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Bits and Pieces, Part 3

01 Nov 2012
Phil Burgess, NHRA National Dragster Editor
DRAGSTER Insider

With Las Vegas in the rearview mirror and Pomona and the season finale in our sights, it’s time for one more spin of the jackpot wheel and the Insider finale (for now) of Bits and Pieces, your stories of salvaged strip scrap. It has been fun to see all of the stuff that has been plucked out of trash cans after being discarded by teams in what is most assuredly the ultimate case of “One man’s trash is another man’s treasure.”

Few people will have a problem recognizing our first artifact, which is a good-sized and well-singed chunk of the side of the Super Shops 1980 Arrow driven (in its demise) by Ed McCulloch and the year before (with a different body) by Pat Foster and Dave Hough. As you may remember, the Super Shops chain of high-performance parts dealers organized an end-of-season giveaway of these cars (and, as I remember, also Hough’s fuel altered). After the World Finals, some lucky fan walked off with a pretty bitchin' raffle prize. Obviously, this toasty tidbit was not part of the giveaway.

The car caught fire during its first test session at Orange County Int’l Raceway, leading to the famous photo at right of McCulloch trying to play firefighter in the OCIR shutdown area. There’s a whole backstory to this photo, as shared online some time ago by Dave Wallace, about then Super Shops owner Harry Eberlin trying to prevent the photo from being published in Hot Rod by threatening to pull all of his Super Shops, Mallory, and Erson advertising from the magazine if it ran.

“My position was that Super Shops' promotion could only benefit from the free publicity and Eberlin was probably bluffing,” remembered Wallace. “I also argued that the world's largest automotive magazine should not compromise its editorial integrity by bowing to an advertiser with a bruised ego. Editor Lee Kelley agreed. Ad guy Harry Hibler shrugged. Publisher Dick Van Cleve looked away. The photo ran, and Eberlin canceled his program.” Super Shops rebuilt the car, in which McCulloch won the U.S. Nationals that year, and it went home with a fan after that year’s World Finals at Ontario Motor Speedway."

But back to the souvenir. It belongs to an old friend of mine, Terry Spencer, whom I first met online way back in the early 1990s as part of the original Drag Racer's Forum on AOL (more on that later).

“I came into possession of the remains of the body through my friend Mike Love, of Mike Love’s Custom Paint Specialties, who painted it,” he recalled. “The car was painted in Super Shops colors, and Mike had painstakingly applied real gold-leaf lettering to the beautiful race car. Mike also sent me the photo of [the car on fire]. As Super Shops was running a win-this-car promotion at the time, the shot of it burning up with those words clearly shown is kind of funny and ironic to see. I’m sure no one was laughing at the time, and, thankfully, Ed was not hurt. Mike mounted it in a custom-painted flamed frame for me. The body panel and photo reside on my garage wall and get a lot of comments from friends and visitors, some who actually remember Super Shops and the cars they sponsored.”

It’s funny that I’d hear from Terry because I had just written a column in National DRAGSTER about my involvement in NHRA’s first online presence, which included that freewheeling forum. It was more of a chat room than the kind of forum you think about today (i.e., message boards), but we’d gather every Friday night to trade racing tales and rumors, catch up with one another, and generally goof off together. I met many wonderful people I might not have otherwise met, including guys like Spencer and Florida racers Bob Williams and Craig Ridenour, with whom I’m still in touch all these years later. We even had Bob Glidden come to the DRF chat room once to discuss allegations of nitrous use, which I think was probably some kind of first. It was great fun and really whet my appetite and showed me what a strong online presence and interaction with the membership could mean to the NHRA. It’s a philosophy I continue today as the primary gatekeeper to all general emails sent to NHRA, which I try to answer quickly and accurately. And, of course, there’s this column …

While showing off his piece of his dad’s famous Barry Setzer Vega, Cole Foster mentioned that he had seen another fiberglass fragment from the car on display at the NHRA Museum, and sure enough, Museum Services Coordinator Sheri Watson sent photos of her treasured keepsake.

“My friend Bob actually picked up the piece of the car,” she wrote. “We always went to the drags together, and Lions was the first strip I actually went to. I had known him for almost 30 years, and he passed away in December 2000. This is one of my most treasured items because he and Patty are both gone now,” she wrote. “I plan on putting it in the Lions Reunion display we are having in December.”

Sheri put the piece in a shadow box with a photo of the car that Bob McClurg was kind enough to give her. The piece is very cool because it’s autographed by both Foster and crew chief Ed Pink. The latter wrote only “Ooops!” next to his name, but Foster waxed poetic: “It was a misty night at Lions. We had her on kill. Then blew the blower off her …”
 

A great story came out of the photo last week of the Jade Grenade cowl that Mike Goyda owns. After Mike sent me the photo, I forwarded it to Don Roberts, who was driving the car when it crashed, and included Don’s comments about wishing he owned it when I published the column. When Goyda read that and that Roberts had been seriously injured in the crash, he immediately contacted Roberts and offered to loan Roberts the cowl for an indeterminate amount of time. “It was one of the nicest gestures that has ever come my way,” said Roberts, who ultimately declined the kind offer.

“My mom taught me to always try to do the right thing, and this was one of those times,” Goyda explained. “As it turns out, Don has decided to let me continue to be its caretaker, but I'm sure glad I offered it to him. He obviously appreciated it. I hope to be able to meet him next year at the reunion. I'm glad you let him know about it before the column came out. It started the whole process.”
 

Ralph Haga’s collection isn’t a part but a complete car that he recently pulled out of mothballs from an Illinois barn after nearly 30 years: the Roach Top Fuel dragster that was famously driven by Larry Brown to a one-off runner-up behind Shirley Muldowney at the 1980 Springnationals at National Trail Raceway in Columbus.

“I bought the Tom & Jerry Duster [Funny Car] this summer and wanted a dragster to go with it and heard that this guy had an old dragster,” he wrote. “I found his number on the Net and got lucky with the first number. He said he didn’t want to sell it but that I could come look at it. Once I saw it, I was excited, to say the least! After promising that I wouldn’t cut it up for a bracket car and actually restore it, he agreed to sell. My plans are to put a blown K-B back in it and leave it correct.”

Haga is looking to contact Brown and car owner Mark Campbell for more information on the car, so if anyone has contact info for either, pass it on to me, and I’ll forward it to him.

And speaking of resurrections, I also got a note from Vince Deglinnocenti regarding the Twilight Zone Funny Car mentioned in Bits and Pieces, Part 2. “I was excited to see a photo of the Laganas' Twilight Zone Funny Car,” he wrote. “I guess I have a great souvenir: I have the car in my garage. I bought the rolling chassis in 2010. I'm building a new chassis, using the old Twilight Zone chassis as a template.  I'm using the steering, 9-inch rear end, fuel tank, brake handle, wheels, and puke tank from the old chassis for the new build, so the Twilight Zone will live on -- well, parts of it will.”

I was saddened to hear earlier this week of the passing of longtime Division 4 Tech Director Chuck Nelson. I interviewed him in 2006 for a National DRAGSTER PROfile column, and he was a wonderful interview.

“When I first started doing tech, the racers had to build everything themselves, and it sometimes was a great challenge trying to explain to a guy that the personality he’d put into his car really wasn’t what the Rulebook was looking for,” he said. “Now, a guy writes a check for a kit car, and everything is done to SFI Specs, so some of the challenges aren’t there. One of the biggest problems I’ve faced is getting technical people at each track to use the Rulebook. Too often, they try to give an answer off the top of their head instead of consulting the Rulebook. We want to make sure the racer gets the right answer every time. The last thing we want to do is have a racer get frustrated and leave us to take up tennis. Back in the early days, the Tech Department’s mentality was ‘My way or the highway,’ and today, we spend a lot more time explaining why their car doesn’t fit the rules. There’s a lot more diplomacy involved.”

A Division 4 Good Guy, in every sense of the word. He’ll be missed.

I also learned last week of the passing of former Top Fuel and Top Gas racer Fred Fischbach, who was a sometime contributor to this column. The photo above shows him in the near lane in the Top Gas final at a Division 7 points race in Irwindale, red-lighting to Schultz & Jones. Fischbach later drove in Top Fuel on the Texas circuit and was the first driver for Chuck Tanko's Speed Equipment World Vega (the ex-Barry Setzer car) for two races before Jim Nicoll took over the helm. Another friend and hero gone.