Former U.S. Nationals Funny Car winner Gary Burgin died May 23. The driver of the Orange Baron Funny Car, who began his career in the A/Gas Supercharged ranks and famously bragged to have never driven anything on the quarter-mile that didn’t have a supercharger atop the engine, won two NHRA national events and finished in the top 10 five times in his career.
No win was bigger for the Southern California racer than his triumph at the 1976 U.S. Nationals, where he defeated Don Prudhomme in the final round to hand “the Snake” his only national event round-loss that season. Burgin finished a career-high second in the points standings the year before behind Prudhomme.
Burgin continued to race into the early 1980s – finishing fifth in 11981 and seventh in 1982 -- and won again at the 1979 Springnationals, but the rising cost of racing eventually forced him from the cockpit. He went on to serve as a crewmember and/or crew chief for the likes of Jody Smart, Al Segrini, and Tom McEwen during 1984-86, and worked with Swedish Top Fuel racer Pelle Lindelow, which led to a burgeoning business in Europe servicing those racers through his business, Gary Burgin Enterprises, which exported complete engine packages and other related car components to racers around the globe.
Burgin is survived by his wife, Gerry. A full list of survivors is not available at present.
Former NHRA Super Gas world champion Tommy Costales died May 8. He was 63.
Costales drove his Corvette to the 1994 NHRA championship and was runner-up in the U.S. Nationals that same year, as well as in 1995 and 2004. In 1985, Costales was elected to the Car Craft Magazine All-Star Drag Racing Team and went on to win numerous NHRA and IHRA national events. Costlaes also owned Houston Engine and Balancing Service, a full-service machine shop that specializes in all aspects of performance racing engines.
Costales is survived by his wife, Cindy Costales; sister Yvonne Harlan; brother John Costales; sons Jay and Les Costales (wife Lindsay); daughter Jennifer Glas; and seven grandchildren.
The service honoring his life will be held at 11 a.m. Thursday, May 14, in the Sanctuary of Peace Lutheran Church, 6435, Fairmont Pkwy, Pasadena, TX 77505. A viewing will be held at the same location from 6 to 8 p.m. Wednesday. Interment will be held at South Park Cemetery, 1310 North Main Street, Pearland, TX 77581 at 1:30 p.m.
Tom Hoover, widely known as the “godfather” of the 426 Hemi racing engine, died April 30 from complications of Guillain–Barré syndrome. He was 85.
Hoover – not to be confused with the Funny car driver of the same name -- spent 25 years working at Chrysler Corp., leaving in 1979 to pursue his interests in locomotives and trains. During his time there, Hoover had an impact on some of the most-storied performance milestones in Fiat Chrysler’s history.
“Tom Hoover was an exceptional human being and an engineering genius that always wanted to go faster. Today, at Mopar, we continue to live and honor Tom’s vision. He’ll be missed,” says Pietro Gorlier, President and CEO of Mopar Brand Service, Parts and Customer Care.
Hoover was a founding member of the Ramchargers, a group of Chrysler engineers who were thrilled by the growing sport of drag racing and used their skills to boost the company’s performance image. He helped develop the Hyper Pak, a group of performance parts for Chrysler’s renowned Slant-6 engine. The Hyper Pak helped make the Plymouth Valiant a winner on NASCAR tracks in the early 1906s. Customers could buy the Hyper Pak at a dealer’s parts counter.
Hoover led development of the Max Wedge big-block racing V-8, building upon Chrysler’s RB engine to create a powertrain that dominated dragstrip racing in the early 1960s and helped lead the small team that developed the 426 Hemi racing engine, which celebrated its 50th anniversary in 2014.
The 426 Hemi debuted at the 1964 Daytona 500, where driver Richard Petty lapped the field in taking the win. And when NASCAR blocked the 426 Hemi’s use in 1965, Hoover’s team took it drag racing – where it’s legacy lives on today as many modern professional drag race engines still use the basics of that motor.
“Tom was the true technical engineer driving the details of the original 426 HEMI design, preparing it for the success on the street and in racing to this day,” says Bob Lee, who heads powertrain development for FCA in North America and is global coordinator for powertrains. “He was one of the best ever.”
Before he left Chrysler, Hoover helped create the Lil’ Red Express, a high-performance Dodge pickup released in 1978. The Lil’ Red Express is easily identified by its vertical exhaust pipes mounted behind the cab.
Like many of his contemporaries, Hoover’s passion for engineering was sparked during his youth in Huntingdon, Pa. His first car was a 1952 DeSoto with an original Hemi engine. At Chrysler, he started by working on the Bendix Electrojector program – a precursor to today’s modern fuel-injection systems.
Even after leaving Chrysler he stayed close to racing and Mopar performance. Tom Hoover and his son raced a vintage Plymouth Max Wedge car for several years. And he was consulted as the team developed the third-generation Hemi engine that first reached the street in 2003.
Mopar continues to honor Hoover’s legacy by presenting the Tom Hoover Sportsman Challenge Award to the NHRA Sportsman Class participant who earns the most points during the season driving a Fiat Chrysler vehicle in competition.
Hoover was also honored with the Mopar President’s Award at the NHRA Mopar Mile-High Nationals at Bandimere Speedway near Denver, Colo., in July 2014, and served as the grand marshal for the weekend event. In a special nod to the 426 Hemi race engine and his role, Tom, along with Pietro Gorlier, personally signed limited edition reproductions of the blueprints for the engine.
Bob Vandergriff Racing drivers Dave Connolly and Larry Dixon, along with fellow NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series drivers Tommy Johnson Jr, Matt Hagan, Shawn Langdon, Steve Johnson, Steve Torrence, Leah Pritchett, Morgan Lucas, Richie Crampton, and Shane Gray will be working up a sweat May 14 to help make wishes come true for deserving children.
The Vandergriff Foundation, created by Bob Vandergriff Jr. and his wife, Marisa, has teamed up with Flywheel Sports to raise money for the Make-A-Wish Foundation. On May 14, they will lead this fun and challenging ride at the Flywheel Sports location in Alpharetta, Ga. Flywheel is an intense, indoor cycling workout that measures a rider’s resistance, speed, and power output. Drivers will be able to see all of their statistics up on large screens and compete against one another during a 45-minute ride.
NHRA race fans will be able to donate money in support of their favorite driver.
“The Make-A-Wish Foundation is a wonderful organization and we really wanted to help them out,” said Vandergriff Jr. “Granting wishes for these wonderful children really hits home for my wife and I as parents. We appreciate Make-A-Wish’s involvement in our sport with Terry Chandler and Don Schumacher Racing.”
To donate in support of your favorite NHRA driver, go to www.vandergriffwishes.kintera.org