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The Fred Files, part 3

26 Jul 2009
Phil Burgess, NHRA National Dragster Editor
DRAGSTER Insider

Based on the volume of e-mails received, a lot of readers of this column seem to have attended East Coast match races in the early 1970s. I'm pretty sure that Fred von Sholly could get elected governor of some Eastern state right now, so popular are his photos of that era that he has been allowing me to share the last few weeks.

Honestly, I could probably run several hundred of his pics for weeks to come, but then I'd probably have to share the byline on this column. Instead, I'm going to pick the best 24 of the remaining and run them in two 12-photo installments, one today and one Friday. It seems that lately I've been heavy into the photo mode – the Misc. Files, the Fred Files, Al Kean's Seattle pics – and haven’t been writing as many feature stories as I used to and would like to get back to. I'm still eager to finish the Misc. Files (we're only up to J) and will mix those in as we go along.

But today, once again, belongs to von Sholly, former Division 1 Photographer (the capital P means he was the official guy, charged by then Division Director Darwin Doll with covering the races and sending photos to National DRAGSTER and other publications). Here's a dandy dozen.

Here's a nice scene-setter for you and a far cry from the orderly pit areas of the NHRA Full Throttle Drag Racing Series. Visible in this photo, from right, is the nose of Bob Cain's Hurri-cain 'Cuda; Tim Kushi's Damn Yankee Challenger; the Gary Bolger-driven, Bud Richter-owned "Don Garlits" Charger; and the nose of the Whipple & McCulloch 'Cuda. In the foreground is the ramp truck of Al Graeber's Tickle Me Pink Charger. Gotta love the Cadillac pit vehicles and the very open nature of the layout.

Here's a rare old goat … as in GTO. That's Bob Ehgotz's '69 GTO, complete with Pontiac's trademark "Here Comes the Judge" slogan painted onto the grille. Duane Muelling, who later gained a lot of fame with Bob Gottschalk and the late, great Al DaPozzo, was the crew chief on this car, which had fully enclosed side windows. What's really cool (to me at least) is the rare angle of the Cecil County track. I can’t remember having seen this view.

The Jade Grenade was one of drag racing's great all-time names on a popular car up and down the East Coast for most of the 1970s. Ted Thomas (pictured here) first drove it as a slingshot in the 1960s and early 1970s, and he was followed into the cockpit of rear-engined cars by Sarge Arciero, Satch Nottle, Don Roberts, and Ted Wolf. This car, the Thomas-Lenhoff-Fluerer entry, was originally built by Don Long for the 1970 season and was restored in 2000 for Don Trasin by none other than Pat Foster. The car is cackled regularly and still remains a crowd-pleaser.

Leroy Goldstein drove some good cars in his fine career, but it would be hard to argue that the Ramchargers Funny Car wasn't the best of them. In this Woody Gilmore-built chassis, "the Israeli Rocket" won the 1970 Springnationals in Dallas with a 7.03 final-round blast over local favorite Gene Snow, and then a few months later made history with the first six-second Funny Car pass, a 6.92 Sept. 10, 1970, in Indy. At the following year's Gatornationals, Goldstein ran as quick as 6.71 to win that event, then won his final event, the 1973 Summernationals, at the wheel of the Candies & Hughes 'Cuda.

The same year that Goldstein rocked the Nationals with the first six, this guy (whom some of you may know today as the owner of one of the sport's most successful multi-class operations) won the race – the first of his career – by beating Goldstein in the final and set the national record at 212.26 with his Barracuda. (He actually ran as fast as 214.79 but was about a half mph short of a backup). Don Schumacher was an old hand in the class by then, having been in on the ground floor back in 1966. This car, I'm pretty sure, is the one that predated by one version the Indy winner.

Here's another photo with a Goldstein connection. Fast-fingered Fred didn't just limit himself to East Coast tracks. Any hard-core fan can place this shot from the Marathon sign in the background as Indy (remember Connie Kalitta's wedge Top Fueler taking out the Marathon win light?). Anyway, Tom Prock, father of Robert Hight wrench Jimmy Prock, won’t soon forget Indy of 1971, either. The driver of Al Bergler's new Funny Car – before "the Tin Man" drove his own floppers – launched into a giant wheelstand in the right lane during Saturday qualifying. The front end collapsed upon return to terra firma, and Prock's mount veered into the left lane, where it struck Goldstein's Ramchargers mount. Prock and Bergler were done for the event, but the Rams repaired their car only to watch Goldstein fall in round one to Richard Tharp and the Blue Max.

OK, I'm on a Goldstein six-degrees-of-separation roll here. At that same 1971 Nationals where Prock and Goldstein tangled, young Dale Pulde was the fireballing runner-up to Ed McCulloch (the first of "the Ace's" six Indy wins) in this car, Mickey Thompson's Steve Montrelli-tuned direct-drive Pinto. According to Pulde's interesting career retrospective on Dawn Mazi's site, the Pinto was titanium heavy and flyweight light – 1,700 pounds without Pulde in the saddle — and initially had a Boss 429 for power. "After several fires, explosions, and a couple of trashed bodies, Mickey finally let us put a Chrysler in it," he wrote. "We ran the car on what it made and also split the cost of running it with Mickey, which in return meant splitting the profits, if any, so if we had the chance to run a match race or national event, we went where the money was. More than likely, we could be found at a match race or a paid-in event." Like at Cecil County ...

Minnesota's Tom Hoover may have cut his nitro teeth in Top Fuel from the mid- to late 1960s in a family-owned dragster, but he made his real name in Funny Car. While his parents, the well-loved Ma and Pa (Ruth and George), stayed in Top Fuel with a variety of drivers, Tom went to Funny Car in 1970 and initially was partnered with Bill Schifsky on a series of White Bear Dodge entries such as this Woody Gilmore-built Charger. He reunited with Ma and Pa in 1973, and they launched their successful line of Showtime entries. The trio won two races before Ruth's death in early 1992. In what was truly an amazing and emotional moment, father and son won the NHRA national event in Phoenix just weeks later in front of the sport's first live television audience; the final rounds were broadcast live on The Nashville Network. George, who was 86, continued to work on his son's cars through the end of that year and was a constant presence in the team's pit until Tom retired from driving in 1999. Tom won three more races and finished a career-high fifth in the NHRA standings in 1993. Fittingly, Tom's final event win, at the 1997 Springnationals, was on Father's Day. Pa died 11 years after Ma, in February 2003, at age 97.

This year, we're celebrating Connie Kalitta's 50th season in the sport, so here's one of "the Bounty Hunter's" earliest Funny Cars – probably about the third or so; all were Mustangs – and it featured a Boss 429 for power. The blue and maroon beauty (possibly his only blue car?) was built by the Logghe brothers, whose LSC sticker (Logghe Stamping Co.) is prominently visible behind the front wheelwell (and you thought I knew this stuff by heart).

The fabled "Mongoose," Tom McEwen, played a lot of second fiddle to Don "the Snake" Prudhomme, but there's no disputing that " 'Goose" was a master showman. Check out this rolling fog bank in his Hot Wheels Duster at Cecil County!

One good "Mongoose" deserves a "Snake," I always say (well, I never say that, but you get the point), and here's a pic that caught my eye. This is Prudhomme's radical (and not really successful) Buttera-built Hot Wheels wedge in Englishtown in 1971. I love this shot because that's Prudhomme at the wheel and for the no-frills Ford truck doing the pushing. Although the car was too heavy, its greatest claim to fame came at the July 1971 PDA race at Orange County Int’l Raceway, where Prudhomme lost to Rick Ramsey in the then quickest side-by-side race in history, 6.41 to 6.41, at the first drag race I ever attended. (I think it's probably more famous for the 6.41s, though.)

And, as I never say (but will on this occasion for this great photo), one good "Snake" photo deserves another, and I really love this moody gem from Capitol Raceway. With the burnout smoke still hanging heavy in the air and filtering the track lighting, you almost feel like you're there. Check out the header-flame-scorched battle scars on the flanks of the white 'Cuda. Think Prudhomme was running it a bit fat on some days?

OK, gang, that's it for the day; back Friday with the final installment of the Fred Files.

One more thing: Last Thursday marked the two-year anniversary of this column; my, how time flies. We're still going strong some 260 columns later, thanks to your support, your stories, and your readership.