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More Fan Fotos: The best of the Midwest

09 Mar 2010
Phil Burgess, NHRA National Dragster Editor
DRAGSTER Insider

Welcome to another installment of Fan Fotos, galleries of great memories hauled from shoeboxes and dusty photo albums to share with your pals here at the Insider. This is always a real treat for me as well, sorting through the various submissions for cool stuff that I've not seen or cars I haven’t seen in a while.

Tom Nagy is today's gallery guest, and he made it real tough on me by submitting 30 photos to choose from, almost all of them great memory stokers. I tried to whittle it down to the usual 10 but fell short by one, so I hope you'll accept my apology for presenting 11 <g>.

"All these photos were taken by me in the 1970s; all of the on-track shots were taken from the grandstands," he wrote. "I know I sent more than 10, but I thought you could decide which ones to use. I had a 35mm Canon that was purchased new in 1973 and was used for all my photos. I used a Vivitar 85-210mm zoom for the action shots and sometimes attached a 2x teleconverter when there was enough light. I shot 400 ASA print film almost exclusively, and the resulting negatives were stored in plastic sleeves. I bought a good Nikon negative/slide scanner a couple of years ago and have been scanning my 1970s images on and off since then; one of these days I'll finish.

"I'm from South Bend, Ind., and went to many Midwestern dragstrips throughout the '70s. Many times, I went to U.S. 131 Dragway on Saturday and U.S. 30 Drag Strip Sunday. It was sometimes possible to see nitro Funny Cars four times a week: Wednesday, Friday, and Sunday at U.S. 30 and Saturday night at U.S. 131. Boy, those were the days. I attended my first NHRA national event in 1970 when I talked my dad into taking me to Indy. I've been going to the Nationals (I have a hard time saying U.S. Nationals) ever since. I started going to the Popular Hot Rodding Championships at U.S. 131 in 1971 and attended my first NHRA Gatornationals and Springnationals in 1973, so, basically, I saw four national events a year throughout the decade. I'm so grateful to have seen so much drag racing history firsthand."

Because the Gatornationals kicks off in a few days, let's start with this shot of Nagy's showing Shirley Muldowney running against defending event champ Dave Settles and the vaunted Candies & Hughes dragster during qualifying at the 1975 event. This was Shirley's second year in the class, and a season in which she would reach her first final rounds, in Columbus (where she lost to Marvin Graham) and Indy (where she lost to Don Garlits). Shirley didn't qualify at this event, and Settles, surprisingly, only qualified on the bump (obviously not on this run!) and lost in round two to Graham.

Nagy sent me a lot of pit-area stuff, which I always think is really good. I was especially struck by this photo of then-world champ Dale Armstrong working on his world-championship AA/DA (that's a Top Alcohol Dragster for today's fans) in the pits at the 1976 Pop Hot Rod race. What I really like about it is seeing the transmission out on the ground, with "Double A Dale" hard at work and his longtime (and very young!) sidekick and protégé, Mike "Shadow" Guger assisting. Guger was with Armstrong pretty much everywhere he went, including the Bud King team. After a stint with the David Powers team, Guger is back with the Bernstein camp after following Rob Flynn there. Also note those Funny Car-style zoomies on the car. Interesting!

From that same event comes this interesting shot of Bill Jenkins' famed Grumpy's Toy Monza being unloaded from the trailer. What immediately grabbed my eye was "the Grump" chatting with "the Snake," Don Prudhomme (inset). Wonder what they were talking about?

Here's soon-to-be world champ Gary Beck and his scary-tough Export A Top Fueler at the 1974 Springnationals in Columbus, Ohio. I always get a kick out of seeing that big ol' Canadian flag on the cowl because many people still think he was from north of the border when he actually was born in Seattle. In fact, I'm looking at a copy of a 1974 Drag Racing USA on my desk with Beck on the cover and the blurb: "Canadian superhero Gary Beck: Invincible?" Invincible? Yes. Canadian? No. Export A was a Canadian cigarette and partner Ray Peets was Canadian, but Beck was not. Beck moved to Canada in 1969 when he married his first wife, Penny, who was Canadian.

Speaking of Columbus, here's a great old shot of one of Columbus' most famous drag racers, Jeg Coughlin Sr., at the wheel of his JEGS AA/DA at National Trail Raceway in 1975. "The Captain" not only sponsored cars for years – including Top Fuelers and Funny Cars before his son began racing Pro Stock – but also drove them. I don't think he ever drove a nitro flopper, but he did compete in Top Fuel as well as in Top Alcohol Funny Car. He's one of the sport's truly good guys and obviously did a great job raising his successful sons.

There was a time when green cars – like peanuts in the pits – were considered bad mojo, but someone forgot to tell Gordie Bonin that. I always loved this car – and it made me drink an awful lot of Bubble Up soda during my high school days – and "240," with whom I worked at NHRA for many years, remains a good friend. The scene is Indy 1976; note the lack of guardwall in front of the photographers in the famous triangle. Man, that unobstructed view made for some nice shots in the day.

Here's another shot from Indy, this time in the pits in 1973, showing a couple of the lesser-known lights of the day, Ronnie Martin, foreground, and Chuck Kurzawa. Martin drove Robert Anderson's Metarie, La.-based dragster for three seasons but also had driven great cars for guys like Leonard Abbott, Sid Waterman, Gene Mooneyham, Prentiss Cunningham, and Chuck Tanko. The win the world championship in 1970 by winning the World Finals. Detroit-based Kurzawa's career spanned three decades of on-again, off-again competition in Top Fuel, including a stint with the famed Ramchargers team in the late 1960s. According to Bill Holland, that's car owner Bob Farmer (of Bob's Drag Chutes fame) tending to the Kurzawa car in the background.

I never got a chance to meet him, but John Austin is one of the true legendary characters of the 1970s. Nicknamed "Tarzan" for reasons that would be obvious to anyone who spent an evening with him, the former Tommy Ivo crewmember also made good behind the wheel, especially in this car, the Greg Scheigert-owned Hot Tuna dragster, shown in the pits at U.S. 131 during the 1973 Pop Hot Rod meet. It was Austin, in this car, who was in other lane when "T.V. Tommy" went upside down in Pomona in 1974. Love not just those wheel pants but the psychedelic 1970s paint scheme.

Before he became a Top Fuel hero and even before he became a national-event-winning Top Alcohol Dragster racer, Joe Amato wheeled this car, the Gabriel Hijacker Monza. Gabriel Hijackers were popular shock absorbers back in the day that could be aired up to raise a car's rake for either performance or looks. This is Indy 1976. I'm sure glad that Amato got out of Top Alcohol Funny Car because, for a while, there was another Joe Amato in the same class, "Wiskey Joe" Amato out of Chicago, and it got to be kinda confusing during our race reporting. "Wiskey Joe" (not sure why he spelled it that way) died in the early 1980s, in a traffic accident as I recall.

We just lost Lou Sattelmaier earlier this year. A lot of modern-day fans knew him from his line of Sonic Thunder jet Funny Cars, but before that, folks knew him for this great car, a 1932 3-window Model B that he ran in the gas classes throughout the 1970s. The scene is the 1974 U.S. Nationals.

After he gave up driving in Top Fuel, White Bear Lake, Minn.'s Bill Schifsky gave a lot of drivers a chance to drive his Funny Cars throughout the years, including this entry, the Beartown Shaker, which was wheeled by future luminaries such as Mike Dunn and Rick Johnson, pictured, in 1979, as well as Topper Kramer and Glenn Mikres. Doc Halladay once also was Schifksy's partner (on the Cox Pinto, which was made into a great nitro-powered scale dragster toy); Schifksy's son, Chuck, also went on to great things. He was part of a power trio of young wrenches — along with future tuning star Mike Green – working under Lee Beard on Gary Orsmby's championship-winning Castrol GTX Top Fueler and later went into the journalism field (in which he rose to the lofty position of executive editor at highly regarded Motor Trend) and today is a regional director of public relations for American Honda.

OK, that's it for this edition of Fan Fotos. I'll be back later this week after we finish the current issue and its very special subject matter. I hinted at it last week but couldn’t reveal it until all of the pieces were in place, but it's another special themed issue, like our recent Top 10 Lists installment, called Most Intriguing People. The staff looked around the NHRA landscape, and we picked eight subjects whose interests both in and out of drag racing make them very intriguing candidates. I'll reveal them later this week and a little insight into each. How many can you guess?