NHRA - National Hot Rod Association


Clearing the table (again)

16 Aug 2011
Phil Burgess, NHRA National Dragster Editor

Like a busboy in an all-you-can-eat restaurant, seems like I can’t clear the plates fast enough to satisfy your rabid hunger, so I’m going to try to use today to wipe the table clean of some news and notes I’ve had scattered across my desk. (I wish I could add to the culinary theme more by saying I have notes scribbled on cocktail napkins, but that’s not the case. Anymore.)

Last Tuesday’s tale about Louie Force chowing down at the Big Texan elicited not one but two verifications of the stomach-stretching story as well the beginnings of a good list of those who also were able to wolf down the 72-ounce steak with all of the fixin’s.

“The Louie story is real,” professed Carl Gunter. “Gene [Beaver] and the Condits -- Steve and Dave -- came to Dallas and stayed at Mike Burkhart's shop and at Mike's home. We all went to dinner together, and Gene retold the entire story while Louie devoured an all-you-could-eat dinner at a place called The Rib in Dallas. The story kept everyone rolling for hours.”

Mike Lewis, vice president at Don Schumacher Racing and himself a former Top Fuel team owner, recalled watching Top Fuel team owner Slim Carter “mow down” the 72-ounce special in about 40 minutes at the 1972 World Finals, “and then savor it again at a leisurely 55-minute pace the next night.” Carter had plenty to celebrate that year as he and driver Jim Walther won the Top Fuel championship by winning the Finals.

“Waterbed Fred” Miller, of Blue Max crew and Action Performance fame, reported that his boss, Raymond Beadle, completed the gastronomic challenge “with time to spare” and that Burkhart also was up to the task. He also reported that Mike Hamby – longtime partner of Dale Pulde and the War Eagle team – “ate one every night we were there” and that Canadian Funny Car racer Mike Lycar polished off two of the monstrous meat meals in one sitting.

Former National DRAGSTER Editor Bill Holland reported that Sportsman standout Dave Boertman – “who is not a big guy” – also went big and confirmed Miller’s Lycar claim but recalled it as two days in a row (as opposed to twice in one sitting).

Holland also remembered an occasion when a number of NHRA employees were cheering on one of their own, Division 3 Tech Director Marty Barratt. “Now, Marty was a very big guy, easily tipping the scales at over 300 pounds, and we figured him to be a sure winner. Well, he started off strong enough and polished off the preliminaries in short order, then dug into the steak. But his aggressive eating style began to wane, and as we approached the 45-minute mark, the chewing became slower, and slower, and slower. I think Marty's jaw simply gave out on him. No free steak!”

Bob Roush had a much different Big Texan memory. ”I was working with a Top Fuel team out of Dallas -- Pepples & Williams, with Chip Woodall driving. They had broken a rear end on Saturday and were staying at a hotel near where I lived and were thrashing to repair the car. I asked if they needed help and got to help out. Late off the line in the second round ended the day. The owner(s) invited me to go out to dinner with them, and it was at the Big Texan. A lot of the crews and drivers were there. In the Big Texan restroom were two urinals. The normal-height one had a sign over it that read ‘Others.’ The kids’ one, which was much lower, was labeled ‘Texans.’ “

I met reader David Moore once in 2008, in the McDonald’s (yep, sometimes we eat low on the hog) in Sandusky, Ohio, during a trip to the Summit Racing Equipment NHRA Nationals in Norwalk, which he was attending with his daughter Lacey, and he shared his most memorable dragstrip foodstuff story, which involves Norwalk’s I-can’t-believe-they-did-that concoction called the Roast Beef Sundae. I have witnessed this meaty monstrosity myself but have never partaken, but at least I can vouch for his story.

“Like many 12-year-old girls, believe it or not, Lacey is a picky eater,” he recalled. “I saw the Roast Beef Sundae, which I had never heard of but had to have. It looks just like an ice cream sundae, but it is roast beef, gravy, [and mashed] potatoes with a cherry tomato on top. I said to Lacey, ‘Let’s get one of those.’ Her answer was, ‘No way, Daddy; that sounds nasty.’ She had this idea that it was ice cream with roast beef in it. But I got one with two spoons, and she helped me eat this wonderful dish. This was on Thursday, and we had one every day of the event at her request. I’m sure glad we discovered these on the first day; if not, I might have had to eat four days’ worth in one day. They’re that good. I’m having a craving for one of those great Roast Beef Sundaes right now.”

You can read more about the RBS on the noreallyyoucaneatit blog here. If you dare.

I got a few emails asking me what’s new with the movie about Don Prudhomme and Tom McEwen. A few weeks ago, Robin Broidy, producer of the biopic, hosted a meeting/get-together at her Los Angeles home to bring together some of the principals of the project, including (of course) “the Snake” and “the Mongoose,” representatives from NHRA (President Tom Compton, Senior Vice President-Sales & Marketing Gary Darcy, and Director of Broadcasting & Video Communications Jim Trace), the production team, and others involved in the project for a day of brainstorming and introductions. Unfortunately for me, it was a Wednesday, a pretty busy “ship” day at National DRAGSTER, so I wasn’t able to attend, but Robin was kind enough to send me a CD full of photos from the event. Plenty else was going on there, including introductions of people whose names I can’t mention and photos I can’t show – that’s for a later plot development – so for now, I’ll stick with this photo of Prudhomme, McEwen, and Compton posed with Broidy’s vintage Corvette.

Speaking of McEwen, we had a nice chat the other day – he was calling to update me on the ever-improving condition of Art Chrisman – so we talked about a few things, including his impressions of the recently Prudhomme-restored ramp truck (“It’s unbelievable. The yellow one is beautiful, but the red one he just went overboard on. It’s gorgeous.”) and the news that later this year Mattel will be releasing 1/64th-scale Hot Wheels sets of both ramp truck/Funny Car combinations (yes, the cars will be detachable from the trucks). I double-checked with Skip Allum at Prudhomme’s to see if there was an in-store date, but his best answer was, “All I've been told is that they will be available ‘in time for Christmas.’ ” I can’t wait. It’s never too early to start that Christmas wish list, guys.

And still speaking of McEwen, reader Chuck McAveney was nice enough to scan a copy of the September 1975 Hot Rod magazine article about McEwen “racing” an F-14 (go here to read my account); although they were not allowed to “race” side by side, the above publicity-type photo is the “money shot” as far as I’m concerned. Thanks, Chuck.

Harvey Crane Jr. operating a new Storm Vulcan Cam grinder in August 1953.

I also got a note from Jim Hill, one of the Insider’s many great sources, who tipped me off that tomorrow is a very special yet sad day in hot rodding history. Tomorrow, Aug. 17, Harvey J. Crane Jr. will celebrate his 80th birthday. According to Hill, not only will this date mark the 80th year of the man who created Crane Cams, it will also be the last day of his day-to-day career as a camshaft lobe profile designer and authority. After nearly 70 years of a life filled with "lift and duration," he's retiring from his daily routine of dealing with those who call to speak with "The Cam Man.”
“At 80, Harvey remains both physically as well as mentally active, and his health is good, thanks to several long walks daily with his Australian herding dog Stormy,” he wrote. “He maintains his mental health by continuing to work at what he knows best, the unique science of cam lobe profile design. He also teaches an occasional ‘Cam School’ class for clients. (Harvey's list of Cam School graduates reads like the Who's Who of the racing engine world!) 
“He says he will never, ever fully retire to doing nothing and plans to continue to do so ‘... until they close the lid on me!’ His plans call for continued research and development in the cam lobe profile field but on a more selective basis.”
Crane Cams was very much a part of NHRA in its early years. The company was launched into the drag racing spotlight in 1961 when unknown Atlanta driver Pete Robinson won Top Eliminator at the NHRA Nationals. A few months later, Jim Nelson drove the Dragmaster Dart to the Top Eliminator win at the 1962 NHRA Winternationals. Both winning cars featured Crane’s roller tappet camshafts. After that, Crane’s career and NHRA were forever joined.
According to Hill, in 1966, Crane established an NHRA precedent by paying contingency award money to class winners at the Nationals. He recognized the vital importance of weekend sportsman racers and wanted to reward them for choosing his product. NHRA quickly adopted a formal class-winner contingency-awards program for national events in which several other cam companies participated.

Crane at an early-1960s trade show in Miami Beach, Fla.

“Harvey and NHRA enjoyed several decades of highly successful growth and involvement,” he wrote. “That ended in late 1989, when a hostile board of directors dismissed Harvey from the company he founded. Although Harvey was no longer personally involved, Crane Cams did remain a major NHRA multiproduct sponsor until the company failed. (An entirely different company has since reopened, using the brand name Crane Cams but with no affiliation with Crane.)"
Throughout the years, Crane was active in the early, formative years of SEMA, including making the SEMA Show a major industry event, and he supported events at the Bonneville Salt Flats. His powerful camshafts have won at the Indy 500, Daytona 500, NHRA Nationals, World of Outlaws, and Pike's Peak and on nearly every major racing venue. 
“His amazing personal career as a self-taught, global authority in the unique discipline of cam lobe profile design and theory knows no equal,” Hill testified. “He has been honored by NHRA, SEMA, SAE, and was named to the East Coast Drag Racing Hall of Fame. I have known Harvey Crane since I was a pre-teenager, sneaking under the fence and into the drag races at Amelia Earhart Field in Hialeah, Fla., in 1958. I am proud that my friendship with him remains strong, now more than 50 years later. To this, I say: 'Happy 80th birthday, Harvey Crane!' "

You can read more about Crane, including his story, and facts and figures on camshaft design and so much more at http://www.harveycrane.com/.

I also heard a while ago from longtime pal and Texas tuning wildcatter Bobby Rex, who has just completed work on a re-creation of Johnny Valdez’s Mexican Revolution Camaro, which he tuned in the 1970s. Don Sosenka (of Mr. Magoo fame) will drive the car; Valdez’s involvement is pretty much limited to helping the crew, doing Cacklefests, and helping with displays. Perhaps knowing the tough audience here, Rex cautioned, “None of it is original; the chassis is a Johnny West late-model chassis, motor is 500-inch Brad Anderson. When I was match racing on the East Coast last year before moving back to Texas, I had a lot of people tell me they remembered the car when we raced at places like York, Pa.; Hartford, Conn.; and Union Grove, Wis.” You can see more at the car’s website, www.mexicanrevolution.biz.

And finally, speaking of things of Hispanic descent, check out the sequence above. That’s a young Cruz Pedregon trying out the driving duds of his famous father, “Flaming Frank” Pedregon, who’s pictured at left. I received the images from Doug Glad at Car Craft magazine, who asked my help in verifying that they were, in fact, of Cruz. According to Glad, the photos, from the Car Craft archives, were shot by Pat Brollier in November 1965 at the Mickey Thompson Drag Races at Fontana Drag City. Incredibly, Pedregon had never seen these photos and, quite naturally, was elated to see them. After checking with his most trusted source (his mom), he was able to say with complete certainty that it was him. “You just made my day; you have no idea,” he texted me.

It’s what we do …

OK, well that clears the table for now. Friday’s “Jungle Jim”/Chi-Town piece drew a lot of response, so I’ll have a few follow-ups on that on Friday. See ya then.