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Bits and pieces

19 Oct 2012
Phil Burgess, NHRA National Dragster Editor
DRAGSTER Insider

A couple of weeks ago, in the wake of the story about Dale Emery’s memorable crash at the 1977 U.S. Nationals that made multiple mini-souvenir pieces of Mike Burkhart’s Camaro flopper, I solicited your photos and stories about your own post-crash collectibles, and, as always, you guys came through.

Cole Foster, son of the late great flopper star Pat Foster, sent in a photo of this great piece of history: a chunk of the original Barry Setzer Funny Car driven by his dad.

“My brother, Dan, has this piece in his office,” he reports. “The car lifted the blower off big-time and rained fiberglass. The car spun and tagged the rail. There is another piece (part of the side with Setzer’s name) that I saw hanging at the NHRA museum. Dad and Ed Pink signed it and added 'OOPS!' ”

According to the report in the September 1972 issue of Drag Racing USA magazine (which Cole also supplied), the incident came in a midst of a real hot streak for the team. On successive weekends, they won an IHRA national event in Rockingham, N.C., the Big Four Manufacturers Championship at Orange County Int’l Raceway, and another event at Irwindale Raceway before the setback at Lions. A week later, Foster and Setzer were back at it and won the Hang Ten Funny Car 500 event at OCIR. “The AA/FC fraternity figured to have a breather from the Vega’s pace. Instead, Foster shows up with a repaired racer and blows 'em off worse than ever before some 12,000 fans,” reads the article.

When I was a kid, my bedroom walls were covered with photos of race cars in distress torn from the pages of my favorite drag mags, but Nick Arias III, of the famed racing family, had us all covered. The photo above is his bedroom wall circa 1978. “I was 16 years old when I snapped this pic of what I thought was a teenager's ultimate catch: the almost complete side of Mike Kase's Speed Racer AA/FC. Steve Harris demolished their Vega-bodied flopper at the 1977 March Meet after landing hard from a wheelstand and stuffing it into the guardrail.


“I grew up in Harbor City, Calif., a few blocks from Bill Simpson's Gasoline Alley, where Mike housed his chassis shop. My dad would drop by Simpson's to make his rounds on weekends, and on one trip, I saw the fiberglass remains propped up against Kase's shop dumpster. Later that week, I made a clandestine night raid with my 10-speed bike to claim my souvenir. As I smoked it outta there with this enormous panel under my arm, I made eye contact with Willie Borsch, who was watching me the whole time through Mike's office window (where he was residing). Also in this collection are chunks of Bill Schifsky's Bear Town Shaker, which met it's explosive demise during the 1976 World Finals at Ontario Motor Speedway.”

Ted Pappacena sent in a photo of one of his memorable pieces: the left-side rocker panel of Barry “Machine Gun” Kelly's Vega Funny Car that crashed into Paul Smith’s Fireball Vega at the P R O Race at New York National Speedway in 1974. You can see it matches up quite nicely with Barry Wiggins’ great photo of the fire.


“A good friend of mine, Warren Bader, worked there and took it (as well as pieces of other Funny Cars). It was in his collection until a few years ago,” said Pappacena. “He told me he was running out of space, and it, as well as the right front fender of the Holy Smokes Satellite that also crashed at the National, had to go. So we came to a financial agreement for the two pieces, and they became mine. This will eventually be mounted on a basement wall. I have very little wall space, so the Satellite fender was sold to another good friend for his collection.”

The crash occurred in round one when Kelly, an African-American racer out of Compton, Calif., lit 'er up at the top end and then, blinded by the inferno and hampered by a blown rear tire, plowed into the back of Smith’s car, which was slowing from its pass. According to reports, the wreck resulted in “broken shoulders” for Smith while Kelly escaped with only minor injuries.

Michael Ogle has a nice keepsake on his wall that he got in a rather unorthodox manner: It’s the hood of the Cruz Pedregon-driven Larry Minor/McDonald’s Old Cutlass that Pedregon drove to his first Funny Car crown in 1992.

“In the mid-1990s, I was out in Hemet, Calif., visiting a guy who was doing some fiberglass work for me, and we were at his fiberglass repair shop when I saw this big red piece of fiberglass laying out in the weeds next to the shop,” Ogle remembers. “I wandered over to it, flipped it over, and immediately recognized it as the hood of the McDonald's Funny Car. My friend walked over and said, ‘Oh, yeah, I think Larry wanted somebody to repair this, but it was just too far gone. There are burnt areas on the underside, must've been in a pretty good fire. So we cut it up so we wouldn't be asked to try to patch it up anymore. You want that piece?’

“Of course! I stuffed it into the back of my Honda Accord and got home and hung it up on my wall downstairs. I got an autographed handout card from Cruz and taped it on the hood. The car in the pic is slightly different, but they seemed to have a season where they were poppin' quite a few superchargers, and this is one of the remnants of the Oldsmobile Cutlass bodies of that time period. Still got it!”

I couldn’t quite pinpoint where this fire may have been, so I texted Cruz; no reply yet, but I'll let you know what I find out.

Insider regular “Chicago Jon” Hoffman has a signed windshield from Tom McEwen’s 1977 English Leather Corvette, saved from the trashpile after the 1977 Olympics of Drag Racing at Great Lakes Dragaway. 


“Of course, ‘the Snake’ and ‘the Mongoose’ are there, but as McEwen unloads, it was apparent that there had been some problems at their last race. In this case, they had been at U.S. 131 the night before and had sneezed the blower. The crew goes about the routine job of repairing the car, and the usual fast and furious action of the day unfolds, and Saturday ends without a hitch. Sunday, however, gets cut short by weather, but Great Lakes promised that if you came back next weekend, you could see the feature 'attraction,' that being Ken Carter jumping a car over a multitude of other cars. Well, with rain check in hand, I returned for the Carter jump. It was then that I spotted, wedged between the dumpster and the concession stand, McEwen’s tattered windshield. I ask the gal selling drag dogs, ‘Hey, there's this thing in the trash, do you mind if I take it?’ She responds with something to the effect of, ‘Take all the trash you want, kid," and you never saw someone hustle out to the parking lot so fast in your life!
 
“Fast-forward to 1989, our hero (that would be me) now works at Great Lakes, making videos for 'Broadway Bob' in particular and working the concession stand in general. The big event that year is the Summer Spectacular, of which the main attractions are Ronnie Sox and, you saw this coming, Tom ‘the Mongoose’ McEwen. You should have seen the look on ‘the Goose’s’ face when I showed up in his pit with this beleaguered windshield under one arm! ‘Uh, could you please autograph this for me? I'm a big 'ol fan!’ Tom graciously signs away, and to this day, it graces the wall in my studio.”

 

Rick Guzman has a couple of nice 1980s Hawaiian pieces in his collection. The top photo is a piece of what has to be the King’s Hawaiian Bread-sponsored machine after it shucked the roof during qualifying at the 1980 Summernationals with Ron Colson at the controls. Guzman plucked the keepsake from a garbage can and says it is part of the roof and the windshield.
 

Way back in 2008, I did an interview with Colson about the incident; here’s what he had to say: “The windshield posts snapped in the lights (we didn't use side windows then), and the roof came down and pinned my hands on the wheel. Obviously, I couldn't see at all, but after years in a front-engine fueler, I was used to that. I did get my right hand free, and I could get to the brake lever at about the middle, which translates to half-braking leverage. Fortunately, as the lower half of the body was exploding (we gathered up 218 pieces but not enough to put the puzzle back together), the chutes deployed from the disintegration. One tangled, and one, fortunately, opened. When the Safety Safari guys lifted the roof off of me, I could see that I was within 100 feet of going off the end of the track.”

At right is a photo of Guzman’s pal "Butcher Bob” with one of the other 217 pieces from the car, the rocker panel.

Guzman also sent in the photo below, which is from the 1983 Hawaiian Punch car after it ran off the end of National Trail Raceway and into the catch net at the Springnationals after a big fire and blown tire with Mike Dunn at the helm. It’s the front section of the body tree (you can see the two cutout loops that rest atop the chassis).

“Like the Englishtown part, we found it in the garbage,” said Guzman, who was at the event helping out Pro Stock racers Carlton Phillips and Al Waters. “After the wreck, they just threw everything away they couldn't use.”


 

Speaking of Hawaiians, Jim Riddiford, who lives on the big Island of Hawaii, used to live in Southern California’s San Fernando Valley and worked in North Hollywood, where NHRA was headquartered in the 1970s and 1980s. “I would go to your office for copies of DRAGSTER,” he wrote. “On one visit in the early 1980s, Les Lovett was in the front office right after Brad Anderson crashed his car at OCIR a week or two before the Finals. I saw Les dragging the side of his car that night. When I saw him in the office that day, I asked what he did with it, and to my surprise, he took me upstairs to his office, and it was mounted on the wall, along with some others. Frank Hawley’s altered comes to mind, so don’t forget his collection if there are any pics from that time."


Right you are, Jim. Teresa Long searched through stacks of photos before coming up with this one, which shows just a small part of Lovett’s extensive collection. The Hawley piece he mentions — the nose off his Pro Comp altered — is visible, as are various other body and engine parts, many of them signed by those who turned them into souvenirs.

And finally, this. This whole parts thread began with the photo at right sent in by Eric Watkins, showing the right-front fender from the Burkhart Camaro after its famous tangle with the Indy guardrail. Now, Watkins has discovered the above photo, which I’ve never seen before, showing the body resting in the Indy grass like some airplane-crash reconstruction, missing a very distinctly-shaped portion up front, like the missing piece to some crash jigsaw puzzle. Cool stuff, Eric!

OK, kids, that’s all for today and, as you may have noticed with an absence of a new column this past Tuesday (sorry ’bout that!), all for the week. So here comes a caveat I’ve been dreading these last few weeks.

As you can imagine, with all of the events backed up after Indy and all of the stuff going on now, time has been a precious commodity in ensuring that National DRAGSTER gets out the door each week on time, and with new responsibilities and priorities, that’s not going to get any easier. As much as I love this column, it’s still my “other” job from my main gig at NHRA, so sometimes the Insider has to take a back seat to ND. The last thing I want to do is cheapen all we’ve accomplished here in the last five years and 500-plus columns by filling it with, well, filler, so I may eventually have to go to a once-weekly column (can you believe that when I started this column, I published it three times a week? What was I thinking?) more often, perhaps permanently. It’s not what I (nor you, I suspect) want, but I’ll deal with it the best I can and try to keep the good stuff coming. Thanks, as always, for your support.