To some folks, Paul Candies was “just” the wallet behind the fabulously successful Candies & Hughes race teams that terrorized the strip for four decades. Leonard Hughes was the tuning mastermind, and guys like Mark Oswald, Richard Tharp, Dave Settles, and Leroy Goldstein were the capable wheelmen who got the job done and hoisted the trophies at day’s end. But reading the outpouring of love and respect on numerous message-board postings the last few days, it’s clear that he was way more than that.
Through it all, I always pictured Candies as the conscience of the team, the true Southern gentleman who did not flaunt his considerable wealth yet knew how to use it in a beneficent way. I can just as easily picture him in a tuxedo (white, for some reason, with tails) at some fancy affair as I can a polo shirt and a ball cap, sweating with the rest of us in the pits in Englishtown. Our paths crossed numerous times during the course of working a race, but Hughes was the guy we interviewed for the mechanical details and the driver for his thoughts about the race, and Paul was the guy we BS'ed with while waiting for a chance to talk to his teammates. In the last few years, I probably got to spend more time with him at the track than in all of his racing years because he would frequently come to the media center to hang out and catch up with longtime pals like Dave Densmore, and he was a semi-regular at the Hot Rod Reunions.
I had just spoken to him recently – maybe it was Gainesville or Houston – and told him he and I needed to have a long, sit-down chat about the Candies & Hughes story, but, alas, it will never happen now, so I’ll tell his story through what I know and the kind contributions of those who knew him.
The Sidney Candies
Most everyone knows that the Candies family made its fortune in marine transportation, most notably in tugboats. Otto B. Candies founded Otto Candies in 1942, and Paul, his son, was its current president and COO, leading the business with his brothers, Otto Jr. and Kevin, and it remains a family business; you only have to look at this org chart to see that. Many of the ships in the fleet were named after members of the family, including the 131-foot Paul Candies, built in 1986. (Candies was known to many by his nickname, “Tugboat.”) The company has a number of impressive accomplishments, from being the first to deliver a complete production package from Houston to a North Sea oil field to transporting a Saturn rocket to Cape Canaveral to transporting an entire refinery from Houston to Puerto Rico – 6,000 tons of equipment – in a process that took 72 weeks to complete.
Candies joked to National Dragster in a 1980 interview (back when he “only” was in charge of sales and administration) that the job was “a good habit that is necessary to pay for my bad habit.”
Both Candies and Hughes were racers long before they partnered in 1964. Candies was the partner – and initially the driver – of a national-record-setting Top Gasser with "Q-Ball" Wale in the late 1950s and early 1960s until Wale’s death behind the wheel at Harmon Airport Dragstrip in Louisiana in July 1965. Candies had already given up the wheel to Wale, who, as Candies related for Competition Plus’ War Stories feature, told him, “I’ve watched you and what we’ve been doing. You’re not a very good mechanic. You’re not a really good driver either. My suggestion to you is to go home and learn how to make money so you can afford to hire people like me to do your business for you.”
Apparently, that stuck with Candies. Hughes was racing Chevrolet stockers and wanted to go faster but didn’t have the financial resources. Candies, whose engine-balancing shop Hughes frequented, did, so they partnered on a 426-powered SS/A ‘64 Plymouth. A few years later, they progressed into the exciting new FX class and then to Funny Car with a Logghe-built Barracuda that was a perennial top speed setter. Hughes set the national record in 1968 with a 7.87 in LaPlace, La., and set low e.t. and top speed at the U.S. Nationals and top speed at both the 1969 Winternationals and U.S. Nationals, the latter at a national speed record of 208.81.
Paul Candies and Roland Leong in 1970
That car had one of the starring roles in the historic first all-team final, at the 1970 Gatornationals, where Larry Reyes, driving the old car, faced off against Hughes in their new Don Hardy-built ’70 Barracuda. Reyes was fresh off his Winternationals win in Roland Leong's Hawaiian, and he and Leong were waiting for their flopper to be repainted, so they accepted the team’s offer to race one of the two cars. ("We were given our choice of cars, and I told Paul I'd take the old one because I had a habit of wrecking new cars," Reyes told National Dragster a few years ago.)
Orders were given to Reyes that it was important to their sponsors that Hughes and the new car win, which accounts for Hughes’ 7.29 to 7.12 “holeshot” victory over Reyes, who shut off on what well might have been the sport’s first six-second Funny Car pass. "Paul later told me that he wished he hadn't given in to that," Reyes said.
Hughes followed the Gatornationals win with a victory at the prestigious Super Stock Nationals in Pennsylvania and the No.1 qualifying spot in Indy, then won the Summernationals the following year. Hughes reached one more final, at the 1972 Springnationals, where he lost to Ed McCulloch, before transitioning out of the cockpit. He was replaced by former Ramchargers shoe Goldstein, who had begun driving a second C&H car earlier that year and the team’s new Top Fueler (in one memorable outing, Goldstein won in Top Fuel at the IHRA Longhorn Nationals and runner-upped in Funny Car). Goldstein also got the Candies & Hughes team on the NHRA scoreboard again with his Funny Car win at the 1973 Summernationals – the same race where new C&H Top Fuel driver Bill Wiggington set the national record at 6.03 -- before leaving the team at the end of that season.
Despite their flopper successes, the team switched exclusively to Top Fuel in 1974. Settles replaced Wiggington and carried the team to the Division 4 championship, its first Top Fuel victory, at the Gatornationals, and a second-place finish behind Gary Beck. Settles left the team at the end of 1975 to build an A/Fuel Dragster for himself, and the search for a new wheelman didn't take long. Candies not only had an eye for drivers, but also knew how to fit them into the team equation.
“I think our ability to work together and think together [was key],” said Candies in an interview not long ago. “Leonard was a very, very intelligent mechanic, and my business sense balanced the other side. I was able to keep it funded successfully and act as the go-between for him and the drivers and the rest of the crew. I think those things kept it pretty successful.”
Candies, center, with Leonard Hughes, left, and Richard Tharp in 1977
In 1976, Candies hired Tharp to take over the wheel after watching him set low e.t. at the 1975 Summernationals in Curt “Bones” Carroll’s dragster.
“We raced against Leonard and Paul a lot when they were running Funny Cars, so they knew who I was," Tharp told me last year. “Curt called and told me that Paul wanted to hire me for 1976 and gave me his blessing; he told me [Candies] was crazy if he didn’t hire me. A few days later, Paul called me, and I was hired, but Curt and I remained good friends.”
The team quickly scored a victory at the NHRA Cajun Nationals (then a non-points event, but, as the home race for the C&H team, the win probably meant more than the points) and won the Summernationals and the U.S. Nationals en route to the championship.
Tharp raced the blue Candies & Hughes dragster to four more final rounds (including a runner-up at the 1977 U.S. Nationals, where Tharp also became the fourth member of the 250-mph Club) and two additional victories (1977 Cajuns and 1979 Grandnational). In six NHRA seasons and 46 starts with the Candies & Hughes team, Tharp reached nine finals and five winner’s circles, qualified No. 1 seven times, always finished in the top 10, and compiled an impressive 82-46 win-loss record in the face of tough competition with Don Garlits, Shirley Muldowney, and Beck before he parted ways with the team after his free-spirited ways clashed one time too many with the no-nonsense Hughes, a relationship that even Candies could not keep afloat.
Candies and Tharp shared a laugh.
I talked to Tharp Tuesday, and he was still stunned by the news from three days earlier.
“When Raymond [Beadle] called me Sunday morning to tell me the news, I just went numb,” he admitted. “This is a hard one. It just caught everyone by surprise. We all thought Paul would be the last one of all of us to go.
“You couldn’t ask for a nicer person, period. I don’t think I ever met anyone who didn’t like Paul, and he did so much for so many people, especially in his community. Honestly, he made my career. I had some fame with the Blue Max, but he helped make me. We had such a good time together, sharing stories and laughing. What a great, great man.”
After Tharp’s dismissal, Candies again proved that he had an eye for talent as he plucked Oswald from relative obscurity to drive their car. Oswald and partner Tom Kattelman had been one of their toughest competitors on the IHRA trail but didn’t have many NHRA starts – but a runner-up in one of them, at the 1981 Summernationals -- put Candies' faith in the young Ohio wheelman.
Candies and Mark Oswald, who scored the majority of the Candies & Hughes wins while racing in both Top Fuel and Funny Car, 1982-90
“He was an excellent man and had a pure love for this sport as much as anyone who has ever been out here,” Oswald said in a statement earlier this week. “He meant everything to my career. I was just a guy working on his own race car when I attracted his attention, and he gave me the opportunity to drive a first-class race car. He was always behind you 100 percent, and everything was positive.”
In their first race together, they set the national speed record at the 1982 Winternationals, then went on to victories at the Cajun Nationals and the Summernationals. It was at the Summernationals where Oswald, Candies, and Hughes ran 5.618 to finally displace the 5.63-second national e.t. record held by Garlits since the 1975 World Finals, perhaps the longest-lasting national record in the sport's history. They also set the speed record in E-town at 254.23, which they bettered a few months later in Brainerd with a pass of 256.41.
Oswald finished second in the championship hunt that year behind Muldowney, who earned her third title, and, in what seemed like an odd move, the team returned to its Funny Car roots the next season. Some of its top foes no doubt chuckled when the team DNQ’d in its debut at the 1983 Winternationals. The laughing didn’t last long.
After a pair of early runner-ups, Oswald scored his first Funny Car win in Montreal, then scored again at the next race, the Summernationals, en route to a second-place finish (albeit a distant second) behind Frank Hawley and the Chi-Town Hustler team. The team began 1984 with backing from Old Milwaukee beer and reset the national record in Indy (5.69) and scored two wins and a clutch runner-up at the World Finals to hold off Billy Meyer and Kenny Bernstein for the crown. The championship made Candies & Hughes the first team to win NHRA season titles in both nitro classes. The team also won the IHRA Funny Car championship that season for an impressive double.
After a fruitless 1985, the team won three more times in 1986, twice in 1987, and twice in 1988 en route to a trio of second-place finishes (all behind Bernstein). Despite a win and five (!) runner-ups, it slipped to fourth in 1989, a spot it retained in 1990 despite three wins and a pair of runner-ups. All told, Oswald made 28 final-round appearances from 1983 to 1990 before sponsorship woes led to the team’s dissolution. Of the 28 wins by the Candies & Hughes team, Oswald was the driver for 17.
The Candies & Hughes name resurfaced four years later, with sponsorship from R.J. Reynolds’ Camel brand and veteran Gordie Bonin behind the wheel. Hughes had remained in the sport and had worked with Bonin and car owner Leong on the Hawaiian Vacation entry, so when RJR exec T. Wayne Robertson offered the Smokin' Joe’s/Camel deal to Candies & Hughes, Hughes was insistent that Bonin be the driver. “Best, best, best ever deal I've ever had,” Bonin told me earlier this week by email.
They won twice in 1994 and finished sixth in points but didn’t make the top 10 in 1995, which led to pressure from RJR, according to Bonin. He said that RJR tried to pressure Candies into getting tuning help for Hughes, but Candies stood by his old friend, saying that Hughes didn’t need any help, and the deal ended at the end of that year.
Though they were gone, they were not forgotten, and both were inducted into the International Drag Racing Hall of Fame in 1999.
Candies' philanthropy was well-known, inside and outside of racing. Former NHRA Competition Director Steve Gibbs remembered one instance at the Wally Parks NHRA Motorsports Museum presented by the Automobile Club of Southern California – to which Candies had generously donated two of his cars -- when NHRA founder Wally Parks was being feted for his 91st birthday. “Richie Clyne (of Imperial Palace Car Collection) would always send a huge bouquet of red roses, one for each year, and the roses were always auctioned off at the end of the night by emcee Dave McClelland to benefit the museum. A few bids had worked the price up to about $800, which I thought was pretty good, when Mac looked to the back of the room to acknowledge a bid from Paul. ‘What was that? … $9,100?’ Sold to Paul Candies, for $9,100!’ Paul then gave out a rose to each of the ladies in attendance. He was a class act.
"We all knew he had money and was in the upper levels of the business world, but he always had time for us blue-collar guys. He was so generous to so many people, probably more than anyone will ever know. I go back 40 years with him, and it was my great fortune to cross paths with him.”
Candies also was chairman of the International Grand Isle Tarpon Rodeo, an event founded by his father 85 years ago that brings more than 15,000 sport and recreational fishers and tourists to Grand Isle, a city on a Louisiana barrier island in the Gulf of Mexico. Candies’ love for the community was evident when the town suffered chronic water shortages before the 2000 installation of a water line. Candies barged water onto the island to help with demand and donated the land where the rodeo pavilion was constructed. He passed four days before this year's event was to begin.
"He was hosting a group of his dear friends on a fishing trip. This was a ritual for him and his friends to do some fishing down there before the rodeo,'' said his niece, Nicki Candies. "My uncle had a love of life and a joy in friends and his family that is unparalleled.''
Services for Candies were held Wednesday, and, as was only fitting, there was an all-star turnout that included former partner Hughes; drag racing legends Don Prudhomme, Beadle, Don Schumacher, and Dale Armstrong; former C&H drivers Tharp and Settles; Dale and Brenda Emery, Billy and Debra Meyer, Boogie Scott, Chuck Haase, Rahn Tobler, NHRA's Graham Light, Steve and Gloria Gibbs, Seth Angel, Bob Stange, Jim Dupuy, Densmore, Jon Asher, Brett Underwood, Grant Lynch; and current-day racers, family members, business associates, and friends.
“It was a respectable, simple, and brief service, as Paul had requested, but it was very classy, just what you would expect for Paul Candies,” Gibbs told me yesterday. “One thing that the minister said that I felt was really spot-on was that Paul loved greatly and was loved greatly. He loved his family, his friends, his life, his fun, his god, and his country.”
Those are two fitting codas and echo so many of the comments from his racing peers I’ve talked to in the last couple of days. Paul Candies was a man who loved his friends and his family, was generous and caring, and was beloved by all. He’ll be greatly missed.
NHRA Members can check out my companion feature, a scrapbook of some of the famous Candies & Hughes cars, on NationalDragster.net.
Of all the people I’ve come to know in the more than 30 years on this job, few have been as gracious and friendly as Bernie Fedderly, the Hall of Fame crew chief best known for his work with the likes of Terry Capp, Gary Beck, and John Force.
As you may know, this year, Bernie followed his good friend and fellow former John Force Racing crew chief Austin Coil into retirement after 33 seasons on tour. He didn’t get a big send-off, and, in typical easygoing Fedderly fashion, gracefully melted away into a more relaxing role in life; we’ve missed his easygoing nature on the road this year. I called him last week for information about the famed Larry Minor machine that shattered records in 1983 under his capable tuning for my weekly My Favorite Fuelers column on NationalDragster.net.
Unfortunately, he and wife Mary were in the midst of making the permanent move of their worldly possessions from their longtime home base in Hemet, Calif., to Brownsburg, Ind., where he had been based during the latter years of his JFR tenure. By the time he got back to me early this week, the original article had been published, but, hey, since I had him on the line, I’m not one to waste a good opportunity, so I thought I’d share his remarkable story here instead.
The Capp & Fedderly Pioneer Anglia gasser
Terry Capp, Bernie Fedderly, and crewmember Al Mah surprised the field with their win at the 1980 U.S. Nationals from the final 32-car field in NHRA history.
Although he and Capp first came to national attention with their surprising win over the NHRA's last 32-car Top Fuel field at the 1980 U.S. Nationals, the Edmonton, Alta., duo had been friends since they were classmates at St. Joseph's High School, where he took automotive classes and spent his weekends with other members of the Capitol City Hot Rod Association. He enrolled at Northern Alberta Institute of Technology, ultimately earning a degree as an engine technician (his first job was as a fleet mechanic for a Canadian dairy firm "just keeping the milk trucks running").
He and Capp raced together with the Pioneer Anglia gasser and gas dragsters before teaming with Canadian businessman Wes Van Duesen in the late 1960s to go nitro racing, which included a simultaneous match-race-only Funny Car and a Top Fueler in the mid-1970s before settling on Top Fuel, but the learning curve was sometimes steep.
“We stumbled along for a couple of years trying to learn the trade and turned the corner when we switched to a late-model engine and got some better equipment,” he recalled. Among the improvements in 1980 was the second new-design Top Fuel chassis built by Al Swindahl, whose pipe soon would become as big a part of winning in Top Fuel as nitromethane. At that time, they were sponsored by the Wheeler Dealer speed shop, in which Capp was a part owner, and that helped their cause greatly.
“We finally won our first national event, an AHRA Grand American in Tulsa [Okla.] in 1979, and that was a stepping-stone to our Indy win. We’d done fairly well in Indy every year, and we just kept getting better. Winning Indy was a big deal for us.”
Despite the points and a half awarded to the Indy champ, they didn’t crack the top 10 in 1980 but accomplished the feat the following year, finishing seventh on the strength of runner-ups in Atlanta and Baton Rouge, La. Despite the success, the team was having problems getting the financial ends to meet, and after opening the 1982 season in Pomona with slim sponsorship prospects, they reluctantly parked the car.
Fedderly joined the Minor team in mid-1982, just as its big blue machine was about to go on a performance bender. Coincidence? I think not.
Fedderly didn’t stay idle long, though. Longtime friend Beck, a Seattle native who had raced extensively in Canada for north-of-the-border owners in the 1970s before joining Minor’s team in 1980, came calling. Despite two near-championship seasons in 1980 and 1981 and a penchant for strong performances, the Minor team was in a performance funk early in 1982, and Beck pushed Minor to hire Fedderly.
“They’d run good the previous fall [when Beck set the all-time e.t. mark at 5.57 at the 1981 World Finals], but they lost the combination and were struggling a bit,” recalled Fedderly, who joined the team in June. “They had a variety of people who had been tuning the car, so I didn’t take anyone’s job. I had quite a bit of experience with the centrifugal clutch from Terry’s car; the Minor car had a pedal clutch, and it had kind of run its course. I was able to bring that knowledge to the program, then got heavily involved in the tune-up.
“I had an automotive machine shop, and my partner was available to take it over, so it seemed like a good opportunity. I thought I was only going to be there for a short time, but it turned into 10 years.”
A runner-up in Brainerd in August showed they were on the right path, and Beck’s crushing barrier-breaking 5.48 in the first round in Indy put everyone on notice. They finished the season with back-to-back runner-ups in California at Fremont and Orange County, leading to a memorable 1983 season in which they won four times (five if you count Minor’s stunning and unintentional final-round win over Beck at the Cajun Nationals) and made 17 of the season’s 18 quickest runs, topped by the matching 5.391-second passes at Fremont and Orange County. For their efforts in 1983, Fedderly, Beck, and Minor were named Car Craft Magazine Person(s) of the Year.
“We had a lot of fun that year,” he said. “We just kind of stumbled onto a happy combination; that’s just the way it is sometimes. It was very user-friendly and made lots of power and worked well with Gary’s driving style, and we had a good blower that was steady and didn’t need a lot of maintenance.
“Everyone wondered what we had going. I remember one time Tim Richards [crew chief then for Joe Amato] standing on the starting line while Gary was staging the car, and he was almost in the car with him.
The Minor machine made 17 of 1983's 18 quickest passes, but none was more stunning than the 5.391 pass laid on Gary Ormsby in the final round of the Golden Gate Nationals, a feat duplicated at the next race, the World Finals, where Beck earned his third season championship.
“It was a combination of a lot of things, from the tune-up to the heads to the chassis and the clutch; no one part that anyone could have copied would have made a difference for them, but when people are asking you questions, you never know which piece of the puzzle they’re missing. You have to be careful.”
The missing piece in the 5.391 puzzle turned out to be a new larger-volume fuel pump from Sid Waterman that they got in Fremont. “We had run pretty well before that, but we had been eagerly waiting for Sid’s new pump. It wasn’t much more than another five gallons per minute of flow, but it was the difference.”
The 1984 season was another success, with three wins and another second-place finish – Beck’s third in the past five seasons– this time behind Amato and Richards and their paradigm-shifting, high-wing entry, a design that the Minor team initially eschewed.
“Eldon Rasmussen was pushing us to run the big wing for some time, but we resisted it,” said Fedderly. “We thought it would be too much drag, but that didn’t turn out to be the case.”
Falling a little behind the aero tech curve was further exacerbated by the team’s rapid expansion, which included a lot more races for Minor’s own car and the addition of a Funny Car, driven by Ed McCulloch. They also were understaffed.
“We really diluted our program by having more cars; we were spread thin,” he said. “For three cars, we only had a few of us who were full-time team members: Me, Gary, Ed, and Willie Wolter were about it. Larry liked to bring his friends to the races to help us, but it wasn’t like they were there to help with the maintenance between events. We could have used some more help.”
Beck won just once more – at the 1985 Finals – before he left the team after the 1986 campaign. Fedderly moved to the Funny Car operation, where through 1991 he won 12 times with McCulloch while the dragsters – with Minor and drivers that included Shirley Muldowney, Frank Hawley, and Cruz Pedregon – struggled to win in the shadow of the reemergence of Don Garlits, hot new challenger Darrell Gwynn, and cagey veterans Dick LaHaie (who was actually part of Team Minor for a period) and Eddie Hill.
"It was kind of disappointing,” Fedderly said of the dragsters’ dry spell, “but you always think that the next race you get to you’ll get it straightened out; that’s the eternal hope that drag racers are known for. You’re always one turn of the screw from salvation. Looking back, it was something special and some really happy times.”
As crew chief for Minor's Otter Pops- and Miller-sponsored Funny Cars driven by all-star Ed McCulloch, right, Fedderly and "the Ace" won 12 times, broke performance barriers, and finished second in points behind John Force in 1990.
As the crew chief on McCulloch’s Miller Funny Car, they were the first to break the 5.40-, 5.30-, and 5.20-second barriers and finished as high as second in the standings, in 1990 behind Force, who won the title for the first time that year. It was also McCulloch and Fedderly in the other lane in Montreal in 1987 when Force finally won his first final round after nine runner-ups, with the Miller mount succumbing to a broken blower snout.
The good times came to an end in early 1992, when Fedderly was tuning on the McDonald’s Funny Car, then driven by Pedregon. Although the car would go on to win the championship and break Force’s two-year reign at the top, mechanical woes led to a lot of friction between Fedderly and Minor.
“We blew the body off the car on the starting line three times at the hit of the throttle,” he remembered painfully. “Larry and I had a difference of opinion about what was causing it, and it led to leaving the team after the Gatornationals, but I have nothing bad to say about Minor’s program; it was a good stepping-stone for me.
“I don’t think I’d even gotten home, and Force was on the phone. I wasn’t sure about the fit over there, but Force asked me to come to one race with them to see. It was Atlanta, and we won that race, and I could see that there was room for me in the program.”
The "brain trust" of Austin Coil, left, and Fedderly led to a decade of unparalleled Funny Car dominance by John Force.
Fedderly got along fabulously with crew chief Coil, and they formed a dynamic alliance that Force coined his “brain trust.” Force won his third season championship that year, making Fedderly just the second crew chief (behind Leonard Hughes) to have won NHRA championships in both Top Fuel and Funny Car. Since then, Dale Armstrong and Rahn Tobler also have accomplished the feat.
“Coil and I got along real well. We really hit it off. What a clever guy,” marveled Fedderly. "One time he told me, ‘The reason we’re such a great team is that I know all of the important stuff, and you know all the rest.’ That was typical Coil.
“He was the senior guy, but other than that, I felt we were equals. We worked really well together and played off of each other’s strengths. He was a brilliant guy, technically, but his mannerisms didn’t always promote harmony on the team; that was my role. I handled a lot of the other personnel stuff and got to where we had a pretty stable race team.”
Keeping upwards of 30 guys happy is a major chore for a guy who started fuel racing when a big team was three guys, including the driver.
“I did whatever needed doing,” he said simply.
Fedderly, Coil, Mike Neff, and Force celebrated Force's 15th season championship in 2010. Fedderly was instrumental in 13 of those titles.
From 1992 through 2012, Fedderly and Coil tuned Force to 109 national event wins and 13 season championships and won NHRA’s Funny Car bonus race five times, the Winston Invitational four times, and the inaugural Funny Car vs. Top Fuel Winston Showdown in 1999.
There were plenty of downs to go with the ups, and Fedderly was part of it all, from the loss of rising star Eric Medlen -- whom Fedderly initially had hired as a mechanic -- to Force’s near-career-ending accident in 2007. He was also there for the beginning of the next generation, hiring Robert Hight -- who would go on to be a championship-winning driver for the team -- as a mechanic in 1994 (“He initially turned us down, but I called him back, and he accepted; it’s a good thing because he’s been such a great asset to the program”) and, of course, being part of the growth and ascension of Force’s daughters Ashley, Brittany, and Courtney.
"It was never boring, that's for sure," he reflected. "Force sometimes had a hundred ideas an hour, and it was up to us to make them happen, and sometimes that was pretty challenging, but we got through it. Some of the safety things that came from those times are important advances. Losing Eric and John's accidents definitely were the down times; we went through some pretty low periods.
“Working for John Force was a really special and interesting time,” he said, probably understating the obvious. “We didn’t lack for anything. Force reinvested in the program, anything we needed, and it shows in the results. Force was never afraid to step up, and he wasn't afraid to try and gave all of us quite an education. He knew how to create chemistry and put the right people together.”
Even after he retired, the plaudits for Fedderly kept coming. Already a member of the Canadian Motorsports Hall of Fame, he was inducted into the International Drag Racing Hall of Fame earlier this year.
What comes next? He’s enjoying the downtime, less-stressful trips to the drags, including hanging out with former partner Capp, who has been involved in nostalgia racing (don’t expect a rebirth, though), and just having time to himself and his wife.
“It’s kind of nice not to have to set the alarm clock each morning,” he said, “and I’m not bored yet, so I’m just enjoying everything, or I will once we finish this move.”
Now that the four in a row on the NHRA Mello Yello “big show” stage is history — with a week off before the three-in-a-row Western Swing — I get a brief chance to catch my breath after a busy month. Norwalk was great fun, as it always is. It rained every day but never enough or at the “right” time to put a dent in the show, and against all forecaster odds, we got out of there on Monday.
Thursday was the Fourth of July, and we were in town a day early to save costs — it costs a ton more to fly on the Fourth than the 3rd — so we had a rare “day off” and went into Cleveland to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, then tried to catch a fireworks shows later that night by freeloading on the Cedar Point show from the opposite shore, but it was a bust. The Bader family fireworks show Friday night at the track was about a 100 times better, and we didn’t have to fend off dime-sized spiders (that’s a whole other story).
It’s not uncommon while I’m at the races to run into a resident of the Insider Nation — thanks to all for the appreciation; I love to hear your thoughts and ideas — but on Sunday, I got the chance to meet reader and sometime contributor Mark Whitmer, who was having a pretty good day himself. He was picked as the winner in Ford’s Mustang 5.0 Fever drawing — he entered last year at Indy — and won a sweet new Mustang (black). He got the royal treatment at the event from the Ford and Motorcraft folks, and even though the pre-race ceremony was canceled due to threatening weather, NHRA officials were able to acknowledge him as he rode down the return road in his shiny new ride with Ford Funny Car driver Bob Tasca III at the wheel before he was handed the keys.
He had sent me an email before the event asking for a meet up, and I was only too happy to help make his special day a little more special. As you can see in the photo, he was enjoying life. He also wanted to show me his pride and joy — tucked away safely in the trunk — Darrel Kimble’s cutaway drawing of Kenny Bernstein’s 1984 Budweiser King Tempo Funny Car, which dovetailed with the recent X-ray art I’ve been showing. Whitmer had gotten it from a local Ford dealership parts department, and it’s become “a family treasure.”
I didn’t get a chance to shoot a pic of it, but, coincidentally, a few days before the racer, reader Mike Currie had turned me on to his image of the same drawing (above) that’s super cool and a bit different in that, as you can see in the blowup at right, it also offers a view of inside the cylinder head — you probably can’t see it so well here in this version, but click on the photo to get a bigger view — showing parts of the valvetrain and even a piston. Pretty cool.
“I know that it came from a centerspread and that it must have been around 1984, but I'm not sure what magazine or anything else related to a possible article to go with the drawing,” he wrote. “I do remember taking a great deal of care when cutting the drawing out of the rest of the page as it has always bothered me when someone in a magazine ‘art department’ would do a hack job of trimming a subject car from the rest of a photo, resulting in a distorted image, usually around the tire/wheelwell area and corresponding shadows. I mounted my cutout cutaway to a piece of foam core and still enjoy it very much. I know David Kimble has done many other similar cutaway drawings — Corvettes, Ferraris and other types of race cars — but this is the only drag car I have ever seen done by him.”
Currie also included the image at left above, which was the cover of the September 1972 issue of Drag Racing USA
, showing a huge wheelstand by “Flash Gordon” Mineo (photo by Gary Densford) and was one of a handful of images sold within each issue of DRUSA
through Newport Productions, but somewhere in the production process, as you can see in the photo at right, a hand was added to the poster, flashing the ‘V for Victory’ symbol so popular then.
This, of course, was pre-PhotoShop but certainly within the skills of any capable art director but is a very curious addition. The poster version also is cropped more loosely and reveals the venue to be Orange County Int’l Raceway, but I also saw something that Currie didn’t (or at least that he didn’t mention): a considerable amount of smoke seems to have been added surrounding the rear tires for the magazine cover. And it’s clear from visual background references that the car hasn’t moved yet the smoke in the cover photo looks so real. Hmmmmm.
So, this whole thing got the ol’ brain whirring (a dangerous thing, as you all know), and I dug a bit deeper into the story. According to our good pal Steve Reyes (two of whose photos were among those sold by Newport), Newport Productions was owned by — guess who? — Gary Densford.
And I hate to burst anyone’s bubble — especially mine! — but it turns out that the entire photo is a fake. (then again, that’s why you come here, right, for “the stories behind the stories?”)
According to Reyes, “Mineo and Densford propped up an engineless Funny Car with taped-on headers. A hose was run into the exhaust pipe of a piece of junk car that Densford drove to the shoot. With the car running, Gary had Ann Mineo pour oil into the carb, producing billows of smoke. Gary hits the shutter on his camera as the oil smoke covers the starting line. Gary got his photo and cover, and Mineo got a cover without firing or having an engine in his car.”
So, obviously, the extra smoke in the cover version is from an alternate take with the immobile car. Awesome. The arm in the window is either Mineo's after he climbed up into the car or a fake arm (maybe Willie Borsch's arm, no?)
According to Reyes, Densford now is the president of North Carolina-based ice-racing sanction body ICE/International Championship Events.
Reyes also offered some behind-the-scenes commentary on the cover image from that final issue of Drag Racing USA, as he was (big surprise) in on the shoot.
“It took place about a mile from where I was living in Playa Del Rey,” he recalled. “Jeff Tinsley was staying with me and needed a place to shoot his cover of Dennis Fowler’s AA/FC, so I took him over the hill in Playa Del Rey where all the houses were torn down. Playa Del Rey had about half of the city torn down because it was on the landing path of LAX. All the streets were there and light fixtures with sidewalks, just no houses. And yes, it was kinda fenced off from the public — at least most of it.
"We found a large fence opening and pushed the Funny Car in and waited for the sun to set. Tinsley then started to rapid fire his Nikon. He got his cover in about 20 minutes, and we got the heck outta Dodge. They did have an airport police patrol car come by after we had finished, but since we were on the correct side of the fence, they couldn’t do anything — another fun photo shoot.”
Having grown up in that area, I'm very familiar with the place Reyes is talking about. It was definitely an eerie place, something right out of The Twilight Zone, and a place where some young, car-crazy, would-be filmmaker and aspiring journalist I know might have — and I stress might have — found the urge to get together with some of his hypothetical friends to film some questionable automotive acrobatics on a "closed course," as the commercials say. Alas, had this happened it would have been shot on Super 8 movie film in the pre-YouTube days but since converted to DVD for use as a purely instructional video for the next generation to learn from
my his misdeeds. Hypothetically, of course.
One of my Norwalk disappointments was a missed connection with Frank Mazi, the genius (?) behind the idea to let me drive his short-wheelbased supercharged Opel way back in 1984 for a story that still gets mentioned almost every time my name does. He was only at the track on Saturday, and, due largely in part of the poor cellphone reception at the track, we traded missed phone calls and never met up.
As I wrote two weeks ago, Mazi is finally back behind the wheel of a race car, Rudy Tomsich's Expensive Noise Arias Hemi-head Chevrolet-powered A/Fuel Dragster, and made his first run, a half-track shutoff pass, in Thompson, Ohio, last Wednesday. Daughter Dawn and her husband, Mark Hovsepian, naturally were on hand to capture the great (and somewhat emotional first pass) with their video cameras, including an onboard view, as you can see here.
“It was thrilling to experience a Mazi-controlled throttle once again,” Mark wrote me, “and an amazing and stark contrast from the Opel. Long wheelbase vs. short, injected vs. blown, nitro vs. gas, digger vs. door car, etc. He was 'Prudhomme cool’ through the day.”
He looks right at home in this video, even though he did tell me — on a short phone call once we did catch up — that Dawn’s editing made him look better than he was.
Simply sweet; that's Cory Lee at the wheel
And finally, check out this great gallery of photos sent to me by photographer Jim White of the Vel’s/Parnelli Jones Mustang Funny Car that’s currently housed at the Wally Parks NHRA Motorsports Museum presented by AAA. White shot the car last week for an upcoming article in Drag Racer
magazine on cars of the NHRA Museum and, noting the recent thread here, included an X-ray version for our enjoyment.
“We took the body off for the first time since the '70s; the car is completely untouched, even the inspection tags said 1975 on them and also a lot of fire damage, too,” he said. “They just parked the car. My buddy Cory Lee and my artist bud Dave Peters were there in 102-degree heat to be stuck in the car, and we even did a fantasy shot of the old girl running again."
The "fantasy" shot is really something to see; it's the last image in the gallery and a tribute to the kind of artistry that one can accomplish in this digital age, even without a carburetor full of oil.
“The whole point in doing this was to promote the museum and the cars in it through the magazine and tell the story of the cars and people who drove them," White added. "Because this car has such a history not only as Danny Ongias’ last ride but also as the last Mazmanian Funny Car, I chose this one first. We are going to do Mike Mitchell's 'Vette Gasser next.”
Great stuff, Jim, thanks for thinking of us. I’m sure the readers here will really dig the photos and the feature once it hits print.
That’s it for this installment; thanks for reading and, as always, for your contributions.
It’s a crazy time of the year for those of us who follow the NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series, with a stretch of four races in four weekends that just reached its midpoint last weekend with the inaugural event at New England Dragway. I was thrilled to be at the first race, and the venue is amazing. With no large VIP tower and just a small two-story announcing/timing tower, it looked like a very large match race from the '70s when the floppers came rolling around the bend and stacked up behind one another with their bodies up.
I get a pass this weekend while the rest of the ND troops are off to Chicago, but next week, I’m headed to my annual visit to Norwalk for the “big show” there, and if anyone knows anything about the Baders, they know that they know how to put on a big show. We’ll actually be traveling Wednesday (Thursday is the Fourth of July) and get a rare day on the road without race responsibilities, but it makes for a short week because we also have to finish National Dragster a day earlier than normal due to the holiday.
Anyway, the reason for this preamble is to warn that there might not be a column next Friday (depending on the situation) and to kick off this column, which I think will wrap up the photography thread that has been so much fun the last month. I’ve been accumulating bits and pieces along the way and thought I would blow them out here before moving on to fresh territory.
And away we go …
Much love was heaped on Steve Reyes for his submissions of location-based photography and on the genre as a whole. Regular Insider contributor "Chicago Jon” Hofmann sent the funny-caption photo above left from Drag Racing USA that shows four of the greatest photographers from the '70s, from left, Reyes, Jon Asher, Tim Marshall, and Jim Kelly. If you read DRUSA back in the day, you know that Editor Mike Doherty helped make household names out of these guys by regularly talking/joking about them in the pages of his magazine. The group always seemed to hang together during their assignments and obviously had a good time doing it.
“I had lots of fun on tour with my buddies Asher and Kelly,” recalls Reyes. “I remember being told by Asher that when Kelly saw some of my early stuff, he told the other photographers in SoCal, 'I hope that kid never discovers color film.’ For me, that was the nicest thing a photographer like Kelly could say about me.”
Another of their traveling band of talented characters was Jere Alhadeff, who sent the clever photo above right, shot at Arizona’s Beeline Dragway during the 1973 AHRA Winternationals. “It’s a fish-eye shot and shows ‘Big Steve’ in comparison to the smaller-looking cars. I'm not sure if Reyes has ever seen this photo.”
Speaking of Alhadeff, who has also been very kind about sending photos and otherwise allowing me use of his images, he has agreed to send some of his location-based stuff (everyone remembers his shot of high school student Jeb Allen and his Top Fueler posed outside of his school that graced the cover of the July 1972 issue of DRUSA) for a future column.
Reyes also was kind enough to send the photo above, showing the famous Alan Earman photo shoot of Tom McEwen’s Hot Wheels dragster surrounded by cheetahs at Southern California’s Lion Country Safari. (You’d never know it, but because Reyes’ scanner was on the fritz, it’s a photo of the magazine spread, from the June 1972 issue of DRUSA.) Reyes has said that this photo was the inspiration for his photo of the Rat Trap Funny Car surrounded by elephants at the same venue that I ran here a few weeks ago.
The whole setup is quite a funny story, as McEwen related in his book, Mongoose: The Life and Times of Tom McEwen. The car was built by Don Garlits, and McEwen was thrilled to have it. Immediately, “the Mongoose’s” ever-promotionally-minded wheels started spinning, and he put his head together with Earman, “searching for that special hook that would ensure us a fat feature in [DRUSA].”
“Our first thought was getting a bunch of real mongooses running around the car,” wrote McEwen. “Alan hooked up with the PR guy at Lion Country Safari, John Foxem, to see what we could work out. He thought it would make great press for the park and agreed to work with us. Unfortunately, they were fresh out of mongooses; I guess a field full of ugly rat-like critters wasn’t a big crowd-pleaser. Foxem suggested taking advantage of the park’s pride of cheetahs, the fastest animal – pure genius. Now how do we pull it off?”
Early one morning, before the park opened, they rolled the dragster out of the trailer into the midst of about a dozen cheetahs, who weren’t overly impressed or interested in the new addition to their environment and just sat there licking and scratching and dozing. The embarrassed animal keepers resorted to Plan B.
“Out came a couple of chopped-up sides of beef, tossed close to the car; it was like chumming for sharks,” recalled McEwen. “Suddenly, the atmosphere was charged with tension; these tabbies were fast returning to their true nature, all teeth and claws, guttural growls and snarls. We had quickly turned from curiosities to potential happy meals.
“After the feeding frenzy subsided, tensions eased up a bit, but the cats kept cruising around the car looking for any remaining tidbits. The keeper told me to start walking slowly to the car, which I did. The cheetahs were all around me, and one snarled low in his throat as I inched by. Getting to the car, I leaned against the slick. One of the cats just sat there, slowly tilting his head from side to side, sizing me up. It wasn’t a real comfortable feeling.
“Earman, also surrounded by cats, kept his cool, firing off several rolls of film. Fast wearing out our welcome, the keepers circled behind us and threw out more meat. The beasts quickly lost interest in our scrawny butts and headed for the newly present buffet. With our hearts finally returning to a fairly normal rhythm, we set the Olympic speed record for loading a race car!”
Former National Dragster Editor Bill Holland has been enjoying the location photography and dropped me an email to talk about how he and partner John Guedel had the chance to have their dragster photographed in a couple of scenic environments in the late 1960s.
“When our National Automotive Specialties car was featured in Drag Racing magazine, we dragged it all over the place, including Travel Town in Griffith Park,” he remembered. “But one unique setting we came up with was the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power building downtown and a most interesting fountain. The car had just been painted (1967) by legendary Kustom Kar guy Bill Cushenberry in pearl white and cerise. Don't know if he ever did any more race cars, but he's credited as being an inventor of the 'water blade.' I did the lettering -- likely one of the first uses of chrome Mylar on a race car. No computers, it was hand-cut (with black One-Shot outline). [Tim Marshall photo]
“The following year (below), we raced our Art Linkletter's House Party car in Hawaii and took the opportunity to take it down on the beach on the east end of Oahu (I think it was Kailua). The volcanic rock lends an interesting touch.”
Speaking of the late, great Drag Racing USA, Mike Goyda, from whom I recently purchased more than two dozen vintage copies, sent this interesting tidbit about the demise of the magazine, which closed without notice after the June 1975 issue.
“The June '75 issue was the last, but there were two editions,” said Goyda. “The one on the left went to the newsstands and subscribers. The one on the right was printed in an extremely small run for photographers, staff, etc. I have had this in my personal collection for many years, having bought it from Jeff Tinsley, whose photo appears on the cover. This is the only example I have ever seen. Pretty cool, huh? Sad at the time, but a cool piece of memorabilia now.”
I was just 15 at the time but an avid reader, and I couldn’t understand why the July issue never showed up in the magazine rack at the local store where I used to buy my copies. Even though it was the preeminent drag racing magazine of its time, I think we all knew that it was in troubled financial times. They had (gasp!) raised the per-cost issue from 75 cents to a dollar in the summer of 1973, and then early in 1974, the formerly all-glossy paper was replaced in sections of the magazine with cheaper paper that honestly felt (and looked) even a grade below a grocery bag. While the change in paper stock was recognized in print, there was never any written warning about the magazine's demise in that last issue, which even promoted stories in the next issue, which, sadly, never arrived.
During my trip to New England, I was thrilled to have dinner (seafood, of course) with my “little sister,” Dawn Mazi-Hovsepian, and her husband, Mark, who live near the track. Anyone who knows my history knows of my infamous exploits with the Mazi family – driving their blown Opel, learning to ski, and flying (and by that I mean crashing) a hang glider -- in the summer of 1984 and how close I was to the family. Dawn and Mark are two of the top photographers who follow the nostalgia scene and a few years ago augmented their still photography with great and innovative video that is showcased on YouTube on her Drag Strip Riot channel.
“I started this channel in March of ‘09 with digitized analog footage I had (tying it in with our photography business and Drag Strip Riot poster series),” she told me. “Then I purchased a Canon HD video camera ‘10 and have been having a ball growing the channel since. I now have two Canons and two Drift POV cameras to collect footage with. Our 2012 Gasser Reunion highlight video is the most-viewed video of the channel and still maintains nearly 1,000 views per day -- impressive numbers to me since it’s not a crash video and that nostalgia drag racing is a niche of a niche. While I try to provide a variety of classes, my subscriber base is biased toward most everything with gassers. Steve Crook, who owns the AA/GS Blew By You 1956 Chevy, is from Eastlake, and my dad helped him make the transition from a carbureted to a blown small-block Chevy in 2011. There are currently four videos of Steve in the top 30 in less than two years. His popularity has risen very quickly.”
Dawn also tells me that her father, Frank, one of the truly inspirational and supportive people in my life, is getting back behind the wheel very soon, taking the reins of a A/Fueler (pictured at right; alas, no blower), and that she’ll keep me informed of his progress. Even though he hasn’t driven a car for almost two decades, he has helped so many racers in the Cleveland area run their cars and mentored them in the sport. I haven’t seen Frank in, well, forever, but he’s supposed to be in Norwalk, and I plan to catch up with him there. I’m really looking forward to that reunion.
OK, that’s it for now. As I said earlier, next week’s column is subject to travel and weather and about a billion other things out of my control, so if you don’t see a new entry next Friday, at least you know why. If you’re an NHRA Member, you can check out the nostalgic photos today in the My Favorite Fuelers column on NationalDragster.net, which (in a nod to this weekend’s event in Chicago) takes a look at some of the legendary racers who have called the Windy City home, and next week’s column there, which will focus on Ohio’s nitro racing history as we head to the Buckeye State.
Have a safe and sane Fourth of July.