NHRA - National Hot Rod Association

More ramp-truck ramblings

30 Jul 2010
Phil Burgess, NHRA National Dragster Editor

Not unexpectedly, everyone flipped over "T.V. Tommy" Ivo's trailer gallery here Tuesday, including Jim Randel, who saw Ivo's Corvette-topped truck in the early 1970s.

"This was probably around 1971 to 1972 timeframe at Motion Raceway off of Route 51 outside of Assumption, Ill.," he remembered. "Back then, that was the top of the heap. I thought to myself, 'What a way to travel!' I don’t remember who he was racing that night, but I can still picture the hauler, and when I read the [column], the picture of it at the track came back." Randel is still peripherally involved with Funny Cars; he works at Levi, Ray & Shoup, sponsor of Tim Wilkerson's flopper.

Predictably, ramp-truck photos are starting to come out of the woodwork, including this fine shot from Charlie Fischer of Tom McEwen's recently recovered ramp truck. As you can see, the car and truck are mismatched as McEwen was transitioning from the blue Hot Wheels Duster to the red Carefree Gum car.

Reader Ben Griffin wanted to know what if any weather protection teams employed to keep water and debris off the car and engine while it was being transported on the ramp trucks. "I can imagine getting caught in a monsoon and water getting everywhere you really don't want it to be in a Funny Car or dragster,' he mused.

Skip Allum asked Don Prudhomme the same question, and "the Snake" pointed out that thanks to the design of their ramp truck, the front of the car was tucked underneath the truck, and this would protect it somewhat, but they still would often use a car cover to protect the Funny Car during transit.

It's not a touring pro, but Craig Smith wanted to show off his father Howard's ramp truck, which he built in 1967 to haul his Iowa-based '63 Ford Ranchero to and from the track. "I know you write about mostly the famous/pros, but his truck did make it into a movie," reported Smith. "He rented his ramp truck out to some movie people to make Fever Heat, with Nick Adams. It isn't a well-known movie, but the ramp truck Nick is driving is my father's." I know there are dozens and dozens of photos of door cars on ramp trucks -- I've seen them all over the Web -- but let's not go there.The original theme here was floppers on ramp trucks.

One ramp truck eluding photographic recovery is Ken Veney's old black truck. Longtime Insider reader Andy Perreault wrote, "As a kid growing up in Torrance, Calif., I remember seeing Ken Veney's Vega Funny Car go by my house on the back of a black Chevy ramp truck. Ken must have lived around the corner from me, but, regretfully, I never did jump on my bike and try to follow the truck. I was wondering if you or one of your readers might have a picture of Ken's ramp truck and Funny Car. That would sure bring back some childhood memories for me!"

We tried, Andy, really we did. The first thing I did was forward your e-mail to Ken's son, Todd, who didn’t have any photos, but this query sent Ken and wife Rona scurrying to the attic to search for photos of the truck, but we came up empty. If you know Ken at all, he's not the kind of guy to just get caught up in some random folly, so you know it meant a lot to him as well. I did get this early photo of the hauler from Larry Pfister, who, I was sad to see, is shutting down his long-running Horsepower Heaven website, one of the true history books of Northwest racing.

Todd, however, still can see it in his mind's eye and remembers so much about the truck.

"Nicest damn one you ever saw - all black," he said. "He built it himself, naturally. It was low and super swoopy. He and I were just talking about it not that long ago, and I told him I remember the day he went and got the truck from an ad in the L.A. Times because I went with him. He couldn't believe I'd remember it because I was such a little kid at the time - probably 6 years old.

"I told him how he got it from a guy in Pasadena, which was a long way from Torrance for a little kid, and that we went right up the 110 Freeway past Dodger Stadium, and he knew I wasn't kidding.

"He made the whole frame and body himself at his muffler shop in Redondo Beach, and it eventually had see-through sides that he made for it in 1974. The Miner Bros. team bought it from him when he got his first Chaparral from Bill Bagshaw."

Gary Crumrine loved the photos of the Chi-Town Hustler hauler. "That was 'MY' car when I was a kid," he testified. "You can have the Hawaiian or the Blue Max, etc., I’ll take the Chi-Town guys any day. They used to swoop in and kick all the national cars' butts at venues like Byron and Rockford Dragways. And they were the burnout kings of the sport back then; you can thank Pat Minick for that. I can almost smell the nitro. … I only wish you had pictures of the '69 Charger. That is my favorite car. Very unique layout for its day, and it was a world-beater. [Austin] Coil was a winner long before he made John Force famous. Before then, John was always good for at least one or two oildowns and fires per event. Coil fixed that and increased the performance."

A few folks wrote in to give props to the Lagana family for its longstanding use of a ramp truck, even when Bobby Sr. switched from Funny Car (his famed Twilight Zone machines) to Top Fuel and Bobby Jr. (and later other son Dom) took over the controls.

Seeing that 300-inch dragster perched atop their '69 Ford ramp truck, with the front end hanging over the cab of the truck, was an incongruous site amid a sea of 18-wheelers at national events, and they kept that old truck in action up until just a few years ago. I think I saw this truck for sale on the Web somewhere. It looks to be in remarkable shape still for a 40-year-old truck with lots of miles on it.

Dennis Friend, who runs the TwoToGo website specializing in twin-engine dragsters, passed along this photo that he found of the truck.

Back quickly on the glass-sided trailer front, there were a lot of shout-outs to George "the Bushmaster" Schreiber for his see-through trailer, which was described by reader David Allgeier as "black lights on a Peter Max-styled Zodiac paint."

"I looked through my 1,000 or so pictures and don't have a picture of it," wrote Mark Harmon, "but I do remember the last time I saw it was at Lions around 1971 at night. The dragster had a psychedelic paint job, and he had it in the trailer, which had windows, strobe lights, and music. Too cool!"

"What a scene that was," agreed Dale Smith.

And finally, I was glad to hear from Barb Santucci, wife of the late Top Gas and Funny Car great Domenic (D.A.) Santucci, who wanted to comment on the tale of "Rapid Roy" Harris. Bobby Frey mentioned that Harris' Omni had been destroyed in a crash at Maple Grove Raceway, and Barb knew the exact date: April 18, 1982. How did she know that?

"The car that Roy destroyed at Maple Grove was the sister car to our Omni built by S&W," she wrote. "In a rare twist of events, both cars were destroyed on that day, Roy's at the Grove and ours at Suffolk. The first person to call Domenic happened to be Roy."

Santucci banged the blower in the lights while they were match racing John Speelman's Blue Bayou entry, which set the car alight. It ended up off the top end of the course, as you can see in these photos from the late great DRAGSTER photog Eric Brooks, which Barb had never shared. Thanks, Barb!

That's it for this week. Have a good weekend, and I'll be back next week with some fun "Snake" and "Mongoose" stuff and, I'm sure, more ramp-truck madness.