Bill Knafel --- August 3 1926 - February 2, 2006

Bill Knafel

Times Nominated: 2
Nominated Year(s): 2018, 2019
Last Year of Eligibility: 2023
Category: Racing

William J. “Bill” Knafel is best known as the owner of Knafel Pontiac in Akron, Ohio which sponsored the world famous “Tin Indian” Pontiac race team.

His “Tin Indian” team set many NHRA, IHRA, and AHRA speed and ET records at tracks across the USA.


They also won numerous national and world championships over a period from 1959 to 1971. Mr. Knafel was very interested in native American history, so many of his cars were named with an Indian theme: “Golden Arrow”, “Running Bear”, “Papoose One”, and of course the numerous “Tin Indians”. His 1966 GTO “Tin Indian” was undefeated in NHRA C/Stock and won 1966 NASCAR Winter National Stock Eliminator and 1966 NHRA Spring National Stock Eliminator titles. Driver, “Akron” Arlen Vanke won 27 trophies with the car which was featured in Quaker State and Keystone advertising. The 1970 GTO Judge “Tin Indian” set three AHRA records on the same day driven by Norm "Sonny" Tanner.

Bill used his successful race team to build one of the largest volume Pontiac dealers in the United States. For over 20 years Knafel Pontiac was among the top 10 percent of Pontiac dealerships. As a result he was selected to the Pontiac Dealer Council and the GM President’s Council. Because of his success he was well known to John DeLorean, the Pontiac General Manager. Frequently Pontiac engineers would work with the “Tin Indian” race team to test new products and ideas. In 1966 Mr Delorean requested that Knafel Pontiac race a Lemans with the OHC 6 Sprint engine to showcase its potential and durability. The OHC 6 Lemans won a number of stock titles and was an IHRA I/Stock and J/Stock record holder.

Having a close relationship with Pontiac Motor Division allowed Mr Knafel to design and sell special Pontiacs of his own. In 1969 he installed a Ram Air V engine in a GTO, added special paint and graphics and sold it as the “Golden Sabre”. In 1970, seeing the success of Mopar’s Roadrunner and Superbee, he ordered Lemans hardtops with 400 CID engines added stripes and graphics and sold them as the “Magnum 400”. In 1963 Pontiac Motor Division built a Bonneville convertible with a Grand Prix front clip and interior for Mr. Knafel’s personal use. It had a blown experimental Pontiac engine and was painted Cadillac Fire Frost Gold Metallic.

He hosted a weekly radio program that kept his listeners up to date on the action at local dragstrips like Dragway 42 and Quaker City Dragway. It also allowed him to track the best drivers. As a result he was able to convince “Akron” Arlen Vanke, Bill Abraham, Larry “Doc” Dixon, Arnie “Farmer” Beswick, and Norm “Sonny” Tanner among others to drive his cars. The team also had a motorhome, tow trucks and airplanes for support. Often they would have two or more cars at an event. During the sixties and early seventies the team racked up more victories in stock classes than any other GM, Ford, or Mopar team. Bill Knafel and the “Tin Indian” racing team have been voted into the Auto Racing Hall of Fame, the Dapper Dan Sports Hall of Fame, and the Summit County Sports Hall of Fame.


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