From the mailbox Friday, August 14, 2009

Even two-plus years later, the power and reach of the DRAGSTER Insider continues to please and amaze me, both in terms of its quality of readership and the interaction of said readers with yours truly. Every entry seems to inspire mail of one kind or another, be it kudos or corrections, which lets me know that it's a deep and caring audience that I have been fortunate to tap into.

K.C. Spurlock scored his first nitro Funny Car win at the 1990 Winternationals and won the race again four years later.

The recent one-hit wonder columns have unleashed a torrent of responses, many from those of you trying to keep me honest, asking about the inclusion (or lack thereof) of certain drivers. For example, one reader (the names have been removed to protect the not-so innocent) wondered why K.C. Spurlock wasn't on my one-hit Funny Car list. He remembered that K.C. Spurlock had won the 1994 Winternationals and (bonus points) even that he had runner-upped to Cruz Pedregon at the 1994 U.S. Nationals but forgot that Spurlock had scored his first Pro win at the 1990 Winternationals, in a dual upset with first-time Top Fuel winner Lori Johns.

Another reader thought I had left my good pal Pat Austin off the Top Fuel list, and though Austin is probably best remembered for the first double-up win – Top Fuel and Alcohol Funny Car at the 1991 Topeka event – he actually won five times in Top Fuel to go with his 70 Alcohol Funny Car wins. Yet another recalled Tom "the Mongoose" McEwen's heart-tugging win at the 1978 U.S. Nationals – shortly after the death of his son – but forgot that "the 'Goose" first won in Ontario, Calif., in 1973 and that he also won the Cajuns and Northstars in 1986. I did get busted, though, by Todd Berube for leaving Clare Sanders off the Funny Car list (1969 Winternationals; since added), though he was only 50 percent right as he also thought that Leonard Hughes' '70 Gatornationals win was his lone win, forgetting that Hughes also won in Englishtown the following year.

Tuesday's story also inspired an e-mail from former Funny Car racer Bob Pickett, driver of the Pete Everett's Pete's Lil Demon entries, Mickey Thompson's Grand Am, and so many more. Pickett no longer lives in Granada Hills, Calif. (a hometown in SoCal's San Fernando Valley that he briefly shared with Don Prudhomme); he has relocated to Florida, where's he's still competing, albeit now as a tournament salon skier (being in Florida, I'm going to go out on a limb and say that's a form of water skiing, not snow skiing). He dropped me his phone number, so I'll be giving him a call soon to share his story. Even now, 27 jaded years later on the job, it's still a thrill to hear from racers I grew up watching and cheering for -- but have never met as they had left the sport before I became part of its inner circle – and know they are reading my musings. I saw Pickett for the first time at Irwindale, in 1972, where he was driving Everett's Demon; here's the somewhat fuzzy photo from 12-year-old Phil.

Within these walls works the Funny Car winner of the 1981 Springnationals.

I also tracked down Craig Epperly, but not in time for Tuesday's column. He's still SoCal-based and now vice president and chief operating officer at CSI Electrical Contractors in Santa Fe Springs, Calif. I'm setting up a time to talk with him for details about those early-1980s heydays, but the company bio describes him thusly: "Some may think that Craig Epperly is a quiet, unassuming man. Although that may be true, there is another reason for his lack of verbosity – he's always thinking and planning. Always! Craig has an illustrious career spanning over 30 years, 25 of which have been spent in supervision. His areas of responsibility with CSI include design-build projects, initial job setup, manpower scheduling, schedule compliance, foreman training, and total project quality management. Among his hallmark traits include his ability to execute a plan seamlessly and his well-earned respect and admiration of CSI employees. A consistent and valued part of the CSI management team, Craig is well-known for his supportive and nurturing nature, along with his philosophy of 'action speaks louder than words.' "

I heard back from Craig this morning, via e-mail, and he responded, "I have a lot of great memories from those days. Henry Harrison and Amos Satterlee were a big part of my success, and I will never forget that." He says that he still follows NHRA and attends both races in Pomona plus some nostalgia Funny Car races with Steve Plueger and Paul Trabue.

I've also been exchanging e-mails with Jay Howell, a long-ago racer perhaps best known for the Prock & Howell F Troop Willys. He has an amazing career story – he also helped build memorable cars such as the L.A. Dart wheelstander, Don Gay’s Infinity GTO, the Ramchargers' "Skinny Dart," Seaton’s Shaker Corvair, and many, many others. He also holds the unique (I believe) honor of being the only driver other than "the Snake' himself to drive one of Don Prudhomme's Funny Cars in the 1970s; he wheeled the yellow Hot Wheels Barracuda at match races in Indy in 1970 while Prudhomme was campaigning his Top Fueler. To me, that's interesting stuff. I had first heard from Howell after showing the rear-engine Cotton Picker Funny Car he had built in the C edition of the Misc. Files, in which I dubbed him "legendary"; he blushed as well as one can via e-mail, and we began a dialogue. It's been going on for a long time, partly because he's enjoying the retired life -- sailing the Atlantic along the East Coast "from Maine to the southern Bahamas" with wife Diane in their 40-foot sloop Far Niente (Italian for “without a care”) – and partly because of some health issues on his end, but he completed a career recap recently for me that I plan to share here soon.

My recent article saluting Ford's long history in the sport (and my own with Ford) elicited a couple of very cool images. The one at right was sent to me by reader Bob Robillard and shows one of the earliest Tasca Ford entries, a 406-powered Ford Galaxie driven by Dean Gregson, shown here at Charlestown Dragway in Rhode Island in 1963. Gregson was the first special high-performance manager for Tasca Ford after Bob Tasca Sr. founded the division for his successful dealership in 1961.

Wrote Robillard, "Living in Rhode Island most of my working life, I remember Tasca Ford from the beginning, and my high school butted up to Tasca's dealership lot. After hearing that you are a Ford fan, I decided to send you this pic." I've taken the liberty of cropping the photo to just show the Tasca Ford; you can see the whole image here.

The second image is of Raymond Beadle's Blue Max Mustang burning out under the lights at what looks like Orange County Int'l Raceway. What's great about it is that it's a drawing (technically a "photo illustratiion"), not a photo. It was created by John Bell, whose work I have shown here before, and depicts what he calls "his favorite Ford." I'd be hard-pressed to argue with him; the '75-'76 Blue Max was one bad hombre. I've shown it small here for the sake of space; you can see a bigger version here.

The final image, also sent to me by Bell, shows some of the collection of race car parts that he and his brother, Steve, who has been shooting the drags forever, have collected over the years.

Without a super-close examination, it's easy to pick out the flanks of one of "Big Mike" Burkhart's Funny Cars, some body panels from Jim and Alison Lee's Top Fueler, a chunk of Steve Gold's Jerry Boldenow-driven Moby Dick Corvette Funny Car (later campaigned by Ezra Boggs), two pieces of the aforementioned Blue Max Funny Car (I can think of at least two occasions that might have wrought the Max asunder -- his Gainesville barrel roll in 1982 or his body-shedding final-round wheelie in Columbus, Ohio, in 1975), and what looks like a serious chunk of the side of the Swensen & Lani Magnum Force Funny Car. What a collection!

The Fred Files, a quartet of columns featuring the early 1970s work of former Division 1 photographer Fred von Sholly, continues to draw mail. Richard Bibey wrote, "I grew up a literal stone's throw away from the Cecil County Drag-O-Way. Seeing all of these pictures have brought the memories flooding back. The test sessions at Cecil by 'the Grump' was something I had forgotten about. When I heard someone there, I would hop on my 20-inch-slick- and parachute-equipped bicycle and ride in. If there was anyone there, I was there. Us kids would race from the starting line to the finish line on our bicycles (I couldn't pedal that far now if I had to). I remember Bill Levitt in Quickie Too setting the track record one night and then arguing with one of the other neighborhood kids that Joe Jacono beat John Collins in the Mongoose 2 by a mile. I had parts in the basement from just about every Funny Car that crashed there. I wish I still had them. Mom got tired of walking around them and had the basement cleaned out one day. I have collected drag racing stuff for years. I just gave my entire collection to my niece's little boy. He had no interest in drag racing before. His eyes lit up, and the kid can't stop thinking about drag racing now. After these pictures and stories, I now have the same feelings again." Bibey also thinks that he spied himself and his two cousins in the background of the attached Fred Files photo, hanging at the fence (behind the smirking kid with the front-row seat). Could be!

Speaking of von Sholly, he dropped me a line to let me know that he's updated his PhotoBucket photo site with several hundred more photos; the total now tops 800. "They are not all great photos," he said, "but I feel that many are better than no picture at all since they are rare. I've left them all, the good and the not-quite-so good. If anyone wants their money back, I'll promptly send a refund!" He also has been pleased with the comments you've sent him. "I've been receiving many very nice and complimentary e-mails from all over the country and even one from Ireland," he wrote. "Evidently, everyone who used to work at Cecil County still reads your column! It's very gratifying."

Fred couldn’t just drop in without a gift to share, which is the photo below. "Attached is an interesting picture that I just found," he wrote. "It shows three dragsters on the starting line at Cecil County. On the right side of the photo, bending over the dragster, is Al Procopio, the owner-operator of Cecil and a co-owner of Capitol and Aquasco Raceways. Al was very inventive and always came up with new promotions. For the life of me, I can't remember the plan that night, and I took the picture! (Getting old isn't all it's cracked up to be!) Maybe one of your loyal readers can remember if you think it's an interesting subject and photo. I don't think they ran side by side as the picture suggests."

OK, readers, time to show off that Insider know-how. Drop me a line and let me know if you remember what was up.


And finally, there's this little gem. At right is a not-so-great photo I grabbed at speed with my phone on the way home from lunch (the Original Tommy's … great chili dogs and chili fries!) on the eastbound 210 Freeway just east of Irwindale Avenue. Yes, that Irwindale. Anyway, just off the freeway, about a quarter-mile's distance from the site of fabled Irwindale Raceway, is this billboard purchased by Citizens Business Bank. It's one of a series of billboards that the bank has created to salute valued partners of its bank, which began in 1974 in nearby Chino and has grown to nearly 50 branches, including one in Fresno, Calif., which might well explain why the valued partners featured here, more than 200 miles south of Fresno, are the Scelzi brothers: our ol' pal Gary and brothers Mike and Jim, representing their Fresno-based business, Scelzi Enterprises, which creates custom truck bodies.

The brothers and their business also are featured on the bank's Web site with five other valued partners (including the Tournament of Roses, which hosts a little New Year's Day get-together each year in Pasadena, just up the freeway from the sign), and they are featured in the company's annual report with their testimonial about the bank. ("Citizens Business Bank takes care of all our financial needs, which has helped our business grow and prosper. We continue to be successful because our banker takes the time to understand our business and customize solutions for our needs.") Both include this bottom photo of the brothers at work; the same image, minus the background, is what adorns the sign.

Even though he's no longer racing with us (for now), it looks as if it's still hard to get away from what Scelzi Sez.

OK, race fans, that clears out (mostly) the overflowing Inbox for now. I'll be back Tuesday with something else new and exciting. Maybe the next Misc. Files, maybe a Bob Pickett or Craig Epperly story, maybe the Jay Howell story, or maybe something completely different that hits my radar screen. Thanks for reading.

Funny Car's 'one-hit wonders'Tuesday, August 11, 2009
"Fast Eddie"Schartman scored what is arguably the first Funny Car win, at the 1966 World Finals. He's one of 29 drivers to own just a single win in the class.

Friday’s column about Top Fuel’s “one-hit wonders” inspired a lot of comments (and two quick corrections). Perhaps the biggest surprise for people was hearing that there had been fewer than 100 winners in the category, which is pretty surprising for a class that’s been around for 46 years.

After Larry Dixon (Jr.) e-mailed to remind me that I had left his dad off the list (I had sorted the winners by name, and because we no longer refer to the son as Dixon Jr. anymore [at his request quite a few years ago], the name of his dad, winner of the 1970 Winternationals, had been lumped in with all of his wins), the total grew to 42 one-time winners. The second correction, as noted by several, was that Bobby Vodnik’s win in Indy in 1963 was actually a Top Eliminator win because nitro was not allowed at Indy that year. This further screwed with my percentages and dropped the total back to 41 one-timers (See? I was right all along!); that correction dropped the one-time-winner percentage to 44.56 percent, which is still pretty staggering. Think about that for a second: More than four in 10 drivers who won a national event in Top Fuel were not able to do it again. Tell me it’s not hard to win in Top Fuel!

Anyway, the most intriguing challenge was issued by reader Jon Sammels, who bet me a six-pack of my favorite beverage that the percentage of first-time winners in Funny Car was even higher. Naturally — and thirstily — I accepted.

Top NHRA Funny Car winners
1 John Force 126
2 Tony Pedregon 42
3 Don Prudhomme 35
4 Kenny Bernstein 30
5 Ron Capps 29
6 Cruz Pedregon 26
7 Del Worsham 24
8 Whit Bazemore 20
9 Mark Oswald 18
  Ed McCulloch 18
11 Al Hofmann 15
12 Chuck Etchells 13
  Tim Wilkerson 13
  Raymond Beadle 13
15 Gary Scelzi 12
16 Robert Hight 11
  Billy Meyer 11
18 Mike Dunn 10
19 Gordie Bonin 9
20 Gary Densham 8
21 Tommy Johnson Jr. 7
  Jack Beckman 7
  Bruce Larson 7
  Frank Hawley 7
25 Dale Pulde 6
  Eric Medlen 6

Jon’s logic was interesting. “If the Funny Car pattern follows Top Fuel, a lot of these ‘one-hit wonders’ also will be in the late 1960s and early 1970s, where the careers seemed a bit shorter,” he wrote. “And with powerhouses like John Force, Don Prudhomme, Kenny Bernstein, and Tony Pedregon hogging up a lot of the wins, there’s not going to be a lot left for everyone else to grab multiple wins.”

Even though Top Fuel had about a three-season jump on its flip-top nitro brethren, only 19 more winner’s trophies had been awarded, 658 to Funny Car’s 639 (the NHRA schedule only had four or five events on the calendar in the mid-1960s). Eighty-three different drivers have bathed in the glow of an NHRA national event Funny Car crown, and though the average number of wins of all Top Fuel drivers combined is 7.14 (657 divided by 92) and Funny Car was only slightly higher at 7.69 (639/83), there were considerably fewer one-shot winners. Of the 83 winners, more than a third (30, or 36.14 percent) were not able to repeat the feat.

All things considered, the numbers still were pretty close, so I’ll go easy on Jon and expect a six-pack of Diet Coke on my desk in the next week or so.

I found it interesting that it takes six wins in each class to crack the top 25 and 18 in each to make the top 10. Looking a little deeper into the numbers, I found that 15 Funny Car drivers have two wins versus 13 for Top Fuel. Close!

As I did in Top Fuel, I developed a matrix, which can be found at the bottom of this column, charting not just the lone wins for the 30 but also any Funny Car runner-ups and wins in other classes. (Unlike in Top Fuel, though, I ordered these chronologically rather than alphabetically, which I think shows a little more of the trending that took place.)

As in Top Fuel, it’s hard to call a lot of these guys “one-shot wonders.” Scott Kalitta, of course, only won once in nitro Funny Car, in Houston in 1989, but was a two-time world champ in Top Fuel with 17 wins. Ditto for Tony Bartone, who may only have cashed in in Seattle last year in Jim Dunn’s fuel coupe but also owns 27 Top Alcohol Funny Car wins (including two already this year) and three in Top Alcohol Dragster. Melanie Troxel may only have the 2008 Bristol race on her Funny Car win résumé, but she also has four Top Fuel wins (and 11 runner-ups) and two Top Alcohol Dragster victories (and two runner-ups). Tommy Grove never won again in Funny Car after scoring at the 1967 Springnationals in Bristol, but by that time, he already owned two other wins, in Stock at the 1964 Winternationals and in Comp in Bristol the year before (in what essentially was a Funny Car).

Butch Maas drove dozens of cars over his drag racing career, but his Funny Car victory at the 1971 Winternationals -- and car owner Roland Leong's fifth in eight years at the event --- was his lone NHRA national event win.

Dave Beebe scored at the 1973 Springnationals, and although he didn’t appear in another Funny Car final and never won another national event, he was runner-up in Top Fuel at the World Finals in 1966. Ditto for Gary Clapshaw, who didn’t duplicate his 1995 Mid-South Nationals win in Funny Car but did take a surprising runner-up in Top Fuel to Tony Schumacher at the 2000 U.S. Nationals. And what about Larry Reyes? The popular pilot flew Roland Leong’s Hawaiian Funny Car through the lights backward at the 1969 Winternationals, then came back and won the race the next year. Leong won the Winternationals again the next year, with Butch Maas, whose victory was the only one of his much-traveled career.

As in Top Fuel, quite a number of one-time winners were just that — they had no wins in other classes and never made it back to a final again in any class, let alone in Funny Car; this was especially true in the class’ first year, when guys such as “Fast Eddie” Schartman, Doug Thorley, Maas, “Slammin’ Sammy” Miller, and Larry Fullerton match raced more than they campaigned on the national event tour.

Schartman, driving Roy Steffey’s S/XS Mercury Comet, became Funny Car’s first world champ when he defeated Don Nicholson in the final at the World Finals in Tulsa, Okla., in 1966. Schartman set both ends of the S/XS national record at 8.61 and 172.72 mph. Fullerton duplicated that feat six years later in Amarillo, Texas; the veteran racer’s only visit to the national event winner’s circle with his popular Trojan Horse Mustang was at the World Finals and earned him the world championship. Dave Condit, the longtime driver of the notorious L.A. Hooker flopper, drove the Plueger & Gyger Mustang to his only win at the 1974 Supernationals, though he was a bit upstaged by the drama of Shirl Greer’s fiery and brave world championship bid and the 6.16 national record set by Dale Pulde in Mickey Thompson’s Grand Am. Earlier that year, Greer had recorded his only national event win, in Montreal.

As you can see from the list, a large portion of these one-time Funny Car winners — 14, in fact — were from the 1970s; there are only three from the 1990s and four so far from the 2000s, though I expect Bob Tasca III to no longer be on this list at the end of the year.

Certainly two of the longest long shots on the list are Craig Epperly, who drove Don Tate’s Superstar Plymouth Horizon to the win in Columbus, Ohio, in 1981, and local Pomona favorite Sherm Gunn, who won the World Finals in 1984 in the event’s first year in Pomona. Neither driver had been to a final before, nor did they return to a final.

Craig Epperly's lone victory, at the 1981 Springnationals, was clinched with a final-round defeat of world champ Raymond Beadle.

Tate had dabbled with nitro as a partner to the Trillo Bros. (several T ‘n’ T cars, including fuel altereds and Funny Cars), but after Jim Trillo crashed their Funny Car in 1980, they split, and Tate took the Superstar name with him. He hired Epperly, and the addition of respected crew chief “Famous Amos” Satterlee certainly helped produce that moment of magic in Columbus, which was capped by a surprising final-round victory against then reigning season and event champ Raymond Beadle. The event had been delayed a week by rain and resumed on the second Sunday, a Bristol 2008-like long day of on-again, off-again racing that didn’t conclude until 1:30 a.m. Monday. After beating Tripp Shumake, Tom Anderson, and John Collins in the first three frames, Epperly left slightly on Beadle, .497 to .504, then held on for a narrow 6.210 to 6.214 victory.

Epperly finished the season a respectable sixth, but the team broke up at season’s end for unknown reasons. Epperly continued to wheel nitro Funny Cars for four seasons, driving for Joe Pisano, Anthony Almada (the A Team Daytona), and the H.B. Gold team of Billy McCahill and “Uncle Beavs,” Gene Beaver. Epperly’s brother, Rocky, later made headlines as the driver of former airplane racer Frank Taylor’s Dago Red Top Fueler, which set the national record at 257.14 at the 1983 World Finals at OCIR.

Sherm Gunn defeated Kenny Bernstein, Don Prudhomme, Billy Meyer, and Mark Oswald en route to his surprising victory at the 1984 World Finals.

Gunn, who had established a solid reputation as a chassis builder, had campaigned both alcohol and nitro Funny Cars since 1975 (preceded by years in gassers and an alky-burning altered) but primarily ran on the West Coast, where he was a staple at match races at Irwindale and OCIR. His national event nitro Funny Car successes to that point in a four-year career consisted of just a pair of round-wins, yet he beat four of the era’s best —Bernstein (on a holeshot), Prudhomme, Billy Meyer, and, in the final, Mark Oswald. Gunn certainly looked to be, well, outgunned in the final as Oswald had shoed the Candies & Hughes/Old Milwaukee Firebird to a pair of 5.70s (and a class-history-best 261.62-mph shot) in the opening rounds; Gunn’s best was a 5.91 to defeat Meyer in the semifinals. Gunn left slightly on Oswald, whose mount blew a head gasket in a brief blaze of fire before it hit the 100-foot mark. Gunn fired off his best run of the meet, a 5.87, to make it official. Oswald probably forgave Gunn the upset victory because Gunn’s defeat of championship hopeful Meyer in the semi’s clinched the 1984 world title for Oswald.

OK, so there you have it, Funny Car’s “one-hit wonders.” The only question now is who is going to bet me about Pro Stock’s solo acts?

Driver Funny Car win FC R/Us Other wins
Ed Schartman 1966 Tulsa 0 0
Tom Grove 1967 Bristol 0 2
Doug Thorley 1967 Indy 0 0
Clare Sanders 1969 Pomona 0 0
Larry Reyes 1970 Pomona 1 0
Phil Castronovo 1971 Amarillo 1 0
Butch Maas 1971 Pomona 0 0
Sam Miller 1971 Montreal 0 0
Larry Arnold 1971 Ontario 2 0
Larry Fullerton 1972 Amarillo 0 0
Dave Beebe 1973 Columbus 0 0
Pat Foster 1973 Gainesville 3 0
Frank Hall 1973 Amarillo 1 0
Shirl Greer 1974 Montreal 1 0
Dave Condit 1974 Ontario 0 0
Jim Liberman 1975 Englishtown 1 0
Johnny White 1977 Baton Rouge 0 0
Denny Savage 1978 Englishtown 1 0
Craig Epperly 1981 Columbus 0 0
Sherm Gunn 1984 Pomona 2 0 0
John Collins 1985 Phoenix 2 0
Rick Johnson 1985 Montreal 0 0
Scott Kalitta 1989 Houston 1 17
Gary Clapshaw 1995 Memphis 0 0
Jeff Arend 1996 Reading 1 0
Kenji Okazaki 1997 Englishtown 1 0
Bob Gilbertson 2000 Houston 1 4 0
Melanie Troxel 2008 Bristol 0 6
Tony Bartone 2008 Seattle 1 30
Bob Tasca III 2009 Gainesville 1 2


Top Fuel's 'one-hit wonders'Friday, August 07, 2009
Carl Olson is known as the Top Fuel winner at the 1972 Winternationals, but he accomplished much more in his career beyond the one NHRA victory.

What do the bands Starland Vocal Band, Paper Lace, and Big Country have in common with Top Fuel heroes Carl Olson, Clayton Harris, and John Mulligan?

Though many of you may know those groups as one-hit wonders, many probably would be surprised to learn that each of those widely respected nitro digger pilots claimed only a single NHRA national event Wally in their long careers, a fact that leaped out at me after last Friday’s final Fred Files, in which I shared the unlikely tale of Arnie Behling’s lone Top Fuel win at the 1971 Summernationals.

They’re certainly not alone. In fact, 41 — nearly half — of the 92 drivers who have scooped up the 658 wins in NHRA Top Fuel history did so only once in the class. I find that a pretty startling factoid worthy of a whole half-hour Lewis Bloom segment.

I feel a little bad calling those drivers one-hit wonders because they all had other spectacular accomplishments in their stellar careers. In Olson' case, there's also a March Meet win and a huge and emotional victory at Lions Drag Strip's Last Drag Race, both of which I know he places high on his list of accomplishments, plus three NHRA national event runner-ups, membership in the Cragar 5-Second Club and Bonneville 200-mph Club, an IHRA Top Fuel world championship, and a lifetime of service to the high-performance industry in one fashion or another. And although Harris and Mulligan's national event win list also has just one entry, each has multiple runner-ups and national records to his credit, and each has a revered place in the annals of drag racing history.

On top of that, for them and many of the 39 other one-race winenrs we need to consider that they competed in an era in which there weren’t as many national events on the calendar and they either match raced substantially -- which, for many, even held a higher importance than the national event stage --  or competed with other sanctioning bodies.

Top NHRA Top Fuel winners
1. Tony Schumacher 59
2. Joe Amato 52
3. Larry Dixon 47
4. Kenny Bernstein 39
5. Don Garlits 35
6. Doug Kalitta 31
7. Cory McClenathan 30
8. Gary Scelzi 25
9. Gary Beck 19
10. Darrell Gwynn 18
  Shirley Muldowney 18
12. Scott Kalitta 17
  Brandon Bernstein 17
14. Dick LaHaie 15
15. Gary Ormsby 14
  Don Prudhomme 14
17. Eddie Hill 13
18. Mike Dunn 12
19. Doug Herbert 10
  Connie Kalitta 10
21. Kelly Brown 8
22. Antron Brown 7
  Rod Fuller 7
24. Darrell Russell 6
  J.R. Todd 6

On the other hand, given some of the class’ dominant drivers over the years and their staggering win totals, it’s maybe a little more understandable. Tony Schumacher, with 59 victories, owns almost 9 percent (8.96) of all NHRA Top Fuel triumphs since Don Garlits won the first title at the 1963 Winternationals. Garlits, with 35 Wallys, still ranks fifth overall. Between Schumacher and “Big Daddy” reside Joe Amato (52), Larry Dixon (47), and Kenny Bernstein (39), and it’s only a matter of time before Dixon eclipses retired Amato’s total. It takes just six wins — J.R. Todd’s total — to be among the top 25 Top Fuel scorers of all time. But this column isn’t about those with a Top Fuel Wally space problem on their mantels. It’s about the other 41.

But what constitutes a one-hit wonder in drag racing? Especially when you consider what an honor and a thrill it must be to win in drag racing’s top class even once.

To be fair, that 41 number is probably not legit considering that it includes current drivers such as Spencer Massey, Morgan Lucas, and Hillary Will, who scored their breakthrough Top Fuel wins within the past year or so, had all won in the alcohol classes, and are far from done winning in Top Fuel. The list also includes guys such as Ron Capps, who has 29 Funny Car Wallys to keep his lone Top Fuel keepsake company (Seattle 1995); Tom McEwen, whose feel-good Top Fuel win at the 1991 Englishtown event was preceded by four Funny Car wins, including at the U.S. Nationals; Dave Settles, who scored five Top Fuel runner-ups after his 1974 Gatornationals win, which was preceded by four Pro Comp triumphs; and Bill Mullins, whose 1985 Columbus, Ohio, caper stands beside previous wins in Top Gas and Alcohol Dragster.

Bob Noice, Jimmy Nix, and Jim Bucher also won in Top Gas and Hank Johnson in Alcohol Funny Car, and a goodly portion of the list also posted at least one runner-up.

So I created the chart at the bottom of this column of all of the one-hit wonders. Reviewing that list, you can see that there are only 12 drivers whose only NHRA win was in their only NHRA final in Top Fuel: Art Marshall, Bob Gibson, Chip Woodall, Cristen Powell, Don Moody, Hank Westmoreland, Jim Barnard, Jim Walther, Jimmy King, Larry Dixon, Rick Ramsey, and Stan Shiroma.

Art Marshall's lone Top Fuel win, at the 1972 Grandnational in Montreal, is especially significant as it was the final win by a front-engine Top Fuel car.

It’s a pretty interesting group of winners. Marshall’s victory, at the 1972 Grandnational, was the final win by a front-engine Top Fueler and quite an upset for the unheralded 23-year-old speed shop salesman from Springfield, N.J. His car, the ex-Don Prudhomme high-back Hot Wheels dragster, was owned with Don Young and sponsored by Van Iderstine’s Speed & Auto, where Marshall worked. Theirs was the lone front-engine car in the field, yet he set down hitters such as Olson, Harris, and, in the final, Jeb Allen. Allen was hot off a Summernationals win and probably would have won the race had not a leak gushed water under his tires on the launch, causing him to lose traction.

Shiroma’s victory was the last Top Fuel win with a true Chevy engine, and he beat Rance McDaniel’s Rodeck in the final for it. Sixteen years later, McDaniel would claim his lone win at the World Finals in 1993. And it would be extremely difficult to call Moody a one-hit wonder given his portfolio (as my previous story on him will attest) and the fact that his one win, at that historic 1972 SuperNationals, was capped by a jaw-dropping 5.91 pass.

There are some other interesting things to notice overall in the list. Three of the drivers — Vodnik, Johnny Abbott, and Terry Capp — couldn’t have picked a better place to notch their lone victory: the U.S. Nationals. As lone wins go, that probably has to be tops; a lot of drivers (people like Capps, for example) have lots of wins but none in Indy. And what of Gerry Glenn and Jim Walther, whose only wins were at the World Finals, in 1971 and 1972, respectively, but were crowned world champ on the basis of those wins? I’d say those two guys did a pretty good job of cherry-picking a win.

It’s also interesting to note that five of those wins were at hallowed tracks such as Old Bridge and Pomona, which host prestigious events good for the résumé, and that unlikely venues such as Atlanta and Seattle have had their share with three each. I was in Seattle for two of them, including Michael Brotherton’s wild win in 1992. In qualifying, he had tipped Darrell Gwynn’s Coors Light car onto its head at quarter-track, but the team, led by Ken Veney, worked through the night and came back to win the race Sunday.

All of these drivers may have only had one day in the NHRA Top Fuel winner’s circle, but, as I mentioned earlier, what an accomplishment even that is. Each of them is among only 93 drivers in 46 years who, through a mixture of will, skill, and sometimes luck, outlasted the best the day had to offer and won in the most exotic class in the world’s fastest form of motorsports. One-hit wonders? Nah, more like wonderful one-hitters.

Name Top Fuel win TF R/Us Other wins
Johnny Abbott 1981 Indy 2 0
Jim Barnard 1982 Orange County 0 0
Arnie Behling 1971 Englishtown 1 0
Michael Brotherton 1992 Seattle 2 0
Jim Bucher 1975 Englishtown 3 1
Terry Capp 1980 Indy 2 0
Ron Capps 1995 Seattle 1 29
Dave Chenevert 1970 Gainesville 1 0
Larry Dixon 1970 Pomona 0 0
Bob Gibson 1970 Dallas 0 0
Gerry Glenn 1971 Amarillo, Texas 1 0
Clayton Harris 1973 Englishtown 2 0
Hank Johnson 1971 Ontario, Calif. 1 1
Jimmy King 1971 Gainesville 0 0
Lucille Lee 1982 Atlanta 1 0
Morgan Lucas 2009 Atlanta 5 11
Art Marshall 1972 Montreal 0 0
Ronnie Martin 1970 Dallas 0 0
Spencer Massey 2009 Chicago 1 3
Rance McDaniel 1993 Pomona 2 4 0
Tom McEwen 1991 Englishtown 1 4
Don Moody 1972 Ontario, Calif. 0 0
John Mulligan 1969 Pomona 2 0
Bill Mullins 1985 Columbus, Ohio 2 2
Jimmy Nix 1966 Bristol 1 1
Bob Noice 1979 Pomona 0 1
Carl Olson 1972 Pomona 3 0
Dan Pastorini 1986 Atlanta 1 0
Herm Petersen 1973 Gainesville 1 0
Cristen Powell 1997 Englishtown 0 0
Rick Ramsey 1970 Ontario, Calif. 0 0
Dwight Salisbury 1982 Denver 2 0
Dave Settles 1974 Gainesville 5 4
Stan Shiroma 1977 Seattle 0 0
Jody Smart 1983 Denver 4 0
Jim Walther 1972 Tulsa, Okla. 0 0
Hank Westmoreland 1969 Dallas 0 0
John Wiebe 1973 Columbus, Ohio 4 0
Hillary Will 2008 Topeka 3 1
Jack Williams 1964 Pomona 1 0
Chip Woodall 1972 Columbus, Ohio 0 0


I grew up with Fords. In fact, the first car I ever drove was this '72 Ford F-250, and I drove it hard. Me and my buddy, Van Tune (who went on to become editor of Motor Trend magazine), certainly tested the Ford Tough slogan in muddy alleys and fields throughout Culver City, Calif. Hopefully Mom's not reading this column.

My first behind-the-wheel experience was in the cab of my stepfather's Ford F-250 as a young teenager, nervously guiding the yellow pickup two blocks down our street, an obstacle course lined with parked cars that threatened to jump out and bite the truck's significant bumper.

The truck became my first highway freedom – the folks seldom let me drive their Thunderbird – and I drove the wheels off of that truck, down muddy alleys and around town, and made it live up to its Ford Tough slogan. My stepfather still has it all these years later.

A few years ago, I taught my son how to drive behind the wheel of his mom's Ford Expedition and handed down to him our black '95 Ford Bronco 4x4 as his first vehicle, a keepsake that he pampered until the cost of fueling its massive V-8 caught up to him and we got him into a 2-year-old V-6 Mustang that he's hot-rodded with a K&N Filtercharger, dual exhaust, and low-flow, high-noise mufflers. My oldest daughter drives a Ford Excursion, trusting it not only to safely carry two of my grandchildren to swim lessons and school but to tow the family boat.

Yes, we're a Ford family, which is why yesterday's long-rumored announcement that Ford has become the official car and truck of NHRA certainly went down well in my little corner of Glendora.

If you’re a longtime reader of this column, you'll know my affinity for early-'70s Mustang Funny Cars. Cars like the Blue Max, Trojan Horse, L.A. Hooker, Plueger & Gyger, War Horse, Brutus, and Keeling & Clayton California Charger and the cars of Mickey Thompson, Tommy Grove, Connie Kalitta, Jerry Ruth, and many, many others delighted fans from coast to coast.

Tommy Grove: Mustang's first Funny Car winner, 1967 Springnationals in Bristol
Danny Ongais drove Mickey Thompson's 'Stang to Ford's first Indy Pro win in '69.
The only car to defeat Don Prudhomme in 1976 was Gary Burgin's Mustang II.
Ford Funny Car wins also came in Thunderbirds; Mark Oswald nabbed a trio.
Whit Bazemore is the winningest Mustang FC driver outside of Team Force.
Bob Glidden won nine Pro Stock world championships for Ford and claimed national event titles is six Ford models, beginning with a Pinto.
Don Nicholson won Mustang's only Pro Stock world championhip in 1977.

I did some research a few weeks ago for Susan Pollack, who handles PR for Bob Tasca III, and came up with 25 national event wins for non-John Force Mustang Funny Car drivers from 1967 – when Grove scored the first – through 1998, when Whit Bazemore won the Chicago race. (Surprisingly, Baze, with six wins, is the winningest non-JFR Ford driver; I would have bet the house on Raymond Beadle.)

Add in Tim Wilkerson's two wins and longtime Ford man Tasca's Gainesville title this year to go with the 116 earned by Force drivers throughout the years (himself, daughter Ashley Force Hood, Robert Hight, Eric Medlen, Tony Pedregon, and Gary Densham), and you have nearly 150 Mustang wins. Other Mustang drivers to win NHRA national event Funny Car titles: Danny Ongais, Larry Fullerton, Dave Condit, Shirl Greer, Gary Burgin, Billy Meyer, John Lombardo, Gordie Bonin, Gary Clapshaw, and Dale Pulde (in Bazemore’s car).

Add to those pony-car wins Kenny Bernstein's dozen or so wins in his aero-trick Bud King Tempos. I'm not sure that a Pinto ever won an NHRA Funny Car event, but I know that Mark Oswald won a trio in the Candies & Hughes Thunderbird, and Beadle got a hat trick in his Blue Max EXPs. There's probably one or two along the way I missed, but it won't be long before we're celebrating 200 Ford wins in Funny Car.

Of course, Ford power has been winning NHRA Professional races for five decades; Top Fuel icons such as Kalitta, Don Prudhomme, "Sneaky Pete" Robinson, and others used Ford SOHC engines to power their rails.

Ford's first Professional NHRA world championship was in 1972, when Fullerton and the Trojan Horse won Funny Car at the World Finals in Amarillo, Texas, back when winning that lone event meant being the season champ (though drivers had to earn the right to compete there).

Pro Stock icon Bob Glidden carved Ford's First On Race Day slogan into the history books of the factory hot rod class with event wins and championships in all manner of Ford vehicles, from Pintos to Fairmonts to Thunderbirds to Probes – and won national event title in Mustangs and EXPs.

Glidden won an amazing 49 times in the 1980s – all in Fords – and had a string of 21 straight years with at least one win. He scored his first win in a Ford – a Pinto that he drove to glory at the 1973 U.S. Nationals in his home state of Indiana – and scored his 85th and final victory in a Ford – his Motorcraft-backed Probe at the 1995 event in Englishtown – and only seven wins of that magnificent total were in a car that didn't bear the famed Ford blue oval.

Pinto pilot Wayne Gapp earned Ford its first Pro Stock honors by winning the World Finals in 1973, and Glidden followed the next year with the first of Ford's points-earned titles. Ford Pro Stock drivers won five of the first seven points-tabulated world championships; Glidden won the title in 1974 and 1975 in his Pinto, "Dyno Don" Nicholson won the 1977 title in his Mustang II, and Glidden was on top again in 1978 and 1980 in his Fairmont.

Interestingly, only four Pro Stock wins have been Mustangs, two by Glidden in 1975 (when he was driving a '70 Mustang to take advantage of a weight break for longer-wheelbase cars) and two by Nicholson in his Mustang II in 1977.

Although Ford fans have not had a major name to cheer for in a few years, that tide clearly has already begun to turn. Erica Enders and Jim Cunningham have been working this season to sort out their new Mustang, and Ford diehard Robert Patrick has announced his intention to return to Pro Stock next season, but all eyes probably will be on 16-time NHRA national event winner Larry Morgan, who announced earlier this season that he will campaign a Mustang in 2010.

I'm looking forward to the Ford era of NHRA Drag Racing, and with the Force team, Tasca, Wilkerson, and the new Ford Pro Stock teams on point, I think we'll see a lot more blue-oval entries First On Race Day.

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