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Fan Fotos: New England

29 Sep 2011
Phil Burgess, NHRA National Dragster Editor
DRAGSTER Insider
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Welcome to Fan Fotos, the sequel! Steve Heuer – and quite a few others -- took advantage of my offer two weeks ago to display their 10 best fan photos, and here they are. Again, the purpose of this is to show off your fan-type photos – which means no pro-shot stuff from the guardrails (unless you snuck up there when the officials weren't looking; then you get bonus points), and I don't care if there's a telephone pole or fellow spectator's head in your way, and, of course, they must be photos shot by you. I'll be running more of the submissions throughout the weeks ahead, but Steve-o is up first.

Steve has been going to the drags for a long time. The photo at right is of him (and, obviously, not taken by him; although it's a clear violation of my rules, I'll let it slide) at age 12, at his first drag race at New England Dragway in 1972, standing next to Tim Kushi's car. Like so many of us, it was dear ol' dad who gave him his first in-person introduction to the sport (many of us had long been rabid magazine buyers before we ever got to the digs for the first time, saving up allowance for a copy of Drag Racing USA or Super Stock).

The rest of Steve's photos are also from the 1970s, a great period for Funny Cars, which make up the bulk of his submission.

This is Mart Higginbotham's Drag-on Vega, campaigned with partner Jim Robbs in the early 1970s before they sold the name rights to Top Alcohol Funny Car racer Frank Cook and his partner, Chuck Landers. Higginbotham began his nitro career driving for "Big Mike" Burkhart in the late 1960s before launching his own operation. I did an interview with Higginbotham for a column a while ago, and he told me, "Believe it or not, I still to this day get requests to sign picture and cards." Maybe he'll get even more now. That's Fred Goeske's Duster and (barely visible through the Vega's cockpit) the High Explosive Charger of the Jackson brothers (Ronnie and Tyrone) in the background.

A year later, armed with a new camera, Steve "hopped the fence at the finish line and snuck through the woods" to the turnoff at the end of the track for some parachute photos and this great shot of Shirley Muldowney still in the cockpit of her Satellite Funny Car. "The two firemen stationed there let me stay there for an entire round," he recalled proudly. From top are the Wayne Mahaffey-driven Alabamian Vega of Billy Holt, Wayne Oxner in the saddle of the Connecticut-based Nichols & Oxner Charger, and Muldowney. According to Steve, the photo of Muldowney was taken the week before that car burned up in Indy, which, of course, led to her switching to Top Fuel and an amazing career ahead.

"T.V. Tommy" might have been raised in Southern California and have strong roots there (he still owns the house in Burbank that he bought as a 12-year-old television star), but he never stayed too close to home as he toured extensively, including this trip to NED in 1973. The car sports that infamous 1970s fashion statement – front-wheel pants – plus canard wings on the side. The following season in Pomona, Ivo rolled a car very similar to this (albeit with a beautiful orange paint scheme) in the lights during Winternationals qualifying.

"Dad moved us to Chicago in '74, and I now had U.S. 30, Union Grove, and Byron," said Steve. "The Mr. Norm-Cliff Brown shot is the final of a '74 U.S. 30 race, the 'Mongoose'-'Snake' shot is from '75 at Byron, and the Jim Wemett versus Pulde shot is from Union Grove in '77." I dropped Wemett an e-mail to ask about the less-than-show-ready status of the body, which obviously had just been patched up from some sort of incident and to ask if that was George Johnson behind the wheel (Tom Anderson's predecessor) or if Wemett was actually driving, as he had in the past. "Yes, that was George," he replied. "I never drove this one. We had a fire the weekend before and had to do a quick repair job. George and I grew up together, and he is still here; Tom Anderson moved here in 1980 and is still in Rochester." Good to know that the gang is all still together.

And finally, there's this shot of a somewhat battered Chelsea King. For those who don't go back that far, the Chelsea King was Kenny Bernstein's car in the late 1970s before he landed the Budweiser deal. KB owned a series of pubs called Chelsea Street, and the Chelsea King was their best-selling sandwich. Reports Steve, "In '78, after one semester of college, a two-week vacation to California lasted six months and included a visit to OCIR in April. The Kenny B shot is the aftermath of a run that went from tire smoke right off the line to a hard turn into the other lane to the car almost flipping over but ended up nosing into the guardrail.
"Maybe these are not the 10 best, but a representative synopsis of some great memories!" he added.

I couldn’t agree more. If you have 10 Fan Fotos you'd like to submit, pass them along to me at [email protected]. These must be photos taken by you and not pro-shot kinds of images; I want those down-and-dirty fan photos. Please include as much info as you have for dates and locations and what's going on in the photos.