Wow, it's been a busy week, and I've been swamped in all sorts of meetings that have sucked away the precious time I had planned to dedicate to a new installment of the Misc. Files for today, but my loss is your gain with an intriguing peek at some goodies ahead.
A few months ago, I was contacted by Fred von Sholly, the Division 1 photographer in the mid-1960s for then Director Darwin Doll, but he also was the track photographer at Cecil County Drag-o-way, which featured a lot of match races.
Fred wanted to know if I was interestied in having a large collection of his images from that era to add to the National DRAGSTER archives.
"I don't want anything in return," he wrote. "I just feel that someone out there might appreciate seeing these photos."
Are you kidding me? I know a lot of people who would!
Fred recently sent me a CD from the late 1960s and early 1970s with images of early Top Fuelers, Funny Cars, and Pro Stockers at Cecil County as well as at legendary East Coast facilities including Aquasco, York, Capitol Raceway, and Raceway Park, some of which are in the montage at right. I've been going through them and will present some next week. There's some great early stuff of "Jungle Jim" Liberman, Don Garlits, Don Prudhomme, Don Schumacher, and much, much more – a lot of stuff that I'm pretty sure has never been seen or at least for a long while. He sent more than 500 images, and while I'm obviously not going to be able to share them all, I will cherry-pick through them and give Fred's artistry another day in the sun. We've seen a lot of early stuff from the West Coast, but not as much from the East, so this could be fun.
I also had asked Fred to share some of his memories from that era, and he responded right away with a couple of gems about Pro Stock hero Bill "Grumpy" Jenkins.
"I was good friends with the owners of Cecil County Drag-o-way," he wrote. "Back in the late '60s and early '70s, Bill Jenkins used to test his cars at Cecil whenever the mood struck him. I asked the owners to let me know when Jenkins was coming to test.
"One day they called and said that he was coming. When I got there, Jenkins was the only person on the track. I think he had one guy with him. The track caretaker was running the clocks. Bill had a car carrier with a big vise attached. I arrived just in time to see him sawing a new Holley carburetor in half. Jenkins wasn't very talkative, but since he and I were the only people around, it was hard for him to ignore me. He explained that Holley didn't build a carburetor that really suited his needs, so he decided to just 'make' one using the large primary halves of two Holley carburetors. He sawed both of them in half and epoxyed the two primaries together and secured them with a metal plate, as shown in the accompanying photo.
"He then bolted this creation on his manifold and started making some test passes. I really don't remember the actual speeds, but I do remember telling friends that he was running about 10 mph faster than the national record for Pro Stock. I don’t think that the carburetor was legal for NHRA races, but Bill did a lot of match racing in those days. He always kept a rag over his carburetor while working on his car in the pits with people around. This is what was under that rag!"
And another ….
"Every time Jenkins showed up at the track, other racers tried to get a glimpse of anything new on 'Grumpy's' car. He was such an innovator that people followed his lead as the new Pro Stock class was just developing. Back then, match races between racers like Jenkins, Don Nicholson, Dick Landy, Sox & Martin, and many others were able to fill the stands at the local tracks.
"One week, someone came running into the tower to announce that Jenkins had shown up, and he had 3/16-inch holes drilled in the top of his headers right near the flange that attached the headers to the engine block. These mysterious holes were the main topic of conversation around the track for the next few weeks, and Jenkins wasn't talking. He did seem pleased that his modification was causing so much speculation and interest. I heard all kinds of theories from increased pressure and cool air being introduced at this point would produce a venturi effect, blah, blah, blah. Everyone had a different theory as to why 'the Grump' had drilled those holes in his headers. Before long, everyone was drilling similar holes in their headers, and while they didn't understand what they were supposed to do, they all bragged about lower e.t.s and increased mph as a direct result of these eight little holes.
"After a month or so, Jenkins couldn't keep the secret to himself anymore. He decided to let everyone in on his much copied speed 'secret.' Jenkins explained that a V-8 motor is essentially eight one-cylinder engines connected together. In order to blueprint the engine, he had to make each cylinder as close to the others as possible. One way to gauge if the cylinders were equal was to measure the temperature of the exhaust. So, the simplest way of doing this was to stick a $2 thermometer directly in the header pipe of each cylinder and compare them. In other words, the 'mysterious holes' that made everyone's car run better were solely for the purpose of inserting a thermometer! They did not enhance performance in any way. Shortly after, the popular little holes that had appeared on most of the cars in the pits went away."
That's a great story, and certainly not the first time I've heard of this monkey-see, monkey-do phenomenon or the furor created by an unknown item suddenly appearing on certain race cars: Witness "the Terrible Towel" incidents of Kenny Bernstein in the mid-1980s and Gary Ormsby later that decade. Those terry-cloth diversions just about drove their opponents insane – what were they hiding under there? The details are a little fuzzy, but I also remember Ken Veney telling me how he had playfully added an extra bolt – I believe he even had painted it red – to his intake manifold and, after he ran another trademark low e.t. blast, the clamor that arose from his peers.
Anyway, I'm going to leave you with a handful of von Sholly pics to whet your appetite and give you an idea of the treasure trove he has bestowed upon us, which will make a nice complement to the Misc. Files; we'll call them the Fred Files. Thanks for sharing, Fred!
Another Pro Stock icon of the 1970s, "Dyno Don" Nicholson in his Maverick; love the multicolored banners over the starting line!
Gene Conway's Corvette Funny Car, circa 1970, the follow-up to his popular Destroyer Jeep Funny Cars
The late, great Lew Arrington and his popular Brutus Mustang; crew chief listed on the car as "Head Grump: Dutch Irrgang"
Before Warren Johnson, "the Professor" was Kelly Chadwick, near lane, shown with Arne Swensen in Swensen & Lani Mustang
"Big Daddy" Don Garlits in Englishtown, probably 1971 or '72, judging by the front-engined car in the other lane
So there's your sneak peek. I hope to have some more stories from Fred and show off more of his great pics in the columns ahead. Meanwhile, it's back to the current day as the Western Swing begins in Denver. We'll have full coverage all weekend on NHRA.com; National DRAGSTER
's Brad Littlefield will be filing a nightly story for us to accompany the usual complement of videos and photos. See you next week.
One of the greatest things about this column – other than getting to dig elbows deep into drag racing history and reconnecting with heroes past who stunningly discover that we still remember them – is the exchange of information between me and the readers. Rare is the column that goes by without a note or two fleshing out (and sometimes correcting!) long-lost details I have unearthed or merely sharing memories or thoughts. It has been my thrill many times to actually hear from those featured herein, racers whom I had never spoken to or, in some cases, heard of before writing about them.
I keep a running folder of such correspondence and empty it out every now and then. Today is one of those "nows."
Bret Kepner passed along this trio of photos he shot during a test-n-tune event in September 2003, when Larry Gould and partner Fred Bach showed up to "try out some ideas" on their SOHC Ford nostalgia AA/FD. "This photo shows Larry and his son (an accomplished oval track racer who grew up thrashing under a blown fuel Cammer), walking Freddie back from the burnout."
"This picture shows Larry doing what Larry was meant to do; he's simply standing next to an idling Cammer adjusting the barrel valve to what he could hear and feel was the proper setting. Larry is infamous for his almost-catatonic laid-back starting-line ritual. Without frantic running or frenzied rushed movements, he would calmly fire the car, back up his driver, make fuel-system adjustments, and, with an almost uninterested facial expression, guide the car into the beams. He may as well have been watching the evening news on TV."
"This photo shows Bach as he inched to the line before cranking out the quickest Ford-powered fuel run ever, a 6.23, before all of a hundred street car spectators."
Reader John Schultz has been a Ford fan forever, especially of the blown nitro-burning 427 SOHC. He got a Gould & Bach T-shirt at his local track in Wisconsin when the team appeared there. "I was not familiar with Larry at the time, but my eyes got real big as I gazed upon his 427 SOHC motor in the pits," he wrote.
I keep in regular contact with Bret Kepner, surely one of the most knowledgeable among us drag racing historians. He's always able to add a detail or two about some of my subjects and couldn’t resist a more detailed addition to my information on Ford Cammer enthusiast Larry Gould, as shown in the G edition of The Misc. Files.
"I was pleased to see a mention of Larry Gould. Here are a few facts about one of the most focused, hard-core humans I've met.
"Gould's first flopper was actually an ex-Nicholson '68 Cougar purchased from Sid Foster/Larry Coleman. When he blew the body off at an East Coast match race, the only replacement available on short notice was a '71 Charger, which he had painted to bear the name Trojan Horse, (complete with a beautiful mural), referencing the hidden SOHC Ford in Dodge clothing. The Charger eventually ran a 6.52, 236.22 at New York National Speedway in '75 for a factory-block Ford speed record that stands to this day.
"Gould later campaigned a gorgeous red-on-white '73 Mach I, which remained in action until the blue/flamed Mustang II debuted in '78. That car was raced continually until the EXP debuted at the 1982 AHRA Gateway Nationals at St. Louis, where, with immaculate black paint still tacky, the new ride sailed off the end of the old SLIR with no parachutes on its first run.
"The EXP debuted with Cammer power and, after repairs, stayed that way until the 1986 season, when Larry teamed with Floridian Al Herring and put a KB Hemi in the chassis. The duo was more competitive than ever, (mostly in IHRA competition) and maintained the same match race schedule Larry had kept since the late '60s. Gould was infamous for booking dates at very, very small tracks east of the Rockies; he honestly enjoyed the backwoods facilities over the modern strips. I remember he anxiously awaited his annual date at Green Valley Raceway in Gadsden, Ala., telling me in the late '70s, 'Every time I go down there, it's like the crowd has never seen a fuel Funny Car before!'
"Larry still owned the EXP when he started driving the Wade/Youngblood American Dream Cutlass. In fact, the Mustang II is still around now competing on the nostalgia Funny Car circuit. He still lives in the St. Louis suburb of Belleville, Ill., a stone's throw from the 61-year-old Belle-Clair Speedway dirt oval at which he has always campaigned a circle-burner even throughout his drag racing career. As you may have expected, all his stock cars have been Ford-powered and Ford-bodied, too.
"Gould's racing career is extensive, but he will forever be known as one of the most determined Ford fanatics and most inventive 'backyard engineers' in the sport's history. He was enamored with the SOHC engine since its debut and spent the majority of his career refining the concept with his own innovations, including replacing the engine's complicated chain-drive internals with a gear-drive configuration of his own and revising the powerplant's electrical system all the way to moving the distributor/magneto location.
"Throughout most of his life, he has searched for and acquired every SOHC motor produced and eventually owned almost all of them. He began casting his own heads and blocks in aluminum using a foundry he built in his backyard. He remains not only the owner of most of the surviving SOHC engines and paraphernalia but also the most knowledgable human ever to run one of 'em on nitro. Anybody who has ever met Larry Gould will always envision him, with his ever-present cup of hot coffee in hand, working on, talking about, or developing new ideas for the Ford Cammer."
Also from the G Misc. Files, I heard from Roger Garten after I mistakenly remembered that his War Horse Funny Car was painted purple, correcting me that the car was dark and light blue with metal-flake silver. The good news is that he and Mike Tocco have re-created the car, and it should be ready to race for the 2010 nostalgia season. "The War Horse is about ready to ride again," he said triumphantly.
And yet another from the G drawer. "Paul Gentilozzi’s old D/Gas Arrow is alive and well, and my father, Dennis Buckley, has been bracket racing the car for the last 12 years now," wrote Scott Buckley. "The little Plymouth has retained all of its original Wayne Farr chassis and red anodized tinwork but was updated with an early '80s grille and headlights by a previous owner. Paul Gentilozzi and Wayne Farr verified the authenticity of the car at a Trans Am Series race at Road America about eight years ago. Paul told us that he had the car constructed when he was the technical editor for Popular Hot Rodding
magazine after doing an in-depth feature on Glidden’s Pro Stock Arrow. Paul was first in line to purchase Glidden’s car when Ford renewed Bob’s Pro Stock sponsorship, so he sold the red Arrow to a fellow Super Gas racer in Kentucky (after removing the manual trans and installing a Powerglide), and it eventually wound up in Nebraska, where my father purchased it 12 years ago. The old Arrow is still very consistent, and Dad won the Super Pro category at the Drag News
Shootout a few years ago and also had a runner-up finish at the Fall Bracket Nationals. The old Plymouth Arrow is in the Madison, Wis., area now."
Ah, the love for "the Snake" just goes on and on here at the Insider. Phil Claypool passed along the two photos below of his copy of Hal Higdon's book on Prudhomme, Six Seconds to Glory. "I got Don to autograph it at Sacramento Raceway soon after it was published. I had taped a news article to it also. A great memory." I, too, remember the book, though I never owned a copy. I do remember though that either Drag Racing USA or Super Stock & Drag Illustrated serialized it in their magazine for several months, so I did get to read it.
John Totten passed along the great pic at right that he calls "Two Dons," featuring "Big Daddy" Don Garlits and Prudhomme. "A friend and I had the opportunity to attend the 1973 and '74 Springnationals at National Trail," he remembered. "To get the use of my sister's little 110 camera, I had to take along my 13-year-old kid brother. Wow, was it worth it as I now have a binder of the photos I took. My 49-year-old 'kid brother' now has programs from both years full of autographs as well as racers' handouts.
"This is my favorite photo of Prudhomme and Garlits. The Dayton papers were really writing about how much the two disliked each other. This photo was taken the day after the article. I couldn't tell you what the conversation was about as I was in awe."
"Thanks for your articles. They really bring back a lot of good memories. My favorite racers have now passed on. Dan Geare, Dean LaPole, and Fred Totten, the owners and builders of the King Camaro Funny Car -- Chevrolet-powered with some of the first Arias heads. Fred was my cousin, and we would spend hours long distance talking about racing in the past and present."
"Snake" and "Mongoose" fans should be on the lookout Nov. 1 for a new book on their long rivalry. Written by Tom Madigan (who wrote Fuel & Guts: The Birth of Top Fuel Drag Racing), Snake vs. Mongoose "takes readers into the world of two men who changed the world of drag racing forever. Madigan tells the story from the beginning, when engine builder Ed Donovan, with a nod to The Jungle Book, dubbed his driver 'The Mongoose' -- the one creature who could strike faster than a snake. The book chronicles the bad press, the toe-to-toe standoffs, and some of the best races in drag racing history. And within that story, Madigan captures the transformation of drag racing from the gritty, gut-driven sport of the '60s into the full-fledged money-making machine of our day." Like Fuel & Guts, the book will be published by Motorbooks; I've been promised a review copy, and I’ll let you know when I get it.
After the first story on the restoration of Don Prudhomme's Dodge D700 ramp truck, Mike Downham wrote, "If you get a chance, ask Prudhomme about the night Bob 'Weasel' Brandt used the ramp truck to haul Brandt's 240Z street car with the blown small-block Chevy to Irwindale for a grudge match with some unsuspecting street racer."
Instead of asking "the Snake," I went straight to Brandt, who verified that he had, in fact, done the deed, but with Lil' John Lombardo's truck. No further details were made public, but surely the statute of limitations has passed.
Rick Kirkpatrick wrote, "Phil, I have read your articles since day one, and you or Bob Frey would know the answer. Everyone else I talked to thinks I'm nuts. I have followed and participated in drag racing since 1963. I was 16 in 1967. I think in the late '60s, some fuel teams were experimenting with a 180-degree crank. I know they dropped the program. Am I correct in assuming that they wanted to fire two cylinders at once? I remember hearing and reading about it but cannot recall what it was about. Either a yep or a nope would answer my question. Thanks."
I wasn't sure whom Rick might have been remembering from the 1960s, but I did know that Gary Beck has experimented with a 180 crank more recently, so I dropped his good pal Henry Walther a note along with Rick's e-mail. His response:
"Gary Beck tried a 180-degree crank in 1977 or 1978. That was before I joined him. It was a short-lived experiment. The idea behind the 180 crank wasn’t to fire two cylinders at once, although that could have been done. There were two other reasons that prompted its use.
"The first was to try to lessen the load on the No. 2 and No. 4 main journals, which during that time frame was a big problem with the late-model Hemi. The 180 crank did take the load off of No. 2 and No. 4, but it transferred it to No. 3. As you know, the No. 3 journal in the 426 is the thrust bearing, and when it started taking a beating, that wasn’t a good trade-off. It was a tougher fix than the other journals.
"The second idea was that by using the 180 crank, you had a selection of firing orders that could be incorporated. Keith Black had a favorite firing order for use with the ‘flat’ crank that would prevent two cylinders, whose intake ports were close to each other, from firing one after the other and thereby robbing the second firing cylinder of air/fuel. In theory, this would help even out the distribution in the intake manifold. If it could do that, then there was a potential gain in performance to be had.
"Unfortunately, there was no performance gain ever realized, and the cost of repairing blocks increased, so the 180-degree crank was soon relegated to the ‘another bright idea’ bin."
Thanks, Henry. By the way, ND readers should be on the lookout for a Walther-penned "Where Are They Now?" piece on Beck in an upcoming issue of National DRAGSTER.
Valerie Harrell, daughter of the late Chevy Funny Car great Dickie Harrell, wrote after I republished "Dry Hops In Heaven," which, of course, included mention of her famous father, and "Chicago: The Name Game," which included her companion of nine years, well-traveled nitro vet Dale Pulde. "At my request several years ago, I asked Pulde to name the cars he has driven/tuned, and that included the Chicago Patrol," she wrote. "So far to date, he remembers 70!" Here's the list to date: www.wareagleracing.com/stats/index.htm. Pretty impressive résumé, I'd say.
"Berserko Bob" Doerrer had a note to add to the NHRA chronology from the 1972 media guide, in reference to the 1962 introduction of the first traction-mix compound for dragstrip asphalt by NHRA and Shell Oil. Reports B.B., "It was called Plio-Pave, and Vinnie Napp used it when Raceway Park was repaved in the spring of 1968 before the Springnationals. The issue was that it took the mix a long time to cure and was very soft. We spent many days putting water on the surface to help it cure. It eventually came around, but for a few weeks, Vinnie was sweating it out."
Bill Duke enjoyed my article on the unique Durachrome Bug Funny Car and the inclusion of some Left Coast injected Funny Cars sprinkled throughout recent Misc. Files columns. "I had the fortune of seeing both versions [of the Bug]," he wrote. "The first model when it showed up at Irwindale sans lettering; handled like a shopping cart. I appreciate the acknowledgement of the West Coast injected circuit cars, too. Black-and-white photos don't do justice to the Henderson Bros Corvair. Giardina's Dumbo 'Cuda was a rare bird, running only briefly after getting sorted out. It was unique in that it was one of the few cars not relying on the big-block Chevy, Steve McCracken's Tequila Sunrise being the other exception. I believe the Dumbo car later became the Hicks and Son West Coast Gambler the following year."
And finally, there's this. Jeff Mittendorf has a huge "Snake" and "Mongoose" fan/memorabilia collection and passed along a link to photos of the "fully functional/fully landscaped 1/43-scale dragstrip" in his home. "It was created to resemble an early 1970s dragstrip," he wrote. "The Tree can do bracket or Pro countdown, and I measure r.t./e.t./mph just like NHRA does with sensors in the track, and those all show on the scoreboards. To get down the track, you actually have to shift the cars." You can see more details here. Nice work, Jeff!
OK, race fans, that's it for today. Be sure to check out the upcoming issue of National DRAGSTER for the full-color spread of Prudhomme's Funny Cars from our recent photo shoot with "the Snake," and stop back Friday for another column. Thanks for reading and, as always, for contributing.
Welcome back for another thrilling installment of the Misc. Files, brought to you today by the letter H.
Poor ol' H, often the unforgotten and silent letter in words such as "rhyme" and "hour" and "honest" and even sometimes in "homage," but today it gets its chance to be loud and proud and bring you some of the sometimes overlooked but never forgotten heroes from the deep recesses of the National DRAGSTER photo archives. Here we go!
Kentucky's Eldon Huffman has received a lot of exposure for his infamous starting-line mishap at the 1970 U.S. Nationals, where the rear end broke and rotated in the chassis, knocking askew the Huff's Hemi Challenger body, so I thought I'd cut him a break … even though he died nearly 30 years ago. This photo shows Huffman racing future Division 3 Pro Comp champ J. Marlis Williams and the Chelsea, Mich.-based Williams & Bohl Wolverine Chassis Challenger at Milan Dragway in 1971.
Texan Bob Holley, near lane, fielded Top Fuelers — both front- and rear-engined — in the 1970s. He was partners with Dick Venables (father of current Tony Pedregon crew chief Dickie) in a car driven by Ronnie Martin. This shot is from Eastex Dragway in 1977; his driver, Jim Edwards, is in the near lane facing Paul Savadin's West Coast Charger. Holley currently is the crew chief for his son, Chrisman, on an A/Fuel Dragster in Division 4 action, reversing the roles they shared when father drove and son helped in the 1970s.
John Hoven didn’t have a lot of Funny Cars, but this one, the purple Midnight Special Satellite, was a pretty one. It's shown at Fremont Raceway in September 1975 in this Ron Burch photo. The car was driven by a couple of people and actually has an interesting history. Hoven previously had a '71 Mustang entry, also painted purple, most famously driven by former fuel altered racer Tom Ferraro but also piloted by others after Ferraro left to drive the Rat Trap. He got this Satellite from Northwest match race fave Twig Ziegler. Grand Meredith drove it, then vagabond nitro jockey Denny Savage. I dropped Savage an email, and he confirmed that he had driven the car for his close, dear friend Hoven, and that, in fact, it had quite a lineage. "I drove it last for him, after Grant Meredith," he said. "I was making a run at OCIR, and the front torsion bar broke at about 300 feet, causing the car to make an immediate left turn and crash over the guardrail. The body flew off about a 100 feet into the air, and the car was bent up pretty bad. I sustained minor rib injuries and other bumps and bruises. John spent a long time rebuilding it, and then sold it to the people that made the movie about Shirley [Heart Like A Wheel
]. It's the car that was in the movie." Wow, who knew?
Ira Hollensbe's early Mustangs and Plymouths were all emblazoned boldly with the Stars and Stripes and lettered with the word Superstar on their flanks, but his final car, this swoopy '75 Vega, wore just his name. The car, based out of St. Louis, was typical of the cars of that era, with the huge front-fender bubbles to lower the front end (later outlawed, but all the rage in 1974 and 1975) and low stance. Ironically, the caption on the back of this Rick Shiplett photo calls Hollensbe "the Quiet Performer" instead of "Superstar" — maybe it was the change of paint scheme on the car? A nasty fire at the 1976 Gatornationals ended Hollensbe's driving career.
Billy Holt is widely remembered by Southeast race fans for his line of Alabamian Funny Cars, but before he went flip-top racing, he was a very successful blown gas competitor in the late 1950s with a '55 Chevy that he cobbled together from three junkyard '55s. A field engineer for a space firm, he had just hit his stride and was class runner-up to Doug Cook at the 1959 Nationals in Detroit when in 1960 he had to take a four-year work-related furlough from racing. He returned to the sport in 1964 with a series of record-holding Willys (this one ran in B/Gas; he later moved to BB/Gas). He switched to Funny Cars in 1970 with the first Logghe-chassised Alabamian (a Corvette that burned to the ground that year at the Turkey Trot Nationals in Gainesville) and later teamed with driver “Pee Wee” Wallace (of Virginian fame) until he quit again in 1975. He made a try at a comeback in 2001, fielding a Top Alcohol Dragster (Alabamian VIII) with sons Greg and Scott, but campaigned it just one season. Holt died Oct. 25, 2007, at the age of 76.
A lot of people think of "Nitro Nick" Harmon as a Northwest racer, but he actually got his start in Southern California with the aptly named California Shaker Mustang (which Bryan Raines also drove and later became Aussie champ Graeme Cowin's first Funny Car). He moved to the Northwest in the mid-1970s and had a string of Funny Cars including a Camaro, a Mustang, a Vega, and a Monza. He even enjoyed, for a short time, backing from the U.S. Marines in 1978 with an Arrow-bodied entry but finished his nitro career in this car, with an ex-Gordie Bonin Bubble-Up/Pacemaker Trans Am body, and switched to jet Funny Cars. Northwest drag racing historian "Flyin' Phil” Elliott said, "He was a decent driver and worked hard on an almost zero budget. Harmon was always around, most often qualified. Although low-buck, he was known for being pretty reliable, too, not a 'leaker.' "
Drag racing's earliest days were filled with colorful characters, and George "the Stone Age Man" Hutcheson was certainly one of them. A veteran handler of fuel altereds and front-engined Top Fuelers, he was easily recognizable to fans from the red ostrich plumes that adorned his helmet (and once famously caught fire from the header blasts). Hutcheson, who reportedly earned his nickname because his partner once called their engine, which had made it through nine months without a major rebuild, a "fossil." Hutcheson ran with it and painted the Stone Age Man name on his cars. But none of his cars was wilder nor more remembered than this one, Fling Traylor's U.S. Turbine 1 — "the last of the great turbine-motored cars in modern auto racing," as it was billed. The car, low and lean, was built by Frank Huszar at Race Car Specialties and bodied by Tom Hanna, and although the turbine engine weighed just 85 pounds, it could rev from idle to 17,000 rpm in seven-tenths of a second on a diet of oxygen, propel nitrate, and nitrogen. The car was scary fast and scary to watch as, like the hydrogen-peroxide rocket cars of the near future, it sat silently on the line before belching fire out of the back behind boiling tires, as evidenced in this Steve Reyes photo from Lions Drag Strip during the July 1969 PDA meet. Carrying a camera from Newsweek
on its front axle, the car ran 250 mph in front of 25,000 disbelieving fans. The run was the car's great hurrah as Traylor reportedly had all but given up on the project and was ready to donate it to the Smithsonian before Hutcheson booted it into history.
Speaking of Huszar, here's a double dose of H for you. That's the man himself, at far left, with Jim Hume, center, and Dennis Geisler as they looked over Geisler's Huszar-built Instant T fuel altered outside of Huszar's Race Car Specialties shop in Tarzana, Calif. RCS built a fleet of famous cars, including the legendary Freight Train twin-engined gas dragster, "Wild Willie" Borsch's Winged Express fuel altered, the Surfers' Top Fueler, and more. Huszar went from being a gaffer for the film studios, a do-it-all Hollywood handyman, to one of the 1950s' and 1960s' most respected chassis builders. He died in 1987. Hume was no slouch, either: His H&H Racecraft business was one of the top fabrication shops on the West Coast.
Here's another double H, the late Harry Hudson, getting way out of shape in his Super Ford Mustang in 1972 in another of Steve Reyes' great grabs. Hudson, who split time between his own car and driving the Dennis the Menace entries for Dennis Kirkland, died at the wheel of Kirkland's 'Stang in a crash in Blaney, S.C.
And, finally, this humorous HH. When I stumbled across this photo, I instantly recognized the guy at left as the notorious "Berserko Bob" Doerrer, erstwhile track announcer, publicist, blogger, lounge operator, rock-band singer, and more. I could see from just the nose of the car that it was Harry Hall's Shenandoah Plymouth Arrow Top Alcohol Funny Car and that they were posed with the door of a race car, but it wasn't until I turned the pic over and read the caption that I started to grin. Rather than reprint the caption, I e-mailed "Berserko" to get his colorful remembrance. "Harry crashed K.S. Pittman's AA/GS Willys at the '72 Summernationals in a horrific wreck that a lot of us at first glance thought he was killed," he responded. "Harry survived the crash, and all the pieces of the car were collected up and taken back to the pits, but we couldn't find one of the doors. Years later, while cutting the brush that had grown on the left side of the track on the other side of the return road, Raceway Park employee Billy Burst found it hidden by years of vegetation growth. He bought the door to me, and for many years, it was hung on my living room wall as a part of my drag racing memorabilia collection. Harry returned to racing in his Shenandoah BB/FC a few years later, and I thought it would be cool to reunite him with the missing piece of his car, and I freaked him out by presenting it to him on the starting line before first round of eliminations of the track's U.S. All-Pro Funny Car Championships in 1982."
Great story. That's it for another dose of drag racing alphabet soup. I gotta get the "H" out of here now and get ready for the Fourth of July. Y'all be safe.
Previous Misc Files:
The Misc. Files: Welcome to the 'A' list
Bob Bommarito, and welcome to the Misc. Files
The Misc. Files: From C to shining C
The Misc. Files: D-lightfully D-verse
The Misc. Files: An E-Ticket ride
The Misc. Files: Meet the F Troops
The Misc. Files: The G Force
The Misc. Files: The I's have it
Our dear ol' pal Richard Brady, a longtime Division 3 photographer and a steady source of dependable and indispensable help to the National DRAGSTER staff at more than a dozen Full Throttle Drag Racing Series national events this season, has been combing through his photo files and posting great old pics on his Facebook page, and his treasure hunt also turned up a gem that caught my eye: a 1972 NHRA media guide. He shared it with me at the Summit Racing Equipment NHRA Nationals in Norwalk.
I have a nice collection of media guides from the early 1990s, and they surely have changed throughout the years. For those not familiar with this type of publication, it's a compilation of facts and information that helps members of the media do their job. Today's NHRA media guides have hundreds of pages with extensive driver bios and career records, historic points listings, a recap of the previous season, and information about NHRA, its series, the cars, and much more. They're an invaluable tool even for us supposed know-it-alls.
I wasn't aware that NHRA had a media yearbook, as this one was called, way back then. In fact, just last year, Director of Media Relations Anthony Vestal and I were trying to figure out what might have been the first year of the media guide, and I'm sure we didn't arrive at the early 1970s.
Brady actually had a 1971 media yearbook on him, but the 1972 book seemed more well-prepared, so I eagerly dove in, and even a jaded history nut like me was thrilled at the time-capsule contents.
The first thing that caught my eyes was a staple of every media guide, a list of the sport's winningest drivers. Here was the score heading into 1972:
Ronnie Sox: 15
Don Garlits: 7
Gordon Collett : 7
Dave Boertman: 6
Gene Snow: 6
Don Prudhomme: 5
George Montgomery: 5
Ray Motes: 4
Don Nicholson: 4
Bill Jenkins: 4
At first brush, my thought was, "The all-time winningest driver has only 15 wins?" John Force, of course, is the all-time leader now with 126, and 15 doesn't even get you in the top 25 anymore; you have to have 36 Wallys on the shelf to make the top 25 these days. How far we've come in 37 years. (Fifteen wins would, however, still get you an 11th-place tie with Al Hofmann among Funny Car drivers, rank you 13th in Pro Stock, and tie you with Dick LaHaie for 14th in Top Fuel. ... 77th overall still.)
Of course, once I got my head out of … well, you know … I realized just what an amazing number Sox's 15 wins were. To that point, there had only been 49 national events, and Sox had won 15 of them, or nearly a third. And, truth be told, he had won 15 of them in 37 races, beginning with his first, in Factory Stock at the 1964 Winternationals. And he had twice as many wins as the next driver!
By my count, the Norwalk event was the 680th national event in NHRA history, so -- apples to oranges -- that would be like Force having more than 200 wins. Of course, Force didn't get his first win until race No. 220 in NHRA history, so he's won 126 in 460 races, which ain't shabby either.
As I continued to read through the guide, there was a whole section on new rules for that season, and a lot of it had Mr. Sox's signature all over it. Although Sox had added five Super Stock wins, he won nine times in the newly created Pro Stock class in 1970 and 1971, including six of eight in 1971. Mopar had grabbed a seventh win with Mike Fons' Challenger; Nicholson's Maverick had the only non-Mopar win.
To combat the dominance of Sox's Hemi, three weight breaks were added to Pro Stock in 1972 "with an eye for increasing popularity and competition."
Through the class' first two seasons, all cars ran on a 7-pounds-per-cubic-inch weight break regardless of engine type or design. Beginning in 1972 and lasting until 1981, NHRA controlled runaway situations with the weight breaks, which became a huge source of controversy (as they can be today in Pro Stock Motorcycle) and a real pain for the NHRA Tech Department.
NHRA kept the existing 7-pound break for cars with staggered-valve wedge engines like the 396 Chevy and 427, 454, and 351 Cleveland Fords but socked it to the Hemis (and the SOHC and 429 Boss Ford engines) with a 7.25 break. At 426 cubes, that amounted to a 106-pound weight increase. And it showed. Only Don Carlton was able to score for Mopar in 1972 while Bill Jenkins won six times for Chevy thanks to the addition of the third break and some innovation by NHRA.
Automakers had just begun to focus on smaller compact models, and NHRA wanted them to have a place in the innovative class. In addition to adding a 6.75-pound break for smaller wedge engines such as the 302, 327, and 350 Chevys, 340 Chrysler, 427 and 352 Fords, and 360 and 390 AMCs, cars with a wheelbase of less than 100 inches – such as the Pintos, Vegas, Colts, Crickets, and Gremlins -- were allowed a minimum weight of 2,000 pounds as long as they used 366-cid or smaller engines; cars with a wheelbase of more than 100 inches had a 2,400-pound minimum weight with no ceiling on cubic inches. (Of course, no one would build a 500-cid engine like we have today and carry a 3,500 weight.)
The weight breaks were finally abandoned in 1982 when NHRA switched to a mandatory 500-cid powerplant.
Another interesting change in 1972 was the absorption of all 1971 Stock classes into Super Stock to create a "strictly stock" class below it. Today's Stock cars are allowed many go-fast modifications and engine tweaks, but if you ran a Stocker in 1972, not only weren't you allowed such basic amenities as headers, slicks, racing cams, and manifolds, but you also had to drive the car to the track instead of trailering it. Wow.
The guide also includes a timeline of great accomplishments not necessarily listed in the current version, which tends to present a bigger-picture/top-story kind of timeline. The 1972 guide includes these milestones; some of the first may be disputed in other circles but nonetheless make for a handy reference guide for your future bench racing sessions (items in quote marks are reprinted as they appeared):
1953: First 140-mph speeds recorded
1954: 166 events sanctioned; introduction of first comprehensive insurance program
1955: Flywheel shields (scattershields) made mandatory
1956: First rulebook published
1957: First eight-second elapsed times
1958: Don Garlits records first unofficial 180-mph clocking
1959: "Parachute braking device introduced, soon made mandatory for all cars running in excess of 150 mph"
1960: National record program established; spectator count exceeds 1 million
1961: Nationals moves to Indy
1962: Tommy Ivo runs first seven-second pass, a 7.99 at San Gabriel; Tommy Grove makes first 11-second clocking with a stock car, 11.93 at Fremont; first "traction mix" compound for dragstrip asphalt announced by NHRA and Shell Oil
1963: "NHRA lifts ban on special fuels and re-creates fuel dragster class"; first live televising of a major drag race as the Nationals is televised on Wide World of Sports; true handicap starts introduced with Christmas Tree
1964: Driver-licensing program established with testing procedure required for dragster drivers; Manufacturers Cup program established
1965: "Forerunners of today's Funny Cars make their appearance in the form of FX class machines designated by NHRA"
1966: First seven-second run on gas as John Peters' Freight Train runs 7.99; Shirley Shahan becomes first female national event winner at Winternationals; Connie Kalitta runs "first accredited 220-mph pass" at 221.12 in Ford-powered dragster
1967: 1,315 cars set entry record at Nationals; Ed Miller scores richest purse ever by a driver for winning Stock world championship, $10,000, which includes bonus posted by Hurst; first official six-second pass, by Don Prudhomme in winning Springnationals; SEMA-approved chassis required in Top Fuel; contingency program unveiled; first $100,000 cash purse at Nationals
1968: More than 2,500 NHRA-sanctioned events are completed; World Finals shown live around the country on closed-circuit TV; $150,000 purse at Nationals
1969: First all six-second 32-car Top Fuel qualified field at Springnationals in Dallas
1970: First $300,000 purse, at Springnationals; Leroy Goldstein makes first six-second Funny Car run, a 6.92 in Indy
1971: "Advent of rear or mid-engine dragster offers first major concept and design change since debut of slingshot dragster"; onboard fire extinguishers made mandatory in Funny Car; Jerry Ruth makes history as the first driver to win in two classes at same race, scoring in Top Fuel and Funny Car at a Division 6 event; Wally Parks, Don Garlits, and Ronnie Sox visit the White House during a special presidential reception for auto racing; Pro Start Tree introduced (one amber instead of a countdown of five ambers); fire burnouts banned
Today's media guides also include a glossary to help neophytes decrypt the sometimes arcane vernacular of drag speak, but I got a real charge out of some of the glossary entries from the 1972 edition, which broached over into pop culture. These are the exact definitions provided; I couldn't make this stuff up.
Bad scene: unpleasant situation
Bash: a racing event
Boss: great, outstanding!
Eyeball: inspect or examine something
Honk: run fast
Joe Lug Bolt: competitor who runs only on weekends, periodically
Juice: special exotic fuel
Lunch: damage engine or other parts severely
Nerd: not hep
Out to lunch: not with it
Ratchet jaw: person who talks too much
That was boss! What a great find. Thanks to R.B. for showing me the guide and allowing me to spend a few days with it. Okay, ol' ratchet fingers here has to honk it on outta here to finish his National DRAGSTER work from the Norwalk event or the copy editors will think I'm a nerd. That would be a bad scene. I'll be back later this week with a new column, which tentatively is planned as the next installment of the Misc. Files, the letter H. You can eyeball it here Friday!