Veteran driver and crew chief McCulloch retires with honors
Monday, February 07, 2011

by Phil Burgess, NHRA National Dragster Editor

After winning 22 NHRA events as a driver in Top Fuel and Funny Car, Ed McCulloch, left, won 27 as a crew chief, 16 with Ron Capps.

Ed McCulloch, who won six U.S. Nationals titles in a great driving career and went on to win even more events as a crew chief, has retired, and the well-respected "Ace" will go out with one final honor when he's inducted into the Motorsports Hall of Fame of America Aug. 24 in Detroit.

McCulloch will be inducted alongside Donnie Allison, Sid Collins, Roger McCluskey, Augie Pabst, Bruce Penhall, and Ed Winfield and joins an impressive list of NHRA inductees:  Don Garlits, Shirley Muldowney, Don Prudhomme, Bob Glidden, John Force, Kenny Bernstein, Dale Armstrong, Ronnie Sox, Buddy Martin, Chris Karamesines, Tommy Ivo, Joe Amato, Ed Donovan, Eddie Hill, Tom McEwen, Danny Ongais, C.J. Hart, Don Nicholson, Art Chrisman, Bill Jenkins, Keith Black, Connie Kalitta, and NHRA founder Wally Parks.

McCulloch was inducted into the International Drag Racing Hall of Fame in 2000, but he said that this new honor has left him nearly speechless.

"To be recognized in our own field is a big honor, but to be recognized outside of our direct industry, to be recognized among the greats of all motorsports, I'm very humbled by it," he said. "All I can say is 'Wow.' The people who are in there and the people who will attend this and the other inductees, it's very special to be part of."

The McCulloch legacy continues with his son, Jason, who last year tuned Larry Dixon to the NHRA Full Throttle Top Fuel championship.

McCulloch, who scored 22 wins in his driving career (18 in Funny Car and four in Top Fuel), traded his firesuit for wrenches in 1995 and began a second career as a winning crew chief, racking up 27 more wins, including 16 with Ron Capps.

The end of the racetrack comes for McCulloch after a tumultuous 2010 season in which he was relieved of his crew-chief role on Capps' NAPA Dodge by team owner Don Schumacher, who replaced him with John Medlen. McCulloch continued to assist on the car and to work with other Schumacher crew chiefs but was unwilling to accept a significant pay cut to continue with the team.

"Midway through the year, yeah, we weren't setting the world on fire," he admitted. "There was nothing wrong with our car; it wasn't like we were way out in left field. We got beat in the first round three times in a row because we were working on stuff. When Don made the decision to put Medlen in charge, he told me he wanted me to help John. To the best of my ability, I tried to do that. It was a tough thing to do. I like John – he's one of the most likable individuals you'll ever meet – but when it comes to running a race car, we look at things a little differently. I was calling the shots clear through the Western Swing, but John wanted to do some different things when we got to Brainerd, and that's where it kind of separated."

McCulloch stayed with the operation through the end of the year, when his contract expired, and although he was offered the role of assistant crew chief at a significant rate reduction, he declined to accept.

"The title -- assistant crew chief -- doesn’t mean anything to me. He wanted to pay me for that position, and I wasn't interested. I understand pay cuts, but not to the level he proposed, so it was just best that we let it end.

"For five and a half years, Don treated me good, and I have nothing bad to say about him. I've never worked for a better guy as far as letting you go and do what you need to do, but Don plays hard ball. I thoroughly understand the pressure and expectation in the world of drag racing today. The sponsors pay the money, they're sold a program that they’re going to win the championship, and anything short of that, it's, 'What's going on?' The expectations are high. Back when I started, money was never the motivating issue; we did it because we loved it. Now it's all about money, whether it’s the owner or the driver. Now, the vast majority of drivers have to bring money to get the ride. It's just a direction that I don't agree with. I understand it, but don’t like it."

McCulloch, flanked by wife Linda and Jason, won the U.S. Nationals six times and is one of just four drivers to win in Top Fuel and Funny Car.

Making McCulloch's decision easier are health issues of his wife, Linda, to which he needs to attend and which only will require more attention in the years ahead.

"There's a lot on my plate, and I have to look after Linda," he said. "I have my responsibilities here that I need to take care of. There were a couple of things I could have done, but at this point, I really have elected to take care of my responsibilities and family."

McCulloch, who lives in Indianapolis, plans to return to his old stomping grounds out West and settle on some property he bought a few years ago in central California. Between his cancer scare a few years ago, Linda's health issues, and rising construction costs, work on a house was put on hold, but now he's ready to begin again.

"It's in a town called Oakhurst, about 13 miles away from Yosemite. My lot is on a golf course. It's beautiful; I love it. Indianapolis is a neat town – downtown is super; it's neat, clean, safe –and as a racing town, being able to get in and out, it's very convenient, and the people are wonderful, but it's just not home. The winters are too long, and I want to come out West. I've already listed my place here for sale. I want to get out there and get settled in and see how things go.

"Everyone says, 'You won’t stay away, you'll be back,' but at this point, I'm still pretty firm. You can never say never because six months down the road, I may be going stir crazy.

"I love the people. It’s our family. It’s our life. We build close friendships. Even though they're competitors, they're friends, and there's a lot of love there. I know that I'll miss that, but I'm just not going to miss the politics and pressures. Since I've made this decision, I sleep good at night, It’s sorta cool."