It's Friday, the end of the working week for a lot of you, but with Bristol thundering along this weekend, plus the Holley NHRA National Hot Rod Reunion and more going on around the country, it's going to be a busy weekend in the old NHRA.com household.
I didn't want the week to get away without a little recent feedback. I was really surprised by the number of responses to Richard Brady's photo of Lou Patane's Top Fueler. It's definitely a well-remembered piece of pipe. I found the photo at right in our files that may help give you a better look at the car and illustrate some of the comments below.
Paul Katata wrote, "If I recall correctly, Lou's car was originally built as a team car to Johnny Loper's Arrow Funny Car of the time by Jaime Sarte at his Van Nuys [Calif.] shop. Loper's Arrow was also a Sarte 'Pro Car.' The Funny Car influence is obvious, with the lower-to-the-ground headers and the front tires. I also seem to remember it having a shorter wheelbase than the dragsters of that time period. It also had an early version of a modular rear end, with a solid tube axle and possibly knockoffs. At least that's what I think I remember!"
Phoenix native Frankie LoCascio added, "I remember seeing Lou's car at Firebird in the mid- to late '80s with both Lou Patane and '240 Shorty' Tripp Shumake driving the car at different times. I think the old Top Fuel car is still here in the Phoenix area. Back when I was working at Johnny Loper's speed shop, one of my coworkers had purchased the chassis. Not sure what he ever did with it, but I'm fairly certain it's still here in the valley."
Eric Gates commented, "Your info on Patane's fueler got me to thinking about a car I saw way back when. It was at Indy, maybe '78 or '79. Gary Beck showed up with a Thrush Top Fuel car that had a radically different (for the time) wing and low-slung look. I would love to see a write-up on this car, and I know you have the resources to find it."
Eric is exactly right, but it took a quick e-mail to GB's good buddy Henry Walther (who not that long ago completed a beautiful and meticulous restoration of the Larry Minor/Beck 5.39 car). Henry knew what Eric was talking about and, conveniently, happened to be housesitting this week for Beck while GB is in Washington.
"The car he is referring to is the rear-engine car that Hume and Foster built for Gary," he wrote. "It wasn't all that unusual, but what gave it a different look was that the rear wing was mounted low and behind the rear tires. It made the overall car look very low and swoopy. That was sort of a 'Can-Am look' of the day. As it turned out, and as we have seen with the ultimate placement of wings, the car wasn't all that successful. I believe it ultimately ended up in Larry Minor's hands and used as a sand rail."
Walther found a photo of the car in an old handout, which is pictured above right. Thanks, Henry!
Cliff Morgan, another resident of the Valley of the Sun, added, "Lou Patane was a Mopar dealer here in Phoenix for many years and later became director of Mopar Racing. The car in the photo was part of a video produced by Main Event, called Nitro Warriors Vol. 1, 1988, and showcased the 1988 Super Bowl of Drag Racing at Firebird Int'l Raceway. Don Garlits and Jon Lundberg do the commentary on the video. Patane later ran a twin-engine car in TAD, and it had two Hemis on gasoline and nitrous. Never got real competitive until Patane took out one of the motors and switched the car to A/FD. I think it ran more Division 7 than anything else. This was 1990s. I seem to remember that Patane then got the Mopar Racing job and stopped racing cars."
Morgan also chimed in on the photo of Gordon Mineo's Funny Car-turned-Top Fueler, and, again, our vast photo files had an alternate shot of the car at Lions. I love the big question mark on the side of the car. Said Morgan, "I was at Lions when Mineo ran that car. What makes me remember this event is that it was during this time period that a lot of the Funny Car racers (in Southern California, anyway) wanted Funny Car to be the premier class and wanted Top Fuel to go away. This ticked me off greatly, and I kinda turned on Funny Car. I didn't go to any Funny Car-only races during that time and only saw them race when there was a show that included them. I was a die-hard Top Fuel fan, and that is still my favorite class. Anyhoo, I wasn't impressed with Mineo's effort, and I wrote one of my (infamous) letters to the editor of one of the drag racing mags of the time and called Mineo's car 'the Phony Fueler.' Heh. Needless to say, that stirred the pot with the Funny Ca fans. The photo brings back memories of that night and of that time."
William Duke provided additional info about the night, reporting that Mineo did indeed qualify for the field and went one round before losing to Lions regulars Butters and Gerard.
My comments that I was trying to wind up the wedge thread met with a chorus of discontent from a number of you, who just can’t let it go (me either!).
Jeff Robinson wrote, "As far as I am concerned, keep it coming. I just love the things you write; since I stopped racing, it really does help fill the void. I am almost afraid to go back and watch; I just don't think I would make a good spectator, knowing I can't afford to do it again."
Ivan Siler added, "I have thoroughly enjoyed your series on wedge dragsters. I was fortunate to see several of them in person during the early 1970s because that was a time when our sport was its healthiest! After Garlits' rear-engine revolution, EVERYONE was out to build a better mousetrap — and innovation was the order of the day. Drag racers have always been the most creative motorsports guys on the planet, and that era is so intriguing because our sport was at its best. It is tragic that NHRA Top Fuel has deteriorated to Murf McKinney cookie-cutter cars (no offense intended — great cars for sure — just boring when the whole field is full of them). Surely there must be some 'Lil’ John' Butteras, Pat Fosters, Doug Kruses, Ed Donovans, and E.J. Potters simmering around out there. This series has been a great reminder of the creative legacy we enjoy — keep fanning the flames!"
Joe Faraci pleaded, "Before you put the streamliner to bed, did you mention Jim Head’s ‘experiment’ from the early 1990s? It had a rounded wedge body, and I believe he tested it a few times in Gainesville."
Here it is, Joe. I know I have info on the car around here somewhere that I'll try to dig up, but, to Ivan's point earlier, I think Jim Head is one of those brilliant minds. Left to his imagination, I can’t begin to think about what kind of car he'd dream up. We've already seen the fruits of his within-the-rules thinking (the multistage clutch, the "noodle" car, etc.), so the mind reels at what the guy his crew used to call "the mad scientist" would cook up left to his own devices.
OK, gang, see you next week, probably on Wednesday, but maybe earlier. Have a good weekend, especially you dads. Happy early birthday tomorrow to Shirley Muldowney and Bob Wilber, two of my favorite people in our sport.