NHRA - National Hot Rod Association

Stars of the East Coast Fuel Funny Car Circuit

19 Oct 2010
Phil Burgess, NHRA National Dragster Editor

Two weeks ago, we heard from former Funny Car racer Jeff Foulk, who shared his memories of the East Coast Fuel Funny Car Circuit, and this week, I heard from fellow era flopper pilot Drake Viscome, who dropped me not one but two hefty packages filled with photos and flyers from the circuit as well as pages of handwritten notes that shed a little more light on the old series.

Tom "Smoker" Smith did most of the early booking with Frank Leseuer while also driving one of what Viscome calls "the stalwart duo" of the series, Kenny Warren's Virginia Twister. The other member of that dynamic duo was Gene Altizer's Pak Rat, and Viscome noted that both have been deservedly inducted into the East Coast Hall of Fame.

Viscome ran through a list of the competitors, with notes on many famous names you may recognize outright or whom you have read about here who used the circuit as a springboard to success.

"Old friend John Skistimas was partnered up with Jake Crimmins for a year and later with Tom Stapleton for a year or two. Al Segrini with brother Lou had the American Express car for a couple of years before the Jim Beattie/ATI Black Magic AA/FC. For a year or two, Al Hanna ran with his Eastern Raider Pinto before he and Joe Mundet switched to AA/FC. Old pals Joe Amato and Tim Richards raced with us for a year or two as well with the Keystone Kuda before going Alcohol Funny Car racing with the Gabriel Hi-Kacker Monza.

"There were a good number of others that ran this deal (travel … lots of it, and a bunch of shows) that should not be forgotten. They were part of the 'the gang' that raced week in and week out up and down the East Coast a couple of times a week (at least!) every week: Butch Kernodle's All-American cars; Nick Boninfante and Pat Walsh; Billy Lerner's Paper Boy SOHC Ford cars; Oren 'Pop' Whitt and Randy Bray with the Hippie Hemi; 'Jumpin' Joe' Weis (Top Fuel racer Scott Weis' dad); the Carlton Bros.' Swinger; the late Bobby Martindale's Tonka; Jim Wiggleworth and Kenny Warren's Mini Cuda and Mini Charger; the Mini Brute Opel of Charlie Gary, Dan Smoker, and Nick Allen; Charles 'Scottie' Scott and J.R. Rice's Twister Buster and Highland Bandit entries; the late Charles Lee's Super Javelin and Camaro; and Leroy Worley. All of these cats were the heart of the ECFFCC most of all of the years, not a year and gone.

"More ECFFCC guys/cars: 'Joltin' Joe' Fennesy; Bowen & Kopper (with Ed Kopper, who went on to be crew chief for Bob Newberry for many years), Jay Miner's the Trip; the Lucas & Harte Vitamin C Charger; the late Bob 'Gator' Dalton; and Don Hulse and the Plane Crazy."

Viscome also remembers the special relationships that the series forged with track owners and operators such as Vinnie and Richard Napp in Englishtown, Jack Musselli at Atco, the Lewis family at Maple Grove, and Julio Marra and Capitol and Aquasco.
Although the circuit began with injected nitro cars only, it began welcoming blown alcohol cars in 1974, at which point Nick Boninfante began doing the booking.

"When Boninfante took over the booking and formed Fuel Funny Car promotions, the series featured some of the best racers ever known," he continued. "Carol 'Bunny' Burkett; Carol 'Warlock' Henson; Rodlyn 'Country Girl' Knox; Frank 'Ace' Manzo; Bob Chipper; Glen Lazaar; Keith Hughes and Arnie Karp and the Boston Strangler; the Bell Boys; Pete Gallen and Rich McPhillips and Poverty Stricken; Joe Samolyk and the Pleasure Seekers; Gene Terenzio's Italian Stallion; and Anton Addesseo's Pig Pen. Running these guys every week was like running a national event.

"How about ol' Bill Barrett, the legendary crew chief for Kenny Warren, Jim Beattie's ATI Black Magic, and even got 'Bunny' started after we sold her the first Funny Car. He's still active and has helped so many but never really received his 'just due' recognition. He was well-liked, a gentleman, and very well-respected by all that knew him.

"For sure, the West Coast always had/has a cavalry of awesome racers -- the Midwest, too – but 'back East,' we had/have a pretty good number of bad Joses, too."

Viscome wheeled a long line of entries sponsored by Carmel Ford under the Vindicator name. During his time on the circuit, Viscome's cars always were Ford-powered, initially with engines from Wayne Gapp, then Gapp & Roush, and finally Ed Pink.

Of his own career path, Viscome admitted that his team "could never really make the transition needed to go from paid-to-appear/run format for 15 years to the Big Show qualifying and competition. In hindsight, it wasn't really money (because we were well-funded), it really was just ego and complacency and'just plain lazy. Obviously, Joe Amato and later Frank Manzo accomplished the'transition pretty well.

"That era was something," he concluded. "For sure, I was just grateful to have been a little part of it."

Thanks for the memories, Drake. It's very clear in my mind that for many people, it didn't take a supercharger to supercharge their desires, and the fans loved the injected cars, too. This is already beginning to look like another of those ramp-truck/wedge-dragster threads as the photos and memories keep pouring in. More later this week.