It’s a busy Wednesday here at National DRAGSTER
as we put the wraps on the Pro results issue from Topeka and the gang prepares to hustle out the door to head for this weekend’s big shindig in Chicago – the annual Torco Racing Fuels Route 66 NHRA Nationals and the companion Jegs Allstars competition – and I have to try to track down David Rampy somewhere along the way to interview him about his Comp win. It’s fair to say that of "Rambo’s" 68 wins – 56 of which have been in Comp – I’ve probably interviewed him for and written more than 50 of the accompanying victory stories. I love talking to him, and, after his near retirement earlier this season, I'm sure it will be an interesting tale.
I’ve been working on a couple of cool historic columns off and on the last few days, neither of which is ready, so it’s going to be a little lightweight show-and-tell today.
The love keeps rolling in for the Freight Train, and it’s clear that a ton of fans remember it well. I received in the mail the other day from Train owner John Peters a handsome poster that he sells on his Web site of the marvelous machine, and it’s well worth having. Measuring 3 feet by 2 feet, it’s a year-by-year pictorial history of the Freight Train and its many drivers. There are some real cool photos here.
The poster also includes current-day images of the Train at events where it made exhibition appearances (1993 Winternationals, where it actually made a pass, and 2004 U.S. Nationals) as well as copies of some of its famous time slips, including 200-mph passes at Lions and at the Gatornationals and from its historic 6.97 barrier-breaker at the Inyokern Drags and a list of Freight Train pilots.
You can find the poster as well as Peters’ history of the Train and more great photos on his Web site here.
In the continuing series of interesting Freight Train-related tales, I received an e-mail last week from David Leighton of the famous SoCal racing/track-managing family about those ungainly twin triangular trophies that Peters was holding in the 1970 winner’s circle at the March Meet in Bakersfield while driver Sam Davis ogled Linda Vaughn.
“They're Baaaack!” wrote Leighton, who was working pit control last weekend at The Patch. “It's really interesting (funny) that you should mention the humungous triangle trophies that were given to the U.S. Fuel & Gas Championships winners back in the ‘70s, and yes they were huge!
"Well, the triangle trophies are being resurrected for the upcoming Bakersfield Fuel & Gas Championships this weekend at the Auto Club Famoso Raceway. These new trophies resemble the originals complete with a nostalgic look, albeit a much more manageable size that will not require a room addition to be able to fit it into the house.”
Here’s a crazy photo from my old sport compact buddy Scott Kelley that’s worth a double take. Kelley, a hard-charging SoCal racer who for years fielded a very quick ’69 VW Fastback in NHRA’s All Motor (no power adders) class, brought out this Toyota a few years ago but never expected to almost endo it.
Apparently, the transmission on the front-wheel-drive entry failed and locked up at about 80 mph at a recent race in Epping, N.H. Nice trick!
With NHRA’s involvement in the sport compact class reduced considerably this season, Kelley has been working to compete with the Toyota in Comp on the POWERade Lucas Oil tour. He ran the car at the Winternationals in L/Altered, but it wasn’t really a good fit, so he’s been working with the NHRA Competition Department to create more sport-compact-friendly classes. He joins Bruno Massel, John Mihovetz, and Tom Shambaugh – all of whom have turbocharged machines -- as sport compact refugees now competing in Comp and former NHRA sport compact champs Justin Humphreys, Matt Hartford, and Matt Scranton (Pro Stock) and Brad Personnett (Pro Mod) at POWERade national events.
No one, other than Hillary Will her bad self, was more excited about her breakthrough win in Topeka than Kalitta Racing PR guy Todd Myers, who, if you read this column after Bristol, was in the midst of a shaggy streak after vowing not to cut his hair until one of Kalitta’s charges won.
Ms. Will accompanied "the Toddster" to the barber for the official post-win trim and played photographer to capture the most anticipated haircut since … well … um … okay, you get the idea.
Myers sent a batch of HillWill’s photos to his family and friends in the media, including his PR peers, who, naturally, were quick to comment.
“You should have just done the U.S. Army buzz thing,” wrote Chris Dirato, who handles publicity for U.S. Army pilot Tony Schumacher. “We certainly could have supplied the barber!!” Jon Kanpp, who handles PR for Warren and Kurt Johnson, was understandably intrigued. “Since some of us were unaware of your putting part of yourself on the line for your teams, we were just wondering if you could post a list of the other parts you have committed, as well as the necessary on-track achievements necessary to redeem them,” he inquired. “Obviously you have established that one win results in your ears being lowered; what are the other benchmarks we can watch for?”
They’re a funny bunch, these flacks.
Myers’ stepmother, Linda Johnsonius, apparently tired of his hirsute appearance, added, “I gotta say, from the family’s perspective, we are soooo grateful to Hillary!! So, so, soooo grateful!”
As I knew it would, Monday’s collection of video clips inspired a round of e-mails from the DI faithful. Some good stuff and some not-so-great stuff, so I cherry-picked a couple and added one of my own.
The first clip was sent in by regular column reader Pat Welsh of Welsh Media Productions, who not only posted this clip on YouTube but shot it as well.
The race was Autofest 2000, held Dec. 31, 1999, at Moroso Motorsports Park at the turn of the millennium. The big deal of the day, as Monty Hall would have said, was Shirley Muldowney and her pink and blue goracing.com Top Fuel dragster facing archrival “Big Daddy” Don Garlits for the first time in more than a decade. The pair of legends welcomed the new century in fashion, launching just past the stroke of midnight. Muldowney won, 4.98 at 287 mph to Garlits’ pedaling 5.23 at 285 mph. The video at right is of a less-great moment from the event, showing a replica of “Jungle Jim” Liberman’s Vega having some, well, difficulties on the launch. This particular version of the tape was aired on the blooper show Whacked Out Sports.
“I shot this footage, and it's been making its way around the broadcast networks,” said Welsh. “A friend of mine was with me and he wanted to grab a hamburger, and I said, ‘Wait till after this run.’ Glad I caught it on tape! Never did get the hamburger.” Thanks for giving us a video to relish, Pat.
After watching that misfortune befall the memory of J.J., I stumbled across a video of the car that was the inspiration for that Vega and this clip from the 1973 Popular Hot Rodding Championships at U.S. 131 Dragway in Martin, Mich., that should make fans of the pride of Westchester, Pa., plenty proud.
It shows the Jungle man and “Jungle Pam” in all of their glory, with a tire-melting burnout (love the smoke coming out of the unenclosed side windows) followed by the world’s longest dry hop (complete with wheel wobble) and, of course, “Jungle Pam” in her trademark halter top giving chase, followed by a nice launch and full pass.
Reader Gary Osborn, whose dad fielded a AA/Gas Dragster back in the day, sent a link to a couple of his videos. Although the footage is a bit grainy in the one embedded at the bottom here -- shot at Pel State Drag Strip in Opelousas, La. – it shows the ballet that was the routine of the Top Fuel push start, with drivers being pushed up the strip and then executing the infamous inside-outside U-turn at the starting line to pull into their respective lanes. I'm sure that the drivers had agreed beforehand who went long and who went short because I'm not sure I ever heard of a head-on collision in these situations.
One of Osborn’s other videos, which you can find here, is an interesting piece as well. It shows the family dragster being practice push-started on a deserted side road in Bastrop, Texas, prior to going to the Austin dragstrip as viewed from the sidelines as well as from the front seat of their Ford push vehicle.
Kids, don’t try this at home!
Well that's it for now. I'm not quite sure what's up next for Friday's column, so it will be a surprise for all of us. I’ve been asked to write about Southern California’s San Fernando Raceway -- which I never visited before it closed -- so if you have stories about the track, its look and layout, please pass them along. Keep the cards and letters coming. Your support and contributions have helped make this column what it has become, and I appreciate it.