The big ramp-truck send-off columnTuesday, September 14, 2010
Posted by: Phil Burgess

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Jim Eshelman sent the following three images, which he took at his first AHRA national event at Beeline Dragway in early 1967. "I was 17 years old; man, how time flies," he wrote. This is Al Vanderwoude's famed Flying Dutchman.
Just as the ramp trucks themselves passed into history, to be replaced by enclosed trailers, then fifth-wheel trailers, and ultimately 18-wheelers, so too must end (for now) the history of ramp trucks here. Oh sure, I could (and probably will) continue to receive images until trailers no longer have tires but float along on cushions of air on highways in the sky, but I thought I’d give this popular thread a massive send-off today.

It has been tremendous fun, and I've received tons and tons of thank-yous from the Insider Nation for looking back at this great period in our sport's history. As always, the plaudits really go to my readers, who supplied an unending stream of photos and stories from their personal archives, allowing many of us to see things we'd never dreamed of in images perhaps never before published.

In the gallery at right and in the many scroll-downs below, you'll find way too many photos, and your Web page probably won’t finish loading until 2013, but, hey, that's the price we pay for the history of the sport we love, right?

My quick count shows about 57 truck photos … damn, would have liked to have had 64. Wait … 64 ramp trucks! This Tuesday night at DRAGSTER Insider Raceway. Tuesday, Tuesday, Tuesday!

OK, on with the show. Let's get to truckin'.

Wow, here's a great shot. Clinton Snead sent this photo of the ex-Richard Petty 43 JR. Barracuda, which by then had been purchased by Eddie Ratliff. "Maybe it's not a famous crew, but it is a famous car," wrote Snead. "The reason I have these pictures is because my dad, Larry Snead, actually drove this car for Eddie Ratliff a few times, and he is on the far left in this picture. One quick and interesting story about this truck: When Eddie acquired the car, he, of course, had to paint the truck to match. From what I have been told, they actually made a pattern from the '43 JR.' on the side of the race car and used that as a stencil to paint it on the door of the truck. No vinyl wraps in those days!  And yes, I know this is more of a flatbed truck, but I still thought it would go with the theme."

Longtime Texas fuel racer Bobby Rex, who has just completed a new version of the Mexican Revolution Vega on which he wrenched for Johnny Valdez, sent this photo and tale of woe from their touring days. "Johnny and I were booked in at a Funny Car show in Odessa, Texas," he wrote. "I think about 1973. We were in the staging lanes, about the third back. It was cold and cloudy. The pair that had run before us came to the staging lanes and told us that it was snowing in the traps. We all laughed and didn't pay any attention. Within five minutes, we were all trying to load our cars on the trucks in a light snow. Before we could get out of the gates, it was snowing. The temperature dropped 20 degrees in about 30 minutes. This picture was taken at the motel. We all drove home in the snow." If you look close enough, you can see the snow whipping past the car at a 45-degree angle. Cool! I mean, cold!

Wow, talk about good timing. Bobby Starks sent this photo, which shows "Big Mike" Burkhart's fuel-burning Chevy II. You probably can’t read it on the rear quarter, but the name there is Harry Schmidt ... yes, THAT Harry Schmidt. Before he created the Blue Max, Schmidt teamed with Burkhart in 1966-67 on this car. I know this only because I have penned a Blue Max history story for this week's Pure Nostalgia column in National DRAGSTER. A week ago, I might not have known that.

Last fall when Dale Adams was hunting for a ramp truck, he found a couple of interesting ones, including this gold Dodge that was for sale in Portland, Ore., but was originally from the Midwest. It had been restored yet still retained interesting decals on the windows, including class-winner stickers from Lions Drag Strip, York U.S. 30, Capitol Raceway, and Eldora Raceway and other period stickers.

Brad Barrie sent the above photo of the truck that he now owns when it was the property of the guy who also owned the '55 on its back and wanted to know if anyone knew of its roots. James Riola, who works for Kalitta Motorsports on Dave Grubnic's Top Fueler, is originally from California and believes that the truck and car belonged to a friend of his from the Canoga Park area. "His name is Guy Binko, and this car and truck were one of the staples of the bracket racing scene in Bakersfield from the '80s to the '90s," he wrote. I forwarded James' e-mail to Brad so they could figure it out.

Bob Snyder sent another boatload of his ramp-truck photos, which you can see below, but the above photo caught my eye as I was pretty sure that the Armstrong-Hoover-Larsen 'Cuda was one of Dale Armstrong's earliest cars. I dropped "Double A Dale" an e-mail asking for confirmation and identification of his partners. Although the first name of Mr. Larsen escaped Armstrong's memory ("He was a short-term partner for about a year or less."), Woody Hoover, who died four or five years ago, was a longtime Armstrong friend and partner who owned a drywall business.

"We built this car to run on the Southern California injected alcohol circuit," he reported. "It had a 511-cubic-inch big-block Chevy. About a month before the last race at Lions and just before they created Pro Comp, we put a blower on it and lowered the compression, and it ran under the NHRA classification of BB F/C. At the last Lions race, we ran in Comp eliminator, qualifying No. 2 by running .15-seconds under the existing NHRA BB F/C record."

I mentioned in a previous column that we thought we had a lead to find Armstrong's ramp truck, but the trail went cold. "Apparently, the fellow who had it sold it about five years ago and has no record of the sale. If you hear anything about a 1969 Chevy ramp truck with a Cadillac engine in it, please let me know. If we could find a photo that shows a license plate number, it would expedite the process."

OK, Insiders, you have your homework assignment! Now on to to the newest Snyder gallery: (Shameless plug: You can buy these and other photos from Snyder's collection on www.vintagedragclub.com).

Alan Phillips' Baltimore Bandit
"Flash Gordon" Mineo
Malcolm Durham's Strip Blazer
Tommy Grove's Mustang
The famous Hawaiian
"Big John" Mazmanian's 'Cuda
Jim Barillaro's unique Cammer Jammer SOHC Torino
Fritz Callier's famed CKC Chevy II
Shirl Greer's Tension Charger
Frank Huff's Super Vega
Jake Crimmins' Raceway Speed Center Maverick
Roger Lindamood's Color Me Gone Charger
"Pee Wee" Wallace's Virginian Barracuda
Butch Kernodle's All-American Camaro
Tony Wahlay's Warlord Camaro (note front fender damage)
"Jungle Jim": ramp truck as service bay

And from our good pal in the Midwest and longtime National DRAGSTER contributor Tom Schiltz, here's this mini gallery.

The Tignanelli Bros. B/A Charger
More Ramchargers
More Malcolm Durham
More Connie Kalitta
Rare shot of Jack Chrisman's Mustang
Tom McEwen's 'Cuda
Coleman/Taylor Super Ford Torino
Don Schumacher
Jess Tyree
"Fast Eddie" Schartman's Air Lift Rattler Cougar
Bill Jenkins
Don Grotheer
"Dyno Don" Nicholson
Dick Loehr's Ford Drag Team
Fred Goeske's Road Runner
Goeske's 'Cuda

The last pic of Goeske's ramp truck leads me to the final (again, for now) ramp-truck story, which was sent by Herman Marchetti, known better to some of you as Herman Hermanator.

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"Reading about the ramp trucks has been a real treat for us old-time drag race fans," he wrote. "One truck that stands out for me is Fred Goeske's, thanks to a friend. The first two Instamatic photos of the Road Runner were taken by Dana Winters at Irwindale Raceway in the fall of 1969. Dana was always a fan of Fred and used to hang out in his pit area. Fred even offered to take 12-year-old Dana on tour with him one year. All it would cost was $300 for room and board, but his parents could not come up with the cash, and he missed out on a real adventure.

"Dana now has Fred's original 1966 rear-engine Hemi 'Cuda Funny Car sitting in his garage awaiting parts to get her back up and cackling soon. We went to Pomona for 'Mousie' Marcellus' 75th birthday party in 2005, and on our way out of California, Dana Winters, O.J. Stephens, and I stopped by Fred's business in Thousand Oaks. Fred still has his ramp truck.

"The interior was restored and the outside repainted; it looked almost new. I believe he said over 300,000 miles on the odometer. This truck hauled the Hemi 'Cuda II, Road Runner, the Speed Sport 'Cuda, two Vega Funny Cars, two Duster Funny Cars, his last rocket Funny Car, and probably a few more in between. It was a real treat to see it and take a few photos of it. "

OK, gang, that's all for today ... whew. That was a lot of ramp trucks.

Narrowing down the top 60Friday, September 10, 2010
Posted by: Phil Burgess

This morning, I submitted my list of possible inclusions for NHRA's 60 Greatest Moments to The Powers That Be for their once-over and comments, and I want to thank those of you among the faithful readership here who took the time to send me your thoughts.

Although the final 60 have yet to be set – let alone ranked; man, that's going to be a tough one -- the project already was way bigger than I had imagined. I used a handful of sources to create my list, everything from my own memories to back issues of National DRAGSTER, media guides, and your input.

Looking back at 60 years of anything – whether it's rock 'n' roll, baseball, or literature – opens up a whole can of worms as far as criteria goes, and the list needs to be somewhat cross-generational so that there are some touchstones regardless of your age or experience. That will be the tough part. As reader Steve McDonald noted, "To pick one best moment is like picking the prettiest snowflake." So true.

As you may recall, the assignment was to determine the 60 greatest moments in NHRA history as part of next year's NHRA 60th Anniversary celebration. The task would have been hard enough just picking 60 great moments from what has happened on the track, but we also thought it should include other elements that were key in the sport's growth, be they rules, sponsorship, or administrative in nature.

I narrowed my list to 50 on-track and 50 off-track moments and left the door open for others within NHRA to add things I might have overlooked.

Frankly, I was quite surprised that I was easily able to come up with 50 off-track moments, but there have been amazing watershed moments in NHRA history that have been forgotten that were pretty monumental at the time. I'm not saying it will make the top 60, but how many remember when the 1968 World Finals was shown live from Tulsa, Okla., via closed-circuit TV at select movie theaters around the country? It was ESPN3.com before its time! Or how about NHRA President Wally Parks taking "T.V. Tommy" Ivo, Don Garlits, Ronnie Sox, and others to England in 1964 for an exhibition event to promote the sport overseas? Obviously, my list also included landmark moments such as the founding of NHRA; the introduction of Top Fuel, Funny Car, and Pro Stock; the 1970 "Super Season"; and various sponsorship, schedule, and television milestones.

Obviously, a lot of focus on the history of our sport is based on the legendary moments that occurred on the track, and I think we all have a pretty short list of the biggies, which also was borne out in your submissions: Tom McEwen beating Don Prudhomme in the emotional 1978 Indy Funny Car final; Garlits shaving in Indy in 1967; Garlits' rear-engine comeback; Kenny Bernstein's 300-mph barrier breaker; the 1971 Indy "burndown" Top Fuel final; Shirl Greer's dramatic 1974 world championship; Garlits' Englishtown blowover; Jim Nicoll's crash in the 1970 Indy Top Fuel final … you know the drill.

What really surprised me from your contributions was the inclusion on many of your lists of "The Run," Tony Schumacher's monumental last-second record-breaking run at the 2006 Automobile Club of Southern California NHRA Finals that earned him the world championship. It surprises me because the leanings of readers of this column are obviously to the past, and I would have guessed that even the mere thought of placing anything on a pedestal above Garlits' many heroics would be sacrilegious, but you guys surprised me. There were even votes for it from people who were avowed "non-fans" of Schumacher who had to concede it was pretty special.

I was there, and I agree, but is it the greatest moment in NHRA history? Only time will tell. Thanks again for your input.

I'll be back next week with what (I think) are the final contributions to the ramp-truck thread before we head out into other areas. I'd be interested to hear from any (or all) of you what you might want to read about, or you can leave it to my random thought process. Choose your poison.


Three dozen ramp-truck photos!Wednesday, September 08, 2010
Posted by: Phil Burgess

Well, I'm back safely from yet another Big Go and ready to make up for lost time. I looked at the Last updated tag on the home page yesterday when I arrived back in SoCal and saw that it had been a whole week since I had posted. Wow, sorry about that.

I had hoped to add a blog at Indy, but we got so busy there with our new toy, the CoverItLive feature that allowed us to report live what was going on at the track and post questions (and answers!) and comments from those tuning in. I know that several of the loyal readers of this column partook because I received many questions and comments about both ramp trucks and wedge dragsters. You can "replay" the live chats from that page under the Completed Events section, and there's some really good commentary there from the National DRAGSTER staff who attended – me, Kevin McKenna, Candida Benson, Brad Littlefield, and John Jodauga – and interesting tidbits.

Yeah, so between that and getting temporarily locked in the DRAGSTER suite, we were busy.

Quite a few people stopped by the pressroom with ramp-truck stories and photos, but because I didn't want to take their only copies, I had them promise to scan and e-mail me copies so I can share them here. There's some really neat stuff coming.

I also received a visit there from "King Richard" Tharp, a past Indy winner, who was looking for a large version of this photo of the famed Blue Max Funny Car on a ramp truck in the parking lot of the Marco Polo motel in Anaheim, Calif. That was Tharp's ride at the time, and to hear him talk about the car at length, it clearly was one of his favorites.

He said that he's pretty sure that this photo was taken just before the great Sylmar earthquake that struck Southern California Feb. 19, 1971, and that he and car owner Harry Schmidt wasted no time getting out of Dodge after being rocked out of their beds.

He regaled the ND staff with many great stories from over the years and left me with contact info that I'll definitely be using for future columns, both here and in National DRAGSTER.

I told him that I was there for his final win -- at the 1983 Springnationals, which was my first national event on the road for ND – a victory run that seemed to include the supercharger flying off the manifold of the Kilpatrick & Connell car at the end of every pass. Tharp, who maintains a memory for facts and figures, explained that it wasn't until the next race in Montreal, when Leonard Hughes came to their pit to find out what the hell the team was doing wrong with his former driver's tune-up, that they discovered they had a faulty hydrometer that was reading as much as 8 percent under on the nitro mix. Problem solved!

Anyway, here's the latest batch of reader ramp-truck remembrances and offerings.

Brad Barrie sent this shot of a rather unique Chevy ramp truck and hopes that someone might know of its lineage. "I bought this '53 Chevy ramp truck from a racer in SoCal in 2003," he reported. "He used it since the early '80s to haul this white '55. I use it now to haul my race cars around. Very cool stuff; I'm hoping someone may have a shot of it prior to the '80s, and find out where it came from originally."

Frequent Insider contributor Bobby Frey, of the Frantic Ford team, sent this photo, shot by Warren Bader, of the truck that Jim Fox "ran all over the country for many, many years. I remember as a kid heading up to S&W Race Cars one time when it was raining out and the water came straight up through the rusted-out floorboards; you had to throw a towel down on the floor to stay dry." Ah, life on the road. Glamorous, no?

What follows is a huge selection of ramp-truck photos from Bob Snyder (I actually only received two of the three e-mails he sent, so there are still more bouncing around cyberspace), and it presents a host of famous (and not-so-famous) cars of the early 1970s. As I mentioned previously – and to which I received many an "Amen!" – it's as cool to see the cars themselves as it is to see them strapped to the trucks.

Anyway, I'll leave you for the day with nearly three dozen great shots from Bob that should feed your ramp-truck addiction for a while.

Mel Perry's Norwood Chevrolet Chevelle

The Bloody Red Baron AWB Mopar

Al Graeber's Tickle Me Pink Charger

Bruce Neff's The Stroker Camaro AA/FC

Jim Maybeck's Screaming Eagle Corvair

Sam Gelber's Inferno Nova

"Jungle Jim" Liberman

Lew Arrington's Brutus

"Fearless Fred" Goeske's Duster

Arnie Beswick's Super Judge GTO

All covered up ...

Mike Burkhart Doran Chevrolet Novs

Charlie Wilson's Firebird flopper

Clyde Morgan-driven Dickie Harrell Camaro

"Big Mike" Burkhart's Doran Chevrolet Camaro

Bob and Rico Gunya's Warrior Camaro

Dick Bishop's Maerick Pro Stocker

Headed down the road ...

Larry Christopherson' Vega

Ken Poffenberger's (ex-Prudhomme) Super Puffer Cuda

Terry Ivey's shotgun-powered Maverick

Wayne Mahaffey's Super GoldenRod Nova

Dee Simmons' Camaro

Jerry Caminito's Holeshot Mustang
Della Woods' Funny Honey

Kenny Warren's injected fuel Cuda

Satan Charger

Lou Azar's Funny Gremlin

Lee Jones' Camaro

Canides & Hughes

Connie Kalitta's Bounty Hunter Mustang

The famed Tom McEwen ramp truck (with ramps!)
Gene Conway's SticksUnlimited Corvette

Chris Karamesines' short-lived Mustang
Posted by: Phil Burgess

As I mentioned at the end of last week, I'll be heading to Indy Thursday for my annual renewal of vows with the sport's greatest race. I certainly don’t have to tell any of you just how amazing and special the event is to historians of the sport like us, but its arrival on my travel itinerary this week is truly appropriate timing for today's topic.

Though I haven’t closed the door on the ramp-truck thread, the cargo on that one seems all but loaded, and all that remains is for it to be strapped down to the bed with a few final thoughts, so it's a good time to foist upon you a heavy load of a different kind.

Everyone knows that some of the sport's greatest moments have taken place at the Nationals over its 56-year run – and, as Todd Veney pointed out to me yesterday, this year's race is the 50th to actually take place at Indy – and who knows exactly what bit of history this year's event might produce. I noted in last week's National DRAGSTER that Top Alcohol Funny Car wunderkind Frank Manzo has the chance to win his 10th U.S. Nationals crown and become the event's all-time winningest driver (breaking his tie with Bob Glidden) and that Tony Schumacher has the opportunity to win his ninth in Top Fuel, which would break his tie with Don Garlits as the race's winningest Top Fuel driver, but who knows what else might happen that someday will be high in the sport's great lore.

And thus comes the crux of today's column: What is the single greatest moment in NHRA history?

I ask not solely for discussion purposes here but as part of an assignment I have for NHRA's gala 60th Anniversary celebration next year. As part of the festivities, the National DRAGSTER staff has been given the unenviable (or enviable, depending on how you look at it) task of creating a top 60 list of the greatest moments in NHRA history. Having been a part of several similar lists (for both the U.S. Nationals and World Finals as well as this column's popular Favorite Race Car Ever poll of a few years ago), I well know that one's man's beer is another man's champagne and that tastes don’t always run down the same track.

In 2001, during NHRA's 50th Anniversary celebration, I created an expert panel of drag racing historians and journalists to determine the Top 50 Drivers of NHRA's first 50 years, and though some thought was given to expanding that list to 60, it became too problematic. For example, Schumacher was not on that list, and some could argue that today he belongs in the top 10 or 20. Ditto for Larry Dixon. Would we drop everyone below them down one or two spots? What if there were more than 10 additions? Would someone from the original list be bumped? It just didn’t feel right – maybe for the 75th anniversary we look at the list again -- so the project became greatest moments.

One thing I've learned from this whole top 10 business is that opinions are skewed by personal experience – you were there to see it or remember how it impacted your life – and by the context of the event that you place it in. A low e.t. pass may not be significant, for example, unless it wins you the championship, or a guy shaving his beard on the starting line may not mean squat unless you know why he was doing it.

Earlier this year, the DRAGSTER staff created several top 10 lists, among them one of most memorable moments, and though one might think that our work is partially complete because of that, I disagree. The top 10 we created (and the 10 honorable mentions) was the result of six staffers sitting for hours in a conference room debating the minutiae of these moments, and many of the votes were cast out of emotion as well as facts.

I'm not going to share that list here (oh, sure, you could go into your library and look it up) so as not to taint the atmosphere and to allow everyone to start with a clean mental sheet of paper. Additionally, our list was "most memorable" and this list is "greatest," so there's probably a dividing line there somewhere.

So, what makes a moment great? Is it because of the heroics of the principals? Is it the moment's longstanding impact on the sport? Is it a triumph of human spirit over impossible odds? Is it an iconic moment that even the most casual of racing fans will know?

Furthermore, this greatest-moments list is not limited to happenings on the racetrack. Where does the founding of NHRA come in? Or other occurrences in boardrooms or on the sponsorship front?

If I had those answers, I wouldn't be here asking the question of the greatest, most knowledgeable, and most plugged-in fans of our sport's history.

So here it is, Insider Nation: What is the greatest moment in the history of NHRA? E-mail me your thoughts – heck, create a top 60 list if you’re up to it – and have your opinion mean something.

What's the greatest moment in NHRA history?

I'll look forward to your input and may share some of it in future columns.

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