Happy Presidents Day, everyone. Did you know that U.S. President Richard Nixon once honored the motorsports world when he invited the biggest names in motorsports –- including "Big Daddy" Don Garlits, Ronnie Sox, and Richard Petty -- to the White House in September 1971, and that he remains the only president to ever honor racing in that manner?
Nixon, of course, also was famous for his dual throwing of the V-for-Victory sign, virtually his trademark move and, in the mother of all segues, Nixon makes me think of Dixon, and guess who I heard from last week after my column on drag racers flashing the big V? That's right, Larry Dixon -- Jr., that is -– who shared a funny story about the perils of the maneuver, recalling his father's final-round race against Steve Carbone at the 1969 Hot Rod Magazine race at Riverside Raceway.
"My dad had just beat Garlits in the semi's and was set to race Carbone in the final," wrote Dixon. "Carbone, the way it was told to me, was crushing everyone by tenths of a second, making smokeless (no pun) runs. The shot that I remember I believe was in DRAGSTER, shows my dad boiling the hides at around 100 feet and Carbone out front, around 330 feet putting the V sign up. The copy underneath the shot went something like this, 'What appears to be an easy victory for Steve Carbone for the money in the final, but a second after this shot was taken, he broke the rear end and Dixon went by for the win.' It's amazing the things that stick with you, but that's one of the reasons I let the car do the talking. You don't ever get too embarrassed that way!"
So, naturally, I headed to the ND library to look for that issue and lo and behold, on the front page of the March 21, 1969 issue, there it is. The caption is a little different than what Dixon remembers (that was actually part of the story text); you can see a larger version of the picture and caption here.
I dug out this famous shot of Dixon's current boss, "the Snake," Don Prudhomme, doing his V-for-Victory thing in 1970, in his famed Wynn's Winder front-engined Top Fueler.
I also received a humorous anecdote from reader Jeff Sayer, a self-described "old racer from the front motored days and the early rear engined cars," who wrote, "I won a race in our Top Gas dragster at the old Mission City drag strip in 1970 or 1971. The dragster pits were just past the finish line [and] I had seen photos of guys raising the victory sign in the lights and must have decided that would be the thing to do. I hit the chute, killed the motor, and shoved my arm out of the car in jubilation. I underestimated the force of the wind at 180-plus miles per hour and the chute hit at about the same time. I was not sure I was going to be able to get my arm back inside to use the brake. When we returned to the pits the late Earl Poage came over and said with a big grin, 'I hope you broke your damn arm.' I never did that again although I did have the opportunity."
(And now for today's history lesson: The V-for-Victory sign supposedly is the work of Victor De Lavelaye, a Belgian refugee in Britain who made a BBC radio broadcast to his countrymen Jan. 4, 1941, encouraging them to mark the letter V for Victorie in public places to show their defiance of the German occupation. The BBC began to broadcast the Morse code for V (dot-dot-dot-dash), followed by the opening bars of Beethoven's Fifth Symphony, whose notes correspond to the Morse signal; "fifth" can also be written using the Roman numeral V. British Prime Minister Winston Churchill took up the Victory campaign, and made a V sign whenever a camera was pointed at him.)
Speaking of olden days, the nostalgia Top Fuel and Funny Car exhibition at the Winternationals to promote the upcoming March meet, the first race of the NHRA Hot Rod Heritage Racing Series, was awesome, and for a 1970s Funny Car fan like me it was super-cool to see cars like Gordie Bonin's old Bubble Up Trans Am, the old Gene Snow Charger, and especially Danny Pisano's recreation of uncle Joe's famed Pisano & Matsubara Vega. The P&M Vega, which was one of the first Revell models I ever built, looks just like the original and is a great tribute to Joe and Sush, both of whom are no longer with us. Especially worth noting is that painter Bill Carter used his original notes and color chips from the original Pisano & Matsubara Funny Car to reproduce the paint scheme and colors.
Driver Jeff Utterback dropped me a line about the team's efforts in Pomona, which yielded a 6.01 at 231 mph, their quickest and fastest to date. Steve Montrelli, a familiar name to Funny Car fans from the 1970s, tunes the car.
"We might of been a little over-shadowed by Bucky Austin's 5.79 but we feel Danny's car captures the essence of the nostalgia movement, and it is a tribute to Joe, Carmen and Sush," he wrote. "It needs to look the 'Pisano' part and it does.
"Saturday a fan brought by a Pisano & Matsubara Revell model he built some 30 years ago. He had Sush's signature on it and he wanted to add Danny's as well. He got Danny to sign it and also Frank, who was there on Saturday. After our 6.01 he came back and wanted me to sign it. I was very humbled to say the least. What an honor.
"I'm having a great time driving this car. Dale Pulde gave Danny my number and George Doty also lied and said I would do a good job in the car. It really is an honor to drive for the Pisano family. I was a big fan of Joe P and actually applied for a job at Venolia after I graduated high school in 1980. I talked to Gary Slusser and didn't get the job. He could probably tell I was star-struck.
"It's really cool to follow all of the great drivers that the Pisano brothers had. I try to do them justice. It's one of those things that you need to pinch yourself and realize, 'I'm driving for Pisano.' At last year's March Meet Ron Capps grabbed me and was like, 'Dude, we all built that model as kids and now you get to drive it!' It was (and still is) very cool. We do joke about is how my name on the car is on vinyl. Joe would like that: no paint drama when he fires a driver!
"Having Steve Montrelli on board is also an honor. He was Pulde's crew chief in the Mickey Thompson days and also was Don Schumacher's crew chief for the Stardust Funny Car. Steve says I'm a lot like Pulde but quieter. LOL. I try to shut up and listen but those who know me know better!"
Good luck, Jeff, and thanks for the note.
I'd be remiss if I didn’t also wish good luck to my longtime NHRA.com reporter, Rob Geiger, who resigned Friday. I'm sure you noticed the missing Geiger Counter button on the home page. Rob and I worked together every day for eight years here, and I know we'll all miss his insightful feature stories and behind-the-scenes stories in the GC. Rob is a huge part of the success that NHRA.com has become and I'm sure he'll bring that same level of skill and dedication to whatever he takes on next. Good luck, my brutha.