Features

Posted by: Phil Burgess

It's been a busy week here with Brainerd and Reading back to back and the news of the Tony Pedregon-Dickie Venables split. I was quite pleased and proud that both Pedregon and Venables chose NHRA.com as their sole initial medium to discuss what had happened. Pedregon sent us a prepared statement Friday of the event, and after several days of trading e-mails, Venables and I finally spoke at length yesterday for this story. I appreciate their faith in our more traditional style of news reporting and the long and strong bonds that National DRAGSTER reporters strive to maintain with the stars of our sport.

With surgically repaired "Little Brad" (we can make him faster, stronger … we have the technology) and Candida holding down the fort for National DRAGSTER and NHRA.com this weekend, I'll be in Sonoma with my son, Chris, laptop in hand for a mini working vacation, attending the Formula Drift event. As I mentioned in April when we attended the FD opener in Long Beach, I have a lot of old drag race pals in that series who were veterans of NHRA's sport compact scene, including Gary Gardella, Ed and Ron Bergenholtz, Stephan Papadakis, and others, and it’s always good to see them. And now with Ford as NHRA's official car, we can openly root for Chris' favorite wheelman, Mustang madman Vaughn Gittin. I'll still be helping cover the race (posting photo and video galleries, team reports, etc. each night from my sister's house, conveniently located in nearby Santa Rosa, home of former Top Fuel ace Frank Bradley) and following the Reading event on NHRA's new mobile-phone app.

But anyway, on to this week's column. After Tuesday's return to the Misc. Files, I decided, without further ado, to go right to the next letter of the alphabet, K, for another 10 treats from the National DRAGSTER photo library of semi obscurity.

Barry "Machine Gun" Kelly, like Clarence Bailey, Leon Cain, Eddie and Rodney Flournoy, John Kimble, and others, was a black racer who primarily patrolled the West Coast nitro scene, but he later embarked on trips back East with his Funny Cars. Unfortunately, he's best remembered for a nasty top-end collision with Paul Smith at the 1974 PRO National Challenge in New York. According to reports, Kelly's Vega caught fire, blew a tire, and then rear-ended Smith's Fireball Vega. Before this Vega, Kelly cut his nitro teeth in a Chevy-powered Corvair flopper in 1970, a car built for him by Ronnie Scima at his Exhibition Engineering, which also had built the Pisano brothers' similar car. The scene here is Deep South Dragway (formerly known as Magnolia Dragway when it opened in 1972 and later known as Gulfport Dragway) in 1975; that's Dennis Kirkland's Dennis the Menace Mustang in the far lane.

Here's an oldie I never would have ID'd if not for the inclusion of good info written on the back of the photo and a newspaper caption glued alongside it. This is Gordie Keck, of San Luis Obispo, running the Keck, Soran & Tappanier Top Fueler to victory at Santa Maria Dragway on Halloween Day 1965, shortly after the track opened. The caption says that power came from a 300-cid Chrysler, a far cry from today's 500-inch behemoths. I've never heard of Keck and can’t find mention of him in any of my vast resources.
Here's the front-engine version of the Rathgeb-Guminski-O'Donnell-Collins Keystone Top Fueler, shown at infamous Alton Dragway in Illinois. Chicagon Gene Rathgeb was in the saddle, Bernie O'Donnell on wrenches, Mike Collins building engines, and Rich Guminski apparently the one with the fat wallet. Rathgeb was runner-up to Chuck Kurzawa at the 1970 UDRA Season Finale at Edgewater Sports Park and won this race, the 1971 UDRA points finale, with 6.7- and 6.8-second e.t.s. The team later had Wayne Farr build a rear-engine car. I came across a 2007 post on a message board that reports he was racing again after a long layoff, fielding a Bantam altered in nostalgia competition with partner Bob Quiter.
Pittsburgh's Ted Wolf drove a number of Top Fuel cars, including for Jim and Alison Lee, plus the Asher-Arciero-Flurer Jade Grenade and Jim Bucher's Chevy-powered rail, but this was his own car, the Wolf & Niemeyer Katz & Jammer Kids dragster, shown at National Trail Raceway in 1976. The car name is an obvious reference to the cartoon strip, but I'm not aware of how and why he named his car after it. Perhaps Wolf's finest day was at the 1974 U.S. Nationals, when he reached the third round (when it took five rounds to beat a 32-car field; today, that would be a semifinal finish) in the Lees' machine, falling to Dwight Hughes, who then lost to eventual surprise winner "Marvin Who?" Graham.

Tim Kushi probably doesn’t get the credit he deserves, but the Pittsfield, Mass., racer was a regular and solid presence throughout the 1970s on the East Coast, first with his line of Damn Yankee machines such as this Barracuda and later with the Yankee Sizzler cars. Being a SoCal track rat, I had never heard of him until I bought my first copy of Greg Zyla's wonderful Vallco Drag Racing Game, where Kushi was "famous" enough to make it into the game's Funny Car deck of cards, which I'm sure did wonders for Kushi's rep. Timely enough with this weekend's Toyo Tires NHRA Nationals, this Jim Cutler photo is from Maple Grove Raceway in 1972. That's Tommy Hall in Gary Richards' Mustang in the other lane. I got an interesting call a few weeks back from Hall, who claims it was he and not Sammy Miller who destroyed Prudhomme's original yellow 'Cuda. Bret Kepner and I (and others) are still trying to sort this one out.
Mac King's good-looking Virginia Beach, Va.-based QuickSilver Corvette Funny Car put 'em up at Suffolk Dragway in this great grab by our recently departed pal Eric Brooks. King originally competed in the BB/FC ranks with a Barracuda before stepping up to nitro with this Rollie Linblad-built car that according to 1970s flopper expert Danny White sported a chrome roll cage and 24-karat gold-plated brake, parachute, and fuel-shutoff levers … no doubt courtesy of the plating company that he owned.
Other than the hometown World Finals at Orange County Int’l Raceway in 1982, my first traveling assignment for National DRAGSTER was the 1983 SPORTSnationals, which had moved to Indy that year after a couple of weather-plagued years in Houston. It was at that event where I met Rick Krafft, whose humongous injector scoop and interesting sponsor (Jays potato chips) made him stand out in the crowd. He told me that his homebuilt injector flowed almost twice as much air as a conventional injector (85 square inches of area versus 45). Krafft had alcohol cars before and after this one before finding a new role as a fuel altered pilot for a number of owners, including, most recently, Mike Faser and his Chicago Fire machine.
OK, here's a weird one. This is L.C. Kirby, and the car is a Bandini, a rare bird indeed. According to FerrariExperts.com, only 75 were ever made by Ilario Bandini, and only 46 are known to still exist. This Web page is dedicated to the Bandini and shows this car in a 1954 Pennzoil ad. I blew up the ad big enough in Photoshop to get some details. According to the ad copy, "this sleek Bandini hit 135.57 on the quarter-mile track in Amarillo [and] zoomed to a record top speed of 135. 33 mph with an elapsed time of 11.16 on the Durant, Oklahoma strip." The ad doesn’t give any details about the engine, but it's clear from the photos that it was supercharged.
Here's another oldie but goodie for you Irwindale veterans. It's Victor Kim's Mr. Kim Corvette A/FC. The good-looking stretched and topless '65 blue 'Vette was powered by an injected 427 Chevy and featured a tilt-up body and ran high eights. That's the similar-looking Gage & Barnes Raunchy Corvette (driver Jay Gage) in the opposite lane.
And finally, it's odd to see the Stone, Woods & Cooke name on anything but a Willys gasser, but here's Steve Korney in his '71 Corvette bearing the S-W-C name. This was the era when the traditional Anglia and Willys were falling out of favor in the gas supercharged classes in favor sleeker, more modern cars. Korney had earned himself quite a name in SoCal as the driver of the Goldfinger AA/GS Anglia, which took runner-up in AA/GS class to "Ohio George" Montgomery at the 1969 Nationals. In 1970, he modified the chassis to accept this Corvette body to capitalize on the growing popularity of the Funny Car class, and adding the S-W-C name sure didn’t hurt bookings either.


OK, race fans, that's the K file. Just as I was submitting this article to copy editing, I got an e-mail from Dennis Fiend, who runs the awesome TwoToGo Web site, dedicated to twin-engine cars. He's just completed a staggering K project of his own, pulling together 50 years of photos of the legendary "Golden Greek," Chris Karamesines. There's some cool stuff! Check it out here.

OK, I'm outta here and northbound. I'll see ya next week.
 

 
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