NHRA - National Hot Rod Association


Write slower, I'm drowning ...

30 Apr 2010
Phil Burgess, NHRA National Dragster Editor

Stuff is piling up in my inbox almost faster than I can sort and catalog, so I'm going to blast out the majority of it today before it swallows me whole. It's a rambling, multiheaded beast of a blog, so sit back, enjoy, and learn more stuff you probably didn't know.

Tuesday's column about the short-lived John Buttera-built, Barry Setzer-owned, Pat Foster-driven monocoque Top Fueler inspired a lot of e-mail and additions to the story.

I was very pleased to hear from Buttera's daughter, Leigh, who checked out her dad's car in Don Garlits' Florida museum in March when he was inducted into Garlits' International Drag Racing Hall of Fame during the Gatornationals. "I was entertained by the note card that they had in front of my dad's car: 'The car was never successful.' I asked Gar if it really needed to say that. His reply: 'Well, it wasn't, Leigh.' I laughed."

Reader Brett Nation said that he believes that Setzer sold the car to the late rocket-car racer Russell Mendez, who was going to convert it to a hydrogen peroxide car, and that Garlits purchased it from his estate after Mendez was killed in his Free Spirit rocket car at the 1972 Gatornationals.

Another reader, Kim Dengstfeld, said that, before the legend's death, he and his son spoke to Foster at a car show in Canada in April 2007 and asked him about the car, which Foster told him was ill-handling at about the 1,000-foot mark -- that the back end wanted to move around – lending credence to the suggestions that the car made more than just one aborted wheelstand pass. "He suggested to lock the rear wing at 10 percent and try making another pass," said Dengstfeld. "Mr. Setzer was not happy with the prior passes and made the choice to abort the car for safety reasons."

Mark Newman, noting my confusion about a paragraph in the Drag Racing USA story regarding the self-center wheel pants, broke it down for this physics failure. "The longer the trailing edge of the pant from the spindle centerline, the longer the lever arm. A small side force, which drag would apply if the wheels were turned, would push on that trailing edge, wanting to move the pant into a straight line. The farther the trail edge is from the spindle, the lower the force required." Yeah, what he said. Thanks, teach.

Insider reader Robert Flitsch threw another log on the ol' wedge-discussion fire when he sent the photo at right, showing the STP Drag Wedge. In appearance, it doesn’t fit my previously mandated (but obviously ignored! <g>) description of a wedge Top Fueler, but with a name like that and, as I discovered, an interesting backstory, I thought it was well worth sharing.

I finally found details about this car on the Historic Race Car Forum site, which I had never heard of but is kinda cool in that it offers help in tracking down old cars or in providing background to presumed buyers and sellers. It doesn’t have a huge number of entries yet, but it did cover the STP Drag Wedge, so they deserve a plug.

Turns out there's a good reason for STP being on the car because it's actually a car in which STP founder Andy Granatelli was involved. According to Dave Miller of Miller Speed Sports, who worked at the famed Logghe chassis shop from 1964-71, Granatelli contracted him to build the car, of which he was the driver and Jim Ludiker his partner.

"The car was booked through the Gold Agency in Chicago and ran across the Midwest and East Coast throughout 1969," he said. "At the end of the year, Andy bought the car back from me and put it in their warehouse. I have recently spoken with Andy, Vince, and Vince Jr., but no one knows where it is now."

The car was featured in the September 1969 issue of Car Craft magazine (here's a cropped-in center spread from that issue above -- unfortunately missing a half-inch or so of the middle for some reason -- and a better-looking photo at right; that's Miller kneeling next to the car), which reported “Andy Granatelli has emerged from his long-sought win at the Indy 500 with a wandering eye … Andy has discovered Top Fuel racing. The constant innovator, his approach takes an unusual form — the tried, but unproven, rear-engined fuel dragster.”

The car had a wheelbase of 224 inches — "easily one of the longest cars in Top Fuel competition," said Car Craft — and aluminum and magnesium body panels by Al "Tin Man" Bergler painted STP orange by George Busti of Creative Customs.

As you can see, it’s not very wedge-shaped, other than a covering of the rear end with a little flip-up trailing edge and the side-mounted canard wings. Before you ask, I'm not certain if this Dave Miller is former innovative Top Fuel racer "Diamond Dave" Miller, but I'm guessing not based on his age.

Further fueling the wedge discussion, Flitsch also passed along a few handouts from his extensive collection, including the front and back of the one of the Don Prudhomme Hot Wheels wedge. The back is interesting because it offers specs on the car, including that the car had a 220-inch wheelbase and ran on 90 percent nitro. Nye Frank and Quinn Epperly got dual billing on the bodywork, which Don Kirby painted and Tom Kelly lettered. The car itself is described thusly: "When Don Prudhomme's Cam-Am-style 'Wedge' was unveiled in June of 1971, the revolutionary new design caused a sensation because it incorporated all of the latest features of the new rear-engined dragster and added a few of its own. The sleek 'Wedge' styling is not just another pretty face, but is designed to provide down thrust in the mid range and at top end. One of its greatest features is the ease of access to all engine and driveline parts, which is provided by the unique 'flip-top' construction of the body. The 'Wedge' won the Best Engineered award at the 1971 NHRA Springnationals and, soon after, posted top speed at the PDA Championships with a 234.98 miles per hour in 6.41 seconds."

(The 1971 PDA race at OCIR … my first ever. Sigh. That 6.41 came against Rick Ramsey, who also ran 6.41, giving 11-year-old diehard "Snake" fan Phil his first sad lesson in holeshot losses.)

This photo has been making the rounds of the nostalgia news groups because it features the eminently popular Freight Train dual-engine Top Gasser as part of a new marketing program by Schlitz beer.

"To give some brief history, Schlitz has been running this campaign with their classic 1960s formula beer for a while using 1960s-themed photos, and they thought 1960s drag racing would be something to feature," explained Jere. "They considered several specific cars but settled on the twin-engined Freight Train as something that personified 1960s drag racing."

The billboards are only going to be in the Kansas City and Milwaukee markets, and only on five of the 40 boards in those markets. They'll be on three billboards in Milwaukee and two in Kansas City (on again, off again) from March 29 through Sept. 26, so keep your eyes peeled."

Tributes to Kenney Goodell keep appearing in my inbox. We lost "the Action Man" last week as the result of complications from a heart attack.

Fellow Northwest flopper legend "240 Gordie" Bonin remembered, "I first met Kenney at Stardust Raceway in Las Vegas in the very late '60s, when Ted Sinclair and I were racing our Jr. Fuel Dragster. There he was, thrashing on his purple Funny Car going in to the final round against who knows who, pouring water over his head before putting on his helmet, long hair flowing. All I remember is thinking, 'I want to be just like him when I grow up.' Funny Cars would be my life because of what I saw on that hot Sunday afternoon. He was a great competitor, a hell of a racer, and a true friend."

Flyin' Phil Elliott, a Northwest legend on the reporting side of the ledger, whipped up a tribute story for Goodell's memorial service and shared a PDF of it with me to share with you all. It includes an interesting story about Goodell bailing out of his flaming flopper at speed one night at Seattle as well as great photos of Goodell's many cars.

Steve Pace, who was the track photog at Seattle in 1968 -- "a hundred years ago," he said – and editor of a small newspaper, passed along this little story he wrote and shot about Goodell's first Mustang flopper.

OK, whew. That cleans out a bunch of stuff. I'm taking the rest of the week off. Wellll, except for that big ol' national event this weekend in Madison and those two Lucas Oil events. Yeah, but other than those, I'm taking the weekend off.