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The column with a little of everything

24 Oct 2008
Phil Burgess, NHRA National Dragster Editor
DRAGSTER Insider

It's been a busy week here at The Big Show, what with all of the various series working their way down to championship scenarios – the Lucas Oil Drag Racing Series, Summit Racing Series, Hot Rod Heritage Racing Series, etc. – and putting together all of those coverages, plus our new NHRA Photo Greats and NHRA Pro Stock history books, preparing for the 2009 Fan Guide, finishing two rulebooks, and so on -- plus my 78-year-old stepdad had a heart attack (doing fine now, thanks) – but, like the USPS, neither rain nor snow nor sleet nor dark of night will stop The DRAGSTER Insider from his weekly rounds. (Okay, we don’t see much of the first three 'round these parts, but we do get a pretty regular dose of dark here, every single day.)

Nevertheless, here's another batch of boredom-bashing, headline-flashing, rumor-trashing, trivia-stashing, ink-splashing, Friday-check-cashing stuff. Enjoy.

We'll begin with a question from a bonafide, certified, positively identified piece of reader mail.

Actual reader mail: "With Cruz Pedregon's win in Richmond, I believe he becomes the first Funny Car pilot to win a national event with a foreign body style (Toyota).  I can't think of anyone else who has won without a Big Three body; not Tim Grose nor in recent times anyone like Jim Head. Maybe nobody cares, but when you've been a fan as long as I have, you tend to think of these things." -- Joe Faraci

Nope. "The Cruzer" was not the first, but close. Jerry Toliver won the Winternationals in 2004 with his Schick Razors-sponsored Toyota. Toliver, who had just returned to the sport after a several-year layoff, qualified just 15th in the field on his last shot, then beat Eric Medlen (in his Pro debut), Cory Lee (who red-lighted), and Del Worsham to reach the final. Toliver surrendered a .073 to .132 holeshot to Gary Densham in the final, and as great as it would be to say that he shaved the finish kinda close, Densham had to do a quick pedal job, and Toliver won easily, 4.82 to 4.95, to collect his fifth – and most recent – win. Oh, what a feeling.

Casting couch: My request to readers that they suggest who they think should play "Jungle Jim" Liberman and "Jungle Pam" Hardy in an upcoming film on the life of the iconic Funny Car star drew a lot of input and some seriously good picks.

NHRA member Craig Stock of Westfield, N.J., suggested Academy Award winner (Charlie Wilson's War) Philip Seymour Hoffman ("He looks similar to Jim and has the energy to play him," said Stock) and Catherine Bell of the TV show JAG ("not the same look, but as sexy as Pam").

Both Scott Jurges and Roxanne Lindholm think that John C. Reilly (from the movie Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby) could pass for "Jungle Jim" but differ on Pam. Scott's solidly in the Heather Graham camp, and Roxanne went appropriately '70s on us by suggesting that Marcia Strassman (Mrs. Kotter from the TV show Welcome Back, Kotter) should play Pam. Me, I'd vote for Valerie Bertinelli. Okay, other than the dark hair they don't look all that alike, but I'm just saying. Plus, she, like Pam, was with a rock star of her own, Eddie Van Halen. I'm just saying.

Rick in Jewell, Iowa, thought we should keep it all in the drag racing family and have Dean Skuza play "Jungle" -- certainly would eliminate the need for a separate stunt driver. Drew Shryock voted for Johnny Depp, and drag racing artist John Bell put in his nod for Seth Rogen (Ken Miller from the TV show Freaks and Geeks and Cal in the film The 40-Year-Old Virgin). Best call, though, in my opinion went to Ben Potts, who suggested Tim Robbins ... "Jungle Tim" ... can you dig it? Farrrrrrrrrrrr out!


"Jungle Jim"


"Jungle Tim"


"Jungle John"


"Jungle Seth"


"Jungle Dean"


"Jungle Pam"


"Jungle Marcia"


"Jungle Heather"


"Jungle Cath"


"Jungle Val"

 

News item: Okay, Hot Wheels fans, here's your big chance. Bonhams & Butterfields’ eagerly anticipated Classic California auction of vintage motorcycles, custom cars, and racing collectibles takes place tomorrow at the PetersenAutomotiveMuseum in Los Angeles and will feature this one-of-a-kind diamond-encrusted Hot Wheels car.

This custom jeweled 1:64-scale Hot Wheels car was created to celebrate the 40-year heritage of the popular diecast vehicle brand and the production of its 4 billionth diecast vehicle. The car is adorned with diamonds, colored diamonds, and rubies set as taillights. The car’s body is composed of 18 karat gold, white gold, and enamel. Covering the vehicle are nearly 3,000 round brilliant and baguette cut diamonds, with a total weight of 22.94 carats, according to designer Jason Arasheben, president and CEO of Jason of Beverly Hills. The car is offered with a custom-built presentation case embellished with 40 bezel-set diamonds and designed with a rotating base on which the car rests. Additionally, an LED display in the case projects images of the car. Proceeds from the sale of the one-of-a-kind Hot Wheels car will benefit Big Brothers Big Sisters of Greater Los Angeles and the Inland Empire.

Also, actor Bruce Willis will be auctioning off five cars from his pretty cool personal collection: a '57 Corvette convertible (a gift from Demi!), a '67 Corvette (427!), a '68 Firebird 400 convertible, a '68 Shelby Mustang GT 500 convertible (570-horsepower 468-cid engine), and a '69 Charger (700-horsepower 502-cid engine with Edelbrock heads and manifold, Holley carbs, and Flowmaster exhaust). I wonder if they all have DieHard batteries.

Detailed descriptions of these cars and the other items up for sale (including never-before-offered personal belongings of Steve McQueen, offered by his first wife, Neile Adams) can be found in the online sale catalog at http://www.Bonhams.com/us.

Actual reader mail: "I really enjoyed your article about going to the Hot Rod Reunion. I've attended a couple of meets in the last couple of years. Do you know if about 40 years ago the bleachers were on the opposite side of the pits and the parking lot was huge, behind the bleachers? I remember it as being that way. I was told that the dragstrip was part of an old military airfield. Every time you write an article, it leaves me with really good memories of my youth, but also it brings up some dumb questions that only matter to me." -- Don Burt, Ojai, Calif.

Right you are, Burt. I have in my possession this wonderful shot, sent to me by Tom Jobe of Surfers Top Fuel fame, that shows the Surfermobile being pushed down the return road in 1966 by their '55 Chevy after Mike Sorokin had wheeled their car past hometown hero James Warren in the final to win the March Meet, undoubtedly the biggest victory of their career. According to Jobe, "The stands went all the way to the finish line, and they were packed full of screaming drag race fans. Look how many fans are still in the stands on Sunday afternoon after the event is over!"

Position wanted: Energetic young drag racing enthusiast seeks crew position on Funny Car. Relevant skills include block stacking, hammering, pounding, and running really fast into couches and coffee tables. Can supply own diaper bag. Almost weaned.

Okay, so maybe you don't want to hire my year-old grandson, Trevor, to wrench on your flopper, but the little guy and his big cousin, my oldest grandson, 4-year-old Jaden, had a blast at last weekend's Thunderfest in downtown Covina (one city west of good ol' G-Town). Trevor obviously is a guy after his grandpa's heart as he naturally gravitated toward the supercharged machines such as the Arias-powered Castro Motorsports alky flopper shown here.

Each year, the city cordons off a couple of blocks of its main street for a car show that includes not only a wide variety of hot rods, but also a healthy dose of race cars from the POWERade, Lucas Oil, Summit, O'Reilly Jr. Drag Racing League, and Hot Rod Heritage Racing Series, including Robert Hight's Automobile Club of Southern California Mustang and Grant Downing's Firebird nitro Funny Cars, nostalgia dragsters, Super Compers, E.T. bracket rides, Jr. Dragsters, and more.

NHRA again had a booth operated by members of the Field Marketing Department, who dispensed literature on NHRA's many series and promoted the upcoming Automobile Club of Southern California NHRA Finals in Pomona and answered questions from the throngs of interested visitors.

Three live bands, lots of good food, and a ton of cool California wheels glistening in the GoldenState sun made for a swell afternoon. The Thunderfest happens each October, so if you live in the area, plan to "Be There" next year!

Art alert: My good buddy Todd Myers, the Elvis of team publicists and dispenser of all things Team Kalitta -- last seen here getting his locks shorn after Hillary Will's Topeka win -- is a pretty talented guy.

In addition to his numerous press releases and stories (such as the Hillary article that was our top story Wednesday), Myers — sometimes known to his teammates as "BW," for "Big Words" — is a pretty damned good artist.

Myers did, after all, do a lot of the graphic design work for NHRA.com as well as the special-edition Web sites for the 50th Mac Tools U.S. Nationals and 40th Auto Club NHRA Finals and did the original designs for the Jr. Drag Racing League, NHRA Sport Compact, and Wally Parks NHRA Motorsports Museum Web sites. He also taught me most of what I know about Photoshop; it's a gift that keeps on giving.

Myers' talents stretch far beyond the dragstrip as evidenced by his newest artistic expression – titled "Pop Stars" -- in which he uses a transfer process to bring flattened bottle caps and cans back to life. Witness this Budweiser can – which Myers probably personally took the artistic license to empty himself, in the sake of purity of project – pretty cool stuff, huh? I bet the Bernsteins would like one for their trailer.

"I started doing something similar in college, but these are much more colorful and adventurous," Myers told me. "I have 21 in the first series, planning on doing at least five series." (I think he's talking about paintings, not beer cans.)

Myers' artwork will be displayed at the Corner Brewery in downtown Ypsilanti, Mich., beginning Nov. 6 and remain on the walls until the end of the month.

Still more mail: "Hey, this week's Photo of the Week says it is of Alan Johnson, but it's Blaine not Alan. It says Blaine right on the cockpit." -- Garth Redifer, Tacoma, Wash.

Not so fast, my Northwest friend. Yes, indeed, the cockpit is emblazoned with the name of AJ's younger brother and future season champ Blaine, but it was Alan behind the wheel at the 1987 season opener in Pomona. The giveaway is the permanent number on the rear wing: 768. Blaine's number, at least initially, was 7050. AJ qualified No. 14 with a 6.412 (my, how times have changed in TAD) and beat Bob Gage in round one, 6.411 (his career-best e.t.) to 6.45, before losing to eventual winner (and that season's eventual champ) Denny Lucas in round two, 6.34 to 6.50. The qualifying sheets show that AJ's car was powered by a Rodeck engine.

Blaine, who had raced this car on the sand against the likes of fellow TAD racers Gary Scelzi and Steve Faria (hence the name on the cockpit), didn't debut behind the wheel until early 1988, at the Division 7 meet at Firebird Int'l Raceway, but won in just his third outing, in Gainesville, with the team's revolutionary Oldsmobile engine, beating fellow rookie Rob Moore in the Lenco car. The 465-cid engine was an all-aluminum version of the DRCE Pro Stock engine, with the block produced by Keith Black and the billet 6061 T-6 aluminum cylinder heads by Johnson. With a smaller combustion chamber than its Pro Stock counterpart, AJ could also run a lighter piston for less reciprocating weight. It proved its worth right out of the gate, running 6.18 in Gainesville (against Bruce McDowell's 6.16 national record), and the week after the Gatornationals, Blaine won the Division 7 race in Bakersfield and never looked back en route to winning four season championships, 1990-93.

There you have it. Party on, Garth.

And there you have it, Insider fans, the end to another week of look backs, flashbacks, and answer backs. Kick back and enjoy the weekend.

Next week is OCIR Week at the DRAGSTER Insider. I can hardly wait.