You may have seen the announcement on the NHRA.com home page last week that Don Prudhomme and Jim Nicoll will be at this year’s Chevrolet Performance U.S. Nationals to talk about their memorable 1970 Indy final round. It’s just one of six great nostalgia-themed special shows we’re putting together (we’ve already announced two others -- “Big Daddy” Don Garlits reliving [complete with a shave] his 1967 win and Kenny Bernstein talking about his amazing double at the 1983 event -- with three more still to be revealed), and I’m pretty sure you’ll find me front and center for all six.
Anyway, as we were preparing for that announcement, I was thumbing through the photo files from that 1970 Indy event and was struck by the sheer volume of just really cool old photos, many of which fit our current Things That Aren’t Here Anymore discussion, so I scanned up a double handful to share.
Two things that aren’t at Indy anymore: the 132-foot speed trap that spanned the finish line and the Marathon win light. (Of course, this particular Marathon billboard took a pretty good hit from Connie Kalitta in 1971; remember the article?)
Speaking of the finish line, here’s a great shot of Garlits bombing through the traps with Swamp Rat 13. People forget that he reached the semifinals of this event before red-lighting to Nicoll. The early 1970s was the last hurrah of the slingshot Top Fueler in Indy. Prudhomme won the 1970 event and Steve Carbone the 1971 event in the great burndown with Garlits (who by then was in his rear-engine car), but from 1972 on, every Top Fuel winner has had the engine in the back.
We’ve all seen the photo of Jimmy King about to flip his dragster overbackward while racing Bob Ivett in the first pair of the first round of Top Fuel (leading his team to humorously weld a caster wheel on top of the roll cage for the next event), but I had never seen the aftermath photo at right until I dug through the files. That’s King sliding down the rail on his head. He was not hurt (other than his feelings).
I couldn’t find the original of this photo, so this is a scan from the issue that I felt needed to be included. It's Shirley Muldowney, suiting up for her national event debut with her twin-engine gas dragster. The caption was very complimentary, calling her “a most capable handler” and going on to note that “super-straight runs impressed the male drivers and fans alike.”
(Above) Hurst created a lot of goodwill for its company with the introduction of the Shifter Hospital for broken parts. The Shifty Doc could help with more than just your shifter. (Below) Ron Rotter’s AA/FD team got an assist from the doc and friends for last-minute work on its car. Remember when Top Fuel guys would turn their cars over in the pits? You don’t see that anymore.
“Wild Willie” Borsch put his new Winged Express through tech, and the bearded wonder (standing in front of the car) responded by running the then-quickest AA/FA e.t. ever, a 7.11 during action in Comp.
Even Roger Miller knows that it really does rain in Indianapolis in the summertime. Carl Poston and his A/Altered (above) sat forlornly, waiting out rain that affected several days of the event. (Below) Yep, back in the day, there were no fancy trailers with lounges in which to seek refuge when it rained.
Former world champ Norm Reis turned a lot of heads with this creation: a radical Model T-styled BB/Gas Dragster, complete with a scaled-down grille and a “Woody panel” body.
I couldn’t find this photo in the coverage, but Pat Dakin seems pretty despondent as he sits in G.L. Rupp’s Top Fueler. Dakin, who is still competing in Top Fuel, didn’t qualify for the field, which may have been the source of the anguish in this photo, which, as I remember, was also made into one of those “I can’t believe I let my subscription expire” kind of ads.
The Prudhomme-Nicoll final wasn’t the only weird moment of the event; it probably only barely makes the top three. Here’s No. 2: Apparently, Pro Stock racer Bob Banning Jr. thought it would be a swell idea to do a burnout while waiting in the staging lanes, but then the throttle stuck, sending him crashing into the back of fellow racer Bo Laws’ machine, which then crashed into the car in front of him. That’s Banning holding his head in apparent disbelief.
And the event’s weirdest-moment honor goes to the starting-line photographers who decided to duke it out just as dean Lowery and Joe Lemley were pulling to the line for the Modified final. The crowning moment (pun intended) came when the fella on the right had the toupee knocked from his head. You can see it by his right elbow as it’s falling to the ground.
As much as I love words, I gotta say that the old line about “A photo is worth a thousand words” sometimes can be very true. Long after the last of our heroes have left us and can no longer share their stories, we’ll always have photos to remember them by.