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Fan Fotos: 1970s California Floppers

01 Aug 2014
Phil Burgess, NHRA National Dragster Editor
DRAGSTER Insider

After last week’s Fan Fotos from the East Coast, we rebound back to the West Coast this week for a series of photos from Insider reader Ed Eberlein that spans from Fremont to Sacramento to Orange County Int’l Raceway to Pomona in a three-year period, 1974-77.

Eberlein got to see a lot of this action close up as part of the crews for several teams and always had his Instamatic ready.

“One thing that is missing today is the chance opportunity that a fan could become part of the crew, if only to empty oil and other small tasks back when,” he noted. “I was one of the fortunate ones to experience that with Mike Miller, Gordie Bonin, and Roland Leong (or, as in the case with Ro, given the OK to ride along in the back of the crew cab). Given the total professionalism today, those possibilities have ended.”

 

This early-1970s photo shows the pit area at Sacramento Raceway, with Mickey Thompson’s Mustang front and center.

 

Another pit shot from Sacramento, possibly from the Thompson camp. Fans of all ages could gather close around the teams as they worked on the cars and sometimes even get the chance to pitch in.

 

“Big John” Mazmanian’s nephew and driver, Rich Siroonian, posed with his uncle’s Barracuda Funny Car. “He was a really nice person,” Eberlein recalled. “He posed for the picture for me and was really a good guy.”

 

Here’s a pretty rare photo of Don Prudhomme’s super-trick new Army Vega, with crew chief Bob Brandt racing ahead to the water box at the 1974 Winternationals. The swoopy new Vega ran just two events, the AHRA Winternationals at Arizona’s Beeline Dragway, where it set top speed and was runner-up (red-light), and the Winternationals. In Pomona, Prudhomme managed just a 6.59 best to qualify No. 14 (Twig Zeigler was low with a 6.30), then lost to eventual winner Dale Emery in round one with a shutoff 8.70. Something about the car, which rode so low that Prudhomme had a viewing slit cut into the roof hatch to see the lights on suspended Christmas Trees, didn’t suit Prudhomme and Brandt, and they subsequently sold it to Tom Hoover and returned to their Plain Jane Barracuda (decked out in the new Army colors) and promptly won the Gatornationals.

 

I’m not really sure what fate befell Prudhomme’s running buddy, Tom McEwen, that led to this right-side body damage, but “the Mongoose” didn’t qualify for the field.(Reader Michael Hedworth tells me that McEwen's "chute detached from the rear end housing and went into whatever catch device they had then at the top end.")

 

Herm Petersen made his return to competition after a nasty fire the year before with this Woody Gilmore-built, Can-Am-inspired entry. Like Prudhomme’s Vega, this car didn’t last long and made only 19 runs in its Top Fuel lifespan. (For more on this car and Petersen, read my three-part story on his inspirational career here: Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3.)

 

The year before he came to national fame as the driver of the Blue Max, Raymond Beadle was driving Don Schumacher’s No. 2 entry, a ’74 Vega. Parked alongside him in the Pomona staging lanes is Mike Mitchell, “the world’s fastest hippie,” who qualified a fine 10th with his Barracuda before falling in round one to Dale Pulde in Mickey Thompson’s Grand Am.

 

A couple of more shots from the Pomona staging lanes, these from the 1975 Winternationals. (Above) Pulde by now had moved behind the wheel of the Chapman Automotive Chicago Patrol Mustang II and just missed making the field. Pulde had good company: Another hometown hero, John Lombardo (below), also wasn’t among the quick 16. Note that Lil' John’s Vega was shod with M&H rubber.

 

 

 

Orange County Int’l Raceway in 1976, and Eberlein is right in the middle of the preparations for the traditional start of Funny Cars parked on the OCIR surface. That’s Roland Leong’s Ron Colson-driven Hawaiian on the left.

 

Before Tripp Shumake became the driver of Johnny Loper’s Lil Hoss Funny Cars in 1977, flopper veteran Eddie Pauling preceded him in this car.

 
 

While working for Gordie Bonin’s Bubble Up team, Eberlein had a pretty good spot to watch the jet dragster show at OCIR, and on this memorable night, the jet’s thrust picked up the track’s iconic burnout-box booth and flung it against the back wall of the track.

Years later, at the track’s Last Drag Race in 1983, I remember starter Larry Sutton aligning Doug Brown’s jet dragster to try to burn the edifice down before upper management put the kibosh on that impromptu act of arson.

 

 

These final two photos are from Fremont in 1977, showing Gary Densham’s Teacher’s Pet Monza (above) and Bonin’s Bubble Up Firebird. The 1977 season was a good one for Bonin: He won the Gatornationals and the World Finals en route to a second-place finish behind Don Prudhomme in the standings.

 


 As I wrote last week, it's such fun to see these types of photos, shot by fans of the sport rather than the professionals along the guardrails. Thanks to Don for sharing his pics.