NHRA - National Hot Rod Association

More of your photos

12 Apr 2011
Phil Burgess, NHRA National Dragster Editor

The outpouring of photos of Don Garlits from your collections in the last week prompted me to revisit – as promised earlier this year -- some of the many other photos that have been sent my way the last few years. Many of you have given me the honor of showcasing your keepsake photos, many of which I know have never been shown publicly before.

The selection below runs the gamut from pit-area photography to on-track action. The quality, in some cases, reflects the fan nature of the image, but to me, the photos only serve to validate that drag racing is a sport of the people, passionate people who love to document their favorite activity and to capture their stars at work.

Yeah, OK, so it's another Don Garlits photo, but I still like it. Taken by Tim Crofford of Phoenix at the AHRA Winternationals at Beeline Dragway, it shows "Big Daddy" at work on what almost assuredly is Swamp Rat 14 (the first rear-engine car), putting this at 1971. Garlits ran the car for about half the season without the rear wing. What I particularly like about this photo is how the fans have gathered around to watch the master at work. Although NHRA is still renowned for its open-pit policy, allowing fans to mingle with the drivers and watch – from behind pit ropes – the teams work on the cars, back in the day, you could stand right next to the car and team between runs … and no one seemed to mind! I've heard lots of stories about young fans getting recruited to hold a wrench, pick up a drop nut, or even work with the team all from just being within breathing distance of the stars.

Robert Nielsen, whose photos of early SoCal doorslammers set off a furor of remembrances a few years ago, sent some neat nitro photos from the 1970 Supernationals at Ontario Motor Speedway, including this Top Fuel race between Rick Ramsey in the immaculate Keeling & Clayton California Charger, near lane, and the Danny Ongais-piloted Young American. According to Nielsen, the Keeling & Clayton car won the Best Appearing Car award, and Ongais set the low e.t. of 6.56 seconds.

Above and below are two more Nielsen photos from the same event showing the Leonard Hughes-wheeled Barracuda Funny Car of Candies & Hughes taking on the Sush Matsubara-driven Pisano & Matsubara Camaro in the first round. "At this point, the cars are approaching midtrack, with the C&H car slightly ahead of the Pisano & Matsubara entry," he noted. "Shortly after this photo was taken, Matsubara shifted his Camaro into high gear, causing it to make a hard right turn and sending it toward the guardrail. It slid into the guardrail, rolled over on its top while shedding parts – as seen in the next picture. Sush got out of the car uninjured, but NHRA photographer Leslie Lovett, who was downtrack, was not so lucky." You can see Lovett, in the white pants (who came up with the idea of wearing white pants at the drags?), beginning to step away, but he didn’t make a clean getaway; an errant front shock absorber (yes, kids, Funny Cars back then sometimes had shocks) broke his ankle.

Steve Gruenwald sent several photos after I met up with him in Gainesville, the most intriguing of which is at right. The native Floridian was at Miami-Hollywood Dragway in October 1968 to see a match race between Paul Stefanski's Boss Hoss Ford cammer Funny Car and Dave Pinta's Chrysler-powered Falcon. "This would be the last time that I would take my Instamatic camera with me to the night races as I wasn't happy with the way they turned out (too dark). The one photo that would stand out was this shot I took of a cool turquoise '23-T AA/A. It had a blown 426 wedge with a Scott injector. As I got ready to take the picture, a little kid steps up and asks me if he could get in the car. I said 'Sure.' I didn't know who he was. I was only 15 at the time, and he looked about 6 or 7. He jumped in, and I took the shot. I would learn later that this was Jerry Gwynn's car and the wedge would soon be replaced with a Hemi. It was also repainted blue and pearl white and named Baby Huey in 1969 and went on to win the Super Eliminator world championship in Dallas. I still never made the connection until National DRAGSTER ran a winner's circle photo from Dallas, maybe sometime in the '80s I believe, and there was that little blonde kid standing there with his dad: It was Darrell Gwynn."

People photos can be tough, especially trying to grab candids in the pits, but Ron Harway of Windsor, Ont., grabbed a bushel full in his trips to the NHRA Springnationals in Columbus in the early 1980s. Above, you can see Bill "Grumpy" Jenkins and Don Prudhomme ("the Snake" apparently deciding to have a little fun with Ron), and below are great shots of Garlits and the late great Steve Evans; below those are a shot of Gary Ormsby in the cockpit with Lee Beard tuning -- I'm pretty sure that's a young Dickie Venables in the background -- and another Jenkins photo with his then driver, Joe "Crazy Legs" Lepone Jr. Good stuff!


Steve Thomsen snagged this time-machine photo in the 1970s in Omaha, Neb., showing the Little Red Wagon and Fugitive wheelstanders getting ready to do two-wheeled battle. The Wagon, of course, was wheeled by Bill "Maverick" Golden, and the Fugitive was one of the many machines that Bob Perry originally drove. the Fugitive Corvette (which was actually preceded by a Corvair wagon of the same name and followed by memorable acts, including the Hell on Wheels tank), but as pictured the Fugutive was owned by Gary Watson, who owned the Paddy Wagon and the Red Baron Mustang. "The original Fugitive name and car with the engine behind the rear end  was bought by me and run for a year and then replaced by the car in the picture," reports Watson.

Rick Howard and I traded several emails a year and a half ago trying to get some of his 40,000 photos to me, but for some reason, they never all came through. He has an extensive Midwest fan history dating back to the early 1970s that includes the U.S. Nationals, Popular Hot Rodding Championships, and more. Of the few I did get, this one kind of stood out. Shot by Howard in Montana in 1975 while he was finishing his Air Force active-duty career, it shows Bill Spevacek preparing to fire up his Funny Car for a match race against Twig Zeigler at Lewistown Dragway. I remember Spevacek for two reasons: First, I think he may have been the only fuel Funny Car driver in Montana, and second, I have seen photos of this car burning to the ground at the flopper charfest that was the 1975 Supernationals. And finally, according to Funny Car historian Danny White, Spevacek also was the only driver to beat Prudhomme at a points meet in his dominant 1975 season.

Yes, that Mike Edwards. Before he became a Pro Stock superstar, Edwards was a hitter in Modified eliminator with this Maverick, and you could say that he's still the reigning Modified champ because the class was discontinued and folded into Comp and Super Stock after Edwards won the 1981 world championship. This photo shows Edwards in flight in Marion, S.D., captured by track photographer Tim McVay.

Glen Brown of Rockford, Ill., sent a six-pack of photos, two of which are shown above. On the left is yet another Garlits photo, this one of "Big Daddy" and Prudhomme "having a serious talk" (according to Brown) at Great Lakes Dragaway in Union Grove, Wis., in 1969, and the other a sweet photo of the Rockers Car Club Crosley at Rockford Dragway in 1968.

And finally (for today at least), here are a couple of Funny Car pics taken from about the same position by David Oakes at the 1986 Springnationals in Columbus. The photo above shows Pat Austin's Tempo-bodied Funny Car just as "Pat Awesome" was on the verge of superstardom. The car is wearing the No. 10 from his first full season in the class, when he was runner-up in Columbus. In 1986, he won the Cajun Nationals (how could I forget? I was on assignment, crewing for his final-round opponent, Dal Denton) and the Springnationals. The next year, he won his first championship. Below, of course, is Scott Kalitta boiling the hides on the Kalitta Racing Mustang. I remember this car well because a few races later, in Englishtown, I saw its body get destroyed in a massive blower explosion. People remember Garlits' blowover that year (I do, too), but I'll never forget Scott, either.

OK, that's it for today. I still have more of your submissions that I'll share, maybe later this week if my other planned story doesn’t come to fruition or later if it does. I hope you enjoyed today's show-and-tell.