Welcome back to the Misc. Files, brought to you today by the letter G. Two full file folders awaited me yesterday, and as I began rifling through them, there were so many fun photos and cars that I had trouble limiting it to my self-imposed 10 photos. I literally would do 50 or 60 from each letter if it weren't for the time it takes to research each one and that other job I have as editor of National DRAGSTER.
Leafing through the photos is such a fun process that I feel a little guilty getting paid to do it. (Okay, well, not really, but you get the sentiment.) It's like reading a great book, when you can't wait to see what the next page holds, or digging for buried treasure. Sometimes I come across a photo or a car I remember or know about, but the real fun is in the ones I've never seen. I have a variety of sources at my disposal, including old magazines, books, the full National DRAGSTER library, and, of course, the Internet. I also have a dedicated cadre of Insider insiders, guys like Bret Kepner, Danny White, Bill Pratt, Dave Wallace, and former ND Editor Bill Holland to help fill in the blanks if I draw them.
Okay, race fans, buckle up and get ready for a dose of the G Force.
I came across this photo and for a second thought I was looking at Dale Armstrong's famed Canuck topless Funny Car. Although "Double-A Dale" and Jim Grant are fellow Canadians, it's definitely not the same car in which Armstrong first gained fame. Grant's topless B/A Valiant, Canadian II, was the follow-up to his more conventional Canadian Valiant doorslammer. This photo was taken at the divisional event July 7, 1968, at Mission Raceway, where Vancouver-based Grant set the national record at 9.48, 145.16.
George Reese's George's Corvette Shop cars were popular draws on the East Coast in the late 1960s and early 1970s, but none was wilder than this one, the Long & Lean II, a stretched '64 Corvette reportedly fitted atop a Top Fuel chassis running a small-block Chevy mill on a small load of nitro. Reese updated to a more conventional later-model 'Vette and then a Vega in 1972 before adopting the George of the Jungle moniker, driven by Tom Stephens, Mark Emery, and Tom Raley. This photo was snapped by R.F. Bissell at Aquasco Speedway about 40 years ago, on April 20, 1969, when it ran 8.75 at 177 mph.
Here's where Funny Cars came from. This is the Golden Chariot injected fuel '65 Plymouth Valiant A/FXer of Ohio's Hans Anderson ready to duke it out with "Fast Eddie" Schartman's Roy Steffey Enterprises Mercury Comet at National Trail Raceway in June 1966. According to the caption on the back of this shot from longtime Columbus, Ohio, lensman Chance Brockaway, the Chariot was a fill-in for Mr. Norm and, with a one-second handicap start, beat Schartman two of three, including 10.02 to 9.16 in this battle.
This is Joe Godwin's unique Lincoln Continental Mark IV flopper, shown in alky trim at the 1976 Gatornationals, though he later built another (a Mark VI) and converted it to cackle. The Indiana runner and partner Jim Capps had a flair for the eye-catching, right down to a true landau roof, door handles, and the classic Continental trunk. The car was mostly a UDRA match racer but a crowd-pleaser everywhere it went for its unique look. I really liked this car. I liked it so much that when this photo appeared in National DRAGSTER in 1976, I painstakingly created a custom card for this car in my Vallco Drag Racing board game. Now that's dedication!
Here's another car that I really dug back in the 1970s: Roger Garten's Donovan-powered War Horse. Man, those early '70s Mustangs looked tuff. Here he's airing out the car at Irwindale Raceway, circa 1972. When the Mustang II came out in 1975, Garten, like so many, switched from this boxy version to the sleek aero model … and things were never the same for me, nor for Garten. He and crew chief Glenn Way won the Division 7 championship that year, but he retired early the next year after deciding that they didn’t have the funding to move to the next level and wouldn't be content to run only occasionally. Garten's racing career began with pretty fast cars; he debuted in Chuck Finders' A/GS Willys, then drove the Tocco & Harper fuel altered before going right into Funny Car in the early 1970s.
All right, let's keep this Mustang roundup going. Here's the Gretchko Bros. Mustang, the popular Funny Car follow-up to their crowd-pleasing fuel altered of the late 1960s. The chassis of the flopper was actually a lengthened version of their fuel altered frame, which was topped with a green-hued 'Stang body beginning in 1972. Brother Mike drove while Tim and Tom twirled the iron.
Some might say that Larry Gould was a huge fan of the legendary Ford cammer engine, and some might just say he was stubborn, but the longtime Illinois-based Funny Car racer ran the SOHC engine in his Funny Cars for years, well past the time when everyone else was using late-model Hemis and kicking his blue oval up and down the track. This 1979 photo, from Southwest Funny Car match race hotbed Green Valley Race City, shows Gould pairing off with Bill Selley in Chris Eckert's High Plains Drifter Camaro (the ex-Narramore & Pryor machine; Eckert, of course, later gained fame as crew chief for Gene Snow's Top Fueler in the 1980s). Gould stayed true to the Ford bodywork, too, from a Mach I Mustang to a Mustang II and eventually an EXP. He stayed at it with the Ford until finally switching to a Hemi in the late 1970s. He continued to run sporadically – the last I could find of him at an NHRA race was Topeka 1997, when he was driving J.R. Wade's KB-powered American Dream Cutlass. After his Funny Car racing ended, Gould got a nostalgia Top Fueler, dropped back in an aluminum cammer, and, according to Kepner, in 2000, driver Fred Bach broke "Sneaky Pete" Robinson's 30-year-old 6.50 record for Ford engines with a best of 6.23 at 235 mph.
Roger Gates was a veteran dragster handler from the late 1960s and 1970s when he slipped behind the wheel of this exotic-looking machine at Irwindale Raceway. Although this car originally was conceived as a Top Fueler – and indeed that's Gates' TF 7755 permanent number lettered on the engine cowl -- mechanical issues kept the car from competing as a fuel dragster.
The lettering on the side of the car, owned by John Glaspey and Jim Moser and built in their Van Nuys, Calif., shop, reads QuickSilver, but astute drag fans will better remember it for becoming the Boraxo-sponsored Alcohol Dragster.
What's cool about the bodywork is that it could be lifted off and was hinged at the front so it could be tilted up, Funny Car style, to access the engine for start-up. I came across an under-construction shot as well, which is dated December 1972 in the frame of the photo, so this Barry Wiggins image is probably a 1973 shot (a year later, Herm Petersen and Sam Fitz were experimenting with a similar-looking Can Am-style Top Fueler of their own, which was only mildly successful).
On alcohol, the Boraxo car ran as quick as 7.19 at just under 200 mph.
Before his Rocketsports team was renowned for its road-racing champions, standout Trans Am and IMSA racer, 24 Hours of Le Mans winner, and Champ Car Series owner Paul Gentilozzi was a drag racer, first with this D/Gas Arrow in the late 1970s and later with an ex-Bob Glidden Plymouth Arrow in the early 1980s.
Irwindale Raceway was a hotbed for injected Funny Cars in the 1970s. You might recognize the car in the far lane of this 1971 'Dale shot as the Evolution Corvair of Gary Henderson (featured in the E column of the Misc. Files); in the near lane is the Dumbo Barracuda of Jon Giardina, complete with an elephant mascot (not sure what Disney would have done had they found out!). Giardina had campaigned an ex-Charlie Allen Dodge Dart Funny Car before moving into this more sleek ride.
And, finally, I also found another great old SoCal flopper, the Durachrome Bug of Warren Gunter. This VW-bodied Funny Car really intrigued me, as it did so many in its early 1970s heyday; I actually was able to track down Gunter to get the whole story, and I just don’t want to cram it into this spot. You can read about it here Friday. So don't "bug" me about it right now, OK? :)
I was thrilled to hear from Jim Eberley, whose cars I featured in the E edition of the Misc. Files. I showed Jim's Datsun Alcohol Funny Car, with which most were probably familiar, but also had come across the car pictured above, which I successfully deduced as an Anglia (my dad used to own a similar car, though not nearly as sporty).
The Insider nation had hesitated some guesses (Fiat, Simca, Hillman), but it was indeed an Anglia. The inclusion of that car truly touched Eberley. "Just months after this picture was taken, my father died of a brain tumor," he wrote. "He was my whole world. I was blessed to have known him for 17 years. We built this Anglia together when I was 15 years old. It was a 1960 and had a 473-cid Chevy in it with Crower injection and ran in the 10-second range on the quarter-mile and in the mid-sixes on the eighth-mile track in Colorado Springs. This car was a blast to drive. It never made a straight run in its life. After my dad passed, I bought my first Funny Car and was licensed to drive it at 18; 20 years later, I was forced out because of today's high prices. I loved my dad and loved how he supported my love for the sport of drag racing."
Speaking of dads from the E files, I also heard from Mike Edstrom, whose Blind Faith Funny Car, campaigned by him and his sightless father, was featured in that article. "I can't tell you how cool it is for me to come across something like that without first knowing about it ... completely chokes me up," he wrote. "Obviously, what [current blind Funny Car owner] Jay Blake has done is quite impressive and touches me pretty close to home. I wonder if he's aware of my dad; maybe his story provided Jay a little inspiration. I wish him all the best and continued success. My dad lost his eyesight at age 31 and had an extremely positive and optimistic attitude about not only racing but living. His machinist's background and 25 years of fuel experience gave him a tremendous amount of knowledge about running nitro motors. He also was a pretty good driver when he could see."
Insider reader Joey Glasscock was in Gainesville for Mike's wild encounter with the guardwall and snapped a nice sequence, which included the pic at right. I had written that the car was heavily damaged, but Mike corrected me.
"The body in that picture was unfortunately not destroyed," he said. "I spent three weeks fiberglassing the left side back together; Dad made me … LOL. We ran it the rest of the '87 season, and I rode a little low in the seat waiting for it to cave in on me!
"Actually, that chassis suffered absolutely no damage. We stripped it, put it on a jig, and, amazingly, it wasn't tweaked; the only damage was a bent rear wheel and a smashed front wheel dust cap. My racing involvement over the past 10 years, sadly, has been limited to a spectator capacity. I got really hosed over by [a potential sponsor] after having put that deal together. It cost me a tremendous amount both financially and personally and left me with a really bad taste in my mouth.
"The great Leslie Lovett pulled me aside in Denver when I was driving Brent Fanning's car and told me, 'We're watching you.' He was very encouraging and urged me to pursue a marketing degree. Dad died a few months after that and put me in a tailspin for some time. Now I've got a good life, married to a wonderful lady, two great boys, and a good career as a semi driver for FedEx Freight. I live in Maple Grove, Minn., a few miles from 'Showtime' [Tom Hoover], and when we see each other at Brainerd, we talk about how fast we used to be. Actually, he calls me 'Double B,' and, of course, he's 'Double A!' We're all crazy and addicted to nitro, right? You never know."
After the F Troops edition of the Misc. Files, I heard from yet another son, Chris Swedberg, son of Jim Swedberg (who drove Tom Fisher's car; hence its inclusion in the F's instead of the S's). Chris sent along these two pics of his dad, doing a pretty fire burnout in the Swedberg & Dewars dragster (above), one of many diggers that he drove before moving to Funny Cars, and in the Wild Oats Vega flopper (below).
I also heard from Bob and Cathie Floch, who were grateful to have their Funny Car remembered. They are looking forward to campaigning their new fuel altered on the Nitro Bad Boyz circuit and were appreciative of the kind words toward their son, Nick, who left us way too soon. Ohio fan Doug Wiseman also remembered the Flochs. "That brought back many memories," he wrote. "I worked in the E.T. shack and as the starter at Milan Dragway and always looked forward to Bob and Cathie coming to Milan. I sailed on Lake Frieghters in the early/mid-'90s, and I would always hear from them that when I made it to their port city, I needed to call and they'd come get me for a home-cooked meal."
I mentioned Bob Toth in the F Troops article as the later driver of the Outer Limits dragster shown there with Ed Fox at the wheel. Toth is still racing some 30 years later and passed along this photo of his current ride, the Tweety's Rat nostalgia Funny Car of Bob Rosetty. "Ed Fox was a really good guy," said Toth. "He taught me a lot, along with my best friend Roger Toth. Thank you for writing the article; it's cool to be known."
Hey, it's what we do here …
See you Friday.
I'm back from a dizzying weekend in Chicago, a great weekend despite the sour weather. The Jegs Allstars competition was outrageous, and it was fun Sunday to see Don Prudhomme's faith in Spencer Massey rewarded so early with the rookie's first win. The troops all immediately headed for Englishtown, where everyone's thoughts no doubt will be on Scott Kalitta, whom we lost one year ago at this race. Judging from the first batch of pre-race Team Reports we posted here, "Eddie Munster" is clearly still in the hearts and minds of many.
With that thought, I'd like to use this week's space to reprint the article I wrote last July, a well-received piece I called "Dry Hops in Heaven," a salute to Kalitta and to every other racer who wowed us and left too soon. I think it's worth sharing for the newcomers to the column and a nice reminder to those of who have been around a while. Although I could add a dozen more huge names to the list that we've lost in the past 11 months, I'm going to choose to reprint the original here in honor of Scott.
DRY HOPS IN HEAVEN
(Originally published July 7, 2008)
Buster Couch looks over as the Funny Car approaches the staging beams and winks at the new arrival, a tousle-haired kid with a lead foot whom he has known since the lad was in diapers. Scott Kalitta moves forward as longtime Kalitta crewmember Doug Dragoo peeks in to check the oil pressure. It's rock-solid, as it always is in drag racing heaven.
In the stands, Doug Kalitta Sr. grins as his nephew readies to squeeze the loud pedal, pulling Scott's mom, Marianne, tight as they watch his first pass unbound from the rules of Mother Earth.
In the other lane, Eric Medlen does the same; "Uncle Beavs," Gene Beaver, is guiding him in for nephew John Force, who's not ready yet to race here. In the stands, Betty Ruth Force, mother of the 14-time world champ, smiles proudly at her adopted grandson.
On the other side of the guardwall, Leslie Lovett angles his Hasselblad for a perfectly composed, perfectly lit image for the next cover of Heavenly DRAGSTER. There's a mini Hot Rod Magazine reunion on the starting line as Ray Brock and Robert Petersen shoot the breeze, with fellow early NHRA stalwart Ak Miller chiming in to share his memories of the good old days. They're all wondering the same thing: Where's Wally?
In the tower, Buster's wife, Ann, enters Kalitta's info into the race computer under the watchful eye of competition director Jack Hart. In the media center, Ed Dykes does the same for his online reports. In heaven, everyone has a high-speed connection. John Raffa and Ed Sarkisian are covering the day's action for DRAGSTER, rubbing shoulders with Stevie Collison and Shav Glick. Pete Millar has his own spot in the pressroom, his pencil sketching the scene at 300 mph.
Kalitta and Medlen dry hop their mounts the last few feet – yes, there are dry hops in heaven – and the crowd, made up of every drag race fan who has "shuffled off this mortal coil" – your relations, mine, and everyone else who ever dug the digs – rises as the Tree goes green.
Roof-high header flames erupt from the pipes, the Goodyears grab hard, and the front tires dance just off the ground. Less than five seconds later, the chutes are out, and the win light appropriately shines in both lanes as Bernie Mather calls out the e.t.s to the crowd.
As they clamber from their cars and grin goofily at one another, Kalitta and Medlen are greeted by Steve Evans and camera operator Joe Rooks for a post-run interview. As Kalitta steps away from the camera, he's greeted warmly by Wally and Barbara Parks. "Hi, champ," Wally meets him with a hug. "Thanks for all you've done for drag racing and the NHRA."
"I think it's time for some ice cream," interjects Medlen, sending everyone into hysterics.
Back on the starting line, as John Zendejas steps onto the track to spray down a little more traction compound, action in the staging lanes and the pits is picking up.
There's a pretty good lineup of Top Fuel cars piling into the lanes, and because some of these guys wouldn't be caught with that big ol' beautiful thumping mill anywhere but in their face promising them an oil bath at the finish line, Top Fuel is divided into two classes, the slingshots and the back-motored boys.
John Mulligan: The Fighting Irish fight on.
Suiting up and ragging his gloves in lane 1, John "the Zookeeper" Mulligan is ready for the push start, heading a line that includes Tony Nancy, Steve Carbone, "Lefty" Mudersbach, Mike Sorokin, Gary Cagle, Jim Davis, Bob Sullivan, Connie Swingle, "Terrible Ted" Gotelli and Denny Milani, "Red" Case, Mickey Brown, Gene Goleman, Ron Correnti, Bobby Hightower, Julius Hughes, Gary Gabelich, Jim Hundley, Boyd Pennington, Jim Paoli, Jack Williams, John Wenderski, "Q Ball" Wale, Glen Ward, and, still smiling after all these years, Jimmy Nix.
"Young punks," says Calvin Rice with a laugh. He and the real old-timers, guys such as Leonard Harris, John Mulkey, Art Arfons, Jack and Lloyd Chrisman, Jim "Jazzy" Nelson, Lloyd Scott, Setto Postoian, Emory Cook, Dave Gendian, and Jim McClennan, are watching an amazing progression of the history of their sport tow past them.
Dickie Harrell, Malcolm Durham, Don and Roy Gay, Dick Loehr, Gerry Schwartz, Harry Hudson, Marv Eldridge, Jim Lutz, Dick Jesse, Art Ward, "the Flying Dutchman" himself, Al Vander Woude, and "the Israeli Rocket," Leroy Goldstein, are ready to go at it '60s-style in their early floppers while mega owners such as Mickey Thompson, "Diamond Jim" Annin, Curt "Bones" Carroll, John Keeling, "Pa and Ma" Hoover, Sid Masters, Jim Marsh, and Dick Mortiz are all eyeing the talent, trying to figure out who they'd like to have shoe their machines ... of course, Mickey is just itchin' to be in charge of the whole day's program. Mazmanian has his hands doubly full; he also has Fred Stone, Tim Woods, and Doug "Cookie" Cook waiting on him in the pits, and there's some serious trash-talking to be done.
A few lanes over, the rear-engine cars are lining up for as far as the eye can see, with veterans such as Mike Snively, Marvin Schwartz, Chuck Kurzawa, Leland Kolb, Gaines Markley, Mike Tarter, Dan Rightsell, Bruce Hagestad, Ernie Hall, Clayton Harris, Pete Kalb, "Poncho" Rendon, Gene Domagalski, Fred Forkner, Jim Plummer, and Satch Nottle in one lane and the likes of Darrell Russell, Blaine Johnson, Gary Ormsby, Keith Craig, Bob Edwards, Bobby Baldwin, Wayne Bailey, and Richard Holcomb in the other; Lucille Lee has been reunited with the man who tuned her to her only win, Marc Danekas. Guy Allen has son Les suited up and ready to go, and Jim Bucher's Chevy is primed and ready to upset the Hemis.
Keith Black, Ed Donovan, and Don "Milodon" Alderson are having their own "block party," and there's a pretty good exchange of ideas going on in the fuel pits, where Al Swindahl is still trying to convince Scotty Fenn that a 300-inch wheelbase is better than a short one, and Tony Casarez, Frank Huszar, Rod Stuckey, and Don Tuttle are laughing their butts off. John Buttera and Nye Frank are sitting in the corner doodling designs for "the next big thing," and every few seconds, one of them says something like, "Wait, I've got an even better idea!" Meanwhile, "Cheating Chico" Breschini is huddled in a corner with "Sneaky Pete" Robinson discussing who knows what, and Lou Baney is out trying to cut deals with the racers, trying to match sponsors and drivers and owners.
(Above) Pisano and Matsubara, reunited. (Below) Sush and "Wild Willie."
"Jungle" is prowling the fiberglass forest trying to coax his fellow flopper foes into a high-dollar burnout contest, and the only takers seem to be "Mr. Sit Low," Patty Foster, who has the Barry Setzer Vega with him, and Al Hofmann. Down the row are the groovy 'Stangs of Lew Arrington and Dodger Glenn, Larry Fullerton, and Dick Custy, and down past Sam Harris and a line of his Chaparral trailers, Texans "Big Mike" Burkhart and "Flash Gordon" Mineo, Kosty Ivanof, Bruce Sarver, Ray Higley, Gary Hazen, Tony McCallum, Larry Ladue, "Nitro Nick" Harmon, Ray Romund, Steve Bovan, Carl Swanson, Joe Winters, Joe Clement, Billy Grooms, Les Cassidy, Billy Holt, and "the world's fastest hippie," Mike Mitchell, are in flip-top heaven. Joe Pisano is reunited with Sush Matsubara, tuning the prettiest car on the grounds with the help of his brother, Carmen, and longtime team wrench Gary Slusser. (Tom Stratton and Ted Miller are judging the prettiest paint job competition.)
Meanwhile, Johnny Loper and Tripp Shumake are conferring by their car, R.C. Sherman and D.A.Santucci are playing rock-paper-scissors to see who gets to drive the Black Magic car, and Dave Wise finally has Paul Radici pointed the right way.
Wrenches Don Maynard, "Fat Jack" Bynum, John Hogan, Chester Garris, Jerry Verheul, Herb Parks, Jack Muldowney, Ray Attebury, and Dan Geare are standing nearby, comparing tune-ups throughout the decades, but all seem to agree with the old adage "If some is good, more is better, and too much is just right." At least that's what "the Greek" always told Maynard. "Fuzzy" Carter is still looking at his altimeter and trying to figure out how, despite their lofty perch, no matter what day it is or how the weather feels, the corrected altitude always reads "sea level."
Down by the tower, John Bandimere Sr., Vinnie and Richard Napp, Bob Daniels, Terrell Poage, Kenny Green, Dave Danish, Gus and Bert Leighton, Bill and Mary Hielscher, Glenn Angel, and Marvin Miller stand listening with big grins on their faces as C.J. "Pappy" Hart, wife Peggy, and partner Creighton Hunter talk about the early days at Santa Ana, then share their own tales of woe and wonder from the management side of the quarter-mile.
The alky burners are just finishing their tune-ups in the pits, with Al DaPozzo giving a ration of crap to everyone while "the Munchkin," Billy Williams, watches with great amusement. The Bell Boys, brothers Dick and Charlie, and "the Idaho Kid," Jett Field, are also there when up walks Doug Moody on two strong legs. Off in the corner of the pits, Creedence is blasting "Bad Moon Rising" as Mickey Winters and Chuck Phelps put the screws to their howling-fast machine. Down the line, you look and see the dragster trailers of Mike Troxel, Bill Barney, John Shoemaker, Dave Hage, Dale Smart, Carrie Neal, and Shelly Howard, all readying their rides.
Over along the Manufacturers Midway, Phil Weiand and Vic Edelbrock Sr. are again having the dual-plane versus single-plane manifold discussion while Hurst PR honcho Jack Duffy is working with Lenco founder Leonard Abbot on a new way to shift gears. Dick Moroso, Robert Goodwin, Gene Mooneyham, Paul Schiefer, Dean Moon, Chuck Potvin, Roy Richter, and the Johansens -- Howard, Elizabeth, and Jerry – tend to eager customers with stuffed wallets and hot rod dreams.
Frank LeSueur is dispensing nitro like water, and Ernie Hashim is checking out everyone's tires, which never seem to wear, let alone blemish their sidewall lettering.
Dave Schultz and John Myers: the rivalry continues.
There's an all-out manufacturers battle raging in the Pro Stock pits, where Dick Landy is chomping on his cigar while trying to convince NHRA tech guru Bill "Farmer" Dismuke that the Mopars need a better weight break while "Dyno Don" Nicholson stumps for the Ford contingent. Chevy front-runner Lee Shepherd is standing coolly by, taking it all in from behind his Ray-Bans, chatting with partner Buddy Morrison Bowtie brother Paul Blevins. Ronnie Sox is leaning on the fender of his red, white, and blue machine giving pointers to "the kid," Scott Geoffrion, while Lee Hunter, Bill Staley, and Mickey Tadlock toil on their carbs. John Hagen pauses for a few seconds between jet changes to check out NHRA.com to see who his protégé, Greg Anderson, is stomping this week.
In the two-wheeled Pro Stock pits, father and son, Dave and Brian Schultz, are prepping their bikes to continue their amazing rivalry with John Myers, who's certainly no less popular up there than he was on Earth. All three of them are trying to get up the nerve to ask Elmer Trett if they can ride his nitro Harley.
With their noses buried under their hoods, doorslammer legends John Lingenfelter, Larry Kopp, Al Eckstrand, Bill Lawton, Les Richey, Dave Kempton, and "Old Reliable," Dave Strickler, are checking the jets and the timing.
There's also a full slate of exhibition passes in the offing later in the day, with "Wild Willie" Borsch ready to one-hand it in the appropriately named Winged Express against Leroy Chadderton and the Magnificent 7 fuel altered, and Richard Schroeder and Bob Perry will go wheels-up in their 'standers. Just down the pit lane, Dave Anderson is readying the Pollution Packer rocket car for another four-second hydrogen-peroxide-fueled blast; "Slammin' Sammy" Miller just looks up from his Oxygen machine and smiles; heck, he has a three-second ride beneath him. Chuck Suba and the X-1, Romeo Palamides, Russell Mendez, and Ancel Horton also are prepping their machines, ready to wow the fans again and again. And waiting in the wings to set the world on fire is "Flaming Frank" Pedregon.
Yes, it's a glorious day … as they all are. Every run is low e.t., the oil stays in the pan, the lanes are equal, and our heroes race on forever. It's truly heaven.
About this article: Obviously, it's impossible to include the name of every person we've lost, nor was it my intention. This is a salute to those who raced a little ahead of the rest of us to the finish line and left us too soon, by the hands of time, nature, or fate. I cribbed a lot of the names for this list from Don Ewald's amazing memorial page on We Did It For Love, which covers up to 1979, and through stories from NHRA.com. Any omissions or oversights are not intended as slights to the amazing people who have populated our sport since its inception, and I know that before long I'll be slapping my forehead remembering someone I forgot, but I tried to also include mostly the names that will mean something to a larger number of readers of this column.
Well, here we are in fabulous Chi-Town – well, actually J-town, Joliet, just outside of Chicago – for this weekend's United Association Route 66 NHRA Nationals. I've been to almost every venue on the Full Throttle Drag Racing Series tour, but, for some reason, never Route 66 Raceway.
Chicago long has been home to drag racing royalty over the years, and continues to be. Whether you're old school and consider that royalty to be the legendary "Greek," Chris Karamesines, or a newer fan witness to reigning NHRA Full Throttle Drag Racing Series Top Fuel champ Tony Schumacher's histrionics over the past few seasons, there's no denying that if you're a drag racing fan, Chicago is your kinda town.
If you're any kind of drag racing history nut – and, hey, you wouldn't be reading this column if you weren't, right? – you'd be wondering why the previous paragraph didn't invoke the name of the Windy City's most famous flopper, the legendary Chi-Town Hustler. Well, that's because the theme of this column is Chicago-themed drag racing cars. See?
There have been a number of drag racing machines over the years to invoke the name of this great city in their pursuit of quarter-mile notoriety, and the Hustler ranks right at the top, both in terms of longevity and impact. The combination of tuner Austin Coil – now of John Force fame, of course – driver Pat Minnick, and John Farkonas incited near riots with their famed '69 Dodge Charger's smoky, mostly-for-show burnouts and match-race heroics.
Chicago also has been home to a lot of name drivers, including the likes of Gary Dyer (Mr. Norm's), Jim Lutz (Top Fuel), Ron Pellegrini, Boddy Vodnik, Mark Pieri, Kenny Safford, Ron O'Donnell, John Pott, Rod Stuckey, George Tolon, Pete Williams, Fred Mandoline, Fred Hagen, and "Wiskey Joe" Amato (the late Alcohol Funny Car racer, not to be confused with the famous Top Fuel racer.
One of my favorite Funny Cars of the 1970s was the Chicago Patrol Mustang II, which was driven by a host of talented flopper shoes including Pat Foster, Ron Colson, Dale Pulde, and later by Ed O'Brien, "Flash Gordon" Mineo, and Tom Anderson. The car's unforgettable gimmick was actual rotating blue police-light bubbles on the roof.
The car originally was campaigned by Chicago-based Chapman Automotive and served as a promotional device for the Chicago Police Department. Colson drove the car in its debut, before turning the wheel over to Foster, who later relinquished it to Pulde. O'Brien bought the original car and later sold to "Fearless Fred" Goeske, who was looking for a new car after crashing his own car. He put Anderson and Mineo briefly behind the wheel and later did the unthinkable to the many fans of this car, converting it to a rocket car that went as quick as 4.70s at 230 mph
There were plenty of other Chicago-named cars plying their trade on the quarter-mile. In the mid-1970s, Cliff Brown had the Chicago Kid Mustang, which initially was a first-gen Mustang before being topped with a Mustang II body. The car was a really strong match-race car – I'm not sure he ever ran many national events – but Brown was a veteran, having first piloted the Dark Horse mustang flopper for the famed Stone-Woods-Cook team in 1970.
Ron Correnti had the Chicago Charger '71 Dodge with longtime partner David Emerson, as seen in my previous Misc. Files, C edition, and Vic Cecelia (who was not the in the C files) fielded The Chicagoan alky flopper, which also was a Mustang II, which later was run by crew chief Pat Cress under the same name and colors.
Wyatt Radke drove Terry Joyce's Chi-town-based Chicago Trapper Beretta that ran well but, unfortunately for the likable Southern California shoe, was better known for have twice burned heavily in 1991, first in Houston and then again in Indy.
Mike Faser was another fan favorites with the Chicago Fire Funny Car and fuel altered entries. The car, a Windy City match race favorite, began life as a Vega-bodied Romeo Palamides-built Alcohol Funny Car with partner and Ken Hoctor but moved to fuel with Drastic Plastic pilot Tom Motry at the helm and later was covered in one of those hideous Iversen Corvette shells. Faser ran a variety of Corvette fuel coupes into the 1990s, before repurposing the car as a fuel altered with a sweet stretched '48 Fiat Topolino body, then a wild topless Plymouth Prowler and, finally, a more conventional '23-T body that ran deep into the 6.20s.
Jet-car racer Bill Mattio's well-traveled Chicago Fire dragster was burning up tracks as early as the mid-1970s and continued to please fans coast to coast into the new century. The Chicago Rush Mustang II Alcohol Funny Car from the mid '80s to the early '90s, alternatively driven by Chuck Scherr and Dan Sullivan until they took the name into the jet dragster ranks, where Sullivan drove it through two decades of after-burning exhibitions. Don Colosimo had a Top Fueler called the Chicago Missile and Harry Claster a '68 Barracuda flopper named after himself, Chicago Harry.
Okay, that's it ... just a quick entry to hold you over. Busy weekend here in Chi-Town (ooops, J-Town) covering the event for the Web site and for ND. I'll check back with you next week.
We're back for another trip through the sometimes fractured files of the vast National DRAGSTER photo library, digging into the black hole of forgotten friends who somehow never accumulated enough photos to warrant their own driver folder.
On Thursday, I'm off to Chicago for the United Association Route 66 NHRA Nationals. Depending on how that goes, I may or (may not) have a new column Friday, so be prepared. I've got a small column underway already as a fallback, but depending on how travel and the race goes, we'll see.
Anyway, welcome to the Misc. Files, letter F!
Ed Fox was a former fuel altered driver out of Philadelphia who moved into the Top Fuel ranks in the early 1970s and drove a number of cars, including the McKeown Bros. Outer Limits slingshot shown here in mid-wheelstand at Englishtown, Sept. 23, 1973 in this photo by Marcel Studios, then the track's official photographers. The rear-engined evolution was well underway at this time, but Fox stuck with the front-engined rail. At this event, he scored runner-up honors to Roger Toth's Hemi Hunter as this wheelie drove into hard smoke.
Later that decade, the New Jersey-based McKeowns would field Outer Limits Top Fuelers with Bob Toth and Dale Barlet at the wheel, the latter of who would go on to low-buck flopper infamy with his Iron Eagle series of Funny Cars in the 1980s.
I'd heard from former fuel racer Fred Fischbach some time ago after writing about Steve Swaja's magic designwork, so when I stumbled across this photo in the Misc. Files, I sent him a copy for his comments. "Final round Division 7 points race at Irwindale (Top Gas) against Schultz & Jones. if I'm right. Unfortunately for me I believe I drew the Red Eye. That's the car that Swaja designed -- beautiful, wasn't it?" Fischbach later drove in Top Fuel on the Texas circuit, and actually was the first driver for Chuck Tanko's Speed Equipment World Vega (the ex-Barry Setzer car) for two races before Jim Nicoll took over the helm.
I first met "Bullet Bob" Floch back in the mid-1980s when he was running with the Supercharged Outlaws group in the Midwest. I was hanging around a lot back then with the Mazi family, who ran the exhibition circuit,which was comprised mostly of blown gassers and alky-burning Funny Cars like the Flochs. This Dodge Charger, with the "Jungle Jim"-like graphics on the side, was a crowdpleaser.
Bob and his wife Cathy suffered an almost unimaginable loss in May 1991 when their son, Nick, a crewmember of Darrell Gwynn's Top Fueler, and fellow crewman Gary Clark were killed in a freak boating accident in Florida. It was a sad and tragic day for the sport. The senior Floch raced Alcohol Funny Cars into the 1990s and now has a fuel altered.
Fuel altereds were plentiful in the late '60s and early 1970s, but I'd never seen this one before: a rear-engined Willys pickup fuel altered. Owned by Angelo Falzone and Ken Sandusky (though I'm not sure which one of them – if either – drove it), according to the handwritten caption on the back of the photo, the car, based in Las Vegas and shown here at Irwindale Raceway in this January 1967 photo by Jerry Mason, was motivated by supercharged Chrysler power.
Update: Larry Horten, who used to operate Stardust Raceway in Las Vegas during the '60s and '70s dropped me a line to say that it was Falzone who drove and Sandusky who tuned, bt that he remembers it being Lincoln-powered. "A new truck was built later with a fiberglass body and tube chassis and was Hemi-powered," he wrote. "We all went to the track early one afternoon for shakedown runs on the new truck only to have it make a violent left turn into the guardrail, destroying the car. The chassis and drivetrain was used to build an Aston Martin AA/FA called Facetious that raced the first time at the Hot Rod Magazine Meet in Riverside. Angelo passed away last year."
Al Fontanini "could have been one of the biggest names in Funny Car racing," according to respected flopper historian Danny White, had he not lost his life in an accident on the Pennsylvania Turnpike in 1970 en route to a match race at New England Dragway, an accident that also claimed the life of crewmember Jim Christensen. The annual Fontanini-Christensen Memorial Trophy was created the following year in their honor and awarded annually by the UDRA for "outstanding sportsmanship and contribution to drag racing."
Fontanini and partner Reno Nannini were among the early adopters to the Funny Car class and together fielded a series of good cars, but none more competitive than this injected Dodge Charger which, according to White, could run with most blown nitro Funny Cars of the day. The team routed the field on this May 1969 day at Miami-Hollywood Dragway, chasing down Jim Guthrie's Super Bird Buick for Injected Funny Car honors. Fontanini split with Nannini and finally went blown nitro in 1970, but died before he had the chance to prove himself.
Iowan Merrill Frost cut his teeth racing gassers, including a '55 Chevy and a Hemi-powered Willys, before moving into the Alcohol Funny Car ranks in the late 1970s with this Pinto, which was followed by a Mustang and, finally, a Trans Am. Photo by Richard Brady.
It's a pretty good bet that Tom Fischer named his '71 Vega Funny Car 30 Below for the weather he typically saw in his Fargo, N.D., hometown. Fischer's Vega had a couple of drivers (including himself) in the early 1970s, including Byron Nelson and Jim Swedberg in the cockpit. That's Swedberg in the saddle for this 1972 race against Doc Halladay in Bill Schifsky's Cox Pinto.
Update: The day after this was published, I got an email from Kevin Rowe, pointing out a wild coincidence. It turns out that Merrill Frost's Pinto (see above) and the Schifsky Pinto are one and the same car! Rowe's father, Ralph, bought the car from Schifsky and had Earl Binn drive it for a while, and then sold the car to Frost. How crazy is that? Two random photos, randomly placed next to each other .. and they're connected? Crazy!
From the 50th state comes this relatively unknown Top Fuel dragster, owned by German Farias and driven by his son, Larry, who went by the nickname "Fatso." I couldn’t find much about this car anywhere. In this photo, taken at Hawaii Raceway Park, the lettering on the car reads Wholesale Motors, which I tracked down as a Honolulu-based car dealer. What's interesting to me about this car is the front wing; if you look closely, you can see that it's transparent, probably made of Lexan or something. I also have another photo of the car, taken by Paul Sadler, up on three wheels in the lights at HRP after oil from a loose valve cover got under the slicks. It appears from what I did find on the web that "Fatso" died a few years ago.
Kent Fuller wowed dragster fans everywhere with a series of diggers known as "shark cars" for their finned cockpits. Adams & McEwen, Chuck Griffith, Dusty Rhodes, and others had them, but one of the most famous was the Safford, Gaide & Ratican machine, which is shown here under the smoky hand of Chuck Flores, who bought the car from S-G-R in 1967. This is Half Moon Bay in May 1968.
The caption on the back is interesting and informative: "Leave it to Chuck Flores in the Shark car to send up one of the biggest tire smoke clouds on a day when no-smoke fueler runs are in. Word's out that Chuck is looking for a slider now." It was in the late 1960s that the dragster guys began to wonder if the freewheeling, quarter-mile tire-smoking passes so loved by the fans were actually the quickest way down the track after all.
This image was a National DRAGSTER
Photo of the Week selection that year.
And you thought that Ed 'the Outlaw" Jones' stagecoach was the first Wild West-themed wheelstander … so did I!
Here's one that I have not only never seen, but also never heard about: the Wicked Wagon wheelstander, modeled after one of the iconic covered wagons of the old west. Photographer Jimmy Boyd sent the photo and a note to us in August 1974 that promised amazing things to come. "Revolutionary wheelstander of the Pete Frech family destined to be one of the most talked-about machines on the exhibition scene. The Wicked Wagon [has] a blown 426 Hemi on alcohol and maintained by Pete Frech Sr., one of the most knowledgeable men in drag racing."
Frech, who died in February 2001, was the father of Ohio Super Gas standout Mary Ann Jackson (and grandfather to statsmeister "Nitro Joe" Jackson). Frech, a former Motor Trend magazine Mechanic of the Year, was a longtime NHRA racer and member, and competed at the NHRA Nationals in Detroit. With daughter Mary Ann in his car, they made waves when she won D/SA class at the 1964 Nationals in Indy. Those success led to a factory Chrysler deal in 1968 (despite that he worked as a welder at GM at the time!)
According to "Nitro Joe," his grandfather ran the wheelstander only locally in partnership with Tommy Marris and his son, Pete Jr., drove it. Pete Sr. also had the She's a Lady wheelstander, which was a Duster built on the same chassis, which ended up buried in his backyard on what now is a golf course in Bellville Ohio.Joe also notes that their hometown of Mansfield is/was quite a hotbed for wheelstander drivers including Bill Shewsberry, Toby and Jack Ehrmantraut, Chuck Poole, Bob Riggle, Marris, Pete Jr. and Skip Wilson.
Okay, that's it for Tuesday and the Misc. Files, letter F.. I'll check in on Friday from the Windy City.