Features

Posted by: Phil Burgess

You guys are sooooo predictable. Any time I gush about “the good ol’ days” with memories about how cool things used to be, I get a tsunami of emails echoing my declarations and patting me on the back for being a genius and a keeper of the flame ... which is why I love you guys.

(You guys also love Linda Vaughn; she was on so many lists that I decided to include her just once and followed form with other duplicated additions.) As John Blake wrote, “ 'The Show' just wouldn't have been complete without her decorating the grounds for so many years. A true legend of the sport that probably never took a competitive lap, turned a wrench, or put on a firesuit.” L.V. is still with us, just not the ever-present icon she once was.

Anyway, here are some of the great reader-suggested additions to my list:

“Driver nicknames like ‘Big Daddy’ … cars with names like Budweiser King instead of just the sponsor's name ... seating so close to the racing surface you can feel the sound rattle your bones ... the chance to see the top names at a local track via match racing or weekend events.” — Michael Ostrofsky

“Tennis balls tied together in the injectors ... pit crews in white pants and white T-shirts ... everyone smoking in the pits …wheelstanders.” – Gary Crumine

“ ‘Smokin US 30’ near Gary where you had a Funny Car show every Wednesday night. We used to have our buddy drop us off on the side of Route 30. We would run across, dodging traffic, and sneak in through a farm field loaded with briars and sticker bushes. Left a lot of blood and hide in that field as a teenager! … Union Grove, Wis., there was the motorcycle wheelie rider, ‘the Magnificent Maurice’; he did his antics between rounds ... and let’s not forget the kids in the trees on the farmer side of the track watching the fuel cars at the ‘Grove.' ” — Glenn Swiderski

“San Fernando Drag Strip every Sunday ... twin-engine dragsters ... going to Lions for a Saturday night Top Fuel race and seeing low e.t. of the world. ... the OCIR Funny Car shows ... Ontario Motor Speedway … the AHRA Winternats at the old Tucson Dragway ... Firebird and  Speedworld in Phoenix.” — Cliff Morgan

“The beautiful, often under-dressed females who would back up the cars after the burnouts. What a show they provided; the ‘backup ladies’ and female crewmembers were a very colorful part of drag racing way back when!” — Craig Hughes

“Kodachrome and Tri-X film ... Hot Rod Magazine’s Gray Baskerville ... CJ Hart ... ‘Jungle Pam’ working the crowd ... Lions and Fremont dragstrips ... Silver firesuits ... Top Gas and AA/FA.” — Steve Reyes

“The outstanding drivers and teams lost to the dollars. They gave a lot of blood sweat and tears to the sport.” — Gary Watson

“In the days before computers, when fuel cars could run best ever times by a tenth or more on a single run ... manually pushing back Top Fuelers … the qualifying method where they would go through all classes from Stock to Top Fuel, then start all over again ... driving through hotel parking lots during national event weekends to see all the cars on ramp trucks and open trailers.” — Jim Prezlock

“Using a portable tape recorder to capture the radio-commercials for a race, then dissecting the names to see EXACTLY how many cars would be there ... anything on ABC had to have Keith Jackson (no offense to Bill Fleming or Chris Economacki, but 'Oooohh, Doctor!’ Keith just seemed like he actually dug being there) ... having to systematically find the perfect seat location, wanting to get the least amount of poles in your shot, and yet NEEDING the pole with a PA horn, to know what was going on … the 'Blue Goose' at Byron ... Being the first guy at school with the newest SS&DI, DRUSA, Hot Rod, etc. ... track food; it might have been the most mundane burger/Sloppy Joe/whatever in the world, but when you’re eating it while watching Garlits fire up, it tasted like heaven ... before ‘hero cards' became an actual industry where every team has them, only a select few teams did it, and it was referred to in less-compact jargon... (‘hey, Snake has free pictures of his CAR!!’) … seeing drag racing on The Munsters and Adam 12 and Walter Brennan racing Tommy Ivo on The Tycoon ... waiting for Funny Car Summer to come to ‘a theatre near YOU!’ " — “Chicago Jon” Hofmann

“Multiple teams helping in late-round thrashes … streakers … three-four events televised per year … Diamond P and TNN American Sports Cavalcade … starting-line burndowns … sleeping in slicks … nobody staging the cars (drivers actually did it on their own) … burnouts without throttle stops … shoe polish on front wheels to prevent red-lighting … Funny Car front tires on Top Fuelers … Garlits’ rear view mirrors … hand written e.t. slips … paint bubbled on bodies by the header flames … interviews that didn’t mention sponsors … five-yellow-bulbed Christmas Trees … burnout contests … cars changing lanes after being fired … the Popular Hot Rodding and Super Stock Nationals … Fire bottles on the steering column …canards on Funny Cars.” — Rich Hanna

"Your list reminds me why I loved drag racing in the early years, but you left one thing out: 'Jungle Pam!' " — Guy Wills

“Diamond P Sports ... Steve Evans’ pitch for NHRA membership on each event broadcast ... NHRA Today ... embroidered crew uniforms ... injector hats that sit JUST above the top of the rollcage ... Larry Minor vs. Paul Candies bidding wars at the DRAW auction …teams rolling their cars back from between the trailers for warm-ups ... the Car Craft All-Star Drag Racing Team ... single fuel pump/single magneto “cackle” … the starting-line banner at Pomona … rain-delay poker games.” — Mitch Cooper

“Powder Puff races … Coca Cola Cavalcade of Stars, ‘T.V. Tommy’ vs. ‘Big Daddy’… hot pants and halter tops … regional match racers … station wagon tow vehicles … straight-axle gassers ... slicks out past the rear wheel wells.” — Anthony Groff Sr.

“The Daily Dragster during Indy week ... Pro Comp (best class ever) ... Modified Eliminator ... print mags like Drag Racing USA and SS&DI ... injected nitro Funny Cars (Jack Ditmars and later Ken Veney) ... airplane front wheels on dragsters.” — Nunzio Valerie Jr.

“Gassers! Any and all, but especially Stone, Woods & Cook and either of ‘Big John’ Mazmanian's Willys or Austin ... cruisin' Whittier Blvd. on Friday and Saturday night outside of Bob's Big Boy … the original Guasti Homestyle Café in Ontario [Calif.], where so many of the race teams 'fueled up' on breakfast before heading to Pomona.” — Ken Hamer

"Jolly Jack Williams — former Top Fuel driver, ad man, promoter of races and pyramids — pacing around chewing on his unlit cigar … John 'Zookeeper' Mulligan quietly puffing on his stogie contemplating his next run … Dick Landy clutching one between his teeth looking dandy … CJ Hart would puff on an old stogie, too, gave him a look of distinction. Also on several occasion, CJ, riding his little Honda motorbike, would charge the starting line, lock up the brakes, and slide across it sideways to the roaring approval of a cheering crowd.” — Alan Earman

“K-rail guardrails; you could see much more as the rails were lower than today’s concrete walls … watering stations. Dragsters would gather at a multihosed spigot to drain and refill the blocks after a run. … pit passes. Only the true drag racing lover would step up for another $1.50 to $3 for the privilege of leisurely touring the pits to get close to the cars and drivers … stands very close to the starting line. Some stands were so close to the fire-up road the zoomie headers would blow your hair if you had a front-row seat … ‘Weed Sweeper’ headers … Jr. Fuel … dragster bodies that were show-car quality works of art with paint to match.” — Terry Spencer.

“Quarter-mile nitro drag racing … the smell of real rubber ... real rivalries …the smell of In-N-Out burgers cooking behind the concession stand at Irwindale Raceway ... Moroso parties in the middle of nowhere at Indy ... having a rag in your pocket meant you were part of the crew and you walked out to the starting line with the car ...class acts like Paul Candies ... watching drag racing and figure skating on the same TV show … 32-car Top Fuel fields … when Indy was really something special … when you went to a national event, the local racers showed up and made each event a little different … Mazzarella ‘Pig Outs’ at the Finals.” — Michael Anderson

“US 30 dragstrips in York, Pa., and Gary, Ind. … roller starters (starting line at Lions, pits in Englishtown) …Fuel Altereds in Comp Eliminator ... hydrazine ... the English Leather Calendar Girls ... ‘Broadway Bob’ Metzler.” Mike Lewis

Zane Shubert's round-wheel-equipped Top Fueler (1965)

“A motel parking lot full of the guys you only read about working on their cars … Having your parents never find out that you skipped school and hitched a ride out to the track to see the guys from the motel parking lot race … Tech in a supermarket parking lot ...  A trip to Indy in an old Ford van pulling an open trailer with your best effort and life savings sitting out in the open ... Very quietly and discreetly spending the night in the pits because all the money went to just getting there, never mind getting home ... Having a car that didn't need much between rounds so you could catch up on sleep with a shop rag over your eyes, laying on a jacket, on the open trailer, during fuel qualifying … a section of grandstand downtrack full of the guys like Prudhomme, McEwen, Roland ... old West Texas Dragstrips … Winston and Miss Winston … ping pong or rubber balls in injector stacks all somehow chained together ... all 32 of them little red balls in Ivo's injectors … 'You oil it down, you clean it up!' … Being able to get a junkyard engine, go fuel racing, and not having it blow up because you know how to run it … the things you used to do that you wouldn't dare do now … trophy girls ... cam grinder rivalries … car manufacturer rivalries ... round steering wheels on dragsters.” — Richard Pederson

“You left out Pontiac and Buick from your Chrysler vs. Ford vs. Chevy vs. Oldsmobile in Top Fuel listing. There certainly were a number of racers that used Pontiac and Buick engines back in the day (Eddie Hill’s dual Pontiac engine quad rear tire car and ‘T.V. Tommy’ Ivo’s dual- and later four-engine Nailhead Buick powered cars). ... The variety of engines and chassis being used. Everyone was always experimenting with someone different; unlike the cookie-cutter cars today, where they are all pretty much the same. ... race team and manufacturer rivalries like between Stone, Woods & Cook and ‘Big John’ Mazmanian and how the Engle/Iskenderian ‘Camshaft Wars’ played out each week in the Drag News and National Dragster advertisements." — Robert Nielsen


Nielsen, and quite a few others, didn’t know about some of the things that I wrote and thought that a little explanation might be in order.

The 10-10-10 tune-up: This one wasn’t as well-known as I thought it was, but I remember hearing about it. It was the 1960s tuner’s Hail Mary combination: 10 percent more nitro, 10 percent more blower, 10 degrees (or 10 percent in some people’s books) more magneto. Mix well. Close your eyes. Austin Coil tells me that this was something that teams were more likely to do when they went from running at sea level to altitude “and that was still a bit too much.”

As Jim Nicoll is shut off, Don Schumacher, middle, prepares to move in to face "the Snake" in the 1973 Tulsa, Okla., PDA event Funny Car final.

The break rule: If a winning driver were unable to return for the next round due to breakage or a crash, the losing driver was allowed back in his spot. There are some famous examples of final rounds where three cars towed to the starting line, with the third team (the one with low e.t. of the two eliminated semifinalists) hoping that one of the other two couldn’t fire or would run into trouble before staging. The most famous example of this is from the 1973 PDA event in Tulsa, Okla., when Don Schumacher was waiting in the wings when Don Prudhomme and Jim Nicoll staged for the Funny Car final. Nicoll developed an oil leak and a header fire and had to be shut off, and Schumacher, who already had his engine running just in case, moved in to face (but would ultimately lose to) “the Snake.”

Additionally, for the longest time, the Pro classes allowed for unqualified drivers to make the first-round call if one of the qualifiers couldn’t make it. That practice was discontinued about a decade ago because of allegations of lower-financed (but qualified) teams selling their spots to big, sponsored names who didn’t qualify (the qualified car would suddenly be “broken” overnight).

“Ragged” gloves: As in “gloves with rags attached,” and not as a state of worn-out gloves. Back in the old front-engine days, when top-end oil baths were not uncommon, some drivers would tape rags to the knuckle side of their gloves to be able to quickly wipe clear their goggles if they became covered with oil during a run.

Arnie Beswick has modified the round steering wheel in his Funny Car, cutting off part of it (visible just above the injector) in what might have been one of the first moves toward a butterfly wheel.

Round steering wheels on Funny Cars: Yes, believe it or not, the butterfly steering wheel didn’t always exist. It evolved because the ever-tightening cockpits, allowing drivers to give it a quarter turn to slide between their legs as they squeezed into the business seat. You can see the progression of this in some photos, where Funny Car drivers had three quarters of a round wheel for this purpose. I have no idea who invented the butterfly wheel.

“Leavers Lose”: Also known as "Losers Leave." A one-time popular alternative to the Christmas Tree, it featured a single-lit amber bulb followed by a randomly timed green-light start.

Real bleach in the “bleach box”: The use of actual bleach helped heat, clean, and soften the rubber of early tires, but as you know, it’s also very destructive and caustic stuff. After NHRA began using sprayed traction compound to prepare racetracks in the early 1970s, bleach was prohibited because it destroyed the traction compound.

Unlimited qualifying/working on cars in the lanes: Some of you hadn’t heard about this or had questions. Longtime Division 3 photog Tom Schiltz remembers it well. “Before NHRA instituted qualifying sessions, they used to pull a percentage of cars in each class out of the lanes to qualify, so you never knew when you would get a qualifying shot, so immediately after your run, you pulled back into the lanes and waited,” he wrote. “It might be an hour, or it might be never. You might get five qualifying runs, or you might get one. The true fans would sit in the stands from sunup to sundown (no lights at Indy) so we wouldn’t miss anything. NHRA had a rule that there were to be no race cars in the pits overnight, so the racers were forced to work on their cars at the hotels. It was a great part of the experience to go hotel hopping at night to watch the action. We always knew that during the Nationals, Tommy Ivo stayed at the Howard Johnson’s on West Washington Street. He’d park his rig right on the street, unload, and work on the car right there.”

I had a chance to talk about their very subject with Graham Light, when he and I were stuck in Dallas last weekend with a three-hour layover en route to Norwalk. Light, as some may recall, raced Top Fuel throughout the 1970s, most famously with the Bubble-Up team car to Gordie Bonin. He told me that racers would hop the fence early in the morning, before the pit gates opened, open their trailers, then stealthily push their cars to the lanes and begin working on them. Back then, of course, there were no pneumatic tools, so a small toolbox would do. When the gates opened, they could bring more stuff from the trailer with the tow vehicle. They’d run, get back in line, drop the pan to check the bearings, pull a cylinder head if needed, and wait. You could even test-fire the cars in the lanes. Then NHRA officials would come and take 50 or so cars from different lanes to run. Crazy!

Push starts: Nielsen also added some commentary about the fire-up process so popular in the 1960s (and in today’s staged Cacklefests). “I personally think this was one of the more exciting things that is missing from drag racing today. Sure, it may have slowed down the process of getting the cars to the starting line, but there was nothing like seeing them come down the fire-up road in front of the spectator stands (or, at times, even the opposite way on the track), hear the clutch engage the engine, build oil pressure, and then have the engine come to life when the magneto switch was hit! Of course, this was followed by a carefully (and sometimes not so carefully) choreographed turn around behind the starting line, followed by a burnout and, without the aid of a reverser, the crewmembers having to push the car back to the starting line. And if the driver was a little upset (pissed off) at his crew, he might even drag the clutch a little to make their job a little harder.”

Push starts were eliminated with the start of the 1976 season. Reversers were made mandatory in 1980.

"Grumpy" spreading the "gold dust" at Byron Dragway (Richard Brady photo)

Gold Dust rosin: Powdered rosin that was spread, sometimes in copious amounts, on the starting line to enhance traction; it’s still used on occasion at our national events. It literally looks like gold dust. Back in the match race days, especially in Pro Stock, the spreading of the gold dust was a big production, oftentimes with the driver and/or crews personally applying it and using a broom to smooth and spread it. It was quite a site to see someone like Bill “Grumpy” Jenkins doing the manual labor before he performed the final part of the ritual, “burning in” the rosin with a huge burnout.

Cheater Slicks: Nielsen also did a great job explaining this one for me: “There was a time when stock classified cars had a requirement that the rear tires need a minimum of at least two treads running the circumference of the tire at least 1/16-inch deep. There were a number of tire producers, like Inglewood Tire (Inglewood, Calif.), that took their regular slicks and added the two treads to them, making them 'cheater slicks.' I had these on my '56 Ford, and they resulted in a minor accident when, on a rainy, wet road, I hydroplaned into a street light. Fortunately, this was at moderately low speed, so no real damage was done, except to the light pole and my front bumper!”

The slang: “Dropping the laundry” (deploying the parachute); “nailing the anchors” (hitting the brakes); “driving it out the back door” (the finish-line speed trap used to span the finish line, 66 feet before to 66 feet after, so when drivers stayed on the gas past the finish line to get a better speed, they were “driving it out the back door”); “brain bucket” (helmet); “smoking the hoops” (losing traction and spinning the tires); “running the can” (running 100 percent nitro; sometimes also described as running "the can, lid, and label!"); “putting a leg out” (breaking a connecting rod so that it pokes out through the block).

That was fun! Thanks for all the contributions. I thought I had made a pretty thorough list, but you guys outdid yourself. Such great memories; thanks for helping me keep them alive. See ya next week.

Things That Aren't Here AnymoreFriday, July 04, 2014
Posted by: Phil Burgess

You know me -- it doesn’t take much to distract me and send me plummeting off course down some uncharted lane of drag racing errata. You know how you can go to YouTube to see one video and keep following related videos until you realize it’s 4 in the morning? Yeah, same thing with me when it comes to flipping through old issues of National Dragster.

So there I was late last week, flipping through the 1969 U.S. Nationals issue looking for the identity of someone’s blown engine when I stumbled across the photo below. It took my breath away.

It’s a shot of “Big John” Mazmanian’s Funny Car stripped down to the bare chassis in some Indy-area hotel parking lot for the team to work on. It’s something you’d never see today but was a fairly common sight in the 1960s and even into the 1970s. Hotel parking lots had plenty of level, spare space, usually on asphalt, to tackle the jobs, making for far better working conditions than the typical grass or gravel pit areas of the time. There are horror stories of teams tearing apart engines on hotel beds or using the tub to wash parts, of left-behind towels and sheets soaked with oil and grease. Oh, the humanity.

There's a show that airs on our PBS stations out here called Things That Aren't Here Anymore, which shows archival photos and videos of attractions and landmarks long gone from the landscape, and this photo got me to thinking about how much things have changed -- sometimes for the better, sometimes not – and things that just aren't there anymore in drag racing. It’s just a list off the top of my head, without much more thought than it takes to tap out the letters on my keyboard and guaranteed to be missing some of your personal favorites, but here goes:

When Top Fuel cars smoked the tires for most of the run, and it was a good thing.

Mailboxes used for injector scoops on dragsters.

Practically unlimited qualifying runs, with nitro teams pulling their cars right back into the staging lanes to work on the cars.

Tuning the engine by reading the spark plugs and bearings.

Push-road fire-ups.

Pits areas defined by nothing but the space between your car and the next, with fans on all sides.

Waiting for weeks to see the race on TV or to learn who won from a magazine.

Pro Stock and Funny Car runs that weren’t the epitome of perfection but had front ends flying high on the leave.

When the finish-line “lights” actually used lights that shined back to sensors in the guardrail instead of infrared beams darting out to reflector-covered foam boxes. When someone took out the lights, it was a long wait for them to be rewired.

The glorious pre-run Funny Car ritual: long burnout, fast backup, dry hop across the line, back up, dry hop, dry hop … stage. Remembering the drama that was built into the sequence, with the engines barking at one another on the hops, still gives me goose bumps.

Real bleach in the “bleach box.”

When you had to strain to hear the announcer call out the e.t. and speed because there were no scoreboards.

Crazy-looking gassers and Modified Coupes and Roadsters that looked as if they were dreamed up by kids with leftover parts from our plastic-model kits.

Breather masks and open-face helmets.

“Sunday, Sunday, Sunday!” radio ads.

Buster Couch, on the starting line.

Steve Evans at the finish line.

Fire burnouts.

Twin-engine cars.

The break rule.

Top Fuel wheel pants.

Rear-engine Funny Cars. (Or is it mid-engine?)

Front-engine dragsters.

The goofy way that Top Fuel was settled at national events in the 1960s, with Saturday’s winner sitting out to face Sunday’s winner.

The whole, mismatched Top Eliminator setup for national events in the 1950s.

The Manufacturers Meet.

Huge television cameras on the starting line.

Engine-builder rivalries: Black vs. Pink vs. Waterman vs. Montrelli.

Manually shifted and -clutched Pro Stockers.

Ronnie Sox and Bill Jenkins, two out of three at Aquasco.

“Ragged” gloves.

When a leather jacket was the ultimate in driver protection.

Driver nicknames and colorful car names.

The Drag News Mr. Eliminator list.

Six-foot-tall trophies that took two people to lift.

Acrobatic flag starters.

Bernie Partridge, Dave McClelland, and Bob Frey calling the action.

“Jungle Jim” Liberman.

Roller starters.

Cheater slicks.

Beer cans covering the ends of the header pipes.

Upholstered cockpits.

“Loser’s Leave.”

Gold Dust rosin.

The "V for Victory" salute in the lights.

Open trailers.

Ramp trucks.

Duallies and fifth-wheel trailers, the ultimate fashion statement of the 1970s Funny Car troops.

Round steering wheels on Funny Cars.

The 10-10-10 tune-up.

Rocket cars.

D-ring parachute release levers.

The slang: “Dropping the laundry”; “lunching the engine”; “nailing the anchors”; “driving it out the back door”; “brain bucket”; “hauling the mail”; “smoking the hoops”; “running the can”; “putting a leg out,” etc.

The between-runs entertainment: Bob Correll’s Kitecycle, Lee “Iron Man” Irons skiing behind his motorcycle, “Bullet” Bailey being dragged behind a car, “Benny the Bomb,” and so many more.

64 Funny Cars!

Pro Stock engine weight breaks.

Chrysler vs. Ford vs. Chevy vs. Oldsmobile -- in Top Fuel!

Pre-race parade of qualifiers.

Leslie Lovett and Bill Crites.

Wally and Barbara Parks.

Well, that's my list. Let's see yours.

Happy a safe and happy Fourth of July weekend.

Posted by: Phil Burgess

The weather was beautiful, the scenery was majestic, and the racing topflight last weekend in New England, where I was working the Auto-Plus NHRA New England Nationals at New England Dragway, NHRA’s second visit to the nostalgic and historic track. It was a great time to be at the drags. Then – BAM! – Friday brought bad news and Saturday even more, with the passing of two more drag racers from the glory days of yesteryear, Norm Weekly and Mart Higginbotham.

 
The Frantic Four dragster (above) was one of the most feared Top Fuel cars in 1963-64, but there's not a single photo of the foursome together in our files, probably because Ron Rivero (below right) was in the service a great deal of the time. (Below left) From left, Norm Weekly, Jim Fox, and Dennis Holding.
   

Weekly was one fourth of the memorable Frantic Four Top Fuel team that terrorized Southern California in the early 1960s. Weekly – known as “Stormin’ Norman” for his aggressive driving style – partnered with Ron Rivero, Jim Fox, and Dennis Holding to create the foursome that actually sprang out of two pairs: Fox and Holding and Weekly and Rivero. But in January 1963, as they were preparing to challenge for the No. 3 spot on the Drag News Mr. Eliminator list, Weekly and Rivero blew both of their engines in their new Rod Peppmuller-built dragster. Fox and Holding, meanwhile, had a sweet 331 engine (punched out to 342 cid) they’d put together during a six-month hiatus from the sport. They pooled their resources, which was a common scenario in those days, and the Frantic Four was officially born. (Born, but not named until a few weeks later when announcer Stan Adams dubbed them such after witnessing their frantic run from Lions Drag Strip in Long Beach, Calif., to Pomona for gaskets for between-rounds repairs; Adams also gets credit for dubbing Weekly as “Stormin’ Norman.”)

The team’s success was immediate and plentiful despite its deployment of its high-revving, relatively small Chrysler against the more common 392-powered entries of its foes. In one of its first outings, at the 1963 Winternationals, it set top speed of the meet at 188.66 mph.

On Dec. 8, 1963, the Frantic Four, now using 353 power, defeated Chris Karamesines 2-1 in Pomona for the Drag News No. 1 Mr. Eliminator spot when “the Greek” crossed the centerline in the rubber match. Karamesines congratulated Weekly after the race by saying, “Take good care of the No. 1 spot, kid.” They did, holding the No. 1 spot on the prestigious Drag News Top 10 list multiple times during the 1964 and 1965 seasons, and the team also set top speed at the 1964 Nationals with a blast of 202.24 mph.

The Frantic Four also became one of the first teams to race two dragsters when Weekly also drove the Orange County Metal Processing entry with a Fox & Holding engine. It defeated the Waterman & Goodsell entry for the No. 8 position on the Drag News list, giving the team the distinction of having two of the nation’s top 10 cars.

After leaving the Frantic Four in 1965, Weekly drove a few more dragsters, wheeling the Purple Gang (Rapp-Rossi-Maldonado) entry, Don Johnson's Beachcomber, and Ted Gotelli's Gotelli Speed Shop dragster, and also briefly drove some Funny Cars, most notably Karamesines' Barracuda and Doug Thorley's AMX.

"Stormin' Norman," doing his thing

After Weekly left the team, Rivero, who had just returned after a stint in the Army, became the driver, and even though Holding also had departed in 1965 for a career in the hot rodding aftermarket industry, Rivero and Fox continued to enjoy success, including a runner-up finish at the 1966 Hot Rod Magazine Championships, back-to-back NASCAR Top Fuel championships in 1967 and 1968, and a huge victory at the 1968 Bakersfield March Meet. The team switched to Funny Car in 1969 with its Frantic Ford Mustang. Rivero left in 1970, leaving Fox as the only original member of the Frantic Four, and he continued to campaign the Funny Cars with a variety of drivers.

There’s too much to really be told here, but there’s a great repository of Frantic Four stuff here, with photos and more. Be sure to check out the parts that Weekly himself wrote, called "Stormin Stories."

I also reached out to Fox, Rivero, and Holding by emails supplied to me by Steve Gibbs and was pleasantly surprised to hear within 30 minutes from Holding, who was calling from, of all places, Brazil, where he has a home (and is watching World Cup games from air-conditioned comfort instead of fighting the masses).

“People forget that we were only together from January 1963 through November 1965,” said Holding, who also oversaw the business aspect of the team. “Norm always idolized Tommy Ivo and motivated us to go out on tour. For Norm, there was no greater motivation than the thought of beating the guy he respected so much. I come from the school of ‘Get ’er done,’ so I had a competitive streak, too. That’s what made it work for all of us. We liked to win and didn’t like to have to put it on the trailer until the end of the day.

“Norm really enjoyed driving the car; I’m sure it scared him a few times, but he never talked about it. We liked to win and needed to win because we didn’t have any money. We were all working multiple jobs to keep the dream alive, especially when we added the OCMP car.”

After the racing ended, the Frantic Four were only infrequently in touch. It took Holding’s dogged determination -- with the support of the old-school community, including original chassis builder Peppmuller and members of the Standard 1320 news group -- to re-create their famous car (the original had fallen victim years earlier to a metal shredder) to bring them all together again. Rivero had well-documented the car’s successes and had lot of photos, and the car was painstakingly and accurately re-created in 2001, along with a period-correct push truck and trailer.

The car made its debut at the California Hot Rod Reunion with Weekly smoking the tires through a tremendous burnout. The four were officially reunited as California Hot Rod Reunion honorees in 2004 and inducted into Don Garlits’ International Drag Racing Hall of Fame in 2008.

I’ll conclude with this wonderful and funny note composed by Weekly’s daughters, Kelley and Kerrey, who asked that it be shared with the drag racing community:

“ ‘Stormin' Norman’ is no longer with us. He crossed the finish line last night, peacefully in his sleep with his daughter, Kerrey, at his bedside. Ornery until the end, he spent his last days checking out the various ladies who happened to walk by his room <grin> and comment about how much money everything was costing him. He arrived on the scene in September 1942. A California kid through and through, he enjoyed 71 years of smoking, drinking, racing, boating, gardening, reading Western novels, canning his Nitro Pickles, making money and telling stories about the good ol' days. He wanted everyone to know that he had ‘the best recipe for chocolate chip cookies’ and his daughters are sworn to secrecy about it, along with the Nitro Pickle recipe. <big grin>. Since 2001, the grumpy old man with a kind heart loved hanging out with friends and fans at the many events he attended with the Frantic Four. He always wanted to put on the best show for the fans. Norm is survived by his smart-ass children (Kelley and Kerrey), super-smart-ass grandchildren (there's a lot of them), two sisters (they've prayed for his soul since he was 5), three ex-wives, and probably many more children that we just can't mention <big evil grin>.”

Steve Reyes photos

Higginbotham may not be in a fancy Hall of Fame like Weekly, he never won a national event, and with his bookkeeper glasses, he certainly didn't look the part of a Funny Car racer, but I’d put him in the Insider Hall of Fame if such a thing existed. I never met Mart, but those of you who have been reading this column for years know that he has been a frequent and incredible contributor. I exchanged dozens of emails with him over the years, filled with engaging and insightful comments and notes, and we had planned to meet up in Dallas at the national event last year, but it never happened, and I’m very sad about that.

His tragic passing Saturday afternoon, in a freak highway accident in Dallas that’s still almost impossible to believe, left me not only stunned but also incredibly sad. I won’t go into the details of the accident – you can find them online if you Google his name – but I can think of it in no other terms than “Wrong place, wrong time,” which wasn’t often the case for Mart. He had his hands in a lot of drag racing history. You might be tempted to think it was one of those “When your number is up …” kind of deals, but I think that Mart still had a lot more living to do, even at age 70.

You can learn a lot about Mart’s career in the article that I wrote — with copious help from Mart — about his longtime former partner, “Big Mike” Burkhart (The Legend of "Big Mike" Burkhart). While Mart didn’t have the legacy or number of glory days of fellow Texans like Richard Tharp and Raymond Beadle, he was still one of them.

When I got the email about Mart’s death from one of his friends, Jimmy Garritson, I texted Tharp to share the news. Tharp, who lives not far from the North Dallas Tollway where the accident occurred and snarled traffic for miles, knew of the wreck from the news but not the identity of its lone victim. He quickly called Beadle to share the sad news. That’s how close a community it still is for these retired quarter-mile heroes.

Mart apparently had shared with Garritson some of our past correspondence, so he knew I’d want to know of his passing. Same story with Bob Wolcott, who was another friend of Mart’s and also emailed me.

“Mart talked a lot about his friendship with you, and I thought you needed to know,” said Garritson, which was incredibly touching to me. “He got me to reading your column and gave me your email address in case I ever wanted to write to you myself, but I never thought it would be for this.”

According to Garritson, the two were regular meal companions and talked just about every day, about everything and nothing, and he fondly remembers Mart regaling him with his racing stories.

I wish I had gotten the chance to ask Mart about the time he beat the snake ...

“He could be a crusty character, but it was fun listening to the stories,” said Garritson, who owns a shop in Garland and races in Top Dragster. “We’d go out and eat, or try; I’d call him ‘No-show Mart’; everything I’m telling to you I’ve said – and worse – to his face, but that was the kind of friendship we had. He was a nice guy and a great friend.

“He was just a great character. He told me the story one time about towing his ’63 Corvette from Texas to Georgia with Paul Adams to have it worked on. They were rolling along at 90 to 100 mph and got pulled over by a cop somewhere in Alabama. They pulled over, and the cop ordered them to show their hands. Once the cop found out they were hot rodders, he took a liking to them, and they schmoozed their way out of that deal. That was just Mart.”

Wolcott and Mart often traveled with Don Ross and Bobby and Ruthann Langley to the Hot Rod Reunion in Bowling Green, Ky., with Langley’s famous Scorpion dragster in tow. “The year after Bobby’s death, Mart, Paul Adams, and I took the car to Bowling Green as Don was unable to attend. Mart was a very friendly guy and helpful, too. He was a very astute businessman, with his own accounting firm. I met Mart back when he first started with Mike Burkhart. ‘Big Mike’ grew up in my same neighborhood in North Dallas. At the time, I was in the speed equipment business (speed shop), and any and every one that raced in the late ‘40s, ‘50s, ‘60s, ‘70s traded with us, so I knew all of them. The Dallas racing fraternity still holds a reunion every year.”

Reader Bill McLauchlan also wrote to remind me that Mart was nearly part of a world championship effort in 1972, when he loaned his Drag-On Vega to the late Butch Maas to run the World Finals in Amarillo, Texas. They qualified No. 1 and reached the semifinals before breaking the rear end. You can read more about that, and Mart’s thoughts on it, in this column I wrote in 2010 about Maas after his death.

Mart is survived by his wife, Linda; son, Ryan; daughter, Kaylee; grandson, Brayden; a granddaughter due in September; sisters Cindy and Peggy; brother Ralph; and numerous nieces, nephews, aunts, uncles, and cousins. Services were held Tuesday.

There was a nice obituary about Mart in the Dallas Morning News citing his racing history, and I learned a few things. I didn’t know that a) his given name was Joseph Martin Higginbotham IV or that b) he was the grandson of one of Dallas' founding fathers, JM Higginbotham Jr., whose buildings are historically honored in downtown Dallas and the West End.

Funny the things you learn after you lose someone, but sad that you can’t talk with them about them. I’ll miss talking to Mart.
 

Your dads (and moms)Friday, June 20, 2014
Posted by: Phil Burgess

Thanks so much for all of the kind words on my Father’s Day article last Friday. It was an article that I’d long wanted to write but nonetheless found it difficult, both emotionally and in straying from our usual fare here, but your responses made it all worthwhile.

Several of you also wanted to share your stories about the father (and mother) figures in your life, so that’s what we’re going to celebrate today. Thanks to all for sharing.

(Above) Best Appearing Crew at the Mile-High Nationals; Dad is third from left. (Below) Dad was honored by Tony Schumacher’s team for his Vietnam service. 

Kevin Montoya: “So many of the traits that you listed about fathers are true about my dad, and as you say in your column, the dads of the gearheads and pit rats that follow your column regularly have a lot of common traits. Many of the things you wrote are true with my dad.

“On top of being a dad that has taught me many things in life, my dad introduced me to cars and the sport of drag racing. We attended the Mile-High Nationals fairly regularly while I was a kid, and once my brother turned 16, we ventured into the sport with a ’64 Ford Falcon that my dad’s friend had parked years before. After the Falcon, we got into a dragster and worked our way up to Super Comp, where we shared some success at local Bandimere Speedway races and some Division 5 Lucas Oil Series races (one runner-up finish).

“As I look at my life and reflect upon my dad this Father’s Day, I realize that my dad has molded me in many ways (good and bad), and he has also brought into my life a sport and hobby that I love dearly. The memories I have with and of my dad at the racetrack will be some of the best memories of my life, and though we have stopped racing for the time being (due to my own kids being busy chasing their hobbies), I long for the days that my dad and I shared at various tracks. It is my dream to win a divisional or national event with my dad.

“One of the best racing memories I have is a divisional race at Douglas Motorsports Park in Douglas, Wyo. It was one of our first Super Comp races, and we could not get the car to run the index. We battled all weekend and could not come close. We stayed at a hotel that weekend, and driving to the track on Sunday morning for round one, we were laughing about how we would at least be on our way home early and would beat the summer Wyoming heat. We went many rounds that day, suffered through a faulty transbrake, and were battered by the heat (we bought sno-cones in the pits, and to this day, that was the best sno-cone I ever had), and we enjoyed an awesome day of racing. We also beat a young racer (Rod Fuller) in round one that day. When Rod was driving for David Powers, I had him sign a hero card at the Mile-High Nationals that I have on my office wall that says, ‘To Kevin: Thanks for beating me in Douglas, Wyoming. ... ’ There are racing stories and memories of laughs, arguments, beating racers that we still think very highly of (we were amazed we raced with and beat them at times), and just memories I hold in my mind of seeing my dad at the racetrack, being proud of the operation that he assembled along with his friends and racing buddies Bill and Harley.

"I have never said this, but I thank my dad for introducing me to one of the loves in my life: drag racing. I also thank my dad for allowing a young man (no longer am I young) to get into a race car, drive it, and experience what many boys want to experience in life but don’t get the chance to experience. I hope I can give my boys the same memories and experiences that my dad has given to me. Happy Father’s Day, Dad (Tony Montoya). Thanks for all you have given me, allowed me to experience, and for the memories and experiences that I cherish more than you will ever know.”

Fred Simmons, Milford, Maine: “One of my earliest memories, relative to racing, was when I was 6 or 8 years old and my father was working as a salesman for Bowes Seal Fast. They sponsored an Indy car in the early ‘60s, and he had this yellow metal model of an Indy roadster that I can still picture in my mind. I remember watching the Indy 500 with him, being intrigued by the racing and him telling me how dangerous racing was.

“I was introduced to drag racing by a friend in my early teens and immediately fell in love with the combination of racing and show-quality cars and wanted a car of my own to race. My father helped me locate a ‘65 Plymouth Fury with a blown engine and an old open stock car trailer. With the help of a friend, who owned a service station, we rebuilt the engine (my father made an engine stand for the project) and added four-wheel surge brakes to the trailer as they were required by law in New Hampshire. It was a good thing we added those brakes as the first time out, we were cut off by a passing car and then stopped by a New Hampshire state trooper (checking for brakes on the trailer) just before the gate going into New England Dragway. I was so nervous the first few times we raced the car that my father drove it to the track towed behind my ‘66 Plymouth Fury III. I don’t know who was more excited when I won my first trophy, my father or me. Like most people, I ended up selling my car and trailer when I got married, bought a house, and started a family.

"My father passed away from smoking-related cancer, like many of the greatest generation, when my son was very young. While he did get to see me introduce my son to cars, like he had done for me, he did not get to see him race and share in the excitement of his successes both on the track and in a racing-related business. My son and I often reflect on how happy and proud my father would be and how we wish he could have been here to share in my son’s accomplishments. I also know how happy my father would be that my son’s business and home are located in the town he grew up in.

"I’m writing to you sitting in a hotel room in China while my son is out on the Hot Rod Power Tour with a smile on my face thankful for what my father gave to me and what I’ve been fortunate to be able to pass on to my son. Thanks again for the great story and the impetus to reflect on many fond memories of my father.”


That was pretty cool, but what really surprised me was the email that showed up a few days later from Fred Simmons Jr.

“My name is Fred Simmons Jr., and I am writing to you after my dad forwarded me an email that he sent to you about HIS dad and how he got started in the car hobby, so I figured I would share part of my story, which might actually be a continuation of MY dad's story.
 
"After reading my dad's story that he sent to you, I realized I had never heard how he got started in the car/drag racing hobby, so it was kind of cool to read about it; however, not much has seemed to change. He STILL gets nervous on the way to the racetrack when we are racing, and he STILL doesn't even drive to the track when we're racing. ... I DO!!!
 
“I would say my dad and I are pretty damn close. I don't EVER remember a time where he wasn't there for me. He has always been supportive of everything I ever done or wanted to do and has always helped me achieve the goals and dreams I have set out to accomplish. Though sometimes I feel I am still struggling through building up our custom performance car business, my dad always seems to come in to the shop on Saturdays and lend a hand; it sometimes drives me nuts, but I figure that's all payback from me driving him nuts from when I was a kid!
 
“I'd like to share a story of one of my greatest memories I have had with my dad drag racing. I'd also like to tell you a cool story about that old engine stand that my grandfather made for my dad's first engine build. As long as I can remember, I have been passionate about cars and drag racing. I'm sure my dad could give you an exact age, but cars and racing have always been a part of my life. At about 3 years old, my dad started taking me to NHRA national events down at Englishtown. We have SO many memories down there from my early years. We used to make suicide day trips from our hometown of Milford, Mass., to E-town (about a 4.5-hour drive each way): Get up early, drive down, watch racing all day, and drive back. Crazy, you would think with a 3-year-old, right? But as I'm sure he would tell you, I NEVER EVER complained or wanted to go home; better yet, I would make car sounds with my mouth ALL DAY. I would even leave the earmuff ear protectors on my head because the car noises I was making sounded cooler to me that way!

“I got my start in drag racing with the Jr. Drag Racing League. I was able to get a ride driving Lebanon Valley Dragway's track-sponsored car. We had a good go at racing, won a few races, made a few special tools that I STILL use to this day in our shop, and had LOTS of fun. As I grew older and was ready to head off to college, the Jr. dragster got sold, along with our enclosed trailer, and into our home garage comes a 1989 Chevy Cavalier V-6 automatic and an open car trailer. Over a short period of time, we turned a worn-out street car into a, well, not-so-worn-out bracket machine. We quickly got a handle on the car and were able to win a track championship at New England Dragway with the car in 2003. That was awesome; we had so much fun doing it, and we have PLENTY of stories to tell about our road to the championship. But that's not the story I want to share.

“The following year after winning the championship, we decided to start traveling to go racing. Dad always said, ‘You will only get better if you race better competition.’ Well, traveling just so happened to bring us back to Englishtown. The NHRA Sport Compact Series was in full swing around this time. So having a front-driver Cavalier, we said, ‘Let’s do it.’ We made the trek with our Cavalier and open trailer down to E-town, just like old times. However, instead of him driving me down there, I was driving him, towing the car trailer and talking along the way. The racing in E-town is ALWAYS tough, and that day was no different. We battled through a tough bracket field, making it through to the finals. Dad was nervous as hell; even though he tried not to show it so that I wouldn't get nervous, I could tell he was. He always put on a good game face, but checking the tire pressures 100 times before we raced gave him away (sorry, Dad).

"As soon as I launched the car, I knew it was going to be one heck of a race. As I was looking over my shoulder waiting to see my competitor get closer as he was chasing me down, I never saw him; a quick pedal job at the top end gave us the win light!!! Taking home my first national event win and a Wally! As I was about to make the turnoff at the top end, it was like I had a flashback of all the memories we had at this track when I was young, how many hours we spent walking the pits looking at cars and how many hours we spent in the stands watching racing and watching the Christmas Tree run after run, pretending like it was a practice Tree and mashing my foot down like I was mashing the gas pedal on a race car. It all just sort of sunk in how special that one run could be. Once I grabbed the time slip and made the turn up towards the pits, I could see the smile on my dad’s face from about 200 feet away. My mom, my cousin (who was my crew chief), and my friend Jon (who helped dial the car in) were all there, but it was my dad's smile that I saw. After getting out of the car, he gave me a big excited hug, and it was then I knew that this win would always stick with me as one of the best. That Wally is currently sitting on my dad's desk in his new mantown (my old room now that I've moved out), where I'm sure he enjoys looking at it every time he's in there.
 
“That old engine stand that my grandfather made, well, it’s still around. I built my first engine on it, too! Several years after we won that national event, we started building a newer-body-style Cavalier with a turbo to further compete in the NHRA Sport Compact Series, and that same old engine stand was what I built my first motor on. That SAME engine stand is STILL in our shop with an engine on it for one of our customers, providing that person with the memory of his first engine build. Sort of cool I think, even though my grandfather might not have been in the flesh to see what I have become and what my father has been able to give to me, he is there every day in spirit watching it all from an engine-stand view.”

Joel Brunk, Centennial, Colo.: “When I was young, my dad was big into VWs. I have many memories of the huge Bug-Ins at OCIR, and later, him drag racing a pretty fast Bug at those events. However, the car that really brought us together was his 1965 Sunbeam Tiger. That car represents so much to me. He built it in ‘93-94, after I spent a year doing the body and paint work on it. I was in my early 20s at that time, and we were not getting along too well. However, this car brought us together. It gave us something to talk about other than what we were disagreeing on. I have very fond memories of finishing it (literally) the night before the ’94 Grand National Roadster Show. We came home with Best Sports Car of show! Carroll Shelby even stopped to talk to Dad for nearly 30 minutes about the car. He parked the car about 10 years ago after getting tired of it overheating. Other interests took over, and the car just sat.

“About two and a half years ago, he was diagnosed with internal melanoma. It is very rare and always terminal. In June of 2013, he was rushed to the hospital in San Francisco. I jumped on a plane and flew out that night. Most of the family was there, and we were crowding the hospital room. The second morning there, I was feeling pretty helpless. Dad and I started talking about the car and some of the memories it brought back. It was great medicine for him ... he perked up noticeably! I decided to drive to his house near Santa Cruz and see exactly what was needed to get it back on the road. He already had all the parts to address the cooling issue; I just needed to install them. Par for the course with this car, NOTHING went as planned! The new four-core aluminum radiator was just big enough that a stock water pump would not fit. The timing cover had two stripped holes. The thermostat housing was corroded ... you get the picture. After a few days, I was able to get everything together and running! The next trip out (two weeks later), he was back home. It was such a proud moment to take him for a ride in his car. After some more tweaking, we drove it to a small show-and-shine in late August. That was the last time he rode in the car. Sadly, he lost his gallant battle in October. The night he died, I just sat in the garage with the car and cried.
 
“I hope to instill the same passion and love for cars in my boy. He was not born into our family (we adopted him at 7 years old, 4 years ago), but he already loves cars. We went to Bandimere Speedway last month with tickets he earned from the Race to Read program. It reminded me of being at OCIR many years ago with my dad ... answering his questions, hearing him pick race winners, and asking drivers questions in the pits ... just like I did with my dad!  Father’s Day will never be the same without my dad around.”
 

Mark Watkins: “One of my favorite memories of growing up in south Santa Ana (my high school cross-country team used to regularly run by the old Santa Ana dragstrip that was foolishly turned into a regional airport) is working with my dad on his cars and trucks.

“I stood with him at Chief's auto supply on Bristol Street as he BS'd with the counter guy and bought oil for his 1963 Chevy 10 pickup. Castrol GTX, even before that famous racing family was a family.  I regularly was his tool chaser while he worked on our cars, and I grew pretty good at anticipating what tool he would need.

“He did two things that changed my life (other than whipping my ass when I screwed up). He introduced me to a man he worked with named Norm LaBell. Norm was a truck driver by day and fabricator by night. My dad took me over to his garage, and I saw the mechanical wonders (to me) Norm constructed with his own two hands. I left that garage believing I could learn to weld, grind, machine, and paint. If Norm could do it, so could I. Today, I have a small machine shop in my garage, and I happily build parts for my race car there.

“The other thing my dad did to change my life was in 1968. On a warm Saturday night, he took me to OCIR. We walked in on the spectator side at dusk, and I was instantly and permanently smitten with the smells, the colors, and the sounds of drag racing.”

Richard Pederson, Mesa, Ariz.: “I'll write a few lines about my dad, Perry Pederson. He couldn't put together an early-‘60s barbecue grill that I, a 7-year-old, came home from Sunday school and promptly pointed out how to put together correctly. He wasn't good at mechanical things, and he jokingly reasoned it must have skipped a generation because his father was a blacksmith and mechanic who could make or fix most anything. What I did get from my white-collar dad was an example of honesty, a good work ethic, the tenacity to do my best and finish what I started.

“Dad never said much about my cars and racing other than his disappointment how they consumed my time and drained my wallet. Having won several races locally with the car he'd seen me working on for a few years, it wasn't until that familiar Camaro appeared on TV (they did that back then) after winning the local national event, he then said he wanted to go to the races with me. The next year, I took him out on a Friday. In between our time passes, he and I toured the pits in a borrowed golf cart, but he needed to go home before seeing a fuel car run in person. He was impressed with the ‘friendly racers’ who knew me and how we raced ‘on the same track as John Force,’ one of a few names he had come to know of and liked. A man of few words, praise or criticism, on the way home, he told me how he now understood what I'd been doing all those years. That was the most meaningful thing he ever said to me. Dad never questioned anything I did after that, and neither did my more vocal mom.

“By 1991, a year after we won the Arizona Nationals (Kenney Vasseur won in my car), my dad was on dialysis three times a week, and it was quite a show of, dare I say, courage to come out to the races with me as he was weak and would be gone less than two years later. Most who knew of him were surprised to see him there and were quite gracious. Obviously one of my more endearing memories.”

Chris Williams: "My dad was a mechanical engineer and also could design about anything. He has loved cars and planes his whole life and used to race a 1929 Essex, just about like the one pictured here, in the late '40s. I can't imagine it was fast, but my friends' dads say my dad was the fastest guy in the Utica/Rome, N.Y., area. My dad says the car was not that fast, but he was a really good shifter. He built some timing equipment they used to use on quiet roads around Rome late at night. Before that, he built go-karts, and in the family closet up in Rome, there is a box of pictures of him in the Rome newspaper. He was quite famous for cruising around town on the go-kart at age 12 or so.

“Despite his love of cars, he really did not like noise. After begging for years, my dad took my brother and me to a Funny Car match race at the eighth-mile Utica Rome Dragway. It was 1972, and I recall two of the cars: the Hills Brothers 'Cuda with working headlights and the Shark Corvette. My boyhood idol, Phil Castronovo, was there to help with his '71 Mini Charger that he had sold to a fellow Utican, but I don't think the car was booked in, and it did not run. Anyway, my dad HATED the noise, burning Clorox, etc., and despite my brother and I having the time of our lives, he never would take us back. And that track booked in some great cars (Ivo, Muldowney, etc.). I think by the time I got my license, the strip had closed, so I never was able to go back.

“So my dad fostered my love of cars, but unlike your stepdad, my dad did not approve of any modifications, at least by the time I was around. He felt cars were designed the way they were designed and should not be altered in any way. It is a little odd how he became so conservative over time. He went to Watkins Glen when they still raced in the streets, drove to Indy for the 500, etc., but somehow he seriously mellowed.

“But if it was not for him, I would not be mechanical, would not know much about race cars, would not like sailing, would not have the education I have, etc. He is 88 and slipping but was, like your stepdad, an incredible influence on my life.”
 

Gary Watson, longtime driver of the Paddy Wagon wheelstander: “In 1956, at age 16, I won my first trophy in Dad’s Comet. You can take that 6-inch trophy and a dime and get a cup of coffee. He went on to support my racing from fuel dragsters to running a dragstrip for five years with a highlight of having Don Garlits there on Jan. 1, 1973 and a high temp of 39 degrees and 5,000 folks in the seats. 1973 was the start of the gas shortage and 55 mph, and I got his support when I quit a real job to go drag racing with a wheelstanding team of three cars (Paddy Wagon, Red Baron, Fugitive). He was not only a dad but a cheerleader.”
 

Mike Quigley: “Your article really touched me, but not for the reason you might think. I actually honor my mom. Sounds weird, but here's the story. When I was 5 and my brother 13, my dad up and moved to Florida. He left Mom with a ton of bills and a house that was one-third finished. He owed everyone in town. My aunt and uncle took my brother in, but I stayed with Mom. She finished the house mostly by herself (she hired for the heating and plumbing). Yes, she roofed it, did the hardwood floors and everything else. Even today at 93, she tells the story of working in the crawl space putting in insulation on Halloween when some neighborhood kids knocked on the door. She was directly under the door and yelled, ‘Come back later.’ She still laughs as she talks about the kids screaming and running home to their parents.

“As I grew up, she taught me to hunt, fish, and all things manly. She even tromped brush piles so I could shoot rabbits. When it came time to learn to drive, our old ‘58 Chevy Bel Air was the vehicle, and my uncle’s pasture was the location. Other than running over a few hay bales, I did pretty good. As my skills improved, Mom introduced me to the finer points of driving. That stopped when she was teaching me to turn donuts in the snow and ran the car into a ditch. A stern warning of ‘Don't you dare tell anyone’ was all it took. Later, when a local friend and male acquaintance loaned a then college freshman his son's 427/435-horse ‘Vette convertible to take his girlfriend out and he was too shy to really get on it, she took the keys and proceeded to smoke the tires through 1st and 2nd gears. 

“She also taught me as much as possible about mechanics (she ran a wrecker on her own a few times), not to the degree that your dad did, but enough to get me by. She traded cars at 90 and continues to keep me on my toes with quips and barbs. She was a mother and a father when that wasn't the norm.

“She was as much, or more, of a father than many men. Every time I watch a team tear down and rebuild a motor, I smile knowing that, at the right age, she could jump in and hold her own.”

Steve Huss: “My dad took me to my first drag race when I was 10 at Pomona. Saw the flying Hawaiian and have been to quite a few more since. This picture (at right) is of the last time my dad, brother, and myself went before he passed. Good times, good memories.”

Thanks for all of the great submissions. I hope that you guys have shared these thoughts with your dad or, if he’s not around, with people who knew him. Although it almost goes without saying, I’ll say it anyway: Tell the people you love how much you love them.

I was able to call my stepdad on Father’s Day (he was with my sister and my mom in Northern California for my nephew Matt’s college graduation and without Internet access) and have my sister show the column to him on her iPad. Even though I’ve told him many times over the years what he has meant to me, it was nice for him to know that I am proud enough of our relationship to share it with the world.
 

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