Friday fan feedbackFriday, December 04, 2009

Time for another trip through the Insider mailbag, wherein the readers of this column are invited to inspect, dissect, interject, object, reject, conject, redirect, correct, and/or perfect any previous posting, roasting, toasting, musing, finding, teaching, rating, listing, sighting, vetting, blustering, and/or filibustering.

Let's get right to the mailbag …

John "JW" Wilson, part of Don Garlits' Swamp Rat Pack of the early 1970s – which included Connie Swingle, T.C. Lemons, Don "Mad Dog" Cook, and the late "Starvin' Marvin" Schwartz -- dropped me a great note regarding the photo of one of Garlits' 1975 dragsters in Butch Barnhart's Fan Fotos entry. Williams had come to work for Garlits, assisting Cook's work on a pair of 1975 cars, and when Lemons decided he needed a breather from the road during a hectic match race schedule in late 1975, Williams was there to fill in.

In my comments and based on Barnhart's notes, I had surmised that this car was actually Swamp Rat 21, built in early 1975 for "Jungle Jim" Liberman, and not the famous 5.63, 250 Swamp Rat 22 that debuted midseason, but Wilson set the record straight. Wilson confirmed that Swamp Rat 21 was indeed built for "Jungle" in Garlits' chassis shop, but it was built by Slim Werner, who had taken over for Swingle, but that the car in question is definitely Swamp Rat 22.

"Though the roll-cage shape of the Cook-built car was different than Swingle's design, the distinct giveaway is the chrome roll cage on SR22," he reported. "The photo would be the Division 2 points race, in which 'Big' swept the event for all the points during a fierce ongoing battle for the Winston championship against Gary Beck. The following week, we ran the Springnationals at National Trail in Columbus, and the same car was photographed right off the starting line in a power wheelstand against Shirley in the first round."

Wilson went on to laud the car's construction, noting that "at a time when five-second runs only occurred on better racetracks and suitable conditions, Swamp Rat 22 clicked off 34 consecutive runs in the fives without removing the heads."

Because of the heavy highway travel to keep pace with "Big Daddy's" continuous match race dates, NHRA national and divisional events, AHRA and IHRA national events, and performances like setting the speed record to 249.72 during the Popular Hot Rodding Meet, SR 22 ended upping being backhalved at Glen Blakely's shop in Tampa, Fla., immediately before breaking the record at the World Finals in Ontario, Calif.

Steve Scott's Fan Fotos submission also prompted some follow-up, this from Nick Poloson. He referenced the shot at right, a self-portrait by Scott in a mirror that's mounted on the rear of a injector of a dragster, and indentifies the dragster as his own ride, a nostalgia Top Fueler.

"If you can read backwards, you'll see my name," he said. "This car belongs to Floyd Head from San Antonio, Texas, and is a great piece of history. It's Floyd's 15th Top Fuel car, and he had it built in '69. It's a Huszar chassis, Hanna body, and paint from Cerny's shop. It's an absolute survivor. Never been apart (other than normal maintenance), wrecked, or changed: same motor, paint, owner, etc. for the last 40 years. We still take it out and cackle it. We've been to Bakersfield, Bowling Green, and a lot of other places that our schedule lets us go. We went to Ardmore, Okla., a few months ago and made a burnout and launch: That's where Steve Scott took the picture."

Poloson also drives an Outlaw Fuel Altered, Tom Wood's car from San Antonio, and competes on
the Outlaw Fuel Altered circuit in the Texas area.

He attached the photo below of the car as well as this link to a neat YouTube video from a car show at Jack Chisenhall's Vintage Air car show in San Antonio that shows more of the car, images of Floyd, and the car being cackled.

From yet another Fan Fotos column, the Brainerd-based pics of Kent Ewer, came a note concerning the photo at right. I obviously was able to easily identify Roland Leong, center, and his then driver of the Hawaiian Punch Dodge, Johnny West, right, and Jeff Swanson wrote to confirm that the person to the left in the photo is indeed his father, Carl, driver of Al Tschida's Cheetah line of Funny Cars.

"For a brief time, he was the marketing manager for Vericom, an accelerometer-based performance computer," said Jeff. "Roland was one of the earlier users of the computer, and Vericom had a small (front fender) sponsorship of Roland's car. At the time, Dale Earnhardt was a user of the unit, and the consumer version was used by the major auto manufacturers and industry testers for accurate results metrics. The product had promise and was on its way when the company management felt they would be able to manage the chores of marketing. The company went out of business within two years following this decision. 

"During his racing career, he had always maintained self-employment as a manufacturers rep in the aftermarket industry and represented up to 30 given product lines at any given time, including Rocket wheels, Hurst shifters, and Ram clutches. He did this mostly throughout the remainder of his life. He did retire from the auto-parts world for a few years in the late '80s and early '90s. In the picture you see with Roland and Johnny, it could very well be that they were talking about performance computers. He returned to the aftermarket-parts industry shortly thereafter and moved from Minnesota to Jacksonville, Fla., until his passing in 2003. During those years after racing, he was never far from the track due to business and his yearly return to Brained for the national event and the maintaining of a track suite most every year."

According to his son, Swanson raced the Cheetah Funny Car into the early 1980s. His last shot was in 1982 when he landed sponsorship from Minnesota parts chain 10,000 Auto Parts, owned by Mike Stigge. The partnership lasted only one race, the 1982 NorthStar Nationals. The car did not qualify due to mechanical issues (a poorly wrenched mag was the culprit). The Stigge-Swanson partnership effectively ended there.

"As a side note, right after the ill-fated Brainerd experience, the small warehouse space at the office of Kelly, Swanson, and Drabzack was used by Gary Burgin in preparation for the then upcoming U.S. Nationals," recalled Jeff. "This was the year Gary was runner-up with Cory Lee as his sole crewmember. I had the pride of seeing Gary's car on TV knowing that I polished every inch of the Orange Baron for Gary and was his overall errand boy while he visited."

Swanson never raced again after 1982. He attempted to gain larger sponsorships to race full time and was very close to closing a few deals, but they were destined to not happen.

After my reprint of the Fun with Fotos columns, Tom Molyneaux of Vineland, N.J., offered more info on Don and Gene Bauman's Vineland Villains rear-engine flathead-powered dragster. His hometown obviously gives a clue as to the origin of the car's name, and he passed along this second image. "I am friends with Gene Bauman and happy to tell you that he is alive and well and still has a repair shop in Vineland, N.J.," he wrote. "Gene loaned me his photo collection, and attached is a sample for your pleasure. Another view of the Vineland Villians dragster and crew. Gene Bauman is second from the left, I never knew his brother Donnie and don't have the names of the other folks in this photo. Enjoy!"

In that same column, I showcased Noel Black's wild two-engine Top Fueler that actually was destined for Salt Flats (and in which he later was killed), but Don Francis also dropped me a note to report that Joe Garcia had Black build a Funny Car for him, the Garcia Bros. Out of Sight Camaro (pictured at right). "Noel was a Salt Flats builder as Dan Tuttle has pointed out," said Francis. "The Salt Flats concepts where quite evident in his chassis design of the Out of Sight. I believe that his design made it possible to break the 200-mph barrier in 1968. Noel Black was a talented budget builder whose life was unfortunately cut short, and, in my opinion, he never got the credit and recognition that I believe was due him."

Why does Francis know so much about the car, which was driven by the late Steve Garcia and was pictured in a four-wide Funny Car race in this previous column? Turns out that Francis has owned the Out of Sight twice for a total of some 14 years. "The Camaro has been a long and arduous restoration process that I hope to bring back to its home track, Sacramento, Calif., and take a pass or two," he said. "Steve Garcia clocked 202.00 backed up with a 198.00 run at Rockford Dragway in July 1968. One of the infamous Isky ads actually proclaims that it is the first ever to run over 200 mph using an Isky cam, of course on that day."   

I also heard from good pal Henry Walther, who reports that Black and partner Bert Peterson turned out a lot of drag racing machinery from their B&N Automotive in South Sacramento.

"He was very helpful to a lot of us Northern California drag racers early in our racing careers," said Walther. "Here is a photo of one of my early rides, a dragster disguised as a Modified Roadster. This car was built at B&N Automotive, the photo taken at the Grand Nationals at Kingdon Drag Strip in the mid-1960s."

And finally, the photo above, of Mike Kuhl's and Carl Olson's Top Fuel dragster in the pits at National Trail Raceway during the 1974 Springnationals, came to me from veteran Stock and Super Stock racer Tom Kasch, who for the last couple of months has been treating me and a few dozen others to a collection of photos from the 1960s and '70s. I thought that this photo, actually taken by his then-12-year-old son Mike, was pretty cool, and I forwarded it to Olson for his enjoyment. What I got back from C.O. was way more than just "thanks."

"There's an interesting story behind this photo," he wrote, and he was right.
"You'll note that most of the forward body panels have been removed from the car prior to this warm-up. The reason is that while unloading the car from the trailer and parking it in our pit area, I noticed that it wasn't steering as usual. It just didn't feel quite right. As a result, Mike and I removed the forward nosepiece to take a look at the steering assembly. Something looked funny, so we removed the Dzus fasteners from the front section of the belly pan. As soon as we did, the bottom framerails fell away from the top rails, and we realized that the only thing that had been holding things together where the top and bottom framerails came together at the front of the car was the belly pan. The rails had evidently broken during the tow from California to Columbus in spite of the various safeguards in place, including the air-filled rubber 'pillow' that Mike always placed and inflated under the engine.
"Mike quickly found a welding machine, jacked the bottom and top framerails together, and welded them up. (Mike used to claim that he could weld anything, including a broken heart.) As usual, he did a perfect job, and we never had a problem with that part of the chassis again. If I hadn't noticed the odd feel in the steering and we'd have just warmed the car up as usual and put it in line for the first qualifying session, I hate to think of what might have happened." Me, too!

You can find more of Tom's great photos here. By the way, like his pops, kid Kasch has done quite well for himself in racing. He has worked for Jack Roush for the last 12 years and was the NASCAR Engine Builder of the Year in 2000 and runner-up several times for that honor. He works at the Yates-Roush engine shop in Mooresville, N.C.

OK, that's it for the week. We're working on the final issue of National DRAGSTER for 2009, our year-end wrap-up, which should be in the mail to you late next week. Enjoy the weekend. Just 68 days until the Kragen O'Reilly NHRA Winternationals!

Holiday shopping tipsTuesday, December 01, 2009

Happy week after Thanksgiving! Hopefully by now you've worked off that turkey hangover and are getting geared up for the rest of the holiday madness -- crowded parking, cranky help, and bargain hunting … and that's just to get out the door! I admit that I'm not much of a shopper, as I suspect a lot of you other fellows aren't, but as the holiday shopping season begins, allow me to offer some pointers.

For me, and most guys, shopping is all about planning and execution, not browsing. Maybe it's a holdover from the meticulous toy-soldier battles we enacted as boys or maybe just our innate need to always know where we're going (even if the gals disagree; I promise you, we're never lost, just looking for alternate routes). Though there might be some macho cred to the whole strategically staking out a spot two days before Black Friday and roughing it in a tent, that would only be if you were billeted outside of Best Buy or Home Depot.

For me, it's all about what I call "guy shopping," an exquisite piece of expertise somehow lost on the females in my life. It's quite simple. I know exactly what my quarry is – the model, size, color, and quantity. I know precisely where the target is located in the store, down to the exact aisle and shelf, using GPS coordinates if necessary. I know the shortest route to the objective, from front door to target acquisition. I can tell you, plus or minus five depending on other operatives seeking the same high-value target, the exact number of steps it will take to secure "the package." I am a keenly tuned, intensely focused professional. I will not be distracted on the way to or from the objective by blinking lights, no matter how sweet that Modern Warfare 2 Xbox demo looks.

I know how to gauge the complexity of the checkout for each customer in line at the extraction point – I mean the cashier – for the quickest exit possible. I also know how to sigh loudly or wear a mask of contempt to catch the manager's attention so he or she will open that previously closed lane. All the while, my extraction team has been circling the parking lot --- forbidden to park unless it's at the closest possible stall – waiting for my stealthy exit. With any amount of good fortune, I'm in and out in five minutes.

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The sweetest gift of all, of course, is the one you can order while still wearing your Lightning McQueen pajamas. It's Cyber Tuesday! I'm talking about online shopping, baby, and do we have some tasty stuff for you to point your browsers at, just in time for that special someone. Yes, Santa's little elves here at National DRAGSTER have been burning the midnight tool-shed oil while cranking out 48 awesome editions of ND.

First up, and available soon at Amazon and other online vendors, is the second installment of our NHRA Drag Racing Photo Greats: Wild Rides. The first edition of this crash-packed keepsake was a hot item earlier this year, especially among nostalgia nuts like us who remember these types of books from the late 1960s and early 1970s as published by Mike Doherty and others.

You can check out the little photo gallery at right here to see a half-dozen of the more than 70 great and memorable images captured by the National DRAGSTER staff in the last five decades. We have body-shredding blower explosions, wild wheelies, Funny Car fires, Pro Stock flips, tire-chucking stockers, and much, much more, including some humor. These books are the perfect gift for that drag racing fan on your list. Heck, buy both editions! I bet you could even fit one in a stocking. It should be available online within the next week or so; look for a home page announcement on this Web site.

Next up is another special publication we've been toiling on this fall, The History of the NHRA Winternationals. This amazing book is the perfect companion to take to next year's 50th Anniversary Kragen O'Reilly NHRA Winternationals and fill with autographs from the heroes pictured within.

The book is an encyclopedia of one of NHRA's most prestigious events, chock-full of stories, stats, and photos to warm your winter days and nights. In addition to an in-depth recap of all 49 previous Winternationals, we have a slew of features, including a look at the facility's rise from parking-lot quarter-mile to Full Throttle Series gem; a list of great Winternationals debuts (cars and drivers); a look at the impressive list of drivers who won their first Wally at the Winternationals; first-person My Most Memorable Winternationals vignettes with heroes such as Don Garlits, Don Prudhomme, Jim Dunn, Connie Kalitta, Shirley Muldowney, and others; and much more. Each feature and recap is illustrated with amazing photographs, some never before seen. Again, this should be available soon, and we'll keep you posted on

(As a side note, we've also been hard at work on a special-edition 50th Winternationals Web site, which we plan to launch in the next two weeks, but very little of the copy and only a handful of photos from the book will be reproduced on the Web site, which will rely heavily on amazing historic video that our crack broadcasting team has unearthed from its archives. It's going to be pretty cool, but not as cool as the book!)

Speaking of video, if you like your pictures to be moving, we have a lot of shiny silver discs for you, beginning with our rereleases of Drag Racing 1986 and Drag Racing 1987 (just $14.99 each!), the original Wild Rides DVD (just $19.99), or the all-new NHRA Countdown to the Championship 2009 Year in Review (which you can preorder for also just $19.99). Go here to check out the entire collection.

Speaking of the Winternationals, how about this proposal? While Neighbor Ned is still shoveling the driveway next year, you take your someone special to sunny SoCal for the race. You can buy tickets here, including group tickets, for as little as $150 for all four fabulous days. A little too steep for your pockets? Well, we also have a great Kragen O’Reilly NHRA Winternationals gift package in the NHRA store that includes two reserved-seat tickets for Sunday's final eliminations and a copy of the DVD NHRA Racing: The First 50 Years to get you in the spirit. All this for only $109.99. That's a savings of more than 20 percent. Hurry, though, because this offer ends Thursday, Dec. 17. Click here to learn more.

And last, but certainly not least, and available now – no waiting, no long lines, no Xbox demo to avoid – is a freshly baked order of weekly drag racing goodness called National DRAGSTER. Now, I know, some of you have received this gift before and let the batteries expire (so to speak), and some of you voice your displeasure with NHRA policies and procedures with your membership choices, but I'm here to tell ya you don't want to miss out on the new National DRAGSTER coming in 2010.

Even if you (somehow) forget all of the goodies that come with your subscription – I'm talking the amazing audiocast, the discount coupons, the catastrophic insurance, and, next year, live timing (!!!!!) – at the heart of every NHRA membership is a publication on which we're working very hard to make sure you not only want but think you'll need.

I know there's an awful lot of free content on the Internet -- including our very own site here – and you think you'll do just fine scraping together the news from the various sites. Sure, you can, but I think I'm leading ND into a brave new direction next year that will meet all of your news needs and then some. I'm talking about insightful columns, amazing photography, award-winning writing, detailed race coverage, and much more. It's going to be much more like a magazine – without forgetting its newspaper roots – and I think it’s going to be a big hit to have that kind of material before you each and every week. And, unlike with your PC, you can read it anywhere: airplane, bathroom, classroom (ssssh, don’t tell your parents), or shop … thanks to its all-new bitchin' size.

We've already unveiled a few of the new features in these last issues of 2009 – including full-page, workshop-wall-worthy photographs from our impressive and far-reaching library (Terry Vance's Top Fuel Suzuki? Kenny Bernstein's first Budweiser King? Ka-chow!) and a popular new behind-the-scenes column of whos and whats in Bits From The Pits (The Thrash). We have a strong roster of new and continuing talent signed up as columnists to give you the low-down on what's going on and an up-top look at your world – including through this very column.

We'll have a fresh new look inside. Sure, you can call me a shill for the company mill, but those of you who know me know that I take this publication seriously -- have for more than 27 years – and I'm determined to keep National DRAGSTER vibrant and viable, even in a 24x7 Internet world. I think you owe it to yourselves to give it a look. You can get a gander at all of the cool benefits and sign up for a year's worth of drag racing goodness right here.

OK, kids, time for you to head out on the ol' information superhighway (does anyone really call it that anymore?) for your virtual shopping trip. There are only 24 shopping days to Christmas, which means that if you get done today, you can enjoy 23 days of mocking the mallheads and spend the time doing something really worthwhile, like working on your hot rod or your winter tan. The Winternationals is only 71 days away!

More Fan Fotos: East Coast actionTuesday, November 24, 2009

Hey, I'm back. Sorry about missing my usual Friday update, but I got ambushed Wednesday night by the stomach flu and was out of action pretty much the rest of the week -- kind of hard to be creative and do research when you’re subsisting on a diet of saltine crackers and POWERade. Anyway, I'm back with another installment of Fan Fotos, those homegrown treasures that have been sitting around in old photo albums or shoeboxes for way too long and deserve to be shown to those who would most appreciate them: the readers of this column.

We've been all over the U.S., and now it's time for another trip back East, where Butch Barnhart of Irmo, S.C., offers for your approval his favorite snapshots. Like the majority of fans, he doesn’t get guardrail access but did some mighty fine sharpshooting from the stands with his Nikon D40X, equipped with either an 18-55mm or 55-200mm telephoto lens. Some of his earlier stuff is with a Minolta SRT-102 with a 135mm telephoto lens.

"I enjoy the sounds and feel of the acceleration and the ability of a fan to be able to talk with drivers and crew that were there," he noted. "Especially back then when the Pros were usually the driver and maybe two or three crewmembers. I still enjoy taking pictures of the cars of today, but then again, I have to do all of my shooting from the stands. I took three days of Indy of the Sportsman classes and then printed some of them and gave them to some of the drivers who came to Charlotte a couple of weeks later. They were all appreciative of them, as I did not accept anything for them, even though some offered.

"It's hard sometimes to get the right shot from the stands because of the professionals on the sides of the starting line, but I continue to take them and hope for the best," he noted. "I do try and pick a spot where there is a space to get the car in without people." Mission accomplished, Butch!

Here we go …

These first two shots were taken at Suffolk Dragway in the early 1970s while Butch was in the Navy, stationed in Norfolk, Va. The one at left is Malcolm Durham's Camaro Funny Car, Strip Blazer VI, which Lee Jones drove. The car at right should be easily recognizable to most fans as one of "Jungle Jim" Liberman's earliest cars, his popular '69 Nova. This is a great shot, showing it propped up for service on the back of the ramp truck. Here's a full-size version to admire for details. Check out the very square chassis and roll cage, round steering wheel, and Chevy powerplant. Cool stuff.
This is a pretty rare shot of one of Don Garlits' famed black diggers, sans lettering, taken at Blaney Drag Strip. Said Butch, "According to Mr. Garlits at Indy this year, when he autographed a copy of this for me, it was the first run in 1975. He recognized the car just by what was written on it." One might assume that this then is Swamp Rat 22, the famous car that ran 5.63, 250 at Ontario later in the year, but based on info on Garlits' site, I think this is actually Swamp Rat 21, a car originally built for Liberman (didn't know that) that "Big Daddy" campaigned for the first six months of 1975, including for his come-from-behind victory at the Winternationals.
Speaking of great Dons, here's "Dyno Don" Nicholson and his Ford Fairmont in what I'd guess would be 1977. The car was beautiful and ran well, but, of course, it played second fiddle to Bob Glidden's class-terrorizing Fairmont.

If you’re any kind of fan of southeastern door-car racing, you’re familiar with this car, the Half Breed Anglia of Savannah, Ga.'s Bobby Brooks and his wife, Angie. He was in everyone's Hall of Fame and one of the original organizers of the Southeast Super Gas Association. This car was around before many of us started following the sport, and most of us thought he and it would survive us. Sadly, we lost Bobby to an apparent heart attack March 24 of this year. He was 68. "I enjoyed the gas class cars back then that ran flat out for the quarter-mile, no delay boxes, etc.," said Butch. "This picture amazed me a little bit after meeting Mr. Brooks at Charlotte in 2008 and then his untimely death earlier this year."
It's easy to put a year on this one: 1980. In the near lane, of course, is John "Still Seven Years Away from Winning My First Race" Force taking on former U.S. Nationals champ Gary Burgin. The No. 8 on the side of Force's Corvette signified the future champ's first foray into the top 10 of NHRA points in 1979. He didn't make it back into the top 10 until 1983, when he finished an astonishing fourth after runner-ups in Englishtown (to Mark Oswald) and the World Finals at OCIR (to Lil' John Lombardo). "I shot this black/white photo with 400 ASA film from the stands at the starting line," recalled Butch. "[Force] signed a copy of this at Charlotte this year. Not sure if he would even remember back then."
"These three photos were taken in the pits (really just cars arranged around the perimeter of the tarmac)," reported Butch. "The dragstrip was the old landing strip. One is Bruce Larson working on his USA-1 Camaro in the pits, one of the original Bounty Hunters from Connie Kalitta, and the other one is 'Jungle Jim' in the pits. I don't think that is him working on it."

I especially like the shot of Kalitta's Mustang below, which, despite what it says on the body about Boss 429 power, still was powered by a 427 SOHC. This is probably 1970, the last year for this model of Mustang body before the racers all went to the Mach I look. That's "Fast Eddie" Schartman's Air Lift Rattler Cougar parked behind "the Bounty Hunter." 

That's it for Fan Fotos. Thanks for playing, Butch!


With all of the "Jungle" cars shown above, this is a good time to mark the passing of one of Liberman's most ardent backers, Steve Kanuika, who died last month. Steve's son (also Steve) had former Funny Car ace Clare Sanders put together the following info for me on Kanuika. Thanks, guys.

It began early. At 17 years of age Steve and his brother opened a small shop in the basement of their folks’ home, a small Pennsylvania cattle ranch. Street racing was big at the time; real American Graffiti-type stuff. Steve did the work on the cars and engines – he had that magic touch -- as older brother Bill talked up the business. Steve would build the motor in the basement, then use his dad’s tractor to hoist it out and into the customer’s car. One of his early efforts was to hop up friend Buddy Corleto’s Buick Century – it was fast, and word of mouth brought customers.

His first dragstrip race car was a ’54 Chevy p/u truck running a 283-inch mouse motor – also their daily driver parts truck. It proceeded to set the D/Gas record in Vineland, N.J., Langhorne Speedway, York, and Lancaster, where Bill Jenkins was the tech inspector. Other Kanuika cars included a B/Dragster powered by a 327 Chevy with a 4-71 GMC blower (in a Lynnwood Welding frame), a C/Gas Henry J, and the most famous, his C/Gas Willys pickup with a 301-inch injected mouse motor. It set the record at 10.80, 127mph and even made the cover of Drag Times.

In the early ‘60s, business was getting to be too much, so Mom finally threw ‘em out of the driveway. Steve immediately opened his first shop in Upper Darby, named Kanuika Bros. Automotive (in an old gas station). Steve’s talents continued to earn him a dedicated following in drag racing circles, and his business boomed - at one time he was operating four Steve Kanuika Speed Shops! Then came the "Jungle Jim" sponsorship, and the shop in Concordville, Pa. (with six employees) became the place where you could find the two "Jungle Jim" Chevy II Novas; it wasn’t far from Jungle’s “pad” in West Chester. Those were glory days - Kanuika and K&G were THE speed shops in the Philly area – no one else was even close.

Steve built his last racer; the ’69 Jungle Jim Camaro Super Stocker, with acid-dipped doors and frame, blueprinted 427-inch rat motor and all of the go-fast “stuff”. It was a 9.80s match racer, very popular, and another rolling billboard for his speed shops. This car still holds a class record! It was driven by Steve, and eventually sold to Dick Collins.

Speed parts were selling, the Jungle cars were winning, and it was all good. . During this time Steve had the success of having both his motors in the '69 Funny Car finals in both of "Jungle's" cars as well as sponsoring some of the greatest cars and drivers of the time. These included no less than Lew Arrington's Brutus, Roland Leong's Hawaiian, Mickey Thompson , Jade Grenade, Neil Mahr's Superpress as well as many other famous names like Dickie Harell , Goeske, and Lewis to name a few. He also was one of the first to offer chassis-dyno tuning and many innovative engine building techniques. Focusing on all aspects of the build and machine work totally in house. He was a true pioneer and a class act for the sport of drag racing. He never gave up the love even in his retirement, he would build motors by appointment, and had been working on several engine design patents.

He is survived by his wife Delores, son Stephen, and daughter Heather. At the time of his death, Steve was in the process of building a blown alcohol Funny Car with his son. That car is expected to be running In the spring of 2010 painted like the Super Stocker as tribute to Steve and driven by Steve Jr.

"It is worth noting," said Sanders, "that I can never recall him having a bad word to say about anyone, ever. Steve Kanuika was a true racer’s racer, husband, a father, a gentleman and one of the really good guys. I sure do miss him."

Okay, kids, that's it for today, and, with the Thanksgiving holiday, the week. I'll see you next week.

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.

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