If I've said it once, I've said it a hundred times in the 350-plus columns I've filed here: You guys rock. Sure, a lot of times, I'm the guy coming up with the topics based on whatever tickles my fancy that week, but it's the ongoing dialogue that takes a brief mention of something like a wedge Top Fueler and turns it into a months-long thread based on your continual additions, photo submissions, and memories. This column would not be nearly the same wondrous place that it is if not for the combined efforts of the Insider Nation, and today's post bears that out.
In the last two weeks, I've supplied as many questions as answers to some of the ramp-truck material, and damned if you guys didn’t help fill in the some of the blanks again. Amazing.
For example, in Tuesday's column, reader Glenn Barbis Jr. talked about Funny Car racer Roy Harris' ramp truck and the mystery of why "Rapid" took a step "backward" from an enclosed trailer to a ramp truck. "I regret I never asked him why," lamented Barbis.
(Pat Welsh photo)
Well, Glenn, here's why, as told by Bobby Frey, who was part of Harris' crew back then and today is a proud member of the Frey-Rosetty-Frey-Liebmann Frantic Ford Funny Car team, another famous car being prepared for a return to the dragstrip (website). Harris shared cockpit duties in the original Frantic Ford with Sarge Arciero and Ron Rivero before the late Dodger Glenn. After his days with the Frantic Ford, Harris had a local Budweiser sponsorship in 1979-80 (pre-Kenny Bernstein's national deal) through Trenton, N.J., distributor Tom Ryan, as shown here.
According to Frey, after the Ryan/Budweiser deal "ran its course" at the end of 1980, Harris purchased a mildly beat-up triple-axle Chaparral and, through many hours of TLC, refurbished the trailer and purchased a brand-new Chevy crew cab to tow it. Harris brought out of retirement the old Brutus Mustang II-bodied car that he had campaigned with his partner Gus Wunsch prior to landing the Bud sponsorship but failed to qualify with the car at the 1981 Gatornationals. Harris worked out a deal with Ryan to purchase the Dodge Omni-bodied Budweiser car. The Mustang II was sold off to help offset some of the costs. The Omni was destroyed in a top-end crash at Maple Grove, so another phone call was made to Ryan to purchase the Arrow-bodied Budweiser car.
"This time around, we had a car that actually hung around a few years and ran many, many match races throughout the early 1980s," said Frey. "With the desire to keep running a fuel car without any major sponsorship support, Roy was faced with making some hard decisions. In order to stay afloat, serious changes needed to take place. At this same time, Bruce Larson happened to be looking to upgrade his transportation needs and wanted to move up to having his USA-1 car hauled around the circuit in an enclosed trailer after many years of using his legendary white ramp truck. I think you might see where this is headed!
"Bruce and 'Rapid' were best of friends and worked out an amicable agreement whereas the USA-1 car would move 'indoors' while we were moving out into the elements, just like the old days!"
Frey reported that Harris is still around and in touch but officially retired from the cockpit. According to Frey, Harris was almost killed a few years ago when he was at a truck stop checking the brakes on his 18-wheeler. "A truck hit him in the parking lot and nearly cut him in half," he said. "He spent a considerable amount of time in the hospital and still deals with the lingering effects. When we debut the return of the Frantic Ford AA/FC, Roy plans on coming out to see the new car in action."
Dan "Big D" Larson jumped into the fray to identify the kid in the back of McEwen's hauler in this photo. Tony Huerta had already told us earlier this week that the kid's name was Kenny, and Larson gave us not only his last name but also more.
"The young kid on the back of 'the Goose's' truck is Kenny Miller, and his last known whereabouts is Las Vegas," reported Larson. "He actually lived in Long Beach, not too far from myself and Jerry Bivens (of Bivens & Fisher Checkmate AA/FD fame, a regular at Lions in the late '60s). Kenny, like myself, ran around Lions helping anyone we could, and he was a couple of years older than I (putting him around 58). As a young kid, I spent my weekends thrashing at Lions with Checkmate, 'Goose's' dragster and Funny Car, 'Snake,' and the Don Rackeman Wonder Wagon, driven by the 'Unsinkable Kelly Brown' and wrenched by Jerry Bivens at the last Lions drag race in 1972. We had a glass enclosed hauler in those days as well.
"Jerry is married to Janet Baney, Lou's daughter. You probably know that Frank Baney headed up the restoration of the Yeakel Plymouth AA/FD dragster by the Baney and Rossi families. That car, along with others, was at the Bixby Knolls Car Show in Long Beach last weekend. Rae Gabelich, the late Gary's wife, is councilwoman in Long Beach and headed up the show organization. I had the privilege of cackling that car, as did Rae. Here is an image of that beautiful restoration. Lou Baney and Vince Rossi would be very proud." That's a very happy Larson in the hot seat.
Franklin Amiano of Farmingdale, N.J., had the answer to R.C. Sherman's glass-sided truck.
"That truck was built and used by Charlie 'Highland Bandit' Scott," noted Amiano. "He had framed it out for the side windows but never cut it open. Ray (R.C.) bought it from Charlie and cut the sides open. (Side note: Charlie Scott was one of the principals of Winters Foundry. You remember those aluminum GM manifolds with the snowflake cast in 'em? Yup! Winters Foundry. Also maker of the Winters quick-change rear."
It's turning out that there were a lot more glass-sided trucks and trailers than we all knew about. Former car owner Bob McCutchan reported that he had one in the mid-1970s when the late Kenney Goodell was driving his Top Fueler and with his own Funny Car. "The minute Kenney saw Ivo and the rest enclose their ramp trucks, he ran right down and had his done," said McCutchan. "Don't have any idea where it went; someone who reads your column might have one available." Readers?
I wrote earlier about how the Chi-Town Hustler team had converted its ramp truck into a box truck that served it for years, and Jim Mullis shot me this pic of the somewhat-dilapidated truck in its original state. Very cool! I also found the photo below, which shows the car in 1972, in the parking lot at the famous Marco Polo motel in Anaheim, staging ground for touring Funny Cars racing in Southern California in those days.
Good pal Henry Walther told me that he was visiting recently with Austin Coil and Bernie Fedderly and asked Coil if he knew what had become of the old Chi-Town Hustler boxed ramp truck. According to Walther, Coil's answer was, "Haven't a clue," and told Walther, "I think we sold it to some door-car guy up in Minnesota as I was leaving the team, and I haven't seen it since."
"Apparently, after a couple of million miles in that truck, Coil's honeymoon with it was over," noted Walther.
Hall of Fame photog Steve Reyes weighed in with the very cool shot above (which, for the sake of clarity, I cropped into from a larger image; sorry, Steve), which is the pre-ramp-truck Hustler, probably one of its earliest incarnations, on a flatbed trailer in the pits at Fremont Raceway.
Keith Crouch wrote to clarify his Tuesday question about the discrepancy between the grille/headlight assemblies on McEwen's truck circa 1970 and in its found condition, and you can certainly see his point with these side-by-side images.
"In the retro/older photo of the 'Mongoose' truck in a parking lot, the headlight/grille assembly shows the exact same type as the 'Snake' truck, with the single headlight on each side and eight grille openings in between the lights.
"[The second photo] shows a different headlight/grille assembly than the retro/older photo. It shows two headlights stacked on top of each other on each side of the truck with a horizontal grille assembly. But, like I said, 'Maybe as the truck got older and the lights not being functional any longer, they were changed.' They sure do seem to fit in there correctly, though (except for that little bit of air gap we can see from the picture on the driver's side)."
I wonder if McEwen remembers. Or any of his many former crewmembers lurking out there? C'mon guys, you've already shown me what you can do. I know the answer is out there!
OK, gang, thanks again for playing. I'll see you next week. I have more interesting ramp-truck stuff to show you!