NHRA - National Hot Rod Association

The Misc. Files: One L of a good time

11 Sep 2009
Phil Burgess, NHRA National Dragster Editor

The L folders of our Misc. Files were a veritable treasure trove of stuff. Too much, in fact.

Generally, I grab the folders from the National DRAGSTER library, prop my feet up on my desk, and let my fingers do the walking, using a mixed bit of criteria to decide whether to include the photos. First off is the neat-o factor: How cool is the photo? Did it stop me in my tracks or cause a nostalgic, heart-tugging flashback? Then I weigh the quality of the photo; some really great subjects are in some really crappy photos. Then I have to judge the researchability of the subject – is there enough info in the photo (car name, car number, location, etc.) or on the back of the photo to start digging around? I start pulling out a photo here and there, hoping I end up with 10 good ones. By the time I was done with the two L folders, I had 25; not good. So I painfully pared it down to the standard complement of 10, which are presented below. Enjoy.

You might recognize that guy in the far lane in this 1977 photo from Old Bridge Township Raceway Park as the one and only Frank Manzo (back when he was called "Ace" before really becoming one), but the guy in the near lane is the reason that this photo, by Raceway Park's Vince Mele, is in the L files. That's Jersey's own Jim Lynch in his Midnite Special Monza.

And speaking of Midnight Specials, here's another one with an L connection and a shout-out to e-mail buddy Rick Lewelling. It's his father, Harold, one of the original Texas Alcohol Funny Car posse members. Lewelling has a long history with the fliptops with cars with names like Branded, Electric Circus, Weird Harold, Mystery Man, and Underdog, and he even partnered with the late, great Mickey Winters on the Saturday Night Fever Corvette (can you tell this was in the 1970s?). He ran the Midnight Special cars through the late 1980s. Son Rick now is getting his turn at the quarter-mile and has Alcohol Dragster aspirations.

Doubly appropriate for the L files, our own Leslie Lovett snapped this photo in his pre-National DRAGSTER days, capturing the thundering A/Fuel Roadster of San Antonio's Ernie Lentz  blasting off the line. Lentz, whose cars were always numbered 888 (usually bigger than in this photo, where the 888 is smaller and circled by the sponsor name Southwest Racing Equipment), was a Southwest staple. Among the car's great moments were winning A/Fuel Roadster class at the 1964 AHRA Nationals at Green Valley Race City.

One good fuel altered certainly deserves another, and here's Phil Lippard's appropriately named Mean As Hell A/ Fuel Roadster. Lippard owned numerous East Coast-based altereds, beginning, as far as I can tell, in the mid-1960s with an injected T-bucket in a partnership with driver Pudge Tarbett. I have a photo of that car in September 1965 running at Aquasco and several others, including a 1970 Budds Creek (Md.)photo of his Twister Fiat Topolino (driver name on the car reads Mark Emery) and a couple of photos of this car, this one a Cutler shot from Maple Grove in the summer of 1970 as he dueled with Ron Woods' Handle Bar Car Fiat. Lippard and wife Martha also owned the Stone Crude fuel altered (driver Don Settle) and raced as part of a match race circuit called Fuel Altereds Unlimited in the early 1970s.

Castle Rock, Colo.'s Dan Lexa got his start racing Funny Cars from the early 1970s with a 392-powered Cougar, retired for a while, then competed at the first Mopar Mile-High NHRA Nationals 30 years ago in Denver with his Colorado Gold Camaro. This is the ex-Billy Meyer/SMI Motivator, which Meyer ran in 1977, shown in 1983 in Marion, S.D. Lexa got his mileage out of it, running it clear up until he quit in 1984.

From the Show Me State, here's Missouri's own Jack Lawson, showing how to lay down a pretty burnout in the Lawson & Sutzer Dodge Challenger at Humboldt County Dragway in Iowa, which has been in operation since 1964, eight years before this photo was taken by Dennis Scott before the final round of the track's inaugural Pro Funny Car Nationals in September 1972. Those cornfields in the far lane ended up as the resting place for Lawson's opponent in this battle, John Carter, who whacked down stalks and destroyed his Vega after it left the racing surface. St. Louis-based Lawson later fielded one of those ill-handling Vega panel wagon Funny Cars, kept glued to the racing surface by a huge pair of canard wings mounted off the top rear of the car.

The name Mike Lewis might be familiar to NHRA fans in a number of ways. Certainly, and most recently, he has been in the news for his back-to-back Alcohol Dragster runner-ups at the Reading national event, and he's also well-known as a vice president at Don Schumacher Racing. Going back a little further, race fans may remember hearing his measured tones from the announcing deck at NHRA national events or remember him as NHRA's vice president-field administration or as the vice president-general manager of O'Reilly Raceway Park at Indianapolis. Going back even further, fans may remember him as the grandson of Alfred Stauffer, who built Maple Grove Raceway, where Lewis once served as president. But he's not mentioned here for any of those reasons. You see, during those early years, Mike and his brother Kent fielded a pretty boss Top Fueler, the Sparkling Burgundy entry pictured here with Kerry Sweigert at the wheel. The Lewis brothers recruited quite a few fine East Coast handlers into the saddle of their S&W Race Cars-built digger, including Sarge Arciero, Larry Bucher, Fred Forkner, and Dale Theierer.

Dean and Barry Leavengood were known in the late 1960s for their AA/GS Corvette entries, but the California siblings also tried their hand at Funny Car racing with this injected Challenger, dubbed Bouga Bear, shown at Carlsbad Raceway in Southern California.

New York-based Ron Leaf owned and drove Funny Cars on the East Coast for more than a decade, from the early 1970s through the early 1980s, and gave a lot of East Coast drivers a shot at his car, including well-knowns such as Al Hanna, Frank Mancuso, Bobby Lagana, and Les Cassidy. I'm not sure who's at the wheel for this great burnout in this Norm Blake photo, shot in Quebec, probably during Le Grandnational, NHRA's former national event across the border, but it's probably Mancuso, who scored runner-up honors at the 1973 race behind Dale Emery.

We'll end with a double L entry, the well-traveled Larry Ladue, who drove just about every kind of fuel car there was, from Top Fuel through Funny Car and even fuel altered. Unfortunately, this is the only photo I have of him, and it's clear that there's a problem with the engine based on the gusher of oil exiting below the headers of his machine, the Original Rat Patrol dragster (no doubt named after the late-1960s TV show, a Phil Burgess favorite), which was built for him in 1972 by Texas chassis ace Tony Casarez. He switched to Funny Cars in the mid-1970s and had his most fame behind the wheel of Raymond Godman's Tennessee Bo-Weevil Satellite. He won the 1976 IHRA All American Nationals at Bristol Dragway, where he defeated that year's NHRA U.S. Nationals champ, Gary Burgin, in the final, and finished ninth in points. The Dallas native lost his life in a racing accident on Devil's Bowl Speedway's half-mile dirt oval in Mesquite, Texas, in 1990.

OK, that's it for the L files.  Enjoy your weekend; I'll see you next week.