NHRA - National Hot Rod Association


Let the voting begin!

09 Jul 2008
Phil Burgess, NHRA National Dragster Editor

Bill Shrewsberry's L.A. Dart wheelstander

Sammy Miller's Oxygen rocket dragster

Jack McClure's rocket-powered go-kart

Doug Rose's Green Mamba jet dragster

Ray Alley's Age of Aquarius rocket dragster

Ed Jones' Candyland Stage wheelstander

Les Shockley's jet-powered Shockwave Peterbilt

Willie Borsch's Winged Express Fuel Altered

Final results for all-time favorite exhibition car!
"Winged Express" fuel altered
"Little Red Wagon" wheelstander
" L.A. Dart" wheelstander
"Nanook" fuel altered
"Jolly Rancher Candyland Stage"
"Shockwave" jet truck
Potter's Chevy-engined motorcycle
"Green Mamba" jet dragster
"Vanishing Point" rocket Funny Car
Capt. Jack's rocket go-kart
"Hell on Wheels" tank wheelstander
"Oxygen" rocket dragster
"Backup Pickup" wheelstander
Terminal Van Lines Top Fuel Bike
Atchison, Topeka & Santa Fe Top Fuel Bike
"Age of Aquarius" rocket dragster
Total Votes: 3816

Dave Hough's Nanook Fuel Altered

Bo O'Brochta's Terminal Van Lines Top Fuel Bike

Russ Collins' triple-engined Top Fuel Bike

Dick Harding's Backup Pickup wheelstander

Bob Perry's Hell on Wheels wheelstander

Bill Golden's Little Red Wagon wheelstander

Sammy Miller's Vanishing Point rocket Funny Car

E.J. Potter's Widow Maker V-8 motorcycle

Okay, race fans, here it is: the first round of the much-ballyhooed, much-promised Favorite Car Ever. As I mentioned last week, I received so many varied nominations that I had to break it down into categories by era and type of vehicle to keep the polling reasonable and trackable (and because my polling software only handles 16 choices!).

The list again is as follows: Early Dragsters, Early Funny Cars, Early Door Cars/Roadsters, ‘70s Funny Cars, ‘70s Top Fuelers, The 1980s, and Exhibition Cars. It wasn’t easy to assign them to classes, but I’ve done my best. All of the finalists in all of the classes each had more than one nomination, so if you don’t find your favorite on any of the lists, it’s not because they weren’t special but because the competition here was so keen. So much for disclaimers.

We’ll kick off the show with the exhibition cars, and it’s a mighty impressive list. I’ve seen practically all of these run in person, but not all of them by any means. It’s a healthy mix of rocket and jet cars, wheelstanders, motorcycles, and fuel altereds. I could have put the Awful-Awfuls in with Early Door Cars/Roadsters, but I thought they fit here better. Hey, it’s my contest.

Here’s a brief rundown on each of them, along with comments from the nominators.

“Wild Bill” Shrewsberry was loved up and down the West Coast – and around the nation -- for decades for a string of wheelstanders such as the Hemi Under Glass and the Knott’s Berry Wagon, but his red-and-white-striped Dodges were the favorite. Pat “Ma” Green, who knew “Wild Bill” from her years working at tracks in the Golden State, wrote, “Not only was he a master showman, but he was certifiably CRAZY!  You never knew what he was going to do next.”

Robert Maushund never knew. “I was young but as I recall at Orange County Raceway back in what I guess was around 1972 at one of the all-Funny Car shows," he recalls, "and there was a major water leak about midtrack that actually rained on the track and shut down the racing. During the cleanup, they fired up the L.A. Dart, and ‘Wild Bill' did a wheelstand right through the middle of the mess. Does anyone else remember these two moments?”

Not surprisingly, “Slammin’ Sammy” Miller made the list twice, with his hydrogen-peroxide-fueled, rocket-powered Oxygen dragster, which ran an astonishing 3.58 in England (and a U.S. best of 3.74) and his equally cool Vanishing Point Vega rocket Funny Car. Miller was killed a few years ago in an oil-field explosion in Texas but left an indelible mark on all of our memories.

English reader Glenn Foster remembers him well. “Sammy would line the car up at the start line. The [announcer] would go through his intro, then you would all count down, 5-4-3-2-1, and Sammy would launch, and I mean launch. All you heard was a pop like a champagne cork firing, and he was gone. I used to always stand about two-thirds of the way along the strip to get a feeling for the top-end speed and to have a good view when the chutes came out. The day that I saw Sammy, it was a wonderful sunny day. He did two runs. The first run may have been a fraction over four seconds, still way, way faster than the Top Fuel and Funny Cars of the day.

"As he was lining up for the second run, I did not expect it to be as fast. On top of the banking where I was standing, I could feel quite a bit of crosswind, which had not been there for the earlier run. Sammy didn’t disappoint the crowd, though. This time it was in the region of 3.68 seconds at something like 350 mph. A new record. The amazing thing was that I could see the car slowing down from midtrack as it battled through the air pressure. He must have been going way over 400 mph to be able to go through the timers at 350ish at the top end. From where I stood, all you could hear was the initial pop and then a wind-like sound as the car cut through the air. Then the chutes were out, and it was all over. I was absolutely stunned.”

As wild as Miller’s Oxygen dragster was, it certainly shares the memory banks with the rocket-powered go-kart of Capt. Jack McClure, who rode his lay-down-style machine to speeds in excess of 215 mph. McClure’s driver’s suit was fitted with its own parachute in case driver and kart became separated during one of those wild runs.

Another rocket car, the Age Of Aquarius driven by onetime nitro tuner and NHRA fuel-racing honcho Ray Alley, got a nod from Steve Milovich and others. Remembers Milovich, “I'm thinking back to my Fremont Raceway days, circa 1978. It was just amazing; it would sit at the starting line and ‘percolate,’ then BAM, the afterburner whoosh, stage, then POW!  He'd rocket down the track with a trail of hydrogen-peroxide vapor a quarter-mile long. When he hit the chutes, the car would become airborne for a brief moment.”

Milovich also was among those stumping for one of the iconic jet dragsters of all time, Doug Rose’s Green Mamba. The car ran for five decades all across the United States, then was stolen in November 2006 and recovered in pieces, then lovingly resurrected.

"The Green Mamba jet car, I loved to watch the old plywood barrier/fence, behind the bleach boxes, rattle and shake with pieces of plywood flying off and the cows in the nearby pasture flinching with each afterburner pop.God, I loved the jet cars."

Les Shockley for years drove his own Shockwave jet dragster that was a staple at NHRA national events and got one vote, but his triple-engine Shockwave jet Peterbilt, now driven by his son, Kent, was the one that got the raves here. The truck has run everywhere, including at air shows, where it has clocked 376 mph on airstrips. I was surprising that Bob Motz’s iconic jet truck also was not nominated, but, hey, I just open the votes.

As Steve Evans would say … “Wheelstanders? We got ‘em!”

In addition to Shrewsberry’s L.A. Dart, three other wheelstanders made the top 16, led by Bill “Maverick” Golden’s iconic Little Red Wagon,  and followed by Bob Perry’s Hell on Wheels tank and the Dick Harding’s Backup Pickup. (Surprisingly, no votes for Hemi Under Glass.)

Golden’s wagon, a Dodge A-100 compact pickup with a scant 90-inch wheelbase and a thumping 426 Hemi for power, prowled the nation’s dragstrips between 1965 and 2003, when Golden retired, and even has been featured in Dodge television commercials. There probably isn’t a hard-core fan who hasn’t seen it at least once.

Perry, who passed away in July 2004, drove a lot of wheelstanders, but none got him more ink than the Hell on Wheels tank, complete with faux treads, the name no doubt inspired by the legendary 2nd Armored Hell on Wheels tank division that fought in World War II.

Harding’s unique machine, driven by George Tuers, was a Ford Econoline cab-over truck with the body mounted backward on the chassis that never failed to surprise first-time race-goers. Remembers reader Michael Moore, “It was hysterical to see the driver's arm hanging out the passenger-side window facing the wrong way.”

Moving on to fuel altereds ….

“Who could forget 'Wild Willie' Borsch going through the lights at over 200 mph with the front wheels in the air and one hand on the steering wheel,” asks Bill Holland, somewhat rhetorically, as the famed Winged Express fuel altered was a popular nominee.

Scott Frymoyer was another to pick legendary fuel altered of Borsch and “Mousie” Marcellus. The wily Willie powered his wild machine through unbelievable gyrations, steering all the time with only one hand, and almost always made it to the other end under power. He epitomized the word “showman” to many, and even after his passing, with Mike Boyd at the wheel, it remains a mythical car.

“I never saw it until the first National Hot Rod Reunion when in pulls 'Mousie' and the Wing with Boyd. The 392 was apart, and it didn't look as though the car was going to run. Over the next day or two, I'd watch as people donated parts and helped get it back together, but they were still not sure whether it was going to fire. Later that night before the Cacklefest, I'm sitting in the stands and hear a nitro motor fire, but I didn't know which car. I look to the starting line, and here comes the Wing out from under the overpass at Beech Bend, right to the water, and proceeds to do the best burnout I've ever witnessed. I was completely blown away by the sound, flames, and length. Mike proceeded to put down a 7.0 or 7.1 at over 200. The crowd went nuts, and I was hooked.”

Another legendary fuel altered, Dave Hough’s Nanook, grabbed a prestigious spot in our poll. The car, which has been around since the late 1960s in many shapes and colors (green, green and white striped, in Super Shops colors, etc.) was as entertaining as it was fast and reliable, churning through fire burnouts, wheels-up launches, and, yes, sometimes even with all four wheels off the ground.

And all the love wasn't confined to four wheels … motorcycles got their due props, too.

Scott Paul was among those who voted for Russ Collins’ awesome three-engine Atchison-Topeka-Santa Fe Honda Top Fuel Bike. “That bike was so well-engineered, just cool to look at, and hauled the mail!” Paul raved. The AT&SF was the first seven-second motorcycle in drag racing history and the first Top Fuel Bike with a Japanese engine to hold an NHRA national record and the first motorcycle to win a Best Engineered Car award, at the Springnationals in 1973. It eventually ran a best of 7.80 at 179 mph but also nearly killed Collins in a 1976 crash in Akron, Ohio, that put him in the hospital for several weeks and in a wheelchair for several more.

Bill Whisenant of Motorcycle Performance, who fielded Top Fuel Bikes, was among those who nominated Bo O'Brochta’s Terminal Van Lines Top Fuel Bike, which ran a screaming best of 7.08 at 199 mph in 1980. “This bike set the standard by which all the followers were measured, using the single supercharged Kawasaki engine instead of the double H.D. combination that was common at the time,” he said. “For the innovation and level of success and the fact that Bo O'Brochta is still a hoot to talk to, those are my reasons." 

Michael Moore was one of several who cast votes for “The Michigan Madman,” E.J. Potter, and his V-8 Chevrolet-powered motorcycle. “Truly nuts,” assessed Moore. “Another smoker, from start to finish. When you spoke to E.J., it all made sense why he climbed on that thing. A very unusual gent.”

Okay, so there you have it, the first installment of the favorites poll. At right, obviously, is a simple poll, alogn with "reminder" photos of these wonderful machines. You'll only be able to vote once in each poll, so choose carefully.

My master plan (he said, rubbing his hands together in an evil manner) is to run a series of these pollsand take the top two or three from each one to create a master poll from among the other "winners" in the other polls to come.

I haven't quite got a formula down yet, and may end up with two semifinal rounds -- pitting the "winners" from separate eras and classes ('60s and '70s versus '80s and beyond) or pitting early Top Fuelers against later ones -- before the winner-take-all final.

The good news is that until I've determined the priliminary winners from each poll, visitors will be able to vote in polls they've missed.

Okay, that's it ... get to voting!

Believe me when I tell you there probably is no more dangerous or ill-advised endeavor in journalism than making a list. In this case, and with due apologies coming soon, I believe it was well worth the risk.

Monday’s “Dry hops in heaven” was so warmly and roundly well-received I’m a bit taken aback. I knew it would be meaningful to many to see some of the names, but I underestimated the sheer number of you who knew or had raced with just about all of those who are racing in a better place. I can’t count the number of e-mails from grown men who said I made them cry – I’m usually pretty good with the ladies on that score, but not these big, tough drag racer men – so I know I must have done an okay job.

It was a true labor of love, not easy by any means and, unfortunately, not perfect. Although my disclaimer acknowledged I knew I hadn’t included everyone – how could I? – I can’t believe the names I missed on the first pass that many of you were so kind to offer. Guys like Buddy Morrison, the heart and soul of Reher-Morrison, Funny Car racer Bruce Sarver, and my own brother in print, Steve Collison, somehow didn’t make the first draft. Thanks to the instantaneous and ever-editable nature of the Web, I was able to add them shortly after I “printed” the first version.

Old pal Jim Hill e-mailed me yesterday to mention Delmar Hinelt, driver of the Logghe Bros. Funny Car, Pro Stock ace Don Carlton, and Jake King, part of the mechanical genius behind the success of the Sox & Martin team, plus manufacturer types such as John Reed (Reed Cams) and Chrysler drag racing executive Dick Maxwell.

If omission were my only sin, I’d be good with it, but that’s not the case here. I take the glory when I’m good and will take the whipping when I’m not. I also placed a couple of fellows “up there” before their time; as Mark Twain would say, “The reports of my death have been greatly exaggerated.”

My apologies, then, to Don Long and Bob Gottschalk, who both were briefly included in my list before those much sharper than I gave me the news that no writer, especially one who prides himself on accuracy and research, likes to hear – “You’re wrong.” – and to their families. (The Don Long on the We Did It For Love memorial list is not the famed chassis builder but a Midwest dragster driver who was killed in the mid-1960s, according to WDIFL’s Don Ewald.) Again, my apologies to them and to you all.