Features

Delayed Reunion, And A Great DealFriday, November 29, 2013
Posted by: Phil Burgess

Phil Burgess, liar. Yep, that’s me. I had really planned to offer a full report of last weekend’s Orange County Int’l Raceway Reunion held at the NHRA Motorsports Museum but forgot that this is a short workweek with Thanksgiving and all, meaning that I had to have all National Dragster and online business wrapped up Wednesday, which pretty much precluded me wading through more than two hours of notes and recordings in the given time.

Those of you who follow me on Twitter (@nhraphil) got a live stream of quotes as the distinguished panelists — Bill Doner, Carl Olson, Tom McEwen, Tommy Ivo, Roland Leong, OCIR VP Mike Jones, Ed Pink, Don Prudhomme, John Force, and Steve Gibbs — did their thing, and that should just be the teaser for the full report that will include mentions of Ed “the Ass” McCulloch (someone else’s words, not mine, Ed!), Linda Lovelace, the Taj Mahal, nude skydivers, digging through trash cans for used parts, and more.

Force, of course, had everyone rolling in the aisles, but with an all-star roster like “The Snake” and “The Mongoose” and “The Hawaiian” on hand, it was Doner who seemed to draw the most love from the audience of about 300 (and his fellow panelists) and certainly, with his gift of gab and quick wit, provided some of the evening’s most interesting banter. The audience was also studded with familiar faces like Chuck and Del Worsham,"Wild Bill" Shrewsberry,  Bob Muravez (aka Floyd Lippencott Jr.), Bob Brandt, Jr. Thompson, Larry Bowers, Jeff Courtie, Cory Lee, and many others.

Beyond the sheer enjoyment of hearing legends of our sport reminisce about a place so near and dear to my heart, I also got to meet several loyal column readers and put some faces to the names I so often find in my Inbox. Your kind and sincere words meant even more to me in person. Thank you.

I also got to network a little to work on some future column ideas — I’ve got a funny one in the works with Ivo and Ron Pellegrini about the four-engine car — and catch up with some old friends. I promise that I’ll have the full Reunion report next Friday. Hey, have I ever lied to you before?

 

On a completely unrelated but nonetheless important-to-me note, we finally (and when I say “finally,” I mean it was way too long in the works) have a system on the NationalDragster.net site that allows visitors to access all of the great articles that we add there on a daily basis without being a full member. For just $5.99, you can get a full month's worth of access to all of the daily columns, Bits from the Pits, event coverage, and more. You can buy one month at a time or set up a recurring charge; check it out here.

Nostalgia freaks like you guys will definitely get your money’s worth from just two of the columns — John Jodauga’s Where Are They Now?, which publishes every Thursday, and My Favorite Fuelers, written by yours truly — which are heavily focused on the same era that we talk about here each week. Already there are 45 of each of the columns available, plus Monday Morning Crew Chief, Time Travel Tuesday, and the Sportsman-oriented The Sports Report.

Where are They Now?, which used to appear in a different form in National Dragster, takes a look back, through great old photos and current interviews, with some of the stars of the sport you know (and have read about here) and maybe some you don’t know. Here’s a look at the list so far:
 

Jeb Allen Dick Arons Jerry Baltes Arnie Beswick
Kelly Brown Gary Burgin Art Chrisman Gary Cochran
Ron Colson Jack Ditmars Larry Dixon Sr. Ken Dondero
Gary Dyer Dale Emery Leon Fitzgerald Dale Funk
Marvin Graham Hyland Family Frank Iaconio Tommy Ivo
Mike Jones Dick Kalivoda Jimmy King Judy Lilly
Mallicoat Bros. Buddy Martin Herb McCandless Pat Minick
Jim Nicoll Bennie Osborn Ed Pink Tom Prock
Dan Richins Gas Ronda Jerry Ruth Billy Scott
Al Segrini Dave Settles Ed Terry Jr. Thompson
Hugh Tucker Jess Tyree Ken Veney Yuill Bros.

While Where Are They Now? examines the people, the My Favorite Fuelers column takes a look at the machines. I started out focusing on individual cars that were my favorites — Mickey Thompson’s Grand Am, Prudhomme’s Army Monza, Don Schumacher’s Wonder Wagon, etc. — but later, as I ran out of true favorites, I expanded it to first a regional basis based on that week’s current Mello Yello national event and then later to some career-retrospective pieces that I’m sure you’ll enjoy. They’re packed with great old photos from the National Dragster library and extensive research that I did. Here’s the list to date:

Army Monza Mickey Thompson's Grand Am Don Schumacher's Wonder Wagon
Gary Beck's Export A Top Fueler Jim Dunn’s Rear-Engine Cuda Chicago Patrol Mustang II
California Charger Top Fueler Budweiser King Tempo Hot Wheels Wedge
Pioneer Stereo Datsun Pure Hell Fuel Altered Diamond Dave' Miller's Shorty
Lew Arrington's Brutus Gary Ormsby's Streamliner Pisano & Matsubara Funny Cars
War Eagle Pontiacs Chi-Town Hustler Gary Beck/Larry Minor Top Fueler
The Blue Max Mustang II Barry Setzer Vega Candies & Hughes
The Hawaiian The L.A. Hooker Ed McCulloch
Billy Meyer Don Schumacher Jim Dunn
Mustang II Funny Cars Monza Funny Cars Barracuda Funny Cars
New England Fuelers East Coast Fuelers Chicago Fuelers
Ohio Fuelers Colorado Fuelers Northwest Fuelers
Canadian Fuelers Minnesota Fuelers Texas Fuelers
Missouri Fuelers Pennsylvania Fuelers Nevada Fuelers
Great Indy Top Fuel Finals Indy's Funny Car Heroes Indy's Top Fuel Heroes

 

As you can see, there's a treasure trove of stuff just calling your name. I don't mean to get all commercial on you, but selfishly, I'd love for more people to read some of the great work we've been doing there all year. I'm hoping that the reasonable price will entice some more folks to plunk down a few bills [do it here!] to enjoy them all. All told, there are more than 200 of our daily columns, plus in-depth coverage and photos from every national event and more. The only things you don't get are the member-exclusive benefits like the audiocast, live timing, the rulebook, member discounts, and, of course, the cool online version of the never-quicker, never-better National Dragster. You certainly can (and I encourage you to do so) become a full member right there on the site, which will actually save you money over buying 12 months of site-only access and give you all of the cool member benefits. 

OK guys, that's it for another week. I actually wrote this on Wednesday (you didn't expect me to get cranberry sauce all over my keyboard, did you?), and I'm getting ready to enjoy a few days off before plunging back into it next week. I hope you had a great Thanksgiving and took the time to be thankful for all of the bounties in your life. I know that I'll have been doing the same, which includes thoughts and appreciation to all of you who make what I do so very enjoyable.

Sorting through the InboxFriday, November 22, 2013
Posted by: Phil Burgess

It may only be Nov. 22, but it already feels like Christmas Eve for this Orange County Int’l Raceway pit rat looking forward to the OCIR Reunion tomorrow at the NHRA Motorsports Museum. Even though I never got a chance to visit Lions Drag Strip, I attended the Lions Reunion at the museum last year and got a real kick out of it, so I’m certain that hearing the legends of the sport talk about the dragstrip (home of my youth) will bring back lots of great memories. John Force, Don “the Snake” Prudhomme, Tom “the Mongoose” McEwen, “TV Tommy” Ivo, Roland Leong, Carl Olson, Ed Pink, Gary Densham, OCIR founding President and General Manager Mike Jones, and others will be on the panel sharing their memories and answering questions from what’s sure to be a packed house. I’ll have a full review of the affair next week. In the meantime, you may enjoy reliving this three-part column I did on OCIR five years ago on the 25th anniversary of its closing [Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3].

Apparently my giddiness didn’t allow me time to focus on a subject-oriented column (though I have a bunch in the works), and I noticed that the ol’ mailbox is starting to overflow again with comments about topics past and present, so I thought I’d spend this time sorting through the many contributions from the Insider Nation.

Last Friday’s column, which included mention of Don Garlits’ use of the Donovan engine in 1977, inspired Fred Gunton to send along the photo at right of “Big Daddy" and Donovan in mid-discussion in Seattle in late 1976. That’s Gunton on the right in the cap. “I was chatting with Don, and Donovan walked over and asked him if he could ask him a question. [Don] replied, ‘Go ahead,' and then the offer came!”

According to his book, Don Garlits and His Cars, Garlits writes that Donovan “offered me an engine deal I couldn’t refuse” and convinced Garlits to abandon the Dodge Hemi 426 he had run for the previous 13 years for the new Donovan 417. The deal appears to have been free parts, and, because Garlits was spending the then-whopping sum of $60,000 a year with Keith Black, he jumped all over it.

The Donovan first went into Swamp Rat 23 (the car with which he had won the IHRA championship while boycotting NHRA over disagreements about how some aspects of the 1975 title chase was handled), and the car set low e.t. and was runner-up to Jerry Ruth in its debut in his return to NHRA competition at the 1977 Winternationals. He also was runner-up (to James Warren) at the March Meet but was using up a ton of parts trying to figure out the necessary fuel volume, so with his hometown Gatornationals next up, he hauled Swamp Rat 22 (the 5.63, 250-mph car) out of mothballs and reverted back to the K-B and won the race, then returned to the Donovan project.

He and the recently departed Don “Mad Dog” Cook built Swamp Rat 24 (the blue and white God Is Love car) specifically for the Donovan. They again set low e.t. (5.771) at the Winternationals in 1978 but lost in round one to Richard Tharp, then in quick succession won the AHRA Winternationals at Beeline Dragway outside of Phoenix and the Gatornationals again in Gainesville. They ran the Donovan for all of 1978 but ultimately switched back to the K-B at the start of the 1979 season because the Donovan “was just not strong enough for the horsepower being produced in 1978.”


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I got an interesting note and some photos from Dave Parsons about the “chopping down the Christmas Tree” thread from September. I had shown the first photo in the gallery at right and was only able to identify that it was an injected dragster that took out the bottom bulb of the Tree at Irwindale Raceway and had no idea what happened after that (though clearly things were not looking good for the wayward shoe).

“After a little detective work, I can name the culprit!” Parsons wrote. “What jogged something in my brain was the sinuous guardrail at Irwindale, and it summoned memories of some photos in a children’s book from 1971 titled On the Drag Strip. In it, the author describes what it is like for a driver to get ‘in big trouble’ (experience a crash) and provides a photo sequence — although the shot you have, which would be the first of the sequence, is not included. As I studied the book's images, my mind went into high gear, and my suspicions were confirmed.  The first two images I’ve sent reveal the track to be Irwindale, and the push trucks in image two look to be the same and in the same position as in your photo. 

Photo three shows the wavy guardrail, and we get a glimpse at the graphics behind the wheels, but in your photo, that area is obscured by the blackout panels on the Tree. Foiled!  But in No. four, we get a glimpse of the graphics in front of the axle, and BINGO, it matches! Photo No. five gives us a clearer shot of the graphics with other telltale identification, like breather location on the early Hemi, headers, M&H Racemaster on the slicks, and one more thing — a picture of the driver.  Well, I feel a little bad ratting him out, but the book’s author and self-confessed driver of the injected dragster is Ed Radlauer, children’s books author.”

Another mystery solved by the Insider Nation ... thanks Dave!


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Speaking of Christmas Trees, I got the photos at left from Phil Rolsma, who opened Classic Gameroom Supply in Beaver Falls, Pa., after getting “downsized out of the corporate world” nearly three years ago. He now buys, sells, restores, and consigns 1940s and 1950s jukeboxes, slot machines, pinball machines, soda machines, and the like, including a like-new, five-amber Chrondek Tree with brain box, Chrondek Blue travel trunk, starting-line lights and reflectors, reaction timers, and starter-control box.

“This Tree was bought by a racer for use in his garage and purported to have been used outside at a track but once or twice, and I believe it,” Rolsma said. “The Gemini-era connectors in the thing are bad-ass on their own right, and you can eat out of the insides. It still has the Chrondek 'pass' ink stamps on the inside of the Tree. It is truly a special, once-in-a-lifetime, for-the-waiting-room-of-Hot Rod-magazine kind of piece. Or, Leno. I'm not, however, going to have it end up in an Applebee's somewhere. It just is another piece that gets that 'Where did you get that?' gasp when people walk in our appointment-only showroom.”

If you’re interested — and, for what it's worth, the Tree is one of those "If you have to ask the price, you probably can't afford it kind of things" — you can call him toll free at 888-9-PINBALL (746-2255) or check out 9PinBall.com. He's also got the cool Nitro Groundshaker pinball machine, which you can also see in the gallery.

A few years ago I ran several columns showing off some great, old dragstrip flyers [Part 1Part 2] and just got the image at right from my pal, memorabilia maven Mike Goyda, showing a promotional item from Augusta Int'l Speedway in Georgia. Although the flyer says it's located “south of Augusta” and “2,400 feet of Tobacco Road,” my research tells me that it was located in the bucolic town of Hephzibah, Ga., and was host not only to a dragstrip but also a three-mile-long road course, one-mile dirt oval, a two-mile-long tri-oval superspeedway, and a half-mile paved oval. NASCAR great “Fireball” Roberts won his last race there on the road course in November 1963, shortly before being killed in a fiery wreck in Charlotte.

Anyway, this flyer is advertising the appearing of “your hero and mine,” Tommy Ivo and his four-engine dragster, which makes it 1961. (The track opened in 1960 and closed in 1969.) But that’s not the real reason Goyda sent it to me. If you look closely at the image (or, better yet, click on the link below it to view a larger version), you’ll see that two weeks later, the track was holding its first Turkey Race: “25 turkeys will be turned loose for spectators to catch and carry home.”

“I thought you might do a column on the numerous whacked-out ways dragstrip promoters have found to promote attendance,” Goyda postulated. “I thought I had heard them all until this. At least they didn't insult Tommy by holding the Turkey Race in conjunction with his appearance, although being the showman that he was, he might have welcomed it.”

Great idea, Mike. So if anyone has any stories to share about crazy track promotions (like, say, if someone hypothetically had decided to drop turkeys out of a helicopter), I want to hear them. The weirder the better.

This just in: Shortly after this column was published, I got an email from Ron Pellegrini, who took over the controls of Ivo machine later that year (the movie studios didn't want their golden child driving such a wild machine). and drove the four-engined car at Augusta. "And if my memory is correct I went back on the 19th with the twin," he wrote. "I remember seeing  live turkeys being thrown out of the bed of a pickup. After much pulling and tugging by the spectators some lucky (or unlucky) few went home with various parts of the same turkey."

Hint: I'm the good-looking one on the right.

Backtracking just a bit, I finally met up with Heather LeVay, daughter of the late fan-favorite Funny Car shoe Tripp Shumake, in Pomona for an update on the progress of the book she is writing about her father. You may remember a couple of stories [Part 1Part 2] that I wrote in this column about a year ago remembering “240 Shorty,” and to which Heather graciously shared her memories of her dad and also talked about her desire to do a book.

She’s been on the road ever since, collecting literally reams of remembrances from all kinds of folks to include in her book, which she hopes to self-publish next April. She’ll be including those two columns (including some of the great comments some of you contributed) and a treasure trove of photos she’s collected over the years. She’s been diligently trying to track down permissions from some of the photos she has, and I’ve been working with her to figure out some of that.

In the meantime, if you have any great photos of Tripp and/or his cars and you give Heather your permission to include them in the book, you can send them, plus any thoughts you want to share about him, to her at hashumake@hotmail.com.

She’s poured her heart and soul and a daughter’s love into this book, and I’m really looking forward to the finished product, and I’m sure it will bring back lots of great memories from those of you who also knew Shumake. I’ll let you know when it’s available.

OK, that's it for today. Have a great Friday. I know I'll have a great Saturday, and I hope to see some of you there.

More Garlits and 'Snake'Friday, November 15, 2013
Posted by: Phil Burgess

Wow, what a surprise. There are a few Don Garlits and Don Prudhomme fans out there among the Insider Nation. Who knew?

Yeah, so response to last week’s partially off-the-wall comparison of the similarities between the two Dons was a pretty big hit (even “the Snake,” his own bad self, stopped me during pre-race Sunday in Pomona to tell me he’d enjoyed it) and elicited quite a few comments from the peanut gallery, but, other than Ron Bikacsan’s note that neither are related, even by six degrees of separation to Kevin Bacon, it appears that I pretty much exhausted all of the coincidental touchpoints in their lives and careers.

Terry Kickerbocker couldn’t help but note that despite my “constant protestations” that I am “stretched to the limit” and never have enough time to do all that I need to, he thinks I have “entirely toooooo much time” on my hands to research stuff like this. Maybe so, but the truly sick thing is that I pretty much came up with about 90 percent of them in my head instead of deriving them from hours of research.


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Probably my largest investment was going through their voluminous photo files (each pretty much occupies a full file cabinet drawer) to look for photos of them together. I didn’t find as many as I expected, but reader Rich Perez passed along a few others, which you can see in the gallery at right.

The first image in the gallery is the cover of the February 1972 issue of Hot Rod for an article on Ed Donovan’s aluminum 417 nitro engine featuring, from left, John Wiebe, Prudhomme, Donovan, and Garlits. Wiebe, of course, got the first Donovan and made it fly, which opened the floodgates, but I was puzzled by the inclusion of Prudhomme and Garlits. Neither of them by that time had run the Donovan; Garlits, who switched to Milodon blocks in the mid-1970s, ran a Donovan briefly in 1977, but I don’t think “the Snake,” who was loyal to either Keith Black or Ed Pink, ever did.

Looking at the magazine cover my first thought was to call photo shenanigans, at least on the Prudhomme inclusion. Wiebe has his hand on a head stud, Garlits on the blower belt, but Prudhomme almost looks like he was added into the background behind the other three. So I dragged out my copy of Hot Rod Magazine: All The Covers and found the original photo as set up by HRM Photo Editor Mike Brenner, showing the foursome posed on seamless paper (second image). Hah! Shows what I know.

The third image in the gallery shows “the Snake” and “Big Daddy” posing together at what looks like Orange County Int’l Raceway for a Revell ad touting its new 1/16th-scale model. Very cool. Thanks, Rich!

I had mentioned last week that there were three times in their careers where they entered a year tied for most wins, and one of the requests that I got was to show a year-by-year accounting of each of the Don’s wins, so you can find that in the table below. I added a third column to show Pro Stock icon Bob Glidden’s meteoric rise to the top despite giving the Dons a huge head start of about a decade.

Year Garlits season wins
(career total)
Prudhomme season wins
(career total)
Glidden season wins
(career total))
1963 1 (1) 0  Did not compete 
1964 1 (2) 0  Did not compete 
1965 0 2 (2)  Did not compete 
1966  0  0  Did not compete 
1967 1 (3) 1 (3)  Did not compete 
1968 2 (5)  0  Did not compete 
1969  0 1 (4)  Did not compete 
1970  0 1 (5)  Did not compete 
1971 2 (7)  0  Did not compete 
1972 1 (8)  0
1973 2 (10) 1 (6) 1 (1)
1974 1 (11) 2 (8) 3 (4)
1975 4 (15) 6 (14) 4 (8)
1976  0 7 (21) 1 (9)
1977 1 (16) 3 (24) 4 (13)
1978 2 (18) 3 (27) 7 (20)
1979 3 (21) 1 (28) 7 (27)
1980  0 2 (30) 4 (31)
1981  0 2 (32) 3 (34)
1982  0 2 (34) 1 (35)
1983  0  0 4 (39)
1984 2 (23)  0 2 (41)
1985 6 (29)  0 5 (46)
1986 5 (34)  Did not compete 6 (52)
1987 1 (35) 1 (35) 8 (60)
1988  Did not compete 2 (37) 7 (67)
1989  Did not compete  3 (40) 9 (76)
1990   Did not compete 3 (79)
1991  Did not compete  3 (43) 1 (80)
1992  0 3 (46) 2 (82)
1993  0 2 (84)
1994   Did not compete 3 (49)  0
1995   Did not compete Retired  1 (85)


The 1960s: Both were running in Top Fuel in the decade, and Garlits’ first win, at the 1963 Winternationals, was actually Prudhomme’s national event debut with the Greer-Black Prudhomme car. Garlits won the 1964 Nationals before Prudhomme became nationally famous by driving Roland Leong’s Hawaiian to wins at the Winternationals and Nationals in 1965.

Both went winless in 1966; it was Prudhomme’s first solo foray with the B&M Torkmaster car while Garlits was experimenting with his first 426 in the red-painted Swamp Rat 10; it’s also the year that Garlits’ father died.

Prudhomme won the Springnationals in Bristol in 1967 with sixes in the Brand Ford Special, and Garlits followed with his second Nationals win, the memorable shaving-on-the-starting-line after finally running his first six in the final with the back-in-black Swamp Rat 11. Garlits won the Springnationals and the Nationals (again!) in 1968 with Swamp Rat 12-B while “the Snake” went winless with the Shelby Super Snake.

Prudhomme won the Nationals for the second time in 1969, driving his Wynn’s Winder to victory; Garlits was driving the fateful Swamp Rat 13 and experimenting with two-speed transmissions, a combination that would maim him the following March at Lions.

The 1970s: Garlits sat out the 1970 season recuperating from his devastating injuries, and Prudhomme joined him as a three-time Indy champ that year, winning the explosively memorable final round over Jim Nicoll. Garlits was back in action in 1971 with the new rear-engine car and famously won the Winternationals in its debut as well as the Springnationals. Prudhomme was trying to run his new Hot Wheels Funny Car and the weird “slab-sided” dragster, and the split effort showed; he didn’t run but half of the events and, for the first time in his career, was first-round fodder when he did.

Prudhomme’s last full season in Top Fuel was 1972 with the Yellow Feather and the Hot Wheels wedge, and though he reached the quarterfinals on several occasions, he didn’t win. Garlits, by now heavy into AHRA and warring with Wally Parks, won the only NHRA race he entered, the Gatornationals. Garlits beat the year’s killer e.t. car, the Jack McKay New Dimension machine with Clayton Harris in the saddle, and Garlits went as far as pouring tablespoons of oil into his own headers before he fired to try to psyche Harris into thinking that his engine was wounded.

Prudhomme got back into the winner’s circle in 1973 with his first Funny Car win, at the Nationals, where he became the first to win the Big Go in both nitro classes. Garlits bookended his season with wins on Prudhomme’s California home turf at the Winternationals and Supernationals. Garlits won the combo Supernationals/World Finals again in 1974 in Ontario while “the Snake” conquered Indy again and also won Garlits’ hometown Gatornationals.

Garlits had a strong 1975 with three wins and his first championship, but Prudhomme, of course, went that far better with six wins in eight events and his first title with the vaunted Army Monza. Prudhomme’s 1976 encore was seven wins in eight races and, for the first time since the 1967 Springnationals, had more career wins than Garlits, who boycotted the NHRA tour that year. Prudhomme won three more times in 1977 (including his sixth Indy) en route to his third straight championship while Garlits only ran about two-thirds of the events and scored only (again) at the Gatornationals.

Despite three more wins in 1978 and his fourth championship, it was clear that pack was closing on Prudhomme; Garlits won the Gatornationals and Indy, the latter for the fifth time. Garlits won three times in 1979 to close the decade while Prudhomme won just once, over an eight-car field at le Grandnational in Canada, and relinquished his long-worn crown to Raymond Beadle.

The 1980s: Despite occasional forays into NHRA competition – most notably his 1982 runner-up to Shirley Muldowney at the Gatornationals (where she memorably ranked him as a “marginal” driver before a national TV audience) – Garlits wouldn’t win again on the NHRA trail until his Rocky-like comeback at the 1984 U.S. Nationals as he protested various NHRA rules he didn’t like and experimented with wild machines, like his sidewinder and turbine cars, and ran IHRA and AHRA events.

The early 1980s weren’t that kind to Prudhomme either. He still won his share but began to fall down the final standings chart: sixth in 1980, seventh in 1983, and a stunning 10th in 1984. Not that “the Snake” couldn’t still bring it – witness the first 250-mph Funny Car pass and unreal 5.63 in 1982 – but the killer instinct seemed to have been worn out as he went winless in 1983, 1984, and 1985, his first skunkings in a decade. “The Snake” sat out the 1986 season – his first sabbatical ever – looking for funding.

Garlits, meanwhile, had experienced a career renaissance and – in some people’s minds, including mine – almost single-handedly saved Top Fuel from extinction with his inspiring win at Indy and a follow-up at the Finals. While Prudhomme was struggling, Garlits put together back-to-back 1985-86 seasons of six and five wins and championships No. 2 and 3 while looking like the “Big Daddy” of old and opened 1987 with his 35th – and, ultimately, final – win. It was very cool for new fans of the 1980s to get a glimpse of how tough “the Old Man” used to be in his heyday.

Prudhomme returned in 1987 with backing from Skoal that would last through the end of his driving career and won the Gatornationals that year, defeating the car of his longtime pal Roland Leong (Johnny West driving) in the final. He and Garlits were tied then with 345 careers win. Prudhomme got some more of his mojo back and had a top-five car from 1987 to 1988 but looked like he was all the way back in 1989, especially a national-record-setting weekend in Indy when he swept the Big Bud Shootout and his seventh and final U.S. Nationals crown.

If 1987 was Prudhomme’s comeback win, it was also the beginning of the end for Garlits. He had walked away unhurt and unfazed from his 1986 Englishtown blowover but another just before Indy in 1987 broke two ribs and injured his back. Other than a guest shot in Shirley Muldowney’s car in the opening qualifying session at the NHRA event in Dallas in late 1989 in an attempt to add a 4-Second Club membership card to his already bulging billfold (he just missed with a 5.07), he wouldn’t race again until 1992.

The 1990s: With his Funny Car at the top of its game in 1989, it surprised a lot of people when he announced that he was returning to Top Fuel in 1989. He admitted he had been spooked by Don Gay Jr.’s nasty fire at the 1989 event in Denver – Prudhomme not only ran alongside him but helped pull him out of the smoldering chassis – and wanted the engine behind him, but there were other reasons.

"We had thought of doing this in 1987, but I didn't want to leave Funny Car running terrible,” he said. “I wanted to go out a winner. Now that we are running great, I can go out a winner. Top Fuel is the No. 1 class, and I want to be a part of it."

It wasn’t a warm welcome.

He backflipped his Skoal Bandit in December testing in Bakersfield and again at Le Grandnational in Canada and went winless in the season, but things got better. He opened 1991 with three runner-ups before reaching the winner’s circle in Columbus and won twice more that year (finishing third in points) and won three times again in 1992 (sixth place).

Garlits’ 1992 comeback lasted just a few runs. He competed at the Atlanta event, which Prudhomme won, but failed to qualify with his slick new monowinged Swamp Rat 32 but had unknowingly suffered detached retinas in both eyes during a two-parachute stop during pre-event testing in Gainesville. He retired (again) and turned the seat over to Bruce Larson. He’s run again this decade, just once, in a New Year’s Eve match race against Shirley Muldowney in Florida to celebrate the new millennium. He wouldn’t drive again until the 2001 U.S. Nationals, where he made his first four-second and 300-mph passes and then ran sporadically in 2002-03 before retiring (again).

Prudhomme finished out his final five seasons all in Top Fuel. After a winless 1993 campaign, his “Final Strike” retirement season was a great one with wins in Houston, Brainerd, and Dallas to take him to 49 career wins. Runner-up finishes in E-town and Topeka meant that milestone win No. 50 eluded him (although he did also win that year’s non-points Winston Invitational). He retired from driving after losing to Bob Vandergriff Jr. in round one at the Finals but went on to win Top Fuel season championships with Larry Dixon and race wins with drivers like Ron Capps, Tommy Johnson Jr., and Spencer Massey.

The Glidden factor: As you can see from the chart, it didn’t take long for Glidden to catch up thanks to his rampaging Ford Pro Stockers. After a runner-up in his first final at the 1972 Supernationals, he started piling up wins beginning in 1973 like they were going out of style. Within five seasons, he has surpassed Garlits' total and within seven had topped Prudhomme.

Prudhomme had been the first to reach the once unthinkable total of 25 wins (1978 Winternationals), but Glidden was the first to reach 50 wins (1986 Dallas) and 75 wins (1989 Reading). The fact that it took him just three seasons to go from 25 to 50 is testament to just how tough he was in that era.

Glidden’s only winless season came in 1994, but, despite a heart attack in December 1994, he came back to win his 85th and final event the next year in Englishtown.

Wow, that was a lot of fun and brought back a lot of good memories. It’s amazing sometimes to try to imagine the length of their careers and the thousands and thousands of runs they have made over their careers, all of the miles they’ve traveled, places they’ve raced, work they’ve done, and fans they have thrilled over the course of two amazing lifetimes. It's no wonder they're still regarded as gods.

Don-ning my Garlits-Prudhomme trivia capFriday, November 08, 2013
Posted by: Phil Burgess

While I was writing last week’s column and doing research comparing the careers of Don Prudhomme and Don Garlits, it struck as kind of interesting that two of the biggest names in our sport’s history, two of our most iconic heroes, both have the same first name. Spooky, right? As it turns out, that’s not the half of it.

They both won their first NHRA championships in 1975, and, despite a combined 84 career NHRA wins between them, they only shared the winner’s circle three times, all in that 1975 championship season. Finishing second behind them that year? Two Garys: Beck and Burgin.

It kind of reminds me of that macabre list of “coincidences” that people cite when talking about the assassinations of presidents Abraham Lincoln and John F. Kennedy (Lincoln was elected president in 1860; Kennedy in 1960; both of their successors were named Johnson; Andrew Johnson, who succeeded Lincoln, was born in 1808; Lyndon Johnson, who succeeded Kennedy, was born in 1908; the names Lincoln and Kennedy each contain seven letters; and so on).

So, with nothing better to do on the short workweek before the launch of the Auto Club NHRA Finals in Pomona – a venue, by the way, where both drivers scored six wins in their careers – I thought I’d get a little silly (I know. Me? Seriously …) and see what other coincidences might “Don” on me.

OK, well here’s some low-hanging fruit. Each made a stupefying pass – Garlits in 1975 and Prudhomme in 1982 – for which they’ll forever be remembered, and both had the same elapsed time: 5.63. Here’s where it (read: I) gets weird. The sum of the numbers 5+6+3 = 14, which divided by two (racers) equals seven, the number of years between the two passes. Mind = blown, right?

Before they became racing superstars, both painted cars for a living.

Both married – and remain married – to their high-school sweethearts, Pat for Garlits and Lynn for Prudhomme.

Both have daughters named Donna. Garlits has a second daughter, Gay Lynn (middle name ring a bell?).

At one time both had Wynn’s as the primary sponsors of their front-engine dragsters.

Both scored their first career wins at the Winternationals (1963 for Garlits and 1965 for Prudhomme).

Both have animal nicknames (“Swamp Rat” and “the Snake”) that are eight characters long, as is Garlits’ other sobriquet, “Big Daddy.”

Each suffered two wheelstand blowovers in their Top Fuel careers (Garlits in 1986 and 1987 and Prudhomme twice in 1990).

They both were the first in their class to breach the 250-mph barrier at an NHRA national event. (Garlits also is credited in some places with the first 240-mph Top Fuel run; Prudhomme made the first legit 240-mph Funny Car pass.)

In the early 1970s, both experimented briefly with aerodynamic Top Fuelers (the Wynn’s Liner for Garlits and the Hot Wheels wedge for Prudhomme).

At three times in their careers, they entered a season with the same number of wins: 1968 (3), 1975 (14), 1988 (35).

Despite a combined 113 final-round NHRA appearances, they never raced one another in an NHRA final round.

Both suffered terrible – yet, curiously, overlapping – four-year win droughts in their careers (Garlits 1980-83 and Prudhomme 1983-86), both of which spanned exactly 55 events. Hey, I don’t make this stuff up.

Both of their championships reigns were ended by Texans driving blue cars; Garlits by Richard Tharp in the Candies & Hughes dragster in 1976 and Prudhomme by Raymond Beadle in the Blue Max in 1979.

Neither was in the habit of letting other people drive their cars, but Butch Maas drove for both. Maas tested Garlits’ Wynn’s Liner in 1972 and drove “the Snake's” Top Fueler at the 1970 Supernationals while Prudhomme was running his new Funny Car.

Good stuff, so what else ya got there, Master P? Glad you asked …

They were born 3,371 days apart (Garlits on Jan. 14, 1932, Prudhomme on April 6, 1941). 3+3+7+1 = 14. Prudhomme won 14 more NHRA Wallys than Garlits (49 to 35). Math is fun!

Black is Garlits’ favorite color; Keith Black was Prudhomme’s first crew chief.

Garlits’ middle name is Glenn. Prudhomme's mother was born in Louisiana, as was Glenn Menard, who managed Irwindale Raceway, where both Garlits and Prudhomme competed. (I know, weird, right?)

Prudhomme’s middle name is Ray; Garlits is originally from Tampa, Fla., home of a Major League Baseball team called the Rays.

Both of their full names – Donald Glenn Garlits and Donald Ray Prudhomme – have 18 letters. Coincidence? I think not.

And finally, neither driver ever picked a fight with Ed McCulloch (who, I must admit, looks pretty surly in the photo with them above).

That’s a pretty good list, no? I bet you have stuff to add to it. I look forward to reading them!
 

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