If this is Friday, then I must be in Indy, enjoying my 32nd straight trip to the Big Go. Wish you were here. You may well be. Here’s Part 2 of Tom Kasch’s cache of Indy pics, these focusing on Top Fuel and other classes, from the 1960s and early 1970s.
As I’ve mentioned many times in the past, as great as the photos are that came from the lenses of the pro photographers standing at the guardwalls or beyond and how those experts preserved the moments with which we’ve all become familiar, it’s a kick to see how the mere mortals among us viewed the same cars from their less-advantageous but familiar-to-us view from the grandstands and to share their photos, most of which have never been published, and to pretend that we were in their seat to see the magic.
This is an interesting view of Indianapolis Raceway Park, as it was known then, from outside the fence, looking downtrack past the famed Hurst bridge at the 1970 event.
Forget the composing of the image, that its subject is so far out of center as to almost be out of the frame, but it’s the car and the scene that counts here. The car is Jack Chrisman’s wild nitro-burning, supercharged Chrisman’s Comet at the 1965 Nationals, where the car — one of the earliest Funny cars — ran in the B/Fuel dragster class. Chrisman had run the car in exhibitions at the event the previous year where he ran mid-10s at 150 mph while smoking the tires. The crowd was mesmerized. When he came back the next year, he was running nines and everyone wanted to see it, but he red-lighted in round one to Don Gay. Check out the folks sitting in what was the photographer’s area as if they were at a picnic. Wild.
More wild doorslammers from the 1965 event: Hayden Proffitt, far lane, in his national speed record-setting (135.64 mph) B/A Comet vs. Don Gay.
“Ohio George” Montgomery, near lane, owned the Nationals in its first decade, winning three times. In this 1965 battle, Montgomery’s famed Willys is facing off with future Pro Stock great “Dyno Don” Nicholson’s B/A Comet.
Here’s another shot of Montgomery at Indy in 1970, when he was the defending event champ after winning his fourth Nationals crown in 1969. This is his Malco Gasser supercharged Mustang, running in BB/A with those famously monstrous rear wheelie wheels.
Don Garlits’ bid for a second Indy title (and second straight) didn’t go so well. He lost in round one of AA/FD class to Bobby Vodnik (who had famously beaten him in the 1963 Top Eliminator final) and after exacting revenge on Vodnik in the first round of Monday’s eight-car eliminations, he red-lighted to Tom Hoover in the semifinals. Hoover lost the final to Tommy Ivo, who then lost the runoff with class champ Don Prudhomme for overall honors.
Jimmy King and the King & Marshall team prepare their dragster for another run at the 1970 event, which ended for them with their car upside down after a huge wheelstand in round one.
Before he became a regular in the Funny Car circuit, Al Bergler fielded modified coupes and then this gas dragster, dubbed More Aggravation Too, at the 1970 event.
More from the 1970 event: Jack Ditmars’ spectacular Mini Brute Opel A/FC. This car tore up the competition at Midwest tracks that year.
Bill Jenkins won the first two events of 1970’s inaugural Pro Stock season — the Winternationals and Gatornationals — with his former Super Stock Camaro and qualified No. 2 at Indy that year but was shown the door in round one by his old buddy, Dave Strickler. Although “the Grump” won Super Stock at the 1967 Nationals, surprisingly he never won there in Pro Stock, as a driver or owner.
Mike Sullivan’s AA/Fuel Altered at the 1970 Nationals, back when the Awful-Awfuls ran in Comp eliminator.
“The Smilin’ Okie,” Jimmy Nix, didn’t have a lot to smile about at the 1970 event. He barely qualified in Top Fuel (No. 31) and was on the trailer after round one at the hands of Bob Murphy, Murphy lost in round two to Pete Robinson, who lost in the third frame to “the Snake.”
It’s doubtful that Top Fuel vet Gary Cochran will ever forget the 1971 Nationals. “Mr. C” wasn’t among the quick 32 to qualify but got into the show when Dennis Baca couldn’t make the first-round call. Cochran beat Stan Bowman in round one, then took a solo in the second round when future world champ Jim Walther couldn’t repair his mount after upsetting Don Prudhomme in the first stanza. He then beat an up-in-smoke Leland Kolb to reach the semifinals but red-lighted to Steve Carbone, setting the stage for the great Carbone vs. Don Garlits final-round burndown.
Carl Olson and partner Mike Kuhl had a pretty good weekend at Indy 1971 as well. Their new rear-engine Top Fueler was voted Best Appearing, they qualified No. 3, and reached the semifinals before falling to Garlits. Check out the spare engine in the open side trailer door, ready to be slid into place if needed.
The late, great Mickey Thompson was all smiles at Indy 1971 when Dale Pulde took his Pinto to the Funny Car final. Unfortunately for the team, they lost the money round in a ball of fire to Ed McCulloch.
Twin-engine Top Gas dragsters were all the rage in the early 1970s, but Rico Paris gets credit for having the first rear-engine twin-gas dragster at the 1971 Nationals. He didn’t qualify for the Indy field but did make the show at the sport’s last Top Gas event, the 1971 Supernationals at Ontario Motor Speedway, running a 7.46.
Bill Shrewsberry’s popular L.A. Dart wheelstander was part of the show at the 1971 event.
At the height of the Top Fuel wheel pants craze, there was no car (or driver) more colorful than the John “Tarzan” Austin-driven Hot Tuna of Greg Scheigert.
And, finally, here’s a great Indy scene setter, a sweet Top Fuel burnout with the backdrop of the old starting-line tower and the Hurst bridge. Those were the days!
That’s it for the selection of pics from Tom Kasch, but you can check out some of his other photos at the links below:
Several times each week, almost without fail, I and about 50 other folks get an email from Tom Kasch with a dozen or so photos attached. They’re all images he has taken in the past 50 years, mostly from tracks local to his Midwest base -- Indy; Columbus; Milan, Mich.; Marion, Ind. – but also from a foray west to the 1975 Winternationals.
Some fans may know Kasch’s name from the years that he not only competed in Super Stock and Stock eliminator with a variety of cars but also set national records. His story is a courageous one. He lost his right leg (and nearly his left) in an automobile accident in 1969 – he used his left leg to work the gas and used a hand control for braking -- yet he and his wife, Ruth, remained a visible and popular part of the racing scene until they stopped racing in 2004, and he obviously also spent a lot of the time he wasn’t driving perched in the grandstands with his eye to the viewfinder.
“Ruth and I went to Indy every year from 1962 to 2004, when we had to quit racing,” he explained. “We always took pictures at each race we raced at. I went to the University of Toledo for photo classes in 1973, and we wrote for Milan Dragway in ‘73-74, sending in stories to Drag News, National Dragster, and an Ohio paper The Crank. I have 7,000 pictures scanned on my PC.”
With the Chevrolet Performance U.S. Nationals just around the corner, I thought I’d devote this Fan Fotos column to a collection of Indy images spanning the 1960s and 1970s. I’ll present them in two parts, with Funny Cars (obviously his favorite) today and Top Fuelers and other images next Friday (when I’ll actually be in Indy; lucky me). I harvested the pictures from the last 20 or so mailings he did, which was well in excess of 200 photos. I winnowed them down, removing some that were of less quality than the others to come up with a final group of about 40 images. Enjoy!
A couple of then and later photos of the Hawaiian doing a burnout in Indy. (Above) The 1971 Dodge Charger, with Bobby Rowe at the wheel, surprisingly failed to qualify.He had good company as Tom McEwen, Bruce Larson, and Leonard Hughes also failed to make the field. (Below) Norm Wilcox and the 1975-edition Monza, which fell in round two to Bob Pickett.
And a couple of similar photos of “the Mongoose,” Tom McEwen. (Above) McEwen with the Hot Wheels Duster in 1971; he didn’t qualify. (Below) McEwen -- and, to be honest, no hard-core drag fan -- will forget what happened at the 1978 U.S. Nationals with his English Leather Corvette; having just lost his son, Jamie, days before to leukemia, he beat longtime rival Don Prudhomme in the final.
Raymond Beadle qualified the yellow and blue Blue Max Arrow at the top of the field at the 1978 event with a stout 5.98 (only Don Prudhomme was also in the fives) but lost in the second round to Tom McEwen, 6.18 to 6.24.
Kasch also spent a lot of time roaming the pits. Here are the early Camaro floppers of Bruce Larson (above) and “the Professor,” Kelly Chadwick (below).
Here's Don Prudhomme’s Carefree Sugarless Gum 'Cuda at the 1973 race, the first time he won Funny Car at the Big Go. “Snake” had already won the race in Top Fuel three times (1965, ’69, and ’70) and made history as the first to win it in both nitro classes in 1973 with the first of four Indy Funny Car wins (also '74, '77, and '89).
John Mazmanian’s 'Cuda in the Funny Car pits at the 1970 event. According to DragList, “Big John” had five drivers that year: Danny Ongais, Pat Foster, Wendell Shipman, Arnie Behling, and his nephew Rich Siroonian. Based on the sideburns, that looks like Siroonian wrenching on the car, but reader Bill McLauchlan tells me that Behling was at the wheel. "Behling drove this car for a short time in the summer of 1970 including Indy," he noted. "Qualified No. 3 at Indy with a 6.89 –- one of four Funny Cars qualified in the sixes (Leonard Hughes 6.80, Ramchargers 6.84, Arnie's 6.89 and Jay Howell in the Snake's Cuda at 6.99). Arnie banged the blower on a burnout in the first round. [Don] Schumacher's 7.0's outlasted them all." Note the upfront and rather center-mounted coil-over shocks.
Ed McCulloch, near lane, won Indy for the second straight year with his Revellution in 1982. This is from qualifying, running “Big John” Mazmanian's ‘Cuda with Danny Ongais at the wheel.
More pit stuff. Obviously, Connie Kalitta’s Mustang. Probably 1969. Not sure from the photo if the Boss 429 or the SOHC is between the framerails. but the valve covers sure look like the SOHC.
Here’s a bit of a rarity: Gerald Foster's King Cobra Mustang, which was based in Louisiana, at the 1972 event. Both Sidney Foster and Frank Huff drove the car that year, but the 433 permanent number tells me this was Huff at the wheel. They didn’t qualify.
Two from the 1973 race. (Above) Dale Emery in Jeg Coughlin Sr.’s Camaro Funny Car at the 1973 event. “The Snail” qualified in the No. 10 spot and lost to surprise No. 2 qualifier “Jungle Jim” Liberman in round one. (Below) Jim Paoli, “the Yankee Pack Rat,” just missed the Funny Car field, ranking 18th, one spot behind Raymond Beadle in Don Schumacher’s second machine.
“The Old Master,” Ed Pink, left, consulted with Gene Snow in the pits at the 1971 event. Snow qualified just No. 13 and lost in round one to defending event champ Don Schumacher.
Al Hanna’s Eastern Raider Pinto, 1972. Hanna defeated last week’s Insider feature subjects, Preston Davis and the Ray Godman-owned Tennessee Bo-Weevil, in round one before falling to eventual winner Ed McCulloch in round two.
Two shots from the 1977 event. (Above) I always liked this version of Tom Hoover’s always-pretty Showtime entries. The faux neon lettering is awesome. (Below) Larry Brown’s Okie Smoker Arrow. Neither machine could make the field.
Dale Pulde qualified Mickey Thompson’s one-off Grand Am in the No. 7 spot at the 1974 event before being upset in round one by Pat Foster. Later that year, Pulde set the national record with this car at 6.16 at the World Finals to beat Don Prudhomme and decide the world championship in favor of Shirl Greer.
Minneapolis’ Jerry Boldenow surprised a lot of folks at the 1976 event when he qualified Steve Gold’s Moby Dick Corvette Funny Car in the lofty No. 6 spot. No. 14 qualifier Tom McEwen harpooned his hopes in round one.
Phoenix-based John Luna called his Vega Funny Car the Luna Lander (after the early-1970s Apollo moon missions), but he couldn’t land in the Funny Car field at the 1974 event.
OK, that’s a whole slew of cool Funny Car pics. I’ll be back next week with some of Kasch’s Top Fuel and other interesting photos. Thanks to Tom for sharing!
Raymond Godman, Preston Davis, and the restored Tennessee Bo-Weevil will be at this year's U.S. Nationals. (Louis Kimery photo)
When I think about this great sport that I’ve enjoyed now as a fan for more than 40 years and that has employed me and taken me in as one of its own for more than 30, I have a great deal of gratitude for the people who helped get us here. It was my honor and privilege to work for years with NHRA founder Wally Parks and his wife, Barbara, to learn firsthand some of the trials and tribulations they went through. And while the dedicated staff that helped make Wally’s dream come true — guys like Ray Brock, the Safety Safari foursome of Bud Coons, Bud Evans, Chic Cannon, and Eric Rickman; the original division directors; and more — were the driving force, they had plenty of support around the country from dedicated racers who also believed in the dream and helped bring it to fruition.
I got the wonderful chance earlier this week to speak to one of those unsung heroes, Raymond Godman, though it’s kind of hard to call a legend like him “unsung” because he is known by many as the wheelchair-bound owner of the famed Tennessee Bo-Weevil entries from the 1960s and 1970s. But, just as important as his on-track histrionics, Godman also was a guy who was right there in the trenches far on the other side of the Mississippi from NHRA, helping to promote and grow the sport we all love in places that NHRA couldn’t always reach. He was a staunch supporter and ultimately a great friend to Wally and Barbara and also one of the sport’s premier mechanics.
The opportunity to speak to Godman and, later, to his longtime driver, Preston Davis, came about as the result of their plans to bring their restored A/Modified Roadster to Indy this year as part of the 60th Anniversary special. So much has been written about the duo — and of Godman’s perseverance after being paralyzed in the Korean War — that I had originally planned just to write about the restoration of the car, but it didn’t take long for Godman’s Tennessee-friendly nature and keen memory to convince me otherwise. His story is so deep and rich and meaningful that it deserves to be told again and again.
Godman worked with NHRA founder Wally Parks to bring drag racing to the Memphis, Tenn., area, and the two remained lifelong friends.
A life changed
Godman was actually a circle-track driver in the Memphis area in the late 1940s before being called to duty in Korea in 1951. It will be 63 years ago this Sept. 17 that his life changed forever, when a young 23-year-old Marine from Fox Company, Fifth Regiment, 1st Marine Division “got shot up” by a sniper’s bullet, paralyzing him from the waist down
“We were fighting the Chinese, each just trying to kill the other," he recalls. "It was horrible fighting. In a 24-hour period, we lost 91 dead, 771 wounded. When I got shot, I knew it was bad. They put me and another fella on a helicopter to an aid station. When we landed, the other guy was dead. They couldn’t do much for me at the aid station; they told me they didn’t think I’d make it through the night and they had other wounded coming in to take care of. I was still alive the next morning.”
He was treated in South Korea and Japan before being sent back to the United States in a hospital ship. He tried to resume his driving career in a midget car with hand controls but couldn’t control the car to his satisfaction. The cockpit’s loss was drag racing’s gain.
“I became interested in drag racing in 1953 just as it was starting to come on. I realized I could be more active in the pits in drag racing than in circle-track racing, and maybe thought I could drive one at some point, though I never did. I got in touch with Wally at Hot Rod to offer my help.”
Godman was a charter member of the Memphis Rodders car club, which began to hold drag races at an abandoned Air Force base in Halls, Tenn., in 1953. They bought some Chrondek timers and would set up their impromptu track for a full day of racing Sunday, then tear it all down and hold their regular car-club meeting that evening.
Parks later appointed Godman as one of NHRA’s regional advisers, and Godman asked Parks if the Safety Safari (then known as the Drag Safari) could come to his hometown. He put the team up at his house, and the event was hosted in the summer of 1955, just before the first Nationals in Great Bend, Kan.
(Above) Godman and driver James "Red" Dyer at the 1960 Nationals in Detroit, where they were Top Eliminator runners-up. (Below) Two years later, at the Nationals in Indy, Harrison Jacob drove the Bo-Weevil to Middle Eliminator honors.
Godman and his driver, James “Red” Dyer, took part in the inaugural Nationals — he would go on to attend the Big Go for the first 57 editions, the first 24 as a competitor — and they won AA/Comp class honors.
Two years later, they won the AA/Comp class trophy at the NHRA Nationals in Oklahoma City with a flathead-powered roadster, a car that inspired the Tennessee Bo-Weevil nickname.
“Red and I were working on the car in the garage. It was 2 o’clock in the morning, and we’d just finished making a chicken wire and fiberglass mesh nose," said Godman. "We stopped and went out to stand in the backyard, and looking back into the garage at the car, the nose looked like a point, and Red, who was as country as you ever saw, he said that it kinda looks like a [cotton] bo-weevil snout. I said, ‘What about a Tennessee Bo-Weevil?’ and that’s how the car got its name.” (NHRA, however, did not think much of the original snout and banned it after the 1959 Nationals, according to Davis.)
In 1958, Godman built a new car, based on a Scotty Fenn/Chassis Research TE440 kit, that proved very successful; it’s this car that Davis recently restored (more on that later).
Godman continued to race and promote drag racing in Memphis, which led to him opening Lakeland Dragstrip on July 4, 1960; Buster Couch was his first starter, and it was Godman who recommended Couch to Parks for the soon-vacant position as Division 2 Director.
Later that year, Godman and Dyer were Top Eliminator runner-ups to Leonard Harris and the vaunted Albertson Olds at the Nationals in Detroit in what was an almost-too-close-to-call final. A few weeks later, with Harris and car owner Gene Adams having returned to the West Coast to match race, Parks called upon Godman and Dyer to have the honor of making the first pass down the newly built dragstrip in Indianapolis that would host the Nationals the following year (and every year since). It was a big shindig with representatives from the IndyCar world, too, including Parnelli Jones, Rodger Ward, A.J. Foyt, and J.C. Agajanian.
In late 1961, Godman sold the Chassis Research car and began campaigning a Dragmaster-chassised machine that Harrison Jacobs took to Middle Eliminator honors at the 1962 Nationals. The duo finished runner-up in the points championship that year, just 15 points behind Jess Van Deventer. A few years later, Sonny Adkins drove Godman’s BB/Fuel Dragster to the Super eliminator title in front of their home-state fans at the 1967 Springnationals in Bristol.
Enter Preston Davis
In late 1967, Godman moved up to Top Fuel, and, after a falling out with Adkins after the U.S. Nationals, he hired fellow Memphis Rodder member Davis as his driver, and the two raced together for the next 11 years.
Davis had cut his racing teeth in gas dragsters — one of his first dragsters actually used the chassis of Godman’s Modified Roadster and another, a George Root-built rail, was a C/Dragster national record holder — and had been a regular competitor at Lakeland.
“I heard that Raymond and Sonny had parted company and that there was an opening to drive the Bo-Weevil, so I called him,” Davis recalls. “We were in the same car club but not really on the same level because he was running Top Fuel and I was running Comp. We talked for five minutes, and he asked me how my business was going and how I liked the weather, and I finally said, ‘Look, Raymond, I’m a busy guy. I heard you were looking for a driver.’ He said, ‘Well, I was getting around to that.’ He said I could drive the car if I could build the motor because he had a match race the next weekend. So I did, and we took it out the following Saturday and Sunday to Lakeland, and when they strapped me in for the first time, I couldn’t see where I was going because of that big ol’ blower. It didn’t take but a few runs to get used to it.”
Success for the duo came quickly with a win at the 1968 season-opening divisional meet at Phenix Dragway in April en route to the Division 2 championship. A second division title followed in 1970.
“Preston was a helluva driver and a great mechanic, too,” Godman praised. “We used to attend the Gainesville Turkey Trot races every November to have a best-of-three match race against Don Garlits. After Preston beat him on holeshots one time, Garlits pulled me off to the side and asked me, ‘Where’d you get him? That guy is good!’ ”
As Funny Cars began to gain popularity, Godman and Davis expanded their operation to also include a Funny Car, a Woody Gilmore-built Barracuda, and they ran them both at several meets, which proved too much of a burden. “It just about killed us financially, so we just raced Funny Cars only from then on,” recalled Godman.
Rear-engine cars were quickly becoming necessary to compete in Top Fuel, and Davis saw the success that his good friend Clayton Harris was having with Jack McKay’s New Dimension dragster and told Godman they needed to either update to a back-motor car or switch exclusively to Funny Car.
“The real money at that time was in Funny Car with all of the match racing you could do,” said Davis. “Plus, it was just usually me, Raymond, and another guy. We didn’t have the finance or the muscle to campaign two cars, so we stuck with the Funny Car.”
(Above) The duo's second Funny Car was this Mustang, in which Davis rode out a bad fire in 1974 that led him to retire. (Below) The two reunited to compete at the 25th annual U.S. Nationals with this Arrow in 1979.
The beginning of the end
Davis was runner-up to Tom McEwen in Funny Car at the 1972 PRA National Challenge in Tulsa, Okla., and went on to win the Division 2 Funny Car championship in the car later that year. A Mustang later replaced the 'Cuda. A bad fire in Blaney, S.C., in 1974 convinced Davis to quit driving, but he was thankful to have the choice.
“A month before that I was so mad at NHRA because they had changed the rules to require a five-layer Nomex [driving] suit that cost me $600, which was a lot of money back then, but it saved my life. There’s no doubt in my mind," said Davis. "I told Raymond that we needed to get some better parts, but he was happy with the pieces he had.
"It turned out that the O-ring in the back of the fuel pump broke and filled the crankcase with 91 percent [nitro]. Needless to say, when it lit, it really was a bad fire. I believe that the big man upstairs was looking out for me because somehow the front latch of the body released and the body came off. The Mustang was a beautiful car, but for some reason, it was a jinx.
"Finally, I just told Raymond, ‘I think someone is trying to tell me something.’ I put the car back together, ran two more races for him, then retired. Larry LaDue drove the car for him the next four years, but I couldn’t even watch racing on TV, it was too hard. It’s in my blood.” (So much so that years later, Davis is now building himself a 225-inch front-engine nostalgia dragster with a alcohol-fueled 392 to compete at nostalgia events; “My body is 73; my mind is 30,” he insists.)
As a testament to their long friendship and in acknowledgement of his hard work in the pioneering days, Parks insisted that Godman race at the silver anniversary U.S. Nationals in 1979. Godman invited Davis to be his driver. Davis didn’t have a driving suit any more or even a current license, but Godman took care of all of that, and the partners were reunited.
“This was right at the beginning of tire shake, and we didn’t qualify," said David."It shook so hard that I couldn’t see where I was going, and it broke the bottom chassis at the firewall and broke the fuel-pump extension. We went to Bristol the next week and to Atlanta the week after that, and then I quit for good."
The rising costs of competition forced Godman also to retire at the end of the 1979 season. After he quit racing, Godman continued to sell insurance for a while – after leaving the service, he’d attended the University of Tennessee to study for his insurance license and opened his own business – then started Godman Hi-Performance In 1977, selling high-performance race car and hot-rod plumbing, where he continues to work every day.
“I don’t have any regrets,” said Godman, who was inducted into Don Garlits’ International Drag Racing Hall of Fame in 1991 and was also a Lifetime Achievement Honoree in 2003 at the inaugural Holley NHRA National Hot Rod Reunion. “I’ve had a very good life, I’ve worked hard, have a good family, tons of friends, and still work every day. I can’t stand sitting around doing nothing. I enjoyed my time in the sport. I always liked race cars and going fast, building a better motor to beat the other guy, and made so many friends.”
(Above) The Bo-Weevil wasn't much to look at when Davis, left, picked it up from Carol Poston and placed it in the back of his pickup, but the end result of the restoration (below), unveiled at the 2013 National Hot Rod Reunion, was stunning.
Davis began restoring some of Godman’s old cars a few years ago, and the '60 Nationals runner-up is the latest. As mentioned earlier, Godman sold it in 1961, and Davis actually drove the now small-block Chevy-powered dragster for its new owner, then bought it and quickly sold it to his friend Carol Poston. After he finished restoring Godman’s Top Fuel car, he began looking for his own Root-chassised dragster, but when current Top Fuel star Clay Millican told him that Poston still owned the Fenn car — “It lay out in the weeds for some 40 years,” according to Godman — Davis had to see it for himself. All that remained was the chassis and the front end, but it was enough to convince Davis it was the real deal and worth salvaging.
“Carol and I were good friends back then, so I asked him, ‘Carol, what would it take for me to get this car?’ and he just gave it to me,” recalled Davis. “I spent a couple of days in Oklahoma with Benny Osborn and came home with a quick change rear end, and I built the motor. We had to get a fiberglass ’27 bucket body; I looked all over for a metal one but couldn’t find one, but I got a fiberglass one from Spirit Industries in Ark., narrowed it down, and made it fit, and had the aluminum nose added. A local boy here did a fantastic job of painting it. I’m really proud of it.”
The car made its redebut at last year’s National Hot Rod Reunion in Bowling Green, Ky., and will be on hand, as mentioned, at Indy. As proud as Davis is of the re-creation, he doesn’t want the attention for himself.
“It’s not about me,” Davis insists. “It’s about Raymond and that car. I don’t care if they ever even mention my name. I want Raymond honored for what he has done in his life. He’s the history of drag racing in Memphis; there ain’t no doubt about it. Raymond and I had our ups and downs over the years — it was mostly over money — but he’d get out of that wheelchair and get under that car with me to check the bearings. The man was unbelievable.”
I couldn't agree more. I tip my cap to the man who brought NHRA to the mid-south and to all of the pioneering boosters who helped get us to where we are today.
Remember when you first got on the Internet (or what passed for it back then)? For a lot of us early adapters in the early 1990s, that meant America Online, and save for a nitro engine, there was no more thrilling sound than hearing “You’ve Got Mail” when you logged on to AOL. Email was still a pretty new and fascinating concept back then. “Wait, someone can sit at their computer and write me a letter, and I’ll get it within a few seconds? Inconceivable!”
Today, we take it all for granted, especially since we’ve become a mobile community with email and, of course, text messaging right on our phones and so on (still waiting for my flying car; I’m talking to you, Jetsons), and although my computer no longer verbally greets me, I still love opening my email every morning and seeing 100 new messages in my Inbox, with every one holding the possibility of a new adventure or an idea or contribution for this column (or an unexpected financial opportunity from a new friend overseas).
My Inbox has been overflowing the last couple of weeks with follow-ups to some recent columns, so I thought I’d share some of them this week.
I got back Monday from Seattle, where I was stopped in the pits by more than a dozen Insider readers who wanted to express their love of the column (thanks, guys!), and I was even flagged down by Tony Pedregon, who wanted to say what a kick he got out of the story about the starting-line fight at the 1970 U.S. Nationals and wanted to know if I had more info. The good news for him was that I had already been on the case. East Coast photo ace Norman Blake was the first to comment about it, ID-ing one of the principals as photographer Ted Robinson and the other (the toupee-losing one) as a fan, and suggested I talk to longtime Midwest photogs Richard Brady and Tom Schiltz for details because they were there. I also reached out to the dean of drag racing lensmen, Jon Asher, for his recollections, knowing he probably had been there, too.
Schiltz, a sometime contributor to his column, verified Robinson’s identity and sent along this photo of him.
“I don’t remember who Ted shot for, but he seemed to be at the major races,” Schiltz remembered. “He always had his camo hat and spread out a tarp with his rather large number of offbeat cameras. [NHRA Photo Editor Leslie] Lovett always got a kick out of the spring-wound ones."
Brady remembers that he was from Michigan and echoed Schiltz’s interesting comment about his equipment. “He had a huge amount of equipment, but nothing was the same,” recalled Brady. “By that I mean he'd bring what seemed like six or eight cameras with lenses to Indy, but there would be one Nikon and a lens for that, one Mamiya and one or two lenses for that, and so on; the same with his flash gear and he would spread this all out on what seemed like an Army slicker!”
It was Asher, though, who came through with the goods on the incident, which came just as Modified finalists Joe Lemley and Dean Lowery were preparing to stage their race cars.
Asher says that the toupee-wearing pugilist was actually an interloping fan, who apparently got into Robinson’s way. How did the fan end up in such a restricted area? According to Asher, some members of ABC’s television crew, which was filming the event for Wide World of Sports, had left before the finals and, incredibly, handed their credentials to spectators standing along the fence!
“ABC had way more people on hand then they needed, and many of them left before the finals, leaving only the guys manning the cameras and the on-air talent behind,” he explained. “So the guy with the bald head came out there and just stood in front of Ted Robinson and everyone else and refused to move (because he had a credential, of course). I believe Leslie was next to me on his ladder. We were looking through the cameras when Buster [Couch, Chief Starter] suddenly stood between the two cars with his arms out to his sides indicating they should hold, and he was clearly looking right down where we were. I turned to the left (downtrack), and there they were, rolling around. Robinson, who was [not a great] shooter despite having more gear than any living, breathing human being in the place, was at a distinct disadvantage because of the cameras.”
Once the details emerged of how the interloper had gained access, NHRA ratcheted up the control of the credentials, so something good did come out of it.
“While the fight thing was obviously over the top, in some respects we were all glad it happened because it did bring about changes,” added Asher. "I can’t tell you how many times we would find ourselves screaming at some jerk who had a credential and no camera, who refused to move out of the way because he had that pass. And, as you may well imagine, when one of [them] showed an ABC credential to some rent-a-kid guard, the rent-a-kid disappeared, and we had to deal with the person after that.”
(Above) Clayton Taylor now and then. He's still into photography, shooting birds in Texas. (Below) One of his hundreds of images from Connecticut Dragway.
Tom Edwards’ photos from Connecticut Dragway sparked a lot of interest and commentary and calls for more similar shots. One of the people I heard from was Clayton Taylor, who I remember from my earliest years at National Dragster as the track photographer there.
“My first day at Connecticut Dragway was as a 12-year-old, watching Don Garlits (red car) match race the Ramchargers,” he remembers. “When the little bits of rubber from the full-track smoky passes started falling in my hair as the clouds dispersed, I was hooked! I initially hung on the return road fence, snapping pictures with an old roll-film camera. After a few years, we went into the pits, and I started collecting autographs in my new autograph book. I still took a few photos, but the collection of signatures grew quickly: Charlie Allen, ‘Jungle Jim,’ Lew Arrington, Larry Reyes, and Roland Leong on the same page; Richard Tharp and Harry Schmidt on the same page; ‘Wild Willie’ Borsch (along with a greasy thumb print), Boris Murray, E.J. Potter … oh, heck, they are ALL special to me.
“In 1973, I became the track photographer; Les Lovett got me photo passes to NHRA national events, and I amassed a big collection of negatives from ’73 through ’82. They sat pretty much untouched for 30-plus years. Occasionally, a racer would call the number on the back of an old print, asking for more copies. I gave up the darkroom years ago, always meaning to start scanning negatives, but never did anything until earlier this year when a Facebook racer hooked me up with the Connecticut Dragway Memories page. I only had a few prints lying around, but they were scanned and posted.” You can check them out here: https://www.facebook.com/groups/423595767671813/
Marc Ronhock wrote that “the shot of Frank Federici made me buzz and tingle. The Shark [was] a staple for the Funny Car shows. I don't care who you pick from the old days, but watching Frank make a pass in this early car or the later no-top car was an adventure of pure craziness. Frank had two blower pulleys, a small one and a large [one], and he would pick the one that almost made the car crash. From then, it was tip the can, spin the huffer, twist the mag, hang on, and don’t lift ‘til you’re in the dirt.”
Charles Milikin Jr., who supplied the two photos at right, wrote, “Thanks for giving Connecticut Dragway the kudos it so deserved. I first went to the track in 1964 and saw a lot of the popular big names and some outstanding local talent, including Red Lang and the Jack Merkle gassers. Some great memories from that era.”
Lou Ciarlelli got a kick out of Edwards’ description of the food stand having hamburgers, hot dogs, and grinders. “In case Tom didn’t fill you in on what a grinder is, it’s a Connecticut term for a sub sandwich or hoagie,” advised Ciarlelli, who was born and raised in Connecticut. “The legend, whether true or not (I’ve never verified), is that the workers at the Groton shipyards, who were called grinders because of grinding steel, would go to one of the local delis and ask for a whole loaf of bread sliced in half and made into a sandwich. Supposedly, that’s where the name ‘Grinder’ came to be. I know as a kid when we would travel outside of Connecticut and go to a deli and ask for a grinder, they would look at us like we were crazy!”
And finally, the dean of drag scribes, Dave Wallace, dropped me a note to report that although Connecticut Dragway no longer hosts thundering Funny Cars, it’s still in use, as Consumer Reports' test track for new cars, and is often seen as background for video footage of instrumented new vehicles that occasionally air on TV.
In my tribute to Norm Weekly
of Frantic Four fame, I mentioned that there were no pictures of the four — Weekly, Ron Rivero, Jim Fox, and Dennis Holding — posed together in our files and got back more than a few. Reverend Jim Jack, of Racers For Christ, sent along the photo above, which he believes was taken in Pomona, and had the foursome sign it. He and Weekly attended the Church of Christ on 10th and Gary in Pomona when they were young boys, and he even remembers hearing the Top Fuel cars running while church was in session.
Bill Schneider and Darrielle Moody (daughter of Top Fuel star Don Moody) passed along an updated photo of that classic (above) and (below) this memorable photo of Moody and Weekly going at it wheels up in Pomona in 1963.
I also received a nice note (and a Frantic Four T-shirt!) from Fox, along with the above photo, which shows the foursome when they were inducted into the International Drag Racing Hall of Fame in 2008. Back row, from left, Dale Armstrong, Holding, Fox, Rivero, Weekly, Wallace, and Don Garlits. Front row is Jon Lundberg, Beverly Wernke (for Jim Bucher), Jim McFarland, and Ken Veney.
I always strive to make this column as accurate as possible, but even I can’t be 100 percent each time, especially when I’m guessing. I just don’t expect it to take four years before it’s pointed out! Ned Dubois dropped me a line to point out that my caption from an October 2010 photo essay on Maple Grove raceway had a bit of bad information on it. The photo above shows the Nichols & Oxner Charger, and I presumed that it was driver Wayne Oxner standing next to the car. Wrong! According to Dubois, it’s actually Bill Wilkinson, one of the crew of Dan Hatch, Bill Kent, and Bill Wilkinson. “Larry Nichols and Wayne Oxner were the principal owners and Wayne drove in most cases, but there must have been instances that Wayne couldn’t drive and Bill substituted,” he wrote. “I knew them all because we all lived in Marshfield, Mass., and grew up together. Larry and Dan were older than the rest by about 10 years. Dan Hatch and Bill Wilkinson died a just few years back.” I stand corrected and have updated the original post. Thanks, Ned.
I’ve still got some submissions pouring in from the “Things That Aren’t Here Anymore” thread. Here are a few:
“Not being allowed to leave your rig in the pits overnight. Take everything back to the motel in the evening. Bring it back in the morning, and set everything up again; mailing letters (money order included) to order your race car parts; going to the bus station or railroad depot every day to see if your pistons/crankshaft/heads had arrived yet. (The impact of UPS and FedEx is not really appreciated today.)” — Chase Knight
“I vividly remember sitting in the stands at Irwindale watching a Saturday night Top Fuel show and seeing four to eight Top Fuelers fired and waiting for the last shot at qualifying. Irwindale had a rule that if your car was fired, on the line, or fire up road, you would get to run. Sometimes there were more than twice as many cars than there were spots for an eight-car field. Yes, it was frantic.” — Terry Knickerbocker
"In your July 11th [column], you mentioned, among others things, the saying 'Leavers Lose.' This got me to thinking about some of the other drag racing sayings that seem to have gone by the wayside. Today we hear about holeshot wins, but what about the more descriptive: ‘He who snoozes, loses!’ Or the description of the guy that inadvertently rolls through the starting-line beams and red-lights: ‘He who creeps, weeps.’ There are probably a zillion more of these!” — Robert Nielsen
“What I don’t see is the access we had as teenagers and young men back in 1971 and so forth. How lucky we were, and we didn’t realize it at the time. We could actually talk one on one with the driver or car owner, often the same person. They would even pose for us, if asked nicely, like Richard Siroonian. We could take a picture of their fire bottles or steering wheel when the body of a flopper was up. There were no hospitality trailers or roped-off areas, just wide-open spaces where you could just walk up and view, respectful of not being in their way when working on the car. And, sometimes, you may volunteer to help and given an oil pan to drain in the barrel 50 feet away. The access we had back then was special and will never be seen again. Speaking for myself, it was truly a time of wonder, and how lucky was I to experience some of it up close and personal.” — Ed Eberlein
“One of the things that caught my eye from a reader was ‘Seating so close to the racing surface you can feel the sound rattle your bones.’ This is not completely gone! At Pacific Raceways in Seattle, Grandstand A1 is right behind the starting line at about a 45-degree angle. A few years ago, I read in a racing magazine (don't remember which one) that claimed that this grandstand is the best on the circuit. I have had the first three seats (closest to the cars) on the front row since the first national event (then the Seafair Nationals) in the series' return in 1988. The ‘save your seats’ program has allowed me to keep these seats all these years. In these seats, you are only 15-20 feet from the right lane Top Fuel engines when they fire up. In this grandstand, being behind the cars, it feels like you get hit in the chest with a board on every fuel car launch! The automatic reaction is to jerk on the launch, just like the when you stood by a fuel car when they whomped the throttle to seat the clutch (something that is very rare now). I used to try to resist the body reaction at the launch, but I finally let it be part of the experience. When you sit in this grandstand, you should always wear dark clothing because you are covered with rubber at the end of the day. Sitting in the grandstand gives you a new perspective on the power of Pro Stock cars as well. Because these seats give you such an extreme case of sensory overload, you are exhausted at the end of the day. As a result, we only sit there on Saturdays! We have a lot of respect for the starters and crews working behind these cars every day. They must find it exhausting but also mind blowing!” — Al Kean
“Said in a Jeff Foxworthy-voice, ‘If you still call the pedestrian-crossover at Indy the ‘Hurst Bridge,’ you’re an old-school freak.’ And look at what being at the head of the lanes feels like before sunrise, 1979 U.S. Nationals. Me? I've been out in line by the drive-in since 3:45 a.m., at this point it’s probably 5:45 a.m., and clearly Gary Ormsby’s people have been taking shifts 'watching' the car that’s been there since who knows when — and, in the background, our legendary ‘Hurst Bridge.’ “ — Jon Hoffman
And finally, Indy’s not too far away; hope you have your tickets and that I will see you there. Make sure you stop by the Clarion Hotel (2930 Waterfront Parkway Drive) and check out the memorabilia show being put on by Mike Goyda, Brian Kennedy, and John (Rab) Kirchner that runs Sunday from 10 a.m. to midnight. Admission is free. Some vendor space is still available. Contact Brian at firstname.lastname@example.org.
I'll see you next week.