Wow, just five days into the off-season, and it has been pretty eventful already. Rumors of firings and hirings (some of them even true) are flying faster than fuelers, Austin Coil ends his 26-year relationship with John Force, and yesterday, we hear the tragic news about the Summit Racing team's transporter and Greg Anderson's Pontiac race car being damaged in a fire shortly after leaving the Pomona track. Is it a champion's curse? If I were LE Tonglet and Larry Dixon, I'd be careful the next few days.
Actually, Dixon is entrusting himself to the DRAGSTER staff today as he returns to the office for the first time as the champ since he won the 2003 Top Fuel crown, and he's returning for the same reason seven years later: to buy us lunch. There are a lot of reasons to like Dixon – humble to a fault, a racer's racer, the son of a racer, student of the sport – but remembering folks like us is a really good way, too.
Dixon even thanked us in his acceptance speech at the Full Throttle Awards Ceremony, which is pretty special. We don’t expect anyone to do that – and certainly hold nothing against those who don't; how could we? – because we consider ourselves just part of the behind-the-scenes team that helps make NHRA what it is and work to make the accomplishments of our racers known to all.
The reporters and photographers on our staff certainly get to see these racing heroes at every event, get to know them, even sometimes break bread with them, but it's extra special to the folks behind the scenes of the behind-the-scenes people – I'm talking about the fine ladies and gentlemen on the publication staff whose only contact with these legends is in helping to prepare each week's issue – to not only get to meet a Top Fuel world champ but also to sit down and have lunch with him.
As he did in 2002 and 2003, Dixon forked over the digits of his American Express card to us to cater in a meal from local-fave Mexican restaurant Sergio's, and he'll be here at about 11 a.m. We have a few surprises of our own in store for him as our way of saying thanks for thinking of us.
|Traffic dispatches about the fire give a hint of what happened. (View bigger)
Back to the Anderson story and all of the sorrow involved in that. As many of you know, Greg and Kim Anderson began the new year on a sorrowful note when a fire heavily damaged their home in North Carolina (check out Anderson's championship speech for details), then the whole team worried and weathered the storm surrounding the medical issues of team owner Ken Black. Then, just when all was right with their world – Ken was back at the races, Greg was the champ, and Kim's wardrobe had been restocked – this happens.
Although we learned of the fire shortly after it happened – Carl Landkammer, one of those behind-the-scenes people I was talking about (he's our image-scanning and -adjustment ace who makes the photos all look so good every week), has a California Highway Patrol traffic-alert app on his computer, and we looked up the details – and through multiple sources confirmed that it was Anderson's rig, we didn’t publish the news out of respect to Black and Anderson. Anderson was in the air flying home, and the last thing I wanted for Black or Anderson was to find out the bad news from someone who couldn’t break it to them gently. I'm sure you've all been there; you get off the plane, and you have 10 missed calls. It's a sickening feeling.
It's such a small world. I got a call from a fan, Ken, whose buddy was the fire captain on the unit that responded to the blaze and called him with details, knowing that Ken was a fan. It was from them that we learned the extent of the damage, although apparently Anderson's oversized championship check was not damaged, and I'm sure that the real one is safely in someone's pocket. We also heard from Freddy Aguilar, husband of another of those behind-the-scenes people here, Maria, who is our senior ad services rep. Freddy is a UPS driver and saw the fire firsthand from the other side of the freeway on his route. Small world, indeed.
I can’t tell you how heartsick we all are for the Summit team. Theirs certainly is not the first rig lost to fire or accident on the way to or from a race, but with all that they suffered through this year and how good they must have felt to put it all behind them, it just sucks.
Final work being done on the painted cab to "clear" over the logos on the side while an old friend "watches" in the background
Just a quick hit today, but one I think that you'll enjoy. Skip Allum from Don Prudhomme's camp sent me update photos on the restoration of the ramp truck of former Wildlife Racing teammate Tom McEwen.
"The Snake" had found his old yellow Dodge ramp truck a few years ago and lovingly (and painstakingly in his accuracy) restored it to its former glory and wanted to find the matching rig used by "the Mongoose," which he did this past summer. It was in quite rough shape when he found it (read my original article on the find here), but through a lot of hard work and the lessons learned on his truck, Prudhomme, right-hand resto ace Willie Wolter, and the team literally are racing right along with the work on the McEwen truck, which will be restored as the red version.
In the next week or so, Allum will post a new feature on www.snakeracing.com called "Restoring a Rivalry." It will basically be a photo gallery to show the various stages of the restoration process from beginning to end, so be sure to catch that when it hits the Web.
Pomona was a gas -- lots of great racing and high drama. It's one that will go into the memory books for sure. I met a lot of fans of the column who expressed their thanks for keeping alive the memories and finally – FINALLY – got to meet Jimmy Ige. Even though I'm pals with his son, Derek, who works with former drag racers Ed and Ron Bergenholtz on their Full Tilt Poker Mazda in the Formula Drift series, it seemed that every time I tried to meet the former SoCal Junior Fuel great, we'd miss, whether it was at the Hot Rod Reunion or the drifting venues. I met Jimmy as well as former partner Michael Sassa; we traded tales of our common hometown (Culver City, where he still lives), and Jimmy even playfully admonished me for constantly apologizing when I miss a column here or am late getting it posted. OK, Jimmy … no more apologies!
I also wanted to give you guys a heads-up about a column I'll be working on chronicling the life and times of a guy few of you have forgotten if you ever saw him run: Capt. Jack McClure, of 200-mph rocket go-kart fame. The day before the Finals, I spent two hours talking with him on the phone – well, he did most of the talking – and let me just say that if you think you know the Capt. Jack story, you don't. It's pretty fascinating stuff.
OK, thanks for reading; I'll see you later this week.
Butch Maas was flanked by his sisters, Judi, left, and Linda, as they helped their mom celebrate her 75th birthday in 1995. "It actually was one of the last times we were together," said Linda.
Turns out I wasn't the only one lamenting the missed chance to say my goodbyes to Butch Maas, the former Winternationals-winning Funny Car racer who passed away last week.
In another breathtaking example of the reach of this humble little corner of the Internet where we all come together twice a week to reminisce and bench race, I heard from Maas' sisters -- big sister Judi McGavin and baby sister Linda Maas Clear -- late last week, sisters from whom he sadly had been estranged but who fondly remembered to me the brother they lost.
There are those who knew Maas for years but weren't aware that he had siblings, but it's clear that his sisters never forgot him. They found my column while Googling about their brother after his passing and wrote to thank me for remembering him and to mourn their lost chance as well.
"[We were] not always his favorite people, especially in the last few years; however, we loved him dearly," wrote Judi. "Maybe it was just damn hard to be squeezed between two girls. We shared much of family life for many years, and then it stopped working for Butch, and we were left without a brother. It always made me feel good to know that there were guys out there that thought he was one great guy. He had his crabbies and bad moods, but then don't we all. I remember so well the accident and my parents rushing to his side to be with him through his recovery. We held our breath and said our prayers that he would come through it whole.
"He was much loved by his family regardless of how he distanced us. We seemed worlds apart as adults, and the sadness for me and my sister is that he never got a chance to know how much we loved him and how proud we were of him. I guess families aren't always perfect, and ours wasn't, but we did have love.
"So as you grieve the opportunity you lost, as well as we do, it is a reminder to hold tight those you love and never miss an opportunity to let someone know how important their life is. Thank you again for the tribute to my brother. I can only hope he is on the big dragstrip in the sky doing what he loved so much."
Linda added, "I know what you mean about waiting too long to contact him; he was not in contact with my sister and me the last few years, and we were especially sad at his passing because we never had the chance to reconnect. Your articles will always mean a lot to me and my sister. My brother really was a pioneer in drag racing and should be remembered that way. I remember when he won the Winternationals in '71, he called me. I was living in Texas at the time, and he was over the moon. It was probably the highlight of his career, and we were all so proud of him."
By any other name:
Linda shared this photo, which shows her and Butch flanking their parents at the 1973 Winternationals, where he debuted Thompson's Grand Am.
The sisters also filled me in on a couple of mysteries surrounding Maas' nicknames. As you can imagine, Butch was not his given name. According to Judi, his name was Martin Roney Maas, Roney being their mother's maiden name, but early on, he became Butch.
"He was named after our grandfather, and it seemed like all of the men in our family ended up with nicknames," wrote Linda. "I believe it came from the fact that when my brother was little he had a really short haircut, and Butch just seemed to fit. For a while in high school, he tried to go by the name Marty, but it didn't stick."
Marty Maas? Yeah, I'm happier he went with Butch Maas.
I also asked the sisters about his other nickname, C.W., which sometimes was painted on his helmet.
I had asked former Top Fuel driver Carl Olson, who like many SoCal fuel pilots knew Maas well, if he knew. It turns out that he did, and Linda confirmed the story through a conversation with Maas' ex-wife, Gayle.
C.W. Moss was a character in the film Bonnie & Clyde. He played the gas-station attendant who became their getaway driver, and because the names were pronounced the same despite the different spelling, "One of Butch's buddies used to call him CW, and Butch thought it was pretty funny, so he put it on his helmet."
Of note, though Bonnie Parker and Clyde Barrow certainly were real, C.W. Moss never existed; his character in the film (played by Michael J. Pollard) was a composite of two members of the Barrow Gang, William Daniel "W.D." Jones and Henry Methvin.
Another surprise e-mail came from Mike Broome, who was Maas' crew chief with Mickey Thompson's Revelleader Grand Am in 1973. That's them above left in 1973 (Can you tell it was the '70s? And, no, that's not Leif Garrett.) and above right reunited three years ago in Bakersfield.
"I was with him from January '73 until Gainesville when the car burned up," noted Broome. "I then went back and built the new car that Dale Pulde drove and worked with him until August '73. I send along my condolences to Butch's family. I met his son three years ago in Bakersfield and had a chance to spend some time there with Butch and again in '09 at Bakersfield."
With Butch (and Mickey) no longer with us, I'm hoping that Mike can fill in some of the missing info about Butch's short but highlight-filled stint in the Grand Am and how Butch came to be the driver. As I mentioned last week, Maas replaced Pulde under what appear to be curious circumstances, and maybe Mike can shed some more light on that. I've always had a very soft place in my heart for this car (as apparently many of you do, based on the e-mails I've received), and I'm looking forward to putting together the pieces of the puzzle behind it. I've been in contact with Larry Arnold, who drove the car after Pulde returned to the car and have reached out to Bob Pickett, the car's last driver.
Maas was the low qualifier at the 1972 NHRA World Finals in Amarillo, Texas, with a 6.61 in Mart Higginbotham's Drag-On Vega. In eliminations, they ran 6.64, 6.56, and 6.57 to defeat Charlie Therwhanger, John Dekker, and Ed McCulloch (pictured). Maas broke the rear end and lost in the semifinals to Jake Johnston in Gene Snow's Charger, who ran low e.t. of the meet with a 6.51.
I also heard from Mart Higginbotham, whose Drag-On Vega Maas very nearly drove to the 1972 world championship in Amarillo, Texas. Of course, back then, winning the World Finals made you the world champ.
"It was October 1972, and I had basically completed my season except for the California swing when I received a phone call from Butch explaining how he had enough points to qualify for the NHRA World Finals and was I interested in letting him use my Drag-On Vega to make the race," recalled Higginbotham. "I guess I thought about it for five seconds and said, 'Yes.' I pulled the pan, checked the bearings, adjusted the clutch, and told Butch to meet in Amarillo and loaded the car. When I got to the track, Butch was there, and it was easy to make a driver's money deal.
"We unloaded the car and did all the pre-race things like warm the engine, change oil, put in 94 percent, and hauled the car to the starting line for a qualifying run. Butch did everything correct and proceeded to set the track record with his pass. Keith Black came over and wanted to help tune us up, but I think we knew what to do. We took the car back and made another pass, and it went even quicker. It was easily the No. 1 qualifier, so we put it up and went to dinner.
"The race day came, and we (maybe I should say Butch) outran all the competition until the semifinal, when we broke the rear end. Needless to say, all were greatly disappointed, but I learned what a neat person Butch was and what a great driver he was. I saw him again at the California Hot Rod Reunion at Bakersfield three years ago. We talked and reminisced about old times and that weekend at Amarillo. Time sure has flown by, and I'm sorry really good friends have to say goodbye. He is one friend I will really miss."
Reader response to my fretting about missing Maas was also warming. Paul Cuff, a regular on our NHRA Interactive chats on NHRA.com, wrote, "I'm sitting in my favorite coffee shop just now, and I just read your piece about Butch Maas. I can imagine how you feel because I told you about losing Jim 'Puppet' DiTullio a few weeks ago. I've been kicking myself in the ass for not telling him how often I put my life in his hands and how he never let me down. I know Jim would understand how life sometimes gets in the way of the things we want to do right away, but that's why it's called 'life.' There are so many lives that have touched me for the better, and I failed to let them know how much they meant to me. I think that's why I try to make a point to let them know how I feel and how much I appreciate them. I appreciate the friends I have, both in racing and out. They pretty much accept me unconditionally, and I hope I repay the kindness. I'm sorry for your loss and for the loss to our sport specifically. We can never seem to get all the time we want to accomplish all we want to, but just know that you were at least close enough to Butch to know most of his story."
Brad Faria philosophized, "People die every day, and there is always something that didn't get asked, answered, or something. In our life, we are all busy doing what we do, and things happen that sometimes we know it's coming, and then others that hit us like a brick in the head."
He went on to recall his favorite Maas moment: "I remember being about 13 years old at Fremont Dragstrip watching the Waters & Maas Top Fuel car in the final. Rain had been threatening all day and finally started to come down in just a fine mist. To say the Waters & Maas team were underdogs was an understatement as they were racing James Warren in the Warren, Coburn & Miller car. Both cars had been running great all day, and no one thought that Waters and Maas would be in the final, but they were. The cars had done their burnouts and had been pushed back and were starting to stage. The excitement was thicker than the mist in the air. As the second stage light came on for one car and then the other, the mist was turning into rain when the starter ran out in front of both cars and gave them the shutoff sign. Everyone in the stands took a deep gasp as we all knew it was the best thing, but believe me, what excitement; I'll never forget that one ever. Take care, Phil. We won't forget Butch Maas."
Thanks, everyone. I'd like to think that's what this column is all about: not forgetting anyone, especially those who helped pave the hallowed grounds at the tracks on which we walk.
(One more quick note: Due to this weekend's World Finals, I probably won't have a column Friday and, depending on the workload the race generates, might be hard-pressed to have something Tuesday either, but we'll resume your regularly scheduled programming after that.)
Two days after receiving the news, I still hate myself. Well, maybe that's a bit strong, but I'm certainly very mad at myself.
Tuesday evening, we lost Butch Maas to cancer, and I lost my chance to glean from him his slice of firsthand drag racing history. I'm mad that I lost the race because I kept putting off a call to him because I was swamped with this or under deadline for that, not realizing that Butch's own deadline was approaching faster than I knew. Steve Gibbs and Leigh Buttera (among others) kept telling me I'd better get with it because the light was fading from him, and by the time I did call last week, he wasn't able to take calls anymore. I feel that I not only failed myself but that more importantly I failed him and you. I just always thought there was still time and had circled last week on my calendar as my first come-up-for-air day that I could spend as long on the phone as I needed to to hear Butch tell war stories, which I understand he was very good at. I only spoke once to Butch, sometime last year, and he talked my ear off, but I sadly didn’t take many notes, and it revolved solely around his time behind the wheel of Roland Leong's Hawaiian.
National DRAGSTER did get to tell Butch's story once, 14 long years ago in the Winternationals souvenir issue when the late Chris Martin did a "Where Are They Now?" article on him, which is reprinted in its entirety below, parts of which I used in the obituary I wrote Wednesday.
I've added photos, from our files and some sent by Steve Reyes. It's not the story the way I had hoped to tell it, but it's all that I have. And I hate that. Sorry, Butch.
(Above) Butch Maas debuted Mickey Thompson's Grand Am with a No. 1 qualifying berth at the 1973 Winternationals. (Below) With "Big Daddy" looking on, Maas wheeled Don Garlits' tricky-handling Wynns-liner at OCIR.
(Steve Reyes photos)
Maas' biggest win was at the 1971 Winternationals in Roland Leong's Hawaiian.
Probably no professional driver except Butch Maas can list Don Garlits, Don Prudhomme, and the late Mickey Thompson as employers on his or her driver-for-hire résumé. The Los Angeles-born, San Bernardino-bred Californian drove for those three Hall of Famers and a dozen other top acts in his nearly 20-year career.
In 1970, Maas wheeled Prudhomme's U.S. Nationals-winning dragster to a 6.68 for the No. 1 Top Fuel spot at the inaugural NHRA Supernationals at Ontario Motor Speedway. Three years later, he drove Mickey Thompson's Pontiac Grand Am Funny Car to a low-qualifying 7.18 at the 1973 Winternationals, and that summer, Maas wheeled Garlits' legendary "Jocko" Johnson-designed Top Fuel streamliner at Orange County Int'l Raceway in AHRA Grand American competition.
Taken by themselves, these three accomplishments sound like answers in some trivia quiz, but Maas' career was anything but trivial. At this year's Chief Auto Parts Winternationals, Maas will be celebrating the 25th anniversary of one of his major triumphs, his 1971 Funny Car win in Pomona. At that event, he drove Roland Leong's Hawaiian Dodge Charger to low e.t. and top speed of the class in a final-round 6.93, 212.76 win over Leroy Goldstein and the Ramchargers Dodge Challenger.
Maas began racing while he was in the U.S. Navy, stationed in San Diego. On weekend furloughs, he and his high-school pal, the late 1966 U.S. Nationals Top Fuel champ, Mike Snively, raced each other at Cotton Dragstrip. Eventually, Maas got a chance to drive his first real race car, the Norm Porter-tuned, Dodge-powered, Jerry Howard-owned altered roadster. Though still in the Navy, Maas began to drive other fast cars, including the Scotty's Muffler and the Highland Speed Center roadsters and Sam Rose's Junior Fuel dragster.
Maas got in trouble after he crashed the Rose dragster in San Fernando while racing Danny Ongais' Top Gas dragster. He broke his left arm, which irked his U.S. Navy superiors because military policy discouraged personnel from driving 180-mph nitro dragsters. Neither their disapproval nor his broken arm discouraged Maas.
"While I was in the service, I met Mike Williams, a race fan from Texas, and we went to the 1963 Bakersfield March Meet," Maas recalled. "In Bakersfield, he introduced me to Jim Bush, part owner of the Texas-based Bush & Payne Top Fuel dragster, and I got to drive their dragster at that event. I loved it, and I drove nothing but blown cars ever since."
Maas driving the Berry Brothers car at Irwindale
(Jere Alhadeff photo)
Maas at the wheel of the Waters & Maas fuel dragster
(Steve Reyes photo)
Maas, left, in the winner's circle with car owner Leong, crewmember Dickie Watson, and track manager Steve Evans, right.
(Steve Reyes photo)
Reyes' photo says it all of the demise of the Mickey Thompson Grand Am at the 1973 Gatornationals. Maas was badly burned but bounced back.
Maas' driving jobs were many and varied. After leaving the service, he drove the Redd-Nelson-Spratt Savage, Bill Martin's 400 Jr., and Bill Crossley's Crusader Top Fuelers. He drove for Larry Stellings, Tony Waters, the Berry brothers, Bob Creitz and Ed Donovan, Prudhomme, and Thompson.
He also wheeled Leong's Funny Cars, Al Bergler's Motown Shaker, the Rossi & Lisa rear-engine Top Fueler (his only rear-motored experience), and his last ride, Bill Smallwood's Plymouth Satellite Funny Car.
"It's hard to pick a favorite car because most stand out in some way," said Maas. "In 1965, I was one of the first drivers to exceed 200 mph with a Chevy in the Martin car, and in 1967, I set the Irwindale track record at 226.12 mph in Crossley's car. In 1972, I was on the Coca-Cola Cavalcade of Funny Car Stars circuit with the Motown Shaker.
"I did a lot of my touring with the Hawaiian and Motown Shaker cars and learned the match racing trade. Many times, I'd drive all night to make a show and would arrive just in time to put in the oil and get in line.
"We ran every conceivable type of track. In 1971, I drove the Hawaiian and was matched against Richard's Blue Max Mustang in Spartansburg, S.C., for a best-of-three go. When we got there, Tharp and I watched the track manager set a piece of conduit with a light bulb on top on the centerline at the 1,000-foot mark. When we asked what he was doing, he told us not to run a full quarter because we would never get stopped. We walked the track and found he was right. It was a narrow, short track that ran off into the weeds and rocks on the top end.
"Tharp and I agreed we'd split the first two rounds – one of us would shut off and let the other win – then we'd race the 1,000 feet in the third. In the final, we went at it full bore and were dead even going down the track. We ignored the earlier warnings and shot right past those lights and went quarter the full. Neither Tharp nor l got stopped, and we plowed into the weeds and tore up the bodies on both cars. Our two teams were able to repair the cars that night, and I was able to barely make a Delmar, Del., race the next day.'
Oddly, one of Maas' favorite rides was the MIckey Thompson Revelleader Pontiac Grand Am, a car that nearly became a 220-mph coffin. The Buttera-built car met its demise at the 1973 Gatornationals when an engine fire torched it and 50 percent of Maas' body. Maas spent two months in the Shands hospital burn center near Gainesville before being released to recover at home.
After that incident, he briefly drove Garlits' streamliner and the Smallwood Satellite before wrapping up his career in mid-1974.
Today [Ed note: Remember, this was written 14 years ago]
Maas lives in Corona, Calif., and works for Salt Lake City-based Ray Bethers Trucking. When he's not wheeling the big rig, he skis, plays golf, and collects Mauser rifles. Like most retired race drivers, he has no regrets about his 15 years in the sport.
"I can't believe anybody in this sport would have had a career saying they hated it," Maas said. "The fire with the Thompson car and the one I had at Edgewater Raceway [in Cleves, Ohio] in 1971 with the Hawaiian were no fun, but they were outweighed by more positive things.
"If I have any regrets, it's that I got out when I did; I'd still Iove to be involved in some way. I'm going to get a little taste of it at the Winternationals this year. I was told I might get to do some color commentary during the Funny Car action."
Butch has left us, but our memories of him will linger. I'm sorry I wasn't able to share his story with you in greater detail. For now, he joins the ever-growing list of racing heroes who have left us but who are remembered on the In Memoriam page of the We Did It For Love website. Drop by and take time to remember the others whom Maas will no doubt be racing in drag racing heaven, and in the meantime, be sure to enjoy those who are still with us. Ask them those questions before it's too late.