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Favorite Race Car Ever voting: The final round!

25 Aug 2008
Phil Burgess, NHRA National Dragster Editor
DRAGSTER Insider
Final results for Favorite Race Car Ever
Stone, Woods & Cook Willys
2088
(17.40%)
Winged Express
1598
(13.31%)
“Jungle Jim” Liberman Vega
1115
(9.29%)
Sox & Martin Barracuda
1079
(8.99%)
Don Garlits Swamp Rat XXX
928
(7.73%)
Don Prudhomme Army Monza
821
(6.84%)
Chi-Town Hustler '69 Charger
799
(6.66%)
Bill Jenkins '68 Camaro
656
(5.47%)
“Jungle Jim” Liberman '66 Chevy II
680
(5.67%)
Blue Max ‘69 Mustang
390
(3.25%)
Blue Max '75 Mustang II
387
(3.22%)
Little Red Wagon wheelstander
356
(2.97%)
The Freight Train
353
(2.94%)
Don Garlits Swamp Rat 22
291
(2.42%)
Beebe & Mulligan Fighting Irish
257
(2.14%)
Warren-Coburn-Miller/Rain For Rent
204
(1.70%)
Total votes: 12,002

Well, at long last, here we are, standing in the staging lanes for the final round of the inaugural Favorite Race Car Ever Nationals. We cranked through several weeks of brutal qualifying, and now we stand ready to light off the final round.

This all started innocently enough, back on June 12, when I mused about my favorite race cars and decided it would make a swell contest if the readers submitted their favorites and everyone voted. Little did I expect my Inbox to overflow with nominations, and it took me nearly a month to weed through them all, categorize them, and pick the 16 most nominated in each category.

Before I begin, just a heads-up that this will be the week’s only column here (sorry!), for two reasons. First, I want this poll to stay at the top of the column for maximum visibility and participation, and second, NHRA is throwing this little drag race in Indiana that I’ll be attending. I fly Thursday and will have my hands full there not just with the NHRA.com race coverage I’ll be writing but also the Indy blog that I will be writing as part of taking the Daily DRAGSTER experience online. For 20 years, beginning in 1988, we published a daily paper three nights at the event, which was a huge hit in the pre-Internet days. Not so much anymore. Though the writing and presentation still were first-class, the shine was off the apple now that people could read about the event online. This year, we’ll have all the previous years’ goodies, plus not one but five blogs, one by me and one each by the reporters covering the event for National DRAGSTER: Kevin McKenna, Candida Benson, Brad Littlefield, and Kelly Wade. You can already read the opening salvos, including my fondest Indy memories; I hope our blogs will help you through the short dry spell here. You can check them out here.

Okay, back to the thrilling task at hand. Let’s pick a favorite race car! Ladies and gentlemen, your final-round combatants, beginning with the winners of each of the seven categories:

The famed Winged Express fuel altered of “Wild Willie” Borsch and “Mousie” Marcellus took top honors in the Exhibition class and racked up the most votes of any of the winners — 1,394, or more than 36 percent of the nod — though this probably was the weakest of all of the fields. Some thought that I had the car classed wrong — that it belonged in the Early Door Cars/Roadsters poll — and though, of course, AA/FA did run in national event competition, I think the cars are better known as exhibition vehicles, and it’s my poll. (So there.) Nonetheless, it’s going to be interesting to see how the venerable old monster fares against the final field.

The Stone, Woods & Cook Willys also topped the 1,000-vote mark to win the aforementioned Early Door Cars/Roadsters poll, netting more than 27 percent of the votes and finishing nearly 400 ahead of the second-place Sox & Martin Barracuda, one of the biggest margins of victory in the polling.

The fabled Freight Train twin-engine gas dragster eked out the win, 725 to 639, in a back-and-forth battle with the Beebe & Mulligan Fighting Irish Top Fueler for the gold in the Early Dragster division, and both finished well ahead of favorites such as Don Garlits’ Swamp Rat VI, the Greer-Black-Prudhomme dragster, Tommy Ivo’s Showboat, and the Surfers.

We’ve always known that “Jungle Jim” Liberman still has legions of fans 31 years after his tragic passing, and the voting bore that out as he took top honors in the Early Funny Cars class with his reputation-making ’66 Chevy II and in the 1970s Funny Car poll with his unforgettable Vega. What will be interesting to see now is how the “Jungle” votes will get split. The Chevy II collected 755 votes to edge the ’69 Blue Max by just 40 tallies in the second-closest balloting, and the Vega garnered 1,033 to easily outdistance a stellar field in which a Blue Max — this time the Raymond Beadle-driven world championship Mustang II — again finished second, and both finished ahead of the highly regarded Army Monza of Don Prudhomme.

The 1970s Top Fuelers poll turned out to be almost as thrilling as watching the two cars duel as Garlits’ Swamp Rat 22 — the 5.63 car — battled with James Warren and the Warren, Coburn & Miller Rain for Rent machine. The voting was a little slower to be completed than in the 1970s Funny Cars poll that preceded it, and I tracked it eagerly as it neared the 3,800-vote cutoff. Garlits started out strong and at one point led by more than 50 votes, but WCM slowly nibbled at that lead and got it down to 21 points before “Big” surged back ahead by 38. Garlits entered the final week of voting ahead by 26; WCM was down by just 22 by Friday but finished 21 points back. It was the closest of any of the seven polls, and Garlits’ Swamp Rat 14 (the first rear-engine car) was right there, keeping them both honest in third place.

Although the 1970s Top Fuelers poll and the 1980s and Beyond poll below did not reach the target of 3,800 votes, by tracking trends in both, I extrapolated the projected points for all the cars so that we have an apples-to-apples comparison (it might be red apples to green apples, but it’s close). This was important not necessarily for the first-place winner, which automatically advanced to the final round, but for the second-place and beyond finishers, which had a shot at making the poll, too, which I will explain in a second.

The final winner, atop the 1980s and Beyond poll, was Garlits, for his history-making, Smithsonian-sitting Swamp Rat XXX, which ran away with the balloting from the start; the “Rat Under Glass” gobbled up more than 18 percent of the 3,109 votes for an extrapolated total of 703. Eddie Hill’s Nuclear Banana Top Fueler peeled out to an early second-place lead but, appropriately, was chased down by the ultrafast and equally pretty Joe Pisano/Mile Dunn Olds, which still finished a good 250 points behind Garlits.

Okay, those are your winners, setting the first seven of 16 spots. The remainder of the field comprises the second- and third-place finishers who received the greatest percentage of votes once the winner’s total was excluded. This was done on percentage points rather than out-and-out vote tallies to try to give everyone a shot, regardless of the depth of talent in the poll.

Bill Golden’s Little Red Wagon wheelstander took the first non-winner spot with nearly 46 percent of the Exhibition-class votes that did not go to the Winged Express.

Like fans of “Jungle” and “Big Daddy,” the Blue Max faithful will have to decide between two entries, their ’69 Mustang and the ’75 model, as both finished high enough in second place to advance to the final with respective tallies of 26.7 and 23.3 percent of the votes that did not go to Liberman.

The Sox & Martin Barracuda, which finished a distant second in the Early Door Cars poll, nonetheless captured 23.2 percent of those who did not vote for Stone, Woods & Cook and easily made the final showdown.

The Chi-Town Hustler ’69 Charger, which popularized long smoky burnouts, made the final poll despite a third-place finish in the Early Funny Cars poll with 21.1 percent of the votes that didn’t go to “Jungle’s” Chevy II.

The Fighting Irish Top Fueler of Beebe & Mulligan also received enough votes to make the final tally, finishing with 20.69 percent of the votes that weren’t gobbled up by the Train.

Bill Jenkins’ ’68 Camaro, one of the earliest Pro Stockers, also made the cut despite a third-place finish behind Stone, Woods & Cook and Sox & Martin with 20.67 percent of the non-winner vote.

The final two members of the final-round poll for Favorite Race Car Ever came from the 1970s: the Warren, Coburn & Miller car, which garnered 17.45 percent of the votes that didn’t go to Swamp Rat 22, and Prudhomme’s vaunted Army Monza, which nailed down the bump spot despite a third-place finish in the 1970s Funny Cars poll, earning 17.1 percent of the votes that didn’t go to Liberman’s Vega.

So there you have it, race fans; the 16 finalists await your vote. After weeks of nominating and preliminary voting rounds, we’re down to it. Personally, I’m thrilled, excited, and eager to see how each of them do, knowing full well that how they did in their previous polls will have little bearing on this one as they face new adversaries from other regions. It’s almost as if all of the local hitters have headed for the Big Go to take on one another. How appropriate!

Okay, race fans, who will you crown the winner of The DRAGSTER Insider Favorite Race Car Ever?