In-car videoFriday, January 31, 2014
Posted by: Phil Burgess

Welcome back aboard for another column of onboard camera work. The first part of today’s column will focus on moving pictures, followed by a recap of more onboard images I’ve received.

Even though videos from in-car cameras are expected coverage from any motorsport today, there are quite a few good examples of in-car footage from back in the day, shot, of course, on film rather than recorded live to video. Perhaps the finest, in terms of quality, were shot for the 1971 film Drag Racer. Bruce Dyda clued me in to the YouTube video at right – “If you don’t think that this is the greatest, you must be dead,” he insists – that neatly compiles the film’s in-car footage shot at Irwindale Raceway.

The car is the 1970 Schultz & Glenn dragster, driven in the film by Glenn, and it’s shown – on two different runs incorporating two different angles, looking back at the driver and looking forward from just in front of the engine – as the car is push-started on the return road, makes the swing in front of Irwindale’s iconic blue-doored tower, then burns out and makes a run. The producers also shot at Lions and Orange County.

Although Steve Reyes is well noted for his still photography, he also dabbled in moving pictures in the late 1960s, strapping an 8mm camera to the roll cages of some of Northern California’s top cars. “In 1966, ’67, and '68, I mounted my 8mm movie camera on The Whiz Kids AA/FD, Don ’Mr. 223’ Cook's AA/FD, the Californian AA/FD, the Cow Palace Shell AA/FD, and ‘Fast Frank’ Bradley's AA/FD.

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The California AA/FD (1968)

“The Whiz Kids ran off the end of Fremont and through a wood-plank fence with the camera on the front axle. No damage to car or camera, but it looks cool. The Jackson Bros. have the footage. I gave it to them to include in some of their videos. I can tell you one thing: That camera was never going to rust. Talk about oil baths. I think the racers oiled every time I mounted the camera on the roll bar.

“The coolest and scariest footage of a movie camera mounted on a car was when Rick Stewart crashed the Bay Harbor AA/FD at Lions in 1966 or ‘67. Stewart's engine failed in the lights, and you go with him on one wild crash. How the camera made it through the crash was amazing. Stewart was beat up but lived to drive again, but the car was junk, and it was a brand-new AA/FD.”

Also included in this gallery are two other images Reyes sent me, one showing “Gentleman Joe” Schubeck carrying a camera at Riverside in 1965 and one of Don Garlits at the 1970 Supernationals. The final photo, sent by Johnny Cola, shows Leland Kolb with a high-mounted camera on his four-wing dragster at the Supernationals in (I’m guessing) 1972.

Reyes also sent along the photo above, showing a filming fail at Lions. Someone set up a movie camera on the front end of the Sugar Cane AA/FD and got some rather unexpected results. “It was a nice setup, but they forgot to tape the camera shut, so when it left the starting line, the camera popped open, and the film covered the fuel tank and engine,” said Reyes. You can see the exposed film pretty clearly in this shot, trailing away from the camera at the far right of the image.

Deftly shifting a manual four-speed transmission while flying down the dragstrip may be one of the more impressive accomplishments any drag racer can do, and while early Super Stock/Pro Stock icon Ronnie Sox was dubbed “Mr. 4-Speed” for his skill at the task, his Chevy rival, Bill Jenkins, certainly knew his way around an H pattern, too.

At right is a pretty great little snippet of video that I found online showing Jenkins at work behind the wheel of his Super Stock Camaro at the 1968 Nationals in Indianapolis. If I coded the video correctly, it should start at the proper place, just before Jenkins launches on a pass down the fabled Indy quarter-mile (if it doesn’t, then just fast-forward to the 5-minute, 55-second mark, or watch the whole video; it’s really pretty great) in the first round of eliminations. Anyway, from a camera view on the floor of the passenger side, you get to see Jenkins – trademark cigar clenched firmly in his teeth – launch hard and work the shifter purposefully as he rows his way down the track. There’s more in-car footage at about the 8:45 mark from his losing semifinal race with eventual event champ “Akron Arlen” Vanke. “Grump” lost traction, and you can see him acknowledge that he knows he’s going to lose with a disappointed head shake. Great stuff!

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Mike Lewis, whose racing background and team highlights I covered here last year, sent a few images from his team’s experiences with onboard cameras.

The first image in the gallery at right is a great shot of Lewis in mid-burnout in the team’s front-engine Top Fueler. The second shot is a fisheye-lens view from behind the driver’s head that for years Lewis thought was of him, but he only recently realized that he never drove at Maple Grove before the guardrails were installed. “Looking at the valve covers, oil-pressure gauge, and Cirello magneto, I'm pretty sure it's Ron Rivero in the Frantic Four car,” he noted. “Ironically, I made my first license runs in that car in 1969.”

The third image is the dramatic fire burnout of the Lewis Bros.’ Sparkling Burgundy rear-engine Top Fueler taken from an onboard camera rigged up by famed East Coast lensman Jim Cutler. The final photo shows the tripod setup that Cutler used, although the pictured attempt turned out to be a “dud” of a fire burnout, and the final product was shot later in the week.

One final note: I received an email from Debbie Lane, wife of former Funny Car racer Chris Lane (of Desert Rat fame), asking that I share information about a celebration of life in Phoenix a week before the national event there; it will begin at 3 p.m. Feb. 15 at 2415 E. Lincoln Circle. If you’re going to attend or just want to pass on your well-wishes, email Debbie, dogsrfun@earthlink.net.

OK, everyone, thanks for playing along! Next week is the Circle K NHRA Winternationals right here in Pomona. I'm not planning to have a column due to the race, so I'll see you back here the following Friday.

More in-car photosFriday, January 24, 2014
Posted by: Phil Burgess

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Crossing hands at the finish line

Based on feedback from last week’s column, it looks like a lot of you are on board for another ride down the in-car highway as photos and suggestions have come flowing in since the column was published.

Those of you who read the column early Friday may not have revisited it to see the note that I added to the Herm Petersen item. I had mentioned that I remembered one of the frames from the motordrive sequence shot at the 1972 U.S. Nationals appeared to show Petersen with his arms practically crossed on what I assumed was the butterfly steering wheel, perhaps attributable to the car becoming a handful at the stripe, but Herm dropped me a quick note to explain that was merely him using his right hand to reach across the cockpit to pull the parachute, whose lever was on the left side of the cockpit. That, of course, begged the obvious question on why the cockpit was set up that way.

“I always kept my left hand on the wheel,” he explained in response. “I would trip the chute with a sweeping motion and then go directly to the brake handle on the right and never had to let go of the steering wheel!” I guess that makes sense.

I asked Herm about the mount that our own Leslie Lovett had used to get the great pics, and he said that he was pretty sure that Don Long had built the tripod-style mount for Lovett out of 4130 chrome-moly tubing. All they had to do to mount the tripod was to take off the front portion of the body; two legs went on the left upper frame rail and one on the right and stood at about 3-4 feet tall. “It was a very safe mount; I was very comfortable with it,” he added.

Marc Gewertz did me a huge favor of poring through the thick book of contact sheets of photos shot at that event and came across numerous photos that were taken either by Lovett or his fellow ND staffers, showing the actual tripod, Lovett discussing the procedure with Petersen, and photos of the car on the track with the mount. He scanned them up for us, and they’re all included in the gallery at right. Make sure you use the "Larger Image" tool to get a better look.

The Lovett sequence of Bennie Osborn blasting down the track at Tulsa Int’l Raceway brought back good memories from Bill McLauchlan, as the 1968 Finals was his first NHRA national event. “I remember that Lovett attached a tripod-like mechanism on the framerails (the nose piece was removed from the car for the photo shoot during qualifying),” he wrote. “I have attached a picture showing Osborn suiting up prior to the run, and you will notice the absence of the nose piece as well as one of the tripod legs; however, the camera is out of the shot. I’ve seen another picture of the car launching off the starting line, which shows a better view of the camera setup.”

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Bennie Osborn suiting up; Lovett tripod visible at far left

It’s hard to say whether the same rig was used for both the Osborn (1968) and Petersen (1972) images, but my guess would be they’re the same. McLauchlan was also one of many who sent me other in-car shots that, as he pointed out, have become “Internet staples” that I’ll be rolling out as we go.

You’ve always read a lot of admiration from me for Lovett, who was National Dragster’s longtime photo editor from the late 1960s until his passing in 1996, so I got to work with and learn from him for 14 years, but I’m not sure that I’ve shown many photos of him. The Insider’s good pal, Steve Reyes, was happy to rectify that for us while staying on topic with this photo he took at a divisional event at Southern California’s Carlsbad Raceway in 1969, setting up the rig to shoot John Peters’ famous twin-engine Freight Train Top Gas dragster. I’ve never seen the result of these photos published anywhere, but I’ll keep my eyes open.

Reyes also passed along another photo, showing Don “the Snake” Prudhomme, at the wheel of the Shelby's Super Snake Top Fueler, carrying along a Hot Rod magazine camera at the 1968 PDA race at Orange County Int’l Raceway. The resultant image can be found in Tom Madigan’s book, Fuel & Guts: The Birth of Top Fuel Drag Racing, as well as in the gallery to the right.

Henry Timmerman, a frequent photographic contributor to National Dragster in the past, correctly pointed out that the in-car photo of Bruce Allen at Indy appeared to be still in the bleach box and not a little downtrack as I had surmised from the location of the shifter levers. “I believe back then Pro Stocks typically started their burnouts in 3rd gear,” he noted. “When I looked above the hood scoop and saw what seems to be people and the lane divider wall, it confirmed what I thought.” Good call!

Kevin Rowe sent in the photo above that shows the Des Moines, Iowa-based Rowe and Jones Top Fueler owned by his dad, Ralph, and Bobby Jones with Dave Anderson at the wheel in a photo that was taken at a Division 5 meet in Brainerd in 1971 by the staff of the Des Moines Register and Tribune. “A writer and cameraman came with us and did a big story about the team as, at that time, my dad and Earl Binns, also one of dads’ future drivers, were the only people in the state with Top Fuel cars,” he remembers. “In that photo, the motor was just letting go at the top end of first round, and we won but did not have another motor. Earl Binns, at the time, had his own car, came over, took the motor out of his car, and put it in dad’s car! How cool is that? From there, I am not sure how that race turned out.” Anderson left the team to drive the famed Pollution Packer rocket car, in which he later lost his life March 1974.

These two photos of Tom McEwen in the Yeakel Plymouth slingshot reportedly were the handiwork of Bob D’Olivo, with the camera switching sides between passes. The left-hand photo for sure was shot at Lions Dragstrip, and while I can’t be 100 percent certain, I’d reckon the other one was, too.
Photographer and date unknown, but what I do know is that Jess Sturgeon gave fans a great look at Top Fuel racing down the Riverside quarter-mile from his perspective with this photo.
This is Mike Sorokin at the wheel of the fabled surfers Top Fueler. I’m not sure of the who, the where, or when in the did-it category, but the primary thing everyone picks up on with this three-shot sequence is the helmet almost being pulled off of Sorokin’s head at speed.

OK, that’s it for today. Next week, a look at some early attempts at in-car video.

Get on board!Friday, January 17, 2014
Posted by: Phil Burgess

Not many of us are ever going to know what it feels like to be inside a Top Fueler blasting down the track or fight the wheel of a Funny Car as it bucks its way down the track. The proliferation of onboard video cameras in all forms of motorsports has given all of us a bit of a glimpse into how that world looks, but long before that ever happened, drag racing photographers were finding ways to do the same with their still cameras.

These types of photos have always intrigued me, and I had the chance to work with the late, great Leslie Lovett on many of his later experiments with techniques and to understand how some of the earlier ones were taken, and I’ve gathered a collection of them below to share.

(The ol’ broken leg — getting better every day, thanks for asking — has kept me mostly deskbound and out of the actual photo library that houses what surely must be millions of photographs taken by National Dragster staff members or submitted for publication in our fair magazine over the last 53-plus years. Although I’ve learned to balance and/or hop on one foot with a skill level that would surely embarrass any six-year-old playground hopscotch hotshot, it’s just not a comfortable way to go through file drawer after file drawer looking for what I need — especially when I’m sometimes just on a fishing episode and not really sure what I’m looking for. Fortunately for all of us, we have, over the last dozen or so years, scanned and filed a lot of images — looks like about three terabytes of stuff dating back to the 1950s — that are available for browsing on a file server, so I’ve been spending a lot of time combing through all of the folders and subfolders that hold a good portion of our sport’s history.)

Today, it seems like everyone and their brother has a Go-Pro camera mounted to their snowboard helmet or motorcycle, so that type of “first-person” photography has become expected, but it definitely was new and fresh in the 1960s when the dragstrip photogs started laying around.

Early on in the game, you had two choices after you mounted the camera: set it on a timer to open the shutter after a pre-set delay or give the driver a way to do it remotely. The advent of auto winders and/or motordrives made the process a whole lot easier because once the button was pushed to take the first image, it would continue firing until the roll of film was exhausted.

The trick then became one of math: If you motordrive fired at three frames per second and you have a typical 36-shot roll of film, you had enough for 12 seconds, plenty enough for a nitro car or Pro Stocker. Leslie would have the camera set up, flip the switch as the driver was staging, and that was it. By the time the car had the chute out, the roll was filled.

When the drives began reaching five frames per second, the window obviously became a lot narrower, and I remember him using various remote controlled sensors to begin the sequence once the Tree turned green, for example. Today, motordrives are capable of 12-14 frames a second, but with digital cameras, putting the images onto a disc, you’re not facing the same issue of limited number of frames.

Let’s take a look at some great examples of this type of early work.

In my mind, this is one of the most famous of the bunch because it was the front page image after Bennie “the Wizard” Osborn won his second straight NHRA Top Fuel championship with his second consecutive win at the World Finals at Tulsa International Raceway.

Lovett captured the whole run, from tire-smoking leave to parachute out, using 34 frames. The front cover image was chosen because you can see the distinctive Tulsa tower behind the cockpit. As you can see in the proof sheet of negatives at right (you’ll have to enlarge it by clicking on the link), he fired off three or four test images (you can see the push truck behind the car) and then set it loose just as the car was leaving the line. (The images begin at the bottom of each strip of film)

It looks like the actual photo used was about the third pic; other images have some blur, perhaps from tire or chassis vibration or wind — obviously, he had to mount the camera on the framerail well in front of the engine. You’ll notice that by the end of the run, the frame has shifted slightly because you can see more of the blower pulleys at the end of the run than you can in the beginning. You can see the exact instant he took his foot off the loud pedal as the injectors closed, followed two frames later by the first hint of the parachute deploying, then blossoming. I picked one of the car chutes out to accompany the launch photo.

What really strikes me about these images is that Osborn — and every racer who let Lovett put a camera on their car — trusted him implicitly that the thing wasn’t going to fall off mid-run and clock them in the head or fall beneath the tires. Leslie had that way about him; everyone loved him, and everyone trusted him.

A few years later, Lovett duplicated the Osborn experiment with recent Insider feature subject Herm Petersen, doing an end-of-end sequence at the U.S. Nationals in, what I think is, 1972. It’s also quite a dramatic series of pics that show him blasting through the traps. I don’t have immediate access to the whole sequence, but I remember in one of the last ones, it almost looks like his hands are crossed on the wheel as he fights to keep the car straight. This image is still plenty nice, showing the old Hurst crossover bridge and tower; unmistakably Indy.

Update: Just heard from Herm, who explains that his hands appeared crossed because he used to use his right hand to pull the chute-release level, which was on the left side of the cockpit. This car, by the way, was the first  rear-engined car in the Northwest and the car in which he won the big PDA event at Orange County Int'l Raceway in 1972, beating hitters like Don Garlits and Tom McEwen en route.
  I’m not sure who gets credit for the next trio of images, but I love them, too. Above is obviously “Big Daddy” Don Garlits melting the hides on a pass in what is either 1964 or 1965 (his 1964 U.S. Drag Team decal is visible on the cowl). The camera must have been mounted on the cowl, just behind the blower.

The image at left reminds me of the Osborn pics, though it’s a little more in-your-face to the injector. I’m not sure who this is — some people think it's also Garlits — but it kinda looks like Carlsbad Raceway.

I’m not really sure who is responsible for the image below, but it was taken from the vantage point of the cockpit of Darrell Gwynn’s Alcohol Dragster during Florida’s winter series event. The Tree is kind of blurred on the right, but you can see Gwynn’s hand still on the handbrake, which must mean he just launched.

There’s a lot going on in this photo of Bruce Allen at the wheel of the Reher-Morrison Pro Stocker at Indy in 1986. I’m pretty sure that this was taken during the Mr. Gasket Pro Stock Challenge bonus race. Lovett mounted a camera in the “passenger seat” and began firing as soon as Allen took the green. You can see by his hand on the Lenco shift lever that he’s already a bit down track, either just having pulled third or preparing to do so.

Lovett mounted a camera on the “dashboard” of Ed McCulloch’s Miller American Olds Funny Car at the 1988 U.S. Nationals to get this great shot of “the Ace” during his burnout, You can see him correcting the wheel to the left and smoke filling the cockpit, highlighted by the sun streaming through the side window.

Here’s another image that ran on the cover of National Dragster, taken in mid-burnout from the vantage point high on the wing of Gary Ormsby’s Castrol GTX Top Fueler. Obviously, wings are tricky business, and the camera didn’t make the full pass — we certainly didn’t want to cause a wing-strut failure or something crazy — but it is a neat birds-eye lens. The race was rain-delayed a week, so we were able to use this on the cover of the rainout edition; unless Ormsby had won the race, we certainly wouldn’t have thought of putting it on the cover otherwise.

I know there are a lot more pics like these out there, so send them my way; I’d love to show them off.

Farewell, "Friendly Fran"Friday, January 10, 2014
Posted by: Phil Burgess

Social media is the buzz phrase of the new millennium, allowing instant commentary by and about practically anyone. Thanks to Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram, it isn’t terribly hard to find out what today’s drag racing stars are doing both personally and professionally: Who has a new car coming? Who’s found a new love interest? Who’s on the mend from a freak accident?

But back in the sport’s earlier days, social media in the drag racing world meant a little different thing and was the domain of two high-energy, highly inquisitive, and well plugged-in ladies named Suzy and Fran who gave the drag racing fans a little higher peek under the societal curtain than the harder news found in National Dragster’s Bits from the Pits or Drag News’ similar Shuck n’ Jive column.

You don’t have to have been a National Dragster reader very long to know the name Suzy Beebe (nee Kelly), who had written a social-style column for me as recently as 2011. The red-headed dynamo actually had two stints under my watch, the first being in 2006, and also had written a series of The Women of Drag Racing columns for ND in the 1970s. Before that, Suzy had made a name for herself in the drag racing print world as the sport’s first “society page” reporter with a 1960s Drag News column called The Social Side, which ran for years and ultimately was succeeded in 1976 by a beautiful and vivacious young former Texan who soon became known far and wide to the racing community as “Friendly Fran.”

For as fast as the news of the week’s Friendly's Facts column traveled, it’s ironic that we’re just now learning of her passing more than two months ago, Nov. 22, in Liberty, Texas,

Frances Louise Rooks was born in Houston in 1946 but moved west with her family to California and the heart of the sport and graduated from La Jolla High School near San Diego in 1964.

A typical Friendly's Facts. Ace lensman Barry Wiggins shot the memorable pic.

It didn’t take long before her stunning looks led to a career in modeling and also won her titles, such as Miss Pacific Beach, Miss Corvette, Fairest of the Fair (San Diego County Fair 1966), and Miss Congeniality of the Miss California Pageant. The fashion runway may have been her ticket to fame, but she much preferred a different straight line and became enamored first with street racing and then the legit side of things as a regular on the NHRA tour, and the object of desire of many of the single guys in the pits. The full-length side shot of her in a bikini that topped her weekly column also did nothing to hurt her popularity, and some of those single guys didn’t remain single long. She first married Top Fuel racer Bob Williams, then later another fuel dragster pilot in Flip Schofield (she was listed as Fran Schofield during the time of her column). She had a relationship (but not a marriage) with Pro Comp ace and future hall of fame crew chief Dale Armstrong and later married another tuning great, Lee Beard.

Friendly’s Facts launched in the Jan. 17, 1976, issue of Drag News, just after the ever-creative and well-connected Don Rackemann took ownership from Doris Herbert, who had run Drag News since the late 1950s. My good pal and uber historian Dave Wallace Jr. was her editor then. He sent me some of her past columns to enjoy and remembered her and her work fondly.

“As did Suzy before her, Fran traveled some with San Diego-based Cyr & Schofield, later extensively with Double-A/Dale during his Pro Comp and fuel coupe years," he wrote. "Thus, she was right in the midst of the pro-type action. She was actually a decent writer with pretty-good judgment about what should and shouldn't be published. In latter cases, she'd drop clever hints to make readers wonder about the identities of guilty parties.”

Young Fran Rooks, third from left, with Jack Jones' team in 1967.
(Above) Fran pouring the "glue" for husband Bob Williams in 1969 and performing the same chore for hubby Flip Schofield (below) in 1973.

Whether she was regaling fans with the highlights and lowlights of racer parties (Frank Bradley in a yellow crochet bikini?), talking about the latest driver swap or the hottest new parts combo, or almost dropping the dime on a wayward wedlocker, she was entertaining, engaging, and, most importantly, seldom inaccurate. The 1970s were the heydays of some of the sport’s real characters, and “Friendly” let you get to know them even better and, at least in Beard’s mind, helped its personality grow.

Beard, who first dated Fran in the 1980s and then was married to her for two years until their breakup in 1984 – after which she pretty much left the NHRA tour to pursue a career in real estate – was effusive in his praise for her place in the sports history.

“There are a lot of people who have played a big role in helping our sport grow that never drove or owned or worked on a car — people like National Dragster’s John Jodauga and his art, for example — and Fran was definitely one of those,” Beard told me Wednesday. “She was very passionate about racing — she loved the sport as much as any competitor, be it driver, crew chief, or owner — and I think she really had a very big impact on the sport in the way she was able to talk about and get people to know the stars of the sport at the time.”

Another pretty blonde, Linda Vaughn, played matchmaker for Fran and Armstrong, introducing them one year at Ontario Motor Speedway while he was killing 'em in Pro Comp in the late 1970s.

“She was a real drag racing enthusiast and had a bold personality about her, which is what it takes to do a job like that,” said Armstrong. “She was always talking to people and was pretty good with her research. She’d travel with me to NHRA and IHRA races or sometimes fly in to a race. She was always in the middle of whatever was going on; she obviously had no problem making friends.”

Carl Olson, another Top Fuel star of the 1970s, also fondly remembered “Friendly Fran” in an email he sent me.

"I don't think I ever knew anybody that didn't like Fran,” he wrote. “She was bright, extremely attractive, totally uninhibited, and loved to have a good time. She enjoyed the friendship and support of nearly everyone in the sport with whom she came in contact.

“She was anything but shy,” he remembers, probably understating the obvious. “I'm sure she'd be delighted to know that her old friends and acquaintances were telling all of the best stories of her many shenanigans. I certainly have a few of my own, not to mention the couple years that I served as her unofficial ‘shoulder to cry on’ as the unending dramas unfolded in her life. While we all remember the good times, Fran lived through some very bad times as well, including a devastating towing accident in which her first husband, Bob Williams, was grievously injured, and I believe that one of their crewmembers [Fran's brother, Fred] was killed. Fran was very lucky to have survived with minimal injuries.

“The more I think about ‘Friendly,’ the more I appreciate what she brought to the sport. She was a huge part of the fabric that brought the drag racing community together socially in a different, and less PC time.”

I also asked Olson how her tidbits were received in the pits, whether people feared or loved being included in her columns for their good or bad deeds.

Fran's past modeling skills came in handy when she served as the occasional model for car features shot by the great Steve Reyes, who I thank deeply for all of the Fran photos on this page. That's her with the Stephens & Venables entry.

“Those most likely to get people in hot water were the early ones published in Drag News,” he remembered. “By the time she started writing for other publications, she'd been instructed to tone down her "revelations" enough to keep as many marriages together as possible.

“Most everyone I knew, myself included, tended to be disappointed if they didn't make her columns from time to time.”

And that, my friends, is about as glowing a comment as a column writer could ever receive. You probably weren’t really someone until you were on Fran’s radar.

I didn’t know her all that well myself — she was on her way out almost as soon as I was coming in — but looking back over her body of work from old issues of Drag News, I definitely respect her hard work and entertaining style.

Fran is survived by her husband, Dante Johnson; son Christopher Williams and his wife, Lisa; granddaughter Grace Williams; and brother Jim Partin and wife Marye. In lieu of flowers, the family is requesting that donations be made to the Muscular Dystrophy Association (MDA).

I got a lot of kind words and some harsh admonishments after I announced a few weeks ago that I had broken my leg playing hockey, with the latter mostly along the what-the-hell-were-you-thinking? theme, apparently for playing such a rough sport at my age. Dang, folks, even though I can write about the 1950s doesn’t mean I came from there. Although surely no longer in prime condition, I’m still a hearty 53-year-old, blood-pumping, competitive sort of fellow. Sure, the bumps and the bruises and sore muscles take longer to get over, but the love of the game makes it all worthwhile.

It was an innocent enough play; two big fellas barreling along the rink in single minded pursuit of the puck, each knowing that the collision was imminent but neither refusing to blink. We collided like two steam locomotives, and both staggered backwards from the blow. The only problem was that my backstep also gave my right ankle a half twist inward, and I fell backwards over it, landing flat on my back with my ankle below me in a way they’re just not supposed to bend. I heard and felt the crack and knew my season was probably done. Against better judgment, I had my team take me back to our bench and then demanded that they not only let me walk out of there on my own power (macho overload, methinks) but also drive myself home (this is my gas foot, remember?).

I iced the hell out of it overnight but decided I’d better have it checked out the next morning. The first doctor thought maybe just a bad sprain, but the X-ray said otherwise: broken distal tibia. For those lacking a medical dictionary, it’s the main leg bone, broken just above the ankle. Fortunately, my walking (and driving) on it had not displaced the fracture, or it would have meant surgery. Yeah, I was pretty stupid but damned lucky.

The timing, just a few days before Christmas, was bad for the planned family vacation but good for my recovery as NHRA was shut down from Dec. 20 through Jan. 2, so I spent a lot of time lying on the couch, playing Xbox, and watching college football bowls until I went just about stir crazy. The first two glorious days of being waited on by my patient and caring family soon turned into a living hell with a half-leg cast that itched almost as badly as my desire to cut it off and a terrible case of cabin fever.

I thought many times of using the down period to write, but the pain, the necessity to keep my leg elevated, and the medication pretty much made that impossible. Jan. 2 finally arrived, and I was happy to get back to work, which remains torturous in that I still have to keep it elevated, making it really hard to work. My wonderful staff has been very helpful — special kudos to Robyn Wagner and Teresa Long for going on a building-wide scavenger hunt to cobble together a new tray/footrest combination — and I hope to be well and fully mobile by Pomona. Thanks to everyone for their well wishes.


A couple of other quick notes:

We have hired a new associate editor to replace John Jodauga at National Dragster. His name is John Hoven, and Insider regulars will remember him for the column he wrote here two years ago about his dad, who raced Funny Cars in the early 1970s. He's been on the job since Jan. 2 but already is making lots of new friends and acquaintances and will continue to do so as the year goes on. If you see him at the digs, stop him and say hey. He's a great guy.

A couple of sad notes from over the winter were the losses of Funny Car driver Chris Lane, who was a great and friendly interview during the time he was driving the late Ron Sutherland's Desert Rat; former Top Gas standout Rico Paris; Steve Kalb, crew chief of his brother's Top Fueler, an original member of the Cragar 5-Second Club; and longtime Virginia-based nitro and Top Alcohol Funny Car racer Butch Kernodle, best known for his string of All-American entries.

We've got some new daily columns over at NationalDragster.net for NHRA members or site subscribers, showcasing some of the great photos from the ND archives, plus the return of an old favorite column, Backtrackin'. Check 'em out.

And one fun note to end on. In my coverage of the recent Orange County Int'l Raceway Reunion at the NHRA Museum, I mentioned that legendary track owner/promoter Bill Doner had been coerced into revoicing one of his famous race ads. I taped the entire program and excerpted that segment here. Doner commercial

I'll see you all next week.

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