Butch Maas was flanked by his sisters, Judi, left, and Linda, as they helped their mom celebrate her 75th birthday in 1995. "It actually was one of the last times we were together," said Linda.
Turns out I wasn't the only one lamenting the missed chance to say my goodbyes to Butch Maas, the former Winternationals-winning Funny Car racer who passed away last week.
In another breathtaking example of the reach of this humble little corner of the Internet where we all come together twice a week to reminisce and bench race, I heard from Maas' sisters -- big sister Judi McGavin and baby sister Linda Maas Clear -- late last week, sisters from whom he sadly had been estranged but who fondly remembered to me the brother they lost.
There are those who knew Maas for years but weren't aware that he had siblings, but it's clear that his sisters never forgot him. They found my column while Googling about their brother after his passing and wrote to thank me for remembering him and to mourn their lost chance as well.
"[We were] not always his favorite people, especially in the last few years; however, we loved him dearly," wrote Judi. "Maybe it was just damn hard to be squeezed between two girls. We shared much of family life for many years, and then it stopped working for Butch, and we were left without a brother. It always made me feel good to know that there were guys out there that thought he was one great guy. He had his crabbies and bad moods, but then don't we all. I remember so well the accident and my parents rushing to his side to be with him through his recovery. We held our breath and said our prayers that he would come through it whole.
"He was much loved by his family regardless of how he distanced us. We seemed worlds apart as adults, and the sadness for me and my sister is that he never got a chance to know how much we loved him and how proud we were of him. I guess families aren't always perfect, and ours wasn't, but we did have love.
"So as you grieve the opportunity you lost, as well as we do, it is a reminder to hold tight those you love and never miss an opportunity to let someone know how important their life is. Thank you again for the tribute to my brother. I can only hope he is on the big dragstrip in the sky doing what he loved so much."
Linda added, "I know what you mean about waiting too long to contact him; he was not in contact with my sister and me the last few years, and we were especially sad at his passing because we never had the chance to reconnect. Your articles will always mean a lot to me and my sister. My brother really was a pioneer in drag racing and should be remembered that way. I remember when he won the Winternationals in '71, he called me. I was living in Texas at the time, and he was over the moon. It was probably the highlight of his career, and we were all so proud of him."
Linda shared this photo, which shows her and Butch flanking their parents at the 1973 Winternationals, where he debuted Thompson's Grand Am.
By any other name: The sisters also filled me in on a couple of mysteries surrounding Maas' nicknames. As you can imagine, Butch was not his given name. According to Judi, his name was Martin Roney Maas, Roney being their mother's maiden name, but early on, he became Butch.
"He was named after our grandfather, and it seemed like all of the men in our family ended up with nicknames," wrote Linda. "I believe it came from the fact that when my brother was little he had a really short haircut, and Butch just seemed to fit. For a while in high school, he tried to go by the name Marty, but it didn't stick."
Marty Maas? Yeah, I'm happier he went with Butch Maas.
I also asked the sisters about his other nickname, C.W., which sometimes was painted on his helmet.
I had asked former Top Fuel driver Carl Olson, who like many SoCal fuel pilots knew Maas well, if he knew. It turns out that he did, and Linda confirmed the story through a conversation with Maas' ex-wife, Gayle.
C.W. Moss was a character in the film Bonnie & Clyde. He played the gas-station attendant who became their getaway driver, and because the names were pronounced the same despite the different spelling, "One of Butch's buddies used to call him CW, and Butch thought it was pretty funny, so he put it on his helmet."
Of note, though Bonnie Parker and Clyde Barrow certainly were real, C.W. Moss never existed; his character in the film (played by Michael J. Pollard) was a composite of two members of the Barrow Gang, William Daniel "W.D." Jones and Henry Methvin.
Another surprise e-mail came from Mike Broome, who was Maas' crew chief with Mickey Thompson's Revelleader Grand Am in 1973. That's them above left in 1973 (Can you tell it was the '70s? And, no, that's not Leif Garrett.) and above right reunited three years ago in Bakersfield.
"I was with him from January '73 until Gainesville when the car burned up," noted Broome. "I then went back and built the new car that Dale Pulde drove and worked with him until August '73. I send along my condolences to Butch's family. I met his son three years ago in Bakersfield and had a chance to spend some time there with Butch and again in '09 at Bakersfield."
With Butch (and Mickey) no longer with us, I'm hoping that Mike can fill in some of the missing info about Butch's short but highlight-filled stint in the Grand Am and how Butch came to be the driver. As I mentioned last week, Maas replaced Pulde under what appear to be curious circumstances, and maybe Mike can shed some more light on that. I've always had a very soft place in my heart for this car (as apparently many of you do, based on the e-mails I've received), and I'm looking forward to putting together the pieces of the puzzle behind it. I've been in contact with Larry Arnold, who drove the car after Pulde returned to the car and have reached out to Bob Pickett, the car's last driver.
Maas was the low qualifier at the 1972 NHRA World Finals in Amarillo, Texas, with a 6.61 in Mart Higginbotham's Drag-On Vega. In eliminations, they ran 6.64, 6.56, and 6.57 to defeat Charlie Therwhanger, John Dekker, and Ed McCulloch (pictured). Maas broke the rear end and lost in the semifinals to Jake Johnston in Gene Snow's Charger, who ran low e.t. of the meet with a 6.51.
I also heard from Mart Higginbotham, whose Drag-On Vega Maas very nearly drove to the 1972 world championship in Amarillo, Texas. Of course, back then, winning the World Finals made you the world champ.
"It was October 1972, and I had basically completed my season except for the California swing when I received a phone call from Butch explaining how he had enough points to qualify for the NHRA World Finals and was I interested in letting him use my Drag-On Vega to make the race," recalled Higginbotham. "I guess I thought about it for five seconds and said, 'Yes.' I pulled the pan, checked the bearings, adjusted the clutch, and told Butch to meet in Amarillo and loaded the car. When I got to the track, Butch was there, and it was easy to make a driver's money deal.
"We unloaded the car and did all the pre-race things like warm the engine, change oil, put in 94 percent, and hauled the car to the starting line for a qualifying run. Butch did everything correct and proceeded to set the track record with his pass. Keith Black came over and wanted to help tune us up, but I think we knew what to do. We took the car back and made another pass, and it went even quicker. It was easily the No. 1 qualifier, so we put it up and went to dinner.
"The race day came, and we (maybe I should say Butch) outran all the competition until the semifinal, when we broke the rear end. Needless to say, all were greatly disappointed, but I learned what a neat person Butch was and what a great driver he was. I saw him again at the California Hot Rod Reunion at Bakersfield three years ago. We talked and reminisced about old times and that weekend at Amarillo. Time sure has flown by, and I'm sorry really good friends have to say goodbye. He is one friend I will really miss."
Reader response to my fretting about missing Maas was also warming. Paul Cuff, a regular on our NHRA Interactive chats on NHRA.com, wrote, "I'm sitting in my favorite coffee shop just now, and I just read your piece about Butch Maas. I can imagine how you feel because I told you about losing Jim 'Puppet' DiTullio a few weeks ago. I've been kicking myself in the ass for not telling him how often I put my life in his hands and how he never let me down. I know Jim would understand how life sometimes gets in the way of the things we want to do right away, but that's why it's called 'life.' There are so many lives that have touched me for the better, and I failed to let them know how much they meant to me. I think that's why I try to make a point to let them know how I feel and how much I appreciate them. I appreciate the friends I have, both in racing and out. They pretty much accept me unconditionally, and I hope I repay the kindness. I'm sorry for your loss and for the loss to our sport specifically. We can never seem to get all the time we want to accomplish all we want to, but just know that you were at least close enough to Butch to know most of his story."
Brad Faria philosophized, "People die every day, and there is always something that didn't get asked, answered, or something. In our life, we are all busy doing what we do, and things happen that sometimes we know it's coming, and then others that hit us like a brick in the head."
He went on to recall his favorite Maas moment: "I remember being about 13 years old at Fremont Dragstrip watching the Waters & Maas Top Fuel car in the final. Rain had been threatening all day and finally started to come down in just a fine mist. To say the Waters & Maas team were underdogs was an understatement as they were racing James Warren in the Warren, Coburn & Miller car. Both cars had been running great all day, and no one thought that Waters and Maas would be in the final, but they were. The cars had done their burnouts and had been pushed back and were starting to stage. The excitement was thicker than the mist in the air. As the second stage light came on for one car and then the other, the mist was turning into rain when the starter ran out in front of both cars and gave them the shutoff sign. Everyone in the stands took a deep gasp as we all knew it was the best thing, but believe me, what excitement; I'll never forget that one ever. Take care, Phil. We won't forget Butch Maas."
Thanks, everyone. I'd like to think that's what this column is all about: not forgetting anyone, especially those who helped pave the hallowed grounds at the tracks on which we walk.