NHRA - National Hot Rod Association

Reyes brings on the ugly

08 Nov 2011
Phil Burgess, NHRA National Dragster Editor

Last Friday, I promised a collection of Steve Reyes shots of primered race cars for today, but once he started sending me photos for our “ugly car” collection, it became clear that I had a big problem on my hands. Or, to be more precise, more than 50 of them. He not only began to fill my Inbox with primered and battle-scarred floppers, but also cars that he deemed to have ugly paint jobs, unusual bodies, and more. I divided them into categories and will present them in coming columns. All told, they offer a staggering array of Funny Cars that Reyes has witnessed in his near-50-year career photographing race cars.

In keeping with Friday’s thread, today I’ll show off a collection of his photos of Funny Cars that are – to put it kindly -- between paint jobs, then follow up next week with another category.

This is the Perry Bros. early Funny Car, dubbed Orion, that ran out of Northern California in 1966-67. I believe that the car originally ran as a supercharged gasser and ended up being painted purple, but that’s pretty much all I know about it.

Shirl Greer came to national fame in a Mustang Funny Car, but he was a Dodge guy when he started. This car, the Tension Charger, shown at the Springnationals in Bristol, followed a series of Dodge Coronets, also named Tension. Or, in this case “T-- sion,” as a few too many laps with belching header flames ate away at the lettering.

And speaking of Greer, here’s another of the Georgia hero’s rides, the Chained Lightning Mustang II that replaced Greer’s melted Mustang that won the 1974 championship. As you can see, it wasn’t quite ready for the paint shop when this race took place (looks like Irwindale), but the crew was quick to adorn the trademark lightning bolts to its flanks.

And yes, race fans, that’s Greer in the far lane, although the subject of this photo from the 1973 Supernationals at Ontario Motor Speedway is the Preston Davis-driven Tennessee Bo Weevil Mustang of Ray Godman, which was crashed twice during the season, once obviously before the season finale.

Yet another beat-up Mustang is “Nitro Nick” Harmon’s California Shaker, driven here at Irwindale by Bryan Raines. My memory’s not real long on such things, but this is one of the few Funny Cars that I’ve seen that was painted brown, but that obviously came after this photo.

The file name that Reyes supplied for this one was “Vels Cuda,” and though Danny Ongais did drive the Vel’s/Parnelli Jones Barracuda (and the subsequent Mustang), the 782 permanent number on the rear flanks indicates that this is more likely Gary Densham’s Teacher’s Pet (Ongais’ driver number was 799). Either way, I’m putting down big money on the car in the near lane in this matchup.

This photo is from Lions’ Last Drag race in December 1972, and it’s clear that Gervase O’Neill wasn’t going to let something like a missing paint job stop him from attending the memorable event. O’Neill and crew chief/brother Johnny were Chevy guys through and through, fielding not just Chevy-bodied but Chevy-powered floppers into the late 1970s, and their King Rat Camaros were popular SoCal draws for fans and promoters alike.

Paul Aray, of Hollywood, Fla., was the Division 2 champ in 1971 with his Illusion Maverick, which had obviously seen better days when Reyes snapped this shot at Lakeland Int’l Raceway in Florida.

Quick may have been the name of this Dodge Challenger, but it also well describes the work done to get it semi-presentable for this date at Orange County Int’l Raceway. In addition to the shoe-polish lettering, the artistic crew drew in headlights and the grille, using what looks like a marker. The car was owned by Vic Gibson and driven by Elgin Freeman.

This is the car that launched Dennis Geisler to infamy at the 1974 Winternationals. Burt Berniker jumped on the rear-engine Funny Car bandwagon with his Berniker’s Hindsight Dodge Demon (which featured a flip-up front hatch on the windshield in front of the driver) that initially was driven by Jim Adolph and then by Geisler, who flipped ‘er overbackward on the launch during qualifying at the 1974 season opener. 

And speaking of rear-engine Funny Cars, here’s the king of the back-motor breed, “Big Jim” Dunn, taking on the Pure Hell Demon at Irwindale in 1973. Looks to me that Dunn may have been in the process of either lengthening the body/chassis on his 1972 Supernationals-winning machine and/or was adding aerodynamic accoutrements such as front-fender bubbles and scoops to the body that were not on the car the previous year. Who’s in the Pure Hell car? The name on the roof says “Dave,” which could have been original driver Beebe or his later replacement Uyehara.

Here’s the best look yet of the car that Ed McCulloch drove to runner-up honors at the 1972 Summernationals against Don Schumacher’s equally beat-up machine. Kinda looks like “the Ace” was going for that camouflage look way before it became fashionable.

Oh man, I love this photo. It shows a very, very (very!) young Dale Pulde accepting congratulations from crew chief Steve Montrelli after a 1971 win at Fremont Raceway in Mickey Thompson’s Pinto. Pulde doesn’t even look old enough to drive his mom’s Rambler let alone a nitro Funny Car. The heavily dripping (and obviously just-applied) shoe-polish lettering calls him “the Kid,” one of many, many young shoes to be called that in the annals of the sport. Check out also the fans lurking in the background, peeking in through the car’s windows and under the body.

Feedback from Friday’s column included a note from Jon Hoffman about the stolen Hawaiian Funny Car that disappeared after a match race at U.S. 30 in Gary, Ind.

“What’s ironic about the story?? The Hawaiian that was stolen was in primer! I saw it at Great Lakes Dragaway that Memorial Day weekend (it won on Friday night). It was black, but with the cool bamboo letters. Here’s a photo from an issue of [Drag Racing USA] with that coverage.”

The car that replaced the black car (and was featured in Tuesday’s column) also took its knocks, as shown in this photo that Reyes also provided. Could be that this was from the incident that Bonin described in Detroit in his second outing in the car. This photo is from Irwindale.

Both Hoffman and Mikie Kazan chipped in with their thoughts that the damage to the Soapy Sales Challenger occurred at the 1973 Summernationals. Wrote Kazan, “In 1973, I was a 15-year-old kid hanging out with a couple of guys with a AA/FC (Ron Leaf and his driver, Frank Mancuso), and we were going through tech at the Summernationals at E-town that year, on the spectator side of the track property, with the traps clearly visible from where we were at. They were running some fuel Funny Cars at the time, and I glanced over occasionally when I heard another pair coming down the track. On the run in question, I heard them leave the line on a good run, then suddenly, there was a loud ‘WHOOMP’ sort of noise -- snapped my head around to see a roofless Soapy Sales car just zip past the gap in the tree line in the spectator lane! I don’t know if it sneezed the blower or the windshield just caved in and took the rest of the roof with it.”

The photos of the taped-together Funny Car bodies Friday made Mark Hanlin think back to his brush with 200-mph-tape greatness.

“It got me thinking about the '73 or '74 (memory is a little dim) that Don Schumacher had the body blow off of his Vega. It landed (more or less) in one piece, but all of us from the other Funny Car teams worked for hours taping it back together with 200-mph tape so he could run in the finals. Sorry I don't have pictures, but there must be some out there. It was the really trick body with the louvers in the back window and the humps for the front wheels. I remember helping like it was only yesterday; I'll bet we used five rolls of that old tape, but it held pretty darn well. Don made it through eliminations without the body coming apart.”

I don’t have a photo of it handy – the best I could do was this photo of the car on a Revell kit box -- but it was the 1974 Gatornationals and the new and improved version of the previous year’s swoopy Wonder Wagon Vega with the slant nose. The car no longer carried the Wonder Bread name or paint scheme but Schumacher’s name on the side and the appellation Revell’s Super Shoe. As I remember it, the body came unhinged and cracked at the rear fenderwells and flopped backward onto the Gainesville track. He went on to take runner-up honors to Don Prudhomme, who, ironically, had just traded in his super-duper aerodynamic Buttera-built Vega in favor of his trusty old Barracuda. Schumacher fielded two of these cars that year; the second one, painted red, was wheeled by pre-Blue Max Raymond Beadle.

Bob Snyder sent this late but great submission of John Bateman’s Atlas Tool Special Maverick looking a little worse for wear and a clipping from the National DRAGSTER story we did on Funny Car ace Pat Foster before he died that helps explain how the car ended up looking so.

"In 1970, we were at Capitol Raceway in Maryland, towing back down the return road after a pass,” he explained. “I was in the race car with the body up. I caught the eye of some dolly in the stands next to the return road. I smiled, waved, and tried to signal her to meet me in the pits. For whatever reason, the truck stopped, but the hero racer didn't. I hit the back of the truck at about 25 to 30 mph. We drove to Chicago, and Bateman dropped me off at [Chris Karamesines'] shop to get the car fixed, but when he came back, he had a new driver with him." Ah, the “P.F. Flyer” at his best, tellin’ stories. Looks like that new shoe may have been either Gary Scow or John Collins, but I’m not sure which. I'm also not 100 percent certain that this body damage is from that fender bender, but let's just pretend it is.

OK, kids, that’s it for the day and the week. I’ll be trackside in Pomona for what promises to be a barnburner of a season finale, with four Top Fuel pilots and six Funny Car shoes in the hunt for championships. We’ll have the NHRA Interactive live chat all fired up and live photo blog running, too, keeping you abreast of the latest goings-on.