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A Grand (Am) photo gallery

14 Feb 2013
Phil Burgess, NHRA National Dragster Editor
DRAGSTER Insider

Grand AmFrom the outpouring of love and photos surrounding the story of Mickey Thompson’s Grand Am Funny Car, it seems I’m not the only one with a soft spot for “Thompson’s Torpedo.” Below is an amazing collection of images of the car sent in the last year or so by readers of this column after I announced – and then delayed and delayed – that I was working on the article. If you read both parts, you know that I interviewed a lot of people, beginning with body builder Ron Pellegrini and drivers Dale Pulde (three times!), Larry Arnold, and Bob Pickett, plus crew chief Mike Broome, crewmember Pat Galvin, and assorted others not quoted but who gave me information, which is why it took so long to pull it all together. There was conflicting info on some things, old memories turned bad, etc., etc., but I think that the columns tell about as full of a story as can be put together short of interviewing Thompson himself.

The ever-helpful and generous Steve Reyes, who shot the U.S. Marines Grand Am burnout at Orange County Int’l Raceway that I used here last week, sent me a ton of stuff. Reyes, the top lensman of the era, shot the original photo layouts for Revell of the yellow and blue Grand Ams for its model-box art and hero cards. I ended up using seven of them, which you can see in the gallery at right that covers the car through the Butch Maas-Pulde years (1973-74), including its Winternationals debut, and features great shots of the car in my favorite red scheme.

As pretty as the car was in red, it certainly didn’t start out that way. It debuted in gray primer at Lions Drag Strip’s Last Drag Race in December 1972. Lions historian Don Gillespie sent the wonderful pan-blur of Pulde smokin’ it through a burnout in front of Lions’ fabled stands, and Bob Snyder sent the image below, showing the unpainted car in the pit area.


 

 Larry Solger sent copies of his photos from the car’s 1973 Pomona debut, which are shown above and below. He was a student at Washington State University at the time, vacationing in Northern California. He hopped a PSA special ($20 round trip – remember those days?) from Oakland to Ontario, then took a bus to Pomona and hitched a ride to the fairgrounds.

What really jumped out at me about the photo above (other than a close-up of the car’s nose) was that he obviously snapped the pic at the same time that the PR photo at right, showing Maas, far right, and crew chief Mike Broome with a couple of young ladies, was being taken. Weird coincidence!
 



Speaking of Broome, here's one of the hero cards. He's flanked by Maas and Thompson.


As I noted in the story, the Grand Am was star-crossed at times. Prolific Insider contributor “Chicago Jon” Hoffman has Exhibit A, which shows the car looking worse for wear after a “wicked-bad” fire at Byron Dragway.

Tom Nagy sent along this shiny pic of the car taken in the pits at the 1973 U.S. Nationals.


Tom Derry shared this pit pic of the car in its black paint scheme, which ran from February through July 1974.

 Before the Grand Am was lovingly restored and re-created by Army Armstrong, it was looking pretty woeful in the shot above, taken by Ralph Reiter in late 2009 outside of the Thompson Motorsports shop in Eugene, Ore. Terry Knickerbocker also took shots of the chassis and got info from Pat Blair, a fabricator at the shop, specifically about the mismatched chassis (right), which explains some things.

“Pat pointed out to me that the front independent suspension was done by an engineer on a Formula 5000 road racer,” he wrote. “Pat thinks it was the first of its kind done on a Funny Car.  The chassis and body were not originally one race car. The chassis is believed to be from Mickey's earlier Maverick Funny Car and still has a Ford motor plate in it because the Maverick was Ford-powered. The body had been in the raised position for about 18 years because the roll cage did not fit under the roof line of the Grand Am.”

Below is Benoit Pigeon’s shot of the restored car as it appeared at Maple Grove Raceway’s 50th anniversary celebration late last year.
 

 



1970s Funny Car nut Mark Gredzinski, whose fine artwork and model-making have been featured here, sent his still-unfinished Revelleader painting, rendered in gouache. “I'm doing another in oils that is halfway and will eventually do what I hope will be the world’s most accurate scale model of the car down to the last detail,” he added. “So little time to do all I want to do, alas.”


And, finally, there's this: “Did you know before they did the Grand Am, they thought of using a Torino?” artist John Bell quizzed me via email. “I did this sketch for MT to present to Ford. It didn't pan out, and he moved on to the Grand Am.” I wasn’t biting. Well, much. He actually did the what-if sketch not long ago but thought I would enjoy it.

Bell, whose work also has appeared here, learned how to draw cars from the master, Kenny Youngblood. “I was writing Youngblood letters asking him to teach me how to 'make cars look shiny' when I was 12 years old! He was my idol. It was amazing to get big manila envelopes in the mail with his sketches and explanations. It really lifted my spirits, not to mention my skill level. I still have those letters. I had written him so often that one afternoon (I'm living in New Jersey at the time), we get a phone call. My mom yells to me, ‘It's for you! Someone calling collect.' It's Kenny on the other end! I nearly tipped over. He ran up our phone bill a bit, so I needed to use my allowance to cover it. I ended up meeting him years later when I was in school in LA. I reminded him of those 'pen-pal' days.”

 


So, that's it (so far). Thanks so much to everyone who contributed with memories, words, or photos to this series of articles. And here I thought I was the only one enamored of this car ...

It's Winternationals weekend, so you know where I am. Wish you were here!