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More Fan Fotos: East Coast action

24 Nov 2009
Phil Burgess, NHRA National Dragster Editor
DRAGSTER Insider

Hey, I'm back. Sorry about missing my usual Friday update, but I got ambushed Wednesday night by the stomach flu and was out of action pretty much the rest of the week -- kind of hard to be creative and do research when you’re subsisting on a diet of saltine crackers and POWERade. Anyway, I'm back with another installment of Fan Fotos, those homegrown treasures that have been sitting around in old photo albums or shoeboxes for way too long and deserve to be shown to those who would most appreciate them: the readers of this column.

We've been all over the U.S., and now it's time for another trip back East, where Butch Barnhart of Irmo, S.C., offers for your approval his favorite snapshots. Like the majority of fans, he doesn’t get guardrail access but did some mighty fine sharpshooting from the stands with his Nikon D40X, equipped with either an 18-55mm or 55-200mm telephoto lens. Some of his earlier stuff is with a Minolta SRT-102 with a 135mm telephoto lens.

"I enjoy the sounds and feel of the acceleration and the ability of a fan to be able to talk with drivers and crew that were there," he noted. "Especially back then when the Pros were usually the driver and maybe two or three crewmembers. I still enjoy taking pictures of the cars of today, but then again, I have to do all of my shooting from the stands. I took three days of Indy of the Sportsman classes and then printed some of them and gave them to some of the drivers who came to Charlotte a couple of weeks later. They were all appreciative of them, as I did not accept anything for them, even though some offered.

"It's hard sometimes to get the right shot from the stands because of the professionals on the sides of the starting line, but I continue to take them and hope for the best," he noted. "I do try and pick a spot where there is a space to get the car in without people." Mission accomplished, Butch!

Here we go …

These first two shots were taken at Suffolk Dragway in the early 1970s while Butch was in the Navy, stationed in Norfolk, Va. The one at left is Malcolm Durham's Camaro Funny Car, Strip Blazer VI, which Lee Jones drove. The car at right should be easily recognizable to most fans as one of "Jungle Jim" Liberman's earliest cars, his popular '69 Nova. This is a great shot, showing it propped up for service on the back of the ramp truck. Here's a full-size version to admire for details. Check out the very square chassis and roll cage, round steering wheel, and Chevy powerplant. Cool stuff.

This is a pretty rare shot of one of Don Garlits' famed black diggers, sans lettering, taken at Blaney Drag Strip. Said Butch, "According to Mr. Garlits at Indy this year, when he autographed a copy of this for me, it was the first run in 1975. He recognized the car just by what was written on it." One might assume that this then is Swamp Rat 22, the famous car that ran 5.63, 250 at Ontario later in the year, but based on info on Garlits' site, I think this is actually Swamp Rat 21, a car originally built for Liberman (didn't know that) that "Big Daddy" campaigned for the first six months of 1975, including for his come-from-behind victory at the Winternationals.

Speaking of great Dons, here's "Dyno Don" Nicholson and his Ford Fairmont in what I'd guess would be 1977. The car was beautiful and ran well, but, of course, it played second fiddle to Bob Glidden's class-terrorizing Fairmont.

If you’re any kind of fan of southeastern door-car racing, you’re familiar with this car, the Half Breed Anglia of Savannah, Ga.'s Bobby Brooks and his wife, Angie. He was in everyone's Hall of Fame and one of the original organizers of the Southeast Super Gas Association. This car was around before many of us started following the sport, and most of us thought he and it would survive us. Sadly, we lost Bobby to an apparent heart attack March 24 of this year. He was 68. "I enjoyed the gas class cars back then that ran flat out for the quarter-mile, no delay boxes, etc.," said Butch. "This picture amazed me a little bit after meeting Mr. Brooks at Charlotte in 2008 and then his untimely death earlier this year."

It's easy to put a year on this one: 1980. In the near lane, of course, is John "Still Seven Years Away from Winning My First Race" Force taking on former U.S. Nationals champ Gary Burgin. The No. 8 on the side of Force's Corvette signified the future champ's first foray into the top 10 of NHRA points in 1979. He didn't make it back into the top 10 until 1983, when he finished an astonishing fourth after runner-ups in Englishtown (to Mark Oswald) and the World Finals at OCIR (to Lil' John Lombardo). "I shot this black/white photo with 400 ASA film from the stands at the starting line," recalled Butch. "[Force] signed a copy of this at Charlotte this year. Not sure if he would even remember back then."

"These three photos were taken in the pits (really just cars arranged around the perimeter of the tarmac)," reported Butch. "The dragstrip was the old landing strip. One is Bruce Larson working on his USA-1 Camaro in the pits, one of the original Bounty Hunters from Connie Kalitta, and the other one is 'Jungle Jim' in the pits. I don't think that is him working on it."
I especially like the shot of Kalitta's Mustang below, which, despite what it says on the body about Boss 429 power, still was powered by a 427 SOHC. This is probably 1970, the last year for this model of Mustang body before the racers all went to the Mach I look. That's "Fast Eddie" Schartman's Air Lift Rattler Cougar parked behind "the Bounty Hunter." 

That's it for Fan Fotos. Thanks for playing, Butch!

With all of the "Jungle" cars shown above, this is a good time to mark the passing of one of Liberman's most ardent backers, Steve Kanuika, who died last month. Steve's son (also Steve) had former Funny Car ace Clare Sanders put together the following info for me on Kanuika. Thanks, guys.

It began early. At 17 years of age Steve and his brother opened a small shop in the basement of their folks’ home, a small Pennsylvania cattle ranch. Street racing was big at the time; real American Graffiti-type stuff. Steve did the work on the cars and engines – he had that magic touch -- as older brother Bill talked up the business. Steve would build the motor in the basement, then use his dad’s tractor to hoist it out and into the customer’s car. One of his early efforts was to hop up friend Buddy Corleto’s Buick Century – it was fast, and word of mouth brought customers.

His first dragstrip race car was a ’54 Chevy p/u truck running a 283-inch mouse motor – also their daily driver parts truck. It proceeded to set the D/Gas record in Vineland, N.J., Langhorne Speedway, York, and Lancaster, where Bill Jenkins was the tech inspector. Other Kanuika cars included a B/Dragster powered by a 327 Chevy with a 4-71 GMC blower (in a Lynnwood Welding frame), a C/Gas Henry J, and the most famous, his C/Gas Willys pickup with a 301-inch injected mouse motor. It set the record at 10.80, 127mph and even made the cover of Drag Times.

In the early ‘60s, business was getting to be too much, so Mom finally threw ‘em out of the driveway. Steve immediately opened his first shop in Upper Darby, named Kanuika Bros. Automotive (in an old gas station). Steve’s talents continued to earn him a dedicated following in drag racing circles, and his business boomed - at one time he was operating four Steve Kanuika Speed Shops! Then came the "Jungle Jim" sponsorship, and the shop in Concordville, Pa. (with six employees) became the place where you could find the two "Jungle Jim" Chevy II Novas; it wasn’t far from Jungle’s “pad” in West Chester. Those were glory days - Kanuika and K&G were THE speed shops in the Philly area – no one else was even close.

Steve built his last racer; the ’69 Jungle Jim Camaro Super Stocker, with acid-dipped doors and frame, blueprinted 427-inch rat motor and all of the go-fast “stuff”. It was a 9.80s match racer, very popular, and another rolling billboard for his speed shops. This car still holds a class record! It was driven by Steve, and eventually sold to Dick Collins.

Speed parts were selling, the Jungle cars were winning, and it was all good. . During this time Steve had the success of having both his motors in the '69 Funny Car finals in both of "Jungle's" cars as well as sponsoring some of the greatest cars and drivers of the time. These included no less than Lew Arrington's Brutus, Roland Leong's Hawaiian, Mickey Thompson , Jade Grenade, Neil Mahr's Superpress as well as many other famous names like Dickie Harell , Goeske, and Lewis to name a few. He also was one of the first to offer chassis-dyno tuning and many innovative engine building techniques. Focusing on all aspects of the build and machine work totally in house. He was a true pioneer and a class act for the sport of drag racing. He never gave up the love even in his retirement, he would build motors by appointment, and had been working on several engine design patents.

He is survived by his wife Delores, son Stephen, and daughter Heather. At the time of his death, Steve was in the process of building a blown alcohol Funny Car with his son. That car is expected to be running In the spring of 2010 painted like the Super Stocker as tribute to Steve and driven by Steve Jr.

"It is worth noting," said Sanders, "that I can never recall him having a bad word to say about anyone, ever. Steve Kanuika was a true racer’s racer, husband, a father, a gentleman and one of the really good guys. I sure do miss him."

Okay, kids, that's it for today, and, with the Thanksgiving holiday, the week. I'll see you next week.