Jeep and Ronnie Hampshire, brothers separated by only 11 months in age, grew up sharing a love for cars and racing. Having been reared in Southern California in the 1940s and 1950s the pair was exposed to the hot rod culture at an early age and it became an integral part of their daily lives. Jeep bought his first car, a 1935 Ford, early into his high school years but finances being what they were it remained stock for as long as he owned it. Ronnie, as he recalls, drove the hand-me-downs. After their graduation from high school in 1946, the brothers went from being spectators to participants with Ronnie supplying a 1934 Ford sedan and Jeep providing a highly modified flathead V-8 for power. At the same time, they joined one of the premier car clubs of the area, the Throttle Merchants Car Club, of which they are still members some 60+ years later. In 1957 with the help of Frank Huszar and Arnie Roberts, Jeep started building his first “real” race car while the pair continued to race the 1930 Ford sedan. The brothers continued to share their common level racing and exchanged a lot of information. But as time went on, they gradually moved apart to compete on separate teams.
In 1957 Jeep started building his first dedicated race car a rear engine fully streamlined body, modified roadster with an injected Chrysler on gasoline. It was dubbed the “Platypus” due to its unusual body shape. It took him almost two years to complete this car but the first time it hit the race track it posted an incredible speed of 135 mph. After its initial appearance, Jeep teamed with Roy Steen and swapped out the unblown gas engine for a blown fuel-burning Chrysler and headed for Bakersfield California to run it. Unfortunately, on the way a drunk driver crashed into them destroying the race car.
After the “Platypus” Jeep and Roy (who is still in high school) but already an experienced welder built and drag raced a more conventional front motored blown and injected AA/FD. The Hampshire-Steen top fuel dragster experienced moderate success winning top eliminator at San Fernando and Fontana. In 1962 Chet Herbert’s had plans to build a top fuel dragster that would feature two injected F-85 Olds engines in line for power. Chet offered Jeep and Roy the opportunity to build and run the car with Chet picking up the tab for the project. In late 1962 they were able to successfully debut the car but the Hampshire-Herbert-Steen team disbanded at the end of the year over disagreements on how to run the dragster.
Not content to just sit around and spectate in 1960 Ronnie bought the original rear engine sidewinder dragster that had been built for Chuck Jones. He teamed up with George Bolthoff who was a well-known engine builder. The pair install a blown 340 CID gas burning Chevrolet engine for power. While the car looked great it was a real handful to drive. After managing to squeeze out a speed of 162 MPH and a 9.30 second ET, yet not able to correct its evil handling, the pair retired the sidewinder and teamed up with Jack Bynum to race a front engine B/Gas dragster. The next year Ronnie and George moved the blown Chevrolet into a chassis owned by Accessories LTD. and notched a few local wins with it. In 1962 the pair ordered a new Kent Fuller car but, before the new car arrived, Ronnie was dealt a big lifestyle change when he was drafted into the Army. Nonetheless he was lucky enough to be stationed at Fort Ord in Monterey, California. This allowed him to go home on the weekends. Ronnie and George would divide up the driving chores with George driving on Saturday nights and Ronnie driving on Sunday. The Army moved Ronnie to Fort Lewis near Tacoma, Washington in 1963. It was here made friends with several of the local enthusiast and managed to drive for several of them. By the time he was discharged in 1964 he and George were running a blown Chrysler in their dragster and doing so with some serious success including a stint touring around the country with it. It was at that time Ronnie got his first taste of driving and AA/Fuel dragster when he took a turn in the Ansen-Pink blown Chrysler powered nitro burner and was instantly hooked.
In 1963 Jeep briefly drove Bill Martin’s 400 Jr before securing a ride in Stellings-Graffio-Schiefer blown KB hemi powered AA/FD. Bad news came when Jeep crashed this car at Fresno when the throttle stuck wide-open and the chute failed to deploy. But the good news was Stellings would have Kent Fuller build a new car which they debuted at Lions two months later. The Stellings-Hampshire “Red Stamp Special” went out and promptly set both ends of the class record with a 7.97 second ET and a speed of 191.08 MPH. Shortly thereafter Jeep set a new ET record of 7.81 seconds at the 1964 NHRA Winternationals in Pomona, California and a Standard 1320 speed record later at Fremont with a run of 204.54 MPH.
At the end of the 1964 season the Ansen-Pink car was retired but Ronnie was able to move up to drive for Sid Waterman and Bill Brady with their unique blown Chrysler powered AA/Fuel dragster a stint that would last through 1967. This car was very unique and that the driver’s legs went under the rear end instead over it. On January 24, 1965 the team set a new Standard 1320 world record at 7.51 second ET at Fontana backing that up a week later with a 7.57 second ET at Lions. In 1968 the team replaced the durable RSC car with one of Ronnie’s own design. It featured a longer wheelbase, with a shorter front end, and with “legs over” the rear and foot controls. While building the new car Ronnie climbed into Randy Scoville’s top fuel dragster at Irwindale. Where he experienced the worst crash of his career when the steering wheel came off its shaft. He wound up bouncing off several large boulders at the top end. Ronnie was able to complete the new car and debuted it in January 1968. Because of problems that arose with Sid building engines for their competitors, and those customers not happy about him competing against them the car was sold in early 1969. While he did find a couple part-time rides after that including a short stint with Ted Gotelli. His last quality ride was the Caspary-Hampshire-Robinson top fuel dragster which was successfully campaigned from September 1969 until the end of the 1970 season when the car was sold.
In 1965 Jeep took over the driving duties of the now famous “Magic Car” of Kent Fuller, Ronnie Winkle, and Kaye Trapp. Jeep was soon posting near record times and winning several top eliminators at local tracks. But he could not come out on top at any of the big prestigious meets. In late 1965 he left the “Magic Car” to drive Glenn Stokey and Dee Caspary’s fuel dragster. But Caspary was drafted into the Army in early 1966 and the car put in mothballs. Subsequently he moved into the driver seat of the “Rainbows End” AA/FD owned by Don Kunda and Romaine Dauphine. This was a top dollar car with a Fuller chassis, Zeuschel engine, and a Tom Hanna body. Unfortunately, the owner soon ran out of money to continue racing and Jeep returned to driving for Stokey and Caspary. Dee Caspary had a new Fuller car built in 1967 and they ran it very successfully until April 1969. It was at a meet at OCIR that Jeep, on a strong pass, had a steering failure that put him into the guard rail pretty much destroyed the car and leaving Jeep with severe life-threatening injuries that ultimately forced him to retire from driving.
While the brothers are retired as drivers, they both still attend many of the California Hot Rod Reunion’s and similar events. Jeep can usually be found cackling the “Magic Car” or other cackle cars and Ronnie behind the wheel of the original Waterman-Hampshire top fuel dragster.