NHRA - National Hot Rod Association


Bits and pieces, Part 4

21 Nov 2012
Phil Burgess, NHRA National Dragster Editor

Just when you thought it was safe to go back into the water, more body parts began to surface. OK, sure that sounds like the beginning to a Jaws sequel, but it’s really just a toothy intro to another installment of Bits and Pieces, Part 4 by my recollection.
I'm not at all surprised by the constant influx of these treasures because they have always seemed readily available to those seeking to forage for them, and I'm certain that just one look by their owners instantly transports them back in time to their creation. The smell of charred fiberglass probably still hangs on them, with an oil chaser. They are the bits and pieces of our memory that become whole again as their stories are told.

Robert Flitsch owns the fine piece of bodywork shown at right: the entire right-rear quarter of Billy Meyer’s Chief Auto Parts Mustang from a devastating blower explosion at the 1986 U.S. Nationals. The photo above is from the camera of yours truly, from a seat in the grandstands, showing just how it ended up in little-bitty pieces.

“I had a lot of fun hauling that about two miles back to the campsite, along with handout bags, a cooler, and a 35mm Minolta with all the accessories!” he remembered. “I then proceeded to cruise around Indy with it sticking out of the trunk of my '78 Caprice, looking like I was hit by Meyer at over 250 mph! It especially was a big hit at the Indy Carhop drive-in, and everyone was welcomed to break a piece off for themselves. When Monday came, I had to hide it in the cornfield across the street until I returned after the finals as surely it would have been long gone.

"It was then taken to my mother`s house, where it remained for a couple years until one fall day my mom was burning leaves and suggested I get rid of that stupid thing BY BURNING IT in her leaf pile! Despite her being a veteran of quite a few races and national events, she had never seen a good old-style fiberglass fire. I proceeded to hacksaw off what you see now and threw the remains into the fire, touching off the biggest conflagration she or that neighborhood had ever seen! As the flames went up a couple hundred feet or more and they grew so white hot, she really began to panic and claims to this day she has never been so scared or seen anything like it.”

Meyer had to borrow a Tempo body from Kenny Bernstein to complete the race, which is why if you ever see a photo of the final round – oh, look, there’s one right here – you might think it was Bernstein in the other lane against tire-smoking Mike Dunn in the final, but it was Meyer, whose luck expired when his drivetrain did, allowing Dunn to pedal his way to victory in Joe Pisano’s entry.

John Lindsay, a familiar name to Southern California race fans as the longtime owner of the Impulse Funny Car, had an interesting follow-up about the Super Shops giveaway floppers I mentioned in Part 3.

“It was won by a fan; it did not go home with him,” Lindsay reported. “At the award ceremony at the Super Shops warehouse in San Bernardino, it was bought back by Harry Eberlin for $10,000 cash. I watched Harry work the newly married guy and his wife after the guy turned down the cash at first. Harry then offered to sell the truck and trailer, then a couple of spare motors, some spare parts, and then nine drums of nitro that were sitting there and quoting then how much it cost to run this car. He then pulled an envelope of $100 bills out of his  pocket, and the guy's wife was elbowing her husband to ‘TAKE THE MONEY!’ He did, and then Harry more than doubled his money in less than 24 hours! Tom Hoover bought the rolling car. I bought the engine, transmission, and third member. I go to lunch with Jim Cowell, one of Harry's VPs, every Monday, and we still talk about some of the deals that Harry was involved with and the fact that I bought the first set of pistons that Harry ever sold. They were Jahns Power Slot for a Chevy 348. He had only been in business for a few months at that time, and I was still in high school at the time.”

Jay Postlethwait spotted this crashed-up keepsake on the wall of a tire shop in Vacaville, Calif., a portion of the body from Top Alcohol Funny Car racer Hans Kuesel’s well-documented 1997 crash at Sacramento Raceway, which has been featured on several of those amazing-crashes TV shows throughout the years; the video is at right (fast-forward to 21 seconds).

“The late Greg Maher (Wulf & Maher AA/FD), who was the track manager at the time, had asked a few of us that worked at Sears Point to come up and help them out,” he recalled. “It turned out to be a busy weekend as I think this was the same weekend that Jack Beckman was involved in a crash in his canopy Super Comp car as well. One of the tire shop’s employees was a spectator at the race and got it from Hans, who also autographed it. Somewhere around here, I had some pieces from the Muy Caliente jet dragster that also crashed at Sacramento and was driven by Dennis Geisler."

I mentioned in my Tripp Shumake article two weeks ago that he was one of the first guys to befriend me when I came to work here; Kuesel was another. Before I was allowed to hit the national event trail for National DRAGSTER (more than a year after I’d come to work at NHRA), I did the bulk of my reporting learning at Orange County Int’l Raceway, covering the big match race shows there. Kuesel was always one of the alky competitors, and he and fellow OCIR TAFC regular Chuck Beal both welcomed me and my curious 22-year-old mind with open arms. Even 30 years later, I haven’t forgotten their warmth and openness.

And finally, segueing nicely between Bits and Pieces and Shumake, here’s this crashtacular photo, submitted by our pals Laura and Mark (with a "K") Bruederle (with three "E"s), showing the leftovers of Shumake's 1973 crash in Kelly Chadwick’s flopper at Great Lakes Dragaway in 1973 that I chronicled last week. Shumake’s mount lost a freeze plug and crossed into Connie Kalitta’s lane. Kalitta’s Mustang pushed Shumake’s car up and over the guardrail, leaving him with a broken arm. I’m not sure who got this oversized souvenir.

Speaking of Shumake, I’ve received a few more comments about him that I’ll share next week along with some of the other interesting correspondence I’ve received in the past few weeks.

As tomorrow is Thanksgiving, I’d like to once again give thanks to all of you for reading and contributing to this column during the years. I’m very thankful that it found not only an interested but also very generous audience whose contributions have made it much more than I ever could alone. Enjoy your holiday; I’ll see you turkeys next week.