Kenny Safford, who enjoyed a long and successful career in Top Fuel and Funny Car driver in the 1960s and ‘70s, died April 22. He had been in ill health recently.
Safford was a member of the famed Burbank Road Kings Car Club while growing up in California’s San Fernando Valley and began competing in the mid-1950s with his mom’s ’56 Ford coupe then graduated to Super Stock in which he was runner-up at the first Bakersfield March Meet in 1959. With fellow club members Rod Pepmuller and Don Gaide, he then moved into a gas dragster, then partnered with Don Ratican to run in Top Fuel.
The newly formed team of Safford-Ratican-Gaide won 17 out of the first 22 Top Fuel races they attended. The wins did not come cheap, and they broke a lot of parts and, apparently, spent some time commiserating about it, leading another Road Kings member, Tommy Ivo, to dub them the “Sour Sisters,” a name that not only stuck but which they carried proudly.
Safford went on to drive the B&M Torkmaster Special and for Frank Cannon, and finally Ted Gotelli, whose cars he drove until early 1969 before switching to Funny Car and a ride in the Mr. Norm’s Dodge Funny Car. He returned to Top Fuel in 1971, driving the cars of Dennis Baca and Gary Bowers (in whose car he was runner-up at the 1971 Winternationls), then returned to driving for the Mr. Norm’s team in 1972, a ride he maintained after buying the operation, which included a continuation of the sponsorship from Norm Krause. A severe hand injury in a shop accident in 1981 required more than two and a half years of therapy, which forced Safford to sell his Funny Car operation, effectively ending his drag racing career.
Safford was recognized by the NHRA in 1996, as an honoree at the California Hot Rod Reunion and was inducted into Don Garlits' International Drag Racing Hall of Fame in 2002.
The Safford- Ratican-Gaide “Sour Sisters” car was recreated in 1999 and has been a staple of Cacklefest events for years and enjoys a permanent home at the Wally Parks NHRA Motorsports Museum.
A celebration of Safford’s life will take place Tuesday, May 20 at 7 p.m. at the NHRA Museum.
With the NHRA’s Mello Yello drag racing tour making a stop this weekend in Houston for the 27th annual O’Reilly Auto Parts SpringNationals presented by Super Start Batteries, Texas native Steve Torrence made the most of the event’s close proximity to his Kilgore home by providing members of the Kilgore Rangerettes drill team with an up close-and-personal look at the 330-mph Capco Contractors dragster in which he has reached the semifinal round in four of five races this season.
A Kilgore College graduate himself, Torrence hosted 60 members of the Rangerettes for a photo session which ended with a mini-cacklefest on the front lawn of his parents’ home. The 31-year-old former Top Alcohol Dragster world champion (2005) is third in Top Fuel points entering the Houston event. His father, Billy, is an accomplished Super Comp driver who last year made six starts in a second Capco Top Fuel dragster.
Mark Rebilas photo
Gordon Browning, a former Los Angeles Police Department officer and an early member of the NHRA Board of Directors, died April 15.
Browning, an officer of the Los Angeles Police Traffic Education and Youth Safety Division, became a board member in 1952 not long after a chance meeting with NHRA founder Wally Parks, who was on his way to work one day in the early 1950s, cruising crosstown in a fenderless, low-riding '32 Ford coupe when he ran into a traffic snarl caused by construction.
"Before too long, there was a plume of steam coming from my radiator, and I was looking for any escape route," recalled Parks in 2001. "When I looked in my rear-view mirror, there was a black and white cruiser back there. Just about then, my radiator let go like Mount Vesuvius, so I pulled over onto the shoulder. The officer began walking up to my car, and I thought I was in a lot of trouble. Instead, he took me in his cruiser to the police station to get some water for my car. That started a long and wonderful friendship."
Browning, along with Otto Crocker, a prominent speed-timing authority, and Fred Davies, leader of the SDTA, joined Parks, Leo Ryan, Ak Miller, and Marvin Lee on the board in 1952. He was instrumental in working with Pomona [Calif.] police chief Ralph parker and Pomona officer Bud Coons to help establish racing at Pomona Raceway, and also did much of the legal legwork that resulted in the creation of Lions Drag Strip a few years later.
Browning’s contributions were long remembered by Parks, who invited him to two key NHRA celebrations during NHRA’s 50th anniversary celebration in 2001. The first, held Jan. 29 outside of Parker Center, the Los Angeles Police Department’s longtime home, was a symbolic site as the LAPD, along with other local law-enforcement agencies, were instrumental in NHRA's launch 50 years ago from the editorial offices of Hot Rod Magazine in Los Angeles. There, Mayor Richard Riordan proclaimed its National Hot Rod Association Day in the city of Los Angeles and proclaimed Parks as one of the great residents of the city. Parks had insisted that Browning be on the stage for the presentation, and introduced him.
A few weeks later, Browning joined Parks, Miller, and other special guests on March 13 at the Tam O'Shanter Inn in Glendale, Calif., to salute the 50th anniversary of the signing of the legal papers that incorporated the National Hot Rod Association March 13, 1951.
Browning was the recipient of the NHRA California Hot Rod Reunion Golden Age award in 2010.
In an email sent to the NHRA, Randall Ness, Browning’s son in law, wrote, “Gordon spoke highly of his association with the NHRA and his family thanks you for recognizing him in Bakersfield as a living legend a few years back.”
A celebration of life will be held at Forest Lawn in West Covina, April 21followed by a church service at Christ Lutheran Church in West Covina noon April 22, after which Browning will be laid to rest at nearby Forest Lawn
NHRA fans can win prizes every race weekend this season through a special contest with GEICO/Lucas Oil Top Fuel dragster driver Richie Crampton.
Named "Selfies with Richie," fans at NHRA national events are encouraged to take "selfie" pictures with the rookie driver and post them to Crampton's official Twitter page, @richiecrampton (https://twitter.com/richiecrampton), using the hashtag #selfieswithrichie.
The contest kicks off with this weekend's NHRA Four-Wide Nationals in Charlotte, and track general manager Christian Byrd has donated a special prize for the inaugural weekend of #selfieswithrichie -- a pair of tickets to Sunday's elimination rounds.
Crampton will pick this week's winner Saturday evening after the final round of qualifying for the Four-Wide Nationals. Fans also are encouraged to use the hashtag #4Wide for the Charlotte race to help raise exctement for the event and the contest.
"I can't wait to meet all of the fans in Charlotte and get some pictures with them," Crampton said. "Meeting with fans has been one of the best parts of my rookie year, and I hope this contest encourages more people to come by our pit area or the GEICO display and say hello.
"I'll be picking my favorite each weekend, so I hope fans come up with some creative ways to take 'selfies' with me. I'm fairly new to Twitter, but it's been fun to interact with followers there. This should be a fun deal all year."
Prizes for upcoming races will be announced via @richiecrampton and the official Twitter page for GEICO Powersports, @GEICOPowersprts (https://twitter.com/GEICOPowersprts).
For most other events, Crampton will pick his favorite #selfiewithrichie at the end of the weekend and award the prize to that person. A grand-prize winner for the year also will be selected to attend a special event during NHRA's Countdown to the Championship.