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Some sweet photos of Mickey's machines

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

Thanks to everyone for the great photos and comments submitted the last two weeks to supplement my columns on Mickey Thompson’s Revelleader Grand Am Funny Car, and, apparently, no one is quite ready to let the thread end yet.

I heard from quite a few people who vividly remember as kids the Thompson team’s routine of tossing bite-size candy bars to the crowd as it towed back down the return road and/or as the crew raced down to pick up the car after a run, all of which was part of a sponsorship with Peter Paul Candies.

Steve Robichaux, of Houma, La., wrote, “I noticed the sponsor on the car, Peter Paul Candies, and I first thought it was associated with Paul Candies, but I found out different after searching. The Peter Paul Candy Co. came out with a new candy bar at that time called No Jelly Peanut Butter Bar. They marketed the candy bar pretty hard on several levels.”

Right you are, Steve. You can see the No Jelly lettering on the front spoiler of the black Grand Am (as Robichaux notes, it was a chocolate-covered peanut-butter treat), but the car’s predecessors, the Mustang, Pinto, and Vega, also advertised various Peter Paul brands.

The Mustang (above) and Vega (right) both hawked the Caravelle bar – caramel and crisped rice covered in milk chocolate (the 100 Grand bar would be today’s equivalent) – and the Revellaser Pinto (below) carried the name of the company’s PowerHouse bar (think Baby Ruth). The company -- founded in 1919 by Connecticut candy maker Peter Paul Halajian and five friends, -- also made two big longtime favorites, Mounds and Almond Joy, which were pretty much the same candy bar except that the latter had almonds on top (“Sometimes you feel like a nut, sometimes you don’t"). The company was purchased by Hershey in 1988.

I asked Dale Pulde, who drove both the Pinto and the Grand Am, about those candy-tossing days, which certainly also echo in my mind from long nights with my butt parked in the grandstands at Irwindale or Orange County until the candy started flying.

Pulde didn’t know how Thompson first hooked up with the candy maker but remembered that Thompson’s sister, Colleen, ran the sponsorship deals for her brother. The brand changed from year to year, but one thing that never changed was the arrival of cases and cases of the mini candy bars shipped to the hotel close to whatever track they were running. The team would enlist a fan – usually a good-looking girl, Pulde remembered fondly – to help throw the candy into the stands.

“It was a pretty cool deal, and the fans loved it,” he recalled. “We loved doing it, too, but I’ll never forget at Indy in 1971 when we burned the car to the ground, and as we were towing back up the return road, [fellow Funny Car racer] Jim Dunn and a whole bunch of people in the stands starting throwing the candy back at us.”

As I was researching the various Peter Paul brands that were advertised on the cars, I took a long cruise through the National Dragster archive of Mickey Thompson photos and came up with some interesting Grand Am-related photos that I had never seen and that, based on the feedback I’ve received, I thought you’d enjoy. (His whole file is filled with interesting photos, some of which I’ll share next week.)

This great photo shows the first two Grand Am bodies being brought home from Chicago, where Ron Pellegrini’s Fiberglass Ltd. had built them. Pulde and crew chief Steve Montrelli strapped them to the roof of the race car trailer and hauled them back to Southern California. You can see how “unswoopy” the body was in its first incarnation versus the sleek final product. This photo also shows the much-maligned Chevy duallie that had hundreds of thousands of miles on it, with nearly as many breakdowns.

Here’s a Steve Reyes shot of the car at Irwindale Raceway from early in the 1972 season – I’m guessing this is from the Grand Premiere – with the car only half-painted. As mentioned in previous columns, the car made its debut at Lions Drag Strip’s Last Drag Race in early December 1972 in primer and had its official coming-out party at the 1973 Winternationals, so this was a Pomona tune-up event, with new driver Butch Maas presumably at the helm.

Maas suffered critical burns in a qualifying fire at the Gatornationals, just his second NHRA national event of the season, and was hospitalized in Florida for six weeks. When he returned to Southern California, his crew greeted “Bootch” (as they loved to call him) him at Los Angeles Int'l Airport (LAX) warmly. Holding the welcome-home sign were triple Olympic swimming medalist Sandy Neilson, left, and Shelly Campbell. Upon his return, he received out-patient treatment at the Orange County Medical Center and drove only infrequently afterward.

Famed SoCal race car painter to the stars Bill Carter is seen applying the colors to the 1974 version of the Grand Am (black with multicolored accent) at his San Fernando Valley shop. Note the big difference between this body and the ones shown on the roof of the trailer. I wish this photo was in color.

The 1975 car (U.S. Marines livery) got off to a rough start during a promotional photo shoot for the Marines when a burned piston led to this fire that burned both car and new driver Larry Arnold. I had never seen these before, and Arnold was kind enough to forward them.

 

Yet another work-in-progress photo, of the 1975 car. As mentioned above, the original version of this car was burned at OCIR, so I’m going to say this photo, taken at Irwindale, was of the second car. We know that Charlie Therwanger drove it at the Winternationals in place of the injured Arnold, but I’m not certain if he’s driving here, and I couldn’t even find any mention of the car’s appearance at Irwindale’s preseason Grand Premiere bash in the National Dragster coverage nor any of it running in late 1974 with this scheme.

OK, that's it for today. As I said earlier, next week, I'll pull some cool shots from Thompson's thick file and share them here.