NHRA - National Hot Rod Association

More cursed Corvettes

Corvettes that bit the dust; origination of some racing superstitions
16 Jun 2008
Phil Burgess, NHRA National Dragster Editor

Feedback was, as expected, swift and sure on Friday’s superstitions column and the Corvette Curse.

Our own roving lensman, Richard Brady, has been shooting NHRA race cars for five decades, so it’s no surprise that he’s been ringside to see the curse in action, as evidenced by this shot, which shows the ill-fated Invader Corvette mentioned in Friday’s column sending up some pretty serious smoke signals.

“I was the track photographer at what was my home track (then called Byron Dragway) that day in July," he said. "This show was the annual Manufacturers Fuel Funny Car Showdown, and the spectator appeal for this show was a sellout each year with spectators filling the stands on both sides of the track and also sitting on a high berm opposite the pits side. It was one of the best shows for your money, and all the greats were there.

“I recall that the Chi-Town Hustler, then driven by Pat Minick, was to run the Invader Corvette car, driven by Gary Scow. After doing the usual crowd-pleasing burnouts and backing up, they both tripped the pre-stage blubs and sat there for what seemed like minutes, then moved into full stage and the Tree was activated, and they were off! It was close all the way, but as they neared the finish line, the Invader car blew the motor, catching the car and body on fire, and came to rest sideways at the end of the track.

"As the track photographer, I was allowed to keep my personal car right beside the tower in case I needed to get to a crash. I ran to my car (a beautiful ‘69 SS 4-speed big-block Chevelle) and made for the far end. As I neared the cars, the body was pretty engulfed in flames, but Scow was out of the car and being attended to by the far-end ambulance crew while other Funny Car drivers and crewmen struggled to rip the body off the car to save the chassis! Minick helped and so did Arnie Beswick, who was also at the event running his own car!

"I pulled up alongside but far enough away so as not to have my Chevelle in the way, left it running, got out and started shooting what was going on. It was by brute strength that these guys were able to rip the body off the chassis, and the last shot I took was of just the body laying on its roof burning. To my knowledge no was hurt or burned, but the sequence I shot was interesting to say the least.”


Brady was also Johnny-on-the-spot when another Corvette went down in flames, in Darlington, S.C., in March 1979. This is George Johnson at the wheel of Jim Wemett’s Wombat Corvette, a three-frame sequence that ran in Popular Hot Rodding magazine. That’s “Rapid Roy” Harris in the Bud Man Budweiser Firebird (that’s right, Harris had a Bud deal before Kenny Bernstein) in the near lane.

Good e-pal Howard Hull, who grew up and worked at OCIR, remembers the Corvette curse.

“I remember Corvettes,” he reminisced, "the Mako Shark Funny Car sliding all over the track at OCIR. I remember going down to the top end and climbing up the hill to see the Funny Car on fire. It was like yesterday that ‘Goose was telling [track operator Bill] Doner, Steve Woomer, and a few other racers one Friday evening after qualifying over a vodka tonic how he thinks he fixed the airflow problem on his car. [Raymond] Beadle had the vodka; I went to the Irvine Store for the tonic and was a hero! Force’s Wendy’s 'Vette was quite a good car with Steve Plueger twisting the wrenches, but it was sideways with John driving it.”

He also had his own personal brush with the “women in the pits distracting the crew” legend.

“John Collins was racing and would let me help and learn on the car,” he remembered. “I was taking notes on why we would do different things and how the car would react to the changes in the engine, as in the case of the copper gaskets. John made the finals and had to change some pistons, so I went to work, and John replaced me with another guy who was working on other cars and thought he was God’s gift to women. I, of course, was pissed and stood by as he crimped a gasket and didn’t put the asbestos powder along it either. Why didn’t he do it correctly? He was busy flirting with the girls in the pits and joking and laughing. I pointed this out to one of the Condit brothers; he looked at me and just smiled. The car launched, and at about the 300-foot mark, the gasket pushed through, and the race was lost. Next race, the Condits asked me to help on their car!”

David Hapgood, senior field editor at draglist.com, whose initial letter sparked the Friday column, pointed out that, contrary to my report, Tom McEwen was not driving a Corvette when he finished 15th in the 1976 points but rather his red, white, and blue Duster.

“His first Corvette wasn't until 1977, that evil-handling yellow car you mention and the one you have pictured in the article,” he reports. “But McEwen didn't break the Corvette curse with that car, either: instead, he fared poorly at NHRA meets and crashed it off the end of the track at Thompson, Ohio, sometime in late July or early August, and the damage was heavy enough that he had to cancel match race dates for the next couple of weeks. It was his 1978 silver English Leather 'Vette that finally won Indy and did in the Corvette curse.”

Addressing the issue of getting into a car from one side or the other, column regular Don Roberts, who wheeled a variety of famous Top Fuelers and Funny Cars in the late 1960s and early 1970s, wrote, "In all the years I drove, and all the cars I drove, the only side of the car to get in was the driver left (sitting in the car) side. There was no other way to get in a car. No superstition, just the way it was.”

And why was that?

“I only did it because that is how I had seen all my heroes do it. I didn't want to change anything they did.


“I had heard all the superstition stories,” he added, “peanuts, get in from the right, green cars, and all the rest. I didn't believe any of it, but I still only got in the cars from the left side. I drove three green cars, and I only crashed one.”

The car that Roberts crashed was the infamous Jade Grenade Top Fueler (shown here, sadly, in black and white), which met its demise on this very windy day in Epping, N.H. The car, as you can see, had the front wheel pants, which later were outlawed as they were very susceptible to crosswinds and led to more than one crash.

“I do think the wheel pants had something to do with that car going over,” Roberts said. “During the 1975 season, there were accidents with cars that had wheel pants. Dick LaHaie had a very bad accident at Indy that year. At the end of the 1975 season, the wheel pants were legislated out. There were many cars that ran wheel pants that made runs that never had a problem. Wheel pants were a fashion statement of the mid-1970s, and, as with most fashion statements, you either loved them or disliked them. Now, if you ask Tom Ivo about wheel pants, he would tell you he never had a problem. He may have made more runs in different cars with wheel pants than anyone. I certainly believe what he says."

Interesting, for me, however, to note that Ivo’s car had the wheel pants on during his famous crash in Pomona in 1984.

And finally, speaking of green cars, reader Robert Nielson thought it appropriate to mention that the green-car jinx was an American thing.

“Green was used extensively in European racing; remember the color British Racing Green?” he wrote. “In the early 1960s, a couple of Indy cars broke the green superstition. Without doing any in-depth research, I do recall Jackie Stewart's Ford-powered Indy car having been painted British Racing Green, even though he was a Scotsman. I also recall that Andy Granatelli -- of STP and Indy fame -- was one of the more superstitious Indy car owners when it came to the color green and how Stewart's car probably upset him because of its color.”

So there you have it -- more Corvettes on fire, more superstitions, and more green goodness. As Roger Lindamood might have said, for today, "Color me gone."