his Chevy II locally for the next three years before advancing to a Chevrolet Vega powered by a 427 cubic inch big block Chevy engine.

In 1986 John decided to concentrate on the points championship at Ubly Dragway, another Michigan drag strip that was located near his home. After a determined effort all season long John won the track’s Super Pro bracket championship and then the overall track champion title. The next year found the same kind of results and John was leading the track’s points going into the final day of racing.

For some reason the track operator decided the final day of racing would be a double points event and John ended up losing the season championship by a half round of competition. Disheartened by the unexpected last minute change, John never looked back and he never went back to that track again. Instead he began preparing a Pontiac Grand Am for Quick Rod. The car he was working on had originally been built for Dale Hunt, a Detroit-area Pontiac enthusiast and racer, and it had seen limited use.

However, when it was new that car had won the prestigious Ridler Award, which is presented each year at Detroit’s Autorama to the best new car that has never been shown before. A thorough reworking and a fresh paint job meant that John never got his Grand Am out until late in the 1988 season. However when he finally made it to the track the car quickly won several best appearing awards with its new paint job.

The 1989 season was a different story, however. Using a 534 CID Chevrolet engine that was prepared by his sponsor, Sam Gianino Racing Engines, the little Pontiac ran as quick as 8.90 seconds at 163 mph and won the IHRA World Nationals. At the end of the year John sold his entire racing operation lock, stock and toolbox to an aspiring racer. For 1990 he bought another Vega, this one powered by a 482” big block and he used it to race in a local Super/Gas series. This car was also successful and he won the Milan, Michigan event as well as the overall season championship for this series.

In 1991 he began construction of the 1933 Ford Roadster, which he still races to this day. Using an Advanced Chassis and a Glasstek body he got to run in only one race before the untimely (for him) rules change that outlawed roadsters in T/S. In 1992 he raced in only the first and last races of the season, taking time off from racing during the summer months to build a new home.

After putzing around locally, as he puts it, during 1993 he decided to chase the IHRA points championship in 1994. He entered the final IHRA event of the year in 8th place nationally. A rain-out on Sunday meant that the finals could not be run until Monday and John was unable to stay due to job concerns. Unable to defend his top ten ranking he lost three positions in his absence and fell to 11th in the final 1994 national standings.

During the years from 1995 to 2001 John chose to focus on NHRA events, winning many national and divisional races. In addition to his 1996 S/G World Championship he also finished #2 nationally in 1997 and 1999. He also earned two divisional titles, two divisional runner-ups and finished in the top ten divisionally every year but one during this seven-year stretch.

Disheartened by inconsistent track preparation John and his wife Suzanne, an integral part of the Vineyard team, made the decision to switch to IHRA beginning with the start of the 2002 season. A fine second-place finish nationally in 2002 served as a warm up for his first IHRA championship season in 2003. Amazingly, John has won two world championships and recorded three second-place national finishes in the last ten years of racing.

According to John none of this would have been possible without the unflinching help of his wife Suzanne. Married for 22 years, they are the best of friends and she has made the sacrifices that are necessary when you race at this level. According to Suzanne, John is an honest person and an all-around good guy. Judging by his results I’d say he’s also quite a racer.