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The Name Dropper

Pat Galvin, the "other" Ron Capps, and more Christmas Tree tales
29 Dec 2007
Phil Burgess, NHRA National Dragster Editor
DRAGSTER Insider

I'm continually surprised by who drops by The Little Blog With The Deceptive Title, as old pals are coming out of the woodwork, including a couple of guys for whom I hold the utmost respect and to whom I still owe a great deal of thanks.

Pat Galvin and Ronnie "not the Brut driver" Capps were two journeyman tuners when I came to work at DRAGSTER in 1982 and, apparently, they had a soft spot for an inquisitive and eager reporter whose grasp of fuel-racing basics were limited to the info from magazines he'd devoured for years. Both were exceptionally friendly and informative early contacts I developed and whose kindness was never forgotten.

Galvin, of course, had worked on and tuned for all of the sport's greats, from Shirley Muldowney to Tom McEwen, Don Prudhomme to Connie Kalitta. He was the crew chief on McEwen's English Leather Corvette when "the Mongoose" scored his emotional and stunning final-round victory over "the Snake" at the 1978 U.S. Nationals. That's Galvin, second from left in the top row in the Indy winner's circle, looking quite pleased with himself.

After getting out of the wrench business, he became a bit of an entrepreneur, aligning himself with the likes of 15-year-old web star Ashley Power, whose then-teen-popular website, goosehead.com, sponsored Muldowney at the 2000 U.S. Nationals.

Galvin now owns several companies, one of which is Herbal Groups, maker of Longlife Solutions, whose goal is extend the human lifespan through natural and herbal products, everything from Daily Multi Vitamins to prostate health formula, internal cleansers, insomnia cures, and vitamins for smokers to arthritis and foot fungus remedies. Galvin is the CEO of that company, which has its products in Wal-Mart, Walgreens and GNC. Another of his companies manufactures replacement parts for M1A1 Abrams tanks.

Capps has been in as many if not more camps. He was with Jerry Ruth during his 1973 championship season and tuned Gary Beck to the title the next year with the Beck & Peets Export A car and came a broken blower belt away from perhaps beating Garlits for the 1975 crown. He helped tune Muldowney to her historic first Top Fuel win in Columbus in 1976 (that's him, in the cowboy hat, next to a very young Scott Kalitta), helped a fledgling John Force, fielded a car in three Indy 500s, introduced Gary Ormsby to Lee Beard and Beard to his Indy-racing pals (leading to G.O.'s Castrol streamliner), and worked with Beard (another Inside DRAGSTER reader, so I discover) on the Bud King in the late 1990s and early 2000s.

I spent an hour on the phone with Capps yesterday reliving old times and it was so interesting that I'll be doing a follow up in DRAGSTER in one of the early issues. The guy really got around, and had his hands in a lot of drag racing history.

Capps' 15-year-old daughter, Katie, just made her Jr. Dragster debut at Barona Dec. 2, driving for car owner Nic Woods, grandson of George Streigal of Clay Smith Cams. On her second pass in the car, she managed to qualify No. 14 for her first race and, with dad's advice, nearly put the starting-line whammy on her more experienced first-round foe, but lost her initial battle. Capps has been building Jr. cars for a couple of years and even has a Harley-powered one just about ready. He and Katie plan to make some big noise in the new Jr. Comp class this year.

More name dropping: Got a funny note back from Hillary Will after she submitted her most recent blog. I thanked her for her contributions this year and wished her well in 2008, noting that she's well overdue for her first Top Fuel win. Her politically-themed response: "Yes, we are definitely due. I have extra inspiration ... for some reason I keep hearing 'Hillary in 2008.' "

I also heard recently from Len Cottrell following the death of R.C. Sherman, with whom Cottrell was partnered back in the early 1970s. I knew Sherman's first name was Ray but not that his middle name was Carvelle. ... Raymond Carvelle Sherman, hence R.C. They ran together through 1972 before Cottrell sold his interest in the car to Sherman and bought his first dragster, a 1969 Don Long-built front-engine dragster that he ran in AA/DA and with which he began his long association with John Speelman.

Good also to hear back from Steve Kalb. Longtime readers of this column many remember that Steve, who with late brother Pete were members of the prestigious Cragar 5-Second Club for Top Fuelers and who tuned Gary Burgin's strong line of Funny Cars, came out to Pomona for the Finals as my guest, along with son Jim. Steve had a pair of heart attacks recently but still hopes to be out for the Winternationals.

More Tree tales: The Christmas (Tree) Story continues to elicit responses and remembrances. I spoke with Wayne Addicks, whose father, George, was one of the first flag starters to try out the new electronic gizmo back in 1963. The family lived in Baltimore, Md., where Lou Bond also lived. According to Addicks, Bond and Don Volker were electrical engineers at Bendix when they designed a Tree at the behest Bill Holtz, the manager of York U.S. 30. The Tree, which originally had just one row of lights for both lanes, was used it at Capitol and York -- Saturday and York and Sunday at Capitol, and the junior Addicks, who worked that '63 Nationals, where the Tree made its NHRA debut, drove it back and forth between the two tracks -- where George Addicks and Jay Taylor were the starters. Addicks swears that NHRA used the Tree for the first time at Indy in May of that year. I did some research, and indeed NHRA hosted the Gas vs. Fuel Challenge at IRP May 29, but there's no mention of the Tree in the relatively short story I found in an old issue.

Tom Scott, "a lowly ol’ Mercedes Benz mechanic" from Clive, Iowa, had his own "Christmas Tree" story (note the quote marks) that he shared with me. "It was fourth grade. Mrs. Sherman had given us a writing assignment to write a story about anything we liked. Well, since I have always been a drag race nut it was only natural I write a story about drag racing. Now I had never been to a race yet in my young life but I had seen a few races on Wide World of Sports. I really don’t remember the whole story but I do remember Mrs. Sherman 'reviewing' it with me to point out mistakes. There was a line in the story about 'watching as the “Christmas Tree" counted down the amber lights to the green light.' She wanted to know what a 'Christmas Tree' was doing in a drag racing story, and if I had somehow confused it some way. Silly English teachers … don’t they know anything? So I got to teach my teacher a little lesson that day about drag racing. After I explained what the 'Christmas Tree' was, she taught me that something with a proper name needs to be in quotes." Well, "Tom," the "Mercedes Benz" mechanic, I dunno about that rule, but I've never seen it used that way, certainly not in "National DRAGSTER" or on "NHRA.com." Funny story though.

Coming Monday: Phil's Photo Follies