This is a story about one of Austin’s drag strip legends, August “Hands” Hartkopf who passed away on April 15, 1967.
He could be considered the most famous drag racer in Austin, TX. and also known very well across state in the early days of the Texas drag racing sport. Out of all the the information I’ve come across, one interesting read about him said that there is an article about “Hands” at the Garlits Museum and while not verified maybe even worked as a crewman for him too. The famous 56 Chevy known as “The Little White Racer”- more than likely had a built 265 small block -the car you mostly see him standing by on these photos. The man back then was truly known for the build up of 10,000 rpm red line Chevy small blocks and being that they were the early years of the drag racing sport in Texas, people were always amazed of the screaming motor & shifty business coming out of his car.
Auggie or August, as he was called by the general public never failed tech inspection- the removal of one cylinder head. The story once told was that while that cylinder head removed appeared to be all class spec internals it was the other side of the engine that had tricked out stuff to make it all work. He was known truly as a mechanical genius. One article in hot rod magazine listed that he held the NHRA C/S record set at Houston drag strip on April 17, 1960 13.23 @ 100mph. By the mid 60s there was also a 55 Chevy panel wagon painted in blue/ white called “The Hands Hauler Too” that was also raced/owned by his brother Butch Lake (Sparky) -very competitive. Remembered by some people as having one of the earliest known tunnel ram setups (converted fuelie intake) on the drag strip. The wagon set record E/MP modified production in 1967.
“Hands, in one highly promoted race, challenged by the (1965) NHRA U.S Nationals title winner Ferd Napfel’s, with his nationally known ‘The Stormin Bull’ 55 Chevy came down to Texas, and after 3 match races was put back on the trailer. At this famous race held in San Antonio at the “Old Double Eagle” drag strip, in the flyer it read Ferd was coming down to take care of this “Auggie” Character, Auggie says- Bring him on!”
The name “Hands” as people say was from seeing the amazing size of his hands and amazing grip strength he had that possibly developed after a child hood accident that caused him the “Andre The Giant” type syndrome. It was said you could drop a 50 cent coin through his ring and even at times was seen able to lift heavy engine parts singly handed. To many spectators and racers his presence at any track was truly an experience to see just being around him. There was a great example someone mentioned to me.. that he was once seen picking up a battery with one hand and holding it like a football. The shop he worked out of was located in Austin, TX. and known as the “Austin Speed Shop” located on Barton Springs road.
Locals back then also remember him setting up a go-cart strip next to the shop for the kids to pay up and ride around. A hand print of his hand was created into the cement sidewalk by the shop and remained until the late 90’s when the building was torn down. Close friends of August made a cast mold of his hand and put on display at Manny’s Automotive on Airport Blvd. Other interesting facts, he was featured in a 1960’s magazine called Strength & Health magazine. The magazine featured a story on grip strength written by Dr. Terry Todd, famous strong man power lifter – read something like “Pumping Gas While Pumping Iron”.
In other old Texas drag strip stories, in the mid 1950s August was also part of the “Austin Racers” group along with George Cox, Buck And Bohls, Emmit Glass, & others. With support from other central Texas car clubs the “Highland Lakes Timing Association” was formed. The idea was to cure the street racing problem by getting them organized. Some of the earliest races held by the HLTA were located at an old Abandoned WWII de-functional airstrip in Clear Springs Texas known as the New Braunfels City Airport today. For this drag racer out of Austin many stories have surfaced and in the most unlikely places of all things. It just seems everyone has a great story to tell about the gentle giant & the crew that followed along to just about every event held in Texas. -Paul Hrdez