The year in (cell-phone) picturesTuesday, November 17, 2009

You may not believe this, but I have a life beyond this column and another job hooking up words and phrases and clauses on some long-running drag racing magazine you may have heard of.

I don't get out as much as I used to in my pre-big-boss days when it wasn't uncommon for me to hit well over half of the stops on the national event tour, but they still do let me out of my cage every now and then. Like every good citizen, I have a camera everywhere I go because it's built right into my cell phone, and I chronicled a few of my journeys and experiences this year. With the season now complete and me deskbound for the next three months, I thought I'd trot out this little collection of small-scale pics to show you how my year went. No cell phones were harmed in the making of this column. Here we go ...

Well, unlike this past weekend, February in Pomona could be described in one word: wet. I have a few other words for it, but let's stick with that one. Thursday's qualifying rained out. Friday's qualifying rained out. We actually got in a session Saturday morning but lost Saturday afternoon to more of Mother Nature's moisture. My parking pass also became quite saturated yet proved an appropriate image for the weekend. 

After a four-hour Sunday morning delay, we actually got in the first rounds of Top Fuel and Funny Car and two of the eight first-round pairings in Pro Stock before rain brought an end to the day's activity. We tried again Monday but got completely rained out, but I did spy the Oscar Meyer Weinermobile on the drive home down Arrow Highway. Hot dog!

We didn't finish the race until Tuesday. We were glad we finally got 'er in the books, but it was only the start of a long season of sitting around watching the rain fall.

A month later, I was in Gainesville after a dizzying series of travel woes (click here and scroll to the third segment), where, despite the staffwide horror stories of the past two decades that have been astutely attributed to "The Curse of the Gators," it actually didn't rain. Maybe Mother Nature had the week off or something. Not only did it not rain, but no one that I knew got a speeding ticket on Highway 301;  I'm not sure which is the bigger accomplishment. As we rolled outta town Monday morning up Speedway 301 – I mean Highway 301 – K-Wade and I even had a chance to stop and shop for trinkets for our kids at the kitschy Florida Souvenir Stand along 301. The kids got Florida playing cards, a grandson got a Nemo-themed Florida T-shirt, and no one (despite much temptation) ended up with a dried alligator-foot paperweight. Maybe next year.

Less than two weeks later, I was off to Houston, where even monsoon-like rain upon our arrival and a rain-shortened day Friday (or even photog Jerry Foss' speeding ticket) couldn't dampen the thrill of our behind-the-scenes tour at NASA, courtesy of longtime e-mail pal and Insider fan Todd Bailey. Bailey has worked for NASA at the Johnson Space Center for 20 years, most lately at the Neutral Buoyancy Laboratory (the NBL, as insiders call it), a ginormous swimming pool (40 feet deep, 202 feet wide, and 101 feet across filled with 6.2 million gallons of water) where astronauts practice spacewalks on full-size mock-ups in full space-suit regalia in the simulated weightlessness.

We got to meet and have our photos taken with space-shuttle veteran Michael Foreman, a Navy captain who was on STS-123 Endeavor in March 2008 and just the other day blasted back into space aboard STS-129 Atlantis. We checked out Rocket Park and took refuge from a driving rain inside the huge building that houses a full-size mock-up of a Saturn V rocket. It's a full 36 stories tall and then some. We visited the Space Vehicle Mockup Facility, filled with various hatches, airlocks, and other components for astronauts to train with and, had it not been for a mission currently in space, could have flown one of the space-shuttle simulators. Like I said earlier, there's always next year.

You can read my recap of our space adventure and see a bunch of other outta-this-world pics here.

I didn't have another national event on my schedule until the Chicago event in June but kept the ol' cell-phone camera clicking anyway. I celebrated tax day by attending my gazillionth Bruce Springsteen concert, at the L.A. Sports Arena. I've probably seen Bruce more times than anyone else in the current NHRA world save for Stat Guy, Lewis Bloom (who's seen Bruce scores of times in everything from Jersey Shore bars to huge arenas), and, thanks to tickets from old friend Ken Landerman, a longtime fixture at Old Bridge Township Raceway Park, I got to take in one of the best and uplifting Bruce shows I've been to. I first saw him at the quite-rundown Sports Arena on The River tour (I went four of six nights!), and having seen him at posh palaces like Staples Center and Honda Center (and even the L.A. Coliseum) between, it was great to see him again in a more intimate setting (read: no skyboxes) in the place he lovingly referred to as "the dump that jumps." It was a masterful concert (read my Facebook review here if you're a tramp like me), and he barely looked like a guy about to turn 60.

Perhaps inspired by the youthfulness of "the Boss," three days later, I took a deep breath and shaved off the mustache I'd worn since high school (30-plus years) and turned the camera on myself for this quite unflattering photo to show the world my new look. It was quite unsettling (still is, on occasion) to see the smooth face, but I wanted to get the pic out there to get people used to seeing my new mug before I encountered them in Chicago. I posted it (and a humorous story) on my Facebook page.

When I finally did hit Chicago six weeks later, racers whom I've known for more than 25 years walked right by me in the pits without even glancing my way. I was the invisible man. It wasn't until some of them were forced to confront me face to face in the media center that I got the double takes and the "What, did you lose a bet?" comments that I so expected. Surprisingly, I didn't get hassled by any security types for the remainder of the year despite my hard-card credential showing that big ol' mustache, and, perhaps even more thankfully, I wasn't detained at any airport security posts nor did I end up on any watch lists. (Maybe next year.)


A week and a half after seeing his new driver, Spencer Massey, win his first Top Fuel crown in Chicago (where -- go figure --  it rained Saturday and Sunday), Don Prudhomme played gracious host to me and Photo Editor Teresa Long for a dream story for this lifelong "Snake" fan. He has accumulated quite a collection of his old race cars and agreed to let T.L. and me come down to his Vista, Calif., shop and roll them out for a photo shoot for National DRAGSTER.

Not only did I get the full guided tour and first-person remembrances of this historic icon, but I also got to help "the Snake" push the cars around the parking lot and actually sit behind the wheel of the fabled white Barracuda. You can read the story of our day here.

The topper to a great day was a ride with "Snake" to lunch in his newly (and lovingly) restored Dodge D-100 ramp truck with the big 'ol yellow Hot Wheels Cuda strapped to its back. You can check out a quick video of that ride above and see what it's like to ride shotgun with Prudhomme.


A few weeks later, it was off to Norwalk for one of my favorite events. Norwalk has held a special place in my heart for more than 25 years as it was the place where I first drove a fast drag race car, the amazing short-wheelbased supercharged BB/A Opel of the Mazi family, way back in the summer of 1984. I've remained friends with the Bader family, who helped make that special moment (and the storied article it spawned) possible, even through their time with the IHRA, and I look forward to seeing Bill Sr. and Jr. each year.

We landed, absorbed the breaking news that Michael Jackson had suffered a heart attack, and (stop me if you've heard this before) soon found ourselves in the eye of a deluge. We barely made it to the rental car before the skies let loose in a Noah's Ark-worthy blast. The highway was at a near standstill, so we pulled off for a bite and then learned that the King of Pop had left us.

It was a rough week for celebrities. On the way there, we heard that Farrah Fawcett had died and not long after that super pitchman Billy Mays had died, too. Ironically, I had read a profile of Mays on the flight in the American Airlines magazine. I snapped this photo of the magazine on the way home. We'll need some Mighty MendIt to fix the holes in our hearts.

We were treated to great racing as well as one of the trademark Bader family fireworks shows Friday night. They probably spend more money on this end-of-night add-on to the show than some promoters do on their entire advertising budget, but you seldom hear of a fan leaving the Norwalk facility who didn't think he got his money's worth and then some.

It was a heckuva lot better Friday than the one we experienced the year before in Norwalk when water continually seeped up through cracks in the top end and all manner of drainage -- from Top Alcohol Funny Car star Frank Manzo manning a backhoe to Bader Sr. drilling relief holes in the racing surface -- couldn't save the day. (You can relieve that not-so-great day here.)
It always seems to rain in Ohio in June -- I remember well that it rained in 1984, postponing my first rides in the Mazi Opel -- and although this year was better than last, we still were betrayed again by Mother Nature.

We fought the rain on and off in Norwalk, including Sunday morning. The forecast looked terrible coming into Sunday, then it miraculously cleared up, and all of the weather Web sites were saying we were fine, even though it was lightly misting during pre-race.

Billy Jr. asked me what I knew about the forecast, and I shared with him what I had heard, which he then shared with a large group of fans bordering the stage while he thanked them for attending the event. I think he said something like, "Don't worry about this mist; I have it on good authority that this will blow through pretty quick, and then we're good for the rest of the day." Of course, within a few minutes, it poured and poured, soaking the track and delaying the start of eliminations by about 90 minutes, and I have the photographic proof below. Sorry, Billy.

Some things never change.

I got the summer off from travel and got to take a swell road trip with my boy – shown here gassin' up the Pontiac -- to Sonoma in late August to catch some Formula Drift action (my new second-favorite motorsport). I wrote about it and got a lot of great feedback from dads like me about guy road trips and their coolness and counted my blessings that, even at 20 years old, he still thinks it's cool to pal around with his pops.

I hit the friendly skies again in September for my 27th straight U.S. Nationals, where, of course, it rained. The wet stuff came down Sunday morning and cost us a qualifying session. I snapped the photo below from the third floor of the Parks Tower, and I don't know if there's a sadder site in all of drag racing than a wet track in Indy. Am I wrong?

Fortunately, the wet stuff was relatively short-lived, and we made history there with Ashley Force Hood's first Funny Car win.

Three weeks later, it was back to the digs, this time in Dallas. Going to the Motorplex has always been a treat – I was there for the first NHRA race in 1986 and have an affinity for Texas – because you just never know what you’re going to see, though there's a pretty good bet you're not going to see any rain.

So, it was with great chagrin that I, Waldron, and K-Wade observed this scary-looking set of clouds upon landing – dig that crazy upside-down triangle thing in the middle – that had me feeling like I was in the middle of an episode of Storm Chasers. Unfortunately, instead of a tornado-proof, armored-car-like TIV (tornado intercept vehicle; what a riot that thing is), I was taking my first ride in a lightweight little Toyota hybrid (see photos below), complete with a video-game-like instrument panel and a bird-like appetite for gasoline. Hey, my posse may have been getting laughed at, but we were rolling green and helping reduce our carbon footprint. Either that or they were out of Mustangs; maybe next year.

Other than our Thursday travel day, it didn't rain in Dallas (yeah!).

A traditional highlight for me in Dallas is the opportunity to take in a little other motorsports action, in the form of an annual trip to Cowtown Speedway in Kennedale, about a half-hour ride from the Plex.

Cowtown ("the Fastest Lil' Dirt Track In Texas!") is right across the street from that eighth-mile birthplace of E.T. champions, Texas Raceway, and always seems to have a big show on the same weekend as our Dallas event. This year, it was a full-boat show of everything from winged sprint cars to "bomber" street-type cars and even the small mini sprints, which are powered by 200cc motorcycle engines. Jeromy Hefler, of the legendary Texas drag racing clan, a longtime Division 4 hitter and Texas Raceway mainstay, was racing that night, so it was cool to have someone to root for. He didn't win, but, hey, maybe next year.

The boy and I took in the Formula Drift finale at Irwindale in mid-October. I had to bypass a return trip to the California Hot Rod Reunion to take him there, but I felt I owed it to him for two reasons: One, I'd promised him last year we could go this year (it's five miles from our house) way before I knew the Reunion dates, and, two, I wanted to continue the legacy passed down to me by my stepfather, who used to take me out to Irwindale as a young kid. Sure, it’s not the same place – the home of the grand old dame is about a half-mile east of the new speedway – and, sure, we weren't going there to watch Pete's Lil Demon or Mr. C, but the sentiment was the same in a weird little way.
Former NHRA sport compact racer Ed Bergenholtz had introduced us to Formula Drift's Andy Luk in Sonoma, and Andy took good care of us in Irwindale. Mindful of my drag racing roots, he got us into the swell trackside hospitality tent of Tanaka Racing -- Team manager Dwight Tanaka, the VP/director of operations for the Grand Prix Association of Long Beach, is a former drag racer -- which fields a truly bad-ass C5R-edition Corvette Z06. It truly stands out in a sea of Nissan 350ZXs and other foreign iron and gives us someone else to root for beyond Chris' favorite, Vaughn Gittin Jr. and his equally ripping '10 Mustang.

We caught two days of great action, rooted for our faves as well as the special-edition Shaun Carlson memorial car of Sam Hubinette, and said goodbye to our new friends on that circuit until next year.

Finally, it was Finals time. I won’t go into great detail because, well, it's fresh in all of our minds, but here's the year's last racing cell-phone pic, which I snapped during a highlight-filled pre-race ceremony. It shows Kenny Bernstein acknowledging the fans in his final race with Budweiser with wife Sheryl at his side. They already were on the verge of tearing up, and then that guy in the background with the spiffy green pants walked up and presented them with their very own Clydesdale. We all thought that was pretty cool – and even funny when the Technicoat Cowboys presented him with a shovel and rake for upcoming "cleanups" – but I don't think any of us knew what a high honor it is to receive from Budweiser one of these beautiful animals. KB knew and just about lost it, his voice breaking as he thanked Corey Christanell, director of sports and entertainment marketing at Anheuser-Busch Inc. In all my years of covering Bernstein, even through his retirement and Brandon's 2003 crash, I've never seem him like that. It was awesome.

And so was this year (despite the rain). Hope you enjoyed the pics. I'll see ya later this week.

Fun with Fotos revisited, Part 2Friday, November 13, 2009

Hello from Pomona, where I'm ringside for the second day of the Automobile Club of Southern California NHRA Finals, and welcome to Part 2 of my reprint of my Fun with Fotos column, which originally ran on the Insider last December and has been making the rounds on the Internet via e-mail under numerous subject likes like "Memories!" and "Great old dragster photos" and "The way it was."

Because it was so popular and came with a ton of great follow-up from the Insider Nation, I decided to reprint it here, including my original comments in bold and additional information in italic.


Here's how those early dragsters got their nickname; the driver sat behind the rear tires like a rock in a slingshot.


A couple of engines, four tires, a little extra tubing, a welder, and there's little that early drag racers couldn't -- and didn't -- try.


I looooooooove this shot. The photographer did such a great job of exposing it and allowing you to see every detail, nut, and bolt on the blower. Arthur Trim tells me that this is Connie Kalitta's Logghe-chassised Ford-powered digger, photographed on a chassis dyno in one of Ford's labs.

A few people pointed out that the oil-filler cap on the valve cover of Kalitta's SOHC mill was missing in the shot.


Indy is a place where magical things happen. Look closely, and you can see that "Big John's" battle-scarred 'Cuda has all four tires off the ground.

The great photo of "Big John" Mazmanian's 'Cuda with four-wheel liftoff in Indy was shot by Larry "Max" Maxwell of L&M Photos according to Norman Blake. Also, Bill Burns, in responding to my observation that the car was battle-scarred, wrote, "I’m not positive, but I believe the battle scars are from the famous 'net' at the end of Green Valley Raceway in Texas. There was a big race there the week before Indy one year, and several of the California cars stopped by on their way east. It was the most beautiful Funny Car I had ever seen before its trip over the hill and into the net there."

Not all new ideas were good ones; Exhibit A is Noel Black's two-engine, four-wheel-drive Top Fueler from 1967.

Dan Tuttle dropped me a line to say that Noel Black's twin-engine car actually wasn't a Top Fuel car but that it was a Bonneville Streamliner nicknamed the Rhinoceros, in which he was later killed. "Reportedly, the car was well above 400 when it lost its belly pan," he said. "Apparently, [this photo] was another test."

Fabled quarter-mile photog Steve Reyes, who shot the above pic, tells me the unique-looking car was photographed at Sacramento Raceway.

I found mention of the car in "Landspeed Louise" Noeth's book, Bonneville: The Fastest Place on Earth. Here is a picture of the car with bodywork taken by George Callaway. Noeth says the Rhinoceros name came from the body bumps to accommodate the engines.

Drag racing historian Bret Kepner said that the car was created by Black and partner Bert Peterson at their B&N Automotive shop and was never designed to be a dragster at all. "It was purely a land-speed-record vehicle that because of its bizarre chassis and drivetrain configuration needed extensive testing, and the dragstrip was pretty much the only place to do it," he wrote. "Officially known as Motion 1 but dubbed the Rhinoceros when carrying its full body panels, the car crashed at 382 mph during the SCTA SpeedWeek event at Bonneville in 1970. Black died as a result of the crash."

Call me an astute observer, but I reckon that "Big Jim" Dunn was pretty much done for this run at Lions in the rainbow-hued Dunn & Reath digger.

Who says you need four wheels?
"I'll take Scary Fast Tricycles
for $500, Alex."


I got a lot of feedback on the three-wheel dragsters along with solid IDs on both. Cliff Morgan and John Pecora wrote to say that the front-engine car belonged to Kenny Ellis, and Steve Gibbs wrote that the rear-engine car was the Cook Bros., Jahns & Hedges entry driven by Jeff Jahns.

Morgan noted that "Ellis was the most famous with an almost conventional front-motor car, which had a tendency to wheelie down the track, especially in the lights." Added Pecora, "Ken is still at it doing fabrication but is stricken with cancer and is fighting with all he has. This photo, I think, is of the third three-wheeler. I built a complete replica of this car for him and gave it to him and son. His son wants to show it off at various events."

Of the other car, Gibbs reminisced, "One of the things that made the sport so appealing in the '50s and '60s was that you never knew what would show up next. The rules were wide open. [This is ] one of the cars that was nonconforming in just about every aspect. It was a rear-engine sidewinder, three-wheeler, using air jacks (à la Pete Robinson) to launch the car ... all with a fuel-burning small Dodge Hemi. It had a body but was not used much. The car had a short life and crashed at 'the Beach.' Driver Jahns got out of it, but it rearranged his nose. I can't imagine how today's tech guys would react if this car were to show up again."

In the same vein, who says you even need four wheels or three wheels? The famed Leffler-Coburn Iron Mistress coupe had six! In a true example of the sum of the parts not being equal to the whole, Neil Leffler and Bill Coburn each took the fuel-burning Hemis from their competition coupes and paired them for this interesting experiment. It wasn't real fast, but it was spectacular.

We've seen lead weights and tubes filled with lead shot as front-end ballast, but a rock? I kid you not. Clearly, the Red Mountain Boys knew how to rock.

I think we've all seen the classic photo of Don Garlits' career-changing transmission explosion at Lions, but this is Jon Asher's less-seldom-seen but equally-breathtaking downtrack angle. I'm not sure who circled the fan in the stands or why, but that's how this image was posted.


A whole host of people surmised – as I did privately – that the circled fan in this scan of Asher's Garlits explosion photo may have been the fan injured by the shrapnel, some of which keen-eyed readers point out can be seen in the photo. Larry Sutton, who was the starter and who waded into the stands to save the fan's life, confirmed to me that that is the general area where he found the injured spectator, whom Lions historian Don Gillespie indentifies as Tim Ditt.

previous Insider column on Sutton included his heroic efforts to save Ditt's life, but none could have expected that Sutton and Ditt would be reunited nearly 40 years after this infamous moment, a reunion recounted in this Insider column.

I've never seen this car before, but it can't be any mistake that the names on its side are Capp and Fedderly, as in future Top Fuel partners (and Indy winners) Terry Capp and Bernie Fedderly. Both are still at it years later, Capp in nostalgia racing and Fedderly as Austin Coil's alter ego on the John Force team.


The first rule of running against a jet dragster: Always leave first.

Steve Justice reported that this photo features J.D. Zink in Romeo Palamides' Untouchable going off against Don "Mad Dog" Cook at Fremont.

Herman Munster, far lane, and Grandpa dueled at Lions in a ghoulish go that was featured on the popular television show.


I did a whole follow-up on the Munstermobile thing here, with some outtake photos of the 1965 "race" at Lions and photos of the coach under construction. A munsterously good read.

The driver's reaction in this photo is classic after his blown Fiat puked all over the Lions starting line.

Bob Nielsen was one of several who wrote to say that the great shot of the exploding Fiat features the Magic Muffler Fiat driven by Jim Miles. "This occurred in 1966," he wrote. "This photo was actually taken by Ron Lahr. What was moderately unique about this photo is the superb timing – parts still coming out the bottom of the engine and the car about to run over the oil pan.

"Jere Alhadeff was positioned a little farther downtrack and caught the same engine explosion milliseconds prior to Ron Lahr’s photo. Alhadeff’s photo shows the car engulfed in the engine explosion flames and the oil pan just starting to depart (it is still immediately under the engine)." I also found that photo on The H.A.M.B. forum, as shown here at right.

The original photo also hit home with a reader named Marty, who used to have the pic plastered on his bedroom wall. "I can't believe you have that photo of the guy runnin' over his own crankshaft in the Fiat," he wrote. "I had that hanging in my room as a kid. It's so cool I just laugh like an idiot at it. Do you know if that photo can be bought in a poster form or where it might be found?"

You can buy the pictures at Dave Wallace's super-swell site: direct link.

OK, kids, that's it for the recap. I'm going to tune back in to what's going down in Pomona and the crowning of this year's Full Throttle world champs. It's gonna be a barnburner in Top Fuel!

Fun with Fotos revisitedTuesday, November 10, 2009

It's probably every writer's dream to come up with something so cool or so original that it is handed down from generation to generation or becomes so widely distributed to the masses that it takes on a life of its own. Whether it's an oft-quoted philosophy or truism ("A penny saved is a penny earned") or a few lines from an entire speech ("Four score and seven years ago" from Abe Lincoln's Gettysburg Address), to imagine that your sagely penned words would develop a life all of their own is heady stuff. Yeah, sometimes we writers dream small.

Sure, Ben and Abe had a 200-plus-year head start on me, though I doubt I could have come up with anything as sage as their words. Although I've been at this drag writing business for three decades, I can’t really say that I've created any new words or phrases to add to drag racing's already significant lexicon or single-handedly did something as cool as give a racer his or her famous nickname, but this column has definitely expanded my audience as I find some of the columns reprinted, verbatim, on other Web sites and message boards (that's a real no-no, for the record) or links to this site (much better).

Most recently, a mass e-mailing of one of my columns from last year, a column originally called Fun with Photos, has been making the rounds of nostalgia-themed message boards and mailing lists, many of which I am on. I find it rather amusing when I receive these e-mails with new introductions added to the column or replacing my original, and also a bit flattering. The photos aren't even from our files-- I harvested them from The H.A.M.B. bulletin board -- and added what I thought were interesting captions to them and of interest to the readers of this column and even those not as intimately familiar with our history.

It was interesting to see heroes like Jim Nicoll among those passing it on to his e-mail friends (me included), but the real kick came Sunday night when I received it again from a well-meaning reader who said, "Thought I would forward this e-mail to you. A friend sent it to me, and there is some pretty cool stuff. You may have a lot of this, but in case you don't, here goes."

That's pretty funny when you think about it.

You can find my original posting here, though the formatting there is a little goofy because it was done on the old template that allowed for wider photos, and the photos stick out into the ads now. Clearly, there is a great interest in these photos and the sentiments I attached to them, so I find it worth reprinting. Those who didn't see it the first time through should enjoy it, and those who have or are looking at the e-mails will now have the stories and details that accompany the pics.

In the interest of a better presentation and reclaiming the work, I redid the layout a little bit and added to it because, in the true nature of this column, I received a lot of follow-up information about many of the pics that I ran in subsequent columns. My original caption will be in bold and the additional info (if any) in italic.

There's a lot to take in, so I'll split this into two halves; look for the second part Friday.


Back in the day, anything was possible. How about an Offy with a side-mounted blower on Ed Donovan's dragster?

Paul Schwan of Cincinnati dropped me a line about Ed Donovan's side-mounted blower, noting, "The 6-71 blower that was originally used was indeed mounted on the side of a 6-71 Detroit Diesel, or before it was Detroit, it was a GM diesel, or affectionately known as a 'Jimmy Diesel.'

"In either a right- or left-hand 6-71, the side of the engine on which the blower was mounted determined either rotation or direction of the engine; therefore, that mount on the Offy was closer to 'stock' than most people realized."

One thing you can safely say about Ed Donovan is that the man was never boring or without a million thoughts racing through his mind.

Nothing says drag racing like way too big of an engine stuffed into too little car; reminds me of the models I used to imagineer as a kid.

Fred Fischbach had no problem ID-ing the owner of the blown Austin Healey as his old friend Norm Cowdrey. "This is from the mid- to late '60s," he wrote. "Norm had the chassis built in San Fernando by a sprint car chassis builder by the name of Rip Erickson. It was powered by a blown small-block, but I don't remember the cubes. The car was an instant NHRA record setter, and as you can see by the picture, a real crowd-pleaser. It was painted at a body shop in the southwest corner of Tony Nancy's complex where Tony lived and had his upholstery shop. The car was a beautiful lime green with large gold metal flake that had been shot up in the air and allowed to settle on it, then clear-coated. The whole package was totally awesome.

"Sometimes when there was no race for Norm to go to, he would unbolt the blower and put it on his Corvette – underdriven, of course -- and we'd go tooling around the Valley; no big deal today, but then -- big deal.Too much fun."

Bill Holland added, "Cowdrey normally did well in one of the eliminator categories at San Fernando Dragway, where the photo was taken. Norm went on to campaign the Blue Fox Camaro Funny Car. He later was involved in a few TAFC deals, one of which was driven to a Wally win at Las Vegas by Rod Alexander ("Wild Bill's" son). Today, Norm plays with vintage road race cars. I chatted with him a few months ago at the races on Coronado Island, where he ran well with an ex-Paul Newman McKee Can-Am car."

Rear slicks churning, front tires grabbing air, and an acrobatic flagman.
Uhhh, dude? I don't think you asked for a big enough head start.
The great shot of the go-kart racing the dragster was from Tampa Int'l Dragway and featured "T.V. Tommy" Ivo in the digger against the Turbonique rocket-engine-equipped kart. Both were there making exhibition runs, and someone got the great idea to pair them.

"I was all for it," recalled Ivo, "as I running much better than him and also because I used to do all kinds of things like that all the time. I would give stockers big head starts and run them down on the big end – or even bicycles, anything to take the ho-hum out of single runs -- but I would always make sure we put a good enough spread on the handicap to make sure I didn't get beat by mistake! How bad would that be, getting beat by a bicycle? Although this incident ended up to be even worse than that. 

"The rocket engine had a heart attack before we could have the race, so the guy with the kart still really wanted to get a picture with me racing him. Soooooooo, he suggested to just set him on the starting line next to me and get the picture when I took off. It wasn't a movie, so who would know if he were running or not? 'OK, that will work,' I said! But then once again, old Cecil B. De Ivo had to not leave well enough alone. Attempting to make a good idea better (as I always do), I suggested that they put the kart out about 25 feet or so; therefore, I could get up a good plume of smoke behind me to make the picture more dramatic. Wrong!! Here's the shot they were 'supposed' to get!

"I was a victim of my own stupidity, it would seem (again), BUT -- and here comes that 'but' again -- I was right; it did make a great shot, didn't it?"

A wheelstander with everything but the kitchen sink.

Being able to ID a car is one thing, but being able to figure out at which track a photo was taken always requires some skill. Bill Carrell was "99.9 percent sure" that the Shower Power photo was taken at Thompson Drag Raceway in Thompson, Ohio, because of "the trees and their proximity to the track; the signage with roads identified in that area, specifically Ridge Road and Mayfield; I worked there and can tell a shot of that track from almost any angle; and where else but Ohio?"

Dawn Mazi-Hovsepian, Ohio's secondmost famous female Ohioan (behind The Pretenders' Chrissie Hynde and probably just ahead of Rona Veney) not only confirmed for me that it was taken at Thompson but also provided the year (1970) and the photographer (Charles Gilchrist). Said Dawn, "Gilchrist notes: 'The engine, a stout fuel-injected small-block Chevy, was turned around in the chassis and ran through a transfer case to the differential. The driver (Randy Davis) sat in the fiberglass tub (no water). This bathtub was quick, made full passes on the rear wheels at ease, and people loved it.' "

Who said snakes can't fly? Prudhomme gets air in the lights in Seattle.

Al Kean, who shared his Seattle memories here not long ago, gets credit for this memorable shot of Don Prudhomme's Hot Wheels 'Cuda on fire and flying through the lights in Seattle at the second annual Hot Wheels Northwest National Open in Seattle in 1971. Prudhomme was racing Dave Condit in the L.A. Hooker Maverick in the final race of the day.

"I was watching everything through my camera’s viewfinder," wrote Kean. "The cars staged and launched. I was following the cars, and I thought I saw flames coming out of 'the Snake’s' windows as he neared the finish line. I remember thinking that it must just be glare off something – he couldn’t really be on fire, could he? I kept following the cars and clicked the shutter when they crossed the finish line. I then took the camera away from my face and looked downtrack to see Prudhomme’s car, with NO body on it, still in a wheelstand. It was at least 300 feet after the finish line before the car’s front wheels returned to earth.

"I had no idea what I had gotten in the photo. I had to wait several days for the color slides to get developed after we got home. It was pretty exciting to finally see the photo that I had taken. It was also exciting getting all the attention afterwards. The photo was published in Hot Rod magazine, Funny Car Pictorial, SIR programs, etc. Then track manager Bill Donor gave me a photo pass the next year, etc. The photo has also been mentioned in TV shows, over SIR’s PA, etc."

Hard to believe that today's Top Fuelers evolved from this; from its whitewall tires to its Rat Fink-like shifter placement, I really dig this car.

Bob Post, author of High Performance, the unofficial bible of drag racing historians everywhere, said he believes this is Bill Martin of Palatka, Fla., shown running on the beach in Jacksonville, Fla., in 1953. "One of three slingshots I know of that pre-dated [Mickey Thompson's]," he noted. "Martin later became quite a well-known boat designer."

In looking at this picture, reader Cliff Morgan added that the body was probably one of the many that came from a fuel tank from an airplane. "Lots of guys used those tanks to create cars for the dry lakes after World War II, both front- and rear-engined versions, and some found their way to the drags. This car used the front section, and I can see the bottom of the car under the engine. Interesting design, and the car looked 'high tech' for its time, probably 1953-54."

So you still think that Don Garlits invented the rear-engine dragster, do ya?

Donnie and Gene Bowman's flathead-powered Vineland Villain wasn't pretty, but it sure looked crude. Back then, functionality trumped almost everything.

I love this shot, taken in the pits at Lions. No, not the neat old flip-top panel wagon -- the lady, dressed in skirt and heels. Priceless.

Steve Gibbs had the ID on this great old photo. "This is the gasser of Dale (he) and Al (her) Kersh, of Modjeska Canyon, Calif. Both are now gone. They were fixtures at SoCal tracks for many years, competing in various brackets, and were truly great people. The interesting thing is that Al was never -- EVER -- dressed any differently. She always looked like she just came from an upscale social event -- classy and in heels."

Byron Stack of Gasser Madness confirmed that this is the Kersh Family A/Gasser. "Memory tells me it was powered by a Mopar wedge motor with homebuilt injection," he wrote. "It was a very cool piece and fun to watch."

Again, it's the people who make this shot. The clown, second from left, doing his "Take the picture already" pose and the other guy still slipping on (or off?) his coat, who's clearly not ready for the shot. And that dragster? Not much traction in those rear meats.

Kinda funny, too, but for a different reason is Surfers pilot Mike Sorokin almost having his helmet sucked off at speed (center).
And speaking of in-car cameras, I just love this shot from Jess Sturgeon's car.

Steve Justice says that the great in-car camera shot was done at Riverside Raceway.


(Above) This is a great shot, too, taken from the cockpit of one of Scotty Fenn's legendary Chassis Research chassis that revolutionized the sport. I took some Photoshop liberties with the original to blur the background as the El Camino tow vehicle was a distraction. Love that steering wheel and big ol' brake handle. (Below) This is Fenn's workshop. That's Fenn at far left overseeing work on some of his K-88 and TE-448 chassis.

Another vintage chassis on this cool twin. Always amazing to me to see how primitive the early driver-protection devices were.

Neal Larson of Walla Walla, Wash., worked with early drag racing hero Jack Moss from Amarillo, Texas, so he knew all about this car, the famed Two Much entry.

"The picture was taken around 1961 or 1962," he wrote. "The car's last race was in Hobbs, N.M. We lost one of the engines, so we pulled one out and made a run with it, but the throttle stuck and rolled over; all was well with Jack, but the dragster was a total mess. The roll cage did its job.

"Jack was a member of the Barons Racing team from Amarillo. Find a
Hot Rod magazine from September 1957 and look and see the first Two Much and the rest of the team."


OK, if you don't like this photo, you can hardly consider yourself a drag fan. Classic Lions stuff.

OK, friends, that's all for today. I'll have Part 2 Friday, which is convenient for me because by that time I'll be ankle-deep in the Finals. If you just can't wait for Part 2, you can always revisit the original posting here and find the column where a lot of the follow-up comments I've added originated here.
Presto! Conjuring up 'the Wizard'Friday, November 06, 2009

NHRA is often generous in providing a few extra days off for its employees throughout the year in short, fallow places in the schedule between races to give everyone a much-needed breather, but because of National DRAGSTER's inflexible publishing schedule, we're often not on the same schedule as the HQ building. Today is supposed to be one of those "floating holidays" at National DRAGSTER, and my peeps here have a three-day weekend to recharge their batteries for the upcoming season-ending Automobile Club of Southern California NHRA Finals.

So, today, I'm alone in the Publications building, not to be a martyr or anything but to take advantage of the peace and quiet of a dark and empty office to catch up on some stuff. Project No. 1 is to complete a bunch of writing for the special Web site we'll be launching in the next few weeks in anticipation of the 50th anniversary of the Winternationals. As I may have mentioned here, we're also producing a wonderful book to memorialize the special event, chock-full of great old photos, features, and a year-by-year recap of every Winternationals. It should be available before Christmas (stocking stuffer!).

To avoid duplicating the contents of the book on the Web, most notably the recaps and the scores of great photos, the Web site will have a different feel and original content. One of the key elements will be to take advantage of the multimedia potential of the Internet by showcasing a large number of historic Winternationals video clips. It's going to be pretty cool but a lot of work, so I'd better get cracking.

Although I have a full plate, I didn’t want to leave y'all with nothing today (another reason I came in), and I wanted to share what has become a pretty typical thing with this column, and one of the things of which I am most proud. In Tuesday's Fan Fotos edition from Mark Collins, we had a shot of Bennie "the Wizard" Osborn, and Mark wondered what had become of Osborn. Naturally, the Insider Nation was all over it.

One of the first e-mails I got was from Bennie's son, Tony, who assured me that his dad was still very much around and kicking and even enclosed these photos.

"I'm very proud to inform you that my father is doing just fine," he wrote. "He still lives in Sand Springs, Okla., and continues to do mechanic work at his own pace. We have been reliving the past a lot here lately. The championship car that you mentioned for sale was purchased by a gentleman from Tulsa and had it delivered to Dad's shop for a complete AUTHENTIC restoration. Plans are to have the car ready for Bakersfield March 2010 Cacklefest. The WIZARD was at the Hot Rod Reunion in Bakersfield a couple of weeks ago and actually cackled Raymond Godman's Tennessee Bo-Weevil car."

The top photo shows "the Wizard," in the blue and gray striped shirt, with the championship car at a car show on Halloween put on by The Hot Rod Shop in honor of The Tulsa Timing Association. I hope to have a more in-depth look at "the Wizard's" career in a future column.

Our good friend Glenn Menard, president of Texas Motorplex who also maintains the Web site – Osborn, naturally, is a member of that Hall of Fame -- sent me a link to some great Osborn photos that the man himself had submitted for that site. You can find them here.

Gary Osborn (no relation to Bennie), whose dad ran blown gas dragsters in the 1960s before he partnered with the Sewells and won the 1980 Cajun Nationals with A.J. Seruntine driving, dropped me a note and this photo, which shows Osborn at the Holley NHRA National Hot Rod Reunion in Bowling Green, Ky. Gary was there with Dick Venables, whose front-engine dragster had been restored and is now owned by Rip Wiley. In the photo, from left, are Wiley, Venables, Osborn, and Dick's son, current Al-Anabi Funny Car tuner Dickie.

Tulsan Brian Vermillion, who has an interesting history with Osborn, shared his "Wizard" tale in an e-mail: "Bennie Osborn is alive and well, still living in Sand Springs, in the same house he lived in 40 years ago. He gave up racing in the mid- '70s after his second rear-engine dragster crash and opened up a successful transmission-repair business in his old dragster shop in his backyard.

"I got to interview Bennie at his house over 40 years ago for an eighth-grade speech-class project. Since he was my hero back then, I chose him. He was finishing up his brand-new car for the 1969 season -- I believe it was a Woody Gilmore car -- and I got to sit in it and check things out. For a 14-year-old kid who was ate up with drag racing, it was definitely the thrill of a lifetime. A friend of mine, who is close friends with Bennie, told him this story of me interviewing him, and he remembered me. He even autographed the PR handout that he gave me over 40 years ago, and it still thrilled me today to get it.

National DRAGSTER has a great photo file on the two-time champ, but I especially like this 1970 photo of "the Wizard" enjoying some fine reading material.

"You spoke of the 1967 World Finals. I remember being there with my dad that weekend. I had just turned 12, and the drags were my birthday present. The final AA/FD round almost didn't get run. The skies were as black as I had ever seen them, and it just started to sprinkle as they were beginning to stage. Tree goes green, Bennie gets a slight holeshot and carried it through to the lights. But what I remember was that as soon as the chutes were out (they hadn't even got to the turnoff yet), the skies opened up, and the most godforsaken downpour hit, flooding the track, parking lot (which was a dirt field before the rain), and everything else. But hell, when you are 12, who cares!"

Added Barry Lester, "I live about 20 miles away and pass there almost every weekend and always look over and think I should go see him but never have. I picked up the phone and called him and told him that people were wanting to know where he was. We had a great visit, told him in 1967 he came to Amarillo to race 'Big Daddy.' My buddy and I were staying in the Cowboy motel on Saturday night and going to the races on Sunday. When they pulled that AA/FD in the motel on a flatbed trailer, I almost died! I was over there in a second and was lucky enough to be able to help the mechanic pull the panels off and drop the pan and change oil, which was milky; bored a little to close to the jacket water, he said.
"I asked Bennie if it was OK for me to e-mail you; he said, 'Tell them not to send flowers, I am still alive and in the same place.' "

One other quick note on the Texas Fan Fotos: I got a phone call from Gary Clark and an e-mail from Vince Long, who ID'd the car being push-started at Green Valley as belonging to the famed Oklahoma City-based Smith Bros., Frank and Charlie. Charlie drove the famed Plain Vanilla roadster that swept all national event honors in 1964 by winning both the Winternationals and U.S. Nationals, so this probably was Frank in the car, which had a T roadster rather than a Bantam.

Enjoy your weekend; I'll see you next week.

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