NHRA - National Hot Rod Association

Today's topic: Wedge Top Fuelers (surprise!)

21 May 2010
Phil Burgess, NHRA National Dragster Editor

Previously on the DRAGSTER Insider, Steve Reyes had submitted a photo of an unpainted, unlettered, and, best of all for us, unknown wedge running at Orange County Int’l Raceway. He wondered if the Insider Nation might know who it was. It took all of but an hour or so for the first reply to come in, from Brett Nation, which was followed by similar answers from Jeff Courtie, Michael Baker, Don Hirsch, and Glenn Menard, that this was "Fearless Fred" Mooneyham in his father's California Cajun dragster. As soon as I got those e-mails, it sounded right, so I dug into the combined Mooneyham file in the DRAGSTER archives and found this photo of the car, taken at Lions.That's the late Gene Mooneyham at far right.

I was able to track down Mooneyham and share these photos with him and to get his remembrances.

According to Mooneyham, the car was built by Louisiana chassis ace Boogie Scott (the Mooneyhams were originally from the Pelican State, hence the California Cajun name). Fred drove the completed car out to California strapped to the roof of the family's Chrysler station wagon.

"We ran the car for quite awhile and I know it ran 237 mph at Lions; I think we ran 6.30s with it," recalled Mooneyham, who was one of a breed of SoCal teenagers like Jeb Allen and Randy Allison competing in Top Fuel at the time. "We ran the car until we had an incident at Orange County. We threw a rod out of it and, when I pulled the parachute, all of the oil from the engine came through some lightening holes we had in the panels and got into the cockpit and ignited. My dad just decided we weren’t going to run that body anymore. Boogie had already built us some regular body panels, so we just switched the car over."

The body, made of aluminum, was never painted, and eventually came to an inglorious end, cut up for random sheetmetal use as needed. 

Above right is another photo of the car, taken by veteran photog Dave Milcarek. who has a ton of great old pics form the 1970s here.

Mark Harmon, one of several people to forward me covers of the Barry Setzer wedge on Drag Racing USA, and Michael Hedworth both noted that we probably needed to mention yet another forgotten wedge Top Fueler, Jim Dunn's one-off hybrid from 1973, shown here in a photo courtesy of the Insider's new BFF, Steve Reyes.

This was back when "Big Jim" was still running his rear-engine Funny Car, which had won the Supernationals the season before – still (and probably forever) the only rear-engine Funny Car to win a Wally – and had his pal, Doug Kruse, fashion a mostly aluminum body to bolt on to the Funny Car chassis to allow the car to compete in Top Fuel as well.

The car only made about a half-dozen laps, at Orange County Int’l Raceway during the AHRA Grand American event in June 1973, then disappeared. I tracked down "Big Jim" as he was on his way to this weekend's event in Topeka to get the scoop on the car.

Dunn was honest and to the point about the reason behind the unusual project.

"[Don] Garlits had just come out with his streamliner [the ill-fated Jocko Johnson-built Wynn's Liner], and he was getting all of the ink," explained Dunn. "We were just trying to take some of the spotlight away from Garlits and wanted to prove we could run as good as him. We qualified, and he didn't."

Here's a photo from our files that shows how Dunn's rear-engined flopper looked with the skin off. Note the traditional Funny Car headers versus the through-the-body headers in the Top Fuel configuration.

(Actually, the Garlits car did qualify – dead last in a 32-car field – and Garlits wasn't even driving it. "Big Daddy" was pretty spooked by the car's ill handling in previous tests and hired journeyman Butch Maas to shoe it at OCIR. They qualified on a shutoff pass but did not run the first round according to Bob Post's book High Performance.)

"Both of my cars ran about the same," recalled Dunn. "The car was too short to be a good Top Fueler – it was only 125 inches [the Wynn's Liner was 175 inches] – and I was more into Funny Cars then. We went two rounds with the dragster and three rounds with the Funny Car, and pretty much all we had to do was change bodies and headers. The dragster body was one piece and fit on the chassis just like a Funny Car. I actually didn’t even expect to win the first round in Top Fuel, but I left on a guy and beat him.

"All that did was make more work for me," he laughed.

According to Dunn, the body, which Kruse built in about two weeks, is hanging in Don Ferguson's shop in Torrance, Calif.

Stephen Justice passed along an interesting note about the Lisa & Rossi doorstop wedge that we've also been discussing. He said that Fred Farndon, who's still out there among 'em, was the original owner of the car before an acrimonious divorce forced him to part with the car.

What follows in an excerpt from a bio that Justice did on Farndon, quoting him. "This car was going to make me famous, but a divorce put a damper on it. This was my second SPE car. Not a well-known fact, but I was the original owner and sold it to Vel’s Parnelli Ford, and Billy Tidwell gained considerable notoriety driving it. Too heavy to e.t., but ran 240 mph!"

Justice also included the photo above, showing Tidwell in the car at speed in Bakersfield, Calif. I dropped a line to Jim Rossi, son of original owner Vince Rossi, for comment but have not heard back from him. SPE, of course, was the Santa Ana, Calif., Speed Products Engineering chassis shop of Roy Fjastad, an alumnus of Scotty Fenn's famed Chassis Research dragster factory.

Newlywed "Flyin' Phil" Elliott (congrats!) sent this rather interesting photo as a follow-up to our discussions on the mid-1960s Re-Entry wedge Top Fueler. This photo of the car, looking familiar yet much different, was taken at a car show, and, although the car is quite recognizable, it obviously has a significantly shorter wheelbase.

"I hadn’t seen it this length in any action shot," said Elliott. "There might have been a minor incident after which the car was stretched. I can’t do much but theorize other than provide this earlier pic."

Given the reports that we've had about the car being involved in an accident, it makes me wonder if this is a before or after photo.

On a totally unrelated and selfish note, I officially enter over-the-hilldom tomorrow, May 22, when I turn 50. I wrote about this topic in depth in last week's ND, counting my successes and blessings, so I won't bore you to tears with that. Plus, I'll be working (from home) covering the Topeka event. Why does NHRA schedule an event on my birthday? Not unexpectedly, my office today was festooned with black balloons, signs ("If you were a car you'd be an antique" and "Your motor is still running but the warranty has expired," etc.), and geriatic gag gifts. I love my fellow staffers. Thanks, guys.

I share a birthday with author Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, actor Laurence Olivier, game-show announcer Johnny Olson, entrepreneur T. Boone Pickens Jr., baseball pitcher Tommy John, and actress Naomi Campbell. Heck, I might be the seventh-most famous person born May 22.

Of course, that list omits Japanese animation and film director Hideaki Anno, who was born on the same day I was in 1960, and I see we share a lot of traits. According to Dr. Wikipedia, "His style has come to be defined by the touches of superflatism and postmodernism that he injects into his work, as well as the thorough portrayal of characters' thoughts and emotions, often through unconventional sequences incorporating psychoanalysis and emotional deconstruction of these characters." Yeah, kind of like what I do here. Cool!

The Earth certainly moved for Anno's mother and mine, as well as for the people of Chile, where the Great Chilean Earthquake shook them to the tune of 9.5, the most powerful earthquake ever recorded. So, what else happened on May 22? Well, not much apparently. In 1807, a grand jury indicted former Vice President of the United States Aaron Burr on a charge of treason, and, oh yeah, on May 22, 1992, Johnny Carson hosted The Tonight Show for the last time. Yeah, pretty slim highlights, I know. Again, that puts ol' P.B.'s birth pretty high on the charts, wouldn’t you say? I'm kinda surprised my name's not on either of those lists. Oversight, I guess.

Monday also is kind of a special day because May 24 will mark my 28th anniversary here at NHRA. It has been a swell ride, and I hope it's far from over, but I want to thank you all for making the last three years some of the most enjoyable with your support for and love of this column.