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More injected Funny Cars!

26 Sep 2010
Phil Burgess, NHRA National Dragster Editor
DRAGSTER Insider

First, I want to thank you all for the kind words about the Jeb Allen article last Tuesday. It was challenging for reasons that many of you understand and for the delicate nature of the subject. Addiction is not a topic easily discussed, and it's usually not something that finds its way into this column, but it was an important story to tell, and, based on your responses – some from those similarly afflicted past and present – it was inspiring. I forwarded most of the messages to Jeb as well as some of the photos that were attached to help him resurrect his collection.

Second, and the subject of today's column, is the response to my recent posting about Midwest injected Funny Cars and the photos sent by Jim Farnsworth. I had no idea it was such a popular and nostalgic topic for so many. I received dozens of responses and even more photos, some of which I'll share today. Worth noting to the many who asked about the absence of certain other injected cars is that the column was just about that Midwest gang and was not intended to be the end-all story about injected fuel floppers. Anyway, on with the show.

"You continue to stir up some great memories, most recently with your piece on injected Funny Cars from the early '70s," wrote Bill Stapleton. "I spent countless hours in the back of a Ford wagon traversing the East Coast on weekends traveling from Jersey to Florida to the south, Canada to the north, and everywhere in between. Besides the old standards running with Tom 'Smoker' Smith’s ECFFC (Smoker, Gene Altizer, Ken Wigglesworth, e.g.), there were the 'new guys' just cutting their teeth, most notably Al Segrini, Al Hanna, and Joe Amato. Jake Crimmins built and drove a car in ’71 with my brother-in-law, John Skistimas, and that Maverick showed up in your last ramp-truck photo run."

Al Booton had already seen many of Farnsworth's photos. "I sat next to Jim last December at Vern Moats' Christmas party, and Jim had two albums with him full of drag photos," reported Booton. "We had a blast looking at them, as they went way back to the Des Moines Dragway, and I am helping a friend work on a history of that track. Jim told me the story about going into Chicago to pick up the Gaglione & Paulo car and ramp truck. He said it was really scary."

A lot of you asked about the West Coast injected Funny Car scene, including our old pal and Lions denizen Robert Nielsen. "I have a bunch of injected Funny Car photos from the early 1970s at Lions," he wrote. "The frustrating part of this is once again, I am unable to locate these since like many of my OLD drag racing stuff, it has been packed away in boxes that I did not label very well. I did find one photo of Chris Christensen’s injected Chevrolet Vega leaving the starting line at Loins. This was probably one of the very early West Coast injected Funny Cars. Note the exhaust headers are not the individual four-tube ‘zoomies’ but instead a four-into-one collector type. Since I shot this photo from the 'photographer’s area' just past the starting line on the right side of the track, it was probably on a Sunday when Chris and several other injected Funny Cars were out making ‘shakedown’ passes."

Another great West Coast injected car belonged to Ken Veney, whose all-conquering Veney's Vega has been resurrected by Vic Miller. Paul Grant sent a couple of shots taken at the recent Pacific Raceways Lucas Oil Drag Racing Series event. "The car looks great and runs strong," he said. "He was running with the Nostalgia Nitro exhibition class and obviously nowhere as quick, but great value to watch with big burnouts and cool wheels-up launches. I saw on Facebook he was trying to get a group together to race in the Northwest with injected nostalgia machines."

I also heard from Miller himself, asking what I know about Veney's incredible 1972 season on the injected Funny Car circuit in SoCal. "I know Veney won like 15 of the 17 races that year. What I am building on is that I believe Ken had the most winningest drag car that season." I asked our old pal Todd Veney, Ken's son, who replied, "As the story goes (in the Veney household), he won every single one; you know how racers' memories are, though. I personally don't ever remember him losing, but I was only 6 years old."

Insider regular Cliff Morgan continued the theme. "Wow, such neat old photos. I always remember [Lorry Azevedo's] Drummer injected car and that Gene Adams had an injected Satellite (I think) that he ran with another driver, and those two faced off in Pro Comp one year at Ontario. Also Fontanini & Nannini, who I never saw in person but always remembered the name. Anyhoo, good reading, and I hope we get another bunch of injected photos. You could do a whole bunch of stuff just on Adams & Enriquez, my all-time favorite injected nitro guys."

And speaking of the Fontanini & Nannini car, I heard from James Kirby, who owns the Fontanini Stinger Charger and is slowly restoring it. If you go to his webshots page, you'll see about 40 or more photos just on Fontanini & Nannini that he has collected.

Even more A/FC pics can be found here courtesy of Jeff Titsworth, Dick's son, including a few photos from the IFCA banquet at the Playboy Club in Chicago.

The injected Funny Car column was a big hit with Kevin Johnson, who actually pilots a restored A/FC , the Glory Daze Camaro, in competition on the East Coast. "My dad, John, a racer and part-time Maple Grove employee back in the early '70s, and I restored and are racing a Camaro-bodied Logghe stage 1 chassis (originally John Dekker's) as an injected alcohol flopper car at East Coast nostalgia events," he reported. "It's only tagged for 8.50, which isn't anything spectacular for a flopper until you see its launches and steering job to get it down the track. It's a crowd (and photographer) pleaser, and we're having a blast running it. It's very reasonable to build and run, so we're solely out to have fun. Here's our website with pics and more info on the car: www.theglorydaze.com."

Johnson also sent me a link to some of his dad's old photos from Maple Grove, which I will share later this week in tribute to the upcoming Toyo Tires NHRA Nationals.

And finally, it's time to go to injected Funny Car school with Bret Kepner, the Midwest's foremost drag racing historian, who had comments about some of the machines featured in my original column. Take it away, Bret ...

The photos (even the shot of Farnsworth's Firebird), are all from Ray-Mar's, taken, as you might expect, at "Broadway Bob" Metzler's Great Lakes Dragaway in Union Grove, Wis. The majority of the shots were, indeed, from an IFCA event late in 1973, although most of the teams shown also competed in the United Drag Racers Association during the same period. I have a feeling the "expensive" burnout photo of Farnsworth's Vega was taken at Cornhusker Dragway in Omaha, Neb. However, the first three pictures were most likely taken at one of "Broadway's" other extravaganzas.
 
To my knowledge, Ohioan Bob Durban never did race with the IFCA but attended a few UDRA programs. He was most likely booked independently at the event since the car was well-known for its then-recent NHRA national event final-round appearance.
 
Likewise, Dick Titsworth wasn't an IFCA regular, but chances are good the photo used wasn't taken at an A/FC circuit event. In typical "Broadway Bob" fashion, the Toledo Challenger is paired with Dale Emery in Bob Riggle's Hemi Under Glass Camaro AA/FC! By the way, Titsworth was later instrumental in setting up what would be the UDRA's largest Funny Car market competitor, the NHRA Division 3 BB/FC Circuit. 

Finally, Bob Ehgotz was more of a regional racer than a circuit member. The Duane Muelling-wrenched Michigan Firebird shown replaced the team's other Pontiac-bodied FCs, and, like all others, it was powered by a real-live Poncho powerplant. Muelling went on to even greater success when teamed with Al DaPozzo.
 
Now to the real IFCA guys. Joe Arrigo enjoyed a stellar year in UDRA competition in '72 and moved his Michigan Camaro to IFCA in '73. Interestingly, Joe didn't make the switch to BB/FC like so many others when the A/FCs died a slow, uncompetitive death through '74-'75. 
 
Nick Gaglione won a UDRA national championship at the helm of a Nova A/FC, and, if it were even possible, his Vega was even more beautiful. Though Gaglione's competition license number was 382, that looks to be St. Louisan Mike Gordon doing the driving at this event. All of the Chicagoan's machines were immaculate and of ISCA show-winning quality as evidenced by the lead photo used of Farnsworth tending to the Vega's stunning chassis. Nick's son went on to win several NMCA/NSCA Pro Street events in the 1990s. 

Art Cambridge, shown alongside Gaglione/Gordon, raced his Iowa big-block Chevy-powered Opel GT infrequently but always on 100 percent nitro. It was beyond a handful, and this is a fairly rare shot of it in action going straight! It's important to note that the car was built on a stock 95-inch wheelbase and was, most likely, the shortest A/FC ever built. It wasn't the only Opel GT Funny Car ever constructed, but nearly every other attempt was stretched at least a few inches.
 
No black-and-white image can ever do justice to any of Tom Kenny's Red Baron FCs. Each of his cars (Nova, Camaro, and Monza) was done in magnificent red metalflake paint. Tom lived close to all the major Chicagoland tracks and was a regular at Union Grove, Byron, Oswego, Gary, and Martin. 

Another absolute stunner was the candy-apple red DeCausmaker & Tiffin Mach I, which debuted early in '73. Vic Tiffin had campaigned a variety of Vega-bodied A/FCs before unveiling this car, which was, for all intents, a state-of-the-art AA/FC without a supercharger. The car was brutally quick, and its most interesting claim to fame came when the team qualified at the '73 AHRA Gateway Nationals ... in the AA/FC field! (They went two rounds!)
 
The shot of John Kelly in the Blue Meanie Vega is rare because this was the only season he was with the car. Based in upstate Illinois with crew chief Alan Poko, it later became the first of many Tremor FCs run by Poko with driver Bud Williams. The duo went on to many years of success in UDRA, AHRA, and NHRA Division 3 competition. 

At the recent U.S. Nationals, comments were made over the PA system to the effect that Chicagoan Fred Hagen had come out of nowhere. In fact, it was Fred's son who was at the wheel a few weeks ago, but Fred Sr. has been racing Funny Cars for 41 years! This Challenger was one of the only non-Fords that he ever ran in FC trim, which means it was also one of the few to not carry the name Dark Horse. Hagen mentored a yound Fred Mandoline during this period, who was racing a Camaro A/FC campaigned jointly with DaPozzo. By the way, that's NHRA national event winner Ben Griffin in his Texas-based Mach I A/FC in the other lane. Although not an IFCA or UDRA circuit contender, Griffin enjoyed huge popularity with the Union Grove fans, and Metzler booked him extensively at A/FC ... and even AA/FC ... shows at the Grove. 

St. Louisan Jim Guthrie shocked a lot of folks when he debuted this beautiful red Mach I A/FC after years as the designated driver for Dick Harrell's injected nitro FCs. The real inside joke was the big-block Chevy engine under the Ford body. Guthrie later switched the car to BB/FC status before retiring.
 
It's true that Vic Tiffin originally drove the Vega that would later become the Yoakum & Stovall Mini Spoiler, but that's John "Lil Abner" Yoakum at the wheel. (This was '73, and Tiffin was in the aforementioned Mach I.) Previously, this car was raced by Tiffin under two paint schemes, but it retains its identifiability by the location of the driver. Carrying a stock 97-inch-wheelbase body, it was originally an altered outfitted with a FC body, and the Vega was a perfect fit for the already-short car. The driver ahead of the rear-end housing is the telltale sign. 

Jack Ditmars may have owned it, but it's a solid bet that his longtime friend and partner Herb Moeller was at the wheel of the rear-engine Boss Brute Vega A/FC on this run. I'm not sure how many laps were made by Ditmars in this car, but they were few. Illini Moeller campaigned the car almost exclusively; he also occasionally drove just about every other machine that Ditmars owned all the way back to the Little Screamer B/Altered '34 Ford.
 
If memory serves, The Stinger paint scheme was one of the last carried by "Fast Albert" Fontanini prior to adding a supercharger and competing with this Charger in AA/FC trim before his tragic highway death. That would put this photo around the late summer of 1970.
 
The Gray Ghost was the last A/FC campaigned by Chicagoan Larry Swiatek, who had previously raced a rare '68 GTO body under the same name. Both had Chevy engines, but Swiatek was a Poncho fan favorite. The very fact that Arnie Beswick's identical Trans Am-bodied AA/FC is in the background makes the photo a rarity.