By Dean Close
The Vinton Cruise includes a variety of vehicles that see use in a variety of ways, from daily drivers to classics that spend most of their time in garages or trailers and just travel on their own power for just a few miles each year.
And then there are cars that compete on a race track in between car shows, while also maintaining their status as daily drivers capable of long highway distances.
The 1951 Henry J that Corey Kemp brought to the Vinton Cruise is one such racer.
Called the “Mad Irishman,” the car has entertained drag race fans and classic car admirers at a few venues since Kemp rebuilt it earlier this year.
“It was owned by an old lady in Tulsa, Okla., then set to pasture for many, many years,” says Kemp. “This old lady was either the mom or grandma of a guy who later became a friend.”
This friend does Hot Rod Magazine’s Drag Week every year.
Kemp explains that Drag Week is a week-long event where participants have to drive their cars several hundred miles every day to specified drag strips and race them. “No trailering them, and no support vehicles, just you, your car, and one ride-along buddy,” Kemp explains.
“With only 5 months to the next Drag Week, he pulled this Henry J out of the field and built it to be the car you see today,” says Kemp.”That was in 2014. He raced Drag Week in 2014 and 2015 with this car finishing 1st and 2nd with times in the 9.90’s in the quarter mile. I was just beginning to start the build of a 1951 Henry J in 2015 when I realized my busy work and family schedule was going to make it difficult to complete my car timely. I suggested to Mike if he’d ever consider selling the car, I sure would like an opportunity to buy it. My timing was right and I made the trip to pick up this car in October 2015, minus motor and transmission.”
This spring, Kemp acquired the motor from Eagle Motorsports in Eldora and customized it to be closer to a period correct 1960’s drag car.
“I had Fountain Transmission in Iowa City build me a Powerglide transmission. I painted the firewall quickly before installing the motor and transmission so I wouldn’t have to remove them when I paint the car this winter,” explains Kemp.
The car is built to replicate a Gasser drag car of the mid-1960’s, with a straight front axle, tunnel ram, etc., says Kemp, adding that it does also have a few things that are “a little more modern,” like disc brakes and a really nice roll cage.
For the Kemps, cars are a family project. Corey’s wife, Nikki, along with son Austin and daughter Alli, help him with the work.
“My wife and kids helped me install the motor and transmission a couple of weeks ago,” says Kemp. “Since then, we’ve already taken it to the Garrison Car Show/Fun Day, a 3 day vintage drag race in Byron, Illinois called The Meltdown Drags, and now the Vinton Car Cruise. I come from a family that is into old cars and race cars, my wife supports it, and it seems my son isn’t falling far from the tree, so I would expect more cars to get completed soon from our little farm near Garrison.”
Below is a picture of Kemp racing it last weekend in Byron, Illinois.