It may only be Nov. 22, but it already feels like Christmas Eve for this Orange County Int’l Raceway pit rat looking forward to the OCIR Reunion tomorrow at the NHRA Motorsports Museum. Even though I never got a chance to visit Lions Drag Strip, I attended the Lions Reunion at the museum last year and got a real kick out of it, so I’m certain that hearing the legends of the sport talk about the dragstrip (home of my youth) will bring back lots of great memories. John Force, Don “the Snake” Prudhomme, Tom “the Mongoose” McEwen, “TV Tommy” Ivo, Roland Leong, Carl Olson, Ed Pink, Gary Densham, OCIR founding President and General Manager Mike Jones, and others will be on the panel sharing their memories and answering questions from what’s sure to be a packed house. I’ll have a full review of the affair next week. In the meantime, you may enjoy reliving this three-part column I did on OCIR five years ago on the 25th anniversary of its closing [Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3].
Apparently my giddiness didn’t allow me time to focus on a subject-oriented column (though I have a bunch in the works), and I noticed that the ol’ mailbox is starting to overflow again with comments about topics past and present, so I thought I’d spend this time sorting through the many contributions from the Insider Nation.
Last Friday’s column, which included mention of Don Garlits’ use of the Donovan engine in 1977, inspired Fred Gunton to send along the photo at right of “Big Daddy" and Donovan in mid-discussion in Seattle in late 1976. That’s Gunton on the right in the cap. “I was chatting with Don, and Donovan walked over and asked him if he could ask him a question. [Don] replied, ‘Go ahead,' and then the offer came!”
According to his book, Don Garlits and His Cars, Garlits writes that Donovan “offered me an engine deal I couldn’t refuse” and convinced Garlits to abandon the Dodge Hemi 426 he had run for the previous 13 years for the new Donovan 417. The deal appears to have been free parts, and, because Garlits was spending the then-whopping sum of $60,000 a year with Keith Black, he jumped all over it.
The Donovan first went into Swamp Rat 23 (the car with which he had won the IHRA championship while boycotting NHRA over disagreements about how some aspects of the 1975 title chase was handled), and the car set low e.t. and was runner-up to Jerry Ruth in its debut in his return to NHRA competition at the 1977 Winternationals. He also was runner-up (to James Warren) at the March Meet but was using up a ton of parts trying to figure out the necessary fuel volume, so with his hometown Gatornationals next up, he hauled Swamp Rat 22 (the 5.63, 250-mph car) out of mothballs and reverted back to the K-B and won the race, then returned to the Donovan project.
He and the recently departed Don “Mad Dog” Cook built Swamp Rat 24 (the blue and white God Is Love car) specifically for the Donovan. They again set low e.t. (5.771) at the Winternationals in 1978 but lost in round one to Richard Tharp, then in quick succession won the AHRA Winternationals at Beeline Dragway outside of Phoenix and the Gatornationals again in Gainesville. They ran the Donovan for all of 1978 but ultimately switched back to the K-B at the start of the 1979 season because the Donovan “was just not strong enough for the horsepower being produced in 1978.”
I got an interesting note and some photos from Dave Parsons about the “chopping down the Christmas Tree” thread from September. I had shown the first photo in the gallery at right and was only able to identify that it was an injected dragster that took out the bottom bulb of the Tree at Irwindale Raceway and had no idea what happened after that (though clearly things were not looking good for the wayward shoe).
“After a little detective work, I can name the culprit!” Parsons wrote. “What jogged something in my brain was the sinuous guardrail at Irwindale, and it summoned memories of some photos in a children’s book from 1971 titled On the Drag Strip. In it, the author describes what it is like for a driver to get ‘in big trouble’ (experience a crash) and provides a photo sequence — although the shot you have, which would be the first of the sequence, is not included. As I studied the book's images, my mind went into high gear, and my suspicions were confirmed. The first two images I’ve sent reveal the track to be Irwindale, and the push trucks in image two look to be the same and in the same position as in your photo.
Photo three shows the wavy guardrail, and we get a glimpse at the graphics behind the wheels, but in your photo, that area is obscured by the blackout panels on the Tree. Foiled! But in No. four, we get a glimpse of the graphics in front of the axle, and BINGO, it matches! Photo No. five gives us a clearer shot of the graphics with other telltale identification, like breather location on the early Hemi, headers, M&H Racemaster on the slicks, and one more thing — a picture of the driver. Well, I feel a little bad ratting him out, but the book’s author and self-confessed driver of the injected dragster is Ed Radlauer, children’s books author.”
Another mystery solved by the Insider Nation ... thanks Dave!
Speaking of Christmas Trees, I got the photos at left from Phil Rolsma, who opened Classic Gameroom Supply in Beaver Falls, Pa., after getting “downsized out of the corporate world” nearly three years ago. He now buys, sells, restores, and consigns 1940s and 1950s jukeboxes, slot machines, pinball machines, soda machines, and the like, including a like-new, five-amber Chrondek Tree with brain box, Chrondek Blue travel trunk, starting-line lights and reflectors, reaction timers, and starter-control box.
“This Tree was bought by a racer for use in his garage and purported to have been used outside at a track but once or twice, and I believe it,” Rolsma said. “The Gemini-era connectors in the thing are bad-ass on their own right, and you can eat out of the insides. It still has the Chrondek 'pass' ink stamps on the inside of the Tree. It is truly a special, once-in-a-lifetime, for-the-waiting-room-of-Hot Rod-magazine kind of piece. Or, Leno. I'm not, however, going to have it end up in an Applebee's somewhere. It just is another piece that gets that 'Where did you get that?' gasp when people walk in our appointment-only showroom.”
If you’re interested — and, for what it's worth, the Tree is one of those "If you have to ask the price, you probably can't afford it kind of things" — you can call him toll free at 888-9-PINBALL (746-2255) or check out 9PinBall.com. He's also got the cool Nitro Groundshaker pinball machine, which you can also see in the gallery.
A few years ago I ran several columns showing off some great, old dragstrip flyers [Part 1 | Part 2] and just got the image at right from my pal, memorabilia maven Mike Goyda, showing a promotional item from Augusta Int'l Speedway in Georgia. Although the flyer says it's located “south of Augusta” and “2,400 feet of Tobacco Road,” my research tells me that it was located in the bucolic town of Hephzibah, Ga., and was host not only to a dragstrip but also a three-mile-long road course, one-mile dirt oval, a two-mile-long tri-oval superspeedway, and a half-mile paved oval. NASCAR great “Fireball” Roberts won his last race there on the road course in November 1963, shortly before being killed in a fiery wreck in Charlotte.
Anyway, this flyer is advertising the appearing of “your hero and mine,” Tommy Ivo and his four-engine dragster, which makes it 1961. (The track opened in 1960 and closed in 1969.) But that’s not the real reason Goyda sent it to me. If you look closely at the image (or, better yet, click on the link below it to view a larger version), you’ll see that two weeks later, the track was holding its first Turkey Race: “25 turkeys will be turned loose for spectators to catch and carry home.”
“I thought you might do a column on the numerous whacked-out ways dragstrip promoters have found to promote attendance,” Goyda postulated. “I thought I had heard them all until this. At least they didn't insult Tommy by holding the Turkey Race in conjunction with his appearance, although being the showman that he was, he might have welcomed it.”
Great idea, Mike. So if anyone has any stories to share about crazy track promotions (like, say, if someone hypothetically had decided to drop turkeys out of a helicopter), I want to hear them. The weirder the better.
This just in: Shortly after this column was published, I got an email from Ron Pellegrini, who took over the controls of Ivo machine later that year (the movie studios didn't want their golden child driving such a wild machine). and drove the four-engined car at Augusta. "And if my memory is correct I went back on the 19th with the twin," he wrote. "I remember seeing live turkeys being thrown out of the bed of a pickup. After much pulling and tugging by the spectators some lucky (or unlucky) few went home with various parts of the same turkey."
Hint: I'm the good-looking one on the right.
Backtracking just a bit, I finally met up with Heather LeVay, daughter of the late fan-favorite Funny Car shoe Tripp Shumake, in Pomona for an update on the progress of the book she is writing about her father. You may remember a couple of stories [Part 1 | Part 2] that I wrote in this column about a year ago remembering “240 Shorty,” and to which Heather graciously shared her memories of her dad and also talked about her desire to do a book.
She’s been on the road ever since, collecting literally reams of remembrances from all kinds of folks to include in her book, which she hopes to self-publish next April. She’ll be including those two columns (including some of the great comments some of you contributed) and a treasure trove of photos she’s collected over the years. She’s been diligently trying to track down permissions from some of the photos she has, and I’ve been working with her to figure out some of that.
In the meantime, if you have any great photos of Tripp and/or his cars and you give Heather your permission to include them in the book, you can send them, plus any thoughts you want to share about him, to her at email@example.com.
She’s poured her heart and soul and a daughter’s love into this book, and I’m really looking forward to the finished product, and I’m sure it will bring back lots of great memories from those of you who also knew Shumake. I’ll let you know when it’s available.
OK, that's it for today. Have a great Friday. I know I'll have a great Saturday, and I hope to see some of you there.