Funny Car veteran John Collins, who competed throughout the 1970s and ‘80s in the class and won the 1985 Fallnationals in Phoenix, died July 14 after a short battle with cancer.
Collins also was instrumental in getting NHRA to allow foreign-car bodies in Funny Car, which today are prevalent in the class.
Collins, who first dabbled in dragsters, began racing Funny Cars in 1970, driving the Atlas Tool Special Ford Maverick of John Bateman. The duo campaigned a Mustang the following year, a car that Collins purchased after Bateman retired.
After running his own car for several years, Collins was hired in 1974 as the driver of Tom “the Mongoose" McEwen’s second English Leather Duster Funny Car, which he drove through the 1976 season.
Collins struck out back on his own in 1977 when he signed a sponsorship deal with Pioneer Stereo for a new Duster entry, which was followed a year later by a swoopy Trans Am.
NHRA became involved with Pioneer on the Pioneer Supertuner Funny Car low qualifier award, and it was the Japanese-based company's aggressive plans and their desire to showcase their name on a Japanese car -- as they were doing in other motorsports -- that opened the door for the first Datsun 280ZX Funny Cars. Datsun had actually been the "official pace car" of NHRA since 1976, so the synergy was right.
Collins debuted his Datsun at the 1980 Winternationals, and before long other drivers, including Gary Densham, Chuck Etchells, and Tm Grose, were using the body.
After the Pioneer deal ended in 1982, Collins sat out the 1983 season and then returned in 1984 with backing from a different stereo company, JVC Car Audio. It was in the JVC Audio Express Camaro that Collins scored his lone national event victory at the Phoenix event at the end of the 1985 season, beating John Force in the final round. He retired a few years later but remained a regular visitor to national events.