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Mopar to ya

01 Sep 2009
Phil Burgess, NHRA National Dragster Editor
DRAGSTER Insider

My good pal Darren Jacobs, who does PR for Mopar through publicity powerhouse J.R. Thompson, asked for a little assistance with a research project last week. If you read my last two installments, you know it was a busy week around ND Central, but I always try to be there for my PR pals, so I dug in … and boy was I glad I did, as it provided the material for today's column.

Mopar was looking for a complete list of all Mopar-powered Top Fuel, Funny Car, and Pro Stock wins in NHRA national event history, which isn’t as daunting a challenge as it sounds, at least on the surface. The early NHRA Media Guides are a pretty good place to start because they have complete lists of all Pro winners, organized by event, so it was a matter of traipsing through all of the current events and all of the discontinued events (Le Grandnational, Cajun Nationals, Golden Gate Nationals, et al) to pick out the Mopar wins.

Darrell Alderman scored three world championships and 29 Pro Stock wins for Mopar, including at the 1991 Mac Tools U.S. Nationals.

Pro Stock, of course, is pretty cut and dried as teams are required to run an engine that matches the car manufacturer, but Funny Car and Top Fuel are a little more messy. Obviously, in recent years, almost all Top Fuel and Funny Car racers have used an aluminum aftermarket version of the Chrysler Hemi, and back in the day, there were a lot of other engine choices, some of which are not clearly delineated in the Media Guide. Fortunately for me, after some clarification, Mopar was only interested in body styles in Funny Car and the accomplishments of Mopar-sponsored Top Fuel racers Don Garlits, Darrell Gwynn, Mike Dunn, and Tommy Johnson Jr. Whew.

It should probably come as no surprise to anyone – Mopar fan or not – that Garlits is still the leading Mopar winner of all time with 35 victories and three championships (1975, '85, and '86), all in Top Fuel. It also shouldn’t come as earth-stopping news that Mopar's all-time Pro Stock hero is Darrell Alderman, one of the 1990s' Dodge Boys who ruled the class with his Daytona and Avenger entries to the tune of 29 national event wins and three championships (1990, '91, and '94).

(Above) Don Prudhomme's first Funny Car win was in Indy in 1973 with this Plymouth Barracuda, which he pressed back into service in 1974 (below).
After two incredibly successful years with a Chevy Monza, "Snake" returned to the Mopar camp with this successful Arrow.
Prudhomme's final three seasons with Mopar were in Dodge Omnis and highlighted by a pair of Englishtown wins in 1980 (above) and 1981 (below).

What did surprise me, however, is that until Ron Capps' Funny Car win in Las Vegas earlier this year, the winningest Mopar Funny Car racer of all time was … ta-da … Don Prudhomme! That's a pretty stout statistic in my book considering that "the Snake" hadn't competed in a Mopar-bodied flopper since the 1981 season and is best known for doing his winning in a Chevy Monza.

But, yes, from his start in the class in 1970 with a Plymouth Barracuda until 1975 (when he unleashed the vaunted U.S. Army Monza on the pack) and from 1977 (when he retired the Monza in favor of a pair of Plymouth Arrows and a trio of Dodge Omnis) through 1981, Prudhomme racked up 14 Funny Car wins for Mopar. Capps now has 16 wins for Mopar (in Stratus and Charger entries), all in the last four years, since his first Mopar victory in Madison in 2005.

"The Snake's" first Funny Car win was, appropriately, at the 1973 U.S. Nationals, where he had already won three times in Top Fuel. Prudhomme drove the Carefree Gum-sponsored 'Cuda to victory, then won the Gatornationals the next year, also in the 'Cuda (reskinned in Army livery after shelving his trick-laden-but-heavy Army Vega following the Winternationals), and won Indy again that year in the 'Cuda.

After 13 wins in the Monza, Prudhomme debuted the Arrow in 1977 in spectacular fashion with a victory at the Winternationals – his third of four straight wins there – then won the Summernationals and Indy (again!). The Arrow won the Winternationals again in 1978, the Springnationals, and Le Grandnational in his final championship season. He switched to a Dodge Omni in 1979 but won just one race, Le Grandnational, yet still finished second in points behind Raymond Beadle's Blue Max Arrow. The1980 season brought just two wins – in Gainesville and Englishtown – and a disappointing sixth-place finish. He went a full year between victories; he did not score again until back-to-back wins at the 1981 Summernationals and Grandnational. For 1982, Prudhomme slipped into a Pontiac Trans Am, which he stayed with through the end of his Funny Car career in 1989.

Capps' former Don Schumacher Racing teammate, Gary Scelzi, is the only other Mopar Funny Car driver in double digits with 12 wins from 2003 Sonoma to 2007 Richmond, and Chuck Etchells is a surprising fourth on the list with nine wins … surprising only because people forget just how good Etchells really was, especially with Tim Richards in his corner. Some of the other Mopar Funny Car winners surprised me, such as Tom Hoover, whom for some reason I can't see in anything other than a Corvette but who won twice in Dodges (Daytona, Avenger), and Kenny Bernstein, whom we usually associate with Ford or Buick, also had a pair of Mopar wins (Arrow, Omni) in 1980-81.

With 35 wins, Don Garlits is still the fifth-winningest Top Fuel driver of all time.

Garlits' 35 Top Fuel wins – the first at the 1963 Winternationals and the last at the same event 24 years later – are still an amazing feat considering that there were only four races on the annual schedule through 1969 and the slate didn’t reach double digits until 1976, and especially because Garlits wasn't a regular campaigner in the early 1980s. The most races that NHRA ever held in a season when he was racing full time was 15 (1986). Yet his 35 wins still rank fifth overall in NHRA Top Fuel history, more than 20 years after his last victory.

Gwynn undoubtedly would have challenged Garlits' numbers; his 18 wins were more than halfway there in a Top Fuel career that spanned just five full seasons before his tragic, career-ending 1990 accident. Dunn, who drove for Gwynn, is the only driver on two Dodge lists, with 12 Top Fuel wins and four Dodge Funny Car wins (of his 10 Funny Car wins) in cars owned by Roland Leong and Ed Abel.

Yeah, I know; it doesn't look right to see Bob Glidden in anything but a Ford, but he scored seven wins (and the championship) in 1979 in this Plymouth Arrow.

The late Scott Geoffrion, Alderman's Dodge Boys teammate, racked up nine Pro Stock wins for Mopar, tying legendary Ronnie Sox for second for the marque's success in the factory hot rod class. Sox was Mopar's first doorslammer legend, collecting six wins in Super Stock before nine in Pro Stock and at one time was NHRA's winningest driver. Surprisingly, Ford superstar Bob Glidden – who probably has a blue oval tattooed over his heart -- is the fourth-winningest Mopar Pro Stock driver with seven wins during the 1979 season when he campaigned an Arrow. Dodge's brightest Pro Stock star today, Allen Johnson, also has seven wins and is sure to eclipse Glidden's number shortly and no doubt will zoom past Geoffrion and Sox, too, within the next calendar year.

All tolled so far, 12 Mopar Pro Stock drivers have accumulated 69 wins for the Pentastar brigade, and 43 Mopar Funny Car drivers have collected 149 flopper wins in all manner of Mopars, including Arrows, Omnis, Barracudas, Horizons, Stratuses (Stratii?), Chargers, Daytonas, Challengers, Dusters, and Demons. The Mopar-sponsored Top Fuel drivers listed above have nabbed 67 wins, making for a grand total of 285 wins.

OK, that's today's quickie column (Jim Dunn, 1981 World Finals winner, Fireman's Quickie Plymouth Horizon! Stop me before I stat again!) during another busy week. Two days from now, I'll be Indy bound for my 27th U.S. Nationals. I and four of my DRAGSTER pals (Kevin McKenna, Brad Littlefield, Candida Benson, and Kelly Wade) will again host running blogs, keeping you up on what's going on behind the scenes to complement NHRA.com's usual swell coverage of the Big Go. We plan to launch the special section late today with introductory columns, so look for an announcement on the home page.

I'll have something new and Indy-related to post from the track Friday, so I'll see you then. If you’re at the race, be sure to flag me down and say hey.