NHRA - National Hot Rod Association

Chicago: The Name Game

05 Jun 2009
Phil Burgess, NHRA National Dragster Editor

Well, here we are in fabulous Chi-Town – well, actually J-town, Joliet, just outside of Chicago – for this weekend's United Association Route 66 NHRA Nationals. I've been to almost every venue on the Full Throttle Drag Racing Series tour, but, for some reason, never Route 66 Raceway.

Chicago long has been home to drag racing royalty over the years, and continues to be. Whether you're old school and consider that royalty to be the legendary "Greek," Chris Karamesines, or a newer fan witness to reigning NHRA Full Throttle Drag Racing Series Top Fuel champ Tony Schumacher's histrionics over the past few seasons, there's no denying that if you're a drag racing fan, Chicago is your kinda town.

If you're any kind of drag racing history nut – and, hey, you wouldn't be reading this column if you weren't, right? – you'd be wondering why the previous paragraph didn't invoke the name of the Windy City's most famous flopper, the legendary Chi-Town Hustler. Well, that's because the theme of this column is Chicago-themed drag racing cars. See?

There have been a number of drag racing machines over the years to invoke the name of this great city in their pursuit of quarter-mile notoriety, and the Hustler ranks right at the top, both in terms of longevity and impact. The combination of tuner Austin Coil – now of John Force fame, of course – driver Pat Minnick, and John Farkonas incited near riots with their famed '69 Dodge Charger's smoky, mostly-for-show burnouts and match-race heroics.

Chicago also has been home to a lot of name drivers, including the likes of Gary Dyer (Mr. Norm's), Jim Lutz (Top Fuel), Ron Pellegrini, Boddy Vodnik, Mark Pieri, Kenny Safford, Ron O'Donnell, John Pott, Rod Stuckey, George Tolon, Pete Williams, Fred Mandoline, Fred Hagen, and "Wiskey Joe" Amato (the late Alcohol Funny Car racer, not to be confused with the famous Top Fuel racer.

One of my favorite Funny Cars of the 1970s was the Chicago Patrol Mustang II, which was driven by a host of talented flopper shoes including Pat Foster, Ron Colson, Dale Pulde, and later by Ed O'Brien, "Flash Gordon" Mineo, and Tom Anderson. The car's unforgettable gimmick was actual rotating blue police-light bubbles on the roof.

The car originally was campaigned by Chicago-based  Chapman Automotive and served as a promotional device for the Chicago Police Department. Colson drove the car in its debut, before turning the wheel over to Foster, who later relinquished it to Pulde. O'Brien bought the original car and later sold to "Fearless Fred" Goeske, who was looking for a new car after crashing his own car. He put Anderson and Mineo briefly behind the wheel and later did the unthinkable to the many fans of this car, converting it to a rocket car that went as quick as 4.70s at 230 mph

There were plenty of other Chicago-named cars plying their trade on the quarter-mile. In the mid-1970s, Cliff Brown had the Chicago Kid Mustang, which initially was a first-gen Mustang before being topped with a Mustang II body. The car was a really strong match-race car – I'm not sure he ever ran many national events – but Brown was a veteran, having first piloted the Dark Horse mustang flopper for the famed Stone-Woods-Cook team in 1970.

Ron Correnti had the Chicago Charger '71 Dodge with longtime partner David Emerson, as seen in my previous Misc. Files, C edition, and Vic Cecelia (who was not the in the C files) fielded The Chicagoan alky flopper, which also was a Mustang II, which later was run by crew chief Pat Cress under the same name and colors.

Wyatt Radke drove Terry Joyce's Chi-town-based Chicago Trapper Beretta that ran well but, unfortunately for the likable Southern California shoe, was better known for have twice burned heavily in 1991, first in Houston and then again in Indy.

Mike Faser was another fan favorites with the Chicago Fire Funny Car and fuel altered entries. The car, a Windy City match race favorite, began life as a Vega-bodied Romeo Palamides-built Alcohol Funny Car with partner and Ken Hoctor but moved to fuel with Drastic Plastic pilot Tom Motry at the helm and later was covered in one of those hideous Iversen Corvette shells. Faser ran a variety of Corvette fuel coupes into the 1990s, before repurposing the car as a fuel altered with a sweet stretched '48 Fiat Topolino body, then a wild topless Plymouth Prowler and, finally, a more conventional '23-T body that ran deep into the 6.20s.

Jet-car racer Bill Mattio's well-traveled Chicago Fire dragster was burning up tracks as early as the mid-1970s and continued to please fans coast to coast into the new century. The Chicago Rush Mustang II Alcohol Funny Car from the mid '80s to the early '90s, alternatively driven by Chuck Scherr and Dan Sullivan until they took the name into the jet dragster ranks, where Sullivan drove it through two decades of after-burning exhibitions. Don Colosimo had a Top Fueler called the Chicago Missile and Harry Claster a '68 Barracuda flopper named after himself, Chicago Harry.

Okay, that's it ... just a quick entry to hold you over. Busy weekend here in Chi-Town (ooops, J-Town) covering the event for the Web site and for ND. I'll check back with you next week.