Just when you thought it was safe to go back into the water, more body parts began to surface. OK, sure that sounds like the beginning to a Jaws sequel, but it’s really just a toothy intro to another installment of Bits and Pieces, Part 4 by my recollection.
I'm not at all surprised by the constant influx of these treasures because they have always seemed readily available to those seeking to forage for them, and I'm certain that just one look by their owners instantly transports them back in time to their creation. The smell of charred fiberglass probably still hangs on them, with an oil chaser. They are the bits and pieces of our memory that become whole again as their stories are told.
Robert Flitsch owns the fine piece of bodywork shown at right: the entire right-rear quarter of Billy Meyer’s Chief Auto Parts Mustang from a devastating blower explosion at the 1986 U.S. Nationals. The photo above is from the camera of yours truly, from a seat in the grandstands, showing just how it ended up in little-bitty pieces.
“I had a lot of fun hauling that about two miles back to the campsite, along with handout bags, a cooler, and a 35mm Minolta with all the accessories!” he remembered. “I then proceeded to cruise around Indy with it sticking out of the trunk of my '78 Caprice, looking like I was hit by Meyer at over 250 mph! It especially was a big hit at the Indy Carhop drive-in, and everyone was welcomed to break a piece off for themselves. When Monday came, I had to hide it in the cornfield across the street until I returned after the finals as surely it would have been long gone.
"It was then taken to my mother`s house, where it remained for a couple years until one fall day my mom was burning leaves and suggested I get rid of that stupid thing BY BURNING IT in her leaf pile! Despite her being a veteran of quite a few races and national events, she had never seen a good old-style fiberglass fire. I proceeded to hacksaw off what you see now and threw the remains into the fire, touching off the biggest conflagration she or that neighborhood had ever seen! As the flames went up a couple hundred feet or more and they grew so white hot, she really began to panic and claims to this day she has never been so scared or seen anything like it.”
Meyer had to borrow a Tempo body from Kenny Bernstein to complete the race, which is why if you ever see a photo of the final round – oh, look, there’s one right here – you might think it was Bernstein in the other lane against tire-smoking Mike Dunn in the final, but it was Meyer, whose luck expired when his drivetrain did, allowing Dunn to pedal his way to victory in Joe Pisano’s entry.
John Lindsay, a familiar name to Southern California race fans as the longtime owner of the Impulse Funny Car, had an interesting follow-up about the Super Shops giveaway floppers I mentioned in Part 3.
“It was won by a fan; it did not go home with him,” Lindsay reported. “At the award ceremony at the Super Shops warehouse in San Bernardino, it was bought back by Harry Eberlin for $10,000 cash. I watched Harry work the newly married guy and his wife after the guy turned down the cash at first. Harry then offered to sell the truck and trailer, then a couple of spare motors, some spare parts, and then nine drums of nitro that were sitting there and quoting then how much it cost to run this car. He then pulled an envelope of $100 bills out of his pocket, and the guy's wife was elbowing her husband to ‘TAKE THE MONEY!’ He did, and then Harry more than doubled his money in less than 24 hours! Tom Hoover bought the rolling car. I bought the engine, transmission, and third member. I go to lunch with Jim Cowell, one of Harry's VPs, every Monday, and we still talk about some of the deals that Harry was involved with and the fact that I bought the first set of pistons that Harry ever sold. They were Jahns Power Slot for a Chevy 348. He had only been in business for a few months at that time, and I was still in high school at the time.”
Jay Postlethwait spotted this crashed-up keepsake on the wall of a tire shop in Vacaville, Calif., a portion of the body from Top Alcohol Funny Car racer Hans Kuesel’s well-documented 1997 crash at Sacramento Raceway, which has been featured on several of those amazing-crashes TV shows throughout the years; the video is at right (fast-forward to 21 seconds).
“The late Greg Maher (Wulf & Maher AA/FD), who was the track manager at the time, had asked a few of us that worked at Sears Point to come up and help them out,” he recalled. “It turned out to be a busy weekend as I think this was the same weekend that Jack Beckman was involved in a crash in his canopy Super Comp car as well. One of the tire shop’s employees was a spectator at the race and got it from Hans, who also autographed it. Somewhere around here, I had some pieces from the Muy Caliente jet dragster that also crashed at Sacramento and was driven by Dennis Geisler."
I mentioned in my Tripp Shumake article two weeks ago that he was one of the first guys to befriend me when I came to work here; Kuesel was another. Before I was allowed to hit the national event trail for National DRAGSTER (more than a year after I’d come to work at NHRA), I did the bulk of my reporting learning at Orange County Int’l Raceway, covering the big match race shows there. Kuesel was always one of the alky competitors, and he and fellow OCIR TAFC regular Chuck Beal both welcomed me and my curious 22-year-old mind with open arms. Even 30 years later, I haven’t forgotten their warmth and openness.
And finally, segueing nicely between Bits and Pieces and Shumake, here’s this crashtacular photo, submitted by our pals Laura and Mark (with a "K") Bruederle (with three "E"s), showing the leftovers of Shumake's 1973 crash in Kelly Chadwick’s flopper at Great Lakes Dragaway in 1973 that I chronicled last week. Shumake’s mount lost a freeze plug and crossed into Connie Kalitta’s lane. Kalitta’s Mustang pushed Shumake’s car up and over the guardrail, leaving him with a broken arm. I’m not sure who got this oversized souvenir.
Speaking of Shumake, I’ve received a few more comments about him that I’ll share next week along with some of the other interesting correspondence I’ve received in the past few weeks.
As tomorrow is Thanksgiving, I’d like to once again give thanks to all of you for reading and contributing to this column during the years. I’m very thankful that it found not only an interested but also very generous audience whose contributions have made it much more than I ever could alone. Enjoy your holiday; I’ll see you turkeys next week.
It’s a sad fact of life that we don’t often enough get to tell people how we feel about them or to truly appreciate them before we lose them. I’ve felt that way numerous times, and every time that I write about someone we’ve lost – be it last week or 20 years ago – I always get that same twinge.
I remember sitting down in late 1996 with Blaine Johnson’s family – Mom, Dad, sister, brother Alan -- for a lengthy series of interviews to share his life story in National DRAGSTER after we lost him, and even though I thought I knew Blaine pretty well, I learned things about him I never knew, and my appreciation for who he was away from the racetrack grew enormously.
And each time that I do a “Remembering …” column here, I get a ton of email and comments from people sharing their great memories and thoughts that only again make me wish I knew the subject better. Such was the case with Tripp Shumake. There was an outpouring of comments on my Facebook page after I posted a link to last week’s column, which included touching comments by his daughter, Heather, and, of course, the ol’ Insider Inbox runneth over with similar comments. Below are some of the best.
Al Booton sent this memorable pic of Shumake enjoying a less-than-great moment at the 1982 Southern Nationals, a year after his breakthrough win there. Recalled Booton, “After it ran in SS&DI, the next time I saw Tripp, I asked if he had seen it. He said yes and he would like to have an 8 by 10 and gave me a business card that had Johnny Loper's shop address on it. The next race, I asked if he got it, and he said, ‘Heck no; it's hanging on Johnny's office wall,’ so the next print went to Tripp's house. Now they are both gone, as are many of the great early racers.”
J.R. Ybarra had a great memory of Shumake running Loper’s car and Joe Pisano's car at Orange County Int’l Raceway.
“I distinctly remember one qualifying run in the Pisano Camaro where the car was drifting towards the centerline, and he absolutely refused to lift and legged it to a 6.03, which, if I remember, was low e.t. for qualifying at the time. I just stood there and shook my head in amazement. He is very much missed by SoCal Funny Car fans."
Conveniently, Ybarra found a video of that exact run – lensed by prolific OCIR videographer Dwight Guild in June 1983 -- which can be watched at right. Dig those dry hops! I believe that’s the late Richard Schroeder making the call.
Kim Engstfeld, who currently serves as a crewmember on Twig Zeigler’s Nostalgia Funny Car, recalled meeting Shumake in 1976 while working on Zeigler’s original Pizza Haven flopper. “He was a great guy and very knowledgeable to a cocky 18-year-old,” he remembered fondly. “No matter how much of a smart mouth I had, he was determined to be nice to me. At the 1977 Fallnationals, he was driving the Powers Steel Camaro with Dan Geare tuning it. It was only the two guys, and they needed help servicing the car. I went over to say hi, and Tripp drafted me and my brother to help with the car. They made it to the semi's and fell short, but every time he was in Seattle after that, he and Mr. Loper had my brother and me doing odd jobs for them. So just to say he was a great guy is not enough; he was a great man that left us way too soon.”
Don Thomas had a brief but similarly pleasing encounter with Shumake in the 1970s. “The thing about Tripp that really stuck with me was the quality within that time he gave to me,” he wrote. “I asked him that sort of silly, cliché question that nearly every fan asks a Funny Car and/or Top Fuel driver: ‘What's it like to drive one of those machines?’ Most drivers that I posed this question to in the past would usually give me a quick, blow-off kind of reply like, ‘Feels great’ or ‘Fast,’ but Tripp actually took the time to stand with this wide-eyed teenager and give me some reasonable explanation of what it was like.
“This is what he said: ‘Physically, they're not that hard to drive. The real skill level comes when you get into trouble. Fire, tire shake, or the car getting squirrelly and out of shape, that's when your abilities are really tested in one of these things, when something goes wrong. Outside of that, they're not that difficult to handle.’ The fact that Tripp took the time to give such an in-depth answer to somewhat of a stupid question to a young, naïve teenager really moved me. I remember how good and proud I felt that Tripp Shumake actually took the time to talk to me!
“Sure, in the win/loss column, he wasn't known as one of the superstars, but I didn't care about that. I didn't even know he'd won any national events at all until reading your article. Heck, the man drove a nitro-guzzling, fire-breathing, 1,600-horsepower freak machine, and that was more than enough to give him superstar status as far as I was concerned. Being the ultra-nice person he was only compounded that. Rest peacefully, Tripp. I’m still and forever a fan.”
I was asked by several people if the police caught the man who took Shumake from us, the reckless hit-and-run driver who fled the scene, and Heather said that they did.
“Some of the people driving next to my dad on the highway when the accident happened chased after him and got his license-plate number,” she said. “Police found him two days later, and he was sentenced to 22 years, but he was released for overcrowding after just six years.” Justice only partially served.
Shumake, during a brief driving gig for Dennis Fowler's and Don Green's Rat Trap
(Steve Reyes photo)
Even though Heather had done a pretty solid job of recounting Tripp’s racing lineage, I still was compelled to dig through the National DRAGSTER archives for more info to see if I could find any more gems because he’s not here to speak for himself, and I came across a couple of features we had done on him.
The first, in 1978 – just after he had joined forces with fellow Arizonian Loper -- recounted that in his then-12-year driving career, he had already driven 37 machines and that he had great optimism about what lay ahead with Loper. And with good reason. In their short time together, they had already challenged some track records on the match race scene and qualified No. 1 at the 1978 Winternationals. He finished the season a career-high fourth in points.
And as previously mentioned, he crewed and drove for the great Dickie Harrell until his death and wrenched Connie Kalitta’s Mustang (and once even drove it at a match race; Kalitta didn’t show up because he thought the race was going to be rained out, so Shumake saddled up but only got a red-light and a wheelstand for his efforts) and drove for the likes of Larry Christopherson and Kelly Chadwick. It was in Chadwick’s car that he suffered a nasty wreck in 1973 at Great Lakes Dragaway. A freeze plug came out of the engine, sending him across the centerline and, ironically, into Kalitta’s path. Kalitta’s mount punted Shumake’s car over the guardrail, leading to a broken arm for our hero.
He joined Dennis Fowler and the Sundance team for a couple of years and showed well in 1976; he ran at 65 match race dates and earned the championship in the Coca-Cola Cavalcade series. By mid-1977, the finances began to run dry, and he finished the season in the Powers car before Loper came calling.
Shumake had "the heater on" in Billy Meyer's Firenza at the 1988 Winternationals.
After Loper's car came the Pisano Camaro (in which he famously set the last track record ever established at Orange County, 5.749) and the aging but competitive Bill Schultz-tuned Over the Hill Gang/In-N-Out Burger Charger, then he went back to drive for Billy Meyer – in whose “blocker” car he had won the 1982 World Finals – in the Chief Auto Parts Firenza (which included a memorably toasty ride at the 1988 Winternationals). He was let go from the team in April 1988, fired by crew chief Dave Settles, who, ironically, had signed Shumake’s nitro license in 1969 when he drove for Joe McKee in Top Fuel.
Shumake later went to work for Lou Patane, both on his part-time Top Fueler and as service manager at Louis Dodge, got his pilot’s license, and enjoyed spending more time with his family.
“I had lost the drive to race seriously,” he confessed. “To be a good driver, you have to want [to drive] more than anything. You have to be willing to put almost anything else aside and concentrate on getting and keeping that ride. That was going away for me; I’ve thought about coming back, but I really don’t see it.”
I would have loved to have seen the guy people affectionately called "240 Shorty" continue his racing career. It never happened, yet he still managed to leave us all with a lot of good memories. It sure would be nice to tell him that ...
When I joined the National DRAGSTER staff in early 1982, one of the first people to openly embrace “the new guy” was Funny Car racer Tripp Shumake. Slight of stature but big of heart, I don’t know that there was anyone in the pits who didn’t like him. He always seemed to be in a good mood, a broad smile popping out below that thick mustache and eyes gleaming below a mop of hair.
Born James William Shumake III, he got the name by which all of us know him from his mother, who called him “Lil Trippy" because he was the third generation with that name. With his charming wife, Susie, they were the perfect couple, and with adorable daughter Heather, they made the perfect family. Little Heather melted the hearts of everyone she met, and she met a lot of people. Although Tripp only won two NHRA national events in his career, he was a winner in ways many of us will never achieve.
Although he had been racing since the late 1960s, Shumake earned national fame in the late 1970s and early 1980s as the driver of Johnny Loper's Loper's Performance Funny Cars, in which he became a member of the Cragar Five-Second Club. He appeared in three Funny Car finals and won two, at the 1981 Southern Nationals in Atlanta in Loper’s car and the 1982 World Finals at Orange County Int’l Raceway while driving a second Chief Auto Parts Funny Car, a Ford EXP, as a blocker for Billy Meyer. He also was a member of the Crane Cams Funny Car 250-mph Club.
We lost Tripp 13 years ago next week, Nov. 13, 1999. He was killed by a wrong-way, hit-and-run driver while riding his Harley-Davidson motorcycle near his Chandler, Ariz., home. As this week’s race marks the 30th anniversary of his final win, it’s a great time to remember him.
I have been fortunate over the years to remain in contact with Susie, sharing our memories of Tripp, and, more recently, to be in touch with little Heather, who’s suddenly not so little anymore. She’s all grown up, 35, with two kids of her own, 10-year-old Connor and 7-year-old Cassie. I never met her brother, Tripp and Susie’s son, Travis, who is 28, but you can see a photo of him below.
Heather asked to share her thoughts and memories of her dad, which I am more than pleased to do. Enjoy.
Heather (Shumake) LeVay with John Force and Ashley Force Hood at last year's Mile-High Nationals.
" 'The nicest guy at the track was always Tripp Shumake,' John Force said to my family and me when we visited him at the Mile-High Nationals in Denver last year. 'Ol' Tripper was always in a good mood and had a smile on his face.'
"Every person I've spoken to since my father was taken from us too soon has said something similar to me. He was one of the good guys. He showed up at the track early, worked on the car, and truly loved to race. Tripp was humble, and he made his fellow racers laugh. Back then, racing was a family event. I was born and raised at the track with the help of families like the Coughlins, Amatos, Bernsteins, Gwynns, and Gliddens. My mother, Susie, worked on the car with my dad, backed him up [after the burnout], and helped drive the truck/trailer to the next race each week no matter how far across country that might be. We slept in roadside motels, ate at Denny's, and created the most wonderful childhood memories.
"My father was my hero. I miss the smell of the nitro that would fill my lungs and make tears pour out of my eyes. I miss my dad's firesuit and the scary gas-mask filters he would wear that made him look like Darth Vader. I miss helping him pack the parachute.
"His racing career began in the late 1960s. In 1969, he worked and raced for Chuck's Speed Center in Phoenix. He raced Chuck Forstie's Corvette to numerous wins at Beeline Raceway. In 1971, he decided to go on tour with the famous Funny Car racer Dickie Harrell. When Harrell suffered fatal injuries in his race car, Tripp returned to Phoenix, and in the next several years, he worked/drove for Connie Kalitta, Shirley Muldowney, and Kelly Chadwick, just to name a few.
The 1981 Southern Nationals was a memorable event for Tripp Shumake. He not only drove Johnny Loper's Arrow into the final spot in the Cragar Five-Second Club (5.98), but also won his first national event.
Shumake's second and final win came in Billy Meyer's Ford EXP at the 1982 World Finals at Orange County Int'l Raceway.
"His claim to fame and the cars he loved to race were the Phoenix-based teams like Dennis Fowler's Sundance Funny Car, John Powers’ Winemaker, the Powers Steel Funny Car, John Aleman's fuel altered, Joe Pisano's Funny Car, the In-N-Out Burger Funny Car, and Johnny Loper's Lil Hoss.
"Tripp was a member of the Cragar Five-Second Club. He also was the fourth man in history to drive a Funny Car over 250 mph. The famous 250-mph ring (one of only eight in the world) was his prize possession. Tripp was inducted into the Arizona Racing Hall of Fame in 1996.
"Later in his career, Tripp was a color commentator for NHRA at the national event in Phoenix each year. He was a hometown hero and was always gracious with his fans.
"My dad's memorabilia is on display in my basement with his Wallys, ‘Billy Beer’ trophy, photos, magazine covers, and fan letters. My two children were not fortunate enough to have met him, but they love watching his old racing videos and have inherited his determination, humor, and zest for life. He made a lasting impression on everyone he met, whether it be a fellow racer, a fan, a member of his church community, a neighbor, or a friend.
"It will be 30 years this weekend since my dad won the World Finals, and I think the best way to remember him would be in his own words when Steve Evans interviewed him after his World Finals win. He said, 'You know, my wife and I have a prayer in our trailer each morning before the race, and this morning I said, "Lord, no matter whether I win or lose, just let me do the best I can do." And how can you ask for more?' "
Thanks so much for sharing with us, Heather. I know that I'm not alone in thinking the world of your dad and wishing he were still with us. Another great one gone too soon, but we'll always remember him.
OK, kids, it's off to Pomona for the Finals tomorrow to see shiny new champs crowned (literally; well, literally that they're new, first-time champs, not so much still shiny after a yearlong battle), so follow along with us on NHRA.com and Twitter. I'll see you next week.
With Las Vegas in the rearview mirror and Pomona and the season finale in our sights, it’s time for one more spin of the jackpot wheel and the Insider finale (for now) of Bits and Pieces, your stories of salvaged strip scrap. It has been fun to see all of the stuff that has been plucked out of trash cans after being discarded by teams in what is most assuredly the ultimate case of “One man’s trash is another man’s treasure.”
Few people will have a problem recognizing our first artifact, which is a good-sized and well-singed chunk of the side of the Super Shops 1980 Arrow driven (in its demise) by Ed McCulloch and the year before (with a different body) by Pat Foster and Dave Hough. As you may remember, the Super Shops chain of high-performance parts dealers organized an end-of-season giveaway of these cars (and, as I remember, also Hough’s fuel altered). After the World Finals, some lucky fan walked off with a pretty bitchin' raffle prize. Obviously, this toasty tidbit was not part of the giveaway.
The car caught fire during its first test session at Orange County Int’l Raceway, leading to the famous photo at right of McCulloch trying to play firefighter in the OCIR shutdown area. There’s a whole backstory to this photo, as shared online some time ago by Dave Wallace, about then Super Shops owner Harry Eberlin trying to prevent the photo from being published in Hot Rod by threatening to pull all of his Super Shops, Mallory, and Erson advertising from the magazine if it ran.
“My position was that Super Shops' promotion could only benefit from the free publicity and Eberlin was probably bluffing,” remembered Wallace. “I also argued that the world's largest automotive magazine should not compromise its editorial integrity by bowing to an advertiser with a bruised ego. Editor Lee Kelley agreed. Ad guy Harry Hibler shrugged. Publisher Dick Van Cleve looked away. The photo ran, and Eberlin canceled his program.” Super Shops rebuilt the car, in which McCulloch won the U.S. Nationals that year, and it went home with a fan after that year’s World Finals at Ontario Motor Speedway."
But back to the souvenir. It belongs to an old friend of mine, Terry Spencer, whom I first met online way back in the early 1990s as part of the original Drag Racer's Forum on AOL (more on that later).
“I came into possession of the remains of the body through my friend Mike Love, of Mike Love’s Custom Paint Specialties, who painted it,” he recalled. “The car was painted in Super Shops colors, and Mike had painstakingly applied real gold-leaf lettering to the beautiful race car. Mike also sent me the photo of [the car on fire]. As Super Shops was running a win-this-car promotion at the time, the shot of it burning up with those words clearly shown is kind of funny and ironic to see. I’m sure no one was laughing at the time, and, thankfully, Ed was not hurt. Mike mounted it in a custom-painted flamed frame for me. The body panel and photo reside on my garage wall and get a lot of comments from friends and visitors, some who actually remember Super Shops and the cars they sponsored.”
It’s funny that I’d hear from Terry because I had just written a column in National DRAGSTER about my involvement in NHRA’s first online presence, which included that freewheeling forum. It was more of a chat room than the kind of forum you think about today (i.e., message boards), but we’d gather every Friday night to trade racing tales and rumors, catch up with one another, and generally goof off together. I met many wonderful people I might not have otherwise met, including guys like Spencer and Florida racers Bob Williams and Craig Ridenour, with whom I’m still in touch all these years later. We even had Bob Glidden come to the DRF chat room once to discuss allegations of nitrous use, which I think was probably some kind of first. It was great fun and really whet my appetite and showed me what a strong online presence and interaction with the membership could mean to the NHRA. It’s a philosophy I continue today as the primary gatekeeper to all general emails sent to NHRA, which I try to answer quickly and accurately. And, of course, there’s this column …
While showing off his piece of his dad’s famous Barry Setzer Vega, Cole Foster mentioned that he had seen another fiberglass fragment from the car on display at the NHRA Museum, and sure enough, Museum Services Coordinator Sheri Watson sent photos of her treasured keepsake.
“My friend Bob actually picked up the piece of the car,” she wrote. “We always went to the drags together, and Lions was the first strip I actually went to. I had known him for almost 30 years, and he passed away in December 2000. This is one of my most treasured items because he and Patty are both gone now,” she wrote. “I plan on putting it in the Lions Reunion display we are having in December.”
Sheri put the piece in a shadow box with a photo of the car that Bob McClurg was kind enough to give her. The piece is very cool because it’s autographed by both Foster and crew chief Ed Pink. The latter wrote only “Ooops!” next to his name, but Foster waxed poetic: “It was a misty night at Lions. We had her on kill. Then blew the blower off her …”
A great story came out of the photo last week of the Jade Grenade cowl that Mike Goyda owns. After Mike sent me the photo, I forwarded it to Don Roberts, who was driving the car when it crashed, and included Don’s comments about wishing he owned it when I published the column. When Goyda read that and that Roberts had been seriously injured in the crash, he immediately contacted Roberts and offered to loan Roberts the cowl for an indeterminate amount of time. “It was one of the nicest gestures that has ever come my way,” said Roberts, who ultimately declined the kind offer.
“My mom taught me to always try to do the right thing, and this was one of those times,” Goyda explained. “As it turns out, Don has decided to let me continue to be its caretaker, but I'm sure glad I offered it to him. He obviously appreciated it. I hope to be able to meet him next year at the reunion. I'm glad you let him know about it before the column came out. It started the whole process.”
Ralph Haga’s collection isn’t a part but a complete car that he recently pulled out of mothballs from an Illinois barn after nearly 30 years: the Roach Top Fuel dragster that was famously driven by Larry Brown to a one-off runner-up behind Shirley Muldowney at the 1980 Springnationals at National Trail Raceway in Columbus.
“I bought the Tom & Jerry Duster [Funny Car] this summer and wanted a dragster to go with it and heard that this guy had an old dragster,” he wrote. “I found his number on the Net and got lucky with the first number. He said he didn’t want to sell it but that I could come look at it. Once I saw it, I was excited, to say the least! After promising that I wouldn’t cut it up for a bracket car and actually restore it, he agreed to sell. My plans are to put a blown K-B back in it and leave it correct.”
Haga is looking to contact Brown and car owner Mark Campbell for more information on the car, so if anyone has contact info for either, pass it on to me, and I’ll forward it to him.
And speaking of resurrections, I also got a note from Vince Deglinnocenti regarding the Twilight Zone Funny Car mentioned in Bits and Pieces, Part 2. “I was excited to see a photo of the Laganas' Twilight Zone Funny Car,” he wrote. “I guess I have a great souvenir: I have the car in my garage. I bought the rolling chassis in 2010. I'm building a new chassis, using the old Twilight Zone chassis as a template. I'm using the steering, 9-inch rear end, fuel tank, brake handle, wheels, and puke tank from the old chassis for the new build, so the Twilight Zone will live on -- well, parts of it will.”
I was saddened to hear earlier this week of the passing of longtime Division 4 Tech Director Chuck Nelson. I interviewed him in 2006 for a National DRAGSTER PROfile column, and he was a wonderful interview.
“When I first started doing tech, the racers had to build everything themselves, and it sometimes was a great challenge trying to explain to a guy that the personality he’d put into his car really wasn’t what the Rulebook was looking for,” he said. “Now, a guy writes a check for a kit car, and everything is done to SFI Specs, so some of the challenges aren’t there. One of the biggest problems I’ve faced is getting technical people at each track to use the Rulebook. Too often, they try to give an answer off the top of their head instead of consulting the Rulebook. We want to make sure the racer gets the right answer every time. The last thing we want to do is have a racer get frustrated and leave us to take up tennis. Back in the early days, the Tech Department’s mentality was ‘My way or the highway,’ and today, we spend a lot more time explaining why their car doesn’t fit the rules. There’s a lot more diplomacy involved.”
A Division 4 Good Guy, in every sense of the word. He’ll be missed.
I also learned last week of the passing of former Top Fuel and Top Gas racer Fred Fischbach, who was a sometime contributor to this column. The photo above shows him in the near lane in the Top Gas final at a Division 7 points race in Irwindale, red-lighting to Schultz & Jones. Fischbach later drove in Top Fuel on the Texas circuit and was the first driver for Chuck Tanko's Speed Equipment World Vega (the ex-Barry Setzer car) for two races before Jim Nicoll took over the helm. Another friend and hero gone.