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Note-worthy

10 Jul 2015
Phil Burgess, NHRA National Dragster Editor
DRAGSTER Insider

If my computer’s hard drive were a house, I would have already starred in several of those reality TV shows about hoarders. They’d hire a crew of 10 to sort through all of the digital detritus on the computer, picking up files that to the average person might look like junk and trying to put them in the Recycle Bin while I was fighting them tooth and nail about why that file – heck, all of the files – could not be thrown away. I’d yell and cry and beg, and eventually, I’d wear them out and they’d leave, muttering to themselves. It would make a lousy TV show, but hey, this stuff is valuable, to me at least.

So what’s all the fuss about? Well, here’s a little peek behind the wizard’s curtain.

I’ve already confessed to photo hoarding, but an even more insidious addiction is collecting tidbits of notes, thinking that maybe someday I’ll use one as a bitchin’ side note in a column, amazing y’all with the depth and breadth of my arcane knowledge. I have folders full of notes, each note containing maybe just a sentence, some longer, or a quote. As I’m reading this or reading that, whether it’s online or in a printed publication, or maybe as I see something on TV, I jot it down with the hopes I’ll someday use it.

Problem is, I have so many of them stored up, just waiting for the right moment, and I’ve grown too impatient to wait, eager to unleash them on you. So I finally gave up waiting and decided to share this hodgepodge of collected factoids.

How Shirley Muldowney became “Cha-Cha”: She remembers, “I got it in the late '50s when nicknames were synonymous with the sport of drag racing. I went to a race out in Sanford, Maine, back in 1959. That’s when they wrote your class number on your window in shoe polish. I was driving a red ’58 Corvette with a white top, a convertible all lowered, pretty jazzy looking. The tech guy wrote ['Cha-Cha'] on the car in shoe polish along with the permanent number for that day. It was very small, but it looked cute, and we decided that we would stay with a nickname ‘cause it was shorter than ‘Shirley Muldowney.’ Tommy Ivo told me I was making the biggest mistake of my racing career if I didn’t keep the name ‘Cha-Cha’ on the car and paint it pink, so I took his advice.”

It took forever for me to get the relations right for the legendary Chrisman family, so here’s your quick cheat sheet: Everett Chrisman was the patriarch. Jack Chrisman was Everett’s younger brother, Art Chrisman was Everett’s son and Jack’s nephew. Lloyd Chrisman is Everett’s son and Art’s brother. Steve Chrisman is Jack’s son. Mike Chrisman is Art’s son. Jerry Toliver is the son of Juanita Toliver, who is Art Chrisman’s sister.

Famed fuel genius “Sneaky Pete” Robinson’s real name was Lew Russell Robinson.

According to Bob Brandt, Pat Foster was “the guy who first started the multiple dry hops.”

A Top Fuel dragster fuel pump delivers about 700 cans of Mello Yello worth of nitro per minute.

 

The Compulink timing system internally calculates each elapsed time to a nanosecond (nine digits) -- that is one-billionth (1/1,000,000,000th) of a second.

During his brief run as Fontana Drag Strip's operator in 1965, Mickey Thompson renamed the facility Drag City, inspired by the hit song by Jan & Dean.

Pat “Ma” Green, who handled credentials at Irwindale Raceway (managed by her husband, Ken), remembers her first encounter with John Force, who was affiliated with the L.A. Hooker, which was run by his uncle, Gene Beaver. “He came in in his street Corvette and told the gate guy he had parts for the L.A. Hooker. The guy told him to wait and came over to my credentials booth to get me. In the meantime, John went through the gate. He didn't get very far because the place was jammed with race cars. I caught up to him and had Kenny throw him out. Six months later, he showed up at Irwindale with his first Funny Car. Kenny told him to go inside the trailer and sign in and pay. Force said there was a lady there who didn't like him very much. Kenny said, ‘Yeah, I know. You'd better go in on your hands and knees.’ "

Notable rules changes: The first mandatory use of self-starters for nitro cars was 1976. … Funny Car roof hatches were required for 1977. … Arm restraints in Top Fuel were “strongly encouraged” in 1977, mandatory for 1978. ... Front-wheel fairings (“wheel pants”) were outlawed for 1977. … The 330- and 660-foot incremental timers were added in 1988. … NHRA shortened the speed traps from 132 feet to 66 feet in 1989. (The speed traps had been 132 feet straddling the finish line.).

In his last season with the Greer-Black-Prudhomme dragster, Don Prudhomme tried his hand at drag boat racing. It did not go well. This is Long Beach, Calif., October 1964. Prudhomme: "All I remember is this thing making a little left turn. Next thing I know, I'm coming up out of the water, watching my helmet float by. The day before, I'd set the class record at 136 mph, so Zeuschel tuned 'er up. The rescue boat got me over to the shore and stretched me out. Mickey Thompson rushed over, handed [wife] Lynn his billfold with money in it, and said, 'If you need anything, you've got it here.' ... The ambulance took me to the hospital. I've crashed plenty of cars, but my body never got beat up so bad. That cured my ass! I didn't even go fishin' after that, not even from the shore. Keith Black was really pissed at me."

 

GPS coordinates for the late, great dragstrip at Ontario Motor Speedway, one of the quickest quarter-miles ever, supplied by Bret Kepner -- starting line: 34.070612, -117.572396; finish line: 34.0704482, -117.568061; end of asphalt: 34.070614, -117.560290 (actually the pit-road entrance to Turn 1). Just stick those coordinates into Google Maps. Of course, there’s nothing to really see anymore, but hey, I never promised these notes were going to be useful.

 

The first commercial fuel pumps designed and built by Sid Waterman were delivered in September 1982, one to Billy Meyer and one to Gary Beck. Both cars set new elapsed time records at Baylands Raceway Park that same weekend.

 

If you look at Phil Castronovo’s car from 1972, the year after he won the Funny Car world championship, you’ll see that his Custom Body Enterprises entry carried the No. 2. What’s up with that? Simple. Back then, the Top Fuel champion got to wear the No. 1, Funny Car champ No. 2, and Pro Stock No. 3. Simple, yes. Confusing, also yes. Glad we changed that rule? Absolutely.


Next week: Some gems from my quotebook.

Before I close, I can’t go without a shout-out to my good pal Todd Veney, who won his first NHRA national event title last weekend at the Summit Racing Equipment NHRA Nationals in Norwalk. As many of you may know, Todd worked at National Dragster for nearly 20 years – the last several as a contract writer while he pursued his driving dreams -- before committing to a full-time career as a driver. I wrote about Todd’s departure from the staff some seven and a half years ago in a column I titled “See you in the glue, friend” and watched and rooted for him ever since, through some heartbreaking final-round losses, some great divisional success and all the trials and tribulations that went with it – many of which T.V. has chronicled for us in his "Following the Dream” column in ND.

I wasn’t in Norwalk to share his moment of glory, but Dragster staffer John Hoven texted me this photo, showing T.V. being congratulated by his Dragster pals past and present, Brad Littlefield, Kelly Topolinski, and Kevin McKenna.

Throughout his racing career, Todd – son of 13-time NHRA national event winner Ken Veney -- had always self-deprecatingly joked, “Between my dad and me, we’ve won 13 national events,” and I’m thrilled that he can now finally update it. Congrats, buddy.