Growing up on a farm outside of Ontario Canada, where he had plenty of “open space” Frank Hawley started his driving career at the ripe old age of four years old behind the wheel of his 5 hp powered go- cart. Since the go-cart was purchased as a “kit kart” he also got his first lessons as a mechanic at the same time by helping put it together. After hundreds of laps in a couple of years, the family moved to the city. When Frank was nine years old, one of his sister’s boyfriends took him to his first drag race at Thompson Dragway. Here he had his first exposure to the fire, sound, and smell of burning nitro watching a pair of AA/Fuel dragsters match race and he was immediately hooked. Frank says that was when he decided that driving one of these cars was what he wanted to do to make a living.
Shortly after that he bought his first automotive magazine, Car Craft Magazine, with the Frantic Four featured on the cover (which he still has today). This fanned his interest in drag racing as a career even more. Soon his dad joined him at more and more races as a spectator. After a few years, as just spectators, Frank heard about an opening as a photographer at the local dragstrip. With no equipment or experience, but with the desire to become more involved with the sport and the racers, Frank and his dad applied for the job and got it. After purchasing the camera equipment needed and teaching themselves how to use it the pair soon were taking the photos, writing the stories, and handling the PR for the track. Apparently, they were doing a great job because before long they were hired by the local circle track owner to do the same work for him.
While working at the race track, Frank learned that one of the local racers, Keith Riddler, was selling his ex-Garlits AA/Fuel dragster; after a lot of thought his dad bought it. At the age of 16 years old, Frank became his dad’s partner and the driver of an AA/Fuel dragster. They knew nothing about how to run it and were without a garage, tools, or even a tow vehicle. Frank’s first vehicle would be an old Dodge pickup truck that would be used to haul their race car. With the help of several friends, including Wayne Hartley, they were able to put together a functioning race team and campaign the car at every NHRA, IHRA, and local match race events they could. Overall, they owned three front engine top fuel dragsters, but eventually switch to alcohol funny cars in order to afford to race more often. In 1977 and 1978 he campaigned a BB/FC sponsored by “The Poppe Shop” and in 1979 he was at the wheel of a blown Hemi powered 1923-T roadster that carried him to the finals at the IHRA Nationals in St. Louis.
By winter of 1979 it was obvious Frank and his dad were not going to be able to continue racing as they had been, so they sold everything and Frank headed to California to look for work and started sending resumes to various race teams at the same time. After six months of no luck with finding a job Frank called home to tell his mom that he was about to give up on a career in racing. His mom told him to not give up and that he had received one response to his resumes from a gentleman looking for a driver, his name was Austin Coil.
In 1980 Frank Hawley became the official driver Austin Coil’s supercharged Chrysler power nitro funny car “The Chi-Town Hustler”. There were some who didn’t believe Frank could step from an alcohol car into a nitro burner and do a good job. He soon proved them wrong. In 1982 they were the number one qualifier at the NHRA Winternationals in Pomona, California. At the very next race, the NHRA Gatornationals in Gainesville, Florida he gave the team its first ever NHRA national event win. He closed out the year by winning the inaugural Big Bud Shootout at the US Nationals in Indianapolis, Indiana. They had enough points at the end of the NHRA World Finals in Pomona, California to lock up his first NHRA World Championship.
1983 proved to be an even better year when he drove to victory at the NHRA Winternationals in Pomona, the NHRA Gatornationals in Gainesville, the NHRA Southernnationals in Atlanta, Georgia, and the NHRA Mile High Nationals in Denver, Colorado. He also dominated the Super Stock Magazine Nationals in Reading, Pennsylvania, and the Popular Hot-Rodding Magazine Nationals in Martin, Michigan. The team finished the season with a second NHRA World Championship trophy.
Like a lot of the early pioneer racers, Coil ran the Chi-Town Hustler on a limited budget and at the end of the 1984 season, Austin made the decision to disband the team. Austin agreed to become crew chief for Jon Force. After much thought and preparation in 1985 Frank opened the doors on the first truly dedicated drag race driving school, Frank Hawley’s Drag Racing School, in Gainesville, Florida. The school stayed busy and a few years later opened a second school in Pomona, California. The curriculum of the school includes classroom instruction and on track instruction in alcohol dragsters, funny cars, super comp dragsters, super gas door slammers, and pro-stock motorcycles. In 2014 the school launched the “Dragster Adventure”. A program that gave customers, that are looking for an exciting drag racing experience, the chance to race a dragster in side-by-side competition without investing the time and resource it takes become an NHRA licensed driver. Since opening the doors for the first time, Frank has seen over 25,000 students graduate with some of today’s well-known drivers among them.
Not through with driving, in 1985 Frank climbed behind the wheel of Larry Minor’s AA/Fuel dragster, which he drove to runner-up spot that year at the NHRA Fall Nationals in Dallas, Texas, and the 1989 NHRA Cajun Nationals in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. In 1990 Frank took over as the driver of Darrell Gwynn’s top fuel dragster and promptly won the NHRA Springnationals in Columbus, Ohio, won the NHRA Fall Nationals in Dallas, and was runner-up at the NHRA Sonoma Nationals in Sonoma, California. Frank’s last year for the Gwynn family was in 1991.
Not finished with his career behind the wheel in 2007, Frank was offered a chance to drive in the big leagues again when he was named the driver of the “Rite-Aid Pharmacy” nitro funny car for team owner Roger Burgess. With crew chief Aaron Brooks, Frank picked up where he left off, setting records and winning rounds. Frank’s last race in the nitro funny car came in Charlotte North Carolina, and produced a number one qualifying spot and at that time, the fastest funny car speed ever in 1000 foot drag race.