Drag racing has been blessed with a number of talented artists over the years, from the ever-creative themed pieces of Kenny Youngblood to the photo-realistic recreations on James Ibusuki and so many more, but Pete Millar was the king of caricatures. While Youngblood, Ibusuki, and many others focused on the cars, Millar’s specialty was the people of our sport. His CARtoons, DragToons, and Drag Comics magazines of the 1950s through 1970s featured instantly recognizable heroes of our sport in all kinds of interesting and behind-the-scenes moments often drawn tongue-in-cheek from real-life scenarios.
This isn’t a story about Millar, but of one of his most memorable works, a literal rogue’s gallery of heroes positioned on the starting line of the Winternationals that ran on the cover of the April 1975 issue of the “new” CARtoons magazine. I remember seeing this as a young drag fan and being amazed at the detail and the community aspect of the image.
Many of the faces and instantly recognizable to those who have been around the sport for four decades, but some remain unidentified. Obviously, that’s Don “the Snake” Prudhomme and Tom “the Mongoose” McEwen pulling their floppers to the line at what had to be the ’74 Winternationals (“Snake” is in the quickly-abandoned Army Vega) and – duh – that’s NHRA founder Wally Parks standing between them, but what about everyone else?
I knew maybe half of the 30 on sight, but I sent out the numbered example below to some fellow historians and, among them, Dave Wallace Jr., shared it with his Drag Racers newsgroup. I heard back from quite a few of the, including former Top Fuel racers Don Ewald (who could forget his misadventure at the 1975 Winternationals?) and Don Roberts as well as “the Wavemaker” himself, Don Prieto. Most filled in partial “ballots” with a lot of blanks.
We came to a quick consensus on some of the people, others not so much, and some are still a mystery. Here’s what we came up with. Feel free to help us identify or fill in the blanks.
1. Bill “Grumpy” Jenkins
2. Leroy Goldstein
3. Chris Karamesines
4. Don Garlits
5. Either Gas Ronda or Jim Dunn. I think Dunn.
6. Easily the most debated. Either Gary Ormsby, Don Schumacher, or John Buttera
7. Pat Foster
8. Most thought Dale Emery
10. John “Tarzan” Austin
11. Either Tom Hoover or Terry Capp. I think Hoover.
12. Most voted Billy Meyer though one said Bill Doner. I think Meyer.
13. Jerry Ruth
14. Most agreed this was Ed McCulloch.
15. Either Wayne Gapp or Gene Snow. I thought Gapp but almost everyone else here is nitro-centric so maybe Snow.
16. Jeb Allen or Tommy Ivo.
17. Shirley Muldowney
19. I thought Dave McClelland, someone else countered with Raymond Beadle, but no one was sure.
20. Buster Couch
22. Maybe Dick Landy?
23. Definitely Roland Leong
24. One vote for Larry Huff
25. An odd one. At first glance I was sure this was Bob Glidden until someone countered with Rich Siroonian. Maybe. Those sideburns …
28. Gary Beck
29. One vote for Ed McCulloch, another for Tony Nancy, and a whole lot of crickets otherwise. Undetermined.
30. NHRA competition director Jack Hart
31. What’s up with the dog?
32. Wally Parks
We lost Millar in February 2003, so the full list may never be known. You can check out a lot more of Millar’s fine work on www.laffyerasphalt.com (clever, no?), the website dedicated to his memory; this page is particularly cool.
I guess it wouldn't be a week in our world if I didn't have to share the news of the passing of another early drag racer. I heard earlier this week from former U.S. Nationals Top Fuel champ Marvin Graham, who lost good friend Steve Hodkinson a couple of weeks ago, of the passing of another Oklahoma racer, Bob Dumont, best known as the car owner for Larry Brown when he famously pitched the entire engine out of his dragster at the 1972 National Challenge in Tulsa, as remembered by Brown in this column I wrote a number of years agon and in the unforgettable Steve Reyes photo shown here. Graham also drove Dumont's front-engined car, Bad Moon Rising, earlier in his career.
Graham, who was in Pomona last weekend for the Winternationals, also shared with me the photo at right, which he captioned "Four U.S. Nationals champions under one tent," and shows Graham, second from left, with Kalitta Motorsports drivers and past Indy champs Richie Crampton (2104), Shawn Langdon (2010, 2013), and J.R. Todd (2017).
Heck, they shoulda dragged Connie (1994) in there, too. And Don Prudhomme and Tom McEwen were at the track, too, as was Gary Beck. Now that woulda been some kind of Indy champs photo!
Phil Burgess can reached at [email protected]