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Raymond Beadle, remembered

31 Oct 2014
Phil Burgess, NHRA National Dragster Editor
DRAGSTER Insider

It shouldn’t come as a surprise to anyone, but the loss of Raymond Beadle a week ago Monday has surely resonated within the NHRA community, and my request last Friday for your personal tales of what Beadle meant to you was welcomed to the, ahem, max.

I know how I felt about Beadle as a giant in the class, so I wasn’t surprised to see him referred to by some of you as a god and other superlatives.

Let me kick this off with some words from someone I probably should have included last Friday, Don Schumacher, who put Beadle into the saddle of one of his three Stardust entries — Schumacher drove one and Bobby Rowe the other — in late 1972, and later transitioned into the Wonder Wagon cars. I spoke to Schumacher earlier this week while working on the Jimmy Prock news story, and he was happy to share his memories of Beadle.

“Raymond had a remarkable sales ability that led to real changes in the sport in merchandising but also sold himself to me to get that ride,” remembers Schumacher. "He was a great driver and a real character; no matter what, you had to respect Raymond Beadle. What he accomplished after he partnered with Harry, I have my hat off to. He left behind a remarkable record. He was a good guy, and I always enjoyed seeing him at the Dallas race and at Indy once in a while. I missed seeing him there this year. We mourn his loss.”

Steve Reyes met Beadle in 1972 when Beadle just started driving for Mike Burkhart. “I approached Beadle about shooting the car for Drag Racing USA. Beadle didn’t know me from the man on the moon, but he just smiled and said, ‘Sure let’s do it.’ Before we parted that day, he had filled out my tech sheet and made sure I had the correct info. No other racer had or has ever done that.

“Our paths would cross on the Funny Car match race circuit for the next six years. When I worked for Argus Publishers as their photographic director, out of the blue (no pun intended), Beadle calls and wants to know if I’d like to go to England with the Blue Max gang. A chance to tour with the Blue Max? Hey, I’m ready. I ended up going twice to England with Beadle, ‘Waterbed,’ and Emery in 1978. All I can say it was a once in a lifetime tour, and we had a great time.”

 

Scott New, whose family owns famed Firebird Raceway in Idaho, will never forget his first brush with Beadle and the Blue Max. “The Blue Max made a number of appearances here, including a one-night match race with Kenney Goodell on a Tuesday night (who was a last-minute substitution for John Dekker's Assassination Funny Car from Denver, who couldn't make the mid-week bash after breakage, I think). I'm pretty sure the special race in the mid-‘70s was likely a mid-week stop gap between similar events in Seattle and Portland. To no one’s surprise, the place was packed.
 
“When Dad booked him in for one of our original Nightfire 500 events (as it was originally called), all of us New boys really thought the Lord was making an appearance at our track, especially after Bill Doner lit up the Boise airwaves with a slew of radio spots clamoring that the legendary Blue Max was coming all the way from Texas to join a field of fiberglass fantastics. My father was thrilled when Beadle won our Nightfire in 1978 — it was a huge highlight for all of us in the New Crew, a memory that is virtually etched in stone up here in Spud country. I think my dad wore his Blue Max cap with those gold sewn military-style ‘eggs’ on that Max hat for the next decade or even two.”


Howard Hull, a former employee at Orange County Int’l Raceway and a frequent contributor to this column, shared his remembrances of a memorable moment with that Blue Max team that occurred at the 1977 Winternationals in Pomona.

“Bill Doner, the great drag racing promoter in the ‘70s and ‘80s, who had all the racetracks on the West Coast, had me drive him out to the track in his limo that he had purchased from the driving school at OCIR. I would carefully park it next to Blue Max pits and hang out with Harry [Schmidt] and Fred [Miller], and Bill would grab his briefcase and walk around and meet with the racers and the NHRA officials Friday and Saturday. Fred and Harry were working on the car, so I got to help between rounds, twisting wrenches with them and setting the valves. I took a school notebook and started making notes on the settings each round as I learned on how to tune the race car and the setup — quite different from today. At the end of the day, Doner would come back, gather me up, and home we’d go. After Saturday’s qualifying, I pulled some ice-cold Coors out the cooler in the trunk and gave them to the guys. Doner yelled at me for giving his beers away. I told him, “My friends let me work on the car this weekend, and we qualified well,” and Beadle jumped in about me knowing anything at all about the engine. As I was telling my side and the teams I had helped at OCIR over the last few years, Harry quietly showed him two bad gaskets that I had caught along with a cracked head bolt. Beadle then walked up to me and gave me that famous Beadle smile and turned to Doner, ‘[Expletive] off, he’s working for me now.’ Doner start laughing and headed us home."

(Above) Beadle lost the 1977 Winternationals Funny Car final to Don Prudhomme, but Jerry Ruth (below) beat Don Garlits win Top Fuel.

Sunday, Sunday, Sunday: Beadle’s pit was a circus for sure. Grant McNiff, the former manager of Seattle Raceway, with Doner, his kids, and Bill’s kids were all running around. The late Steve Woomer, owner of Competition Specialties, was along with us; it was a fun Sunday at the races. Just before the semi’s, Beadle told the kids, who had been riding in the back of the tow vehicle from the starting line to the finish line, that they couldn’t ride this round: ‘We may blow up, so you guys have get off.’ Beadle wins that round with the foot mashed on the pedal through the lights and a motor with a hole in it. The thrash was on.

“Unlike today’s teams with eight guys and all of the technology, back then it was 90 minutes and three guys, so we all jumped in. Either Chip or Jason McCulloch went running over to Goodyear to get a new set of tires while I pulled the heads off and had to grind them down on the edges to make them fit the new block. We had several other racers working alongside, changing out the used fire bottles, wiping off the oil, and changing out the parachutes. ‘Jungle Jim’ was in charge of crowd control with a cocktail in one hand and the pennant string of flags, holding back the crowd as we worked frantically on the car.

“The car is finished, and we — kids and all — pile into the limo and roll through the staging lanes; this has to be a first as all of the NHRA officials just waved me through. I parked close to the starting line, and we watched as each class makes their final run, but Don Prudhomme beat the Blue Max in the final. However, Jerry ‘the King' Ruth, from Seattle is in the finals next to Don Garlits and has Competition Specialties on the side of the car as sponsor. Ruth wins big, and we all pile into the car, and I slowly drive down the racetrack to the finish line. I pull up next to Beadle and ‘Snake’ as they are chatting, and Bill opens the trunk. ‘Snake’ comes over and looks inside and starts laughing and says, ‘I like how you boys travel.’ He and Beadle grab a cold Coors and wish each other the best as they walk off to their tow rigs.

"As I drove the car home that Sunday evening — the kids sleeping, the adults chatting away — I slowly replayed that weekend’s events through my head; I wondered how much of a letdown high school was going to be the next day after spending the weekend helping out on the Blue Max.”

Susie Shumake, who was married to one of Beadle’s ‘70s peers, Tripp Shumake, remembers well the Blue Max halter tops for which Beadle and Co. became famous.


“Raymond made sure all the ladies in the pits had one on,” she remembers. “I was fortunate enough to get one from him and wore it often. The races back east were always hot and muggy. Years later, my daughter, Heather, came across it and continued the legacy by wearing it during her college years. Raymond was not only a great racer and friend but also a smart business man who certainly knew what he was doing when he came up with the Blue Max halter top.”

Here’s a sampling of some other Raymond Beadle memories I received.

Murray McDonald: “Growing up in Western Canada, I never got the chance to see the Blue Max in action until my first trip to Indy in 1981, but I was a fan long before that. Reading National Dragster, SS&DI, and seeing the occasional race on TV made me a Blue Max fan. I remember getting a postal money order and mailing it to Texas for a Blue Max T- shirt; when the package arrived, it contained two T-shirts and two English Leather ‘on the go’ kits, which was awesome because I only ordered one shirt. I also recall sending fan letters to various racers, and the only replies I received were from the Blue Max and Terry Capp. This thoughtfulness only made me more of a fan. In this current world of computers and social media, I finally gave in and joined Facebook and signed up to follow the current edition of Blue Max Racing. A few months ago, I saw a post from Raymond Beadle asking what the car ran. I thought it was so cool to see a post from him, and it took me right back to the early ‘80s with the same excitement I had then when receiving my Blue Max parcel. For my generation, it truly was the golden era of drag racing, and there was no bigger star than Raymond Beadle and the Blue Max. Rest in peace, Mr. Beadle.”

Pat Welsh: “The 1979 Summernationals were magical for one reason: Raymond Beadle. I was 13 years old and attended all four days. During Thursday qualifying, Beadle ripped off the first five-second pass in a Funny Car at Englishtown. There were maybe 800 people in attendance, and I was honored to be one of them. After the run, he hopped on the highway to catch Bruce Springsteen in concert, I think in Philadelphia. He himself was a rock star. He came back on Saturday to run a 5.94 that paced the field by nearly a tenth of a second. He would go on to win the event over second-time finalist John Force.

"That same event had the Blue Max Top Fuel dragster with Dave Settles behind the wheel. He ran a 5.79 or thereabouts for the No. 1 qualifier. They went on to the final and lost to the unbeatable Jeb Allen.” [PB note: According to Settles, a brand-new input shaft broke on the run while he was leading Allen.]

“The next year, Beadle came back with that beautiful deep blue Chaparral trailer that was just immaculate. There wasn't a detail in that operation that wasn't first class. I was thoroughly impressed. That same trailer is still in operation on the current day Blue Max Nostalgia Funny Car. Raymond Beadle, thanks for the great memories. They are forever etched in my mind.”

John Jamison: “After reading your wonderful, heartfelt story on Raymond Beadle, I had to send this picture to you. It was taken Oct. 19 at Mo Kan Dragway in Asbury, Mo. It is a small track that opened in 1962 that has somehow managed to stay viable through all these years. I grew up nearby in Joplin, Mo., having been baptized on nitromethane from the likes of Terry Ivey and Omar Carrothers back in the early ‘70s. The Blue Max was in for a one-day match race with Ronny Young in the seat. I was able to speak with him, and he shared many stories of the Max and, of course, Raymond.

“When driving home, I was so excited for what I had seen, taking me back years when drag racing was, for me, the best. After learning of his passing the following day, I suppose what I also experienced was RB making his final spiritual pass down the quarter-mile. RB is certainly in a heavenly place now, but thanks to him, the Blue Max will live on forever.”

Kelly Westphal: My dad, Bob, who passed away in June 2013 from cancer, was hired by Raymond in the winter of 1979 to run his newly formed machine shop. My dad had been the shop foreman and head engine builder at Ed Pink’s from 1969-1977. He first met Raymond when they did engines for Don Schumacher. Long story short, in addition to doing his Funny Car engines, machine work, etc., Raymond appointed my dad to build the engines for the new sprint car team with driver Sammy Swindell. There was an alley that separated the buildings at the shop, on one end was the dyno room, and across was where Pat Foster built the Funny Car chassis. My dad was having troubles with an engine and got mad, to which he grabbed a few quarts of oil (Cam2 was our sponsor) and stepped outside and hurled them towards Foster’s shop, splattering oil everywhere! Foster comes running out to see the commotion, and Raymond steps out of the shop where Emery, Fred, and Dee were working on the car and casually walks to my dad and says, ‘You know you have to clean that mess up, don't you?’ LOL.”

Russell Cox: “Raymond was in and out of my life starting about 1977. I was working part time for ‘Moose’ at T-Bar chassis on Gasoline Alley (Reeder Road) in Dallas, and there was always a group of who's who in the shop. I was so thrilled to meet Raymond one evening. I was a nobody, but he was kind and friendly. Raymond had a new chassis there from Tony Casarez (T-Bar did most of Tony's tin work; this was before Raymond hired Pat Foster as his full-time chassis builder). A couple of years later, I went to Raymond looking for a crew job; he had nothing. However, on his own long-distance nickel, he called Paul Candies and inquired on my behalf. That was class. I ended up working for the late Gordon Mineo, where we crossed paths a good number of times.

"As I ‘grew up’ with a real job, Raymond and I crossed paths once again. He was now the owner of Chaparral Trailers, and I was with Prior Axle, the supplier of all the solid bar trailer axles used on those trailers. This continued on until the closing of Chaparral. We are all terminal, but Raymond's passing is as hard to accept as Gordon Mineo's was. What an honor it was to know them both!”

Garry McGrath: “Living on the other side of the world and being a drag race fan had its drawbacks, but thankfully we had Wide World of Sports on TV occasionally and various magazines to catch up on the latest happenings in the world of the quarter-mile wars. When I finally was old enough and had the bucks, I flew out to the States and took in my first NHRA race to see if what I was reading about and watching on TV occasionally was in fact real.

“During a walk through the pits in Arizona, I was totally a blubbering mess seeing the race cars and teams along with the drivers and had to sit for a while to take it all in, then, to my surprise, this cooler-than-cool dude was walking towards me chewing on a piece of chicken and walking like he owned the joint. It was the man, Raymond Beadle, and I lost it. As I stood up and walked towards him, he — in the smoothest way possible — tossed the chicken bone at my feet and said, ‘Howdy.’ I stood there and watched him pass by like I had just seen a god, not able to speak. I will never forget that image, and to this day, I try to eat chicken that way and say ‘Howdy’ to people. They look confused, but I know they see Beadle every time, and that, for me, feels cool — crazy, but true. He remains to this day my favorite driver and character of all time. He was an inspiration for me to enter the quarter-mile wars. My condolences to all his family and friends. He made a larger-than-life impression on people all over the world.”

Paul Seglund: “I was merely a fan back in the ‘70s when the Blue Max team seemed to burst on the scene but always rooted for them for obvious reasons. I was more involved with NASCAR and was really glad to see they used their expertise from a derided sport to beat the good ol’ boys for a while. It sure is tough losing all great people but glad you have a well-written forum for truly the golden age. Godspeed Raymond.”

Randy Johnson: "I was stunned (as was everyone else) by the news that another one of my drag racing heroes had graduated to that great dragstrip in the sky. My experience with Raymond was simple — he always made time for his fans. I specifically remember speaking to him in the pits at the ’82 Gators, not long after he flipped the Blue Max EXP racing against Al Segrini. Raymond was frustrated at himself but still found humor in the event. After ‘Big Daddy’ Don Garlits and ‘the Professor’ Warren Johnson, Raymond Beadle has always been my favorite drag racer. That fact made the decision very easy to purchase the item (above) when it was offered to me. I purchased the body from a local racing shop in Fort Lauderdale [Fla.]. They had gone to Beadles’ auction and won pallets of clutch parts for their Alcohol Funny Car. They didn’t know the lot they had won included three Blue Max bodies. Fortunately for me, I bought the last one left. A buddy I worked with at Florida Power & Light also worked in the evenings on their Funny Car. He told me to stop by their shop as there was something I might be interested in purchasing. I paid $600 for it, and it’s in amazing shape. It means even more to me now that Beadle is gone.”

 


Kris Miller: “I was astounded when I got to the roll-over picture. My first of 20-plus years attending the Gatornationals was in 1982. I can honestly state the one thing I absolutely remember from that race is the Blue Max car on its roof. My bud and I drove up to G-ville, and we did not know where the dragstrip was located. We followed the signs for the airport, and it got us there. We pulled up to the ticket booth that was literally in front of the track entrance adjoining the parking lot and bought our tickets. That was the only year we sat on the side of the track opposite from the pits. I also saw the Blue Max in 1971-72 at Maple Grove when 32 Funny Cars raced under the lights and was always a fan of the car.”

David "Mick" Michelsen: “I went to my first drag race in 1976 in Lakeland, Fla., and the first Funny Car I saw run was the Blue Max. You can re-read my email to you back when you did the column on “My First Drag Race.” After seeing the burnout, dry hops, and the run, I was hooked on drag racing, especially Funny Cars. I’ve been to every Gatornationals since 1978, so I have seen all of the Blue Max Funny Cars and one Top Fueler race there. The time he rolled the Blue Max at the Gatornationals, I was standing at the fence on the spectator side when he hung the left; he was headed right at us, so we all dove to the ground and didn’t get to see the results until it came out on the And They Walked Away video.”

Herb Edwards: “I was one of the ‘little people’ that was there from 1970 on. I’d do whatever it took and enjoyed it all, drag racing and being on the team. I was a mechanical engineer working at Texas Instruments in Dallas and hung out at Beadle’s shop as much as I could. My wife said I ‘lived’ there. He also had a speed shop in Dallas for a while, and I’d hang out there, too. I’d watch Tharp beat his chest, bragging about his driving, and I’d look over at Beadle and he’d raise his eyebrows, look up, and smile. It was one big family back then.

“I knew Raymond when he drove a Top Fuel car for Prentiss Cunningham in Lubbock and used to take his 6-year-old son to Six Flags when I worked at Chaparral. I’d see all the racers every day that are legends now. I was talking to Beadle one day, and the Ford factory rep walked up and slapped Beadle on the back and said, ‘I’m sorry, Beadle, we can only give you $5 million this year as we’re doing a Who concert with Budweiser, but I promise we’ll do better next year!’ He kept the Ford people happy sponsoring his Funny Car while at the same time having Pontiac sponsor his NASCAR operations when Rusty Wallace was driving. He was a master at doing that. When he got offered the driving job with Schumacher, he asked me if I thought he could do it. I told him he could beat anyone. I am a very lucky man to have experienced the racing life with one of the best.”

Tony West: “I can’t believe Raymond Beadle is with us no more. Only yesterday I hung two press kit covers to my study wall that I managed to get from a memorabilia show at Indy! I watched the Blue Max every time the team came over here to the UK to race, couldn’t find a more approachable and friendly group like the Blue Max!”

Chuck Dewandeler:My memory of Raymond is how dominating his presence was at the Motorplex. Crisp white, starched dress shirt. He was watching his son, Ryan, and I go through the Roy Hill Drag Racing School in '99. Very pleasant and he was kind enough to sign my completion certificate (from Roy). I treasured that as much as the whole racing experience.”

Gary Crumrine: “We’ve lost another hero. Man, did he have a heavy foot and fear was not in his vocabulary. One of the guys that could run with the Chi-town Hustler, Prudhomme, Hawaiian, you name it. Really miss the Blue Max.”
 


As I mentioned at the start of last week’s column, writing about those who we’ve lost has been an ongoing part of this column and a dual-edged sword. While it saddens me to have to share their life stories because they’ve passed away, there’s a genuine sense of honor and duty to do it, for them, for their friends, family, and fans. I don’t take the responsibility lightly, and I can tell that you guys get that.

All of that brings me to a very telling and well-written submission by Insider reader Eric Widmer that I thought you might enjoy and relate to.

Tis a sad day today which will not end with the day’s passing. For most folks, Fridays are exciting as they are at the forefront of an emerging weekend with all kinds of niceties awaiting. Then, this guy who writes and edits and some other stuff for NHRA got the notion to write some cool articles that any racing fan looks forward to. But not anymore. I, mean we do, but it’s with trepidation and for quite some time.

We cannot resist the anticipation of looking forward to pictures of cars we thought we’d never see again, of reading of the personalities that made life great in the racing world, which is the real world for many, perhaps the only world. But the angst is momentarily paralyzing until it happens, with the striking of the right buttons in the right order, and ‘Voila’, it happens. The emotions ascending or descending depending on the opening line which starts the ‘read,’ and there it was.

When I was a little boy in the ‘60s, my mom took me to this great war movie. And then a few years later, there it was. You see? They had just built a racetrack named OCIR, and I begged and begged my mom to take me there. She finally relented in 1969 and did. After a couple of outings, a race car showed up with the movie’s namesake on the side of it. Could it be? There was no doubt. That name meant that car was a winner and something to be reckoned with. A fan was born. Kinda!! OK, not really a loyal fan. I mean, come on, "Mongoose" and "Snake" were there first for me. But think it through, man! These incredible, metal-flake and pearlescent paint jobs adorning raw power in the form of Funny Cars and dragsters.

I have to admit the intrigue I had with this gorgeous candy blue Mustang Mach I. And it furthers when the body is flipped up and a cowboy emerges from the cockpit. What a car, but then any car that looked great grabbed my attention. But that Blue Max emblazoned on the side, no matter the year, always looked great and ran great until the end crept up.

And now the cowboy that furthered the dream met an end that crept up. ‘Tis a sad day today which will not end with the day’s passing.

Anyway, I was trying to have fun when writing you, but this is miserable from any angle other than I’m delighted we had a Raymond Beadle in the first place.

And thank you for keeping us informed and in the loop, Phil. And for your dedication! I don’t know how this could work, but maybe there’s a way to write some features on the living legends while they’re still living. I mean, it really stinks that Raymond has left us along with Harry, and I’m glad we still have Fred Miller and Dale Emery.
 
Not to be morbid, but I am not looking forward to the future loss of greats as Don Garlits, Don Prudhomme, Tom McEwen, and such. I just cannot imagine this world with them gone, nor do I want to. I had no idea that R.B. had such great relationships with Richard Tharp, Don Prudhomme, Billy Meyer, and the others you wrote about. How great would it have been to know this stuff while they’re still with us.
I guess what I’m trying to say, today is a huge reminder of tremendous loss in one individual known as Raymond Beadle. It’s a reminder of former greats we’ve already lost and a little bit of drag racing itself has passed away. And I’m concerned with future loss.

And as far as I’m concerned, Raymond Beadle and all the greats are still alive, just in a different arena that we can’t see or hear. Still tough on us who are still here.


I definitely get what Eric is saying — Billy Meyer joked with me the other day that I ought to have a separate column just for tribute obituaries to keep the Insider on a happier vibe (like I’ve got time to do both — ha!) – but if you browse through the archives that are at the top right of every column (organized first by year, then by date), you’ll find more than 650 articles (OK, 654, but who’s counting?) and quite a few profiles of those still with us: Roland Leong, Richard Tharp, Jeb Allen, Herm Petersen, Jake Johnston, Marvin Graham, Dale Emery, Simon Menzies, Whit Bazemore, Clive Skilton, Shirley Shahan, John Peters, Jeff Courtie, “Wild Bill” Shrewsberry, Bill Pryor, Larry Sutton, Jay Howell, Ron Pellegrini, “Capt. Jack" McClure, Bob Pickett, Leroy “Doc” Hales, Chip Woodall, Keeling & Clayton, Kuhl & Olson, Gerry Glenn, Bobby Vodnik, and many more.

Yet scattered through that list are also far too many goodbyes of some of our great heroes. Like Eric, I can’t imagine a world without “Big Daddy” and “Snake” and “Mongoose,” yet we all know that’s coming someday. (Sorry guys.) I have amazing friendships with both Prudhomme and McEwen, guys whom I grew up idolizing and would have given anything to have gotten a “Hey, kid” from them back then yet guys today who I can call (and who even call me). It still sometimes seems like a dream. Yes, the day that either of those guys leaves us, more than the drag racing fan in me is going to be sad.

Personally, I hope they all live to be 120-something and I’m gone long before then because I can’t imagine how you could ever honor them big enough and well enough to match their contributions to the sport.

Until then, let’s all continue to celebrate them every chance we get.