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Simon Menzies weighs in; Doug Herbert heals; Greg Ozubko tells hockey tales; more "Growing Up Boy"
06 Feb 2008
Phil Burgess, NHRA National Dragster Editor

It's T-minus one day before the CARQUEST Auto Parts NHRA Winternationals and my mind is so a-twitter at the thought of fuel cars firing down Parker Avenue that it's going to make it difficult to keep a train of thought, so I'm going to derail any thoughts of keeping this column on rails and try to engineer a … okay, enough with the train metaphors … let's reach into the ol' mailbag. All aboard ….

This week's Photo of the Week spotlights Simon Menzies at the wheel of the Bergens & Leslie Arrow at Indy in 1980. You might remember that I did a nice little write-up on Menzies' career back in December, so I dropped him a line a couple of days ago to let him know he was going to be a star … again.

"Yup, that is my big fat head squeezed into a little yellow helmet," he wrote back. "That was probably the last pass I made in the car. It kicked the rods out soon after the picture was shot. Interestingly it was only the second time I had lost an engine on fuel. The first time was in the same car at Gainesville earlier that year."

The B&L entry was one of the few using the Arias engine, especially in Funny Car. Rance McDaniel ran the Arias for years in Top Fuel. In the late 1970s and even early 1980s, it wasn't all just late-model Hemis like today. There were still the odd Donovan – most notably Kelly Brown, who won the '78 NHRA Top Fuel title, and Garlits, who also ran it in '79 – and Milodon and Chevy/Rodeck engines sprinkled around and Bill Miller was a hardcore Arias guy well into the 1990s.

Former NHRA.com webmaster Brent Friar, who left the big N several years ago and moved to North Carolina to run Doug Hebert's e-commerce Web site, sent out an email on behalf of his 6-year-old daughter, Carlee, who wanted to do something in memory of Jon and James Herbert.

"This is the first time that Carlee has had to deal with the death of someone she knew," he wrote to a list of friends in the community. "She has been a huge Doug Herbert fan since we moved to North Carolina. She loves watching him on TV and always stops to watch drag racing in case Doug gets some TV time. She was really sad to hear about his loss and has been asking if there is anything she can do to help. She wanted to send flowers, but Doug has asked that donations be made to the Speedway Children's Charities.

"Her original goal was to collect $100," said Brent. "This goal was swiftly met with the very first donation (ND's own Richard Wong). Her next goal was to get 100 donations. She made calls asking for help to anyone who would listen and the donations rolled in."

Yesterday, Carlee presented Herbert with a posterboard with her handwritten receipts of each donation (more than 100!), a drawing, and a check for $1,487, and the donations are still rolling in. The NHRA community is second to none. Good job, Carlee!

Now that football season is over, the nation can concentrate on its finest sport, hockey. I bring this up only because of a note that I got from former ND editor and column contributor Bill Holland, who knows my love of the game. (I'm in good company; notables like Dale Armstrong, Rob Flynn, Larry Dixon, Jimmy Prock, Tony Schumacher, and good ol' Mr. Wilber also have puck fever.)

"I know you're a hockey buff, and saw the Ducks/NHRA connection on the website," he wrote. "This, of course, prompted me to write you about a couple of hockey-related factoids: Did you know... That Ron Hodgson, owner of the Bubble-Up nostalgia Funny Car was at one time a part-owner of the Edmonton Oilers? Or that Hank Manley, founder of Manley Performance, was drafted by the New York Islanders (but never turned pro?)"

I did know about Hodgson, who also owned the cars driven by faithful Insider reader Gordie Bonin, thanks to some email I had traded with his fellow Edmontonian, Greg Ozubko, another huge hockey fan and a damn fine goalie. All of which led me to fish out the email below, from two years ago, wherein Ozubko, racecar paint schemist to the stars, shared a story about the time that he and his good buddy, Top Fuel ace Bob Vandergriff, squared off on skates.

"First, you have to remember Bob is a total jock, succeeding in every sport he touches: football, basketball, golf, bowling, etc., etc. etc.," prefaced Ozubko. "Keeping in mind he drives a golf ball 350 yards, he kept telling me he'd rip a 100-mph slapshot at me! One day we got him on skates after a pickup game. He looked like Bambi on ice because, as you know, it's one thing to skate but quite another to try to stand on skates and shoot a puck at the same time. Truth be told, he scored once on an off-speed shot but his first slapshot stopped short of the goal in a puddle from the Zamboni ... never even reached me! If you ask him about it he will deny it because he never saw it; by the time it reached that puddle he was lying flat on his back looking at the ceiling of the rink! I think it gave him an appreciation of just how hard it is and how different of a skill it is when you are standing on something other than your sneakers!"

After reading my "Growing Up Boy" entries, Charlie Arford shared some great stories about his childhood, and recalled Sunday drives with a destination of dad's whim. "One time, I think it was in '62 or '63, my dad made a turn onto what is now called Fairplex Drive; it was called E Street back then. I remember hearing the roar of engines and with my nose pressed up against the car’s window, I saw my very first drag race. There were no tarps or bushes along the fence of Pomona Raceway so you could see everything. I told my dad to stop the car so I could watch. He said he couldn’t, but he did drive really slow down the street and I got to see a full pull. My dad drove around the block and we made another pass next to the raceway so I could see another run. Ever since that moment I was hooked, I loved drag racing.

"I tried to get my dad to take me to the races but he thought it was silly, therefore, I lived the hot rod life vicariously through the pages of Hot Rod, Car Craft, and Popular Hot Roding magazines to name a few. Back then we didn’t have the computers and TVs had only 13 channels (only six worked, and only from about 6 a.m. to 11 p.m.), so there was no way I could follow the sport.

"When I finally got my drivers license, my dad kind of let me have my hairy way with his Cortina station wagon. The thing that was cool about that car was all the aftermarket Ford performance parts made for the Cortina GT fit, and with a little handcrafting to the exhaust system and some home fabricating to the suspension and a ram air intake system I built with a cold box for the fuel line, I was ready for OCIR. If wasn’t at home or work, you could find me at OCIR. I also became a member of the Ford Drag Club through Villa Ford in Anaheim. We would race clubs from other Ford dealerships at tracks around Southern California like Lions, Irwindale, Carlsbad, OCIR, San Bernardino and Riverside. I also went to the Winternationals at Pomona for I don’t know how many years, as well as, the Manufacturers Meets at OCIR … you know: SUNDAY, SUNDAY, SUNDAY, 64 FUNNY CARS AT OCIR: BEEEEEEE THERE! What fun!

"My friend Mark and I talk about those time a lot now that we get AARP in the mail every day and senior discounts when we go golfing. They were great times for me but I do get a little sad at time because my son will never get to experience the simplicity of life back then."

That's it for today … let's get ready to rumble!