NHRA - National Hot Rod Association

Fan Fotos: Top Fuelers, Funny Cars, and Pro Stockers of the early 1980s

Take a trip down memory lane with these fan-submitted photos from NHRA national events of the early 1980s. John Force, Shirley Muldowney, Don Prudhomme, the Chi-Town Hustler, and many more!
27 Mar 2020
Phil Burgess, NHRA National Dragster Editor
Fan Fotos

In another installment of reader-shared photos, I proudly publish these from the lens of Jim Riddiford. We at National Dragster first became acquainted with Jim a few years ago after he submitted a great photo of Cruz Pedregon’s wild, body-unlatching wheelstand at the fall event in Las Vegas.

Riddiford has been shooting for himself for decades, since the early 1970s at U.S. 30 Dragway in Gary, Ind., and Union Grove Dragaway in Wisc., with his old Mamiya Secor before moving to Southern California in 1979, where he started attending the events at Ontario Motor Speedway, Orange County Int’l Raceway, Carlsbad Raceway, Famoso Dragstrip, and Bandimere Speedway before moving to Hawaii in 1989.

“I brought some of my photos to Las Vegas fall race a few years back to give to Dianne Dunn; I always bring her gifts from Hawaii where we live,” he said “I had a stack of pics about three inches high in my hand, and driver Paul Lee asked what I had, I told him ‘old pics for early 80's,’ he said, ‘Can I see them?’ so I gave him a few. You know when people give you 40 wedding pics to look at, how you feel, but he looked at me and said, ‘I want to see all of them.’ He made my day; as bad as they were he loved them.”

Riddiford gave me so many pics that I’m going to split it up into two parts. Some of the photos have been cropped and color-corrected by me. Comments are all mine with some assists from the shooter. Here you go … enjoy!

Riddiford snapped this pic at OCIR on the night that Shirley Muldowney raced Don Garlits and his sidewinder, Jan. 9, 1982, at the Coors Grand Premiere. Muldowney and Garlits split the first two rounds then Shirley won the match after Garlits broke a gearbox in the rubber match. Crew chief Rahn Tobler can be seen working on the car while Muldowney stands by the rear wing talking to Top Fuel team owner/driver Larry Minor.

First pair of round one of the 1984 season-opening Winternationals and John Force – still three years away from his first career – and his Coca-Cola Camaro puts Kenny Bernstein and his slick new aerodynamic Budweiser King on the trailer, 5.890 to 5.908.

This is how John Force used to do burnouts before crew chiefs started worrying about clutch wear. This is 1984 at Carlsbad Raceway in Southern California. Riddiford was “down San Diego way” to watch his Chicago Cubs play (and eventually lose to) the San Diego Padres in the National League Championship Series/

John Force hits the stripe at OCIR in his Mountain Dew-backed Chevy Citation.

It didn’t seem like there were many years that Top Alcohol Funny Car king Frank Manzo didn’t have the big No. 1 on his car, but this is one of them. Probably 1986, the year that he won his first of 16 crowns.

Mr. Cool, Don “the Snake” Prudhomme, in 1989, his final year in Funny Car.

The 372 number on the side of this Top Fueler tells me it’s Mark Howick’s car but it sure looks like Kelly Brown behind the wheel. Riddiford says it was shot at OCIR, closer to home for KB than Dayton, Ohio-based Howick, who was a partner at one time with G.L. Rupp, who is best known for his long association with Pat Dakin. 

Austin Coil drops another piston into the engine of the Chi-Town Hustler, circa 1982-83. Before masterminding most of John Force’s championships, Coil tuned the Hustler and Frank Hawley to back-to-back titles in 1982-83.

And here’s the Hustler itself at the ’82 World Finals, parked next to it’s equally famous ramp tuck (now enclosed) that reportedly racked up more than a million miles making the match-race tour. Riddiford added, "I saw Mr. Leslie Lovett [National Dragster photo editor] in the parking lot of the hotel Sunday morning of final eliminations. He saw my race shirt and asked me who I was rooting for in Funny Car for the world championship. I told him, 'I'm from Chi-Town,' and he smiled and gave me a thumbs up."

SoCal favorite Gary Densham was one of the first to have the new Datsun 280Z body in 1980 when NHRA first allowed foreign-car bodies in Funny Car. This car met a fiery end at the 1981 World Finals at OCIR.

Tom Hoover always had the prettiest Funny Cars on the planet. That’s “Mr. Showtime: in the background with his octogenarian father George, his longtime wrench.

During the streamlining craze of the mid- to late-1980s, even lesser-funded drivers like former sand racer Butch Blair got on board with cockpit canopies and small front tires. This is his Blair’s Fugowie car (you probably have heard the joke).

Before his son, Del Worsham, started driving in the early 1990s, Chuck Worsham was partners with driver Richard Day on a series of Alcohol Funny Cars like this McCracken-bodied Corvette in the early 1980s. Riddiford points out that alky cars still had single-wall headers at the time.

The No. 5 on the side of Raymond Beadle’s Blue Max tells us this is 1983 and the track is obviously Pomona, which at time only hosted the Winternationals. Riddiford said the Max took a trip into the sand trap to cause this damage. I don’t remember this but I do know that Beadle lost in round one to John Force at just 109 mph, so my deduction tells me maybe he hit the guardrail instead? (Single-rail guardrail as Riddiford points out.)

This is a really interesting photo to me. It’s from qualifying at the 1982 World Finals at OCIR and showed Warren Johnson in his Olds Starfire running next to Brian Stewart’s Camaro. What interests me? Plenty. First, you have to remember that even though WJ had been racing in Pro Stock since the early 1970s, he didn’t win hi first race until earlier in 1982 in Englishtown. He finished out the year by winning the Golden Gate Nationals in Fremont, Calif., where he made the class’ first 180-mph pass, then won the World Finals. defeating Lee Shepherd in the final round. I know this is qualifying because Stewart lost in round one to Bob Glidden. Stewart ran Pro Stock only through 1984 then didn’t return to the national event scene for 30 years, when he made his comeback in Funny Car, where he fielded a strong, three-second car for a few years with the help of Tim Wilkerson.

OK, that’s it for today. Look for another installment next week with more of Riddiford’s photos. If you have a collection of photos you’d like to share, send them to me at the email address below.

Thanks for reading. Stay safe out there.

Phil Burgess can reached at pburgess@nhra.com

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