At Lions Drag Strip, from 1970 up to and including “The Last Drag Race,” Don Barton was a regular with Clownin’ Around his ’55 Chevy Gasser.
Fast forward to 2013 and the Barton family is still hammering their ’55 down dragstrips throughout Southern and Central California.
What you see here is the just-completed fifth rendition of their original racer.
Clownin’ Around caused Don, a ride repair specialist at Disneyland, to start painting race cars and open Barton’s Custom Paint & Graphics. Son Todd started squirting cars at 9 and is now the proprietor of Todd Barton Design. Todd’s operation is a one-stop shop for all of your automotive design needs: renderings, logos, crew uniforms, T-shirt artwork, vinyl graphics and signs. Don and Todd both drive.
About the car’s name: Upon seeing Barton’s wild, over-the-top paint job on the first gen ’55, SoCal old school painter Steve Fienberg proclaimed, “This looks kike a circus act!” Clownin’ Around was born.
The 5th and just-completed version of the ’55 S/G ground-up rebuild started in ’97. The Bartons took extra time to make sure everything was spot on. The roof and rear quarter panels are from the original, everything else is fiberglass. The new chrom-moly chassis is by Brian Pearson; see the Tech Sheet for details.
Clownin’ Around #1. Don Barton, origninal owner, did all of the work including paint. The car is an AHRA C/Gasser, Hilborn injected small-block Chevy with a stock frame, straight front axle from a ’55 Chevy truck and a ’57 Pontiac rearend. It ran in the low 11s at 123 mph and competed at Lions from ’70 until “The Last Drag Race” in ’72.
The 2nd gen 1974 Clownin’ Around features a big-block Chevy, tunnel ram with two 4 bbls, stock frame, tube axle front end, aluminum interior, fiberglass doors, Lexan windows, Dana rearend and new paint. It raced weekly throughout Southern California, running mid-10s at 130 mph. One of original S/G & Pro Gas competitors, Clownin’ Around raced at the first SoCal Pro Gas Assn. race in ’78 and participated in the first S/G Elim. at NHRA National Event (Winternationals ’81).
The 3rd gen from 1984 had a 477-ci big-block with a single Dominator, front-halved chassis, strut front end and new paint. The car ran mid-9s at 135-mph, racing biweekly throughout California at S/G events.
The 4th gen in 1995 was mechanically the same as #3 but with new paint.
It won Best Appearing Car at the ‘95 NHRA Winternational and raced throughout California at S/G events including Super Chevy shows.
Team Barton: (Left to Right) Martha, Troy (Todd’s wife and son), Todd and Don (Don’s wife Jean was not available for photo).
Zthe Ray Zeller-built 540-ci Chevy produces 950 hp and is expected to run mid-eight second ETs.
Gen 5 is meticulously crafted from stem to stern.
Aluminum paneling by Paul Alabab; upholstery, seats, belts/harnesses by Taylor Motorsports; RacePak instruments; Casner powerglide; Hurst shifter; and Continental torque converter
Race car? Show car? Todd’s graphic design and execution plus fit and finish blurs the distinction, but make no mistake, this ’55 is no trailer queen—it’s all racer.
Send in the clowns, but no one’s laughing, especially the competition.
Because of scrupulous attention to detail, gen 5 was taking a long time to complete. Itching to race, in 2000, the Bartons bought a ’96 Under Cover chassis and competed in Super Comp, Super Eliminator and Top Dragster throughout California. Todd won 2004 Super Comp Eliminator at NHRA’s Las Vegas national event and the 2011 Phoenix NHRA Div. 7 race.
Ray Zeller was also commissioned to built the dragster’s big-block Chevy.
The dragster’s “interior” is as neatly finished as its doorslammer partner’s.
Clownin Around gen 5 ’55 and national event-winning dragster
Owners/Drivers: Don and Todd Barton
Crew: Don’s wife Jean, Todd’s wife Martha and son Troy
1955 Chevy Super Gasser
Weight: 2,690 pounds
Wheelbase: 115 inches
Paint design: Todd Barton Design
Paint: Barton’s Custom Paint & Graphics
Lettering: Todd Barton Design
Aluminum fabrication: Paul Alabab
Chassis/roll cage: Chrom-moly, Brian Pearson
Engine builder: Ray Zeller
Engine: Chevy/GM tall deck block 540 ci
Bearings, rod/crank: Clevite
Rings: Seal Power
Oil pump: Mellings
Oil pan: Moroso
Drive: Donovan gear drive
Valve springs: Comp
Intake/exhaust valves: Manley
Cylinder heads: GM Aluminum
Carb: Stinnett 1050
Harmonic balancer: ATI
Throttle stop: Dedenbear
Fuel pump: BG
Fuel lines: XRP braided
Ignition/plug wires: MSD
Valve covers: Williams Performance
Vacuum pump: Moroso
Water pump: Meziere
Transmission: Casner Transmissions Powerglide (two-speed)
Torque converter: Continental Torque Converters
Driveshaft: Inland Empire Driveline
Shifter: Hurst pistol grip quarter stick
Housing: Brian Pearson
Style: Dana 60
Gears: Richmond 4:56
Wheelie bars: Brian Pearson
Seats/upholstering: Taylor Motorsports
Belts/harnesses: Taylor Motorsports
Steering wheel: Grant, carbon fiber
Fuel cell: Harwood
Fiberglass: Fiberglass Trends
Tires/wheels, front: Hoosier 24x5x15, Weld 15×5
Tires/wheels, rear: Hoosier 33x17x16, Weld 16×17 double beadlock
Special Thanks to:
JIM MARCELLUS BRIAN PEARSION KRIS AT CONTINENTAL TROQUE CONVERTERS PAUL ALABAB JOE AT STRANGE ENG. WELD WHEELS ROBERT AT HOOSIER TIRE DALE TARROS ERNIE McCALASTER WES ANDERSON RAY ZELLER VRBANCIC BROS TOM BOGNER AT LUCAS OIL
Text by Pete Ward and Photos by Paul Schmitz and Pete Ward