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Photos by Jeff Burk


Editor's Note: This interview was done a month prior to Bill Kuhlmann's serious fire at Virginia Motorsports Park. Fortunately, Kuhlmann survived the fire without any lasting injuries. For complete information about that incident go to Kuhlmann is back at home and at this point in time, plans to race in the Nitro Coupe class at Super Chevy Shows next year. He is in the process of putting together his racing program and sponsorship for 2001.

When Bill Kuhlmann went 202.24 mph at the 1987 IHRA Winter Nationals at Darlington, S.C., he did more than become the first "door car" racer to surpass the double century speed barrier. He became the first star in a category that has become a drag racing staple, now referred to as Pro Modified. The Wentzville, Missouri native's '87 Camaro instantly became the car all other "unlimited doorslammer" racers wanted to imitate. If Top Fuel's first mega-star was Don Garlits, then Top Sportsman (the class that led to Pro Modified) and later Pro Mod's was Bill Kuhlmann.

Bill got his start at age 16 with a '57 Ford and, like most other drag racers, street-raced it. In the early 1980s, Kuhlmann, who had driven for a number of St. Louis area owners along with racing his own Mustang at local tracks, met John Taylor, who owned a huge and very successful junkyard in the downtown St. Louis area. In 1984, they hooked up on an '81 Camaro, followed by an '86 Camaro that Kuhlmann won the UDRA Rookie of the Year honors with. During that season, Kuhlmann was also constructing the '87 Camaro that would make him famous.

From the late 1980s to the mid-1990s Kuhlmann ran IHRA, competing in Pro Stock and later Pro Modified. In 1993, Kuhlmann won Pro Modified at the IHRA Fall Nationals and Northern Nationals and followed with a Pro Mod win at the Winter Nationals. In 1995, Kuhlmann quit IHRA racing after a dispute with tech officials and went elsewhere for work.

Since 1997 Kuhlmann has run in the Nitro Coupe class in Roger Gustin's Super Chevy Series. He won the season championship in 1998, runner-upped in 1999 and has clinched the 2000 championship. His Summit Performance Corvette recently ran a 6.001/234.41 at Columbus.

His successful career has had many highs, lows, and in-betweens, and below is where he'll tell you about them.

DRO: How did you get started in drag racing?

KUHLMANN: I was born right here in Wentzville and when they opened Mid-America Raceway in 1962, I was living about 2 miles from it. I could hear the cars every weekend as a little kid and I eventually checked out the action. I was 16 when I first raced at M.A.R., and thought I'd really get with it. I had a '57 Ford four-door with a 292-cid in it and thought it would really tear up the competition. What a humbling experience. My car never ran quicker than 18s, maybe a 17, a real humbler.


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