Cleaning out the e-mail, Part 1Tuesday, January 04, 2011
Posted by: Phil Burgess

We're all back in our places with bright shiny faces as we kick off the new year here at NHRA. Some staff members are still unpacking and setting up their work areas after last month's move, and we spent yesterday afternoon in a planning meeting for National DRAGSTER, critiquing our efforts in 2010, brainstorming about 2011, and getting a head start on some of the year's early issues. The first issue of ND for this year does not print for another two weeks, but there's still plenty to do.

Before we launch into Insider v2011, I thought I'd take this opportunity to clear the deck of all old business. I get a ton of e-mail from the rabidly tuned-in audience here and can't publish all of it, but I do read every piece (and respond as possible) and keep much of it for possible future use, so I'm going to go through my many Insider e-mail folders and make sure I catch anything I might have overlooked -- not only last year but beyond -- before diving headfirst into a new season here. This is the first of two parts.

I got to meet Tom Jobe – one third of the famous Jobe-Skinner-Sorokin Surfers Top Fuel team of the 1960s -- last year at the get-together at Don Prudhomme's shop, but we had been exchanging e-mail for a long time before that. I came across this message, from 2008, that I had been holding on to for some reason. We had been talking about the Surfers car, and I had mentioned to him that many old fans said that they could identify the car by its engine sound alone, so I asked him about it. I don’t think I ever published his comments; if I did, I apologize and still think it's worthy of telling the story of one of the popular teams of that era.

"At Pomona in the 1960s, you push-started along the back property line and made a sharp left turn out onto the dragstrip. The spectators could hear the cars running before they would see the cars turn onto the dragstrip, and when we would push down and make the turn onto the dragstrip, the people in the stands would already be up on their feet chanting 'Surf's up.' The sound of our car was distinctive enough that everyone knew it was the Surfers before they ever saw the cars. It was quite a sight because no matter who we were racing, the crowd was always cheering for us, anywhere we raced.

"As for the sound, it is a long story, but when we were first scheming on how we could possibly run a Top Fuel dragster, we figured out that no one really understood nitromethane and how to use it properly, so I set about studying nitromethane in the early 1960s. During the time we were building and running our dragster, I was going to college full time taking mechanical engineering. I worked hard on learning about everything we needed to know more about, including nitromethane, and I got the professors at school involved in my problems to help keep me straight on the theory as we went. A study of the energy available from nitromethane (combined with a fixed amount of air) showed us that it was absolutely foolish to run anything less than 100 percent nitro unless practical issues required using less. It also revealed that we needed to burn the nitromethane and not detonate it if we were ever going to be successful at drag racing.

"As we worked on our combination at the drags, it turned out that it was just too hard to get the car started reliably with 100 percent on cold Saturday nights, so we eventually settled on 97 percent nitro and 3 percent toluene (with some blue food dye, just to mess with people's minds). This mixture was arrived at by studying everything I could get my hands on about nitromethane, including the research done on some huge unexplained explosions of nitromethane in the late 1950s. One of these explosions was a pair of rail tank cars out in rural Illinois. The government and the makers of nitromethane (Commercial Solvents Corp.) published a lot of good information on their tests to see what detonated the two rail cars. They looked into the effects of every possible thing that could have been in the tank cars to contaminate the nitro to see how these contaminants could have sensitized (or desensitized) the nitro. They devised a very scientific method to test the effects of every possible contaminant at 5 percent by volume, which gave us a good way to evaluate what we should be putting in our fuel to make the starting reliable at night and help suppress the detonation which would kill our nice junkyard 392 Chryslers. Another thing that came out of this nitromethane study was the critical need to atomize the fuel better in order to burn it (rather than detonate it), so we ended up running lots of tiny homemade nozzles with at least three times the fuel pressure anyone else had. These were some of the advantages we had that no one could see or figure out, which might help explain why no one else had the 'Surfers sound' (or the reliability that went with it)."

Our Favorite Race Car Ever voting in the summer of 2008 naturally included the vaunted and nearly unbeatable Greer-Black-Prudhomme Top Fueler of the early 1960s. I'm not sure that a lot of even the hard-core fans know that the car was not originally driven by Prudhomme nor even owned by Tommy Greer before "the Snake" found his fangs in the car. Stephen Justice, a veritable encyclopedia of early 1960s drag racing, had dropped me a line then (again, I don’t think I ever published this factoid, but if I did, it still bears sharing) to tell me of the car's lineage. "Kent Fuller originally built the car in 1961, and it was campaigned in Northern California as the Cash Auto Parts Special and was driven by Archie Liederbrand. Later, the car was repossessed by Lou Senter (from the guy who owned Cash Auto) and raced as the Ansen Automotive Special. Rod Stuckey drove it for Senter, including at the 1962 March Meet (pictured, top). After Prudhomme won Bakersfield in 1962, Senter purchased the Prudhomme-Zeuschel-Fuller car and sold the '61 Fuller car to Greer. Greer had Fuller update the car and Keith Black build an engine. Prudhomme drove for Senter some but was replaced with Tommy Dyer. Greer needed a driver, and although Stuckey was considered, Prudhomme ended up getting the ride. The revamped Greer-Black-Prudhomme fueler debuted at Pomona on June 17, 1962, and promptly won Top Eliminator over 'Lefty' Mudersbach the first time out with a time of 8.73, 177.51."

Speaking of Prudhomme, here's another shot I received during the voting but never published. Jeff Thomas (aka JW Last, founder of the great 70sFunnyCars.com site) sent this great pic of "the Snake's" Hot Wheels wedge during qualifying at the 1971 Summernationals. He wrote, "Love this shot because it shows the changing of the guard from old front-motor technology (complete with short wheelbase) to back-motor technology ... albeit with aerodynamics which were later abandoned. The front-motor car is the Roy Mattox car, which I believe took runner-up at the event while 'Snake's' wedge failed to make the show (if I remember correctly, which all these years later, I might not)." That is indeed the Mattox car in the far lane, driven by Jim Hornsberger, who famously beat Don Garlits early in eliminations but could not contest the final against Arnie Behling in Bruce Dodd's Spirit rear-engine car after suffering heat prostration while working on his wounded mill between rounds. Prudhomme did, however, qualify for the event, running a 6.70, 223.88 for the No. 5 spot (behind Herm Petersen, Behling, Garlits, and Tom McEwen), but invalidated a better-yet first-round 6.68 with a red-light to unheralded Dick McFarland and his new back-motor machine.

Reader William Morrel asked me way back in September 2009 if I had any shots of the old Fontana racetrack here in Southern California. "I grew up in Fontana in the '60s and visited the Fontana dragstrip on Foothill Boulevard many, many times. Many fantastic night races were held there in 'The Day:' 'Big John'; the Surfers; Greer, Black & Prudhomme; Weekly, Rivero, Fox, and Holding; 'Dandy Dick' Landy, and the list goes on. I believe 200 mph had not been broken yet, but on many occasions, 198 was often achieved there. As a young boy, I lay in bed and could hear the Top Fuelers from -- and I am guessing -- 5 miles due south of the strip where I lived. When I could attend a race, the old wooden grandstands, with the round iron guardrails, were packed to full, and the smoke, the smell, the floating rubber filled the air, and IT WAS PERFECT. Perhaps you might have some photos from back in 'The Day' at Drag City." At the time I didn't, but now I do. Enjoy, William.

As part of NHRA's 60th anniversary salute, I was asked to compile a list of memorable moments from the past six decades, from which the final top 60 were selected (and will be revealed soon). I don't think it's any kind of giveaway to say that the first five-second Top Fuel pass – by Mike Snively in Jim Annin's Top Fueler at the 1972 Supernationals at Ontario Motor Speedway – is definitely on that list. Reader Ray Romero of Spokane, Wash., sent this pic in late 2009 that I really like, showing, from left, Annin, Snively, and engine great Keith Black in the pits at Seattle Int'l Raceway earlier that year. Sadly, all three are no longer with us.

The fine folks at Auto Imagery, who have been around to see much of that history made, provide the images for our popular Photo of the Week section and have a wide variety of stuff beyond just the gorgeous photos of vintage cars that typically run there. Auto Imagery boss Rick Shute sent me this great photo last year, which didn't make it to the POW section but is certainly worth sharing as it's pretty rare. You always hear John Force lauding "Uncle Beavs," Gene Beaver, for guiding him on his Funny Car path, and here are the two of them bookending this pic, which was shot in Gainesville in 1982. The two guys in the center are also noteworthy: Billy McCahill and Force's brother, Louie. Beaver, of course, was part of many Funny Car efforts – most notably with the Condit Bros. – and McCahill had a short-lived but splashy career as the driver of the HB Gold Citation in the early 1980s. I can't recall the details, but I believe that he's related to either Force or Beaver somehow. "Diesel Louie" followed brother John to the racetrack but as an exhibition driver wheeling a series of wheelstanders. Great family photo.

My "sister from another mother," Dawn Mazi-Hovsepian, sent me a link to the video above, which is posted on her YouTube page. It showcases her family's popular supercharged BB/A Opel GT running at the 1984 Springnationals in Columbus. The car, of course, means the world to me because I got to drive it later that summer for a two-part story that ran in National DRAGSTER (and is reprinted on Dawn's site: Part 1, Part 2). Although the car was replaced a year later with a newer, tricker, and quicker Trans Am, I still love to watch and hear this car run. Just looking at its attitude as it sits on the track makes me wonder why I ever thought I could drive it. There's barely room for a human being to fit in the car, and the driver sits in a semi reclined position with the throttle pedal up high on the transmission tunnel. It truly was one of the most amazing experiences of my life, and seeing the car run again gave me chills.

More great stuff from the folders Friday!

My year in reviewWednesday, December 29, 2010
Posted by: Phil Burgess

I hope you all had a wonderful Christmas (or significant other holiday festivities). NHRA is still officially closed on its winter hiatus (re-opening Monday), but I couldn’t let 2010 escape without a fond look back at the year past, so I’m reluctantly taking some time away from cleanup duty (hey, with a 3-year-old grandchild in the house, that’s a never-ending chore) and taking one for the team by sitting down to compose an end-of-year entry.

Christmas is the time for giving, and looking back at the nearly 100 columns I wrote this year fills me with a post-presents glow for all of the giving we did for each other this year. The columns, as usual, are a compilation between yours truly and a cadre of loyal and knowledgeable readers, with me setting down the premise with the initial entry and the Insider Nation filling out the subject with their own reminisces and photos. It’s kind of a like I’m putting up the Christmas tree and the readership is adding the ornaments and the garland, and we’re all enjoying the presents that land under it. OK, that’s a bit of a merry metaphorical stretch, but you get the idea.

So I thought I’d revisit some of this year’s stuff to remind us all of the fun we had. As always, you can find the entire archive of my work here at right in the collapsing navigation, dating back to the column’s birth in mid-2007. The links in this column will all spawn new windows so you can click on anything that interests you without having to leave this page, then go through all of the opened windows later.

The year began with my proclamation that I was going to try to do a better job of balancing the content here with the content in National DRAGSTER, treating the online column with feedback and mini features and things I couldn’t otherwise do in print and putting a lot of emphasis on the publication that pays the bills with the introduction of a new column, Pure Nostalgia, for National DRAGSTER. I stuck to those guns for a few months, but before long I was serving up full-featured stuff here again. Oh well, best-laid plans of men and all of that …

January wasn’t very long of tooth when I took a little mini vacation to chilly Lake Placid, N.Y., to witness the annual Geoff Bodine Bobsled Challenge as a guest of Jeg Coughlin Jr., who again was taking part in the annual sledfest to benefit the USA Olympic teams. I flew to Columbus, spent the night at Jeg’s palatial estate, then hopped onto a Lear for the quick flight up to the frosty Empire State. I rode a bobsled on the famed course and had a ton of fun. You can find a recount of the adventure here: Part 1, Part 2.

Insider regular Robert Neilsen opened the memory floodgates for many SoCal veterans with a collection of photos he sent to me featuring doorslammers running at fabled Lions Dragstrip that elicited a ton of feedback and additional photos, which can be found here and here.

The 50th anniversary Winternationals was a huge hit with nostalgia nuts like me, and it was one of the most memorable events I’ve attended for a number of reasons. In fact, I barely broke a sweat coming up with my top 25 list.

Insider readers also shared their lists of drag racing heroes with me, which was very cool and unusually diverse, and including lots of personal moments shared: Part 1, Part 2.

Midwest photographer Tom Nagy shared with us a collection of his favorite photos from races in the 1970s and we all said goodbye to former Funny Car world champ Shirl Greer with photos and memories here.

Then the fun really began. In late March wrote a column bidding farewell to Ron Rickman, a longtime NHRA worker perhaps best known to the public for being the guy standing next to the finish line scoreboard when Connie Kalitta took dead aim on him in Poncho Rendon’s wedge Top Fueler. I had no idea that one simple column could sprout wings as this one did, as it led to a prolonged discussion about wedge Top Fuelers of the 1970s. I won’t post all of the links here, but open up the 2010 March, April, and May links at right and you’ll find about a dozen columns talking about wedge dragsters and other similar topics. We devolved into talking about other air-cheating cars in history, including the famous but seldom-run Barry Setzer monocoque dragster built by John Buttera. Famed photog Steve Reyes, who has been a generous contributor to this column from his amazing archive of images, sent me some pics from his original photo shoot on the car. I also penned a history of another unique car, the AMT Piranha.

After a late-June brief foray into a look at old drag racing match race promotional flyers (Part 1, Part 2), it wasn’t long before we were launched into another mega thread that, as with the wedge column, began innocently enough with my story about Don Prudhomme finding the old Dodge ramp truck of former partner Tom McEwen and his plans to restore it to act as a bookend for his own restored hauler. That was July 9, and the ramp truck thread ended up bigger than the wedge thread, and didn’t complete until I finally cried “uncle” with a sendoff column more than two months later. Again, you can find each of the columns in the navigation at right, so enjoy. It’s some pretty cool reading with even cooler photos.

One of the mid-thread highlights was a thorough recounting – in words and photos -- by “T.V Tommy” Ivo of his many trailers. In early August, I also got a chance to see the restored McEwen truck in early form during an amazing trip to Prudhomme’s shop for one of the semi-regular get-togethers held by a growing group of SoCal characters like Roland Leong, Dode Martin, “Wild Bill” Shrewsberry, Bill Doner, Dale Armstrong, Tom Jobe, and dozens more. The group photo I took gives you just a hint of the large group that assembled for bench racing, lie swapping, and lunch. It was quite a day. Read all about it here.

Almost before dust had settled on the ramp truck road, a collection of photos of injected Funny Cars sparked a renewed interest in the unblown monsters of the 1970s that stretched another month with updates, additions, and reader-submitted photos.

The injected Funny Car thread also led me off on a sideroad to interview Ron Pellegrini, who not only was a leader of the Midwest circuits back then, but also the foremost early builder of Funny Car bodies back in the late 1960s and early 1970s.

Like everyone, I have favorites, and while the wedge dragster talk and ramp truck mania inspired feedback beyond my wildest dream, some of the most heartfelt email I received from readers came from the final series of columns I’ll spotlight today.

Far and away, the most personal feedback I received came from an interview with Jeb Allen, a former NHRA world champ who fell on hard times due to substance abuse. I had long heard the tales of his fall, and with a family member of my own struggling with addiction on a daily basis, it was a story I needed to do. Jeb, with more than 20 years of sobriety under his belt now, was forthright and open in discussion of his past and of his incredible comeback. It was moving stuff. He shared some kind words of advice with me, and many of you responded just as emotionally, some of you from personal experience and some from empathy.

While the Jeb Allen story was one I didn’t let get away, I sadly missed the quickly narrowing window to talk to terminally ill Butch Maas to share the tale of his amazing career. I procrastinated too long and by the time I finally contacted him, he was too far gone to answer the phone, and we lost him a few days later. I wrote a farewell to him anyway, and the silver lining on that dark cloud quickly surfaced when I heard from his sisters, Judi and Linda, from whom he had been estranged for some time. They had been Googling his name looking for mentions of his passing when they stumbled across the above column, and were so grateful that their brother still was fondly remembered by the racing community. They shared some old photos and their memories here. It was a warming feeling and another reminder of the powerful and far-reaching impact that this column can have.

Although I only wrote the introduction and Jon Asher did all of the heavy lifting, the recounting of how he shot the famous “garage photo” of James Warren and Roger Coburn was enthusiastically received by one and all. Many of you own a copy of the poster as sold at the NHRA museum, and many of you quickly called up the museum store to get your own copy. Some, who had never seen the powerful photo, were captivated by its spare energy and the feelings it evoked in them, many who had similar garages (without the legendary duo) and said it harkened back to simpler times.

The final column I’ll mention is my Being Thankful entry posted just before Thanksgiving, where I got a chance to say thank you to many, many people and to acknowledge the blessings I’ve had in my life, most of which have come courtesy of the greatest job a guy like me could ever have. The readers of this column are certainly on that list, for it’s them who allow and inspire me to entertain and educate, to stoke memories, and share the history and heroes of our great sport.

Thanks for making 2010 a banner year at the DRAGSTER Insider.

It's in the cardsTuesday, December 21, 2010
Posted by: Phil Burgess

If you read last Friday's column, you know that I have a huge trove of drag racing collectibles. I'm sure it’s just a drop in the bucket compared to what some of the actual collectors out there among you have stashed away, but it's a pretty good pile o' stuff, and some things I'm sure are worth a pretty penny.

I've accumulated all of this in my years on the job here, but the first drag racing collectibles of any sort I owned were the Fleer drag racing cards that were available in the early 1970s. I own a partial set of RaceUSA collection (58 of 74, plus those two unopened packs I bragged about) but I didn't realize that the RaceUSA set is actually the third and final set of quarter-mile cards offered by te Philadelphia-based company. Mark Bruederle, who many of you know as one of the Midwest's finest photographers and a regular at Great Lakes Dragaway, was kind enough to scan up some articles written by Geoff Stunkard, one of the pre-eminent experts on drag racing memorabilia. Stunkard wrote about the cards in his Quarter-milestones column in Racing Collectibles Price Guide magazine in early 1993 and was able to track down the details of each of the sets as well as a collection checklist.

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Naturally, "Big Daddy" Don Garlits is a prime draw. He has four separate cards in the RaceUSA set, including this happy photo.
The first Fleer set, issued in 1971, was the brainchild of Matt Strong of Racing Media Specialists, who approached Fleer executives and showed them images shot by top era lensmen Jim Kelly and Jon Asher. The 63-card set that resulted was called Official Drag Champs, and, after a successful test sampling in the Midwest and East Coast (though curiously not in the sport's SoCal hotbed), about six million cards were put into circulation in the United States and Canada. The photos in the set -- shot mostly by Kelly and Asher, but also some from Strong -- were taken during the 1970 season and, although AHRA was involved in the cards (its distinctive shield is featured on the back of each card and Kelly was the official AHRA photographer at the time), not all of the images were shot at AHRA tracks, according to Stunkard. The backs of all three sets include biographic and statistical information on the driver (more on that later).

According to the article, the Official Drag Champs set remains the easiest of the three to find, and the Canadian-printed set is slightly more valuable that the U.S. printing. In 1993, the Canadian set was valued a $325.

The success of its initial pass down the drag racing card circuit apparently was successful enough to spawn the two subsequent sets, which featured a larger variety of images (including driver personality photos): The Drag Nationals set consists of 70 cards and features images shot during the 1972 AHRA season at a number of facilities, including at the notorious PRO race in Tulsa staged against NHRA's Nationals and, interestingly, at Lions Drag Strip's Last Drag Race in December 1972 (even though by then Lions had become an NHRA track). The entire 74-card RaceUSA set, meanwhile, was photographed during the 1972 AHRA Winternationals at Beeline Dragway in Arizona (which also later became an NHRA track).

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Photo selection is kinda head scratching at times, like this awful shot of Tom McEwen's Duster, with the sprinting crewman blocking the view
Maybe it's because they're 40 years old, but the photo quality on the RaceUSA set isn’t that great. There's some weird cropping and photo choices, but also some pretty good stuff, which you can see in the galleries at right. (The cards shown here are solely from my RaceUSA collection.)

Being a writer myself, naturally I was interested in the content on the card backs as well, which varied from 60 to 100 or so words, but, all in all, was excellently done. There is a lot of good (and accurate) information on all of them, and the repetition is kept to a minimum. (Believe me, when you’re churning out copy for 74 of anything, it's quite a chore to keep the copy fresh and lively.) The most egregious error is committed on Twig Zeigler's card, where his surname is spelled "Zigler" throughout.

Because the sets are AHRA endorsed (Kelly says that Fleer paid him to shoot the first set and that AHRA paid him for the images for the second), NHRA accomplishments are not included. For example, Steve Carbone's 1972 RaceUSA card lauds his win at the 1971 AHRA Winternationals but fails to mention his monster win against Garlits at the 1971 NHRA Nationals (the famous "burndown"). Paradoxically, Ronnie Martin is credited with his 1970 NHRA Top Fuel championship (though the N-word is not used). Overall, a B-plus for writing.

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The RaceUSA set had some nice personalty-type photos, like this great shot of "Dandy Dick" Landy, cigar and all
There seems to be some confusion as to the issue dates and order of release for these final two sets. According to Stunkard, the Drag Nationals set is by far the rarest of the three collections, but also the most poorly produced (including some out of focus images) and may have been prematurely yanked by Fleer and replaced by the RaceUSA set, which to me, with its single-location focus, reeks of "rush job." He quoted collector Joe Kovaks of North Carolina saying that the ratio of cards he could find at memorabilia shows was roughly 20 to 1 for Drag Nationals versus Official Race Champs as about 5 to 1 for RaceUSA versus Official Race Champs.

However, based on a check of the collation of cards found in two unopened 48-pack (five cards per pack) boxes of RaceUSA cards, Kovaks noted that cards 15-28, 52-65, and 72-74 appeared to be in short supply, meaning that those cards may have "short printed". However, of my 16 missing cards -- 1, 5, 13, 14, 17, 29, 33, 34, 38, 39, 42, 45, 46, 47, 51, and 66 -- only one, No. 17, appears in those ranges, so either I'm lucky or the two-box test is too small of a sample to make for empirical data.

Prices (again, from 1993) were $375 for the Drag Nationals, and $260 for RaceUSA. Below are set checklists. As you can see, there are some pretty cool and diverse set of subjects in all of the sets.

  Official Drag Champs  
1. "Akron Arlen" Vanke 22. AHRA Pro Funny Car category 43. Stampede Super Stock
2. John Wiebe 23. Chris Karamesines 44. Ma & Pa Hoover
3. Super Shaker Funny Car 24. AHRA Super Stock category 45. Beyer & Young Cougar
4. Steve Carbone 25. Jim Nicoll 46. Durachrome Bug VW FC
5. Ramchargers Funny Car 26. Dick Landy 47. Bruce Larson
6. Hawaiian Funny Car 27. Shirley Shahan 48. Paula Murphy
7. Stardust Funny Car 28. Dick Harrell Super Stock 49. Bruce Dodd's Spirit
8. Infinity V Funny Car 29. Candies & Hughes Funny Car 50. "Jungle Jim" Liberman
9. Mr. Chevrolet Funny Car 30. "Fast Eddie" Schartman 51. Sam Auxier
10. Grumpy's Toy Super Stock 31. Ed Terry's Super Stock 52. Duane Ong
11. Super Charger Funny Car 32. Hubert Platt 53. Ray Godman
12. Sandy Elliott 33. Gary Kimball 54. AHRA Pro Top Fuel category
13. Chi-Town Hustler Funny Car 34. Gary Watson 55. King & Marshall
14. Boss Maverick Funny Car 35. "Big John" Mazmanian 56. Robert Anderson
15. Rambunctious Funny Car 36. Crietz & Donovan 57. Mallicoat Bros. Gasser
16. Warhorse Funny Car 37. Blue Max Funny Car 58. Hiner & Miller Camaro GT-3
17. Tin Indian GT-2 Firebird 38. Sox & Martin 59. "TV Tommy" Ivo  Top Fueler
18. Don Garlits 39. Mike Burkhart Funny Car 60. Mr. Bardahl Super Stock
19. Engine Masters Funny Car 40. Don Grotheer Super Stock 61. Tony Nancy
20. K.S. Pittman 41. "Sneaky Pete" Robinson 62. CKC Chevy II Funny Car
21. Hemi Duster Super Stock 42. Larry Christopherson 63. "Dyno Don" Nicholson
  Drag Nationals  
1. Don Garlits Swamp Rat 25. Paddy Wagon Vega 48. Candies & Hughes FC
2. Don Garlits Swamp Rat 26. "Mongoose" Funny Car 49. Telstar Dodge Funny Car
3. Don Garlits Swamp Rat 27. "Snake" Funny Car 50. Walton, Cerny & Moody
4. Cyr & Schofield's Top Fueler 28. Gary Cochran Top Fueler 51. Stardust Funny Car
5. Charlie Therwanger's Hombre FC 29. White Bear Dodge Funny Car 52. Green Mamba Jet
6. Bill Leavitt's Mustang Funny Car 30. Revell Snowman Funny Car 53. Arizona Wildcat Funny Car
7. CKC Vega Funny Car 31. Steve Carbone Top Fueler 54. Tom Grove Mustang FC
8. Blue Max Mustang Funny Car 32. Courage of Australia Rocket 55. Dunn & Reath Funny Car
9. "Kansas John" Wiebe Top Fueler 33. "Kansas John" Wiebe Top Fueler 56. El Diablo Top Fueler
10. Steve Carbone Top Fueler 34. Carpet Bagger Top Fueler 57. California Flash Funny Car
11. Mr. Norm's Dodge Funny Car 35. Smokin Sun Devil Funny Car 58 Grumpy's Toy Pro Stocker
12. Jim Hayter Pro Stock 36. Drag-On Vega Funny Car 59. Watson, Cerny & Moody
13. Sox & Martin Pro Stocker Dodge 37. Chris Karamesines Top Fueler 60. Ramchargers Dodge FC
14. Don Grotheer's Pro Stocker 38. Gary Cochran Top Fueler 61. Researcher Funny Car
15. Rod Shop Demon Pro Stocker 39. Don Cook Top Fueler 62. Brand X Funny Car
16. The Boss Pro Stocker Plymouth 40. Creitz & Dill Top Fueler 63. Special Edition Top Fueler
17. Rundle's Chevrolet 41. Chris Karamesines Top Fueler 64. Trojan Horse Funny Car
18. Grumpy's Toy Pro Stocker 42. The Boss Plymouth Pro Stocker 65. Peter Paul Vega Funny Car
19. Landy's Dodge Pro Stocker 43. White Bear Dodge Funny Car 66. Whipple & Mr. Ed Funny Car
20. Motown Missile Pro Stocker 44. Braskett & Burgin Funny Car 67. Smokey Joe" Lee Funny Car
21. Drag-On Vega Funny Car 45. Lil' John Lombardo Vega Funny Car 68. Green Mamba Jet
22. Revell Snowman Funny Car 46. Hot Wheels "Snake" Funny Car 69. Mickey Thompson Funny Car
23. Motown Shaker Funny Car 47. Hot Wheels "Mongoose" Funny Car 70. Paddy Wagon Vega
24. Mickey Thompson Vega    
  Race USA  
1. Tom McEwen Funny Car 26. Steve Carbone Top Fueler 51. Paddy Wagon wheelstander
2. Tom McEwen Funny Car 27. Don Cook Top Fueler 52. Arlen Vanke Pro Stocker
3. Tom McEwen 28. Gary Cochran Top Fueler 53. Whately Bros. Camaro
4. Don Prudhomme Funny Car 29. Mike Burkhart Funny Car 54. Rapid Ronnie Funny Car
5. Don Prudhomme 30. Tom Akin Top Stock 55. Polaris T/S Mustang
6. Don Prudhomme 31. Garlits - Driver of Year 56. Sandy Elliott Pro Stocker
7. Blue Max Funny Car 32. Larry Christopherson 57. Bobby Yowell Pro Stocker
8. Quickie Too Funny Car 33. Larry Christopherson Funny Car 58. Don Garlits
9. Gremlin 401-XR stocker 34. Sox & Martin Pro Stocker 59. Don Garlits Top Fueler
10. Bob Lambeck Pro Stocker 35. Sox/Martin/Jake King 60. Don Garlits
11. Butch Leal Pro Stocker 36. Don Schumacher Funny Car 61. Jeg's S/S
12. Dick Landy 37. We Haul Vega Pro Stocker 62. Hemi-Fiat Fuel Altered
13. Dick Landy Pro Stocker 38. We Haul Vega Pro Stocker 63. Jon Petrie Pro Stocker
14. Kimball Bros. Camaro 39. Scott Shafiroff's Camaro 64. Rod Shop Demon
15. Tom Hoover Top Fueler 40. Barry Setzer Funny Car 65. Nanook Fuel Altered
16. White Bear Funny Car 41. Chris Karamesines Top Fueler 66. The Mob Fuel Altered
17. "Dyno Don" Nicholson Pro Stocker 42. Dave Russell Top Fueler 67. The Mob Fuel Altered
18. Ken Holthe's Camaro 43. Twig Zeigler Funny Car 68. Praying Mantis Top Fueler
19. Don Grotheer Pro Stocker 44. Robert Anderson Top Fueler 69. Jim Nicoll Top Fueler
20. Eddie Schartman Pro Stocker 45. M/T Pinto (Dale Pulde) 70. Ed Sigmon Opel
21. Gapp-Roush Pro Stocker 46. M/T Pinto Funny Car 71. Gene Snow
22. Mr. Ed Funny Car 47. M/T Mustang Funny Car 72. Gene Snow Funny Car
23. Boss Hoss Funny Car 48. Revellution Funny Car 73. Gene Snow Funny Car
24. Gene Dunlap Camaro 49. Revellution Funny Car 74. Gene Snow Top Fueler
25. Drag-On Vega 50. John Wiebe  
Moving-day treasure troveFriday, December 17, 2010
Posted by: Phil Burgess

Well, I'm all moved into my new digs, with the exception of a few boxes that still need unpacking and stuff that still needs sorting. It was an interesting trip back to 1993, which is when the Publications Department moved out of the Financial Way headquarters just down the road a piece on Route 66. A lot of stuff got boxed up and pretty much forgotten about, but with the need to consolidate to fit everything in my new office, I went through every box on a treasure hunt. Man, the stuff I found … the stuff I kept. What was I thinking?

One drawer had press kits from the early to mid-1990s -- for the McDonald's team (Cory Mac, Cruz Pedregon, Jim Yates), Mark Pawuk, Gordie Rivera, Connie and Scott Kalitta, Dean Skuza, Eddie Hill, Team Castrol, Rachelle Splatt/Luxor, and more – and a Shirley Muldowney 1993 20th anniversary press kit that referred to her as "Drag racing's 'chief chick.' " Wonder how she felt about that one…

The first thing out of the box and to find its place back on display was my full-size Wally from winning my first of two NHRA Staff Drags titles in 2000, followed by the rest of the stuff that makes up my shrine: my OCIR mug (one of two things I swaddled in bubble wrap); a "limited edition" (No. 144 of 1,999) piece of the original U.S. Nationals grandstands; two Chrysler Hemi pistons (badly damaged by a dropped valve) from my time behind the wheel of the Mazi family's supercharged Opel in 1984; my 2004 Gold Medal from the International Automotive Media (we're encouraged to enter these contests every once in a while to be able to continue using the term "award-winning" in our DRAGSTER ads); a framed photo of the November/December 1997 cover of Jr. DRAGSTER featuring my son (then 8, now 21); an autographed Darrell-Gwynn-throws-out-first-ball-at-charity-softball-game print; and my rotating diecast of the month choice (Cory Mac's special-edition JEGS Top Fueler (1 of 1,248)).

In no particular order, here's what else I found:

My first-, fourth-, and sixth-grade class photos. You remember those, where they had all of the individual headshots on one page, along with your teacher's photo? I was a good-looking kid.

A Silver Anniversary NHRA Winternationals button (1985).

Junior-high yearbooks (Marina Del Rey Junior High School, 1974 and 1975); high school yearbooks (Venice High School, 1976 and 1978). I was a good-looking teenager.

Dozens of Dungeons and Dragons mini figurines that I had meticulously hand-painted in the early 1980s (hey, don’t judge).

A collection of NHRA year-in-review coffee-table-style books, 1991-96, produced by UMI. Former ND staffer Todd Veney and I used to write them for that company.

1971 PDA Championships program from OCIR (my first drag race).

Copies of various magazines (Popular Cars, Custom Rodder, Popular Hot Rodding) with articles I freelanced before beginning my career at ND.

The Little Black Book of Secrets ("New 1996 Edition!"), a pocket-size publication sharing with me the secrets of the universe: safest eats on an airplane, world's best hiccup cure, seven questions to ask a surgeon before you let him operate, five common etiquette mistakes, how to spot bad checks, what to do when you win the lottery, bills it's OK to pay late (and their typical grace periods), how to save your life if you walk in on a burglary, and so much more. Invaluable.

A stack or Polaroid photos from a mid-1980s New Year's Eve party with the Mazi family (including special guest Bill Bader).

Some old Far Side cartoons clipped from the newspaper (oblivious dog in the backseat of a car, bragging to his yard-bound canine pal that he's "going to the vet's to get tutored").

Letter from The Superior Court, Juvenile Court Traffic Division from February 1977. Ahhhh, who can forget that first traffic ticket? It only took me nine months to get written up. "Exhibition of speed." Nice. Mom and Dad were so proud …

"Our Family History," as written by my mom in June 1998, recounts her young life, meeting my father, our emigration to the United States from England, their subsequent divorce, my father defying the custody order and spiriting my sister and me back to England literally under cover of dark, and the frustrating (and failed) legal battles to get us back, her remarriage, my father's passing and our return to the U.S., and so much more. (No mention of the traffic ticket … whew.) It answered a lot of questions I had and will continue to be a source of comfort for me. I think I'll tell her that at Christmas next week.

Two In Memory of Leslie Lovett window stickers, an Eric Medlen: True Hero-True Friend-True Champion patch, five Scott Kalitta: Champion-Hero-Friend stickers, three In Memory-Bobby Baldwin stickers, two Get Well Soon Darrell Gwynn stickers.

July, 20, 1989, issue of the Rocky Mountain News with the blaring headline "Denver flight crashes in Iowa, up to 113 die." The day before, we had just stepped off the plane to attend the Mile-High Nationals, which was back on the schedule after a one-year hiatus for facility upgrades. The airport was abuzz with people screaming about a Denver plane crashing. There were no details available at the moment — and wouldn’t be for a lot of people across the nation — but I remember rushing to the phone to call home to let everyone know I was OK, lest they hear on the news only the words "Denver" and "plane crash." Man, just thinking of that moment still chokes me up 20-plus years later.

Front section of the March 5, 1992 Houston Chronicle, with the headline "City deluged as skies open." We landed in a heavy downpour at Houston Intercontinental en route to the Slick 50 Nationals at Houston Raceway Park and rolled out of the rental-car lot into a scene from a disaster movie. "Freeways flowed like rivers and thousands were stranded by swiftly rising water Wednesday as Houston was paralyzed by some of the worst flooding in its history," the story reads. We crawled along the freeways and finally reached our hotel hours later. More than 7 inches of rain had fallen in downtown that day; in Baytown, where the track is, they reported only "trace" rain.

One of my favorite books, Confessions of a Pregnant Father, autographed by my favorite author, Dan Greenburg. The book, which humorously recounts his concerns heading into fatherhood, echoed my own experiences. It took me two years to get it back from him to be autographed. I also found the hilarious "phone memo" taken by the operator when I missed his call: "Returning your call, two years late."

Dave Barry's Greatest Hits and other pearls of journalistic wisdom by my second-favorite writer.

Four copies of Bob Post's brilliant High Performance book from 1994: one soft cover, one hard cover, an early uncorrected proof with photocopies where many of the photos would later go, and the 2001 revised version.

Feb. 11, 1989, LA Times Sports section with my photo sequence of Eddie Hill's Winternationals blowover on the front page (four photos!).

Autographed copy of Wally Parks' 1966 book, Drag Racing, Yesterday and Today.

Official program (50 cents!) from the 1961 Nationals, the first held in Indy. It has Barbara Parks' name written across the top, so I must have inherited it from her somehow, sometime. It's a pretty cool keepsake from that era. Inside is a full spread detailing the prizes to be awarded to the competition car and the stock car world champs. The former was to receive a '61 Thunderbird, "equipped with Cruise-o-Matic transmission and the famous 300 h.p. Thunderbird Special engine." The stock car champ got a '61 Pontiac Catalina that was a replica of the Royal Pontiac entry that won the 1960 title. The cars were awarded at the Nationals based on who had collected the greatest number of points at the end of the season. Individual eliminator winners at the Nationals earned 348-horsepower Pontiac "trophy engines" and transmissions equipped with Hurst's dual-pattern shift linkage. The program, of course, has an entry list, and an impressive one at that, stretching over eight pages and 897 entries. There's also a handy racing-lingo page paced with gems such as "box" (poor car), "stooge" (mechanic's assistant), "to tiger" (to drive to limits beyond one's ability and sometimes beyond), "canvas" (retaining wall or guardrail), and "buckets" (pistons). So, lemme see if I've got this figured out. "His car was a real box; even the stooge couldn't make it fast, so he had to tiger it out to the canvas and ended up burning the buckets." Pretty hep, eh?

Time magazine, Feb. 10. 1986, issue, with the Space Shuttle Challenger explosion on the cover; I'll never forget where I was when that happened: playing video games with the late Bill Crites at the 7-Eleven down the street from NHRA's headquarters in North Hollywood. We raced back to the office and watched in horror, over and over again, the replays on Leslie Lovett's small black-and-white TV in the photo darkroom.

Empty boxes for some of the earliest drag racing computer games ever: Family Software's Drag Race Eliminator (1986, for IBM compatible), Gamestar's Top Fuel Eliminator (1987, for the Apple IIe), and Cosmi's Shirley Muldowney Top Fuel Challenge (1987, for Commodore 64). The latter still includes the original 5 ¼-inch floppy disk. Wow. Anybody have a Commodore lying around?

Special 2003 Limited Edition chrome Deora 2 Hot wheels car, in a collector's box, which served as the amazing invitation to the 2003 Hot Wheels Hall of Fame awards at the Petersen Automotive Museum, where NHRA founder Wally Parks and NASCAR king Richard Petty were honored.

OCIR time slip from my first pass down the quarter-mile in 1981 (16.79 at 80.78 mph … whoo-wee!).

A sleeve of 20 transparencies I took of the first new car I ever bought, an '87 Firebird Formula that I bought in late 1986 to replace my high-powered/low-fuel-efficient hot-rodded AMC Javelin.

Set of Finish Line NHRA collector cards from the 1993 season, which was pretty cool because in addition to the usual photos of drivers and crew chiefs, they included aerial photos from the national event tracks.

Not one, not two, not three ... no, sir, four pica poles, the ruler-like measuring devices used in the printing trade (1 inch equals about six picas).

A still-in-the-sealed-box copy of I Saw Elvis at 1,000 Feet, a book we produced in 1995 filled with memorable John Force quotes and photos.

A Legends of the Strip collector-card set, produced for NHRA by Sealed Power during NHRA's 50th Anniversary season. I have no idea what the cards inside look like, nor how many there are.

Two unopened Fleer Race USA drag action photos card packs (gum still inside!) that I believe are from 1972. Bet that gum tastes good. I also have a near-complete set of those cards but hesitate to break the seal on these two packages looking to fill out my set. Do you have any idea how hard it is to resist?

Unopened limited-edition blister pack of Classic 1991 Hockey Draft picks, including future stars like Eric Lindros, Scott Neidermayer, and Peter Forsberg (No. 26,642 of 175,000). Complete boxed set of 1990 Score NHL cards.

A set of Countdown to the Championship 2008 collector cards.

Two complete and sealed collections of 1992's ProSet NHRA Winston Drag Racing cards, plus one opened full set and hundreds of duplicates. Didja know: I, Leslie Lovett, and Steve Gibbs were supposed to be part of that 1992 set. We had signed contracts, and I already had mentally spent the $3,000 license fee they were going to pay us, but it was decided by management that it was not appropriate for us to be part of the set.

Two unopened ProSet collections of cards celebrating Kenny Bernstein's breaking of the 300-mph barrier.

(Man, I have a lot of cards.)

Two complete uncut sheets of Mega drag racing cards.

1991 boxed set of Don Garlits Museum of Drag Racing collector cards by Racing Legends.

Various other boxed sets from the folks at Big Time Drag Cards.

A bunch of photos from our old Drag City feature, in which readers sent in pictures of signs that had references to racing or racers, such as this great one, the Golden Greek restaurant in Mount Clemens, Mich. (known better as the former hometown of Shirley Muldowney), sent by Fred Fritzam of Royal Oak, Mich. (better known as the hometown of former Pro Stock racer Sam Gianino).

A July 1987 certified letter from Triangle Publications, chastising us for using what we thought was a pretty generic term – TV Guide – in our Table of Contents to direct our readers to the television listings for NHRA events. So we changed it to "Television Guide." A month later, a second letter arrived: "The name 'Television Guide,' among others, is registered as our trademark … [and] cannot be used to describe any other type of television information." I think we settled on "Television Playdates" and crossed our fingers. No third letter came.

A detailed report on traffic from the first NHRA audiocast, which was at the 1997 U.S. Nationals. Even though Internet penetration back then was still in its relative infancy, we had listeners from Japan, Italy, Australia, the Netherlands, Finland, the United Kingdom, and Greece. Pretty cool.

Emergency-room statement from Centre Hospitalier Honore-Mercier for "lacération 3cm arcade sourcilière gauche. soins d'urgence: sous locale sutures," which, roughly translated, means I got treatment for a 1-inch gash above my left eye, was given emergency care, and had stitches under local anesthetic. And that was how I spent the Saturday evening of 16 août (Aug. 16) during the 1986 Le Grandnational. My great, great old pal Bill Crites had challenged me to a game of racquetball at our hotel, the Auberge de Signeurs, in the charming little town of Saint-Hyacinthe. Long story short, he hit a ball that he didn’t think I could get to and decided to return it himself, not knowing that I was plunging recklessly after it. Backhand follow-through met eyebrow, and the next thing I know, I'm flat on my back looking up through a red haze as blood pooled in my eye socket. Sweet! We spent three hours waiting for me to get sewn up (that's me at right showing off my war wound before getting stitched). I've told this story before, but the most interesting thing about the whole experience came the next afternoon, when Shirley Muldowney, in her first return to Montreal after the devastating 1984 accident there, rode out a frightening rear-tire explosion in the traps at about the same spot she had crashed two years earlier. I rolled up on my minibike to where the car had stopped to check out the situation, expecting to find a shaken Shirley. Instead, cool as ever, she told everyone she was fine, looked at me, and said, "How are you? I heard you got hurt last night." Wow.

A thinking-of-you get-well card from Anne Lepone, the sweet, sweet, sweet mother of former Pro Stock racer Joe Lepone Jr., acknowledging the above ("I hope your boo-boo healed and your good-looking face is back to normal"). The card, as always, contained a crisp $1 bill (as always, "for ice cream"). I've met a lot of people over my many years in this sport, and she'll always be one of my most fondly remembered. I have about a half-dozen cards from her, all of which came with a dollar (one, in 1990, actually came with two dollars enclosed, one for my newborn daughter, Amanda), and those are dollars that I will never, ever spend. We lost her about four years ago, and the world has never been the same.

Speaking of injuries, here's photo of me, taken by Michael Mihalko, on one of the DRAGSTER staff bicycles, at Maple Grove Raceway in 1996. We had brokered a deal with Top Alcohol Dragster owner Gary Taylor, who owned GT Bicycles, to get the staff some swift wheels to traverse the track and pits. Fans have sent me a lot of photos of me over the years, but this one is a painful reminder because just a few months earlier, I had taken a nasty fall on this bike at the Houston event, hitting something in the road and doing a sweet endo over the handlebars. Fortunately, there was only one witness to my pratfall. Unfortunately, that witness was alcohol racer Jay Payne, who – and those of you who know Jay can relate – had some very complimentary words for me about my riding prowess. Injury was limited to my ego.

More than two-dozen "Wally Memos," missives from our late, great founder. They cover the gamut of things I should have done, could have done, and should do when it comes to championing NHRA in the pages of National DRAGSTER. As any of my fellow memo-receiving peers here will attest, he often was very direct about your Shortcoming of the Week, but, if you got enough of them (and I surely did), you saw where he was coming from, that his intention was not necessarily to chew you out but to show you the way. That, folks, is how NHRA has gotten to where it's at. I keep them to remind me of that and read them occasionally.

Apparently, the only person to write to me more often than Wally did is Kenny Bernstein. I have a folder with 30 thank-you letters from him, thanking me personally or the staff as a whole for articles, photos, and covers published on his team. They span all the way from my first year here through this year, and they were always much-appreciated acknowledgments of our hard work. And that, folks, is how Kenny Bernstein got to where he's at.

Others have written about me. I came across some thorough job evaluation from 2003 that I don’t remember taking. It must have been some kind of online deal where you answer a zillion questions and then have it all explained to you in painful detail. "Phil appreciates others who are team players and will reward those who are loyal. ... He prides himself on his creativity, incisiveness, and cleverness. … When faced with a tough decision, he will try to sell you on his ideas. Logic and people who have the facts and data to support this logic influence him. … He admires the patience required to gather facts and data. He is a good problem-solver and troubleshooter, always seeking new ways to solve old problems. … Phil has the ability to ask the right questions and destroy a shallow idea. Some people may feel these questions are a personal attack upon their integrity; however, this is just his way of getting the appropriate facts. … He may lose interest in what others are saying if they ramble or don't speak to the point. His active mind is already moving ahead. … Phil has a tendency to: make 'off the cuff' remarks that are often seen as personal prods; set standards for himself and others so high that impossibility of the situation is commonplace; have trouble delegating -- can't wait, so does it himself." Yeah, that's pretty much spot-on.

Without a doubt, one of the most surprising finds was my high school Advanced Composition work folder, filled with old essays. My auto-obsessed teen leanings were obvious. There's a character sketch I wrote on one of my old street racing buddies. A "fact to conclusion" essay ("racing can be dangerous"). An essay called "The Super Car, An Endangered Species." Our teacher was hard but fair. Of one cause-and-effect essay about the use of drugs by high school students, she scolded me, "You're a chef d'oduerve of 'figures prove' fallacies and/or manipulations." Another chided, "Clever wording, clear structure, but spurious and careless reasoning." Story of my life … I still earned an A.

You know what? I could go on and on, but I've already gone way overboard, but it has been a very cool reminder of all of the good times I've enjoyed in the past 28 years. Seems like every trinket brought back a memory (not always good), but it made me grateful for the people I've met, the places I've had a chance to visit, the things I've had opportunities to do, and the job that I still love. Just don’t ask me to move again anytime soon.

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