Spotlight Interview—Camp Stanley

Reining in Racing in Favor of (Semi) Retirement

Only a handful names in drag racing are revered as pioneers of the pastime. These influential individuals were responsible for shaping and developing drag racing in its heyday, and their names evoke vivid memories of a wilder time when technology, as well as the societal subculture surrounding the sport, evolved at a rapid pace. Arthur Camp Stanley III is one of the elite few worthy of such admiration, and, after a lifetime of running full-tilt, he’s ready to (slightly) step back and change direction in his career.

Although he may be small in stature, Stanley is big on heart and big on character. Now 75 years young, the man from Maryland has enjoyed a storied career many decades strong and inadvertently became one of the doorslammer world’s most influential men along the way.

A founding member of the original “Wild Bunch” group that set the stage for the outlaw doorslammer drag racing of today, Stanley and his team flaunted a decidedly punk rock attitude toward their unconventional combinations and took pride in doing what others said they couldn’t — or shouldn’t.

Known for stuffing supercharged, alcohol-fueled engines into anything he could find, Stanley and his team’s unpredictable nature made them a huge hit with fans all across the mid-Atlanta region and throughout the rest of the United States. The drama, excitement, and rivalries earned the Wild Bunch notoriety, publicity, and their fair share of match races.

Early on, Stanley campaigned a Chevy Luv truck. “It had a blown big-block Chevy engine, a Hays pedal clutch, and a four-speed Lenco,” he said, remembering the pickup lovingly. “One day, someone asked why there weren’t any Fords in the Wild Bunch, so I decided to build one.” Thanks to help from Ford Motor Company, Stanley purchased a steel-bodied Ford Taurus station wagon as a body-in-white direct from the manufacturer for $1 in the late ‘80s.

The hunt for the sixes was perhaps one of the most exciting periods in racing, and Stanley is quick to credit Pro Mod racer Bill Kuhlmann being the first to eclipse the 200-mph mark in a doorslammer. The elapsed time barrier was still up for grabs, though, as Tommy Howes was racing his Rizzoli Competition Design-built, full-bodied ‘84 Nissan 300ZX and Stanley was running his controversial, Chevy-powered blown Taurus wagon.

“Tommy had the better car, but I had the better motor, so we put our heads together and went to the IHRA Summer Nationals at Atco, New Jersey, and said f*ck ‘em!” laughed Stanley, reminiscing of the “anything goes” days. On June 4, 1988, with Howes driving and Stanley tuning, the two made history with the first ever 6-second doorslammer run of 6.996 at 201.79 mph.

In ’90, Stanley reskinned the Taurus as an ‘89 Ford Thunderbird and, in ’91, it went 6.92 at 202 mph and earned him his own, prestigious Sonny’s 200-mph Club ring. “In ’89 and ’91, respectively, we loaded first the Taurus wagon and then the Thunderbird into 40-foot containers and shipped ‘em to Australia to race,” added Stanley of the international shenanigans he enjoyed with the historical chassis.

Over the years, Stanley cultivated a reputation for doing the most with the least. Stationed in Germany in the early ‘60s while he served in the Army, Stanley got out of the service in ’65. “It all started with a single, four-barrel carb that evolved over the years…,” he laughed, looking back at where he began back in late ‘60s with a small-block Chevy II and later, a Camaro. When he met William “Axle” Weiss, though, his career picked up even more speed.

“I met Axle back in the Super Chevy days in Bowling Green, Kentucky. We shared a couple of drinks, and then I ran into him in Orlando — he just hopped into my rental car while we were waiting for the gates to open,” Stanley recalled of the quick friendship the two established. Weiss had been running his Pontiac GTO at the time, and Stanley helped Kevin McCurdy as well as Rob Emmons. “That Pontiac deal beat Axle up financially and he didn’t have a crew, and Rob blew his motor, so we put ‘em all together and created Emmons and Weiss racing.”

The newly created team ran the Super Chevy circuit for a few years and then dissipated. Stanley bought out Emmons’ operation and got Weiss’ trailer in the deal, renamed it all Stanley and Weiss Racing, and brought one of his two sons, John Stanley, into the fold.

With the new Stanley and Weiss Racing team up and running, the guys got busy making history. With their eye-catching orange Tim McAmis Race Cars-built ‘68 Chevy Camaro SS Pro Mod and support from Steel Dynamics, Inc., the rowdy racers made their claim to fame at the Street Car Super Nationals in Las Vegas, Nevada, in November of 2013. Stanley had promised to “bring his A-game” and did not disappoint as he tuned the team’s Chevy to carry his son down the strip in 5.6-seconds — not just once, but twice — culminating in a world record-setting pass of 5.644 at 253.04 mph.

A definite highlight of his career, Stanley’s blistering pace at the SCSN was not his only West Coast domination. “That was basically the United States’ baddest, no-rules, show-up, shut-up, and run kind of race — and of the four times we went, we made it to the finals three times and the semi-finals once,” Stanley stated of the event he also set two world records at, with two different cars, as his screw-blown and Hemi-powered Pro Mod Cadillac CTS-V aka “Daddy’s Caddy” set the speed record for a blown doorslammer in ’17 when it clocked 266.74 mph through the traps.

Stanley toyed with the idea of retirement afterward, but soon rescinded the statement. Instead, he focused on making waves in the NMCA VP Racing Fuels Xtreme Pro Mod category and extended his partnership with Steel Dynamics where fellow NMCA racer, Glenn Pushis, works as a Senior Vice President.

In 2018, with his son still at the helm, Stanley helped the team conclude the season with an impressive ninth-place overall finish. Stanley and Weiss improved even further in 2019, ending the year sixth for the championship chase courtesy of an impressive win over Don Walsh Jr. at the Inaugural COMP Cams NMCA Memphis Homecoming in May and the number-one qualifier honors at the 18th Annual NMCA World Street Finals presented by Chevrolet Performance in Indianapolis in September.

As all good things must come to an end, though, Stanley is once again toying with the idea of semi-retirement, and for 2020 and beyond, decided to step back from racing to focus on enabling others, while enjoying time to himself.

“I’m an old, about-to-be-retired-from-racing sumbitch living on social security,” joked Stanley, who is sharper far more quick-witted than most half his age. “I don’t like it, but after being with Steel Dynamics for seven years — and they’ve been so good to us — that’s coming to an end, so I decided to pull the plug.”

Stanley has no pretense about being wealthy, and doesn’t hesitate to share that neither he nor Weiss can afford to continue to fund the operation independently. After nearly two decades racing together, Stanley’s finances finally ran dry. It isn’t worth “living down at the mission eating crackers” trying to make it happen.

“I’m really proud of how long Steel Dynamics stuck with us. That’s unheard of at the lower ranks of racing. We’re not Top Fuel, or Pro Stock, or even Legal Pro Mod,” said Stanley, incredibly grateful of the assistance he received from his sponsor, which enabled Stanley and Weiss to chase dreams and make memories. “I never looked for more sponsors or a replacement, because I knew at some point in time it would have to end. I plan to stay financially solvent now by not funding a racecar.”

So, it was announced that Stanley’s stuff was, sadly, for sale. The Cadillac itself isn’t up for auction just yet, though, and while it was briefly considered to put an MMR Coyote engine in, just for fun, ultimately that route didn’t get the green light.

Despite his dad’s departure from the big show, Stanley’s son, John, still wants to race. Fortunately, his family name should help him find a new seat in which to sit, although it may be a bit of a challenge stepping back from such a legacy.

“His problem will be stepping out of one of the baddest cars in the world. John has been 5.50s, holds the world speed record, won Pro Mod races, been a world champion [NSCA Outlaw Pro Street in 2005], out-qualified some of the fastest turbo cars out there, and that’s going to be tough mentally,” said the concerned father, who casually continued about potential possibilities for his son in other cars he’s connected with on the West Coast.

Now, though, Stanley’s at the point in his life where he’s ready to change gears and go in another direction — consulting and tuning, rather than car management and crew-chiefing.

“I’m only retiring from owning and campaigning my own car — not retiring from racing! I still have a lot to offer,” confirmed Stanley, who takes pride in passing along his knowledge and sharing his skills with those around him, whether they’re students of his or competitors, and has even helped a prominent unnamed Pro Mod racer by educating him on the values of a weather station. “I love imparting what I have in my head to other people, because someone imparted it to me and I’ve gotta pay it forward.” His generosity was even recently honored with the NMCA Bob Curran Sportsman of the Year award in 2019.

His success has not been a singlehanded achievement; Stanley knows he’s been fortunate to have received help and support from tons of people along the way and counts his blessings regularly. His tractor and trailer, for example, which he calls “Felix” because it has a Caterpillar engine, was purchased in 2014 for a bargain from Roger Burgess, on a referral from Pro Line Racing’s Eric Dillard, when the mogul decided to get out of racing himself.

“I’m just a little guy from Appalachia, but when Wes Buck gave me the cover of Drag Illustrated magazine [issue #82 in December of 2013], it was one of the biggest honors and proof that little guys can still do good,” said Stanley, who epitomizes the epithet that it isn’t the “size of the dog in the fight but rather the size of the fight in the dog.’

“It’s time for Camp to drink margaritas on the beach and go where I want, when I want, how I want,” shared of his plans to sip chardonnay from somewhere other than his toter in the pits. If he gets hired on to tune in Australia, or Germany, or South Africa (where his old Thunderbird now resides and holds all of the local continental records,) or even Wisconsin – he’ll go, as long as it fits his new, relaxed yet active lifestyle.

The tuning gig isn’t something new for Stanley, however, as he’s been working in that capacity for decades already and has even worked on some of the biggest Street Outlaws stars’ cars as well. He’s also been tuning Switzerland-based racer Marcus Hilt’s Pro Mod ’63 Corvette in Europe for nearly a decade. Ironically, Hilt is also the new owner of the PSI screw-blown 521 ci Hemi-headed Noonan Race Engineering engine from Stanley’s Caddy.

“It’s a relatively low-budget team, but he’s got tons of heart,” noted the philanthropist tuner who choses who he works with based on their dedication and ambition, not their bank accounts. “Seeing him go 6.19 at Sant Pod Raceway last September, the quickest and fastest he had ever been by a tenth and a half, that’s what’s rewarding to me — passing on knowledge to guys who might not have had a chance otherwise. All they gotta do is pick up the phone and ask for help …and pay me millions… just kidding!”

For having accomplished so much, Stanley is surprisingly humble. Ego isn’t his strong suit and he doesn’t see himself as a legend, just someone who happened to be in the right place at the right time with the right attitude.

Looking back over his many years, it’s tough for Stanley to pinpoint a truly favorite moment. “I don’t even have a favorite track, it’s always just whatever one I’m currently at,” he jokingly added. And, while his beloved wife of 47 years, Janet, passed away in 2016, Stanley doesn’t have much tying him down anymore. “She’s in heaven playing Yahtzee with her mom. I can’t undo that, so now my goal is to die on the starting line, in a foreign country, from a heart attack.”

As racing has changed so dramatically over the years — from technology to trends to even social expectations — Stanley has never once developed a stodgy old guy attitude and never fought against it. Instead, he’s embraced change, learned from it, and evolved with the times to see how he could help further the common good. There’s no question about it that Stanley will still be involved in racing moving forward, just at a somewhat slightly slower pace.

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