My Favorite Fuelers: Ed McCuullochFriday, August 26, 2016

Due to some unforeseen circumstances and the rapidly approaching Chevrolet Performance U.S. Nationals, the ol’ Insider is going to take a brief hiatus on original material. I don’t want to leave you high and dry, so I’m going to share here some columns I’d written for the National Dragster website some time ago that I still think are relative and entertaining.

The first, from the My Favorite Fuelers column I wrote, takes a look at a guy whose history is certainly entwined with Indy, as he’s one of just a handful of drivers to have won the Big Go in Top Fuel and Funny Car, Ed “the Ace” McCulloch. Enjoy!

It could easily be said that all Funny Car drivers are tough — it takes a certain amount of moxie and derring-do to drive a short-wheelbased, high-horsepower car at more than 300 mph — but when I think of tough Funny Car drivers, the list kind of begins and ends with Ed McCulloch. Tough with his fists when need be and tougher still behind the wheel, he amassed a Hall of Fame career, both in the cockpit and in the crew chief’s chair that won’t soon be forgotten.

Other than a Fuel Altered, McCulloch did it all in nitro cars, from driving front-engine Top Fuelers to Funny Cars, then back to Top Fuel with rear-engine cars, to Top Fuel crew chief and Funny Car crew chief for legends of the sport like Connie Kalitta and Don Prudhomme.

McCulloch won 22 NHRA national events — 18 in Funny Car and four in Top Fuel — and is one of a short list of drivers to have won NHRA national events in both nitro classes. He scored six victories at the U.S. Nationals, making him part of an even shorter list of those who have won the Big Go in both nitro classes; his five Indy wins in Funny Car are more than any other driver, including Prudhomme and John Force.

Although he’s best known as a Funny Car driver, like a lot of the sport’s great flopper stars, he got his start in Top Fuel in the early 1960s. Here’s a pictorial look at his great career.

After an early partnership with fellow Oregonian Ernie Hall, McCulloch and his brother, Dan, built a Chevy-powered dragster in 1964 that he crashed on its second pass — he struck the then-common centerline concrete blocks that housed the finish-line timing lights and rolled — and vowed never to drive again. He partnered with Jim Albrich on this Chrysler-powered, Kent Fuller-chassised dragster with Dave Jeffers driving, but McCulloch eventually returned to the cockpit of the car, which was dubbed Northwind. They enjoyed a lot of success, capped by their June 1965 defeat of Pete Robinson for the No. 1 spot on the Drag News Mr. Eliminator list.

In 1969, McCulloch partnered with Art Whipple, who had this new big-block Chevy-powered Camaro. McCulloch agreed to shake it down for Whipple, who intended to drive, at a local event, but when McCulloch booted the car to the No. 1 qualifying spot and won the event, he became the driver. “I loved Funny Cars right away,” McCulloch said.

The duo built a new car, a Duster, for 1970, and it was a trick piece for the time, with full side windows, a roof hatch, and a solid-mount rear end with a Crowerglide clutch and Lenco transmission. The car set the national record at 7.19, 211 mph at Orange County Int’l Raceway but unfortunately was lost in a trailer fire on the way to compete at the U.S. Nationals. “We lost everything,” said McCulloch. The team rebuilt in time for that year’s World Finals in Dallas, where McCulloch drove the team’s new Barracuda to the final round, but transmission problems cost him the title against Gene Snow, and he just missed winning the world championship, a prize that would elude him his entire career. McCulloch and Whipple did win the Division 6 championship.

Whipple and McCulloch hit the match-race trail hard in 1971 and, with lessons learned on the road, blitzed their way into the U.S. Nationals, where they qualified No. 2 and defeated Sammy Miller, Jim Dunn, Kalitta, and, in the final, Dale Pulde, for his first NHRA win.

The team landed sponsorship from model maker Revell for the 1972 and unveiled one of his iconic cars, the Revellution Duster, and promptly began kicking ass, winning the first three events — Pomona, Gainesville, and Columbus (plus the prestigious March Meet) — before losing the Englishtown final to Don Schumacher. After winning the U.S. Nationals for the second straight year, McCulloch — again — should have been the world champ, but the title then was still based not on points but on who won the World Finals, and that wasn’t McCulloch — who lost in the semifinals. McCulloch did the season pretty much solo after Whipple left the team following their Pomona win and still finished with a stunning 24-3 round record at national events.

McCulloch’s 1972 Indy win would be his last win anywhere for eight years, though he continued to reach final rounds, including his third straight at the 1973 U.S. Nationals, where he was runner-up to Prudhomme. “The toughest loss I ever had,” McCulloch admits. “I still think about that one a lot; it will probably bother me forever.” He also reached the final round at the 1974 World Finals (runner-up to Dave Condit) and reached three finals in 1976 with the pretty car pictured here, at the Winternationals, FallNationals, and World Finals, all of which resulted in losses to Prudhomme, and was runner-up at the 1978 Summernationals to Denny Savage. With the points system now decided by championships, he finished seventh in 1975, third in 1976, and ninth in 1978.

The combination of a victory drought and exhausting match-race tour caught up with McCulloch in 1979, and he sold his operation. He didn’t stay idle for ling when Ed Pink asked him to drive the Super Shops Arrow in 1980. Being a fly-in driver appealed to him, and it showed, when he won his third U.S. Nationals title that year, capping it with a holeshot over Tom Ridings in the final, 6.27 to 6.24, and finished fifth in points. The Super Shops deal ended at the end of the year, and McCulloch spent 1981, 1982, and 1983 on the sidelines.

McCulloch began a long employ with Southern California farming magnate Larry Minor, who expanded his successful two-car Top Fuel operation (with he and Gary Beck driving) to include this Olds Firenza Funny Car. All of the cars were sponsored by Miller Lite. The team got off to a rough start at that year’s Cajun Nationals, where McCulloch collided at midtrack with John Collins. Both cars were destroyed, but neither driver was injured. McCulloch went winless that year and reached just one final, at Le Grandnational in Montreal, where he lost to Billy Meyer, and also lost the only final he reached in 1985, to Kenny Bernstein in Atlanta. After missing the top 10 in 1984, he finished seventh in 1985.

McCulloch won his first national event in six years when he beat Tom McEwen in the final round at the 1986 Gatornationals with the Miller American Olds and then defeated Jim head in a Monday-morning final at the next event, in Atlanta, but he wouldn’t win again that year and finished sixth in points. Wins were still hard to come by and, other than a dominating national-record-setting win in Dallas, 1987 was more frustration — including being in the other lane in Montreal when Force collected his first career win — despite a third-place finish.

McCulloch scored his fourth U.S. Nationals title in 1988, beating Bernstein on a final-round holeshot and also won in Atlanta but still finished just fifth, as he would in 1989. McCulloch won five times in nine finals in 1990 and finished a career-high second behind Force, who won his first championship that season. McCulloch’s 1990 season was highlighted by his category-high fifth Indy win, breaking his tie with then four-time winner Prudhomme.

The Miller deal ended in 1990, and McCulloch carried on with Minor in this Olds, sponsored by frozen-confection manufacturer Otter Pops and appeared in four finals en route to his seventh straight top-10 finish (fourth) and his last driving a Funny Car.

When Cruz Pedregon joined the Minor team full time in 1992, he took over the Funny Car, and McCulloch returned to his Top Fuel roots with Minor’s Lee Beard-tuned McDonald’s dragster and scored again at Indy, joining Prudhomme as the only drivers to win the U.S. Nationals in both Top Fuel and Funny Car. “After the first Indy win, that was probably the most gratifying victory of my career. I guess it’s fitting that my first Top Fuel win came at Indy, the same place where I got my first Funny Car win,” said McCulloch, who added wins in Topeka and Dallas en route to a fifth-place finish. McCulloch scored his 22nd and final national event win at the 1993 event in Houston and finished eighth that year, highlighted by a 301.70-mph run in Dallas that made him the 12th member of the Slick 50 300-MPH Club.

McCulloch briefly drove for former Major League Baseball player Jack Clark in his Taco Bell Express but retired after just a few races. He returned to the cockpit briefly in 1995 as a test driver for Kalitta’s two Top Fuelers, which led to his first crew chief role, initially with Connie and then Doug Kalitta. In 1990, he was hired by Prudhomme to mentor and crew chief for Ron Capps and tuned Capps to six wins in 11 finals and a second-place finish in 2000. McCulloch went on to tune for Doug Herbert and later reunited with Capps in 2005 under the Don Schumacher Racing umbrella, where they won three times in seven finals en route to a second-place finish. McCulloch and Capps formed a potent duo for years, winning 16 races before McCulloch’s dismissal in 2010.

McCulloch was inducted into the International Drag Racing Hall of Fame in 2000 and into the Motorsports Hall of Fame of America in 2011.

Last Thursday, on the eve of the national event at his old home track, former NHRA Chief Starter Mark Lyle was remembered by family, friends, and the racing community at a celebration of life at Pacific Raceways. As he was eulogized by many, the recurring theme was that while Mark had a firm hand on the starting line, he was willing to debate his decisions with anyone who asked.

And, of course, parallels were drawn between Lyle and the man who for so many years personified the position, the late great Eddie Hiram “Buster” Couch. We lost Buster a long time ago – Jan. 12, 2002, to be exact – but I think it’s safe to say that everyone who followed him – Rick Stewart, Lyle, and now Mike Gittings – probably feels that he still was watching their every move.

Lyle was the chief starter evolved, someone mentally prepared to deal with the complexities of the sport today, where sponsorships, egos, pressure, scheduling, and everything else seems to be magnified tenfold. Couch was the self-professed Georgia redneck, the “Not in my house” kind of guy necessary back in the early days of the sport when Couch himself once professed that “fighting was as much a part of the sport as racing.”

Couch was a big fella – 6-foot-2, 255 pounds – a Golden Gloves boxer in his youth and a part-time bar bouncer as an adult, so he cast an imposing figure on the starting line. The story I shared a few weeks ago about Couch reaching into Pat Foster’s car on the starting line to “force” him to shut it off brought to mind many great stories from his years on the starting line.

Buster stories have been handed down like cherished family memories, especially among members of the Dragster staff, who if we didn’t witness them were certainly told about them by people who did. He was tough but loved, and back in an era of less political correctness and a more relaxed atmosphere, you never knew what was going to happen on the starting line.

For as big and fearless of a guy as Couch portrayed, he was deathly afraid of spiders and snakes, and of flying. Former Top Fuel driver Frank Bradley thought it would be fun to terrorize him, so as “the Beard” was smoking out past Couch on a burnout, he tossed a rubber snake out at Couch’s feet; I believe this was at either the 1982 or 1983 World Finals at Orange County Int’l Raceway. Retribution came swiftly. When Bradley came back for his next pass, Couch was ready. As Bradley eased his digger into the staging beams, Couch calmly poured two buckets of ice into his lap. That’s a scene you’d never see today, but as I said, things were a little more “relaxed” back then.

There are countless tales of drivers trying to tell Couch how to run “his” starting line, all of them met with Couch’s special brand of response.

The name of the driver and even the class escape me, but one Super-class driver came to “visit” with Couch before a run, telling him in no uncertain terms of his own preferred deep-staging procedure and how Couch should handle it. Pretty much the gist of it was that when the racer was staged how he preferred, he would give Couch a nod, and then he could start the race. Of course, as soon as that driver’s front tire tickled the beam, Couch threw the switch, then later calmly explained to him, “I couldn’t remember if you said you were gonna wave or nod.” Message received.

In an interview Couch did with LA Times reporter Shav Glick on the eve of his retirement from the starting line in late 1995, Couch recollected, "One guy had a reputation as a quick starter, and I heard he was bragging about how he knew when I was going to press the button because my thumb moved first. Well, one day he was on the line, and I twitched my thumb, and he was halfway down the track before the green light came on. I doubt if he ever checked my thumb after that.”

I remember the 1983 Summernationals, where Connie Kalitta got into a protracted staging battle with Jody Smart in the semifinals. The story goes that Kalitta came to the line with suspect oil pressure; maybe Smart knew that, maybe he didn't. When the Tree finally turned green, Kalitta fireballed an engine. He pulled off the track into the grass (there were no guardwalls then), slammed his helmet to the ground, and charged back to the starting line to complain to Couch about the length of time it took to get the Tree. Kalitta was hot, and Couch reportedly just grinned and told him, "I’ll roll around in the grass and wrassle with you if you want.”


This is one of my favorite photos of Buster, and it speaks volumes. That's NASCAR king Richard Petty seeming a bit overwhelmed by the power of side-by-side burnouts by Connie Kalitta and Doug Herbert at the 1992 U.S. Nationals. The look of joy on Buster's face is priceless.

Former NHRA Vice President Steve Gibbs, NHRA’s longtime competition director, was Couch’s boss, tasked with oversight. For all of his bluster, Couch was so deeply loved and respected and even watched over lest his “redneck tendencies” get the better of him. Gibbs remembers visiting Couch’s dear wife, Anne, in the hospital as she lay dying from cancer. “Her sole concern while she was dying was Buster,” he recalled. “She had a little yellow notepad, and she’d write, ‘Make sure Buster does this’ and “Make sure Buster does that’ and ‘Buster will need this.’ We all looked after him.

“He was a challenge,” Gibbs remembered fondly. “He liked to fight; he told me once he should have been a hockey player so he could get paid to fight. He was a unique individual, and I just had to deal with it because there’s no doubt that he was the man we needed for that time in the sport’s history. It was a different time, a different era.


Couch emphatically gave the universal shutoff sign to Top Fuel racer Steve Hodkinson at the 1982 Winternationals after Hodkinson's engine sprung a severe fuel leak.

“He was as good a starter as there’s ever been. He didn’t let the racers start him, and some of those guys are pretty crafty. He probably wouldn’t like the job today with as much automation as we have now – Auto Start and all of that, which I think is necessary – because Buster started every race, deciding with his thumb when it was time for the cars to go.”

And Couch was not above a little showmanship to let people know he was the boss.

“I remember one year at Atlanta, [Larry] Morgan and [Bob] Glidden got into a burndown. Buster was out there waving his arms, putting on a show, and finally backed them both off,” said Gibbs. “He walked over to each of the cars, acting like he was really mad. He opened Glidden’s door, and Bob’s waiting to get yelled out, and Buster just says. ‘Hey Bob, how ya doing? How’s Etta? How’s the kids?’ Then he slams the door and storms over to Morgan’s car. ‘Hey Larry, you having a nice day? How’s it going?’ Then slams his door. They fired up and raced and were laughing so hard at the other end of the track about how Buster took the edge off the whole thing by doing that.”


Drivers like John Force loved Buster, and he loved 'em right back.

As much as drivers liked to prank him – beyond the snake-tossing episodes (there was more than one) – there was love and respect, too. Top Fuel driver Dale Funk was seen handing Couch a cold beer one time, and Chris Karamesines once reached out and handed him a bottle of booze as he was staging.

Couch was good with giving a practical joke, too. Gibbs remembered at the first Gatornationals how the division directors (“a pretty rowdy bunch back then”) were seeking adult beverages in the dry county, and Couch, with his local knowledge after years as the Division 2 director, pointed them down the road to sleepy Waldo, Fla., with tales of an underground speakeasy below a gas station. Of course, it didn’t exist, but the DDs spent the night roaming around looking for it.

I remember an early-1980s story being told of how Scott Kalitta, then driving an A/Fuel Dragster, was having some relationship problems with his girlfriend and reportedly had been dodging her phone calls. So, of course, when he pulls to the starting line for a qualifying pass, Couch handed him a telephone as he was preparing to stage.


Wally and Barbara Parks with Buster; I miss all three of them.

My personal favorite memories of Buster are of a Foghorn Leghorn-like uncle, always ready to give you a little crap (“Son! I say, son! Don’t walk across my starting line like that.”) but a genuine good guy. Back in the 1980s, we would finish proofing the magazine Wednesday, hop on a red-eye while the issue was being printed Thursday, and have a dozen or so FedEx’d to the event to give to that week’s cover or feature subjects, and I always saved one for Buster. He would see me coming his way with one in my hand, and his face would light up with a big ol’ grin. “Thank you, Mr. Burgess. I surely do appreciate it.”

There have been a lot of larger-than-life characters in our sport – guys like Richard Tharp, Funk, Chip Woodall, “the Greek,” Raymond Beadle; gosh, I could go on and on – but Buster Couch will always be among the larger, both for his presence on the starting line and impression he left on everyone who knew him.

More Seattle 64 Funny Cars storiesFriday, August 12, 2016

Bench racing and remembering with Insider regular Robert Nielsen (above) and Don O'Byrne and Bill Doner (below) in Seattle.

I’m back from an incredible weekend in Seattle, where, appropriately, after last week’s column about the track’s legendary 64 Funny Cars events, the floppers were the star of the show with nine of the quickest times in history, national record-setting passes, the first side-by-side 3.8-second eliminations round (two of them!), and more made it paradise for loves of the fuel coupes.

While cruising the pits there, I was able to connect with a pair of names familiar to longtime Insider readers, my “nemesis” Robert Nielsen, who has contributed to widely and expertly to this column over the last nine years with his expertise of early Southern California racing (he has lived in the Great Northwest the last 10 years but still has treasured memories of Lions and the other great SoCal tracks) and with Don O’Byrne, who last week shared his copy of the souvenir program and some of his buddy’s photos from the 1976 64 Funny Cars race, which got the whole discussion started.

I had some great bench racing moments with both, recounting our shared experiences, and even roped my old pal Bill Doner, the legendary race promoter who made 64 Funny Cars in Seattle a true happening, into posing with me and Don.

I got a great email from another great friend of the Insider, 1970s Funny Car racer Jeff Courtie, with some brief remembrances of his time at the 64 Funny Cars shows, which prompted me to call him and get him to expand on them to help paint a better picture of the scene, and he even shared with me some of his great old photos.

Courtie, who raced up and down the West Coast from 1971 through 1978, was the perfect guy to reflect on this period. He was neither a star nor a leaker, just your average guy who, as was possible back then, could afford to race a Funny Car and did so, getting the opportunity to run side by side with the legends of our sport and creating a lifetime of memories.


This great pic from Courtie's scrapbook was given to him by photographer Philip Howard and shows fans atop the long-gone staging lane bridge. As Courtie pointed out, they've removed some of the signage for a better view.


“I had to work for a living — at one time I was working at Ed Pink’s doing blowers for $4.25 an hour — and still living with my mom and dad so I could race,” he recalled. “I’d get off work Thursday night and drive straight through to Seattle,” he said. “It would usually take about 24 hours to get there — some of the ‘big’ guys made it quicker because they had bigger gas tanks and didn’t have to stop as often for gas — and then we’d crash out for the night.”

Courtie and his fellow Funny Car gypsies would stay at the SeaTac Inn, which was the Great Northwest’s answer to SoCal’s Marco Polo motel, filling the parking lot with all manner of ramp trucks and trailers.

“We’d head to the track Saturday morning, and there’d always be a long line of trailers waiting to get in down that two-lane road to the track,” he recalled. “There’d just be this long line of ramp trucks, [pull-along] trailers, and [fifth-wheel] Chaparrals, plus all of the fans trying to get in; it could take you an hour just to get in. The 64 Funny Cars race was like Woodstock to the fans up there; they weren’t spoiled like we were in Southern California with a race every weekend at three or four different tracks. Doner and [Steve] Evans would advertise non-stop for like two weeks before the event.

“The fans were just crazed. They sold beer there from first thing in the morning, and you never knew what they’d do. We’d have to stop the races because they’d be sitting on the guardrail in the lights with their legs hanging over, drinking beer. If you lost, the fans would throw beer bottles at you when you came back down the return road.”

I asked Courtie about the lighting situation I wrote about last week, with just the one light pole mounted behind the starting line.

Philip Howard

“The lighting was a little skimpy,” he agreed. “When you’d get to the shutdown area, it was like running at Irwindale — pitch black — and they’d have a 25-watt light bulb at each turnout. and invariably the last one would be burned out. You’d get down there and no one, including your crew, could find you. But that was only usually your last run. It stays dark until almost 9 o’clock there that time of year, so we’d run about 7 and then again at maybe 10:30 or 11, and they’d run the final after midnight.

“The biggest issue was always the weather; seems like it was always damp, whether it was raining, misting, or just humid. We’d have to get packing blankets and throw them over the windshield until we ran.”

Courtie, who raced the 64 Funny Cars meet from 1973-78, also was able some years to run both the Seattle event and the 32-car race Doner hosted at Portland Int’l Raceway the weekend before. There, the local hotel was the Thunderbird Inn, right on the Columbia River that separates Oregon from Washington.

Philip Howard

“Doner was really good to the racers,” recalled Courtie. “He’d get some guys like me to run the two races, and he paid well. In 1974, I got $800 from him to run in Portland and $800 to run in Seattle, which doesn’t sound like much, but it was good money for a guy like me back then. Some of the bigger guys would run a whole northern circuit for him — Portland, Seattle, Bremerton, and up into Canada — before everyone headed to Indy.”

I asked Courtie if Doner or other track managers offered extra incentives for longer, smokier burnouts, and he practically scoffed at the notion.

“Hell, no; they didn’t have to. We all loved doing them,” he said. The long burnouts, the fast backups, the dry hops, we were always just trying to outdo one another because we loved doing them. It was just standard operating procedure for everyone.”

To read more about Courtie’s history, check out this column I wrote about him way back in 2008: Jeff Courtie: A pair of pretty sound careers.

Reader Steve Ojard had been to his fair share of Seattle events and shared his laundry list of memories.

“Bill Doner's beloved radio spots on KJR-AM ("You tell 'em, Jungle Jim!" …. "Drag Racing is faaaaar out!"), urging fans to come out to the drags on Seafair weekend because, to paraphrase, ‘who wants to go watch a bunch of slow, sputtering boats anyway?’ (a reference to the hydroplane races on Lake Washington). To this day, I say AMEN to that!

“Lights out at the track around 10 p.m., not because of closing time but for drama, as ‘Jungle’ fires up in the dark behind the spectator lane side pits, rumbles out from behind the angled grandstands, turns onto the right lane at the starting line as the lights come on, and rips a burnout the full length of the track. The place went berserk!

“After dark, calls from the announcer for people to ‘back away from the edges downtrack so the cars can run or we'll have to shut ‘em down.’ Those ballpark lights you wrote about were the only lights on the track but still not all that bright I'd imagine when they're behind you, looking out the windshield of a flying flopper while trying to stay in the groove at 1,000 feet.


Found this gem on YouTube from the 1977 64 Funny Cars race in Seattle

“Going out of my parents’ house one morning — we lived in a residential neighborhood in West Olympia, 50 miles from SIR — and seeing [Roger] Lindamood's Color Me Gone on an open trailer about 10 feet from our driveway, just across the street from me, a rabid, magazine-devouring teenage drag nut? It was like Christmas! Seems to me it was there at least a day. I believe our neighbor lady in that rental house was an ‘acquaintance’ of his.

“That gorgeous ’76 L.A. Dart pictured in your article, squaring off with Richard Schroeder's Bad Bossa Nova. Before they ran, a test of nerves first: ‘Wild Bill’ wheelies downtrack, bounces, and slides sideways to a stop, then wheelies back to the starting line to thundering applause. So then, not to be outdone, Schroeder follows up with the longest, smokiest, in-place burnout I have ever seen in my life that didn't destroy the slicks in the process. You couldn't see the tower when he was done; it was covered. After that, they raced, and I don't remember who won. Sensory overload, the house was rockin'!

“A flying Yamaha 400 Kite-cycle.

“Jerry Ruth and another driver (or a crewmember, I'm not sure) standing aside the tower lane grandstands, suddenly taking off on foot after some moron who ran out onto the track to grab a chunk of blower case that had just departed its engine. (Straps, what straps?)

“Those were the days, my friend. Magical! We'll never see the like again.”
 

Seattle 64 Funny Cars, 1976Friday, August 05, 2016

 1 of 11 
 
 
 
By the time that most of you read this, I’ll be at Pacific Raceways covering the NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series national event at the track formerly known as Seattle Int’l Raceway, which is perfect timing for this week’s subject (I love it when a plan comes together).
 
Canadian Insider reader Don O’Byrne recently sent me some scans from the 16-page souvenir program of the 64 Funny Cars race held 40 years ago at SIR on this very weekend in 1976, and they are so cool and timely that I thought I’d share them with you here (minus the ads). I’ve created the little gallery at right for you to thumb through. (Start by clicking on the “larger image” link so you can see them better, then use the “Next” navigation to scroll through them.)
 
“I paid a whole U.S. dollar for the program back then, which was not bad for a Canadian because the U.S. and Canadian were about par then (unlike now),” he wrote.
 
The program itself is so cool for history buffs like us. It has some interesting profiles, including of Jim Liberman (“as super hero ‘Jungle Jim’ he fights for Truth, Justice, and the American Fire Burnout”), Raymond Beadle (oddly, an old bio from when he was driving for Don Schumacher; by then he was already in the Blue Max), Gene Snow, Pisano & Matsubara, and “Gordy” Bonin. There are also mini bios of some of the drivers from the Coca-Cola Cavalcade of Stars who were part of the show, including Dick Bourgeois, Roger Lindamood, Dale Creasy, Fred Goeske, Mike Van Sant, Tripp Shumake, Dick Custy, and Al Hanna.
 
Also included is a nice introduction to bracket racing (with a great photo of future NHRA Division 6 Director Gene Bergstrom bracket racing his Ford Falcon) written by Northwest drag scribe legend “Flyin’ Phil” Elliott that includes one of the best Funny Car introductions since Steve Evans’ legendary “What in the hell am I doing here?” radio spot. It reads: “Imagine flying a WWII fighter, wrestling King Kong, matching IQs with Einstein, having the reflexes of a cobra snake, and holding a vial of nitroglycerin between your knees – all at once! That’s a little of what driving a Funny Car is like.”
 
The program also has a handy scoresheet that O’Byrne partially filled out that gives an idea of the lineup. I dug through the NHRA National Dragster archives to find our coverage of the event and to check out the competitors.
 
While favorites Don Prudhomme and Tom McEwen were back East on the national event trail, the lineup was still a solid one: Beadle and the Blue Max, “Jungle Jim,” Ed McCulloch, Jim Dunn, Lil John Lombardo, Snow, John Collins in McEwen’s No. 2 Duster, Russell Long and the Chi-Town Hustler, Frank Hall in Jerry Ruth’s car, Twig Ziegler, Kenney Goodell, Mike Miller, Gary Densham, Gary Southern in John Lindsay’s Impulse, Jeff Courtie, Chris Lane, “Nitro Nick” Harmon, Dave Uyehara, Terry Capp, Rich Rogers, and the Coke Cavalcade machines of Lindamood, Hanna, Van Sant, Bourgeois, Shumake, Custy, Creasy, Larry Palmer, and Rick Johnson in Bill Schifsky’s Bear Town Shaker.
 
And, oh yeah, some guy named John Force.
 

Raymond Beadle and the Blue Max took top honors at Seattle's 1976 64 Funny Cars show, stopping Mike Miller in the final round.
Beadle won the event (which actually ran Sunday, Aug. 8, after a Saturday rainout), posting low e.t. of every round (and the meet, 6.31) and beating program cover subject Miller and his Boredom Zero entry in an all-Mustang II final round. Custy won the Coke Cavalcade final over Shumake, who crossed the centerline in Dennis Fowler’s pretty Sundance Monza.
 
You can do math as well as I can, so (as was almost always the case) the 64 Funny Cars were not all nitro burners. Brad Anderson won the Alcohol Funny Car (then known as BB/FC) portion of the show, defeating SoCal neighbor Lou Gasparrelli in the final. Other competitors included future nitro pilots Tom Ridings, Sherm Gunn, and Ray Romund, plus Dale Van Gundy, Doug Moody, Kenny Randolph, Larry Garcia, Chris Christensen, Richard Day, John Gazso, Tom Lemons, and Joe Amato (“Wiskey Joe,” not future Top Fuel Joe). A Northwest contingent of BB/FCs ran a separate eliminator, with the win going to Rob Bruins (taking a week off from driving Herm Petersen’s Top Fueler) over Barry Price.
 
O'Byrne also forwarded me (with permission) a set of photos from Bob Jackson that appear on the All Northwest Drag Racing Facebook page and chronicle the 1976 race. Here are a few choice ones.

64 Funny Cars!

"Jungle Jim," doing his thing ...

The Chi-Town Hustler, doing its thing, as Austin Coil looked on

Some guy who nicknamed himself "Brute Force"

Ed "the Ace" McCulloch and the Revellution against Chris Lane and Joe Pierce's Phoenix

John Collins in Tom McEwen's No. 2 Duster vs. Rick Johnson in Bill Schifsky's Beartown Shaker Mustang II

Dave Uyehara and the Oswald & Uyehara Kamikaze Mustang vs. Terry Capp and the Wheeler Dealer Vega

"Big Jim" vs. "Jungle Jim"

Chuck Poole's legendary Chuckwagon wheelstander

Always a Doner favorite, "Wild Bill" Shrewsberry and the L.A. Dart wheelstander
 


The issue of ND that had the report of the 1976 64 Funny Cars show also had coverage of the 32-car show that SIR owner Bill Doner confirmed via email that he also staged the week before at northern Oregon’s Portland Int’l Raceway, making for a mini Western Swing for a lot of the drivers who competed at both.
 
Liberman, who wowed the fans with a fire burnout before laying down low e.t. of the meet at 6.28, won the Portland nitro show on a solo when Bonin couldn’t make the final-round call due to breakage (which may also explain why he was not mentioned in the Seattle coverage). Goeske also was supposed to appear in Seattle but crashed and burned his Vega in round one of the Coke Cavalcade race, which eventually was won by Creasy over Van Sant. Anderson scored the BB/FC title over Lemons.
 

Don Prudhomme won a series of July match races with the Army Monza, including this one at Quaker City Dragway (Leo Taugher photo)

Ron Jackson's Mandingo Vega scored at New England Dragway.
(Jack Colahan photo)
As evidence of the amount of quality match racing going on at the time, the issue also included Lebanon Valley Dragway’s Northeast Funny Car Nationals (won by Prudhomme, who had low e.t. of all three rounds of the Chicago-style eliminator, including a 6.49 in the final to beat Harland Thompson and the Fireball Vega); York U.S. 30’s Super Stock Nationals (won by Prudhomme over a stout 16-car field that included McEwen, Liberman, Ivo, Bob Pickett in Mickey Thompson’s Grand Am, Tom Prock, Bruce Larson, and Gary Burgin); Quaker City Dragway results (another Prudhomme win, over a four-car field of McEwen, Pickett, and Stan Bowman and the Flying Dutchman Vega); Sacramento Raceway’s Fox Hunt (won by Dave Condit and the L.A. Hooker over “Jungle Jim” in a best of three); as well as unnamed races from U.S. 131 Dragway (Tommy Ivo beat  Larry Arnold in Roland Leong’s Hawaiian in a Funny Car field that included Prudhomme, Beadle, “Wild Willie” Borsch, and others, and Jeb Allen shut down Gary Beck, Dick LaHaie, and Shirley Muldowney in a star-studded Top Fuel show), New England Dragway (Ron Jackson and the Mandingo Vega got into the final via the break rule and beat Prock for the title); and Bonneville Raceway (Dan Richins wheeled the Iron Horse Top Fueler to a final-round victory over Paul Schoenfeld’s Wild Bird entry).
 
One final Seattle note from O'Byrne that I had never considered. If you've ever been to the track, you know that there no light poles are mounted on either side downtrack. So how did they hold these amazing until-1-in-the-morning 64 Funny Car shows? According to O'Byrne, and confirmed by Doner, all the light that the track needed emanated from one single source, the high-mounted bank of lights behind the starting line. According to the story, the lighting was designed by Boeing engineers to cast enough light all the way to the end of the track.

Now that's an illuminating thought. See ya next week.
 
Next Entries
 
..