NHRA - National Hot Rod Association


A little bit of this, a little bit of that

26 Apr 2013
Phil Burgess, NHRA National Dragster Editor

If it’s Friday, this must be Houston and leg two of back-to-back weekends on the tour. We got home from Charlotte Monday – fortunately no hassle with the flights despite the beginning of the sequestration-caused flight-controller shortage – and I spent a couple of days in the office before jumping back on another big bird and heading to Texas for this weekend’s race.

I didn’t want to go without a column this week but didn’t have enough time for a “big” piece – I have several cool ones in the works – but it occurred to me as I was trying to keep my email organized that in the last couple of months, I’ve hung on to a lot of stuff that I thought I could use as a basis of a future column, but it never turned out that way. Rather than let the stuff languish in my email and let slip the generous submissions of some readers, below is a sample of stuff that’s as cool as it is random.

Throughout the years, I’ve paid great homage to Don Prudhomme’s all-conquering Army Monza, winner of 13 of 16 national events in 1975-76. It’s the one car that “the Snake” has always said that he’s sorry he didn’t keep (he traded it for a Ferrari 308) and one that, when he was assembling his collection of cars (remember this wonderful column I did? All the Snake’s Horses), he was most disappointed that he couldn’t get back. It still resides in the National Automobile Museum (The Harrah Collection) in Reno, Nev., as photographed not long ago by Insider contributor Eric Watkins.

One “Snake” certainly deserves a matching “Mongoose,” and, at the risk of relaunching the ramp-truck thread, here’s a cool photo of one of Tom McEwen’s first Funny Cars on what looks like a rainy day at Maryland’s Capitol Raceway, courtesy of “the ‘Goose’s” friend Eric Gomez. DragList reports that McEwen bought this Logghe-built Barracuda from Candies & Hughes and qualified No. 1 with it at the 1969 Winternationals.

Reader Ed Eberlein was a regular California racegoer in the 1970s and has sent quite a collection of photos from his library throughout the years of cars from that era. I especially like this one of a young Rich Siroonian posed beside his uncle “Big John” Mazmanian’s 'Cuda during a match race at Sacramento Raceway. The legend is that when Uncle John found out that his young nephew was street racing, he got them both involved in legit dragstrip competition, starting with a brand-new street-legal ’61 Corvette, followed by the famed “football” Austin and, later, this Funny Car.

Longtime column fan Jay Phillips has and interesting addition to his collection of NHRA stuff. For years, he has had the 1970s NHRA duffel bag (sporting logos from the Winternationals, Springnationals, and World Finals), but a few months ago, he scored a rare find on eBay, the matching sheet set, which now adorns his bed. Some great old artwork there. 

Last October, we had a pretty good little thread going about souvenirs of a different kind – the ones you get at the track after a team has had a rough outing. Lance Good has a nice keepsake: the nose off the famed Chi-Town Hustler. This was the Daytona version that Wayne Minick was driving when it went to pieces courtesy of a broken camshaft and blower explosion at Great Lakes Dragway during Labor Day weekend in 1989. “I have been a lifelong fan of the Chi-Town Hustler and have hundreds of Chi-Town pieces in my collection, but this is one of my most treasured items,” he noted.

No image of a happy, souvenir-collecting fan says as much as Steve Reyes’ timeless photo of one who couldn’t wait to get on the horn at Fremont Raceway to brag to his pals about snagging a piece of “Flash Gordon” Mineo’s shattered Funny Car body. (Did you catch the “Reyes’ Greatest Hits” photo feature in the recent issue of National Dragster? Cool stuff, and not all crashes!).

Anyway, Steve sent this photo when the other thread was running and accompanied it with the following semi-related funny story: “I never really got into collecting that stuff -- Lord knows it was there for the taking – but in 1972, Joe Pisano was at Kirby’s shop looking at the damage that happened when Sush Matsubara said hello to the guardrail that Saturday evening at the Funny Car race at OCIR. I was standing there with my buddy and photographer Jeff Tinsley watching Pisano checking out his ‘hurt’ race car body. Joe looks up at us and asks, 'Do you want this piece of s**t?’ and, of course, we said yes. So here we are in Kirby’s lot with a crunched Funny Car body; what to do with our new prize? Well, let’s jump up and down on it and break it up! So here we are in Kirby’s lot jumping up and down on a bright yellow Pisano & Matsubara Vega Funny Car body. After our carnage, Jeff and I divided our broken fiberglass booty. Because this was one of the Revell-sponsored Funny Cars, I loaded my half and headed over to Revell in Venice, thinking maybe they would like a piece of one. Well, I was a big hit at Revell passing out pieces of the Vega body. I think every office there had a piece of Funny Car body displayed proudly where it could be seen by everyone.”

I can just picture that crazy scene.

Art Martinez sent a couple of cool photos of “Big Daddy" Don Garlits match racing Frank “the Beard” Bradley in San Antonio in the 1980s. According to Martinez, Garlits was having problems keeping the front end down that weekend.

“In the first photo, he’s only lifting the front about 10 inches, but on the third run, he almost got to the point of no return but was able to bring her back down with minor damages,” he remembers.

I’m pretty certain this is Swamp Rat 26 in its earliest days. After his failed 1980 experiment with the porky “Godzilla” car (Swamp Rat 25), Garlits and crew chief Herb Parks built this car light and lean – even using black anodized body panels instead of paint – in 1981, but he ran mostly AHRA competition in protest of new NHRA rules that mandated a self-starting car (as opposed to push) and mandatory reversers.

This is the car in which Garlits later famously made his return to competition at the 1984 U.S. Nationals and won it all, leading to two seasons of Garlits domination that reminded everyone that even 10 years past his 1975 killer season, “the Old Man” still knew how to win.

It’s been a while since we’ve heard from our pal across the pond, fuel-racing fanatic model builder Mark Gredzinski (see Model Citizen), who is so detailed about his re-creations of 1970s drag cars that he handmakes his own parts to exacting detail. The picture above is his newest project, an attempt to re-create a Donovan engine to go with some of the 1/16th-scale early slingshots he’s working on.

“As can be seen, there is a smaller 1/25th-scale version alongside,” he wrote. “Both feature scratch-built gear drives and fuel-pump housings. Also can be seen an idler bracket and new resin Enderle hat and oil pan. The blower is Revell, but I'm doing my own later with better profiled casings. I'm doing Ed Pink, Bowers, Mooneyham, Danekas, Larkin, Vancharger, Hampton, Littlefield, and so on in both scales. Some modelers don't even know the difference, but I do! The task is sometimes monumental, but I know what I want and am determined to do whatever it takes to do the ultimate model that looks like it will fire up. Long way to go yet, but I learn more literally every day."

He wants to build the correct engine so that he can create the best model ever of the Kuhl & Olson dragster, and to that end, he asked for my help in contacting Carl Olson for details on the cars. What emerged from Olson’s end was a very interesting saga of all of the K&O cars: how they came to be, what happened to them, and more. It was so gripping (then again, I’m a bit of a nerd for '70s cars, too) that I’ve asked Carl for permission to reprint it here, which he has kindly granted, and he has a great collection of photos to illustrate what he’s going to put together. The Kuhl & Olson team had a rich and successful run in the '70s, so it’s a tale well worth sharing. Look for it in a future column.

OK, that’s it for today. If you’re an NHRA Member, I hope you’re following along with our live coverage on NationalDragster.net (and reading my Pisano & Matsubara column!) or, at the very least, are stoked about Sunday’s live television coverage on ESPN2.

My schedule quiets down for about a month after this, so I hope to dive into more meaty columns in the weeks ahead.