Deconstructing the vote: 18-20Friday, May 20, 2016

I hope you all saw the reveal last Sunday on NHRA.com (or Saturday on the FOX show) of our Top 20 Funny Cars catch-up. We unveiled Nos. 18 to 20 to catch up to Tony Pedregon’s separate list that he began a few weeks ago, and I thought it would be interesting to take a look at what maybe went into the rankings. (I'll do one of these every five or so reveals, just to get the vibe from fans, so feel free to send along your thoughts on the picks.)

Here’s the fan vote
18. Jim White/Hawaiian Dodge (1991)
19. Gene Snow Rambunctious Challenger (1970)
20. Jack Chrisman Comet (1967)

Tony Pedregon’s top 20
18. Al Segrini Black Magic Vega (1974-75)
19. Dale Armstrong/Mike Kase Speed Racer (1980-81)
20. Tom Prock Detroit Tiger Monza (1975-76)

And here’s the video that ‘splains it all, followed by my thoughts.

Several of you wrote to express surprise that Snow’s Rambunctious car was ranked so low because, for those of you who were fans back then, the car was a stone-cold killer and the first to run 200 mph. And, of course, it carried “the Snowman" to NHRA’s first season championship in 1970. I had it rated slightly higher on my personal list. In case you missed it, you can read more about the car in this column I did earlier this year about that important 1970 season. For the record, the Insider Nation ranked this car 15th in the poll I posted two weeks ago.

Being a longtime Roland Leong fan (plus it's our shared birthday Sunday; “Hau`oli La Hanau,” Roland!), I wish there had been a way in this Top 20 poll (or maybe something parallel) to salute his body of work rather than individual cars. The Hawaiian Funny Cars were staples of the class for three decades and known to every drag racing fan from coast to coast. The Hawaiian Punch car on the list probably had the best visibility due to its sweep of the 1991 U.S. Nationals, barrier-breaking 290-mph pass, and better television coverage, but I wonder in hindsight if one of those bitching early Chargers, with the recognizable bamboo lettering (as remembered in this column), might have gotten a better response from fans who know the name but not the 1991 car. Interestingly, the Insider poll also ranked this car No. 18.

The Chrisman car on the list was not part of my personal top 20, but anyone who saw it run in 1967 won’t forget the dizzying speed performance it exhibited. Chrisman was such a big part of those formative Funny Car years – the stock-bodied ’65 Comet that blew everyone’s mind in Indy, the first-gen flip-top Mercury of 1966, and this car – but I guess it’s not surprising that the car did not have the mass appeal of some of the others on the list given the wide demographics of a general poll. The older/nostalgia-skewing demo of this column’s readers ranked it No. 17.

So here's a quick recap:

Car Fan Vote Insider Vote
Jim White/Hawaiian Dodge 18 18
Gene Snow Rambunctious Challenger 19 15
Jack Chrisman Comet 20 17


Pedregon’s choices have been interesting because he wasn’t confined to ranking on a predetermined top 20, and they reflect a personal taste rather than also trying to wrangle in considerations about the cars’ impact on the class or on-track success.

I, too, loved the Detroit Tiger Monza – I always thought Monzas were some of the best-looking Funny Cars – and Prock and Poncho Rendon’s beautiful example was a showstopper. Being a huge (huge!) Armstrong fan, I was glad to see him acknowledged for his work on Kase’s Speed Racer. The car certainly had its share of troubles (including that nasty fire at the Springnationals), but the fact that “AA Dale” drove the car to a 5.89 national record run in his final race in the car (1981 World Finals) before heading into what would be a long stint tuning for Kenny Bernstein showed us all what he was capable of, a fact that he showed us over and over for two decades. And, of course, after having interviewed Segrini for a recent column and noting his dismay over not making the fan-vote Top 20, it was cool that he made Pedregon’s list with the Black Magic Vega.

We’re going to unveil No. 17 in the same fashion this week, first on Saturday’s FOX qualifying show from Topeka, then on NHRA.com Sunday morning in case you missed it or don’t have FS1. As a little bit of a teaser, the No. 17 car made one of the great passes in class history and was a bit higher on my personal list but lower (No. 19) on the Insider poll. Ah, the suspense!
 

Thanks to everyone for voting in my little straw poll last week to get the Insider Nation’s take on the Top 20 Funny Cars list. For the most part, your voting aligned pretty closely with the overall voting – you both picked the same car as No. 1, as well as exactly nailing the Nos. 5, 12, and 18 cars – though there were some interesting discrepancies later in the list. In fact, there was one “modern” (post-1970s) car that you guys ranked 10 spots lower than the “real” vote. Interesting!

Obviously, I can’t give away too much, but – and probably not surprising given the typical topics here – you guys didn’t have a post-1970s car in your top-10 voting, which is not the case for the overall vote.

Nearly 1,500 of you chose to vote, and a good group also heeded my request for explanations, some of which can be found below.

Chuck Dewandeler: “I chose [Kenny Bernstein’s 1984 Budweiser King] car because of the corporate sponsorship swing. Obviously, ‘the Snake’ had Mattel, but it seems to me the Bud car may have opened corporate eyes to bring other monies not already in the sport to the track.”

Jerry Haynes: “For me, far and away, ‘Jungle’ was the most entertaining, innovative, and interesting personification of a Funny Car racer. He seemed to understand and appreciate what fans came to the races to see. And yeah, we were ‘Jungle’ fans even before Pam came along. Almost always had a smile, even when things were going in the crapper. You simply couldn’t wait to see what was next with JJ. Pat Foster was, simply put, an all-American badass. Pat was also and most definitely one cool cat because as a kid, I cannot ever remember seeing him be rude to anyone. He seemed calm and always in control of the situation. He built beautiful cars, and then entrusted his own life in his work. He was a driver that built the race cars, so he could drive the race cars. How cool is that? I miss both these guys, but 'Jungle' had to have my vote, simply because he made me feel that he appreciated my being there.”

Mark Williams: “My vote goes to ‘the Snake’s’ ’70 ’Cuda, along with the ‘Mongoose’ Duster. Why? Every kid had one, and some of us were lucky enough to see them run in the day.”

Lewis Cathey: “Don Nicholson Eliminator I 1966 Comet. It set the basic design: tube chassis and one-piece body.”

Jeff Sayer: “I was torn between the Danny O.-driven Mustang and Ed McCulloch’s Duster but went with the Northwest hero, Ed.”

Anthony Carpinelli: “To pick one Funny Car is very difficult, but my pick is Jim Dunn's 1972 ’Cuda. I was 10 in 1970 and remember my favorite then, ‘the Snake’s’ Hot Wheels ‘Cuda. My family was a Chrysler family, so ‘Cudas were my favorite vehicle (still one of my favorites). So why the pick for Jim Dunn’s 1972 ‘Cuda over ‘the Snake’? It was rear-engined! And actually won a national event. I remember when I saw ‘Big Daddy’s’ rear-engine dragster on the cover of Hot Rod. I just assumed that all the nitro cars would follow suit, including the Funny Cars. I really thought that rear-engine Funny Cars were going to be the future.”

Chris Williams: “I voted for Jim Dunn's rear-engine ’Cuda because it was unusual, successful (relatively), and in Funny Car Summer. I remember the exact theater I saw the movie in. My ongoing love of Funny Cars started in 1971, so that movie was too cool! I think ‘Snake's’ Monza is actually most deserving, but I don't have an attachment to it like I have for Dunn's car."

Lester Ketch: “It should be a Top 100 list. I also think that No. 21 should not be a Funny Car, but the Snake vs. Mongoose Hot Wheels race set that introduced so many children (including myself) to drag racing. Not only did it introduce children to drag racing, but also mainstream advertising, and made me force ABC Wide World of Sports on my family if a drag race was on.”

Terry Spencer: “This was a very tough list to pick a winner from, especially given the historic nature of cars like Nicholson’s Comet and a few other groundbreaking cars. Having said that, I voted for Dale Pulde’s War Eagle Trans Am. This car carried no major sponsorship, but Dale kept it winning and looking beautiful and professional. Few have done so much with so little and managed to build a huge fan base along the way. All of Dale’s cars have been top-notch and true to the spirit of the class in its golden era. As an aside, my favorite War Eagle was Dale’s Buick Somerset Regal. A true original and just a completely cool-looking car.”

Robert Nielsen: “You chose to limit the selection of cars to those that came after the time NHRA officially recognized the class. That means the car I would have chosen, the Sachs & Sons Mercury Comet of Jack Chrisman, is not eligible, so I had to choose another car. To be quite honest, the Mickey Thompson/Danny Ongais 1969 Mach 1 Mustang is an extremely close second favorite for a great number of reasons. I have to admit a loyalty to Ford Motor Company. My first car was a 1956 Ford, and my first real race car was a 1963 Ford Falcon that I raced from 1966 to 1974. In 1969, I also had a blue 1969 Mach 1 Mustang that looked very much like the Thompson/Ongais car (sans big rear tires, zoomie headers, and blower sticking out of the hood)! I have always been a Danny Ongais fan! I believe he has to be one of the greatest race car drivers of all time. I am also a huge fan of Mickey Thompson. Thompson was an innovator. It did not matter whether it was with respect to drag racing, land speed racing, Indy car racing, or off-road racing. He left his mark wherever he raced! The 1969 Mach 1 Mustang is an excellent example of his ability to be the innovator that others would follow. His 1969 Mach 1 Mustang Funny Car incorporates a number of these innovative changes, including a new chassis design and the use of zoomie headers. It is without a doubt, hands-down the best Funny Car ever!”

So, who's going to be No. 1? You're going to have to wait until November to find out!

Reaching back a couple of columns to my piece on Al Segrini and the wonderful Black Magic Funny Cars, Kenny Youngblood reminisced about the car in an email to me and Lewis Bloom earlier this week.

“Back in the early days of Funny Car (the late ‘60s and ‘70s), a greater emphasis was placed on appearance; painters of the day would go to great lengths (using candy colors and intricate designs) to create rolling works of art. The Black Magic Vega would be for me the all-around best-looking graphic design I ever did,” he wrote. “In their August 1974 issue, Super Stock & Drag Illustrated [magazine] said of this car, ‘Artistically speaking, the Black Magic Funny Car is probably the finest ever created.’ (Prudhomme's Army graphics would be my other favorite, but for different reasons.)


The master at work, 1971 (Steve Reyes photo)

“Al Segrini contacted me to do the design. As an artist, it's most rewarding to work for clients who care as much about how their cars look as how they perform. Segrini was one of those clients; he wanted to knock everyone over when they saw it and win Best Appearing Car. The project had all the right ingredients; I couldn't wait to get my hands on it! I love working with black-based schemes (as black makes everything 'pop'); it was a cool name, and the slope-nosed Vega bodies were sleek in appearance.

"The late Tom Stratton and I worked together on the actual paint job, at Tom's shop in Pomona, with the lettering and airbrush work being applied in the garage of my home at that time, in Orange, Calif.

“Al loved the design. I could always tell how good we did on a design by how widely it would be copied (as ‘Imitation is the sincerest form of thievery’); the zig-zag Black Magic theme and colors were soon showing up everywhere you looked. Prior to this, car-magazine publishers would not put black cars on their covers; the Black Magic was on the cover of three magazines in the same month.”

“The 24x48-inch painting, 'Magic In Motion' (depicting the car at the end of a smoky burnout), was done in 1974 and was one of the two paintings (along with one of James Warren) that I first published and offered to the mass market in 1978. The painting was purchased a few years back as a birthday gift for ATI's Jim Beattie, the car's original owner."

Great stuff; thanks, Kenny.

OK, Funny Car fans, that's it for this week. Watch for the reveal of Nos. 18-20 on our Top 20 list on Saturday's FOX show or Sunday on NHRA.com.

Your Top 20 pollFriday, May 06, 2016

Fan voting ended earlier this week in the Top 20 Funny Cars poll, and we’ll begin to reveal the results in the very near future. It has been a fun exercise, especially the creation of the list and everything that went into it, as well as hearing some of your comments about the list’s makeup and your picks to win.

Thousands of votes were cast by a wide audience of fans who no doubt included history buffs such as the regular readers of this column and some who might know only the names and not the histories of the cars/drivers, so the results reflect an overall consensus.

If you’ve been around this column long enough, you might remember the fun we had in the summer of 2008, when readers voted in what I called the Favorite Race Car Ever poll. I broke it down into segments, by car type and decade (Exhibition Cars, Early Door Cars/Roadsters, Early Dragsters, Early Funny Cars, 1970s Top Fuelers, 1970s Funny Cars, then a catchall 1980s and Beyond for all classes), then took the top vote-getters from each group and put them together for a final vote-off. If you go into the Blog Archive widget at right and set the Insider Wayback Machine to July and August 2008, you can relive those results, which is an interesting exercise because many on our Top 20 Funny Cars list were also part of that voting.

Anyway, I thought it would be fun to get a straw poll from only the Insider faithful to see how this group of experts would have rated the top 20. I’ve hidden the post-vote results to keep things interesting, but I’ll definitely share them in the future. So have at it, and be sure to drop me a line explaining your vote (click on my byline above).


We’ll be unveiling the first results from the poll next Saturday, during the Summit Racing Equipment NHRA Southern Nationals, first on the FOX TV show and then immediately thereafter on NHRA.com. If you’ve been following along, Tony Pedregon, the two-time Funny Car world champ and now TV analyst, has already started rolling out his own Top 20 list, and we’ll sync up with him in Atlanta, where he will reveal his No. 18 pick, which means we’ll unveil our Nos. 18-20 at the same time.

In case you missed his first two picks, his No. 20 was the Detroit Tiger Monza of Tom Prock and Pancho Rendon, and his No. 19 was Mike Kase’s Dale Armstrong-driven Speed Racer – both pretty good picks. (Pedregon’s picks are not restricted to the Top 20 list in the fan vote.)

After that, we’ll reveal one new driver on each Saturday of each national event weekend, culminating at the fall Las Vegas event, where we’ll reveal No. 3 and be down to the final two. We’ll have a big buildup to the announcement of No. 1 at the season-ending Auto Club NHRA Finals.

Thanks for playing.
 

Al SegriniFriday, April 29, 2016

By their very nature, lists are polarizing. Whether it’s the top 10, 20, 50, or 100 anything that you’re trying to establish, there are going to be hits and misses among the critics and delight and disappointment among those who made or didn’t make the list.

Al Segrini, a five-time NHRA national event Funny Car winner and three-time top-10 finisher, does not hide the disappointment of not seeing any of his Funny Cars – most notably the beautiful Black Magic Vega and any of his Faberge-sponsored Super Brut machines -- on the top-20 list released a few weeks ago, and we chatted about it earlier this week in an hour-plus phone conversation that only increased my appreciation for his career behind the wheel.

Segrini, recognized last year as grand marshal of the NHRA Motorsports Museum New England Hot Rod Reunion presented by AAA Insurance at New England Dragway for his accomplishments and his continuing fan support in the region, works these days as a project manager for a company that builds high-end homes, but for more than two decades, his home was behind the wheel of a Funny Car.

The Massachusetts native got his first flopper ride in the injected-nitro American Express Camaro fielded with his brother, Lou, in 1971. That car was preceded by a good-running B/Gas ’55 Chevy and an injected-fuel altered. Segrini had driven the Chevy, but his protective older brother thought the altered was too much car for his young sibling, so he initially hired Joe Fleming to drive it. After enough pestering, Segrini was allowed to drive the car and proved a natural, guiding the sometimes ill-handling ’23-T to strong performances and victories. Fleming got back into the cockpit one afternoon at New England Dragway and ended up crashing heavily and destroying the car. “We pretty much brought it home in a basket,” recalled a “peeved” Segrini.


Paul Wasilewski Jr.

Lou ordered the American Express car to be built and insisted that the chassis builder, Pete Tropiano, locate the cockpit off-center, toward the “driver’s side,” in a fashion similar to that of the successful Chi-Town Hustler. They took the injected-fuel 427 Chevy right out of the altered and joined Tom “Smoker” Smith’s circuit, running in the Southeast. The car was a winner from the start, and Segrini loved driving it. Compared to the altered, “it was like driving a limousine,” he recalled.

The brothers racked up a series of wins against their mostly Hemi-powered opponents but finally had enough of what they considered to be a constantly shifting set of rules and returned to New England Dragway, where track promoter Jack Doyle had a soft spot for them.

"All of the AA cars would run there — [Don] Schumacher, [Gene] Snow, [Don] Prudhomme, [Tom] McEwen – but Jack told us we could park off to the side, and if one of the AA cars breaks, we could jump in as an alternate. Lo and behold, it seems like we’d get into every show because those guys would do a burnout and break, so they’d push them off, we’d fire off, and I’d run against some AA car, and we did pretty good, too. After a while, some of those guys got pretty pissed off because our car always went down the track. One of them – I think it was Lew Arrington – refused to run against me. ‘That kid is going to make an ass out of me,’ he told Jack. ‘That car hauls ass straight down the track; I’ll look like a fool,’ but they told him to race me or go home. I think we ended up in three or four finals. We never won, but we gave them a race.”

The brothers hung out with the big guns and even ended up crewing for “Jungle Jim” Liberman on occasion. “I’d open oil cans, clean the oil pan, whatever he needed, and he’d let me sit in the car and steer it coming down the return road,” he remembered. “What a thrill; he was my hero.”

Familial obligations forced brother Lou to retire from racing in 1972, but Al’s reputation was already such that when fellow Massachusetts Funny Car driver Kosty Ivanoff got in a nasty crash at New England Dragway, he hired him to drive his supercharged Boston Shaker Vega while he recovered in 1973. It was during the 1973 season and regular racing trips to the Maryland area that Segrini met Jim Beattie, who owned ATI, a top name in automatic racing transmissions. Beattie, a big Funny Car fan, ultimately decided he wanted one of his own and put Segrini in charge of the project.

A Woody Gilmore car was ordered, and Segrini wisely chose Kenny Youngblood to dream up a paint scheme for the car, which was to be named Black Magic. Youngblood responded with one of his all-time great designs, a flowing trio of stripes – orange, red, and yellow – on a brilliant black background. Famed SoCal painter Tom Stratton applied the colors, and ‘Blood insisted on doing the lettering and airbrush work himself. The car also featured extensive chrome and polish and revolutionary faux-marble anodizing. “Oh my god,” Segrini still marvels today. “That car was beautiful.”

The car was named Best Appearing Car in its debut at the 1974 Gatornationals, where the team also collected Best Appearing Crew honors, an unprecedented feat in those times.

“Back then, it was the Dark Ages; everyone wore greasy T-shirts and shorts, but Jim and I designed uniform crew shirts, and everyone wore matching black Levi's,” he said. “Someone told me later that when we pulled up for our first qualifying run that the [NHRA officials] in the tower went to the glass to see it and that [NHRA founder] Wally Parks pointed to it and said, ‘That’s the future of drag racing there, guys.’ Before long, everyone had uniform shirts.”

Segrini drove the Black Magic for three years, but the biggest highlight came early, in the 1974 season, when they reached the final round of the Summernationals and pulled in to face none other than Liberman, who also was appearing in his first national event final round.

“Unbelievable,” mused Segrini. “I go from a kid hanging on the fences watching those AA cars run to racing my hero in the final round.”

 

That final round was one of the most memorable in the event’s long history. Segrini, fresh off an upset win over Prudhomme in the semifinals, smoked the tires while Liberman – in true fashion – carried the front end 3 feet high well past half-track before being forced to lift. Segrini gathered in his mount and beat him to the stripe, 6.83 to 7.14.

“I could see his front tires up in the air out my window,” Segrini recalled. “I wouldn’t lift, and he wouldn’t lift. I was smoking the tires trying to keep it straight, and he was in this big ol’ wheelie that I couldn’t believe. We ended up beating him, and I remember seeing him on the return road with his head down. It was emotional for me because he was my hero, but he told me, ‘Good job, kid,’ but he won [the Summernationals] the next year, so I was happy to see that.”

Beattie brought a second car – the Black Stang, driven by Pee Wee Wallace – into the fold, but Segrini had misgivings about the way that Beattie had the car built. Offered a chance to drive the ill-handling car at a match race, Segrini refused. “First, I didn’t want to embarrass Pee Wee, and, second, that car was evil,” he said. “And that was the beginning of the end for me and Jim.”

In 1978, he began driving for Fred Castronovo and the Custom Body Enterprises team, in a beautiful H&H-built Arrow. “Driving that car was like owning a Rolex watch,” he marveled. “Everything fit perfect – the levers, the tinwork, the way the body clicked into place.” The pretty car was destroyed in a crazy crash at the 1979 Summernationals due to an ongoing problem with exhaust-valve heads that would break off and punch a hole in the piston, leading to a dieseling problem when the engine would not shut off.

The problem came to a head on its opening qualifying run. Segrini got the car stopped just past the lights, but the engine wouldn’t shut off. Oil coming out of the headers from the holed piston caught fire and set the entire car alight. Segrini finally had to bail out of the cockpit, and the car took off, idling down through the shutdown area before crashing headlong into the retaining rail at the top end. “The car pretty much committed suicide,” said Segrini.

The team rebuilt, but the entire operation was stolen overnight while parked outside the home of a friend in New Jersey in preparation for running in Englishtown the next day. The truck and Chaparral trailer were found at a nearby shipping dock, but everything inside the trailer – the car, every part, and even the cabinets – was gone and never seen again.

Once again rideless, Segrini got a lead on a high-ranking contact at cosmetics maker Faberge from a mechanic friend. “He was just a greasy old mechanic at a greasy old shop, but he told me that this kid who used to clean toilets for him at his gas station now was a big wheel at Faberge,” Segrini recalls. “I was pretty sure he was full of [baloney], but he picks up the phone and calls the guy and gets me a meeting with the head of sales, Steve Hainsworth. I bring a rendering to the meeting of what a car could look like, and tells me he’s going to show it to Craig Barrie, who was in charge of marketing. Craig’s father, George, was CEO, and his brother, Richard, was the president.”

 

Segrini traveled to New York – his first trip into the Big Apple – and to the massive Burlington House skyscraper on Avenue of the Americas, where Faberge, then the top fragrance maker in the country with spokespersons such as Joe Namath and Farrah Fawcett, occupied two full floors of Andy Warhol-decorated offices. Craig Barrie, as it turns out, is not some stodgy executive but a young guy with long hair and gold chains who is a big fan of racing. He’s all for the idea and carries it up the chain of command. Segrini’s asking price is $125,000, not a small sum then. After several meetings over many weeks, a deal is struck, but the contract is for just $100,000. But as Segrini is walking out after signing the 40-page, legalese-filled contract, Craig walks up to him and hands him an envelope. Inside is $25,000.

“I didn’t even own a spark plug at the time, so I had to get going pretty quick,” he said. “Fortunately for me, Tom Prock and Pancho Rendon had just split up, and Pancho leased me their old car [the Gratiot Auto Supply Arrow], motors, parts, and a trailer. I took it to [Bob] Gerdes [at Circus Custom Paint], who painted it that dark green. We debuted it at Gainesville [in 1980], where Faberge guests on hand were impressed that the fans knew who they were.”


Segrini, left, Craig Barrie, and their beautiful Faberge 18-wheeler

After a successful 1980, in which Segrini also appeared at regional sales meetings, the deal was renewed for 1981, with Barrie, who also liked to work on the car, leading the way. This contract was worth $225,000. Barrie also took note of the 18-wheelers that were becoming more popular and decided that what was essentially a traveling billboard for about the cost of a billboard in Times Square was a good investment and commissioned Segrini to get them one.

Segrini and Faberge finally enjoyed the sweet smell of national event success at the 1982 Winternationals with the Super Brut Omni, winning a final-round battle of the fragrances against Raymond Beadle’s English Leather-backed Blue Max. It was the first of three Winternationals wins in four years for Segrini, two of which ended in spectacular fashion.

Segrini went to two more finals in 1982 – losing to Frank Hawley in both, at the Springnationals and Cajun Nationals, and finishing a career-high sixth in points -- but, surprisingly, did not qualify for the 1983 Winternationals yet went on to win the Cajun Nationals later that year with his new Trans Am after Steve Plueger worked on the chassis. He again finished sixth in points.

Segrini chalked up his third win and second in Pomona when he beat Tim Grose in a memorable final round in 1984. The camshaft snapped right in the lights, leading to a massive blower explosion that blew out the windshield and damaged the body. The win was bittersweet for Segrini.

“At breakfast that morning, I had been told that the Faberge deal was over,” he said. “There had been a corporate takeover, and George Barrie only had 49 percent of the stock. Talk about a high and low all on the same day. We finished the year with Faberge on the car, but the deal was over.”

Segrini’s reputation as a solid driver earned him a chance to win the Winternationals again the next year. Joe Pisano had just finished development of his new engine block, the JP-1, and asked Segrini, who was like family and usually stayed at the house of “Papa Joe” on his West Coast trips, to drive his new Daytona. They won the race, and again Segrini was spectacular in victory. You know the old saying, “If you can’t win at least be spectacular”? Segrini did both for the second straight year as the clutch let go in the lights, sending a shower of sparks out of both side windows as he crossed the finish line ahead of Dale Pulde.

Don Gillespie

“He was running just a three-disc clutch at the time, so we were feeding it parts after every round,” recalled Segrini. “As we went to push the car away from the trailer for the final, it wouldn’t roll backwards, just forward. I knew something was wrong, but I knew I had to give it a shot. After the burnout, it wouldn’t go into reverse. It was vibrating real bad. I held the brake and whacked the throttle and went into reverse and had to do the same thing to get it back out of reverse. The car went about two car lengths before the clutch welded itself, and it was like a lockup clutch before we had those. It opened four car lengths on Pulde. About 1,000 feet, it was shaking and rattling, and just as I lifted, [the clutch] came apart. The sparks were from the titanium can, which held up fine, but I couldn’t see anything, and I had my left leg tucked back as far as I could and my right foot in the top hook of the throttle just in case it came apart. It was spectacular, but we won.”

Segrini drove a few more races for Pisano that year with no real success, and despite his best efforts, Segrini was not able to put together another ride. It wasn’t until the early 1990s that he resurfaced, this time in the dragster of former Top Fuel racer Billy Lynch. The Swindahl-built car had the best of everything, except luck, and after two seasons, they parted company.


Segrini, right, with longtime friend and nitro racer Paul Smith at last year's NHRA New England Nationals. In 1974, Smith finished second in the world championship race; Segrini was sixth in the Black Magic car.

Segrini’s last ride was for his old pal Plueger, in Sonoma in 1997. His sharp driving got them into the Funny Car field, but they lost in round one. Almost 20 years later, he still maintains a presence in the sport. In addition to serving as the grand marshal at last year’s New England Hot Rod Reunion, Segrini took part this year in a panel discussion at the Winternationals, and he helps his buddy Mike Hard, who has the Hard Guys Nostalgia Funny Car that Mike Smith drives.

“I had some good moments in my career, and I think I brought a lot of stuff to the sport, like the uniforms and the sponsorship of a major company like Faberge,” he reflected. “When I look back at the Top 50 [Drivers] list [from 2000], I think I could have been on that list, too. Me and Dale Pulde -- who I think is one of the greatest drivers ever -- both. I was glad to see Dale had a car in that [Funny Car] top 20 because he deserves it, and it kind of hurts my feelings that none of my cars were. I think I did a pretty good job of representing NHRA, and some of the stuff I did, I feel like I was way ahead of my time, but I know it’s not personal, just puzzling.”

As I said in opening this column, lists are a tricky thing. There are probably 50 cars for which I could make an argument for inclusion on that top-20 list, and even though 20 was all I got, it’s hearing stories like Segrini’s that make me want to make it a top-100 list.
 

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