I know a good thing when I see it, and last week's first dip into the Misc. Files was apparently a very good thing based on your feedback (and follow-up, as you will see lower in today's entry), so I randomly grabbed another letter from the drawers for today's column. I also discovered that I had only grabbed one of two B folders (the second was stealthily hidden between the D's and E's for some reason), so I might revisit them later.
As they say on Sesame Street, today is brought to you by the letter I. When I first grabbed the I file, I thought, "Oh man, how much good stuff can there possibly be in this one?" I mean, let's face it, other than Frank Iaconio, Tommy Ivo, and, maybe, Sportsman hitter Michael Iacono, how many drivers do you know whose last names start with I? (Well, let's see, Phil: There's Nick Iarussi (of Godzilla Super Gas fame!), Buddy Ingersoll, Kosty Ivanoff, Don Irvin, Lindley Insonhood, um, Bill Izykowski (a two-time national event runner-up!), and, um, okay, I give up).
But, as always, I was pleasantly surprised by the treasure within, some of which I will share now.
Remember how the Misc. B file had Bakersfield? Who woulda thought that the I file would have Irwindale? Go figure! It's the only Irwindale photo in the file, but it's a dandy, and one that brings back fond memories of the old girl. This photo, snapped by Jack Reece, is from the April 17, 1976, 64 Funny Cars event as the cars were towed onto the track for the ritual pre-event fire-up. I find it interesting that unlike at OCIR's "cacklefests," where the cars were lined up at 45-degree angles to the guardrails, here they're in five single-file lines, including one down the return road.
Closest to the camera is the Frank Harris-driven Zig & Dietz Hawkeye Vega BB/FC, but I also can spy one of my all-time fave cars, Mickey Thompson's Grand Am, plus Don Prudhomme's vaunted U.S. Army Monza and Tom McEwen's Duster. The rest kind of fade off into a sun-setting "fiberglass forest," as Steve Evans would say.
They always said that "the Beach" had bite, and here's proof in this shot of the back-motored digger of Southern California fuel racer Bob Ivett reaching for the sky at Lions on April Fools' Day 1972. That's my old pal and former NHRA co-worker Carl Olson in the other lane. According to the DragList records, Ivett's career was short-lived, from piloting John Rodeck's slingshot in 1969 to this car in 1972.
The caption on the back of this starlight-filtered Jim Cutler photo reads, "Dutch Irrgang made test runs in this immaculate Vega panel Pro Stock. Handling problems held best to 9.85, 141.08." If I'm not mistaken, this is the small-block-powered car that later was rebranded as a "Jungle Jim" car that Irrgang drove in 1972-73. The scene is Maple Grove Raceway. Neat shot.
If you went fast in the late 1950s (like Don Garlits), chances are that one of the guys in this photo, led by that guy in the tie at right, had something to do with it. This late-1950s photo was taken outside the Inglewood, Calif., location of Iskenderian Racing Cams. That, of course, is "the Camfather" himself, Ed Iskenderian, at right with his crew. (I'm pretty sure that one of you wiseguys will come up with the names of at least half of the guys in this shot.) According to the caption on the back of this publicity photo, this was Isky's fifth location, which was completed in 1957, and had four times the floor space of the previous plant and four times as many employees (24). Business was booming for Isky in those days. According to its Web site, Isky's present location in Gardena, Calif., consists of a four-building complex of more than 75,000 square feet on a full city block and employs more than 100 specialists, including engineers and technical advisers.
What would a trip to the I files be without a picture or two of Jimmy Ige? The Jr. Fuel racer was a terror in the early 1970s – he won the March Meet in 1970 (above) and often terrorized Lions – and, best of all, he was from my hometown of Culver City, Calif. His Sons of the Rising Sun dragsters always ran hard. He even tried his hand at Top Fuel with the SPE-built Ige & Sassa Top Fueler pictured below on its maiden voyage at Lions April 8, 1972, in this J.P. Naylor photo and later switched to Pro Comp. I love people photos, and the one above, from the Bakersfield winner's circle 39 years ago with the lovely Linda Vaughn congratulating Ige, far right, and his young crew, is another reason why.
Refusing to be confined within the boundaries of our 50 great states, I offer this 1977-ish photo from Salinas Speedway in Puerto Rico, which shows Pat Walsh and his U.S. Male Mustang, far lane, racing a Puerto Rican flopper star, Jose Irizarry and his Krazy Kar Kat Vega, which obviously borrowed from Don Prudhomme's Army Funny Cars when it came to paint schemes.
And finally, a little bit of filing Insanity. I came across these three photos of Ray and Shirley Strasser's Insanity Corvette. The one at right was on top, and I could clearly see the driver's name – Gary Ritter, the former Top Fuel shoe of Blood, Sweat, & Nitro fame – lettered on the window, so I made a mental note to file it in Ritter's folder, but the next two kinda caught me by surprise. They were nearly identical photos of the Insanity Corvette taken at Sacramento Raceway, yet by looking at the numbers on the car, it was clear that not only was it not Ritter in the saddle, but not even the same two drivers and not even the same year! The pic at below left, from 1991, has Wally Giava in the cockpit, and the one below right, from 1989, has Lorry Azevedo behind the butterfly. The Strassers may well be the Roland Leongs in waiting as they've also had the likes of David Baca, Ron Fassl, Richard Hartman, Dave Uyehara, and Rick Williamson drive their cars throughout the years after Ray left the hot seat of his fuel altered.
Our planet's energy resources may be dwindling, but there's no power shortage when it comes to the assembled brainpower of the Insider Nation, as was evident based on the responses to last week's B Files column. The loyal patrons of this friendly little joint offered up heaping helpings of history to fill in the blanks I left.
Regarding John Bowen's twice-motored injected dragster, which had an identity crisis when it came to classes (AA/D, A/FD, or T/F), one reader wrote in that though it was true that NHRA defines AA-anything as being supercharged, "Bowen's [car] had two Chrysler Hemis, 354 cid with half-inch arms in them or 400 cid each. A/FD had to weigh three pounds per cubic inch, and this car didn’t weigh 2,400 pounds, so NHRA and New England Dragway had to push it into the only other higher class, which was AA/FD."
Meanwhile, Danny White, who works with Bill Pratt on the DragList.com site to form a dynamic 1-2 punch of all things drag racing, admitted that their AA/D listing is not correct and that it would have been more appropriate to call it a Top Gas car and that Bowen ran Top Gas with it until NHRA did away with the class, then tried (somewhat unsuccessfully) to move the car to Top Fuel.
Following up on the Blasters & Peabody, we already knew that Keith Peabody was the driver and Howard Marjama the owner, and it turns out that the car got its Blasters appellation from Marjama's sandblasting business.
I was pleasantly surprised to hear from Marjama's grandson, Mark, who confirmed what many others had written in to say: "The companies that were involved were Marco Sandblasting (owned by Howard Marjama and sons Wayne and Mike), Acme Sandblasting (owned by Gary Marjama, son of Howard), and A1A Sandblasting (owned by Gordie Marjama). Gary Marjama is my dad. He later went on to help the Gwynns with their alcohol cars. When the Gwynns went fuel racing, he didn't want to travel so much, which is when he developed ProJack Race Car Stands, which are used by many racers today. My grandfather loved drag racing and had many cars with his start of drag racing in Southern California. Howard raced with the Culver Sandblasting entry in California. He eventually moved to Minnesota and continued drag racing, winning the '65 Nationals at Indy (AA/C, beating Al Bergler in the final) and winning the '66 Winternationals. He eventually had someone driving for him ('Doc' Halladay, Keith Peabody, Jim Sweadberg, and others). After the demise of Top Gas eliminator, the car pictured was converted to an alcohol car by Steve Levy and driven by Bob Reggie. The car qualified No. 3 in Bakersfield at the March Meet behind John Shoemaker and Weis & Scott. This car was the last car that he owned before he died in 1977."
Our own Greg Sharp had previously confirmed the same basic info but added, "Marjama goes back to the days of Saugus Drag Strip in the early ‘50s. He raced stockers, gassers, and a B/Competition Coupe that was runner-up to George Weiler at the ’61 NHRA Nationals." Allen Tucker added that the car was "very popular in the day and made many appearances both at U.S. tracks like Interstate Dragways near Fargo, N.D., and at Bison Dragway in Winnipeg [Man.]," and White noted that the car ran both on gas and alcohol and was an eighth-mile record holder.
In the photo of Dick Boynton's amazing Dodge truck, Sharp corrected me that the “young lovely” pictured is actually Boynton's wife, Mary, and that the truck was runner-up in B/FX at the 1963 Winternationals, not the class winner. Sharp reports that the unique truck was built by Jim Nelson and Dode Martin at Dragmaster Co. in Carlsbad, Calif., and, according to a feature titled “Quarter Mile Hauler” in the May 1963 issue of Hot Rod, it had a 413 powerplant.
Okay, race fans, that wraps up another information-packed installment of the Insider. Thanks again for all of your info and feedback. I’ll see you later this week.