NHRA - National Hot Rod Association

The Misc. Files: D-lightfully D-verse

15 May 2009
Phil Burgess, NHRA National Dragster Editor

Well, devoted dudes and dames of dragdom's days distant, it's due time to dive back into the delectable depths of the DRAGSTER Photo Department drawers again, digging to discover dandy dragstrip diamonds to digitize and document to delight you demanding diehards.

Don't dawdle, Daddy-O. Disengage those daydreaming doldrums and despair, draw yourself a double daiquiri, if you dare, as your dedicated, dependable, dauntless, and determined drag detective delves deep to document this diversity and then doles out a delicatessen of dazzling dragly delights, downloaded and delivered directly to your desktop.

Guess which letter we're covering today … that's it! Destination D!

Gary Dye ran Top Fuel for 15 seasons out of the Chicago area, beginning in 1970 with a front-engined car after Don Prudhomme and Chris Karamesines signed his license at Rockford Dragway. This photo was shot in 1972 at a UDRA event at Quaker City Dragway in Salem, Ohio, where he lost in round one to Dick LaHaie. I tracked down Dye through the Internet and found that he retired from racing in 1981 and now is retired from his job as an engineer for Navistar International.

"I ran that front-engined car for about two years, then switched to the rear-engine car," he said. "Both cars were R&B chassis. I ran mostly with the UDRA. My first circuit win was in Coon Rapids, Minn., near Minneapolis. I beat Tom Hoover in his Ford overhead-cam-powered car in the final. I was runner-up in points two years straight (1975-76); Dick LaHaie was the points champ both of those years. We raced all over the Midwest with UDRA and also ran some Division 3 events. My last year of driving my own car was in 1979. I then drove another car for Steve Mugerhauer from Oshkosh, Wis., for two years and then retired.

"Those years of running the car were the best times of my life. I still watch the races on TV every weekend that they are on. My wife asked me one time if I would want to drive a Top Fuel car again. I told her if somebody wanted me to drive I would be there in a flash."

Today, Dye enjoys working in the radio-controlled-airplane field, a childhood passion. He does work for some of the manufacturers of large-scale radio-control models, writing instruction manuals for Yellow Aircraft, one of the largest manufacturers of scale models of World War II fighters and jet models, and he travels to numerous events around the Texas area to demonstrate them and promote sales. He also is a sponsored demo pilot for Horizon Hobby, one of the largest hobby supply houses.

He's also still into cars and has a '32 Plymouth three-window with a Corvette LT1 drivetrain.

When I first came across this Ed Worley-snapped photo of Ben Diener and wife Mary posing with their injected dragster in the DeSoto Memorial Speedway winner's circle, I had two thoughts: 1) I suddenly feel very claustrophobic; and 2) I never heard of Diener. Turns out that this enclosed-cockpit dragster was quite a runner in Division 2 in the early 1970s, perpetually battling Jerry Gwynn for Pro Comp honors. Before that, Diener competed in Super Eliminator and Comp as far back as the mid-1960s. Diener eventually left the cockpit and founded Dienerbilt, a well-known street-rod-building emporium with a slew of car-show awards to its credit that today is run by his son, Douglas. According to their Web site, Mary died last year.

Speaking of DeSoto, I couldn’t pass up this photo, also taken by Worley. I'm not sure if it was filed in the D folder because of DeSoto or because of E.T. winner Lance Dupre, second from right, but I love that he's being congratulated by conquistadors like the one that long adorned the track's logo.

The track, which opened in 1973 (previously owned by Art Malone and now known as Bradenton Motorsports Park), probably only had this interesting winner's circle ritual for a short time.

Like the logo, the name was a tribute to the man for whom it was named, Spanish explorer Hernando de Soto, who landed in Bradenton in May 1539 to begin his trek through the southeast United States (it's not just a racing column, it's a history lesson!). For the record, from left are chief technical inspector Gene Tharpe (who somehow was excused from the costume party), Bob McEnnan, Al Redmon, Dupre, and Bob Porter.

Here's another twofer for the D Files: Larry Dobbs in the Kardiac Kids Datsun versus Leroy Dewdney in his Fly'n-High Mustang in a Division 1 Alcohol Funny Car battle. Dobbs, who hails from Canada, has had a career that has spanned four decades, first in stockers, gassers, and gas dragsters before switching to Alcohol Funny Car in 1981 with longtime partner Fred Speight. Together they won two Canadian championships through the 1980s. Dewdney, who was based out of Virginia, also had a lengthy career and campaigned a variety of Alcohol Funny Cars from the early 1980s as both an owner and a hired gun and later fielded an alky-burning altered.

Speaking of alky floppers, here's the late Bob "the Gator" Dalton taking on the wheelstanding Jersey Stud Vega of Bruce Pillar at Maple Grove Raceway in this 1978 shot by longtime Maple Grove lensman Harold Hoch. Dalton ran in Alcohol Funny Car from the early to late 1970s, starting with an injected Vega that he wheeled in four seasons before getting this slick Vega, which he dubbed Frantic Monza in the long tradition of K&G Speed Associates-backed cars such as the Frantic Ford and Frantic Duster.

I've always had a soft spot for AMCs – my first car was a '74 AMC Javelin hand-me-down from my parents that I quickly hot-rodded into a pretty decent runner – so when I saw this Jere Alhadeff photo of Larry Derr's injected '70 Javelin, I knew it had to run here. I couldn't find a lot of info on the car other than that it was Chevy-powered. According to the caption on the back of the photo, Derr had low e.t. at this Sept. 18, 1971, Lions show but red-lighted in the final.

Speaking of early Funny Cars, here's Bob Davis' Jolly Green Giant II '66 Corvette at Irwindale Raceway in this 1971 Tim Marshall photo; that's actually Denny Savage behind the wheel, as he became the driver of the car after it was sold by Davis. The 'Vette became a well-traveled car but began life as the follow-up to Davis' Competition Paint & Body Jolly Green Giant blown S/FX Impala, which was a popular car but too heavy and not very aero friendly.
According to Vern Scholz in an article for Quick Times, Davis found a water-damaged Corvette at a dealership and modified it to accept the drivetrain from the Impala. Both cars eventually were sold and ended up in Washington, where the Christensen brothers stretched the Corvette body, painted it blue and white, and mounted it atop a new and lighter chassis and renamed it the North West Knight. The car eventually ran low sevens at more than 200 mph. The brothers sold the car, and it disappeared for a time before Forrest Leblanc resurrected it as a bracket car, under the name Addiction, with tunnel ram big-block Chevy power. The car was sold again in the late 1980s, and a newer Funny Car chassis was inserted by Art Morrison and the run with a supercharged-on-alcohol BBC. The car was sold again, this time to Coloradoan Jim Nordhaugen, who stuck an Alan Johnson Racing blown Olds into it and ran 6.40s at more than 220 mph.

Today's fans might know Johnny Davis as the longtime crew chief for Funny Car racer Jim Head, but the wrench slinger also was a driver in the 1980s when he had his own Top Fueler. This photo is kind of cool to me because I took it at the 1983 Springnationals at National Trail Raceway. I had joined the DRAGSTER staff a year earlier, but this was my first official national event road trip (I had covered the Winternationals and World Finals for ND because they were local). Davis' dragster was interesting in that it was Rodeck-powered and one of the last Chevy-style-powered Top Fuelers out there … and one of the quickest. He qualified at that Springnationals with a 6.03 and lost to Shirley Muldowney in round one, but he later ran a 5.82 in Milan, Mich., in July 1983 that stood as the quickest pass for this type of car and bettered the 5.86 standard previously set by Stan Shiroma's Chevy.

Guess what? It's another Davis, and this one is double D: Don Davis. I dig this photo because of my well-reported love of supercharged Opels. I tried hard to track down more information on this car, a BB/G Kadett (as opposed to my former ride in the Mazi family blown Opel GT), but other than a hometown (Hendenson, Ky.), not much else was available. I thought I’d hit a home run when my research turned up a Don Davis Aviation in Hendenson, Ky., but the receptionist there told me that their Don Davis never drag raced and had died three years ago (gotta hate it when you call somewhere and ask for someone only to be told they're long gone ... ouch). Anyway, I still love this photo, snapped at Beech Bend Raceway Park in 1972 by the prolific Jerry Ream, complete with Davis' full-on firesuit and breather mask. Too cool!

Dean Dillingham also has a double-D name, which is appropriate based on the Oklahoma City racer's apparent infatuation with twin-engined cars like this dragster and a subsequent dual-engined Don Hardy-built Nova Funny Car (see the September 1971 issue of Car Craft if you have it). I like the way that the injector scoop on the second engine is high above the first to get more air and the shorty header pipes. This car, like Shirley Muldowney's twin featured earlier this week, was named Double Trouble. According to Dennis Friend, who runs the twin-engine specialty site Two To Go, this dragster was formerly owned by Benny "the Wizard" Osborn.

And finally, Spokane, Wash.-based chassis builder Ron Dixon built cars for a lot of people, including for Terry Capp/Bernie Fedderly, as well as for himself. This 392-powered car with its, well, unusual paint scheme was a hard runner in 1968, when this photo was snapped by Robert Roy Green at Arlington on May 19. According to the caption on the back, Dixon was attempting to back up a record run of 232.55 but lost the left rear tire. He saved the car but did not get his backup.
Okay, drag denizens, that's your daily dose of dusted-off DRAGSTER delights. See you next week.