Quiz: Drag racing's hometown heroes
The weekend before the Denso Spark Plugs NHRA U.S. Nationals, I was heading home from a responsibly-distanced family get-together at the beach (try to muzzle your jealously), driving across Southern California’s San Fernando Valley, which was home to so many of the sport’s big stars in the 1970s.
I started ticking off those city names in my head when it occurred to me that the names of so many small towns across the country are ingrained in our heads as the hometowns of our heroes. The one that kickstarted the thought for me was Granada Hills, Calif., in the north end of the valley, a city that became synonymous with Don “the Snake” Prudhomme as his longtime home base (and also that of fellow flopper racer Bob Pickett).
I couldn’t (and probably still can’t) pinpoint Seffner, Fla., on a map but I know that was the home of “Big Daddy” Don Garlits. And whoever had heard of Mt. Clemens, Mich., before Shirley Muldowney made it famous? Or Yorba Linda, Calif., before John Force made it his HQ?
So, I thought we’d play a little game this week. Below, in the left column, are the names of 26 “famous” drag racing hometowns and in the right column are residents of those cities. They’re both alphabetized, and your job is to try to match them up. Obviously, some of these drivers have lived in multiple cities, but I tried to use their most unique as their answer. Let’s see how good you guys are. The answers and a little info about these places are listed below the "no cheating zone" below, as is my rather generous grading. Have at it!
Match the city with the driver/team
|A||Aston, Pa.||1||Al Hofmann|
|B||Burbank, Calif.||2||Billy Meyer|
|C||Burlington, N.C.||3||Bob Glidden|
|D||Dauphin, Pa.||4||Bruce Larson|
|E||Fountain Valley, Calif.||5||Candies & Hughes|
|F||Houma, La.||6||Clayton Harris|
|G||La Mirada, Calif.||7||Dick LaHaie|
|H||Lansing, Mich.||8||Ed McCulloch|
|I||Livonia, Mich.||9||Frank Bradley|
|J||Moulton, Ala.||10||Herm Petersen|
|K||Napa, Calif.||11||Jeb Allen|
|L||Newton, Kan.||12||Jim and Alison Lee|
|M||Old Forge, Pa.||13||Jim Dunn|
|N||Poulsbo, Wash.||14||Jim Liberman|
|O||Sanger, Calif.||15||Jimmy King|
|P||Santa Rosa, Calif.||16||Joe Amato|
|Q||Tarzana, Calif.||17||John Wiebe|
|R||The Plains, Va.||18||Ken Veney|
|S||Umatilla, Fla.||19||Lew Arrington|
|T||Utica, N.Y.||20||Pat Foster|
|U||Waco, Texas||21||Phil Castronovo|
|V||Wadsworth Ohio||22||Ronnie Sox|
|W||Warner Robins, Ga.||23||Shirl Greer|
|X||Warren, R.I.||24||Tom McEwen|
|Y||West Chester, Pa.||25||Tommy Ivo|
|Z||Whiteland, Ind.||26||Wayne Gapp|
Aston, Pa./Lew Arrington: A bit of a Burgess curveball to get you started. Although the driver of the Brutus Funny Car got his start in the Northern California Bay Area (Cupertino and San Jose), he moved back east and became the longtime foil to “Jungle Jim” Liberman. Aston, located just miles southwest of Philadelphia, was first settled in 1682 as Northley, but in 1687, the local constable, Edward Carter, changed the name to Aston in remembrance of his old home of Aston in Oxfordshire, England.
Burbank, Calif./Tommy Ivo: With a nickname like “T.V. Tommy,” it’s not surprising that Ivo called Burbank –- known as the "Media Capital of the World" -– his home for so long. Today, it’s still the home of Warner Bros. Entertainment, The Walt Disney Company, Nickelodeon Animation Studios, The Burbank Studios, and the Cartoon Network Studios. Burbank’s locale also put Ivo at the heart of SoCal hot rod action as a member of the famed Burbank Road Kings car club.
Burlington, N.C./Ronnie Sox: Burlington. Located at the northern edge of the state, Burlington was an early railroad hub and home to the North Carolina Railroad in the 1850s, united the cities of Charlotte and Goldsboro, and also united the fates of Sox and partner Buddy Martin who mde tracks into the Pro Stock and Sportsman history books in the late 1960s and early 1970s.
Dauphin, Pa./Bruce Larson: By alphabetical happenstance, these two were aligned alongside each other on the chart but that didn’t fool you, right? Located on the east bank of the Susquehanna River and just an hour’s tow east to Maple Grove Raceway, Dauphin had a population of just 791 at the 2010 census and occupies just a half-square-mile of land, but for many of us, it's just the home of USA-1.
Fountain Valley, Calif./Tom McEwen: “The Mongoose” is one of the few drag racing “Notable people” that Wikipedia attached to its listings of this towns in the story (right alongside former CIA Director Mike Pompeo and actress Keri Russell), so that’s pretty cool. Located about a half-hour south of Los Angeles, Fountain Valley was named not necessarily for stone water features, but for the very high water table in the area at the time the name was chosen, and the many corresponding artesian wells in the area.
Houma, La./Candies & Hughes: Located in bayou country about an hour west of New Orleans, Houma is in a region developed for sugar cane plantations in the antebellum years when plantations were sited along the rivers and bayous to have access to water transportation. It’s no surprise that Otto Candies -– father of team owner Paul –- started a renowned (and eponymous) shipping business here that funded the cars run by his son and tuner/driver Leonard Hughes.
La Mirada, Calif./Jim Dunn: In 2006, the upscale city of La Mirada ("the view," in Spanish) was listed No. 34 on CNN Money magazine's "Best Place to Live" list, and "Big Jim" obviously thought so, too. Located just 20 miles from Long Beach, where Dunn was a fire captain, and within easy driving distances of places like Orange County Int'l Raceway, Lions Dragstrip, and Irwindale Raceway, it was a perfect home base for the nitro veteran.
Lansing, Mich./Dick LaHaie: Michigan obviously was a hotbed for nitro racing back in the 1970s with Muldowney, Kalitta, LaHaie, Al Bergler, the Ramchargers, Roger Lindamood, Tom Prock, Dick Rosberg, Della Woods, Chuck Kurzawa, Jack Ostrander, and more all calling the state home, and Lansing, located at the base of “the mitten’s” thumb, is the state capital.
Livonia, Mich./Wayne Gapp: The famed Gapp & Roush team called this spot -- 20 miles west of downtown Detroit and, more important to the Ford heroes, just a dozen miles from Ford HQ in Dearborn –- the home base for their Pro Stock histrionics. Ford is still the city's largest employer.
Moulton, Ala./Clayton Harris: Sleepy little Moulton, whose population in 2010 was a record-high 3,471 citizens, is about an hour and a half north of Birmingham in the northern part of the Cotton State, and was the home base for Harris and Jack McKay’s amazing New Dimensions Homes dragster, which set the national record with a stunning 6.16 at Lions Dragstrip’s Grand Premiere in February 1972 and bettered it with a 6.15 five months later at Lions.
Napa, Calif./Frank Bradley: Although he later resided in Santa Rosa, Calif., wine-tasting/growing capital Napa was the longtime home base of "the Beard." With nearly 80,000 residents, it's the second-largest city (behind Santa Rosa) in Northern California's "Wine Country" and located just about 20 miles northeast of Sonoma Raceway.
Newton, Kan./John Wiebe: This one shoulda been a freebie for most of you familiar with the Sunflower State’s greatest Top Fuel star, the guy known as “Kansas John.” Newton, home to about 20,000 folks, is located about 25 miles north of Wichita off Interstate 135 and about smack dab in the middle of the state and was an important shipping point for Texas cattle back in the 1870s.
Old Forge, Pa./Joe Amato: Located in the northeastern part of the state near Wilkes-Barre, it's known as "the pizza capital of the world," but for Top Fuel fans in the late 1980s and early '90s, it was the Top Fuel capital of the world as Amato owned the class. For the gastronomical record, the "the pizza capital of the world" is a rather brave claim considering the many other candidates, but it originated from immigrant Italian miners who could eat their pizza, hot or cold, down in the mines. "Old Forge-style" pizza is typically square with a thick, crispy crust. I counted at least 20 pizza joints on Google maps -– not bad for a town of 8,000.
Poulsbo, Wash./Herm Petersen: Located on Liberty Bay in Kitsap County, Wash., across Puget Sound from Seattle, as the crow flies (over water) it’s only about 30 miles to Pacific Raceways (nee Seattle Int’l Raceway) but double that to go entirely by land, making the "Viking Town" of 10,000 not the most accessible spot in the country for a traveling man like the Northwest Terror, but being the fisherman that he is, it's probably a wonderful spot to live.
Sanger, Calif./Ed McCulloch: "The Ace" is probably better known for being from Fresno, Calif., but I didn't want you guys to go scouring the list for Gary Scelzi, Rance McDaniel, Denver Schutz, or the many others who call "the raisin capital of the world" (disputed, by the way, by neighboring Selma) their home, so I went with his home from the late 1970s. Maybe “Ace” moved to Sanger, about 20 miles east of Fresno, because it’s known as “the Nation’s Christmas Tree City” –- no, not for the drag racing starting device but for the General Grant Tree, which was designated the Nation's Christmas Tree by U.S. President Calvin Coolidge and the U.S. Department of Interior in 1926. It's the largest giant sequoia and the second largest tree in the world. It stands 264 feet tall and is approximately 264 feet tall.
Santa Rosa, Calif./Jeb Allen: You might have (correctly) tagged Jeb Allen with Bellflower, Calif., from which he completed the majority of his teenage heroics (1971-73), but he moved to Santa Rosa, right on famed Highway 101, in 1974. Located just 30 miles north of Sonoma Raceway and an hour north of San Francisco, with more than 175,000 residents, it’s the largest city in California's Redwood Empire, Wine Country, and the North Bay; and the fifth most populous city in the San Francisco Bay Area after San Jose, San Francisco, Oakland, and Fremont.
Tarzana, Calif./Pat Foster: Tarzana, another of those racer-loved San Fernando Valley cities is, not surprisingly, named after the vine-swinging king of the jungle, as it was the home of Tarzan author Edgar Rice Burroughs, who had a ranch there after moving west from Illinois in 1931. Seems like it would have been a fine home for “Jungle Jim” Liberman (who lived in both Mountain View and Sunnyvale, Calif., before moving east), but “Patty Faster” also made it famous.
The Plains, Va./Jim and Alison Lee: Located about 45 miles west of Washington, D.C., it’s thick in Civil War history and has a rich history of liquor bootlegging during Prohibition and, with a population of just under 200, it’s small-town America at its finest even with actor Robert Duvall as one of its longtime residents. The Lees had a horse farm that had been in the Lee family for more than 100 years, and Alison has lived in the area her whole life and, when she wasn’t racing, worked as a volunteer for 30 years at the Fauquier Hospital Auxiliary Thrift Shop.
Umatilla, Fla./Al Hofmann: Hofmann, the down and dirty Funny Car driver who gave John Force fits in the 1990s, is listed on the Umatilla Wikipedia entry as one of its most famous residents (along with the likes of Chicago Cubs catcher Jonathan Lucroy and Will Radcliff, creator of the Slush Puppie beverage). With a population of less than 4,000, the small city in the Ocala National Forest an hour and a half south of Gainesville seemed an unlikely base for Hofmann, who cut his racing teeth in Connecticut, but he did them proud.
Utica, N.Y./Phil Castronovo: This was an easy one of you remembered that Castronovo’s nickname was “the Utica Flash.” Utica was the home of the family body and paint business, Custom Body Enterprises, which was emblazoned on the sides of so many of the family’s Funny Cars. Located on the Mohawk River about 90 minutes north of Albany, it’s New York state’s 10th largest city. Annette Funicello was born there, Dick Clark started his career there, and James B, Sherman, vice president to William H. Taft, is buried there.
West Chester, Pa./Jim Liberman: There should a shrine here to “Jungle Jim,” who called this east Pennsylvania town home for the last half of his racing career. He took up reisdence there after he moved home from California (born originally in Abington, Pa.) and also was the site of his death in a highway collision with a bus on the West Chester Pike on Sept. 9, 1977. “Jungle’s” place, near the intersection of Routes 202 and 926, was a popular hangout for Funny Car racers touring back east and was demolished in 2016. West Chester is located just 45 minutes west of Philadelphia and just 30 miles from Maple Grove Raceway.
Waco, Texas/Billy Meyer: Another easy one if you remember his "Waco Willie" nickname from the 1970s, even if Meyer was originally from Miami, Fla. Meyer grew up racing go-karts when his dad moved to Texas and Meyer, who had just received his Texas driver’s license, strapped in for his first Funny Car ride -– the Steakley Brothers Camaro -- at McGregor Airport outside of Waco in 1971. Located on Highway 35 halfway between Dallas and Austin and known best for the 1993 shootout at the Branch Davidian compound, Waco is also the birthplace of that wild and crazy guy, comedian/actor Steve Martin, and the less wild and crazy actress, Jennifer Love Hewitt.
Wadsworth Ohio/Ken Veney: Man, I’m making this too easy for y’all. Like Meyer, innovative alcohol and nitro racer Ken Veney was nicknamed for the city in which he lived (and still lives), hence, “the Wizard of Wadsworth,” a nickname bestowed upon him by none other than Joe Amato in the late 1970s. Veney was born there in 1940, moved to California in 1959, and then back home in 1975. The other famous Veney, his son, racer, and drag racing scribe Todd, spent his teen years there and compares Wadsworth to Brownsburg, Ind. It's a bedroom community of 25,000 people located 15 minutes west of Akron, just like Brownsburg is 15 minutes west of Indianapolis.
Warner Robins, Ga./Shirl Greer: The 1974 Funny Car world champ put this small farming town in central Georgia on the map after his dramatic and heroic championship bid at the ’74 World Finals. Located about 100 miles south of Atlanta, the town was originally named Wellston by renamed in 1942 in honor of then-recently deceased General Augustine Warner Robins of the United States Army Air Corps. Business Week magazine named Warner Robins the best place in Georgia to raise a family two years running (2009-10) and CNN Money named it No. 7 on its Best Places To Live list for America's best small cities.
Warren, R.I./Jimmy King: Before Bob Tasca III, Rhode Island’s most famous nitro racer was definitely Jimmy King, of King & Marshall fame, whose Top Fuelers and Funny Cars were among the toughest of the East Coast. Located on the Palmer River about a dozen miles south of Providence (and about 20 miles from Tasca Ford), with a population of just about 10,000, the town covers 8.6 square miles but 2.5 of them are water, which is probably why is why it was a popular 18th-century whaling port and ship-building center. It’s named for British naval hero Admiral Sir Peter Warren.
Whiteland, Ind./ Bob Glidden: Wikipedia only lists four notable people from this small Indiana town (population 4,000), and you bet that Bob Glidden is one of them. Glidden was born in Whiteland in 1944, graduated from Whiteland High School in 1962, and would run his cars on the long straightaways on State Route 252 south of town or on Route 37, west of town, before he hit the drag racing big time. Late last year, the city announced that it naming a street in a new industrial development near Interstate 65 and Whiteland Road as Bob Glidden Boulevard. Located a half-hour south of Indianapolis (and five miles south of Greenwood, Ind., which he also once called home), you can still find Glidden Racing Engines on Graham Road.
20-26: You read the same drag racing magazines as I did, didn’t ya?
15-20: I’d probably trust you to drive me to the next drag race
10-14: Download the Google Maps app. Now
5-13: Reading comic books during geography class, were ya?
0-5: You don’t even know where you live, do you?
Phil Burgess can reached at [email protected]
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