NHRA - National Hot Rod Association


The Misc. Files: An E-Ticket ride

26 May 2009
Phil Burgess, NHRA National Dragster Editor
New rear-engined fueler Essman

The letter E may be among the most frequently used vowels in the English language, but its pickings are a little slim when it comes to surnames in the Misc. Files of the National DRAGSTER photo archives, yet I still found a hardy enough sampling to share today. (I'm already pretty worried about what happens when I get to X!)

Sorry for the late posting today (the Memorial Day holiday threw off my timing a bit), but I think you'll find this E-ticket ride back in time well worth the wait.

This one's a bit of a mystery. The caption on the back of this Tim Marshall photo taken at Irwindale says, "New rear-engined fueler Essman & Sandoval." It's pretty easy to assume that the Essman is late-1960s dragster and fuel altered pilot Gary Essman, and I'd have to guess that the Sandoval part would be the Sandoval brothers, who owned a lot of cars in the late 1960s, driven by the likes of Bob Muravez, Gary Gabelich, and Mike Snively, yet I can’t find a record of them racing together. The body shape is reminiscent of cars like the Piranha and other early rear-engined cars, so this could have been shot anywhere from the late 1960s to the early 1970s.

Update: Whoa … that didn't take long. This just in from Gary Essman hi'self: "The picture is of the Sandoval Bros. rear engine built by Frank Sandoval and the rest of his brothers. Tony did the chassis and Frank had Bob Sorrel hand build the body at Bob's shop in Torrance, Calif. The engine came for the front engine dragster that I drove for Frank after Gary Gabelich did not drive it anymore. The car only ran a few times because it never would work at the top end and was all over the place because of no downpressure … a while later it was found out that a wing  was all that was needed to make it work. Frank had left racing by then and he had the car way ahead of its time."

The great Steve Reyes practically grew up at Fremont Raceway, which is where he stabbed this great burnout shot of the new fuel altered of Terry Erven and Don Campbell. This is the classic old-school fuel altered look, sans wings, that first wowed fans. According to Steve's caption on the back of the image, the car was running on gas this day as the team shook down its new mount but still won 1st Eliminator.

The scene here again is fabled Irwindale – this time circa 1971 – and that's versatile flopper shoe Gary Henderson at the wheel of the Henderson Bros. Evolution injected-on-alcohol '69 Corvair. (Yes, I realize this should be in the H file – where it soon will go – but it was filed by car name originally.) The California siblings originally had fielded a '63 Corvette under the same name. Don't t confuse this Gary Henderson (as I initially did; thanks Dennis Doubleday!) with the Memphis  Gary Henderson who drove a ton of great cars like the Super Duster and Tennessee Bo-Weevil and raced well into the 1980s with cars like Gary Akers' Wizard.

Out of Edmonton, Atla., in the early 1970s came Gary Egbert, who ran a series of Top Fuelers, including the four-winged (count 'em) front-engined car above and the more conventional rear-engined car below with partner Gordon Garrity.

Egbert began racing in the early 1960s and ran a variety of cars, including the Outcast '49 Fiat fuel altered -- which reportedly was the only fuel altered in the country at the time -- before moving into Top Fuel, where he fielded a trio of slingshots. A clutch explosion in 1968 led to a nasty crash and a broken back after the engine came out of the car and the car broke in half, but he returned to competition and completed his career with the back-motored car, which ran a best of 6.01 at 238 mph in 1973 and was the longtime holder of Canada's e.t. and speed marks. The top photo, taken during one of Seattle's WCS events by Division 6 photographer Rich Carlson, is great because it shows the era when both front- and rear-engined Top Fuelers dueled before the switch was made to exclusively back-motored cars. If I hazarded a guess, I'd say this was 1972. Egbert, who began building his first hot rods in high school, opened a custom car shop, Egbert's Street Rods and Collector Cars, in 1992.

On Feb. 26, 1972, at Lions Drag Strip, Clayton Harris ran 6.16 in the New Dimension Top Fueler to become the class' quickest driver, a feat that made front-page news in National DRAGSTER. The event also might well be remembered by those who attended as the day that Bob Smith pile-drived Tom Sturm's Funny Car headfirst into the guardrail or where Billy Tidwell sailed Vince Rossi's new wedge Top Fueler off the end of the track after a parachute failure. Or, if you were veteran drag racing photographer Alan Earman, you'd definitely remember it for this run, on which the ace lensman moved to the other side of the lens (in this case, the one belonging to J.P. Dumont) to make licensing runs in Norman Wilt's Sicilian Top Fueler. I couldn't find a report on how well he fared, but I applaud his courage.

I've seen Jim Eberley's clean Alcohol Funny Cars, like the 280ZX above, shown at Bandimere Speedway in Eberley's native Colorado, for years, but I'd never seen the car below, shown at now-defunct Colorado Springs International Speedways. This injected machine – which looks to me to be some form of Anglia – was a pretty wild-looking piece and, according to the designation on the car, ran in B/Altered, but with a mild bracket-type car in the other lane, he was probably running it in some fast bracket this day. Colorado Springs International Speedways closed in 1982.

Long before blind Alcohol Funny Car team owner Jay Blake burst onto the scene this decade with his national-event-winning Follow A Dream entry, the Midwest Edstrom family pioneered that ground with its line of Blind Faith cars. Family patriarch Dave, who died a few years ago, lost his eyesight to diabetes and learned to tune his cars by sound. He raced both Top Fuelers and Funny Cars, first with Richard Rhoda and then his son, Mike, at the wheel. Mike drove this entry, which is the former Cheetah Trans Am of Minnesota match racer Al Tschida. This car was destroyed in an encounter with the guardwall at the 1987 Gatornationals; Edstrom was not injured.

This and that …

Bruce Peters grabbed a nearly identical photo of Gene Snow's impressive Gatornationals blowup, taken milliseconds after mine (the halo of fire has dissipated a bit) from nearly the same vantage point. His, however, is in color. "We must have been sitting side by side," he noted. "If I'd have known, I would have introduced myself!"

Gerret Wikoff enjoyed the article on the C's of the Misc. Files but noted that I missed a good C racer: Wile E. Coyote, of Road Runner cartoon fame, and sent the link to this video to prove it. The cartoon, Out and Out Rout, which first aired Jan. 29, 1966, has the indefatigable rascal chasing down his speedy prey in a wheelstanding front-engined dragster (how did he take those corners with the front tires off the ground?). In the full-length, seven-minute clip, he also goes after the Road Runner using a skateboard, a hunting falcon, two doves tied to his feet, a wind sail, and glue stuck on the road. Despite all of this ingenuity, surprisingly he does not catch his quarry.

In that same article, I showed Gary Cromwell's Taco Time Vega and mentioned that the chain had expanded from a single store in Oregon to overseas as far away as Kuwait. Reader Ray Romero confirmed that, though he says the outlet is no longer open. "I was in Kuwait when they opened a store in Mahboula, [but it] closed a short time later due to their inability to keep a supply of tortillas," he wrote. Am I the only one who finds this funny?

My 49th birthday Friday was shared by Roland Leong, owner of the fabled Hawaiian string of Top Fuelers and Funny Cars, who dropped me an HB note. As I have mentioned, we lived in the same town (Culver City, Calif.), and Leong's daughters attended the same junior high and high school that I did. Small world. For the record, Roland and I also share birthdays with Alison Eastwood (daughter of actor Clint), actress Naomi Campbell, rocker Morrissey, Elton John lyricist Bernie Taupin, former L.A. Dodgers pitcher/surgery namesake Tommy John, somewhat eccentric businessman T. Boone Pickens, The Price is Right TV announcer Johnny Olson, and Sherlock Holmes author Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, plus Jeff Parker of the NHRA Safety Safari, drag journo Annie Proffitt, and Insider reader Doug Hrushka.

In the column of D Misc. Files photos, I mentioned that Dean Dillingham had a Nova-bodied twin-engined Funny Car, and twin-engined drag racing history buff Dennis Friend dropped me these photos of yet another twice-motored flopper, the American Bandstand '69 Corvette, which had twin Chevy engines side by side under its stretched hood. The car was owned and driven by supercharger manufacturer Don Hampton, was alcohol-fueled, and way too heavy to ever be competitive. It was destroyed in a two-car racing accident in Australia.

Everyone seemed to enjoy the article about Shirley Muldowney's early dragsters, and old pal Jason Oldfield dropped me this note on Facebook on the great value she got after I posted one of the pics there: "The $2,803.50 for the 1968 car equals $17,166.51 in 2008 inflation adjusted dollars, and the $3,861.33 for the 1969 twin-engine dragster is $22,432.50 in 2008 inflation adjusted dollars. That's a FAR cry from what Top Fuel competitors spend today on a chassis (heck, that's less than half of what you would spend to buy a Super Comp chassis these days)!"