Thanks to several stats junkies, including Stephen Justice, Chris Stilwell, and Steven Wolfe (who hand-typed reams of info!), Bob Frey is a little closer to closing the loop on his stats treasure hunt.
We now return you to your regularly scheduled Insider programming.
Previously on the DRAGSTER Insider, Steve Reyes had submitted a photo of an unpainted, unlettered, and, best of all for us, unknown wedge running at Orange County Int’l Raceway. He wondered if the Insider Nation might know who it was. It took all of but an hour or so for the first reply to come in, from Brett Nation, which was followed by similar answers from Jeff Courtie, Michael Baker, Don Hirsch, and Glenn Menard, that this was "Fearless Fred" Mooneyham in his father's California Cajun dragster. As soon as I got those e-mails, it sounded right, so I dug into the combined Mooneyham file in the DRAGSTER archives and found this photo of the car, taken at Lions.That's the late Gene Mooneyham at far right.
I was able to track down Mooneyham and share these photos with him and to get his remembrances.
According to Mooneyham, the car was built by Louisiana chassis ace Boogie Scott (the Mooneyhams were originally from the Pelican State, hence the California Cajun name). Fred drove the completed car out to California strapped to the roof of the family's Chrysler station wagon.
"We ran the car for quite awhile and I know it ran 237 mph at Lions; I think we ran 6.30s with it," recalled Mooneyham, who was one of a breed of SoCal teenagers like Jeb Allen and Randy Allison competing in Top Fuel at the time. "We ran the car until we had an incident at Orange County. We threw a rod out of it and, when I pulled the parachute, all of the oil from the engine came through some lightening holes we had in the panels and got into the cockpit and ignited. My dad just decided we weren’t going to run that body anymore. Boogie had already built us some regular body panels, so we just switched the car over."
The body, made of aluminum, was never painted, and eventually came to an inglorious end, cut up for random sheetmetal use as needed.
Above right is another photo of the car, taken by veteran photog Dave Milcarek. who has a ton of great old pics form the 1970s here.
Mark Harmon, one of several people to forward me covers of the Barry Setzer wedge on Drag Racing USA, and Michael Hedworth both noted that we probably needed to mention yet another forgotten wedge Top Fueler, Jim Dunn's one-off hybrid from 1973, shown here in a photo courtesy of the Insider's new BFF, Steve Reyes.
This was back when "Big Jim" was still running his rear-engine Funny Car, which had won the Supernationals the season before – still (and probably forever) the only rear-engine Funny Car to win a Wally – and had his pal, Doug Kruse, fashion a mostly aluminum body to bolt on to the Funny Car chassis to allow the car to compete in Top Fuel as well.
The car only made about a half-dozen laps, at Orange County Int’l Raceway during the AHRA Grand American event in June 1973, then disappeared. I tracked down "Big Jim" as he was on his way to this weekend's event in Topeka to get the scoop on the car.
Dunn was honest and to the point about the reason behind the unusual project.
"[Don] Garlits had just come out with his streamliner [the ill-fated Jocko Johnson-built Wynn's Liner], and he was getting all of the ink," explained Dunn. "We were just trying to take some of the spotlight away from Garlits and wanted to prove we could run as good as him. We qualified, and he didn't."
Here's a photo from our files that shows how Dunn's rear-engined flopper looked with the skin off. Note the traditional Funny Car headers versus the through-the-body headers in the Top Fuel configuration.
(Actually, the Garlits car did qualify – dead last in a 32-car field – and Garlits wasn't even driving it. "Big Daddy" was pretty spooked by the car's ill handling in previous tests and hired journeyman Butch Maas to shoe it at OCIR. They qualified on a shutoff pass but did not run the first round according to Bob Post's book High Performance.)
"Both of my cars ran about the same," recalled Dunn. "The car was too short to be a good Top Fueler – it was only 125 inches [the Wynn's Liner was 175 inches] – and I was more into Funny Cars then. We went two rounds with the dragster and three rounds with the Funny Car, and pretty much all we had to do was change bodies and headers. The dragster body was one piece and fit on the chassis just like a Funny Car. I actually didn’t even expect to win the first round in Top Fuel, but I left on a guy and beat him.
"All that did was make more work for me," he laughed.
According to Dunn, the body, which Kruse built in about two weeks, is hanging in Don Ferguson's shop in Torrance, Calif.
Stephen Justice passed along an interesting note about the Lisa & Rossi doorstop wedge that we've also been discussing. He said that Fred Farndon, who's still out there among 'em, was the original owner of the car before an acrimonious divorce forced him to part with the car.
What follows in an excerpt from a bio that Justice did on Farndon, quoting him. "This car was going to make me famous, but a divorce put a damper on it. This was my second SPE car. Not a well-known fact, but I was the original owner and sold it to Vel’s Parnelli Ford, and Billy Tidwell gained considerable notoriety driving it. Too heavy to e.t., but ran 240 mph!"
Justice also included the photo above, showing Tidwell in the car at speed in Bakersfield, Calif. I dropped a line to Jim Rossi, son of original owner Vince Rossi, for comment but have not heard back from him. SPE, of course, was the Santa Ana, Calif., Speed Products Engineering chassis shop of Roy Fjastad, an alumnus of Scotty Fenn's famed Chassis Research dragster factory.
Newlywed "Flyin' Phil" Elliott (congrats!) sent this rather interesting photo as a follow-up to our discussions on the mid-1960s Re-Entry wedge Top Fueler. This photo of the car, looking familiar yet much different, was taken at a car show, and, although the car is quite recognizable, it obviously has a significantly shorter wheelbase.
"I hadn’t seen it this length in any action shot," said Elliott. "There might have been a minor incident after which the car was stretched. I can’t do much but theorize other than provide this earlier pic."
Given the reports that we've had about the car being involved in an accident, it makes me wonder if this is a before or after photo.
Wow … this just in: Insider reader John Gacioch found video of the Re-Entry car crashing at Indy in 1966 as part of footage put together by Hurst. Go here and forward to the 4:50 mark. It's fast, but you can definitely see the Re-Entry car getting into a world of hurt. Great find, John! Be sure to check out the whole five-part Hurst collection … some great stuff there.
On a totally unrelated and selfish note, I officially enter over-the-hilldom tomorrow, May 22, when I turn 50. I wrote about this topic in depth in last week's ND, counting my successes and blessings, so I won't bore you to tears with that. Plus, I'll be working (from home) covering the Topeka event. Why does NHRA schedule an event on my birthday? Not unexpectedly, my office today was festooned with black balloons, signs ("If you were a car you'd be an antique" and "Your motor is still running but the warranty has expired," etc.), and geriatic gag gifts. I love my fellow staffers. Thanks, guys.
I share a birthday with author Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, actor Laurence Olivier, game-show announcer Johnny Olson, entrepreneur T. Boone Pickens Jr., baseball pitcher Tommy John, and actress Naomi Campbell. Heck, I might be the seventh-most famous person born May 22.
Of course, that list omits Japanese animation and film director Hideaki Anno, who was born on the same day I was in 1960, and I see we share a lot of traits. According to Dr. Wikipedia, "His style has come to be defined by the touches of superflatism and postmodernism that he injects into his work, as well as the thorough portrayal of characters' thoughts and emotions, often through unconventional sequences incorporating psychoanalysis and emotional deconstruction of these characters." Yeah, kind of like what I do here. Cool!
The Earth certainly moved for Anno's mother and mine, as well as for the people of Chile, where the Great Chilean Earthquake shook them to the tune of 9.5, the most powerful earthquake ever recorded. So, what else happened on May 22? Well, not much apparently. In 1807, a grand jury indicted former Vice President of the United States Aaron Burr on a charge of treason, and, oh yeah, on May 22, 1992, Johnny Carson hosted The Tonight Show for the last time. Yeah, pretty slim highlights, I know. Again, that puts ol' P.B.'s birth pretty high on the charts, wouldn’t you say? I'm kinda surprised my name's not on either of those lists. Oversight, I guess.
Monday also is kind of a special day because May 24 will mark my 28th anniversary here at NHRA. It has been a swell ride, and I hope it's far from over, but I want to thank you all for making the last three years some of the most enjoyable with your support for and love of this column.
Today's topic: not wedge Top Fuelers (surprise!).
Well, I'm back and (sorta) caught up from my trip to Atlanta for the Summit Racing Equipment NHRA Southern Nationals but still have a mountain of National DRAGSTER work ahead of me this week. I hate to break up the long-running wedge thread – I'll have more info to share on that Friday – but I wanted to pop in to a) let you know I made it back alive and b) help out our old pal Bob Frey.
Anyone who has ever listened to Frey announce knows that he's a living encyclopedia of trivia from our sport. A lot of that knowledge is firsthand from having announced races as early as 1966, but he also owns undoubtedly the most detailed and precise record of NHRA racing on the planet. He has accumulated an unassailable record of everything NHRA and has painstakingly researched every race in NHRA national event history trying to compile a list of all competitors and their accomplishments. In his search, Frey has gobbled up coverage from every magazine he could lay his hands on, searched newspaper archives, and so much more.
But still, some history eludes him, and, as a massive tip of his hat to the combined brainpower of the Insider Nation, he's asking for our help.
"In my efforts to catalogue all of the runs at the NHRA national events, I have run into a little bit of a glitch," he wrote. "In the early 1970s, not all of the qualifying and/or eliminations runs were reported. I have National DRAGSTER and every publication from those days, and, believe me, the complete results simply don’t exist. Since I have a great database that I have assembled (with a lot of help), I would like to fill in the blanks. I think it’s important that we have the names of all the qualifiers and everyone who ran in eliminations at the NHRA national events, and that’s the reason that I am writing to you.
"I am always amazed at the people who respond to your Insider columns on NHRA.com. I was wondering if you could ask your readers for some help. If anyone has a list, any list (qualifying or eliminations), from these races, I would like to know if they would be willing to share it with me. I can’t offer anything except my undying admiration for their help, and believe me, it will be greatly appreciated.
"Names, elapsed times, and speeds are all welcome (as are any DNQs), and while your readers check their files, I’ll continue to do my research. I’m only missing little bits and pieces here and there, but without them, my 'stuff' won’t be complete.
"For ease of operation, I have included the races that are missing the most numbers, either qualifying or eliminations. Rather than say that we need qualifying numbers from this race and elimination numbers from that race, let’s just say that I need numbers (whatever anyone may have) for these races."
So there you have it, readers: another challenge. If you have anything – anything – from any of these races, and I don't care if it's numbers written down in mustard on a hot-dog wrapper, pass it along to me, and I'll get it to Bob. He has a lot of ways to verify info once he has it, but he needs it first.
As always, you can contact me here. Thanks in advance for anything you can do to further aid in the preservation and accuracy of the history of our sport.
Surprise, it's me! Yeah, I know I told you last week not to expect anything from me for the next week due to travel and a heavy National DRAGSTER workload, but you know me … a glutton for punishment. I got all of my stuff done and am uploading this column as I'm preparing to dash out the door to the airport at o'dark thirty Wednesday morning.
A couple of interesting things have cropped up that I wanted to share, plus I knew you guys would be having wedge withdrawals if I stayed away too long. It's hard to believe that we've been talking almost exclusively about the same subject since March 19, when I brought it up only in reference to acknowledging the passing of NHRA Safety Safari member Ron Rickman, famous for being the guy in Connie Kalitta's bull's-eye when he stacked up "Poncho" Rendon's wedge at Indy in 1971. So, here we go …
From the "I-know-it's-not-really-a-wedge-but" file comes these photos from Gary Osborn of Don Durbin's Favorite Thing Top Fueler. If you thought front-wheel pants were all the rage in the 1970s, how about these babies? In 1977, Durbin's dragster featured rear-wheel pants, and, though they didn’t catch on, they certainly did raise eyebrows. (To be fair, I already had discussed this via e-mail with reader Joe Gorman, who first sent me pics, but that was before the anything-goes wedge discussion took off.)
I never really spent any time with Durbin in the short while our NHRA careers crossed paths, but he was easy enough to find online, so I called him to ask about the design, and, after a little wait, he got back to me to discuss the "fenders," as he calls them.
The fenders actually had a bit of a space-age genesis. Durbin, an electrician by trade, was working at NASA's Ames Research facility in Mountain View, Calif., and met a man there who was interested in cars and helped Durbin design them. Jack Hagemann Jr., whose dad used to build sports-car and dragster bodies, built the fenders for Durbin out of hand-formed aluminum. The fenders were built with enough room for the tires to grow, and the insides were covered with rubber padding to prevent damage from any stones that the tires might kick up.
"The fella from Ames was pleased with the way they looked, and I never experienced any trouble with them," said Durbin, who still has the fenders. "Gary Beck told me, 'Durbin, you keep beating the bushes, and if it works, we'll try it.'
"The best I ever ran with them was a 6.0 at 249 mph when I should have been running 5.70s, but that probably had as much to do with being underfunded as anything," he admitted. "I'm not complaining; that's just the way it was. I never had the latest and greatest stuff -- I was still running a 392 then; I was probably one of the last guys to run one – and if I had the same kind of power as others I might have been able to make a better comparison. I do think they would have made a difference. They seemed to do what they were supposed to do."
Durbin retired from racing after the 1986 season and as an electrician in 2002 and today owns a popular go-kart shop in San Jose, Calif., Cambrian Go-Karts, which he opened with his son, Donald, in November 2004.
"I was just getting used to the idea of being retired when my son, who had been go-kart racing for some time, told me the most fun he ever had was helping people with go-karts and parts, so I told him we could start a place of our own." That's Durbin at right with his son.
"Sorry it took so long to get back to you," he apologized. "I was over at Half Moon Bay watching the ocean and making sure it didn't get away." Ah, the life of leisure.
On another wedge-related note, I heard again from Jim Rossi, son of Vince Rossi, co-owner of a wedge with Tommy Lisa; without knowing it, he had answered a question that was kind of ruminating in the back of my mind. The handout that Robert Flitsch had sent of the car claimed the wedge as the "1st car to run 5-second E.T." Well, we all know that the late Mike Snively owns the official mantle as first in the fives and that Tommy Ivo was credited with a disputed early five-second time slip, but the Lisa & Rossi car?
Turns out that the team had gone to Lions Drag Strip one Wednesday during one of the track's doorslammer nights to do test runs, trying to dial in the clutch. "The car launches and makes a picture-perfect blast," he remembered. "The time light flashes a 5.99 e.t., and the announcer goes crazy. It was the first five-second run ever in a Top Fueler. As fast as the announcer blurted that out, the mike went dead for what seemed like an eternity. All of a sudden, the announcer comes back on with a 'We're sorry, folks, but obviously that was an incorrect read, and we apologize for the error.' Well my father and Tommy ran up to the tower and saw for their own eyes the 5.99 e.t. still lit up on the clock and started to ask Steve Evans what was up. Steve came up with some story that it had to be wrong -- the sun must have been setting on the beams, triggering the error in reading -- and he was not going to allow the read to be logged in as official. You could imagine the disappointment Vince and Tommy felt when Steve disallowed the run. One thing is for certain: This car was the unofficial first car in the fives, make no mistake about it."
Above is yet another shot of the car, taken from the cover of the 1972 Nitro Championships race at Orange County Int’l Raceway, showing driver Billy Tidwell with the then Mrs. Billy Tidwell, the lovely Linda Vaughn.
After casting a line out into the Insider Ocean of Knowledge about the Re-Entry dragster's apparent mishap in Indy, mentioned Friday, several people told me that the car had flipped that year in Indy.
Florida-based drag racing encyclopedia Jim Hill wrote, "I seem to remember it was involved in a slow rollover, just past the finish line, just about where the Ford Tower is located. It was a very slick-looking car, great paint, etc., but it was considerably ahead of its time."
Dennis Friend, proprietor of the popular Twins To Go website (http://twotogo.homestead.com/), sent the photo above of the car taken at Rockford Dragway shortly after Indy. The front end is primered, and the back end shows repair patches. The mystery deepens.
Hill also took note of what I thought was a clever appellation for the upcoming (and much more wordy) Summit Racing Equipment NHRA Southern Nationals as the "Big Go South," telling me that my clever wordsmithing is a tad tardy. "Fact is, it was used as the event name for a series of winter meets held in South Florida in the '60s. Big Go South was coined by South Florida Timing Association promoter and former NHRA Division 1 Director Ernie Schorb and used for several big winter drag events held in the Miami area on old World War II airport temporary track sites.
"Ernie, who played a key part in producing and operating the co-op NHRA-NASCAR Winter Nationals (Flagler Beach, Fla., February 1960), decided to leave 'Winter Nationals' alone as an event title, as [Wally Parks] used it for his first Pomona winter event in 1961. Instead, he used Big Go South and also Big Go East to title those races."
I don't usually promote books here – if I did, I'd probably have a flood of requests, but I'm going to make an exception for Steve Reyes as gratitude for the many, many photos that he has contributed to this column.
Reyes has just completed a self-published hardcover book entitled Blood, Sweat and Nitro. "There are about 150 photographs in it, 98 percent of which haven't been seen for about 40 years," he told me. "Black and white photos of front-engined Top Fuelers, and a few Top Gas and Jr. Fuelers also."
The book will be a limited release with only 250 copies available for sale at $55 plus $5 shipping. All will be signed and numbered by Reyes and distributed on a first-come, first-served basis on receipt of payment. Orders for the book may be made by submitting payment of $60 per book in the form of a money order to Bethany Reyes, 150 NW 42nd St., Ocala, FL 34475. Payments via PayPal may be made to email@example.com.
Oh yeah, he said, one more thing: Here's another wedge to research. He shot this unknown wedge Top Fueler at OCIR in 1973. There's no lettering or even a permanent number to start the search. Damn you, Reyes. All right, who's gonna be first?
OK, now I'm off to Atlanta. I'd tell you not to expect to hear from me again for about a week, but I might be lying. Again. See ya down the road.
Unless someone intervenes and adds a few more hours to the day, this might be the last Insider column for a week or so. I fly to Atlanta early next week for the "Big Go South" (catchy, eh?), and I’ll be thrashing on event coverage there for NHRA.com and for National DRAGSTER early next week, so I'm not sure when I'll be able to drum up something new, although the column has proven itself somewhat self-sustaining based on your contributions, so we'll see. Just don't send out the search parties if you don’t see anything early next week.
The Thread That Won’t Die continues to weave its way into the column with still more wedge wackiness. For a trend that didn’t last all that long nor was much widespread, it has sure captured the fancy of the Insider Nation.
I mentioned earlier this week that most of the photos I'd seen of Don Prudhomme's Hot Wheels wedge were with the Funny Car-style headers coming up under the body rather than through the wedge as was usually the case, and once again, hall of fame photog Steve Reyes rides to the rescue with this shot, from the cover of the September 1971 issue of Drag Racing USA, showing "the Snake's" wedge in its original configuration. The photos were taken by Jere Alhadeff.
Below this is an impressive display of wedge photos sent to me by the prolific Bob "Plum" Plumer showcasing great shots of the wedge cars we've been discussing lo these many weeks. The top photo is a great head-on look at the Hot Wheels wedge with the Funny Car headers, and if you look closely at where the headers used to exit through the body, you can see the plates that were made to cover the holes once the pipes were rerouted. (With apologies to Plum, I've cropped some height off of these photos for space/file-size consideration.)
Below that is Chris Karamesines' wedge minus the bodywork after "the Greek" came to the same conclusion as Prudhomme that the extra weight of the wedge wasn't a good trade-off for its aerodynamic qualities. If you look closely, you can still see that the side panels have the little kickout on which the wedge body rested. Below this is Kenney Goodell's wedge with the headers through the body and then Leland Kolb's mount (sporting flopper headers) and the recently discussed Lisa & Rossi "doorstop." According to the car number, that's Bill Tidwell behind the wheel in Bakersfield, Calif. Thanks, Plum! You can check out more of Plum's plum collection on the Nitrogeezers site here.
A couple of weeks ago, as the wedge discussion was just beginning, I showed you a pretty-well-circulated Pete Gemar photo of Robert Lindall's Re-entry in the pits at Indy 1966, but just this week, while trolling through the Miscellaneous R folders for an edition of the Misc. Files for this week's National DRAGSTER, I came across two photos of the car in action. I've never seen these before, nor any of the car in action. To add further to the mystery, check out the photo below, which shows the car slowing at the end of a run at that event minus the rear bodywork. Did it blow off? Was it removed? Anyone know?
OK, that's all I've got today. Like I said, you'll have to keep your eyes peeled to the home page for the next update because I'm not sure when I'll have something new over the next week, but keep checking and keep writing!