"Hi, this is Phil Burgess at The DRAGSTER Insider. I'm either out of the office or on another article right now, but if you leave your name and your question, I'll get right on it. Thanks for calling."
Q: Hi, Phil. Matt Benoit from
A: Right you are, Matt, and funny you should ask. I just dropped Rob an e-mail the other day to ask how he felt about Krawiec joining his "club."
For the record, Bruins' 1979 championship didn't come as a huge surprise to a lot of people as he and team owner Gaines Markley had closed the 1978 season with back-to-back wins at the Fallnationals in your shared homestate of Washington and at the World Finals in Ontario, Calif. Although they were winless on the national tour in 1979, they did win several divisional races, which back then counted toward the national championship.
I asked Rob how he has viewed his unique accomplishment all these years – was it a source of pride or an albatross?
"Winning the championship without that national event win has been both a source of pride and the albatross you mentioned," he said, "but it has always been nice to hear your name come up toward the end of every season when someone is in the hunt but hasn't won an event yet (remember Tony Schumacher's championship a few years ago  when he didn't win until the next to the last race of the season?). I don't know if it is any big deal, but Eddie K. had 17 chances for a win, and we only had seven.
"The truth is I liked being the only one who had accomplished that feat. Gaines and I had a couple of magical seasons in '78 and '79 when we attended a total of 11 divisional points races and won nine of them. In '78, we only attended four national events --
"Contrary to a lot of people's opinions that guys ran the division races because the competition was easier, consider that at all the Division 6 races you had Jerry Ruth, Hank Johnson, Graham Light, Terry Capp, and Ernie Hall, plus whatever California cars would show up, like Kelly Brown, Dave Uyehara and Larry Dixon Sr. and the Utah Charger guys (Garth Widdison) that we saw in both divisions. No, the only things easier about division races were they were generally closer to home and you were only at that track for two days so you could be off match racing to make money so you could afford to go the national events."
By the way, Bruins retired in August from his civilian job with the Department of Defense, where he spent the last 25 years working with Trident submarines as a nondestructive testing test examiner, approving testing procedures and certifying inspectors to conduct inspections on the subs' welds and metals using X-ray, ultrasonics, and magnetic resonance. Since then, he has stayed pretty busy.
"I've reroofed my garage, rebuilt the decks on the front and side of the house, and found a little time to attend Bakersfield [the California Hot Rod Reunion], a couple of Northwest nostalgia events, and put some miles on my 'old school' hot rod roadster that I finally got on the road this summer," he wrote. "It's nothing fancy; I built it the way I would have when I was a kid in high school. It's a '31 coupe body, sans the top, mounted on a '32 frame with a big kick up in the back. We were able to put over 1,300 miles on it between rain showers this summer."
Q: Hey, Phil … it's Mike Bockius. I don't know if anybody has mentioned or has realized that out of the last 18 seasons there have been only three drivers to win the Funny Car championship: Force 14 times, Cruz twice, and Tony twice. Just observations.
A: Noted, Mike. Force's long reign definitely put the hurt on us stats lovers who loved the cool symmetry of the 1970s-80s Funny Car champs. Don Prudhomme won four (1975-78), then Raymond Beadle bagged three (1979-81), Frank Hawley and the Chi-Town Hustler just two (1982-83), and, finally, Mark Oswald and the Candies & Hughes team tagged just one (1984).
When Bernstein won a "Snake"-like four titles (1985-88), we wondered if the next guy would again win three and so on, but Force ended 1989 champ Bruce Larson's reign at one. Then Force won two (1990-91) before Pedregon snapped his streak, and we all began to wonder if we'd see the reverse of the 1970s rotation with Cruz winning three and so on, but Force jumped right back to the top in 1994 and stayed there. As close as Funny Car is these days, I'd be surprised to see anyone ever win three or four straight anytime soon.
Update: Stop the phone calls! Yup, both of us forgot Gary Scelzi, who won the title in 2005, Dang, the guy's not even barely out of sight and he's out of mind? Sorry, Wild Thang!
Q: Hey, buddy. Pete Davis from Clatskanie, Ore., here. Each year, I use the DragStats figures [in National DRAGSTER] to find out who the winners will be. I check the drivers' positions in e.t., mph, and r.t. and add those positions' numbers all the way across for every driver, and usually the lowest number total is your winner. Using the Nov. 7 issue, it worked at the Finals on every Pro except in Pro Stock Motorcycle. How about that, Phil? I told all my friends who was going to win. They now want to know how I know; I told them you and I were friends and you told me. You guys are killer. Now if I can only turn this into money. Ha-ha. Happy off-season.
A: Interesting stats keeping there, Pete, and probably not something you would have seen in the old days. Competition is so much tighter today that you seldom see the one who has the best e.t. feel comfortable enough to back off on the Tree as in days of yore when the No. 1 qualifier was separated from No. 16 by tenths instead of hundredths. Just look at what happened last month in
Q: Hello, Phil. It’s Neil Marks, calling long distance from
A: Much! Thanks, Neil. It's readers like you who bring sunshine to my day. Good friends (and fellow Englishmen) Roger Gorringe and Andy Wilsheer can’t stand the long Euro off-season either and are regular visitors at the
For a little taste of
Q: Phil, it's Robert Nielsen. I see that you are planning to do a segment with Larry Sutton. Ever see him without his hat on? He is bald as a cue ball! I was sitting in the stands at the Winternationals one year, probably about 1972 or so. Larry was driving his Jr. Fuel dragster, and they were pushing back up the return road. Larry is sitting in the car waving to the crowd. I yell down to him to take his hat off, which he did, and the stands erupted! It was quite funny, and Larry took it all in to the enjoyment of everyone.
I was at Lions one Saturday evening, and Larry was there, as usual, as the starter. I did a couple of short burnouts behind the line when my car started to fill with smoke. Turned out the battery cable in the trunk had shorted when an isolating grommet had worn out and allowed the cable to short to the car body. I opened the trunk to try and pull the cable loose. Larry calmly walks over, takes out his keys, which have a small but adequate crescent wrench on them, and disconnects my battery cable. Talk about being prepared for every eventuality!
A: Hey, Robert, here's a pair of appropriate photos, with and without the famed black chapeau, to match your question. Yes, we have seen him sans hats, but it’s more rare than seeing an albino tiger. Even Sutton admits, "I can walk though the pits without my hat on, and no one would recognize me!" I've just wrapped writing my homage to Mr. Sutton, which will appear Monday, complete with the story of how the infamous black cowboy hat came to be.
Q: Hi, Phil. Tom Hall here from Baldwinsville, N.Y. I got the drag racing bug in the early '60s, so I’ve been amazed by this sport for the better part of 50 years; it never ceases to excite me. Way back in the day, early to mid '60s maybe, Eddie Hill had a twin Pontiac-powered rail, which I think was on nitro. Now the oddity of this thing was that the Big Chiefs were mounted side by side on an angle, and to further add to its oddness, it had dual slicks. I also seem to remember that there was a piece of what looked like plywood that was mounted down at the front axle and ran up to the front of the blower drives, which I guess was supposed to deflect air. (Did it have a big Howards Cams decal on that chunk of wood?) Man, this thing was a sight to behold. He was at some track, and when he launched, the dual slicks literally tore up the blacktop on the starting line. Maybe it was a fresh pave job and couldn’t handle the width of those four Racemasters once Eddie “the Thrill” Hill stabbed the foot speeder. Seeing a picture of this rail again would sure be a treat, not to mention knowing where and when “the Thrill” actually did this deal would be the icing on the treat.
A: Your wish is my command, Tom. The famed Double Dragon ran in several configurations, but I couldn’t find one with the plywood you mention; perhaps you’re confusing it with the Howards Cams Twin Bear? Jack Chrisman drove the Bear, which was powered by two Chevys, to the win at the 1961 Winternationals and is shown here with NHRA founder Wally Parks. Below are a couple of pics of Hill's twin.
Anyway, Hill spent four months designing and seven months building the Double Dragon. The 92-inch-wheelbase dragster featured side-by-side blown
It was with this car that Hill's tires literally dug holes in the starting line at the 1961 NHRA Nationals in
Q: Hey, Phil. You know how in
A: Great idea, Keith. I imagine it might look a little something like this.
Q: Any more calls today, Phil?
A: Nope, that's it for today. The ND editorial staff is heading out for lunch for our annual Best of awards luncheon, two hours of haggling back and forth on whether we think Robert Hight's 4.00 was a better run than Tony Schumacher's 3.77 or if Hector Arana's PSM win in Norwalk was a bigger upset than Tony Bartone's flopper victory in Seattle, etc., etc. Then, as I said above, look for an in-depth look at the career of Lions/Irwindale/OCIR starter Larry Sutton next week and maybe, just maybe, some more ghost tracks.