NHRA - National Hot Rod Association


More of the same

05 May 2010
Phil Burgess, NHRA National Dragster Editor

Yeah, OK, I know it's Wednesday and not Tuesday; my apologies for not posting this yesterday, but I was waiting for return phone calls and e-mails on a couple of topics germane to our recent conversations here. Sorry 'bout that.

And now, on with your regularly scheduled column.

First it was Leigh Buttera, daughter of car builder John, dropping by for a say-so on the famous-by-failure Barry Setzer Top Fueler, and this week, it's Cole Foster, son of the man who wheeled the mysterious marvel of monocoque mastery, Pat Foster. Yes, folks, that's right: The DRAGSTER Insider, home to the kids of the fast and famous.

Cole had discussed the monocoque car on his Facebook page and copied that material for me to use. It validates a lot of what we already know and explains the discrepancy of whether the car was run on more than one occasion (it was).

"The dragster was Buttera and Louie T's personal project [Ed. note: Louie T is aluminum specialist Louie Teckenoff]. It was/is a marvel. Built like an Indy car, all-monocoque magnesium car, super light. When Buttera and Louie ran out of money before finishing, Barry bought it, put one of the Funny Car motors in it. All finished and painted, they took it to OCIR to test it, with Pat driving. It went about a foot and stood straight up and came back to earth and buckled the tub a bit. Buttera was pissed. Dad said it was too short and the motor was too far back. Buttera fixed it, and they took it out a few more times. They got it to leave OK, but Dad said [at] three-quarter-track it was really evil. They would mess with wing and weight and try again. If it went left one run, it would go right the next.

"He did get it to the lights a couple times, and it was doing weird [stuff] (starting to fly). Dad said, 'Sorry. It's just an accident waiting to happen. I'm done.' Buttera [tried] to get another driver -- he wanted Steve Carbone to drive it -- and Dad said one of his fondest memories of Barry was when he told Buttera, 'Sorry John, Pat's my guy, and if he says it's undriveable that's it, over and out,' and it was parked. I know it was then going to get a rocket motor installed, maybe got started mounting stuff but never finished. Years later, Barry gave the car to [Don] Garlits, and he put the Hemi back in it, restored the car, and it's in Garlits' museum in Florida on display. It's a beautiful car."

Speaking of the Garlits museum, that is, of course, the final resting place for Don Prudhomme's Hot Wheels wedge dragster. Reader Cliff Morgan noted that Prudhomme's car, unlike most of the wedges shown here recently, had the headers exiting from beneath the body, Funny Car-style, rather than poking up through the wedge, and surmised that the change was made because the headers created too much downforce.

I checked with Bob Brandt, Prudhomme's longtime crew chief from the 1970s, who confirmed that their car, too, began life with the headers-through-the-body configuration but that they changed it shortly thereafter -- for the opposite reason that Morgan suggested.

"I spoke with 'Snake,' and he and I both agree we changed the headers from conventional to Funny Car style on the wedge to clean up the air over the wedge for maximum downforce," he said. "Not sure when we changed as we didn't run the car all that much. Actually the car was very heavy. We tried running [the same chassis] without the wedge body, but the car was still heavy."

The photos I have of the car, including from the souvenir program cover for the PDA meet (July 23-24, 1971, meaning that they had to be shot well before that) and on fire at the Summernationals (the weekend before the PDA meet ... talk about a tough travel schedule!), both show the car with the Funny Car headers, so it must not have lasted long in its original configuration. At right is the same car minus the wedge but with a rear wing.

I also heard from another son from the wedge discussion, Jim Rossi, son of Vince Rossi, who owned, with Tommy Lisa, the wedge-like Top Fueler driven by the likes of Billy Tidwell and Danny Ongais. I remember seeing this car at Irwindale and never forgot it, as most didn't, but Jim said it has been frustrating to him that the car is seldom discussed.

"That wedge held two national speed records," he reported. "240 with Tidwell, and then breaking our own speed record that same year with Ongais at 243. If we could have only gotten her to e.t."

Tidwell set the national record in the car in July 1972 at Lions with a speed of 239.64, and Ongais bettered it to 243.24 at that year's Supernationals at Ontario Motor Speedway for the first 240-plus national record. Jack Martin also drove the car, which was sponsored by popular surfwear manufacturer Hang Ten, which also sponsored events at OCIR from time to time. I've asked Jim for further remembrances of the car, which I will share if and when he does (no pressure, Jim).

Reader Dave Labs, who hails from West Allis, Wis., was happy to see his photo of the Schlitz beer/Freight Train billboard in my Friday column and passed along another, which he said also is in the town made famous by the brew, Milwaukee. It shows Carol "Bunny" Burkett posed next to the Dick Blanken Ford-sponsored Mustang that she campaigned in the 1960s with husband Mo. Burkett got her start in racing in 1964 at Old Dominion Dragstrip in Manassas, Va., with a ‘64 1/2 Mustang but quickly progressed to quicker pony cars.

This later-model Mustang is the car in which she competed on the Miss Universe of Drag Racing circuit from 1969 to 1972, an interesting invention of Tom “Smoker” Smith in which eight women competed against one another (reportedly for $100 a race) in a bracket race format. Female racers were certainly not a novelty then – witness national event wins by the likes of Shirley Shahan, Judi Boertman, and Judy Lilly -- yet the women competing on the Miss Universe circuit were required to wear miniskirts and boots at the track while not racing. I don't think that concept would fly today. Anyway, here's the full photo above right.
OK, that's it for today. Thanks for following along and all of your contributions!