Mickey Thompson's Grand Am, Part 2Friday, February 08, 2013
Posted by: Phil Burgess

After a somewhat tumultuous debut in 1973 that included driver Dale Pulde’s sudden replacement before the season opener and a nasty fire that sidelined his replacement, Butch Maas, and allowed Pulde to hop back into the saddle of Mickey Thompson’s Grand Am Funny Car, the 1974 season seemed like a good time to start over, beginning with Pulde’s extensive revamping of the Grand Am’s body.

Pulde got two more bodies from Ron Pellegrini and had master craftsman Hank Buck change the bodies.

“I laid the roof back, bowed the back down a little, and took some weight out of it and had Bill Carter paint it black with some colored graphics,” recalled Pulde. “It looked real racy, and the fans and racers loved it. NHRA didn’t like it as much. The rules said you couldn’t chop the top but didn’t say anything about laying the roof back; it was at the right height, just laid back, but the black paint just made it look even more sleek and even illegal. They said I could run it but just don’t do it the next time, but we’d already done the same thing to both bodies so we were screwed, and the funny thing is that later that year, when I painted the second body red, it passed through tech with no problem. Same body, different paint. Weird.”

(Little known fact: Pulde himself painted the grille and headlights on the original yellow car in his front yard. “It had such a small grille, it was no big deal; just a couple of black spots with some silver lines in it and went around the headlights with silver and black paint. If it had a major grille in it, I would have been in deep trouble.”)

The car not only looked racy, but ran well, too, at least in the beginning.

“That season, I was running pretty decent, then I think I invented dropping cylinders,” he said. “I tried everything I could to solve the problem in a conventional manner; however, nothing seemed to work. I could still run good, but the motor would be a dead player at the top end.”

The woes continued – and got a bit worse – during a match race at Great Lakes Dragaway during the Fourth of July weekend, but the bad outing actually ended up pointing Pulde in the right direction.

“I blew a blower and took the rear tire off the car and ran it into the trees,” he said. “The car needed to be fronthalved, but instead of dragging it back to California, I went to Romeo Palamides, who did the work. We were sitting there looking at the chassis, which still had the longer front end, and I asked him how hard it would be to put the fuel tank in front of the axle. I knew that would put another 60 pounds out there.

“The late Don Madden of Howard Cams told me about the Chevy guys reversing the rotors in the blower to make the fuel drive in the other direction. I tried that, and instead of dropping the two rear cylinders, I was down to dropping only one up front, which was much easier to tune around. By the end of the year, I had it running good again.” 

And then some. Pulde was back in action in time for Indy – with the car painted a vibrant red – and had a hand in deciding that year’s world championship as it was he who defeated Don Prudhomme in the second round of the World Finals to secure the title for Shirl Greer. Pulde did it in impressive fashion with a national record blast of 6.16, 233.76 mph.

Assisting Pulde at the event was veteran Funny Car racer Larry Arnold, who had been working for Thompson on his off-road racing vehicles and had already agreed to take over the driving reins in 1975. In an all-too-familiar story for guys driving for Thompson, the winning percentages never covered the operating costs that MT required they pay, and Pulde had had enough.

“I'd had enough of touring and all of the work and trying to put up with the help I had to hire,” he confessed. “It was a hard year. The car did good for Mickey but not a lot for Dale. The way it worked with Mickey was that you take care of the upkeep on the car and parts – you had to return the car at year’s end in the same working order you got it – and we split all the motel and gas bills, and he got half the winnings. But all of the day-to-day BS, that's what you ended up with. The Chevy duallie we had was like the sixth one ever made, and it was a pile of crap. That was one of the fighting points I had. I spent more money fixing it than I could have spent making payments. That year was more than a season racing; it was a college education on what not to do. Mickey was good to me, and I never would have gotten where I got to without him, but I don’t think we always saw eye to eye on the financial end of running the car.

“Coming into Ontario [Calif.], I had already told him I was done. I showed up at Ontario alone, sick of all of it, sick of the crew guys. I wasn't kissing anyone's ass anymore. I'd just find someone to start the car; whatever I needed to do, I’d make it work. I was at home and had a lot of friends. When I left, it was a pretty good car. We got it down on weight and made the car really stable for a big car. It had that long deck on the back. It was a pretty neat car, and I knew whoever got it would have a good race car.

"Arnold showed up on my last qualifying pass and helped me from there on. He said, ‘You don’t lean on this thing do you?’ and I said, 'I can’t afford it.' But I said, 'I'm done with it; let’s let it happen, and we stood on it, and it ran good. He got the car after I walked out."

After finishing the year’s match race schedule, Pulde turned it over to Arnold, who played a big role in bringing the U.S. Marines aboard to sponsor the car in 1975.

“Mickey was not interested in putting money into drag racing, so we talked about putting someone else's money in to pay for the car,” said Arnold. “I had been thinking the Marines would be a perfect sponsor – going head to head with the Army would be a great draw. When contacted, the Marines agreed.”

Arnold had a literal trial by fire in his debut in the new car during a photo shoot at Orange County Int’l Raceway for the Marines that put him in the burn ward.

“They wanted shots of the car to hand out at the Winternationals. I took a run, and burned piston and ignited the car. It damaged the tin and needed a new paint job and a new motor. It was fixed and ready for the race, but I was not so lucky. By the time of the race, I was out of the burn ward, but the burns on my back were too painful to get in the car."

His pal Charlie Therwanger subbed for him at the Winternationals, where he reached the semifinals before losing an armed-forces clash with Prudhomme’s new Army Monza. Arnold was back in the car for the Gatornationals, where he qualified fifth but lost in round one. He also ran a couple of match races with the car before he, too, decided he didn’t like the business arrangement with Thompson and handed the car back to MT.

“I stopped for the same reason that Pulde did,” he said. “Mickey would not put adequate money into drag racing, even with the Marines sponsorship. The truck was a disgrace; I had inadequate parts. I was embarrassed to show up. I kept asking for a decent truck and trailer, but no.”

Al Kean

SoCal racing veteran Bob Pickett picked up the ball and ran with it. He didn’t qualify in his national event debut at the Springnationals but made the field as an alternate before falling in round one. He qualified fifth at the Summernationals but crossed the centerline in round one. He scored his first round-win in the car at the Grandnational in Montreal before losing to Prudhomme, then impressively reached the semi's of the U.S. Nationals before falling – again – to Prudhomme's rival Army car. He closed the year with a first-round loss at the World Finals. Between, he had his fair share of moments, including a memorable body unlatching after a wheelstand in the final round of the 1975 Northwest National Open in Seattle against Ed McCulloch (above). That weekend, he also met Jerry Verhuel and Gordie Bonin, who provided invaluable help and guidance.

His 1976 campaign was highlighted by semifinal finishes at the Gatornationals (where he lost to Greer) and the World Finals (where he lost to Prudhomme ... again!). Between that were lots of match races and lots of travails as well. “I had to match race to be able to go to national events, but I had plenty of those because of Mickey's name. I crashed the Grand Am into the guardrail in Arizona after the rear end bent and had to pay to have the car repaired. That was Mickey's deal: You crash it, you fix it. By the time we got through running that body, it was so heavy it took two guys to lift it up. It was tough, but it was the best deal I had. It was a good deal for the time, and I made it work and enjoyed it. It took a lot of luck and hard work and good help. I did my own head and clutch work."

By the end of the 1976 season, the car was pretty much worn out, the body was dated, and Thompson was growing ever more disinterested in drag racing. The car was retired at the end of the season and replaced with a new U.S. Marines Starfire, in which Pickett won the Springnationals.

The Grand Am disappeared for years before finally getting its due with a re-creation at the hands of Funny Car builder and racer Army Armstrong, who actually has created two of them. The first uses an original yellow Revelleader body  from the 1974 season purchased from Thompson’s daughter, Lindy atop a period-correct chassis, and the second car uses a new body built from a mold taken from the other body that was lengthened and covers a modern chassis and competes at nostalgia events. Armstrong and company even went so far as to antique the paint on the new body to give it a nostalgic feel. (You can see more photos of the cars and builds here.)

While the original Grand Am-bodied car will soon end up in a museum in Pennsylvania, the modern car is making the rounds at tracks – including a recent trip to New Zealand – where it makes exhibition runs and ultimately will compete at match races and nostalgia events in the U.S. upon its return, with Armstrong at the wheel. Plans call for additional bodies painted in the black and red paint schemes.

“Of all of the cars I’ve been in, it has the best visibility, and it handles the best of any car I’ve driven,” said Armstrong, “Pulde said the same thing. He said it was one of the fastest cars in its time, and I think it will be now, too. And people love this car.”

I love it ... who said you can’t go home again?

Mickey Thompson's Grand Am, Part 1Friday, February 01, 2013
Posted by: Phil Burgess

We all have favorites in our lives. Favorite song, favorite band, favorite movie, favorite actor, favorite color, etc., etc., but for drag race nuts like us, none of them holds a candle to memories of our favorite race car. Today, we're going to talk about one of mine: the Mickey Thompson Grand Am Funny Car.

Although the Grand Am didn’t even crack the top 16 from my reader-wide Favorite Race Car Ever vote of mid-2008, it still remains forever ingrained in my heart for its sleek look and outside-the-box thinking. In a period when it seemed that every other Funny Car was a Vega or a Monza or a Mustang, M/T's Pontiac stood out from the crowd. It ran well, too, setting various low e.t.s and, under Dale Pulde's command, the national record. The car has a bit of a checkered past, too, as it burned a few of its drivers not only with fire but also financially, giving it that "bad boy" mystique as well. So, what’s not to like, right?

If you’re an NHRA Member who visits the new NationalDragster.net website, you saw that I featured the car last week in the My Favorite Fuelers column I write there each Friday, but that article was certainly not the definitive piece I’ve been promising longtime readers of this column. Nope – that’s what you guys are getting today. It’s going to be in two pieces, covering the conception and initial season this week and the later years next week.

 1 of 4 
Funny Car body builder Ron Pellegrini traded notes with Mickey Thompson on this sketch of the Grand Am body. Thompson's notes are in handwriting. Be sure to click the Larger Image button to be able to read the comments.
As longtime drag fans well know, Thompson had a long history with Pontiac dating back to his Bonneville land-speed record runs in the late 1950s and his early dragsters, including the 1962 Indy-winning machine driven by Jack Chrisman. But Thompson’s early Funny Cars were Fords (Mustangs and Pintos), so when the production Grand Am was announced in 1972, it’s not clear whether he chose Pontiac or Pontiac chose him to create the new body. What we do know is that he chose Ron Pellegrini’s Chicago-based Fiberglass Ltd. shop (see my 2010 column: The Johnny Appleseed of the Fiberglass Forest) to create the body.

“We picked up a Grand Am from Pontiac three months before they came out,” Pellegrini recalled, “and we had one section in our shop that was blocked off and had restricted access because we would get cars from Ford and Chevrolet and Pontiac. We did some drawings of what we thought the body might look like that I sent out to Mickey, and he made some more changes to it.”

John Buttera built the 118-inch chassis, and Pulde and crew chief Steve Montrelli thrashed the car together in time to debut it (albeit in primer) at the Last Drag Race at Lions DragStrip in early December and lost in round one to Don Prudhomme.

“It was the first Buttera car over 115 inches,” Pulde noted. “Montrelli and I had been running the Pinto. We had been watching all of the guys hang weight on the front end of their cars and decided we could either move the motor out or make the wheelbase longer so it wouldn’t do it. Buttera fought with us, but we ended up doing that.”

Pulde was eager for the 1973 campaign, but Montrelli was wooed away by Don Schumacher to tune on his Funny Cars (including, eventually, the famed Wonder Wagon). If it wasn’t painful enough for Pulde that he lost his wingman, Thompson stunned everyone by hiring Butch Maas to drive the Grand Am for 1973.

The Revelleader made its official debut at the 1973 Winternationals, where it was the low qualifier but lost in round one. (Below) From left, Mickey Thompson, crew chief Mike Broome, and driver Butch Maas.

“I’m not sure exactly what happened, but he didn’t think I would take the car and run it on my own, so he hired Butch to finish the car,” said Pulde. “I think it was a miscommunication. Montrelli was shocked when Mickey told him what he had done and called Mickey and asked him why he didn’t give me the chance, and he told him he just didn’t think I'd want to, and Butch was here.”

Thompson also acquired sponsorship from model giant Revell (which sponsored a ton of Funny Car teams at the time), and the newly named Revelleader Grand Am -- painted yellow with a white swoosh stripe -- debuted in spectacular fashion at the Winternationals by qualifying No. 1 with a 7.18, more than a tenth and a half ahead of No. 2 qualifier Tom Hoover's 7.35. Maas lost in the first round in Pomona when the car lost fire against Kenny Bernstein.

Maas sadly is no longer with us to tell his side of the story, but I did get to speak to Mike Broome, who worked with Maas on the car. Broome had owned Top Fuel cars in the early 1970s and later went to work with Jerry Ruth on his Funny Cars (and was part of Ruth’s Top Fuel crew during his 1972 Indy runner-up). He met Maas at the 1972 NHRA World Finals in Amarillo, Texas, and later was hired to work on the Revelleader.

“When we qualified No. 1 at Pomona, that was the year of the greasy track, but we were loaded for bear [Sunday] with two complete motors and a short block,” he recalled. “Butch lost fire on the burnout, and that ended that. Next we raced in Fremont and lost in the final. We went back to L.A. and packed up to head to Gainesville.”

Steve Reyes' photos tell the story of the end of the first Grand Am in a qualifying fire at the 1973 Gatornationals that forced Maas from the cockpit.
The going wasn't always easy (Tom Derry photo)

It was in Gainesville during qualifying for the Gatornationals that Maas endured a terrible fire and was badly burned, putting him on the sidelines.

Broome recalled, “During the first day of qualifying, there were rain showers in the area, and the forecast was for rain the next day, so Butch wanted to make the first run a good one. The car made a nice run but burned some pistons and caught fire in the lights. By the time I got to the end of the track, they had Butch out of the car, and I rode with him to the hospital. Ed McCulloch looked after loading the remains of the car, and I stayed with him until he left. After a few days seeing Butch at the hospital and knowing he was going to be all right, Mickey thought I should bring what was left back to L.A. and see what could be salvaged.

“I drove straight back to L.A., stopping only for gas; I think I slept for a full day and then had the remains of the car checked out at Buttera’s, and it was decided to build a whole new car. I think it only took a month to put together the new car. We had a lot of help from a lot of people to get it done; I can’t thank enough Mickey’s sister Colleen, husband Gary, and daughter Shelly for making me feel like part of the family and looking after me while I was in L.A. and keeping in touch when on the road. For a young guy, it was pretty special.”

Thompson not only hired Pulde back to oversee the rebuild, but he also offered him back the seat and chance to run the car on his own. Once it was completed, Pulde and Broome headed out on to the match race tour but [damaged the body] on their first run in St. Louis. They stayed up all night to fix the body, then won the race the next day.

“It all went pretty well the first few months,” recalled Broome. “In late July, I had a chance to go to work with Billy Meyer running his SMI Motivator Mustang, which I did until the end of the season.”

Pulde finished out the season with the car and, during the winter, helped build a lighter and sleeker ’74 car, taking the hard lessons learned in 1973 and incorporating design changes that ultimately turned the car and Pulde into national record holders, but that came long after Pulde had soured on continuing his partnership with Thompson.

We’ll pick up the story there next week.

Posted by: Phil Burgess

Wednesday was a somber day around here for many longtime members of the National Dragster staff. It was Jan. 23 and marked what would have been the 100th birthday of NHRA founder Wally Parks. It's hard to believe it has been more than five years since we lost him, but I get the sense that he's smiling down on us as we continue his mission.

In case you missed it, NHRA is honoring Wally's birth date with a special Wally's 100th ticket promotion for the upcoming O'Reilly Auto Parts NHRA Winternationals and the Amalie Oil NHRA Gatornationals, but we continue to honor him every day in our efforts and our dedication, remembering an amazing man who led hot rodding from the dark shadows of scorn into the bright sunlight of national acceptance.

I can't begin to imagine how difficult that work was then, how they had to convince law authorities, politicians, and neighborhoods that a lot of the hot rodders were not the black-jacketed thugs of movies but hardworking Joe Lunchpails who liked cars and fixing them up. Today, I think we all take for granted that the NHRA will be accepted wherever it goes, that we'll roll into a community somewhere and be greeted with open arms by merchants and civic leaders and local fans, but it certainly wasn't always that way.

Unless you lived it, most of us probably can't imagine a time when dragstrips didn't dot the country and organized activities were difficult to find. Imagine, then, the sheer audacity (perhaps even the naivete) of organizing a small band of Johnny Appleseeds, loading them up in a station wagon and a little tow-along trailer and sending them off across the country to help sow the seeds of the sport.

That's the visionary kind of guy that Wally Parks was, and I shudder to think how much longer it would have taken us to get to where we are if not for his sheer tenacity and ability to dream big and act bigger.

It's hard for me to reconcile that when I first sat down across the conference-room table from Wally more than 30 years ago at the NHRA headquarters in North Hollywood, Calif., to interview for a bottom-of-the-rung position on Dragster's editorial staff that he had already lived a full life and then some, that he was then 58, six years older than I am now, and seemed as if he was just hitting his stride.

Wally never met an opportunity that he didn't think deserved to be explored and expanded, and woe be it to the person who missed getting NHRA on that boat. I have a thick folder filled with examples of the infamous and feared "Wally memo" that would land on your desk from time to time reminding you of your transgressions. He was a hard guy to work for only in that he expected from everyone the same incredible vision and attention to detail that he possessed.

Usually, your “Wally memo” arrived on your desk in the morning, sealed in a crisp white NHRA-logo envelope with your name written in his very distinct (and quite handsome) handwriting. At that point, you had a decision to make: Do I open it now and ruin the rest of my day, or do I let it sit until, say, after lunch – all the while the anxiety of its unknown contents eating you up – and open it later in the day? Either way, it usually ruined your day. Sometimes, if the matter was urgent, he would send a fax; remember faxes? He called them “Okie email” because he never was big on the other popular form of electronic communication.

(Above) My first "Wally memo" and (below) some of the many I received in the years that followed. 

I was less than four years on the job when I got promoted to editor, and I know that Wally had his concerns. I think I’ve shared this story before, but the first “Wally memo” I ever got came the first week after my promotion and began – and I’m not making this up – with “Congratulations (I think).” He then detailed what he thought was wrong with the publication and what I should do to fix it. I know ... no pressure, right?

Looking back, I guess I can’t really blame him for his skepticism. Compared to him and his lengthy and decorated journalistic career as longtime editor of Hot Rod, I was still a wet-behind-the-ears kid taking the wheel of his beloved publication with what probably seemed to him to be a learner's permit.

As he had done with every editor before, we butted heads on a number of topics. Wally was “old school” on a lot of things, and I was semi-“new school” and trying to help put an uptick in the somewhat stagnant member count, and we clashed a few times. I attempted to counter his eloquent memos with logic and candor (and a dash of contrition), but as good as I was with words, he was always better, and, hey, it was his train set, and I had to play with it how he wanted.

The most famous of those arguments was a long-running battle known around here as “stars vs. cars.” Having been in on hot rodding’s ground floor and seeing throughout the 1950s and 1960s the incredible innovations and handiwork performed on the first hot rods, Wally believed that the editorial focus should be on the machines themselves and not those who drove them. “The cars are the stars” was his mantra. The writing staff, on the other hand – with the agreement of the Marketing Department – wanted to sell the drivers. Granted, the cars weren’t as cookie-cutter looking as they are now, but there was a period when it seemed as if almost every winning Top Fueler came from Al Swindahl and every Funny Car was a Trans Am, and we had great new stars we wanted to promote plus the older fan favorites like Shirley Muldowney, Don Prudhomme, and Don Garlits (I sometimes wonder if Wally’s long-running feud with Garlits made him shy away from selling the stars).

Wally and I weren't always crossing swords in those early days. He posed with me in Columbus in 1987 for this special Young Racers issue of Dragster. Wally was a huge champion of NHRA's youth movement.

Anyway, in the end, we did what we could to focus more on cars – adding more tech, car features, and sidebars about the mechanical parts – and tried to make nice while trying to move the membership needle (we were successful on both counts).

Even though Wally had become less involved in the day-to-day NHRA business – or maybe because he had more time on his hands not shepherding what had become an established sport – and he wasn’t in the office as much, the frequency of the “Wally memos” to me increased, and, again, it's hard to blame him for that. He had, after all, conceived and birthed in 1960 a wonderful and versatile tool to promote his NHRA, and he still had an ownership of its success. I was more than happy to enjoy that with him.

As the dialogue increased, so did our kinship. I never expected him to respect me the way I was in awe of him, but as the years went on and National Dragster evolved and grew, the memos still came but were almost exclusively congratulatory, lauding a particular issue or article or the precise cropping of a photo.

NHRA threw a surprise party for Wally's 80th birthday in 1993, luring him to what he thought was a dedication for the new Pomona tower. When he walked into the room, we all donned these Wally masks and sang "Happy Birthday" to him. He was touched. I still have my mask.

As NHRA prepared to embark on its 50th Anniversary celebration in 2001, it was decided that a companion website should be created, and I embarked on an immense undertaking to tell the story of NHRA’s founding based on old issues of Hot Rod (NHRA Museum curator Greg Sharp painstakingly photocopied relevant articles for me from his collection of Hot Rods spanning 1951-60) and National Dragster.

(Ironically, that website, located here, was built by our then webmaster, Brent Friar, with whom I just recently reteamed to build the new NationalDragster.net site. Brent doesn't work for NHRA anymore, but I knew that with the passion he developed while working here, he was the perfect guy to help us on the new project to keep the National Dragster story alive.)

It occurred to me even in 2001 that someday we would lose Wally, and with him would go a part of the oral history of NHRA’s founding, and I was determined to have one last shot at getting that story, or at least Wally’s version of it. It was during this period that I really won him over and gained what I consider the full and complete respect and trust of the living legend, which thrilled me to no end.

He became obsessed with making sure that I had the story down right, asking to review reams of material and making minute yet crucial changes to sentences and sometimes even words. He knew that I wanted it to be right, and I think that was important to him, perhaps because he knew that the book on the same subject that he had long (and off-again, on-again) labored on might never see print before he was gone. I was his proxy to see that the history survived him. Again, no pressure, right?

As Wally's health began to decline, I used any excuse I could to engage him for details of his life outside of drag racing, about his upbringing, his years in the military, and anything else I could think of. I was trying to be sly, prepping for the inevitability of his passing, and although I knew I was interviewing him for what would eventually become part of his obituary, I tried not to make it that transparent, but I'm pretty sure he knew.

After he died in late 2007, I was able to take the work we had done together in 2001 and help create, in pretty quick fashion, a mini book about his life. It all came together pretty well, and once it was nearly done, all that was left was the design for the back cover. We had the photo we wanted, of Wally overlooking the racetrack at Indy, but we struggled for the epitaph to accompany it.

I remember a handful of us sitting in someone's office bouncing around keywords and sentiments that we wanted to express, and finally it came to me, and as I said those words aloud and everyone else smiled at them, I felt that Wally himself had reached down and blessed me with them.

“Your vision remains our mission.”

And that's pretty much the way we think of what we do. We miss ya, Wally. We wish we were celebrating your 100th with you but are so happy about and proud of the time we did have with you.

The new dealFriday, January 18, 2013
Posted by: Phil Burgess

By now I’m sure you’ve all seen the big news on the home page about the pretty significant changes surrounding the National DRAGSTER publication schedule and the creation of the companion NationalDRAGSTER.net website, so you probably have a good idea how I’ve spent my last couple of months.

Because this column is an extension of National DRAGSTER – those of you who were here in the beginning may remember that it started as a column about the magazine itself before morphing into its current history-based subject material – I wanted to address the changes here this week. (Back to regular column business next week, I promise!)

There's no doubt that this marks an important milestone in the long and storied 54-year history of this publication, and the decision to shift to a biweekly printing schedule certainly was not taken lightly nor was made quickly by anyone within the NHRA. We agonized over it for several months, mulling over options and discussing pros and cons before we finally arrived at the only decision that made sense.

We’re all very aware that, initially, it’s a pretty big shock to the system. After all, National DRAGSTER has been printed weekly since 1964 after four years on a biweekly basis. But long gone are the days when NHRA fans huddled by their mailboxes waiting for National DRAGSTER to arrive and tell them who had won the most recent national event or to keep them abreast of the latest news of their favorite racers. We realize that, and we're sure you do, too.

It's also no secret that these are extremely challenging times for print publications, and National DRAGSTER certainly is not immune. Just as challenging has been the work to find ways for a weekly publication to remain relevant in a digital world where consumers want their news quickly. No print publication -- even a daily -- can compete with the immediacy offered by the Internet and television. Believe me, we've tried.

So we scoured the results of member surveys from the past two years to see what our readers wanted. And what they didn't want. And we opted to play to our strengths.

While we certainly have the capability to produce a weekly digital-only version, readers overwhelmingly said they preferred to have their National DRAGSTER in print. So, unlike some giants of the print medium such as Newsweek that opted for a pure digital format, we listened to our members and remained committed to a print product, but one that would stand the test of time from printing to delivery.

Our readers wanted more tech and how-to articles and more and varied Sportsman content, so those became a focus for the future. They said they liked big colorful photos, and we took note. They also said that they were disappointed in how long it took to receive the news via traditional mail and that, despite the rich details we offered, they had already read most of the news and results online before their issue arrived. We get that; it's a valid concern.

So we created what we think is an elegant solution to all of these needs: a twin-engine information machine that's streamlined and fast and fully featured, too. On the one hand, to serve the immediate news, we created NationalDRAGSTER.net, which is where you'll find all of the latest news, analysis, and results within minutes of them happening. It's our expectation that this website will more than capably bridge the wait between issues and deliver to you the news you want when you want it.

I can’t begin to guess how many of the loyal readers of this column are actually NHRA Members, but I think that some of the content we’ll be offering on the new website will please the history buffs here and make your membership more valuable or your decision to become a member much easier. In addition to the breaking news and live event coverage, I think you will find the Daily Features especially interesting as three of them have roots in the stuff you love to get here.

First there’s Time Travel Tuesday, where we’ll take a look back at how National DRAGSTER covered a major story from our history. I always get a kick out of those in-the-moment reports, where the author was writing without the benefit of the hindsight that history affords people like us.

Thursdays will be for the popular Where Are They Now? feature that has long been a staple of National DRAGSTER. We've put a little different spin on it to tell as much about a racer's present as his or her past.

Finally, there's my contribution, My Favorite Fuelers, in which each Friday I'll share my views about some of the finest and coolest nitro-burning machines from our sport's history. All in all, I think that the new website has a lot to offer, and, when combined with the print issue, I think in the long run will provide more and better reading.

When National DRAGSTER does arrive in the mail, we think you'll find it was well worth the wait. Because we're more or less out of the breaking-news and results game, you'll find it instead packed with feature-oriented stories about your favorite racers and classes. We'll still serve up a healthy dose of results, and though that coverage will look different, we think that what we have to offer will still please you.

Take a second to check out the free preview issue on the NationalDRAGSTER.net website and see where we’re headed. I think it’s beautiful, and I think you will, too. Of course, like any “car owner,” we’ll continue to fine-tune it as we go along, but I already think we’re off the line in good fashion.

For those of you surprised or disappointed or worried about the moves we’ve made, I ask you to take a few issues to check us out. I know change is hard and usually unwelcome, but, as I said earlier, it was done for all the right reasons. Even if you don’t agree with us right now, we hope you’ll give us a chance to prove you wrong. I think we will.

Thanks for reading and, as always, for your support.


Before we go, I wanted to acknowledge the passing two weeks ago of noted engine and crankshaft builder Joe Reath, who died Jan. 4. Reath, a founding member of the Road Rebels Car Club of Los Angeles in 1937, ran Reath Automotive in Signal Hill, Calif., for 50 years (1956-2006) with his wife, Dellie, who survives him.

Reath also was well-known as a partner with Jim Dunn on his Funny Cars in the 1970s, so I wasn't surprised to hear from the Dunn family.

“Reath Automotive is the place where all the racers went to hang out and share stories,” said Jim Dunn. “Joe was a good friend, and I have a lot of wonderful memories.”

“Joe gave me my first real job when I was 15,” recalled Mike Dunn. “I detailed cranks (used a body grinder and sander to clean up the weld on the stroker cranks) and worked the hot tank (disassembling engines and cleaning for work to be done on them). And obviously, he was my dad’s partner for a number of years, including the rear-engine car [pictured above] when he won the Supernationals.”

As mentioned, Reath’s wife, Dellie, survives him, and I’m sure she would love to hear from old friends and acquaintances or just to hear your appreciation of her husband. She can be reached at delmareath@verizon.net.

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