NHRA - National Hot Rod Association

The Misc. Files: Meet the F Troops

02 Jun 2009
Phil Burgess, NHRA National Dragster Editor

We're back for another trip through the sometimes fractured files of the vast National DRAGSTER photo library, digging into the black hole of forgotten friends who somehow never accumulated enough photos to warrant their own driver folder.

On Thursday, I'm off to Chicago for the United Association Route 66 NHRA Nationals. Depending on how that goes, I may or (may not) have a new column Friday, so be prepared. I've got a small column underway already as a fallback, but depending on how travel and the race goes, we'll see.

Anyway, welcome to the Misc. Files, letter F!

Ed Fox was a former fuel altered driver out of Philadelphia who moved into the Top Fuel ranks in the early 1970s and drove a number of cars, including the McKeown Bros. Outer Limits slingshot shown here in mid-wheelstand at Englishtown, Sept. 23, 1973 in this photo by Marcel Studios, then the track's official photographers. The rear-engined evolution was well underway at this time, but Fox stuck with the front-engined rail. At this event, he scored runner-up honors to Roger Toth's Hemi Hunter as this wheelie drove into hard smoke.

Later that decade, the New Jersey-based McKeowns would field Outer Limits Top Fuelers with Bob Toth and Dale Barlet at the wheel, the latter of who would go on to low-buck flopper infamy with his Iron Eagle series of Funny Cars in the 1980s.

I'd heard from former fuel racer Fred Fischbach some time ago after writing about Steve Swaja's magic designwork, so when I stumbled across this photo in the Misc. Files, I sent him a copy for his comments. "Final round Division 7 points race at Irwindale (Top Gas) against Schultz & Jones. if I'm right. Unfortunately for me I believe I drew the Red Eye. That's the car that Swaja designed -- beautiful, wasn't it?" Fischbach later drove in Top Fuel on the Texas circuit, and actually was the first driver for Chuck Tanko's Speed Equipment World Vega (the ex-Barry Setzer car) for two races before Jim Nicoll took over the helm.

I first met "Bullet Bob" Floch back in the mid-1980s when he was running with the Supercharged Outlaws group in the Midwest. I was hanging around a lot back then with the Mazi family, who ran the exhibition circuit,which was comprised mostly of blown gassers and alky-burning Funny Cars like the Flochs. This Dodge Charger, with the "Jungle Jim"-like graphics on the side, was a crowdpleaser.

Bob and his wife Cathy suffered an almost unimaginable loss in May 1991 when their son, Nick, a crewmember of Darrell Gwynn's Top Fueler, and fellow crewman Gary Clark were killed in a freak boating accident in Florida. It was a sad and tragic day for the sport. The senior Floch raced Alcohol Funny Cars into the 1990s and now has a fuel altered.

Fuel altereds were plentiful in the late '60s and early 1970s, but I'd never seen this one before: a rear-engined Willys pickup fuel altered. Owned by Angelo Falzone and Ken Sandusky (though I'm not sure which one of them – if either – drove it), according to the handwritten caption on the back of the photo, the car, based in Las Vegas and shown here at Irwindale Raceway in this January 1967 photo by Jerry Mason, was motivated by supercharged Chrysler power.

Update: Larry Horten, who used to operate Stardust Raceway in Las Vegas during the '60s and '70s dropped me a line to say that it was Falzone who drove and Sandusky who tuned, but that he remembers it being Lincoln-powered. "A new truck was built later with a fiberglass body and tube chassis and was Hemi-powered," he wrote. "We all went to the track early one afternoon for shakedown runs on the new truck only to have it make a violent left turn  into the guardrail, destroying the car. The chassis and drivetrain was used to build an Aston Martin AA/FA called Facetious that raced the first time at the Hot Rod Magazine Meet in Riverside. Angelo passed away last year."

Al Fontanini "could have been one of the biggest names in Funny Car racing," according to respected flopper historian Danny White, had he not lost his life in an accident on the Pennsylvania Turnpike in 1970 en route to a match race at New England Dragway, an accident that also claimed the life of crewmember Jim Christensen. The annual Fontanini-Christensen Memorial Trophy was created the following year in their honor and awarded annually by the UDRA for "outstanding sportsmanship and contribution to drag racing."

Fontanini and partner Reno Nannini were among the early adopters to the Funny Car class and together fielded a series of good cars, but none more competitive than this injected Dodge Charger which, according to White, could run with most blown nitro Funny Cars of the day. The team routed the field on this May 1969 day at Miami-Hollywood Dragway, chasing down Jim Guthrie's Super Bird Buick for Injected Funny Car honors. Fontanini split with Nannini and finally went blown nitro in 1970, but died before he had the chance to prove himself.

Iowan Merrill Frost cut his teeth racing gassers, including a '55 Chevy and a Hemi-powered Willys, before moving into the Alcohol Funny Car ranks in the late 1970s with this Pinto, which was followed by a Mustang and, finally, a Trans Am. Photo by Richard Brady.

It's a pretty good bet that Tom Fischer named his '71 Vega Funny Car 30 Below for the weather he typically saw in his Fargo, N.D., hometown. Fischer's Vega had a couple of drivers (including himself) in the early 1970s, including Byron Nelson and Jim Swedberg in the cockpit. That's Swedberg in the saddle for this 1972 race against Doc Halladay in Bill Schifsky's Cox Pinto.

Update: The day after this was published, I got an email from Kevin Rowe, pointing out a wild coincidence. It turns out that Merrill Frost's Pinto (see above) and the Schifsky Pinto are one and the same car! Rowe's father, Ralph, bought the car from Schifsky and had Earl Binn drive it for a while, and then sold the car to Frost. How crazy is that? Two random photos, randomly placed next to each other .. and they're connected? Crazy!

From the 50th state comes this relatively unknown Top Fuel dragster, owned by German Farias and driven by his son, Larry, who went by the nickname "Fatso." I couldn’t find much about this car anywhere. In this photo, taken at Hawaii Raceway Park, the lettering on the car reads Wholesale Motors, which I tracked down as a Honolulu-based car dealer. What's interesting to me about this car is the front wing; if you look closely, you can see that it's transparent, probably made of Lexan or something. I also have another photo of the car, taken by Paul Sadler, up on three wheels in the lights at HRP after oil from a loose valve cover got under the slicks. It appears from what I did find on the web that "Fatso" died a few years ago.

Kent Fuller wowed dragster fans everywhere with a series of diggers known as "shark cars" for their finned cockpits. Adams & McEwen, Chuck Griffith, Dusty Rhodes, and others had them, but one of the most famous was the Safford, Gaide & Ratican machine, which is shown here under the smoky hand of Chuck Flores, who bought the car from S-G-R in 1967. This is Half Moon Bay in May 1968.

The caption on the back is interesting and informative: "Leave it to Chuck Flores in the Shark car to send up one of the biggest tire smoke clouds on a day when no-smoke fueler runs are in. Word's out that Chuck is looking for a slider now." It was in the late 1960s that the dragster guys began to wonder if the freewheeling, quarter-mile tire-smoking passes so loved by the fans were actually the quickest way down the track after all.

This image was a National DRAGSTER Photo of the Week selection that year.

And you thought that Ed 'the Outlaw" Jones' stagecoach was the first Wild West-themed wheelstander … so did I!

Here's one that I have not only never seen, but also never heard about: the Wicked Wagon wheelstander, modeled after one of the iconic covered wagons of the old west. Photographer Jimmy Boyd sent the photo and a note to us in August 1974 that promised amazing things to come. "Revolutionary wheelstander of the Pete Frech family destined to be one of the most talked-about machines on the exhibition scene. The Wicked Wagon [has] a blown 426 Hemi on alcohol and maintained by Pete Frech Sr., one of the most knowledgeable men in drag racing."

Frech, who died in February 2001, was the father of Ohio Super Gas standout Mary Ann Jackson (and grandfather to statsmeister "Nitro Joe" Jackson). Frech, a former Motor Trend magazine Mechanic of the Year, was a longtime NHRA racer and member, and competed at the NHRA Nationals in Detroit. With daughter Mary Ann in his car, they made waves when she won D/SA class at the 1964 Nationals in Indy. Those success led to a factory Chrysler deal in 1968 (despite that he worked as a welder at GM at the time!)

According to "Nitro Joe," his grandfather ran the wheelstander only locally in partnership with Tommy Marris and his son, Pete Jr., drove it. Pete Sr. also had the She's a Lady wheelstander, which was a Duster built on the same chassis, which ended up buried in his backyard on what now is a golf course in Bellville Ohio.Joe also notes that their hometown of Mansfield is/was quite a hotbed for wheelstander drivers including Bill Shewsberry, Toby and Jack Ehrmantraut, Chuck Poole, Bob Riggle, Marris, Pete Jr. and Skip Wilson.

Okay, that's it for Tuesday and the Misc. Files, letter F.. I'll check in on Friday from the Windy City.