NHRA - National Hot Rod Association


It's 'Jungle,' by a nose ... and other stuff

09 Dec 2016
Phil Burgess, National Dragster Editor

As we get closer to the holidays and prepare to shut down the Insider for another year, I wanted to circle back to a few topics and address some other outstanding issues. I’m not sure how many more columns I’ll have this year, but as long as there’s stuff to talk about, I’ll keep churning them out.

One of the most interesting things to cross my desk was a heads-up from my ol’ pal Dennis Friend, pointing me to the Facebook page of Jack Stine, who now possesses the much-talked-about ’73 Vega front end that was sawed off the front of “Jungle Jim” Liberman’s Funny Car after he sold it to Nick Boninfante and the car began life anew as the U.S. Male.

The last info I had – which came from Boninfante’s son, Nicky – was that the piece was missing in action from the shop of the guy who wielded the saw, Joe Siti. Turns out (following the comments on Facebook) that Bobby Frey, of the Frantic Ford team, also had it for a short time before it ended up on the wall of Stine’s house in Pennsylvania.

As you can see from the side shot, it’s the real deal. And no, he says it’s not for sale.

Then again, maybe ”Big Daddy” will come calling with a fistful of cash and reunite the front end with the rest of the body that resides in his Florida Museum of Drag Racing.

"Jungle Jim" and "Jungle Bobbi"

“Jungle Jim” stories keep trickling in here. Here’s a real gem from reader Paul Wilson, of Port Blandford, Newfoundland and Labrador, Canada: “I first saw him in August of 1969 at a match race at Cayuga Dragway in Ontario. I was only 13 at the time, and it was my first time ever at the drags, and I loved it and have been a fan ever since. ‘Jungle’ was running his two '69 Novas at the time. One funny thing I remember and have never forgotten took place before the race as they were doing the pre-race interviews at the starting line, which was quite common back then. ‘Jungle Jim’ was near the end of the interview line and snuck away to incite the crowd to ‘Shhhh’ while he carefully unscrewed the red light at the bottom of the Christmas Tree -- in his lane, of course! The crowd loved it. This left a big impression on a 13-year-old kid, and I became an instant fan. He definitely was a character.”

"Jungle's" '67 Nova, in better days

Steve Reyes, who had the fortune of seeing Liberman in his early days in Northern California in the mid- to late 1960s, added, “Did you know he crashed his 1967 Nova on its first run at Fremont? The crew forgot to pull the safety pin out of the chute pack, and ol’ 'Jungle' went off the end of Fremont and through a cow pasture, destroying the front clip of his unpainted new flopper. He drove around the cows, which was pretty good because it was at night. He came back that same night and ran without the front clip.”

Speaking of old floppers, Insider reader Jim Basley asked for some help in identifying and/or authenticating this cool-looking find. “I bought this 1970 RS-nosed Camaro Funny Car a month or so ago. When I first saw it, my jaw hit the floor, and after poring over it the last few weeks, it is what I believe 99.9 percent to be the Beach City Chevrolet Camaro. Aside from the rear window missing the Bowtie, it's mostly all there. I know it was owned by Don Kirby and sold to ‘Jungle’ but would like to hear from someone who may know more about the car. I know as well that Woody Gilmore built it. There's just not a lot of pictures available on this one. Any help would be greatly appreciated."

Jim’s right in that there aren’t a whole lot of images of the car floating around, but I did find the one below, which shows the unique slotted rear deck and the split spoiler. Could there be other Camaros that had the same trademark? Probably. If anyone knows, drop me a line, and I’ll pass on the info to Jim.


John Bergener dropped me an interesting note about the pleasant surprise that he had during the Thanksgiving weekend. As the owner of five hens (“They are as much family pets as they are egg providers,” he notes), he tuned in to CMT to watch a recently produced movie called Chicken People, about people who raise and show championship chickens.

Says Bergener, “One of the subjects they followed throughout the championship chase was Brian Knox, a nice fellow whose career they labeled as a ‘race engine builder.’ That increased my interest and curiosity as the movie progressed, for sure. As it turned out, he is the son of John and Rodalyn Knox, of Division 1 Country Girl nitro Funny Car fame! While giving some background to Brian's parents’ story, they did show some video footage of her racing the Country Girl Funny Car, which was previously Bill Leavitt's Quickie Too Monza, I believe. They also showed a bit of Brian working at his current gig as an engine builder and tuner for pulling tractors (Sassy Racing Engines; sassyracingengines.com). I know it's kind of an odd-sounding movie, but it did turn out to be very entertaining and humorous at times as well. I did not see any more future airings of the movie on CMT, but they did air commercials showing it is out on DVD. Just thought it might be worth mentioning.”

OK, one final housekeeping note for the week, one that might be important to fans of this column. You may or may not have heard, but we’ll be unveiling an all-new NHRA.com early next year. Migrating content from one site to another is an enormous task, especially considering the sheer number of new articles that appear each year (about 1,500), so the initial plan is to bring over all of our 2016 content first, then backfill as time allows. As you can imagine, I have a very selfish interest in making sure that the entire archive of Insider columns – all 765 of them to date – eventually makes it over to the new site, but I can’t tell you what time frame that will be, or even how it will be organized, so if you want to revisit some favorite old threads (ramp trucks and wedge dragsters, anyone?), you might want to do so in the next month. The expandable “archive” widget at the top right of this column works pretty well, as does the NHRA.com search engine.

OK, that’s it for the week. Keep those cards and letters coming.