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A monumental loss

17 May 2011
Phil Burgess, NHRA National Dragster Editor
DRAGSTER Insider
Searching through the James Warren photo archive, I was struck by this photo, showing Warren, center, in the Irwindale Raceway winner's circle with Roger Coburn, left, and Steve Evans. Hard to believe we've lost all three of them.

I had a whole other column ready to go this morning, copy edited, photos prepared, and was ready to hit the publish button when the phone rang. With a few other obvious exceptions, there couldn’t have been tougher news coming from the other end of the line.

James Warren, an early boyhood idol of mine and of many of you, a legendary Top Fuel racer beyond the bounds of his normal West Coast haunts, passed away last night.

The caller was Loren Wood, who had called about six months ago to tell me of the dire condition of Warren's tuning partner, Roger Coburn, who passed away a short time later.

This morning, the Ridge Route Terrors are together again, no doubt doing Dry Hops in Heaven.

Those of us in the community had known that Warren had not been well lately, suffering from Alzheimer's disease, but he apparently also recently had contracted pneumonia. I spoke to his second cousin Kenny Warren this morning, and although that's the most likely suspect, a cause of death obviously has not been determined.

As I was growing up at SoCal dragstrips in the 1970s, Warren and the Rain for Rent team were huge favorites of mine. Their distinctive orange dragsters stood out not only in their overpowering performance but visually, too. They ruled the West Coast with an iron fist and definitely earned their "Terrors" moniker.

I know I wasn't alone in my idol worship. Already, tributes are pouring in on message boards and newsgroups, saluting one of drag racing's all-time greatest Top Fuel pilots.

I'll have more Warren stuff later this week. Throughout the years, I've run quite a bit of Warren-Coburn-Miller material here, so I'll work on digging that up. In the meantime, I'd love to hear your Warren stories, see your photos, and listen to your words about the man.

Part of the column I originally planned for today included more sad news that I received while I was in Atlanta. I was stunned and saddened to learn of the passing of Texas fuel-racing veteran Ed Mabry last Friday. Mabry, whose racing career spanned the late-1940s drag racing to present-day Bonneville Salt Flats, had contributed a memorable piece for this column a few years ago recounting the great Texas shootout where Don Garlits came to Wichita Falls to take on the best of the Lone Star State.

Mabry, a member of the Texas Drag Racing Hall of Fame, half of the famed Hunt & Mabry team that terrorized Texas in the late 1950s and early 1960s with blown and unblown fuel dragsters, a chassis builder, and most recently a Bonneville motorcycle racer, also was inducted into the Dry Lakes Racing Hall of Fame in September 2004.

You can learn more about Ed on the Team Texas Triumph website, which has photos of his Salt Flats bikes and a ton of links to Mabry history.

You can also revisit the Insider entry, 50 Years Ago in Texas, to which Mabry contributed comments and photos in March 2008.

It has been another tough week in what has been an incredibly tough year.

This sucks.