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Wrapping up 2012

20 Dec 2012
Phil Burgess, NHRA National Dragster Editor
DRAGSTER Insider

Well, here it is, just five days until Christmas, which can only mean one thing: Only four more days until I begin shopping for gifts. I kid. Well, sorta.

Anyway, with that special day just around the corner and NHRA HQ about to shut down from tomorrow until Jan. 2, I figured I’d better at least get a column out there or risk getting some lumps of coal in my stocking from you guys. (You did get me a gift, right?) There’s still plenty of Silly Season shoes to drop, and we’ll have to see what plays out over the holidays. While I’m not able to work on this column during the break, NHRA.com’s news will continue to be updated if anything interesting happens.

It’s already been a joyous week, especially if your name is Jeff Arend or Matt Hagan. Arend, recently let go by the Kalitta camp, didn’t stay unemployed long because everyone’s favorite former fireman, Jim Dunn, named him as his new driver on Tuesday. A day earlier, it was announced that everyone’s favorite farmer, Matt Hagan, will be stepping pretty with Rocky Boots sponsorship on his Funny Car in 2013.

On a less joyous note, I heard last weekend from Brent Cannon that his former Top Fuel partner, Phil Soares, passed away. You can read his comments later in the column.

Today’s entry is a little bit of this, a little bit of that as I try to wrap up business for the year and answer a few lingering questions. For example: 

Don Garlits' first Wynn's-backed car was called the Wynn's Jammer (above) and later became more famously known as the Wynn's Charger (below).
Don Prudhomme's Wynn's Winder won Indy back to back in 1969-70.
Tony Nancy's Wynn's Sizzler AA/FD

Joseph Karnes, of Eagle, Idaho, Firebird Raceway’s 2012 Sportsman champion, wrote, “Over the years, I've been looking for a list of all the different Wynn's names on the sides of Top Fuelers and Funny Cars. I've seen Wynn's Winder, Wynn's Jammer, Wynn's Winner, and many more but never a comprehensive list of which cars/drivers carried which names and thought it might be a good topic your readers could contribute to. I did send a couple of emails to Wynn's marketing and customer service departments but never heard a word back from them. Guess it's the times.”

Well, you’re right, Joseph. There seems to have been tons, but let’s see if we can figure them out. For what it’s worth, the company was founded in 1939 by Chestien Wynn, who as a 70-year-old retired attorney with an interest in lubrication chemistry discovered a formula he named Wynn's Friction Proofing Oil that actually changed the chemistry of the metal, making it softer and better able to withstand friction and wear. The company was incorporated in 1947 and sponsored a lot of motor-based efforts in the early 1950s, including those of Indy 500 winner Johnny Parsons and land-speed record setter Roy Leslie, and helped set light-plane endurance records in the late 1950s.

Obviously, the two Dons — Garlits and Prudhomme — had the most famous Wynn’s drag racing machines.

Many of Garlits’ Swamp Rats also carried the Wynn’s name, beginning, as early as I can tell, with Swamp Rat VI-A in 1964, right after he was runner-up to Connie Kalitta at the March Meet. He already had been using the product to prevent piston scuffing but got paid $1,000 to change the name of the car to Wynn’s Jammer. In 1966, the black and red slingshot appears to have been the first to carry the Wynn’s Charger name so long associated with “Big.” Through the ill-fated Swamp Rat 13, the Wynn’s name was painted on the car, but beginning with R14 — the fabled first rear-engine car— the familiar rainbow oval Wynn’s logo took the place of the painted-on word and lasted until 1976. Kendall later became the lubricant most (and still) associated with Garlits.

Between the conventional cars, Garlits had the dud of a streamliner, the Wynn’s Liner, which only made a few passes in 1973.

After Prudhomme signed a deal with Wynn’s son, Carl, who had joined the company, his slingshot was called the Wynn’s Winder beginning in 1969 and carried him to back-to-back Indy wins (1969-70). (I also found a reference to it once being called the Wynn’s Rattler — catchy for “the Snake," eh? — but couldn’t find a photo of the car, if it even existed.) After the Hot Wheels deal was struck in 1970, Wynn’s remained aboard the car in an associate role and remained a sponsor throughout his racing career.

Shirley Shahan got a Wynn’s deal after her breakthrough Stock win at the 1966 Winternationals and became the “Wynn’s Drag-on Lady.” In 1966, Ted Lemonds also had an AA/FD called the Wynn's Spoiler, and Fred Goeske’s Hemi 'Cuda II was dubbed the Wynn’s Hemi Cuda. The late-‘60s/early-‘70s Kenz & Leslie High Country Cougar Funny Car was subnamed the 777 Wynn’s entry. Kenney Goodell had both Funny Cars and the previously discussed wedge dragster named Wynn's Stormer, and Tony Nancy’s Top Fuelers were known as the Wynn's Sizzler (and later, with the model maker, the Wynn’s Revelliner), and famed chassis manufacturer Art Morrison even had a ’70 AMX wheelstander called — what else? — the Wynnstander, which Richard Schroeder drove. I also stumbled across heretofore unrecognized B/Fuel Dragster driver Ginger Watson, of St. Louis, who drove the Wynn’s Storm (or Stormer, depending on which article you read) dragster to low-eight-second e.t.s at 180 mph that had the press proclaiming her as the “world’s fastest woman.”

And that’s all I know. I’m sure the Insider Nation will chime in with more that I missed.

And this question, from Bill Klebesadel: “A while ago, I purchased a 1320 diecast of the Jade Grenade. My brother and I enjoy meeting the drivers (or in some cases the car owners if the drivers have unfortunately passed away) and have them autograph the diecast. I ran across your article about Don Roberts and got to thinking: Of the drivers of the Jade Grenade, who are they and how many attend the races anymore?"

There’s no doubt in my mind who is the keeper of the Jade Grenade flame, and that’s the only and only Jon Asher, one of the godfathers of drag race reporting and photography and a partner in the car. I passed Bill's question on to Jon, who not only gave me the list but also the Jade Grenade timeline below. In order, the drivers were Ted Thomas, Sarge Arciero, Ron Attebury, Ted Wolf, Satch Nottle (who never made a single pass in the car), and Don Roberts (who made just one run and crashed). Of the group, only Nottle is deceased, having perished in an airplane crash in 1974.

Unless Bill Flurer says differently, the original partners were Ted Thomas, Pete Lenhoff, and Bill. Teddy drove the Don Long-built front-motored car. I honestly don't recall what took place between them, but at the end of '72, Pete and Ted were no longer involved, although all of them remain very friendly to this day.

With Sarge on board as a driver/partner, Bill called me at Car Craft and said they wanted to put my name on the cowl along with theirs. Up to that point, I'd arranged whatever sponsorship the car had (all parts deals at that point). My response to Bill was to ask if they intended me to be a partner or were they merely wanting to add my name for whatever benefit that might be derived in the sponsorship area. Two days later, Bill called back with a partnership offer, and we went from there.

Don Long built the first rear-engine car, which we ran all through '73 and '74 and with which Sarge set low e.t. of the meet at Indy (6.017), earning the then-important John Mulligan Memorial Low E.T. trophy from M&H (I wish someone would bring back that award, still in "the Zookeeper's" name). At Ontario that year, we became the 18th car in the fives with a 5.998, which ended up ninth, if memory serves me on that. We won the first round but burned the crank, and with only a cast iron Hemi as a spare, we didn't appear against Garlits in the second round (as if we would have won!).

After Bill and Sarge returned to Pennsylvania, Bill called and told me he wanted to buy Sarge out. I reluctantly agreed to the buyout. Shortly thereafter, Bill convinced David Stewart and his then-girlfriend, Cindy Summers, to become partners, so the cowl then read "Asher, Flurer, Stewart & Summers." Attebury drove, and everything was good other than our not winning.

I'm no longer positive about the driver change to Ted Wolf, but I think most of it was Bill wanting someone physically closer to where the car was (Attebury being a Californian). Teddy finished '75, and with things not exactly progressing, Bill made the decision to go with Nottle, and here's that story.

Six weeks prior to the Gatornationals, Nottle suffered a heart attack; however, instead of informing Bill, he lied and claimed he had been overcome by the fumes of a battery charger in a closed garage. Meanwhile, Bill and Dave finished prepping the car for Gainesville while at the same time Nottle's wife was badgering him to tell Bill about the heart attack. He finally relented and told her he was driving up to Philly from his Maryland home to tell Bill in person. However, he had his helmet and firesuit in the trunk of the car and never told Bill a thing.

Meanwhile, I was not on the list to go to Gainesville from Car Craft, so if I went, it was going to be on my money. This was going to be Ro McGonegal's story, but I finally convinced management that we should do a story on the Grenade, so they agreed to cover my hotel bill only.

Wednesday morning, we had the car at the top end of the track for me to shoot the photos. We were all there — Bill, David, Cindi, and Satch. Since this was before the advent of cell phones, we weren't surprised when Steve Gibbs drove up in a pickup and said, "Satch's wife is on the phone."

Nottle hops to his feet, a concerned look on his face.

Gibbs looks pointedly at him and says, "She doesn't want to talk to you. She wants to talk to Bill!"

He climbs in the truck, and off they go. He's back 10 minutes later. In all the years I've known Bill, it was the only time I ever saw him angry, and believe me, he was super-pissed. He succinctly told us about the heart attack, got Nottle in our truck, took him directly to the airport, gave him $75 for a ticket to Baltimore, and told him, "I never want to see you again."

We ended up with the Best Appearing Car trophy, which resides in my office closet.  Obviously, we were unable to race, although Don Roberts was at the track and wanted to start right then, but Bill wanted a more controlled atmosphere for him to make his first start, so they decided on a match race at Epping.

[Ed note: Roberts crashed the car on his first run at New England Dragway; the car was destroyed and Roberts severely injured.]

I was sitting on the couch in Kagel Canyon watching TV when the phone rang at 11:45 p.m. I had completely forgotten we were racing. That was the first thing I said, "Shit, we were racing," as I ran to the phone.

I picked up, and all Bill said was "Jon," and I knew.

"How bad is it?" I asked.

"There is nothing left," he replied.

It even tore the valve covers off the engine.

Building a new car was a mistake in retrospect because we just didn't have enough money to race competitively in '75.
At the end, when we knew we had to stop, Bill called me and asked me what I wanted out of the sale, which included a good car, a good Chaparral trailer, a couple of aluminum engines, and a lot of parts.

I told him I'd like to have the $2,700 I loaned him prior to becoming a partner to help finance the remainder of the season and Indy.

And that's the brief but colorful history of one of th emore colorful Top Fuelers to race the quarter-mile. Thanks for sharing, Jon.
 

I received a few more entries for our Bits & Pieces thread of mangled race car souvenirs. Tony Williams sent in the pic above, which is the side of Jerry Caminito’s Blue Thunder Funny Car after it went ka-boom at the top end at New Jersey’s Atco Raceway in 1988. You can see a video of the incident here.

“I was part of the starting-line crew when Jerry had his massive body-destroying explosion at our Wednesday Night Thrill Show,” he wrote. “After we cleaned up the track, our flatbed took the chassis and body parts and unloaded them at Jerry's trailer. When I returned to the track the next morning, I was really surprised to see that spectators had not gobbled them up and all the body parts were still there!  I went and "borrowed” the Atco track truck, threw the right side of the body in there, and immediately hauled it over to my cousin's house for storage. It's been in his garage since.”

Reader Rob Bennett put me to the test with his submission (above): “I'll see if you can guess what car this came off,” he challenged. “I have a lot of faith that you will figure it out without any help. A good friend of mine was the crew chief and gave it to me at least 20 years ago.”

This was an easy one: Carl Ruth’s neat ‘56 Ford Crown Victoria, which met its demise at an IHRA event at Bristol Dragway at 1990 when a blown front tire caused the car to veer onto the centerline lights, which unlatched the body.

“This was the biggest piece remaining,” said Bennett. “Mike Smigelski (Carl’s partner on the car) is a good friend of mine, and he gave it to me right after it happened to hang in my Maryland-based speed shop along with pieces of John Paris's old 'Vette Funny Car.”

John Cola wanted to get his brother, Tommy, something special and different when he turned 50 last September, and for just $52 on eBay he was able to grab this hunk of Jim Epler’s Corvette, which blew up at the Sonoma national event in 1999 (looks like the right-front fender area). “It cost the same amount to ship it to Vegas by bus, but it got there, and Tommy mounted it on the wall," he said. "A few years earlier, I got a Barracuda grille from Army Armstrong painted with Tommy's name on it. His wife knows how much he likes AA/FCs, so I don't think she minds the 'glass on the walls.”

In my Nov. 21 column, I showed off the Robert Flitsch-owned right-rear quarterpanel of Billy Meyer’s Chief Auto Parts Mustang from his wild 1986 U.S. Nationals explosion, and Michael Anderson also owns a sizeable chunk of the mutilated Mustang as shown here. It’s from the other side of the car, the right-side “door” area.

He reports, “We were in the stands on his side of the track near the top of the stands at the starting line, and you could still feel the concussion from that explosion. I believe my piece is the part you can see hanging down into the flames. We had to cut it in half to get it on the plane for the trip home. In the white strip under the ‘ie’ in Chief is Meyer’s autograph.”

Anderson, whose first NHRA national event also featured another famous Funny Car moment — Roland Leong’s Hawaiian taking flight at the 1969 Winternationals (“I was at the fence near the finish line and watched it fly over our heads, or so it seemed at that age. I left that race with a piece of the roof that disappeared in the move”) — has another pretty cool piece in his collection: “It’s the windshield off the Gary Ormsby Top Fuel dragster that was put in for a few races in the championship run when the 300-incher got damaged in the wheel-stand,” he reports. I presume he’s talking about the car-destroying wheelie that Ormsby experienced in Brainerd in 1989. As I remember it, the car launched into a big wheelstand, drifted out of his lane — the guardrailwas not on the lane boundary but a few feet outside — and came down nose first into the angled guardwall, ripping off the nose and substantially bending the chassis.

This incident brings to mind kind of a funny National DRAGSTER story. Back before he became a famous Top Alcohol Funny Car driver (2012 East Region champ!), Todd Veney was the ND staffer standing atop the two-story tower directly in front of Ormsby’s impact area, best positioned to record this moment in history, which happened in round one. This was back before 8GB memory cards in digital cameras, back in the day of 36 exposures on a roll of film, and once you’d burned off about 30, you had to decide whether or not to forgo the final six shots and swap in a new roll. Young T.V. had the car in focus and expertly buried his finger into the motor drive button but got off just this one shot before he ran out of film. On such decisions are photographic greatness created or lost. In Veney's shot (below), you can see that Ormsby is out in the marbles (note he’s between the guardrail and the white boundary line), front wheels fruitlessly cocked to the right. The rest was mayhem.

 

Way back when (in March), we spent a good bit of time talking about Top Fuel wheelpants, and even the wheelpants that made it onto non-dragsters, like the El Toro fuel altered, originally owned by Bob Sweatt but restored and now owned by John Hoyt. I recently heard from Hoyt, who enclosed this photo of perhaps the most unusual use for a wheel faring.

“This photo is of my three-wheel motorcycle, the Turbo Trike,” he wrote. “As can be seen, it has the Bob Farmer/Bob Sweatt front-wheel faring. I think that this is the first fiberglass one they constructed as it took me about a year or two to get if from Bob Farmer; I ordered it in 1977 or 1978. The condition was terrible, with a very poor surface finish. In fact, it looked like they just poured the fiberglass resin into the mold first rather that than spray in the gel coat. It did take some molding to get it paint ready. This photo was in a 1981 bike magazine. I gave the faring to Dave Crane in Battle Creek, Mich., for his museum. Dave in turn gave it to Shawn Dill to make a mold off of it for the reproduction requirements.” Dill now makes copies of these for sale, and they adorned the recent restoration of Terry Capp’s Wheeler Dealer dragster.

 

“Roland Leong may be Hawaii's greatest drag racing export, but you could make a strong top-five argument for Phil Soares.” I wrote those words several years ago during the Misc. Files thread. As I mentioned earlier, we lost Soares this past weekend. He and Cannon were best-remembered for their barber-pole-striped Top Fueler of the early 1970s, but he also had a strong-running gas dragster for a time. The Hawaiian-born racer was 63 when he died and had been in the hospital recovering from a stroke he had in October. He leaves behind two children, Brad and Brandi; ex-wife Brenda; sisters Pat and Phyllis; and several half brothers and sisters. His longtime partner, Cannon, sent along these thoughts:

"When I first met Phil in 1968, he had a Ranchero bracket car that he had been racing both in Hawaii and at Irwindale Raceway and a brand-new Don Long AA/GD that he had just started to race. At that time, he was living in Glendora [Calif.] and racing karts with Duffy Livingston. Drag racing was his passion, and Phil and I hit it off from the get-go. I crewed for him on the AA/GD, and we raced all over Southern California. We competed at places like San Fernando every Sunday and everywhere else that there was an AA/GD event, including, Lions, Irwindale, OCIR, Bakersfield, Sacramento, Fremont, Bee Line, Vegas, and more. Phil made lots of lifelong friends along the way that still to this day ask me about him. He also raced against some of the finest in AA/GD, like Walt Rhoades, Floyd Lippencott Jr., Jack Jones, Larry Bowers, and Don Hampton. In Top Fuel, he raced against Kelly Brown, Don Moody, Gerry Glenn, and others. Phil was very successful in AA/GD with several wins and a runner-up at Doug Kruse’s famous PDA event in Fremont in 1969 to Jack Jones in the Schultz & Jones car.
 
"When NHRA eliminated the AA/GD in 1971, Phil moved back to Hawaii and continued to race the AA/GD, do car shows, and start a racing engine business. He did the machine work and built racing engines for himself and others, and he was very good at that. He also wasn’t limited to just drag racing as he built and drove several roundy-round cars on the different Hawaiian Islands. About that time, Don Garlits built the first of his rear-engine fuelers that forever changed Top Fuel as we knew it. I called Phil and said, ‘Let’s go Top Fuel racing,” and we ordered a brand-new Don Long rear motor car, Phil built two 392 engines and shipped them over to the mainland, and away we went. We did very well with the car, but the engines just were not able to make enough reliable horsepower for us to win, with the turning point being a Sacrament D-7 points race where we made qualifying pass and had a cylinder wall collapse, breaking several rods. We decided that we would put the newer 426 engine in the car and put together two of them with the help of engine builder Sid Waterman and Merv Scott clutches. First race out, we were runner-up at OCIR to Fred Mooneyham. Then a few more races and a big win at the Irwindale Grand Prix. At that race, we raced almost every big name in the business, beating all of them in a five-round event, including Dennis Baca in the final. We finished the year out at the NHRA Supernationals in Ontario. The car never ran again under our ownership. We sold the car, and it went to England to Peter Crane.”

Crane renamed it Stormbringer, and on April 19, 1976, he clocked the first official five-second run outside the United States, at Santa Pod Raceway in England, during the first round of eliminations for the track's annual Spring Nationals.

“After that, Phil and I kind of lost touch with each other, but I never quit thinking about him. He was truly a great guy who had a wonderful ability to drive, build, and tune motors. I truly believe that if Phil would have stayed on the mainland and stayed with drag racing, that he would have been one of the top racers of all time, as he could build, tune, and drive. I saw Phil briefly in 1980 at the Honolulu airport and then again most recently four years ago in Denver at the Jr. Dragster event, where he was my guest for the day. He raced with us, and I remember then that I took him down to the starting line and it was just like old times, he was one step ahead of me. He then was our chef at a BBQ for 25 kids and their families. After that, I never saw or spoke to him again. My huge loss and regret for that. If there ever was a lesson for all of us to learn, it is to please pick up that phone and call and visit with all of those that are important to you. You will never know when they may depart. I would like to thank my brother, Dr. Neil Cannon, for spending the last three weeks at Phil’s side, along with Phil’s son, Brad. I could not make the trip to Denver at this time, and it was a comfort to know that my brother was there for Phil and his family. He decorated the room with pictures of our old Top Fuel car and spent many hours with Phil and Brad. To Phil, I will forever be indebted to you for all that you have done for me. God rest your soul. We love you and will miss you. RIP.”

Thanks for sharing, Brent. Eloquently done.

OK, folks, unless something remarkable happens, that’s it for 2012. Assuming the Mayans were wrong about tomorrow, I’ll see you in early 2013. Have the happiest of holiday seasons with your loved ones. In the meantime, I invite you to enjoy some of the more than 550 Insider columns of the last five and a half years using the archive located on the top right of this page. There is some amazing stuff in there that’s part inspiration (me) and part collaboration (you) that serves to document the history and heroes of our sport and share “the stories behind the stories” to keep those memories alive.