Features

Posted by: Phil Burgess

If I've said it once, I've said it a hundred times in the 350-plus columns I've filed here: You guys rock. Sure, a lot of times, I'm the guy coming up with the topics based on whatever tickles my fancy that week, but it's the ongoing dialogue that takes a brief mention of something like a wedge Top Fueler and turns it into a months-long thread based on your continual additions, photo submissions, and memories. This column would not be nearly the same wondrous place that it is if not for the combined efforts of the Insider Nation, and today's post bears that out.

In the last two weeks, I've supplied as many questions as answers to some of the ramp-truck material, and damned if you guys didn’t help fill in the some of the blanks again. Amazing.

For example, in Tuesday's column, reader Glenn Barbis Jr. talked about Funny Car racer Roy Harris' ramp truck and the mystery of why "Rapid" took a step "backward" from an enclosed trailer to a ramp truck. "I regret I never asked him why," lamented Barbis.

(Pat Welsh photo)

Well, Glenn, here's why, as told by Bobby Frey, who was part of Harris' crew back then and today is a proud member of the Frey-Rosetty-Frey-Liebmann Frantic Ford Funny Car team, another famous car being prepared for a return to the dragstrip (website). Harris shared cockpit duties in the original Frantic Ford with Sarge Arciero and Ron Rivero before the late Dodger Glenn. After his days with the Frantic Ford, Harris had a local Budweiser sponsorship in 1979-80 (pre-Kenny Bernstein's national deal) through Trenton, N.J., distributor Tom Ryan, as shown here.

According to Frey, after the Ryan/Budweiser deal "ran its course" at the end of 1980, Harris purchased a mildly beat-up triple-axle Chaparral and, through many hours of TLC, refurbished the trailer and purchased a brand-new Chevy crew cab to tow it. Harris brought out of retirement the old Brutus Mustang II-bodied car that he had campaigned with his partner Gus Wunsch prior to landing the Bud sponsorship but failed to qualify with the car at the 1981 Gatornationals. Harris worked out a deal with Ryan to purchase the Dodge Omni-bodied Budweiser car. The Mustang II was sold off to help offset some of the costs. The Omni was destroyed in a top-end crash at Maple Grove, so another phone call was made to Ryan to purchase the Arrow-bodied Budweiser car.

"This time around, we had a car that actually hung around a few years and ran many, many match races throughout the early 1980s," said Frey. "With the desire to keep running a fuel car without any major sponsorship support, Roy was faced with making some hard decisions. In order to stay afloat, serious changes needed to take place. At this same time, Bruce Larson happened to be looking to upgrade his transportation needs and wanted to move up to having his USA-1 car hauled around the circuit in an enclosed trailer after many years of using his legendary white ramp truck. I think you might see where this is headed!
 
"Bruce and 'Rapid' were best of friends and worked out an amicable agreement whereas the USA-1 car would move 'indoors' while we were moving out into the elements, just like the old days!"

Frey reported that Harris is still around and in touch but officially retired from the cockpit. According to Frey, Harris was almost killed a few years ago when he was at a truck stop checking the brakes on his 18-wheeler. "A truck hit him in the parking lot and nearly cut him in half," he said. "He spent a considerable amount of time in the hospital and still deals with the lingering effects. When we debut the return of the Frantic Ford AA/FC, Roy plans on coming out to see the new car in action."
 

Dan "Big D" Larson jumped into the fray to identify the kid in the back of McEwen's hauler in this photo. Tony Huerta had already told us earlier this week that the kid's name was Kenny, and Larson gave us not only his last name but also more.

"The young kid on the back of 'the Goose's' truck is Kenny Miller, and his last known whereabouts is Las Vegas," reported Larson. "He actually lived in Long Beach, not too far from myself and Jerry Bivens (of Bivens & Fisher Checkmate AA/FD fame, a regular at Lions in the late '60s). Kenny, like myself, ran around Lions helping anyone we could, and he was a couple of years older than I (putting him around 58). As a young kid, I spent my weekends thrashing at Lions with Checkmate, 'Goose's' dragster and Funny Car, 'Snake,' and the Don Rackeman Wonder Wagon, driven by the 'Unsinkable Kelly Brown' and wrenched by Jerry Bivens at the last Lions drag race in 1972.  We had a glass enclosed hauler in those days as well.

"Jerry is married to Janet Baney, Lou's daughter. You probably know that Frank Baney headed up the restoration of the Yeakel Plymouth AA/FD dragster by the Baney and Rossi families. That car, along with others, was at the Bixby Knolls Car Show in Long Beach last weekend. Rae Gabelich, the late Gary's wife, is councilwoman in Long Beach and headed up the show organization. I had the privilege of cackling that car, as did Rae. Here is an image of that beautiful restoration. Lou Baney and Vince Rossi would be very proud." That's a very happy Larson in the hot seat.

Franklin Amiano of Farmingdale, N.J., had the answer to R.C. Sherman's glass-sided truck.

"That truck was built and used by Charlie 'Highland Bandit' Scott," noted Amiano. "He had framed it out for the side windows but never cut it open. Ray (R.C.) bought it from Charlie and cut the sides open. (Side note: Charlie Scott was one of the principals of Winters Foundry. You remember those aluminum GM manifolds with the snowflake cast in 'em? Yup! Winters Foundry. Also maker of the Winters quick-change rear."

It's turning out that there were a lot more glass-sided trucks and trailers than we all knew about. Former car owner Bob McCutchan reported that he had one in the mid-1970s when the late Kenney Goodell was driving his Top Fueler and with his own Funny Car. "The minute Kenney saw Ivo and the rest enclose their ramp trucks, he ran right down and had his done," said McCutchan. "Don't have any idea where it went; someone who reads your column might have one available." Readers?

I wrote earlier about how the Chi-Town Hustler team had converted its ramp truck into a box truck that served it for years, and Jim Mullis shot me this pic of the somewhat-dilapidated truck in its original state. Very cool! I also found the photo below, which shows the car in 1972, in the parking lot at the famous Marco Polo motel in Anaheim, staging ground for touring Funny Cars racing in Southern California in those days.

Good pal Henry Walther told me that he was visiting recently with Austin Coil and Bernie Fedderly and asked Coil if he knew what had become of the old Chi-Town Hustler boxed ramp truck. According to Walther, Coil's answer was, "Haven't a clue," and told Walther, "I think we sold it to some door-car guy up in Minnesota as I was leaving the team, and I haven't seen it since."

"Apparently, after a couple of million miles in that truck, Coil's honeymoon with it was over," noted Walther.

Hall of Fame photog Steve Reyes weighed in with the very cool shot above (which, for the sake of clarity, I cropped into from a larger image; sorry, Steve), which is the pre-ramp-truck Hustler, probably one of its earliest incarnations, on a flatbed trailer in the pits at Fremont Raceway.

 

Keith Crouch wrote to clarify his Tuesday question about the discrepancy between the grille/headlight assemblies on McEwen's truck circa 1970 and in its found condition, and you can certainly see his point with these side-by-side images.

"In the retro/older photo of the 'Mongoose' truck in a parking lot, the headlight/grille assembly shows the exact same type as the 'Snake' truck, with the single headlight on each side and eight grille openings in between the lights.
 
"[The second photo] shows a different headlight/grille assembly than the retro/older photo. It shows two headlights stacked on top of each other on each side of the truck with a horizontal grille assembly. But, like I said, 'Maybe as the truck got older and the lights not being functional any longer, they were changed.' They sure do seem to fit in there correctly, though (except for that little bit of air gap we can see from the picture on the driver's side)."

I wonder if McEwen remembers. Or any of his many former crewmembers lurking out there? C'mon guys, you've already shown me what you can do. I know the answer is out there!

OK, gang, thanks again for playing. I'll see you next week. I have more interesting ramp-truck stuff to show you!

Just ramp truckin' along ...Tuesday, July 20, 2010
Posted by: Phil Burgess

Predictably, the ramp-truck thread is expanding and appears about to run out of control like a trailer that jumped its hitch. And I'm smiling all the while.

Keith Crouch of Toledo, Ohio, wrote, "I find this 'Snake' and 'Mongoose' ramp-truck restore information and pictures very interesting and exciting. I was always a huge 'Snake' and 'Mongoose' fan growing up and watching the races. I still collect all the Mattel Hot Wheels diecast cars they come out with on these cars. I also have to question the headlight/grille assembly on the truck found to be Tom McEwen's Mongoose hauler. This doesn't match the pictures of the old truck. Maybe this was changed because of a problem as the truck got older and the lights not being functional any longer? This is a cool find and will be very awesome when finished and put together with the Don Prudhomme truck."

This is an interesting observation caused perhaps because of the confusion I initially created (but fixed within hours) when I showed the photo above of what I assumed was an earlier photo of McEwen's truck that actually turned out to be yet another photo of Prudhomme's truck.

The confusion continued to grow because even Prudhomme's truck as found did not match its restored look.

Skip Allum of Prudhomme's camp sent me the photo at right of Prudhomme's truck as they found it, and I have this second photo below, sent by Tom Kasch and taken at Milan Dragway in 1971 (when the car and truck had been repainted white), so you can see what I mean. "The ramp/bed sides are angled/sloped in the [first] photo, and that is the way they were when 'Snake' relocated the truck a few years ago," said Allum. "Willie [Wolter] and 'Snake' had to 'raise' the ramp/bed sides in order to get them to their original and current configuration."

So it's clear that one of the post-Prudhomme owners had modified the bed significantly to fit his needs, which is why the trucks look so different. I'm not sure which McEwen photo Crouch is referencing, but I'm guessing it's the difference between the "Snake" and "Mongoose" trucks and the identity crisis I initially created.

Glenn Barbis Jr. reminisced about how he so misses those open-trailer days.

"I grew up a stone's throw from Maple Grove and even worked there as a kid and eventually raced there as well," he reported. "When the Chaparral long skinny trailers first started showing up more and more, I missed actually 'seeing' the cars as they went by my house."

He shared these cool photos of some of his favorites, such as this early-1980s photo of "Rapid Roy" Harris, who was still towing to the strip with Bruce Larson's old slant-back truck. "Bruce had used the truck for a number of years, and I remember him coming to the Grove one day with a new enclosed trailer, and for some reason, Roy had Bruce's old truck," recalled Barbis. "Just a few months before, Roy had been at the track with an enclosed trailer painted with Rapid Roy on the side and had actually gone back to the old-style open truck for some reason. I regret I never asked him why."

The next photos blew me away; they're from the pit area of R.C. Sherman's Kmart Motorvator Funny Car, and they show a glass-sided truck that I never knew existed. Of course, we're all familiar with the glass-sided truck and trailers that "T.V. Tommy" Ivo used to have. I passed along Barbis' pics to Ivo for comment, and he immediately asked for Barbis' contact info, which I gave him. In Barbis' e-mail, he mentioned that "Jungle Jim" Liberman also had a glass-sided truck, which got Ivo's attention. "I thought I had the only glass truck," he mused. "How did I not see it when I was on tour? Where's my copyright lawyer?  <G>"

Anyway, Ivo who's proofreading an upcoming book on his amazing career (more details when he gets them to me!), promised to get back to me with the full and (no doubt) interesting story behind his famed glass-sided haulers as soon as he's done with the book, which he said should be soon.

 

Jim Hill wrote that the photo of the "boxed-in" Chi-Town Dodge truck reminded him that the enclosed ramp truck was the next progression from the open-air transporter.
 
"Many of the early-'70s Pro Stock teams went for big van-type trucks. These and the Chaparral gooseneck trailers preceded the movement to semitrailers, and I believe Billy Meyer may have been the first to go that route.
 
"Lou Oleynik owned a truck-body manufacturing company in Port Huron, Mich. Oleynik's enclosed ramp-truck haulers were not only functional but quite luxurious as well. Inside, they had cabinets, lighting, air conditioning, sometimes sleepers, and beautiful, tongue-and-groove, hardwood oak flooring. Under the chassis, there were lots of storage lockers, and some had swing-out cranes for engine changes. The long wheelbase and weight made for trucks that didn't really 'ride like a truck,' and Oleynik built these units for many teams.
 
"Oleynik himself ran a Pro Stock Camaro in the early '70s. It was big-block Chevy-powered and ran pretty much exclusively in NHRA's Division 3 WCS events as well as at the U.S. Nationals, Springnationals, and Popular Hot Rodding Championships at U.S. 131 Dragway, Martin, Mich. His Pro Stock Camaro ran very competitively, but the business kept him from competing any more seriously as he was too busy building trick transporters!"

A lot of people sure are thrilled with Prudhomme's find of McEwen's truck and the memories it brings back.

Tony Huerta, whose brother Dick passed away earlier this year, said that he knows the identity of the kid in the back of McEwen's ramp truck in this photo I ran here last week. "My brother had a nickname of 'Blow By' for him (he had a nickname for everybody)," he recalled. "His real name was Kenny. We both used to run around Lions when we were kids and help whoever we could. I remember McEwen took a liking to Ken, so he was always hanging around McEwen. I was jealous but still had the great memories of being at 'the Beach' every weekend. Ken lived in Lakewood, the same neighborhood where my brother's partner, Roy Swanson, lived."

OK, now if we could only find Kenny. I reckon he has to be middle 50s?

Bob "Bandit" Park wrote, "I was lucky enough to be able to ride in this truck several times. At the 1970 Winternationals, Donnie Couch's dad asked me to take Don [Prudhomme] from his Funny Car to his dragster on my motorcycle from the top end. Don had met me at Irwindale, where I worked the bleach box for Mel Reck (in exchange for a great seat and some food). This is where I struck up a 40-year friendship with Jerry Darien, Larry Sutton, and many more. After talking with Mel, he suggested I go to where Don kept his race cars and ask for a job. He gave me directions to Keith Black's shop, and off I went to talk with 'Snake.' I talked to him at the entrance to the shop, where all other racers were at will call. He took me to the back, and I was lucky enough to work there (of course for free). I was able to go to [John] Buttera's shop and to [Don] Kirby's shop in that rig with Steve  [Quercio] driving. This was a great time for a 19-year-old."


My Pure Nostalgia column in this week's National DRAGSTER is the V edition of the Misc. Files, showing off the likes of the Top Gasser of 1955 Nationals runner-up Fritz Voight, Jerry Vargas in the Dennis the Menace dragster, the Dick Venables Green Gang Top Fueler, the Funny Cars of Drake Viscome, Johnny Valdez, and  Larry Velarde, Pro Stock racer (turned sports-car hero) Joe Varde, Alcohol Funny Car racer Dale Van Gundy, and “Junkyard Ed” Vickroy. Don’t miss it.

OK, that's it for today. See you later this week.
 

Going all commercial on youFriday, July 16, 2010
Posted by: Phil Burgess

From early indications, this ramp-truck thread may just turn out to be another long-winded wedge-type deal as tips and pics continue to flow in and out of Insider International's global information headquarters. Part of this, of course, is due to the subjects involved – legendary Don "the Snake" Prudhomme and Tom "the Mongoose" McEwen – but it's also because of the nostalgic twinges these old Hot Wheels haulers seem to inspire.

While I'm collecting info, photos, and interviews, I wanted to share some cool old Hot Wheels commercials that reader Jeff Mittendorf pointed me to on YouTube. Actually, he just gave me the link to the first one, and as anyone who has ever gone to YouTube to watch "just one video" knows, that doesn't happen. I followed all of the related videos and spent a lot of time remembering my youthful days with orange Hot Wheels track crisscrossing my bedroom floor, those crazy purple C-clamp deals stuck to every high ledge I could access and string track to.

I wrote here about my lifelong Hot Wheels passion in a series of columns that became known as the "growing up boy" thread, in which I related some of the stuff that only an adolescent boy would dream of doing, upon which the Insider Nation shared their own evil deeds here.

This first video, which runs about a minute and a half, is from 1970 and touts the new "Snake"-"Mongoose" dragstrip set, which, interestingly, featured a loop at midtrack; I'd like to see John Force negotiate one of those. It's actually three identical commercials -- with a different ending promoting an upcoming Speed Test Day – but has cool footage that kicks off each one, showing those first Hot Wheels cars at Orange County Int’l Raceway. The only real reason to watch to the end of the third one (or to fast-forward) is to see the cars completing the run that begins the commercial. The Speed Test Days mentioned were run at local Mattel shops, and cars were clocked on the inline Hot Wheels Speedometer shown in the video (it recorded to a maximum 220 mph). You can actually find these speedometers online for very cheap (a quick look at eBay showed them to be priced from $6.99 (used) to $50 (in-the-box new). I don’t even want to think about all the things a kid could have done to his stock Hot Wheels to make them faster than those of his buddies, but I know what I would have done.

This video, which clocks in at just a shade over two minutes, is from 1968, the year that Hot Wheels hit the market. Sixteen cars (custom Barracuda, custom Camaro, custom Chevrolet Corvette, custom Eldorado, custom Firebird, custom Fleetside, custom Mustang, custom T-bird, custom Mercury Cougar, custom Volkswagen, Deora (based on a real custom surf truck designed by Harry Bradley for Dodge), Ford J-Car (based on the Ford GT40 Mk IV), Hot Heap (based on the Tognotti T roadster), Python (originally called the Cheetah and based on Bill Cushenberry's Dream Rod), Silhouette (based on another Cushenberry car), and the Beatnik Bandit (based on Ed "Big Daddy" Roth's custom car) were in the initial offerings and are showcased in these clips, which promote not just the cars but also the four track setups you could buy: Strip Action, Drag Race Action, Stunt, and Hot Curves Race Action. The difference between the first two was that the second came with enough track for two lanes and had a drop-action finish line to show who won. The commercials tout the cars' speed ("The fastest metal cars you've ever seen"), and anyone who ever had Matchbox cars before that can attest that the Hot Wheels' freerolling axles put the Matchbox cars to shame. The third of the three commercials in this clip shows this graphically (and somewhat humorously).

 

"Hot Wheels at my house in five minutes!" I don’t know a lot of kids who shouted that to their buddies from their bedroom windows, but this nearly 11-minute 1970 compilation is still pretty cool, focusing on the new carrying cases (especially the wheel-and-tire-shaped Rally Case; had a few of those!) as opposed to the pocketful-of-cars or brown-bag approach (both playfully skewered here). The third commercial (around the one-minute mark) shows Mattel's interest in drag racing with footage from the U.S. Nationals (Mickey Thompson's blue Mach 1 and "Big John" Mazmanian's 'Cuda) and hawks its crazy Rod Runner shifter-launcher (never really liked it; a poor man's Super Charger). After that is the same triple-play "Snake"-"Mongoose" commercial from the top clip. After that is a series of 10-second clips showing off some of the year's new models with new moving parts (the Whip Creamer's turbine, the Peeping Bob's retractable headlights, etc.). The Tune-up Tower taught us everything we needed to know about car maintenance back then – how to keep the wheels aligned for maximum speed (tool included!) – and a Dyno-Meter that purported to tell you the results. After that came the Sizzlers, with their built-in motor that you recharged with the Juice Machine, a gas-pump-looking device that you plugged into the car. Although (naturally) I had some, this is where Mattel kind of temporarily jumped the shark on the original Hot Wheels concept in my opinion.
 

By 1971, Mattel had 73 Hot Wheels cars, including the new Heavy Haulers, which included an ambulance, tow truck, fire engine, and flatbed hauler that I parked at the "top end" of my tracks as my own Safety Safari. The S'cool bus, a flip-top school bus, was among those and, I guess, was a Funny Car, just like the later Funny Money flip-top armored car (major props to the Hot Wheels guys for some very innovative names). They were obscenely heavy, though, and didn't always play well with some of the launchers, though they killed in the gravity-drop races, teaching us youngsters a little something right there. I also find it interesting that the Sizzlers commercials – the last ones shown in the 1970 clip and the ones shown here – featured adults playing with/admiring the cars. I'm not sure what that was all about, but clearly they were aiming for an older market with this more sophisticated kind of Hot Wheels. I have to give them credit, though; those Sizzlers cars would run a long time on a little charge.

1972 … gimmicks arrive. I don't know of a single friend who had the how-close-can-you-get? Bug Bite or the race-to-survive Snake Bite kits, the weird Drivin' Gear strap-on (which kind of turned your Hot Wheels into remote-control cars), or the portable but low-buck Zappit Pak launchers.

Again, major props to the Mattel guys for continually thinking up new stuff, but I never spent my allowance on these. Call me old-school. The 1972 model year did (as shown here), however, introduce the "Snake" and "Mongoose" wedge Top Fuelers (even though, as reported here a while ago, McEwen never had a wedge) with their hinged back decks and the previously mentioned Funny Money, which was twin-engine and pretty cool, even to a racing "purist" like me. And, yes, I still have mine.

I was kind of disappointed that none of these commercials showed the Wild Wheelie set, which I thought was very ingenious and featured the short-lived side-slab front-engine Hot Wheels Top Fuelers. The set came with a combination Christmas Tree/rubber-band launcher, the cars, parachutes, and a finish-line winner indicator. The Christmas Tree was a gravity-operated set of "lights" inside a tower. You pulled the handle up and let it drop and watched it count down (the handle had a pin on it that followed a set of back-and-forth tracks inside the Tree, which slowed its descent). If you launched too quick, you’d even get a red-light. The real genius, though, was in the cars themselves.

As illustrated here, the chute pack was made of a heavier metal and latched up under the cockpit. In this position, the car was rear heavy, and the front end was off the ground. When you loaded it into the launcher, the T-shaped chute pack fit into grooves in the launcher that kept the chute pack and the car level. As soon as the car left the launcher, the nose went skyward, and the car rolled on its two main rear wheels and a set of detachable wheelie wheels. Farther down the track, you put in a short (maybe two inches; they're the short orange pieces in the foreground) piece of track that had raised bumps that would unlock the weighted pack and drop it to the track, bringing down the front end. Beyond that, you had your parachutes, which were tucked into plastic boxes with hinged lids and deployed by V-shaped catch device that was left exposed. When your dragster drove over the box, the front end snagged the V-shaped piece and pulled the parachute from its hiding place. Very cool! Today, this kit in mint condition is worth $500. (These photos are from the ToyCar Collector website, which shows (and sells) all of the "Snake" and Mongoose" cars; check it out here.)

Well, that blew through a good hour of your time. Hope you didn't get caught at work watching 40-year-old commercials. Fortunately for me, it's my job. Ha!

OK, see you next week with more ramp-truck madness.

Ramping up the excitement levelTuesday, July 13, 2010
Posted by: Phil Burgess

News of Don Prudhomme's find of former partner Tom McEwen's Hot Wheels ramp truck, first reported here last week, has really ramped up the excitement, if you will, at the prospect of seeing it with Prudhomme's recently restored hauler in the near future. Here's a bit of a sneak preview of what it's going to look like. Our crack photo staff found this image among the 1970 Winternationals color slides. Save for the stupid telephone pole in the way, it's a cool photo, very clearly taken at Auto Club Raceway at Pomona.

I shared it with Skip Allum, from Prudhomme's camp, who pointed out that McEwen's truck was pretty devoid of decals, meaning that this might have been very early in "the Mongoose's" ownership of the truck, whereas Prudhomme's rig had quite a few more decals.

I received a lot of responses and some neat stuff, including this other great photo, sent by Drew Hierwarter, of Lou Baney, a major industry mover and shaker who was instrumental in the careers of both "the Mongoose" and "the Snake" -- both drove his Brand Ford Top Fueler. Bill Holland, who confirmed Baney's ID in this pic, noted, "Lou was quite an incredible character. I think one of the earliest Hot Rod magazines in the '40s showed him and a team of guys building a car at a show. I also think he was involved with the old Saugus dragstrip with Don Rackemann. Once we were racing at OCIR and blew a head gasket. We started thrashing on the car, and next thing I knew, there was Baney right in the mix, helping out. He was that kind of guy. He was also quite an entertaining guy at the mic. He'd have the room in stitches in no time. Probably only Bill Doner was better."

Glenn Menard said that seeing the two trucks together brought back memories of a race at Southland Dragway in Houma, La., where Menard was the manager, and of the drawing power of the duo. "I had booked the Hot Wheels pair for a Sunday match race and convinced the track owner to let me run TV spots (how revolutionary) in the Saturday morning cartoon shows in New Orleans and Baton Rouge," he wrote. "The hook was a free Hot Wheels car with every pit pass purchased. Did it work? How about it rained all day on Sunday, but we still sold 5,000 pit tickets. The fans paid for rain checks, got their Hot Wheels, made a U-turn in the pits, and went back home to return for the rain date later."

Steve Quercio especially is looking forward to seeing the McEwen truck back in its full glory. "I remember thousands of miles sitting in that thing!" he recalled. "I was just a kid, and our friend Jack Williams talked McEwen into letting me travel with them that summer to sell Drag News at the races. Jerry Irving was the mechanic. We would run a Wednesday at U.S. 30, then a Friday in Pennsylvania, Saturday in New York, and Sunday in Epping, N.H. We would really run a ton of dates, and people loved those two match racers."

Here's a pretty cool little item. Allum sent this photo of an interesting find that the Prudhomme restoration team already has uncovered as they began work on McEwen's truck. Inside the headliner, they discovered these original pieces, which obviously were put there by the Sox & Martin team when they owned the truck. They are the team's 1968 Car Craft Magazine All-star Drag Racing Team stickers as well as a couple of photos of the team's 1968 Mopar. Noted Allum, "Given the year, it's very possible that either Sox, Martin, or someone from their team placed them there years ago!" Wow, what a find.

And speaking of restorations by Prudhomme, Allum also sent this photo of one of their other ongoing projects, the 1999 Copenhagen Funny Car that Ron Capps drove. If you remember, this gold "Snake" car was very short-lived; it only made three passes at that year's U.S. Nationals before being burned to a crisp in the first round of Sunday's Shootout bonus race.

Of my mention that Prudhomme had to negotiate mightily to get a fair price on the truck, Chuck Edwards, who remembers seeing the Sox & Martin truck at Motor City Dragway decades ago, noted cheekily, "If a guy shows up with a flatbed truck and wants to buy your hauler, and even if you don't recognize him as 'the Snake,' wouldn't you want top dollar, too?" Note to self: Always park flatbed around the corner.

Reader Jeff Mittendorf, one of the many ramp-truck-obsessed among you, passed along a link to an interesting page that's a spotter's guide to determining the correct year of those famous Dodge trucks. Check it out here. The site's history page also has some interesting factoids concerning changes to the trucks throughout the years.

With that in mind, he noted, "I've always wondered about something, and with your contacts, maybe you can answer it. Note that Prudhomme's hauler had the 1965-1967 Dodge grille. McEwen's had a 1968 grille but the 1965-1967 hood (I don't know if Sox & Martin did that or McEwen; all the pics I have of the Sox & Martin hauler show the earlier grille, but they may have upgraded at some point prior to sale). With all the publicity these two were generating, I always found it odd that Chrysler let them parade around the country with obsolete grilles and didn't upgrade them to the 1970 versions (a simple swap, I believe). During the 1971 season, Prudhomme had a grille that hadn't been on a new truck in four years. Any insight?"

I don't have any, but maybe the readers do.

Jeff also shared a link to a message board that discussed ramp trucks, where, after scrolling through several hundred messages, I stumbled on this photo of McEwen's old truck, in much better shape than when Prudhomme found it. According to the message poster, this photo was taken in Van Nuys, Calif., in 2000.

(Post-posting note: Affter a posted this entry, reader Vince Weeks wrote to say that he doesn't think this is the same truck that Prudhomme just purchased. "If you look at McEwen's truck it has four doors behind the rear tire and this one has two doors also the bed is on way more of a angle than McEwen's and appears to be shorter," he notes. "Also if you look at the roof of the ramp truck in Van Nuys it doesn't have a Kysor air conditioner on top. Actually the Van Nuys truck looks more updated with aluminum wheels in back and the big chrome bumper up front. If you look at the pictures of the truck the way Prudhomme found it and the picture that you have posted of it when it was used for a Winston west hauler the paint is the same just faded. I guess the big question is if the Van Nuys truck isn't McEwen's than whose truck was it?" Good question!!!)

Although not really related to the topic, Gary Crumine noted that the early-1970s era of the ramp truck was the beginning of a change in how teams identified their cars, from the cars' names to the drivers' names on their sides as the drivers began to have some equity.

"We used to go see the Blue Max, or the Hawaiian, or the Chi-Town Hustler, and it didn’t matter who the driver was at that time," he remembered. "I think Garlits was the first household name, along with the 'Snake' and 'Mongoose.' I also think that the Pro Stock guys actually started the shift to driver names: Sox & Martin, 'Grumpy' Jenkins, 'Dyno Don' Nicholson, Dick Landy, 'Fast Eddie' Schartman etc."

Speaking of the Hustler, I mentioned that the team probably had the longest-running ramp truck in drag racing history, though as Norman Hechtkoff noted, they modified it into a box truck that provided protection from the elements. Here's a photo of the truck from 1982, but the team ran well into 1983 and possibly beyond, even after receiving the Team Strange sponsorship. I wonder where this one is. Bet Austin Coil knows.

Back quickly to my Fourth of July Patriotic Power column, I received notes from Steve Henshaw and Mark Harmon alerting me that I'd left off the Damn Yankee flopper of Don Cook, which Pat Foster and Ron O'Donnell drove. "Absolutely the most beautiful red, white, and blue car ever," stated Henshaw. The car briefly held both ends of the NHRA national record at 6.41, 227.84, set at an NHRA WCS meet in Saginaw, Mich., in July 1972.

According to the 70sfunnycars website, O'Donnell left Cook's team to field a car named The Big Noise From Illinois but soon began running a Vega under the Damn Yankee name that was painted nearly identically to the car in this great Tom West photo. O'Donnell built a Damn Yankee Mustang II in 1977, but the car was lost after just a few passes due to a parachute failure.

Mike McCarthy dropped me a line to stump for the Freedom Machine AA/FD out of Hudson, Mass., which was owned by Tom Dawes and driven by O.J. McKenney. "While working for Artie Irwin and his Drag News column, I had the chance to photograph the car often," said McCarthy. "Unfortunately, over the years, all my files were lost, and I have been trying to collect more pics of the car. A couple of shots that I have found interesting are this black and white shot by Paul Wasilewski Jr. at New England Dragway, which has me taking pics from the other side of the fence, and this 1974 shot of the rear-engined Freedom Machine taken by Gary Edwards in California shortly before Tom's untimely passing. I've had some luck in finding pics but would love to find more of the rear-engined car in California."

Readers?
 
OK, gang, that's it for today. As always, thanks for reading and contributing. See ya later this week.
 

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