The thought of a student driver often conjures up fear and anxiety – either you have a horror story of being a student driver yourself, or you can remember driving near one… either way, there was probably nervousness involved.
This student driver is an entirely different story, and one we discovered at the Temecula Rod Run. While we brought you coverage of hundreds of cool cars from the show here and here, we had to dedicate an entire post to this awesome hot rod, which has one of the coolest back stories we’ve ever heard…
In 1968, after spotting this ’57 Chevy “150” sitting in the weeds behind a radiator shop in Buena Park, CA, with a litter of newborn puppies in the trunk, John Cesareo (aka “Mr. C”) and his auto shop students were able to buy it for one dollar.
After waiting two weeks for the puppies to mature enough to be relocated, and with a promise of returning the engine, transmission, and rear end to the seller, the car was transported to the high school’s auto shop.
A year and a half later, following numerous fundraisers, promoting the project to various vendors for product donations and services, PIONEER I was ready for Show and Go.
The car is believed to be the first high school drag race car in the USA to actually race at major race tracks and with a school’s name on it.
In ’69 and ’70, over eighty students from the school participated and competed in the High School Scholarship Drags, sponsored by FoMoCo, at the now extinct Orange County International Raceway in Irvine, California.
Members of the school’s auto club, along with the car and a student driver, also competed at the ’70 and ’71 NHRA Winternationals in Pomona, CA. The car was also shown at local car shows in the Southern California area.
Much to the disappointment of Mr. C and his students, in ’71 the school district dropped its support of the project. At that time, the car was sold to the student driver, who went on to win his class at the ’71 Winternationals. It was turning E.T.’s right at the national record for its class, M/Stock.
Since the primary purpose of the project was to get young people to take racing off the streets and to the drag strip, the instructor’s efforts were effective, but short lived.
The car disappeared in the early ‘70s. In ’03, PIONEER I “found” Mr. C. He re-purchased the car, which was complete, but in sad condition. Little is known about its history during those missing years. He spent the last 9 years restoring this project and reconnecting with as many former students as possible.
If my school’s auto shop program had a project like this, I probably would have been in lots of trouble for ditching all of my other classes to stay and work on this hot rod – after all, if I didn’t quite make it through all of my classes as planned, that means graduation would be delayed… and I’d have more time to drive this baby on the race track, right?
Hats off to Mr. C and his students. This is one student driver is unlike any one we’ve ever seen!