Stuff is piling up in my inbox almost faster than I can sort and catalog, so I'm going to blast out the majority of it today before it swallows me whole. It's a rambling, multiheaded beast of a blog, so sit back, enjoy, and learn more stuff you probably didn't know.
Tuesday's column about the short-lived John Buttera-built, Barry Setzer-owned, Pat Foster-driven monocoque Top Fueler inspired a lot of e-mail and additions to the story.
I was very pleased to hear from Buttera's daughter, Leigh, who checked out her dad's car in Don Garlits' Florida museum in March when he was inducted into Garlits' International Drag Racing Hall of Fame during the Gatornationals. "I was entertained by the note card that they had in front of my dad's car: 'The car was never successful.' I asked Gar if it really needed to say that. His reply: 'Well, it wasn't, Leigh.' I laughed."
Reader Brett Nation said that he believes that Setzer sold the car to the late rocket-car racer Russell Mendez, who was going to convert it to a hydrogen peroxide car, and that Garlits purchased it from his estate after Mendez was killed in his Free Spirit rocket car at the 1972 Gatornationals.
Another reader, Kim Dengstfeld, said that, before the legend's death, he and his son spoke to Foster at a car show in Canada in April 2007 and asked him about the car, which Foster told him was ill-handling at about the 1,000-foot mark -- that the back end wanted to move around – lending credence to the suggestions that the car made more than just one aborted wheelstand pass. "He suggested to lock the rear wing at 10 percent and try making another pass," said Dengstfeld. "Mr. Setzer was not happy with the prior passes and made the choice to abort the car for safety reasons."
Mark Newman, noting my confusion about a paragraph in the Drag Racing USA story regarding the self-center wheel pants, broke it down for this physics failure. "The longer the trailing edge of the pant from the spindle centerline, the longer the lever arm. A small side force, which drag would apply if the wheels were turned, would push on that trailing edge, wanting to move the pant into a straight line. The farther the trail edge is from the spindle, the lower the force required." Yeah, what he said. Thanks, teach.
Insider reader Robert Flitsch threw another log on the ol' wedge-discussion fire when he sent the photo at right, showing the STP Drag Wedge. In appearance, it doesn’t fit my previously mandated (but obviously ignored! <g>) description of a wedge Top Fueler, but with a name like that and, as I discovered, an interesting backstory, I thought it was well worth sharing.
I finally found details about this car on the Historic Race Car Forum site, which I had never heard of but is kinda cool in that it offers help in tracking down old cars or in providing background to presumed buyers and sellers. It doesn’t have a huge number of entries yet, but it did cover the STP Drag Wedge, so they deserve a plug.
Turns out there's a good reason for STP being on the car because it's actually a car in which STP founder Andy Granatelli was involved. According to Dave Miller of Miller Speed Sports, who worked at the famed Logghe chassis shop from 1964-71, Granatelli contracted him to build the car, of which he was the driver and Jim Ludiker his partner.
"The car was booked through the Gold Agency in Chicago and ran across the Midwest and East Coast throughout 1969," he said. "At the end of the year, Andy bought the car back from me and put it in their warehouse. I have recently spoken with Andy, Vince, and Vince Jr., but no one knows where it is now."
The car was featured in the September 1969 issue of Car Craft magazine (here's a cropped-in center spread from that issue above -- unfortunately missing a half-inch or so of the middle for some reason -- and a better-looking photo at right; that's Miller kneeling next to the car), which reported “Andy Granatelli has emerged from his long-sought win at the Indy 500 with a wandering eye … Andy has discovered Top Fuel racing. The constant innovator, his approach takes an unusual form — the tried, but unproven, rear-engined fuel dragster.”
The car had a wheelbase of 224 inches — "easily one of the longest cars in Top Fuel competition," said Car Craft — and aluminum and magnesium body panels by Al "Tin Man" Bergler painted STP orange by George Busti of Creative Customs.
As you can see, it’s not very wedge-shaped, other than a covering of the rear end with a little flip-up trailing edge and the side-mounted canard wings. Before you ask, I'm not certain if this Dave Miller is former innovative Top Fuel racer "Diamond Dave" Miller, but I'm guessing not based on his age.
Further fueling the wedge discussion, Flitsch also passed along a few handouts from his extensive collection, including the front and back of the one of the Don Prudhomme Hot Wheels wedge. The back is interesting because it offers specs on the car, including that the car had a 220-inch wheelbase and ran on 90 percent nitro. Nye Frank and Quinn Epperly got dual billing on the bodywork, which Don Kirby painted and Tom Kelly lettered. The car itself is described thusly: "When Don Prudhomme's Cam-Am-style 'Wedge' was unveiled in June of 1971, the revolutionary new design caused a sensation because it incorporated all of the latest features of the new rear-engined dragster and added a few of its own. The sleek 'Wedge' styling is not just another pretty face, but is designed to provide down thrust in the mid range and at top end. One of its greatest features is the ease of access to all engine and driveline parts, which is provided by the unique 'flip-top' construction of the body. The 'Wedge' won the Best Engineered award at the 1971 NHRA Springnationals and, soon after, posted top speed at the PDA Championships with a 234.98 miles per hour in 6.41 seconds."
(The 1971 PDA race at OCIR … my first ever. Sigh. That 6.41 came against Rick Ramsey, who also ran 6.41, giving 11-year-old diehard "Snake" fan Phil his first sad lesson in holeshot losses.)
This photo has been making the rounds of the nostalgia news groups because it features the eminently popular Freight Train dual-engine Top Gasser as part of a new marketing program by Schlitz beer.
"To give some brief history, Schlitz has been running this campaign with their classic 1960s formula beer for a while using 1960s-themed photos, and they thought 1960s drag racing would be something to feature," explained Jere. "They considered several specific cars but settled on the twin-engined Freight Train as something that personified 1960s drag racing."
The billboards are only going to be in the Kansas City and Milwaukee markets, and only on five of the 40 boards in those markets. They'll be on three billboards in Milwaukee and two in Kansas City (on again, off again) from March 29 through Sept. 26, so keep your eyes peeled."
Tributes to Kenney Goodell keep appearing in my inbox. We lost "the Action Man" last week as the result of complications from a heart attack.
Fellow Northwest flopper legend "240 Gordie" Bonin remembered, "I first met Kenney at Stardust Raceway in Las Vegas in the very late '60s, when Ted Sinclair and I were racing our Jr. Fuel Dragster. There he was, thrashing on his purple Funny Car going in to the final round against who knows who, pouring water over his head before putting on his helmet, long hair flowing. All I remember is thinking, 'I want to be just like him when I grow up.' Funny Cars would be my life because of what I saw on that hot Sunday afternoon. He was a great competitor, a hell of a racer, and a true friend."
Flyin' Phil Elliott, a Northwest legend on the reporting side of the ledger, whipped up a tribute story for Goodell's memorial service and shared a PDF of it with me to share with you all. It includes an interesting story about Goodell bailing out of his flaming flopper at speed one night at Seattle as well as great photos of Goodell's many cars.
Steve Pace, who was the track photog at Seattle in 1968 -- "a hundred years ago," he said – and editor of a small newspaper, passed along this little story he wrote and shot about Goodell's first Mustang flopper.
OK, whew. That cleans out a bunch of stuff. I'm taking the rest of the week off. Wellll, except for that big ol' national event this weekend in Madison and those two Lucas Oil events. Yeah, but other than those, I'm taking the weekend off.
It was inevitable that our long-running and ongoing discussion of wedge-shaped Top Fuelers would eventually get around to the beautiful but short-lived John Buttera-built monocoque dragster of Barry Setzer. A few of you asked about it, and our old pal Steve Reyes was happy to supply his photos of the car, which graced the cover of the October 1972 issue of the late, great Drag Racing USA magazine.
Buttera built the car in his famous Cerritos, Calif., chassis shop, called Lil' John's Place. He already was a star in the business, having created masterpieces for the likes of Don Schumacher, Don Prudhomme, Mickey Thompson, and plenty of others. He was honored in 1971 as the top Funny Car chassis builder on Car Craft Magazine's All-star Drag Racing Team, and his star clearly was still on the rise.
According to the DRUSA article, the idea for the car began to hatch after Buttera hired aluminum specialist Louie Teckenoff, who had worked for a number of chassis shops as well as on several projects for Thompson, including Thompson's monocoque-chassised Mustang Funny Car. Teckenoff also had a chance to study monocoque construction while a member of A.J. Foyt's Indy car teams in '70 and '71. The two began to discuss the possibilities of a monocoque Top Fueler. Contrary to what most would expect, Setzer, a wealthy textile businessman who already owned the sport's dominant Funny Car, a Pat Foster-shoed Vega built by Buttera, did not commission the car but rather bought it after it was completed.
To backtrack a bit, the term "monocoque" refers to a construction technique that supports structural load by using an object's exterior as opposed to using an internal frame. The word actually comes from the Greek word for single (mono) and the French word for shell (coque), and the technique was already common in the aircraft and aerospace industries as well as a few other forms of motorsports. Drag racers, of course, were using (and still use) a two-part car: a chrome moly tube frame covered by body panels.
The Buttera/Teckenoff car would fuse the body and chassis into a single unit built around a rigid boxlike structure, known as a tub, which becomes the main structural member of the car. Though the design would make for a very strong and rigid car, it was at the complete opposite end of the current design spectrum of the flexible chassis.
The chassis had a wheelbase of 185 inches, and the tub was made of .050-inch-thick magnesium sheet fastened together using both rivets (more than 5,000!) and high-strength adhesives, placing the driver in a virtual cocoon of safety. Three strategically placed bulkheads provided lateral support, and the space between the inner and outer skins of the car was filled with high-density, shock-absorbing foam. Still, despite all of the added gear, Buttera estimated that the completed car was actually lighter than a regular dragster.
The dragster's vaguely wedge-shaped design broadened from its nose to the rear tires to keep the slicks out of the wind, and the front tires were sheathed in that bell-bottom era's drag racing fashion statement of the day, wheel pants. There's a curious passage in the story – "The fairings are also self-centering, meaning that there's more area behind the wheel tub than in front of it, so that any forces on the side of the fairings will tend to straighten the wheels instead of turning them" – that I don’t quite understand but seemed addressed at the issue concerning those front-wheel fairings catching wind and causing the car to veer out of control, which happened to a lot of the cars so equipped and eventually led to NHRA's decision to ban them.
The car had a wing between the front tires and one atop the roll cage – both built by master metalsmith Nye Frank -- and the rear wing was spring-loaded so that the angle of attack would change as the car went down the track to decrease drag. Although the cockpit was open, future plans called for experimentation with a cockpit canopy as well as a dorsal-fin rear wing, a la the Walton-Cerny-Moody dragster.
The car took six months to build and was rolled out of the shop at the end of May, but Buttera realized he could never afford to buy an engine and run the car himself, so he put it up for sale. Apparently, Setzer was looking for new arenas to dominate and had been looking for a Top Fueler. Obviously quite pleased with the performance of his Buttera-built Vega, he bought the car for $15,000.
As far as anyone knows – and Foster and Buttera are no longer with us to confirm – the car made just one pass, during a closed test session at Orange County Int’l Raceway. Reyes said that the car, with Foster at the wheel, "did a huge wheelstand and got bent when returning to Mother Earth. The car was packed up and never saw the quarter-mile again. It was repaired and disappeared. The car now resides in Don Garlits' Museum of Drag Racing in Ocala, Fla."
Reyes (as usual) also had a great story about his photo shoot of the pretty car, one that might not rival the October 1975 week that Time and Newsweek embarrassingly both featured Bruce Springsteen on their covers but that was probably pretty funny in our world.
"It was photographed by Hot Rod and myself a long 37 years ago," said Reyes. "I was allowed to photograph the car after Hot Rod. The gang at Hot Rod thought they had the scoop on this car. It was played up on the cover of Hot Rod magazine and a full spread inside. Alas, then they let me shoot it. So with the late Paul 'Wrong Way' Radici as my helper, the car was photographed in the cul-de-sac adjoining Buttera's shop. My pix and story in Drag Racing USA beat Hot Rod to the newsstand by two weeks."
Collectors will note that the car was on the cover of the September 1972 issue of Hot Rod, but here's why DRUSA actually beat the giant to the public, according to Reyes.
"Mike Doherty, the publisher of Drag Racing USA, hated Petersen and always played with the dates on the issues of DRUSA," said Reyes. "The October issue really hit the newsstand the first week of September, before any of Petersen's magazines September issues hit the newsstands. That drove the Petersen people crazy. They were really pissed, and my name was mud at Petersen for the longest time. I believe he also dated the magazine ahead one month because DRUSA was closed in December; DRUSA was really published 11 times a year, not 12."
So, there you have it. The story to the best of the combined information at hand, though I'm sure (and hopeful) that the Insider Nation will weigh in with additional info.
Of course, cars such as the Setzer dragster make great magazine covers. Witness the same thing below from August 1964, when Tony Nancy's wedge-shaped gas dragster adorned the cover of Hot Rod magazine and the Rossi & Lisa "doorstop" wedge Top Fueler was on the May 1972 cover of Car Craft, followed two months later by Don Garlits' Jocko Johnson-designed Wynn's Liner (whose cover optimistically claims "Garlits aims for 275").
The Car Crafters were apparently very into this type of thing – those covers sold a lot of magazines – as witnessed by this April 1967 shot of yet another Top Fuel albatross, the Super Mustang, which is the subject of my Pure Nostalgia column in this week's National DRAGSTER.
Other than a great photo shoot of the restored car from last year's Meadow Brook Concours d’Elegance in Rochester Hills, Mich., not a lot can be found online about the car, which debuted unspectacularly at the 1967 Winternationals with Tom "the Mongoose" McEwen at the wheel. I didn't have access to that issue of Car Craft – though NHRA's Greg Sharp (naturally) had one he said he could get to – so I dug through old issues of National DRAGSTER and interviewed both McEwen and Dickie Brannan, who was working at Ford's Special Vehicle department at the time with Chuck Foulger. That's Brannan and Foulger on the cover with McEwen.
Between the two of them and other info, I pieced together a better idea about the car, which Brannan said made a few passes in Pomona after its poor Winternationals showing. It had been my understanding that the car was born and died at the Winternationals. Interesting. He couldn’t remember how well it ran, but better than the 8.60 it was credited with during the event.
We had some cool photos that I used to illustrate the article about another great idea that was either before its time or behind in its practicality … you decide.
OK, gang, that's it for today. As always, I look forward to your continued input. I'll see ya later this week.
Kenney "the Action Man" Goodell, RIP
(photo courtesy Aaron Reyes)
We've been having so much fun with the long-running thread on wedge Top Fuelers that I'm heartbroken to interrupt it with news that I can now confirm: One of our recent subjects, Northwest nitro stalwart Kenney Goodell, suffered a very significant heart attack April 14 and passed away yesterday.
I had been receiving word of this the last week from numerous friends of "the Action Man" but was forbidden by federal privacy regulations from disclosing his medical condition without family approval. After a week of trading e-mails with Gordon Hovies, who worked on Goodell's crew from 1973 to 1975 (with Rusty Thomas and Bill Hermes as crew chiefs), and with Bill Floyd Sr., whose Pogo Racing Anglia Super Gasser Goodell had driven recently, they got me in touch with his family. Finally, late last night, I received an e-mail from Goodell's daughter Brittney, confirming that he had passed.
I delayed posting Tuesday's column hoping for better news, but, alas, it was not to be. I ask you all to say a prayer or hold a positive thought for the Goodell family.
"He was quite a character; he could make a friend anywhere," said Brittney. "He would talk to anybody. He loved his family and, of course, loved racing. I want to thank everyone for their thoughts for my dad. We had tons and tons of people show up to see him at the hospital, and the hospital was just swamped with calls."
They'll be holding a memorial service in Newburg, Ore., a week from Friday, and the family is asking that those who attend wear purple, his favorite color. "My dad didn’t want a funeral or anything like that," said Brittney. "He wanted people to be happy. He was never down, and he'd want people to try to be happy."
I knew that Goodell had been close friends with the Northwest's premier Funny Car shoe, Ed McCulloch, so "the Ace" was one of the people I wanted to hear from.
"We had a lot of fun together back then," confirmed McCulloch, who for a short time drove a dragster co-owned by Goodell and Art Whipple. "Kenney was a little bit younger than me and was just a happy-go-lucky, fun kid. His mom and dad were really great people and very supportive of his racing. They had a barn on their property that they made into a shop and helped him financially. He was a good-looking, clean-cut kid who loved doing what he did."
I also spoke to Jim Rockstad, the longtime track manager at Seattle Int'l Raceway, where Goodell often raced his cars, and Rockstad also had nothing but praise.
"They called him 'the Action Man,' and he certainly was," said Rockstad. "I heard someone say the other day that he was at the same marketing level here in the Northwest as Tom McEwen was throughout the sport. He really worked the sponsor side well. His equipment was always first-class, the best in the Northwest. His stuff was always the nicest-looking out there. He was a huge asset to our sport and a big crowd favorite at Seattle."
Rockstad also told me that he received an e-mail from someone who had gone to the hospital to visit Goodell and told him that "there were more people there than some drag races I've been to." He was certainly popular.
Although I did not know Goodell or how to reach him, I had been hoping that he'd get in touch to discuss what we've all been talking about, and, although I'm told that he was alerted to my musings, he hadn’t had a chance to reach out to me. I am sorry for that missed opportunity. Godspeed, Kenney.
I've written an obituary for him that you can find in the NHRA.com Notebook and wanted to share a final photo of his much-discussed wedge dragster. There also are some great old photos of Goodell's cars here.
Sorry for the delay in posting. I had this ready yesterday but was waiting for some important late-breaking news to lead with, but I never got the OK. So, here we are.
The wedge-dragster discussion continues to fascinate our little corner of the world. I've been receiving a few "What-about-this-one?" photos of wedge-shaped cars from the Insider faithful, but none as significant as this, as promised by drag photo guru Steve Reyes. Somehow, it slipped under the radar screens and memories of us all: It shows the Dan Olson-owned wedge Top Fueler at the Winternationals. That's Olson's longtime NorCal pal Rance McDaniel behind the wheel.
I reached out to Olson, who is, of course, NHRA's fuel-racing czar, and he confirmed that it was yet another of Woody Gilmore's cars but that they only ran the car in this configuration for a few events, which probably goes a long way toward its elusiveness in our memory banks. After only a few outings, including the March Meet, Las Vegas, and Fresno, Olson – who was big-time into the wing-building business with his Dan Olson Racing Products company – took the wedge body off and turned it into a conventional winged dragster. "It picked up about a tenth and a half after that," he mused. "It was a day and night difference."
Olson also noted that this car was next in line to run, in its debut at Orange County Int’l Raceway, when Kenny Logan had his horrific accident described in last Friday's column. "We were on the fire-up road, and it happened literally right in front of us," he remembered. "It was 5 feet away from us; I remember it like it was yesterday."
Among the many "Is-this-a-wedge-too?" e-mails came an interesting suggestion from hall-of-fame drag-racing-publication letter writer (if there were such a thing) Cliff Morgan, who remembered seeing "a front-motored dragster built around 1953-55, and it literally looked like a pie wedge. The driver sat behind the body in the conventional location, but the body itself was very wide in the back, to enclose the engine and, I think, the tires, and then the body tapered sharply to the front on both sides. Think of a piece of pie disguised as a dragster, and you have the idea. I think the car was called the Pie car or something like that because of the shape. Don't remember how competitive the car was, but I think it was way ahead of its time with the styling. I wish I could remember where I saw the photo, but it was really a wedge-shaped car."
That era predates my knowledge, so I turned to NHRA historian Greg Sharp, who, naturally, had the answer and the photo to go with it.
"He's talking about Creighton Hunter's Slice o' Pie. (Hunter was one of C.J. Hart's original partners in the Santa Ana strip.) Powered by a sideways-mounted flathead, it had chain drive and had a pair of casters in the back. They would jack it up on the starting line, and when it was time to go, move a big lever to drop it on the slicks (much like Pete Robinson's later 'jack starts'). He hit the lights and flipped it several times in 1956 at Santa Ana. He was broken up pretty bad but survived and died at 86 in 2006."
As I've said several times, I've received a lot of other suggestions about wedge dragsters, cars that were indeed wedge-shaped -- such as the Robert Lindall-owned and -driven Re-entry pictured above in this famous Pete Gemar photo from 1966 -- but if I covered every car with a slick shape, well, we'd be here a long time (even though my pal Tom "Fasthair" Scott double-dawg-dared me to do a history of streamlining; I'm gonna pass for now). Still, I don't suspect that caveat will quell the flood.
Before we leave the discussion entirely (well, for now), I wanted to share this note from Harry Lehman, whose American Way dragster I showed last time. High Performance author Bob Post suggested that I contact Lehman for more info on the car and, oh, by the way, here's his e-mail address. I did, asking him for as much info as he could share, and Lehman quickly responded.
"Thanks, Phil, for asking about the American Way (AW) history," he wrote. "I agree with you that the AW was a true streamliner rather than a wedge or semi-liner. Wedges and semi-liners employ streamlining techniques typically on certain areas of the vehicle. Today’s T/F cars are semi-liners; they are a lot closer to being true streamliners than back in the good old days. The AW was fully enclosed including the complete bottom where a lot of drag is created, front wheels were covered with disc inserts, wing struts were aero-tubing, etc.
"We are working on creating a website that will provide information on the AW and aerodynamic stuff. There has been enough interest in the AW to encourage us to construct a site to provide AW history. In the meantime, I will share memories with you when I can. As far as the chassis being run, I don’t know its whereabouts. I do know that I never sold any of the body, and I still have the canopy hanging in the shop."
I'm very much looking forward to future discussions on this unique machine.
Stepping back a few columns to our discussion of pins, I had shown you a photo sent by Chuck Rearick of the earliest NHRA member pin, but he's not the only one with one of them in his collection. My favorite sign man, Dan Delaney, and collectible connoisseur Mike Goyda each dropped me some photos and info on their collections.
According to Goyda, "In late 1951, the NHRA decided to produce a first-year pin for its members. These were not given to members; rather, they had to be purchased for $1. In 1952, they produced a second-year pin that was identical to the first-year pin except for the number 2. The NHRA then produced a pin each year through 1959, so there were a total of nine pins. Beginning with No. 3, the design changed and was different each year after that. In order to have received all nine pins, a person would have to have belonged to NHRA for the first nine years of its existence. The reason for this is that if, for instance, you belonged for the first three years and then allowed your membership to lapse, if you rejoined, you were considered a first-year member again. Aside from being advised of this by an old-timer who was involved with NHRA, it is further evidenced by a pamphlet I have in my possession that was issued by NHRA in 1955. It pictures the first five pins and states, 'Indicates the year of membership you're on; first year for those who have just joined; second year for those just completing their first year, etc. You may be entitled to a later pin than you think; when did YOU join?' Clearly, the NHRA kept track. Consequently, obtaining a complete set of these pins is difficult at best.
"Ironically, it took me exactly nine years to complete my set and several more to upgrade them. Mine are further distinguished by each retaining its original card. These were advertised occasionally in Tie Rod, the NHRA publication that predates National DRAGSTER. I have no indication that they were offered after 1960.
"The Nos. 1 and 2 pins are the most common as there would have been many first- and second-year members during the nine-year period that these were available. The scarcity varies directly with the number on the pin. You will notice that the first four pins were produced by Kaag Trophies of Los Angeles. The No. 5 pin was produced by the O.C. Tanner Co. of Salt Lake City, and then the last four pins were again made by Kaag. I assume that for that one year, the Tanner Co. offered the NHRA a better price."
Goyda, whose goyda.com site hosts a treasure trove of hot-rod memorabilia for sale, acknowledged the "invaluable help" of Greg Xakellis, Dale Ham, and the late Bob Daniels to piece together this information.
Delaney has the first- and second-year pins, which he keeps in the trophy case at his shop. "I've had these pins about 25 years," he said. "They were a gift from 'Corky' Hibbard. 'Cork' was an unbelievable left-handed pinstriper who used to work in my shop for many years and had quite the pin collection. He collected car salesman's pins, and then in the '80s, I got him into the racing end of collecting pins; he even had his own pin made of this logo that was his name with a pinstriping brush through it; that's how he signed his work. Sadly, 'Cork' passed away a couple years ago, and I do not have one of his pins. He had these for a number of years and thought I should have them. They are very cherished."
OK, that's it for today. Thanks for all of the input, kind words, contributions, suggestions, and such. Keep it coming, and so will I.