I first met John Rasmussen at old FS 112, which was built in 1925 and located across the channel from the current station. He was the “B” shift engineer on Boat 2, the Ralph J. Scott. I had heard some stories about John before he joined the LAFD, when he was involved in drag racin’ and buildin’ dragsters for 1/4 mile racin’, but for some unknown reason I never asked him exactly what it was that he did.
A short time ago Dave Wagner called me and asked if I’d like to have lunch with John and get his story for a Grapevine article. Here was my chance to ask those questions.
John grew up on LA’s Westside and was very familiar with the accomplishments of a guy named Gene Adams. In 1963 they teamed up to race a very successful dragster using nitro-methane. However, nitro-methane wasn’t cheap and it usually contributed to an extremely short engine life. So in 1965 they decided that payin’ $3 per run usin’ gas was easier on the wallet than payin’ $75 per run with nitro-methane. In 1966 John had a winnin’ season and chalked up 39 straight “Top Gas” wins. Most of these wins were at Lions Drag Strip in Long Beach.
John also teamed up with Stu Hilborn, who became very well known for his innovative work developin’ fuel injection. In 1970, John and Stu Hilborn tested a twin-turbocharged Hemi for their dragster, but because it made so much horsepower the tires of the time couldn’t put all the horsepower to the ground. Also in 1970, John debut a radical and innovative dragster usin’ two fuel injected Chrysler Hemi’s named the “Double Eagle.” This dragster went down the 1/4 mile in an astoundin’ 6.79 seconds at 217.11 MPH. Even though this dragster was fast, it was inconsistent and the “Double Eagle” experiment ended. John considered Gene Adams his mentor and kept his name on his cars whether he was part of the team or not.
On October 18, 2013, John received the NHRA’s (National Hot Rod Association) Lifetime Achievement Award. This trophy acknowledges the skill, dedication and professional spirit that John displayed durin’ his racin’ career.
John actually got his racin’ career started on the streets as a teenager. But he soon figured out that street racin’ wasn’t goin’ to get the bills paid. So on March 10, 1962, John joined the Los Angeles Fire Department. John’s first day at Drill Tower 89 was March 13, 1962, which is kind of “burned” into his memory. At the time, John owned a1929 roadster that he had completely modified (hard to believe, huh?). Needless to say, it was a very fast car, and because he thought he might be late that day to the Drill Tower, he put his “foot to the floor” and nearly broke the sound barrier. He also attracted the attention of the LAPD, who followed him into the drill yard. After figurin’ out that John wasn’t a criminal, he got away with only a warnin’. John said the funny part of the story was the fact that all the Drill Tower Captains were peekin’ out through the classroom windows, watchin’ the commotion but never mentionin’ the incident until after he had graduated. Can you imagine that same scenario happenin’ today?
John’s probationary houses were 95’s, 5’s and 80’s. After probation John spent time at 61’s, 68’s and 43’s. John promoted to Engineer in 1971 and was assigned to FS 61. Then in 1983 John got assigned to Boat 2. Bein’ in the engine room on Boat 2 was a natural fit for John and he continually insured that the Ralph J. Scott was always ready to perform to the highest standards.
Ironically, next door to FS 49’s was Wilmington Transportation, which operated several tugs that serve the Port of Los Angeles. Bein’ the “gear head” he is, John became interested in these tugs. He inquired as to the requirements of workin’ in a tug boat engine room. He was told, “Learn everythin’ about these tugs and we might be able to use you.” He did and was eventually hired as one of their engineers. John ended up writin’ their operatin’ manuals and worked on the tugs from 1998 to 2012.
John retired from the LAFD in 2007, proudly servin’ 25 of those years on Boat 2.
I finally got to ask John all the questions I should have asked years ago. You’re a true gentleman John and it was a pleasure talkin’ with you and learnin’ about all the things you did durin’ your racin’ career. See you at Pomona at the end of the year!