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Filling out my to-do list

14 Jun 2011
Phil Burgess, NHRA National Dragster Editor
DRAGSTER Insider
Dale Pulde, far lane, took on Dave Condit and the L.A. Hooker Mustang at Lions.

My recent mention of upcoming topics brought forth a lot of responses and, as always, some great help.

I’ve been slowly piecing together the story of one of my favorite Funny Cars, Mickey Thompson’s Grand Am – "Thompson’s Torpedo” as some bemusedly labeled it – and have traced its roots from construction of the body in Ron Pellegrini’s Fiberglass Ltd. Shop in Chicago in 1972 to its final rides under the control of Bob Pickett in 1976.

I’ve interviewed its original handler, Dale Pulde, and gotten the story behind the car and interviewed Mike Broome, who was the crew chief for the late Butch Maas, who drove the car in its first official NHRA competition. I’ve interviewed both Larry Arnold – who took over the car from Pulde after his second stint with the car – and Pickett, who took over from Arnold.

I’ve put together a huge collection of images of the car in its different paint schemes (yellow, black, red, U.S. Marines), and I’m pretty much all set to go once I can find the time to piece it all together. Last week, I received great photos from the prolific Bob Snyder of the car when it made its debut – unpainted – at the Last Drag Race at Lions and a bunch of other great photos of the car from Tom Nagy.

I don’t know why this car has fascinated me so – probably because it was different – but I’m looking forward to piecing together all of my notes and completing the puzzle with the scores of photos to choose from.

The mention of a piece on “Capt. Jack” McClure of rocket go-kart fame thrilled Insider regular Gary Crumrine with giddiness.

“Oh boy, I can’t wait. Of all the nutcase daredevils that have lived and sometimes died during my lifetime, I place 'Capt. Jack' right up there with Evel Knievel at the top on my list,” he wrote. “I saw both perform live growing up, with Evel crashing at Kaukauna, Wis., and after tumbling ended up sitting up at the end of the track. Dazed, but alive.

“ 'Capt. Jack' was a trip with the kart. I can’t believe how much the tires grew to where they looked like 45s on wheels. You had to be quick to turn your head or you would miss him going by.”

I’ve actually had my McClure interview in the can since last winter and was stunned to see him give an almost identical interview to another writer (I don’t fault him; he was just telling his story to another eager listener), so I gave myself a six-month moratorium on publishing my version so that no one would think I’d cribbed from the other story.

McClure was full of great stories and had a colorful way of telling them, and I’m also looking forward to piecing that one together this summer. I have about 40 great photos to illustrate it.

After the Norwalk event in about 10 days, I’m done traveling for the summer – until Indy – so that will let me catch up on some of this stuff after attending five of the season’s first eight events.

I hope that being home I’ll also get a chance very soon to see the completed Tom McEwen hauler that Don Prudhomme and his team have lovingly restored. I first reported on it last July right after Prudhomme and company had tracked it down after months of searching, and to compare it to the images of the truck in its 1972 glory, you’d swear you entered a time machine.

As most of you know, Prudhomme’s truck was owned and used by Richard Petty before it became part of the Hot Wheels entourage, and McEwen’s truck is an ex-Sox & Martin machine. Drag racing’s other factoid-flinging Phil – "Flyin’ Phil” Elliott – sent me this great shot he came across while doing other research. “It was so similar to the angle of one you just posted of the nearly completed truck,” he marveled. It shows the famed Sox & Martin Duster on the back of the red truck in the pits, location unknown. It’s a great shot of the way it looked before it was Hot Wheels-ified.

The clamor over the McEwen truck caused reader Gary LeBoeuf to ask, “Is it open season on ramp-truck pictures again?” referring to the months-long ramp-truck thread that pretty much consumed this column last July and August. If you’re a fan of ramp trucks – and who isn’t – use the expandable navigation at right to go back to July 2010 and August 2010. Good stuff there. And, no, Gary, we’re not driving down that road again (I think).

Roger Lee's original model of the M&R Special fittingly posed in a Lions diorama

I heard this week from Roger Lee, whom many of you will recall from the column I did about his 1/16th-scale brass model of Ron "Big Yohns" Johnson's Shubert/Herbert front-engine dragster.

His latest project is of a significantly larger scale: He has been given permission by the families of Sid Masters and Rick Richter to build a re-creation of the famed Masters & Richter Top Fuel dragster, circa 1963. Richter passed away a few years ago at age 91 preceded by Masters and driver “Big Bob” Haines.

Lee, who received approval from Masters’ wife, Edna, and Richter’s daughter Betty Richter Grandt, previously modeled the car in small scale and is excited about making the full-size version.

“To bring back a Top Fueler like the M&R Special has brought back a lot of great stories already from Edna Masters and Betty Richter Grandt, family history,” he said.

Steve Gibbs reminisced, “The Masters & Richter guys were definitely hard-core when they were hitting it. They had a successful trucking business and were not afraid to spend money. When I visited their shop in ’61 or ’62, they had a stockpile of parts like I had never seen in that era. They were considered ‘old guys’ back then and probably were compared to everyone else. I’m guessing they were in their 50s at that time. I’ve been told they would take the car out to Fremont on weekdays and push it as hard as it would go just for the sheer enjoyment of making it go fast.”

Throughout the years, there has been a lot of debate as to whether the original M&R car was used in the film More American Graffiti, the drag racing portions of which were filmed at Fremont. I have not heard the definitive answer on this, although the car shown in the bottom photo certainly looks like the photo of the M&R car at Fremont in 1963.

Digging around for an answer, I came across this page, on the Internet Movie Cars Database, which shows all of the cars used in that film. It’s a pretty cool page. They label the car as “custom-built Fuller,” and, indeed, the original was crafted by Kent Fuller. This version, however, certainly looks like it has a longer wheelbase than the 1963 car. I’m certain that one of you has the answer.

OK, kids, that’s it for today. I’ll see you later this week.