With some of his earliest memories founded in drag racing, its no surprise Bill Patrick has quickly become one of the stars at Atlanta Motor Speedway's Friday Night Drags.
Patrick has a family lineage linked to straight-line speed; both of his parents began drag racing when he was four-years old, with his dad competing in Pro Stock divisions in a Plymouth Barracuda. The Stockbridge resident grew up around drag racing, so it's only natural he followed in their footsteps.
But while his dad's muscled-up Barracuda was a natural on the drag strip, Patrick's 1948 Willys delivery wagon is far from typical at Friday Night Drags.
"People call it the 'Milk Truck,'" said Patrick with a laugh. "On my way home after racing, fans will lean out their window and yell, 'Go milk man,' or the younger fans just ask, 'What is that?'"
But Patrick's Willys is more than a novelty drag car and its resurrection has brought a family closer together.
Patrick's family always had the Willys and when he was in high school Patrick built a 1969 350-cubic inch engine for the truck. After a divorce, Patrick's father, Bill Patrick Sr., moved to Shreveport, La. Lacking a drag scene in Louisiana, the Willys eventually made its way to storage where it sat for more than 10 years. For both Patrick and his father, this was an unceremonious end for a spectacular truck.
After hearing about Friday Night Drags from his boss at Peach State Freight Liners, 2008 Truck division champion Dwayne Bethune, Patrick and Bethune packed up to Louisiana to resurrect the Willys.
"It was kind of my dad's dream to make the Willys competitive, so I'm trying to do this for him," said Patrick.
Once back in Georgia, Patrick began preparing the vehicle for drag competition once again. With the help of his two sons - 15-year old Buddy Allen and 11-year old Micah - the trio began tuning the relic, spending significant time on the brakes and gearing, but ultimately leaving Patrick's high-school sweetheart, the '69 350, under the hood.
"It wasn't the first motor I built, but I was still young," said Patrick of the 350. "It was something I built for my dad and it just works. I've had stronger engines in nicer cars, but this one just hooks up well. You hate to call it accident, but it just works."
In fact, the 350 works so well Patrick has quickly climbed into second-place in the Truck Advanced class with five points. He currently trails the leader, Chuck Poole, by just two points. The success, and fun at Friday Night Drags, has brought the Patrick family closer together.
"The Willys has gone three generations now," said Patrick. "My dad is so excited about it and wants to come to Atlanta Motor Speedway to see it. This is the best thing in the world for a father and his sons and they've helped me the whole way. They're both debating on whose Willys this is going to be and they plan on racing on dirt bikes at Friday Night Drags this week.
"Ultimately," Patrick continued, "I want to see all three of us out there racing together in the same class."
With his eldest son one year away from being eligible to compete in the Truck Advanced class, Patrick is focusing his attention on winning a 2009 championship trophy. Doing so with his dad's truck and his high school engine would only make it sweeter.
"I really want to win a championship trophy in this truck with this motor," Said Patrick. "I've got a decent chance to win and I've got lots of tricks up my sleeve. I just want one trophy with this engine and my sons do too."
With a bit of drag racing bravado in his blood, Patrick isn't afraid to reveal one trick that will surely be a crowd pleaser.
"We're going to try to spray it with nitrous oxide (NOS) from the line here real soon," said Patrick "Once I think we've got it hooked up right, were going to launch it one time even if it does a complete wheel stand."
As great as a wheel stand would be and Patrick's Willys has been for crowd entertainment, it's been ever better for bringing his family together.
"My dad loves it and my boys and I are having a ball doing this together," said Patrick. "Atlanta Motor Speedway is the best thing out here for this and we're really enjoying it."