Larry Jeleniewski’s name has become synonymous with wheelies in his chartreuse-colored 1969 Barracuda “Bad Fish.”
Jeleniewski, also known as “Launchin’ Larry,” cemented his name once again in drag racing history when he picked up his second title as the World Power Wheelstand Champion and $10,000 at Byron Dragway in Byron, Illinois.
This most recent win is another addition to his list of accomplishments, including his first World Power Wheelstand Championship in 2012. “Launchin’ Larry” and the “Bad Fish” ‘Cuda scored a win in 2022 at a wheelstand event at US 41 Motorplex in Morocco, Indiana, and also placed second at the Bryon Dragway contest the same year.
“There’s been a lot of practice trying to control the car and not to be too violent, but yet still come all the way up,” explained Jeleniewski when asked about his special wheelstand techniques. “There’s a very, very fine line there to where it won’t come all the way up, or it just comes up too fast.
“I have a little system that I’ll actually pedal the car right before it tops out where it hits,” he continued. “Every track has a crown to it, and every lane has grooves in each lane. There’s a little hump in the center – you can’t see it, but if you measure it, you know it will be there, so that’s why I run little skid plates, one on each side. With the skid plates sitting down below my balance, when it’s on the skid plates, the center of my balance is almost touching. I’ve done it without skid plates before, and it tends to teeter the car. I’ve been doing it for a while, and you just break a bunch of stuff and learn from everything you break.”
Not only has Jeleniewski won championships and was featured in Drag Illustrated magazine in 2008 but he’s also held records in the category where he’s been consistent with eighth-mile wheelies.
“I was the first one to go the eighth mile at Byron. That was the longest that anybody went in 2012,” he stated. “Since then, another guy with another Barracuda went like a thousand feet. So he has a record at Byron right now. But this year, I went like eight hundred and ten feet.”
In a sport that already presents many risks, “Launchin’ Larry” is basically driving blind when the “Bad Fish” bumper is on the track and the nose sky high.
“I have a guy that helps me, Mike, and he’s my eyes because I can’t see anything when I’m in the car. He’s on the radio behind me at the starting line – we have a little system, when I go to stage the car, he keys up [the radio], and he just leaves the line open,” explained Jeleniewski. “He doesn’t say anything until I have to put the car down. If it starts to drift one way or another, he’ll tell me to put it down, and then I’ll just set the car down.”
When asked how he found himself in such a niche category of drag racing, the Orland Park, IL resident answered, “I bracket raced the car first. It’s a Mopar and Mopar’s just love to do wheelies. So it just started wheeling, bracket racing – everyone was really into it, and then I kind of just started leaning into it a little more.”
It snowballed from there, and “Launchin’ Larry” was soon getting paid offers to attend events and do wheelies.
“Now we’re trying to dial the car in with suspension and everything to go as far as we can. We don’t have any steering in the car. It’s a regular race car. The motor’s in the stock location. It’s a small block Chrysler with a 904 transmission. I’m running like a 530 gear with a 33-inch tall tire,” he explained, thanking his partners Glasstek, ProGlass, AFCO, A&A Transmission and PTC.
“Basically, we just set up suspension and play with a couple of other little things to get the car dialed in straight as we can going down the track.”
There’s no slowing down for Jeleniewski, as his 2024 schedule is filling up with wheelies.
“We’re going to do Hot Rod Reunion again in Bowling Green, Kentucky. I think I’m going to do the Mopar Nationals this year in Ohio and then Byron, and I think we’re going to do some dates at Byron Dragway this year throughout the summer. They’re going to try and do some Nights of Fire.”
One event that’s tentative on his list that Jeleniewski has his sights set on is the 70th annual World Series of Drag Racing at Cordova Dragway in Cordova, IL.
“The biggest joy of doing the wheelies is the kids being so excited seeing a wheelie,” he said. ”We let kids sit in the car hoping to get the next generation into racing.”
Follow “Launchin’ Larry” and his upcoming season on Facebook at Bad Fish Racing.