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Of missing jackets, missing friends, missing columns, and moving on down the road

The return of the Dragster Insider includes the tale of the missing firesuit, memories of John "Tarzan" Austin and Dal Denton, and moving on from one NHRA home to another.
22 Oct 2021
Phil Burgess, NHRA National Dragster Editor
DRAGSTER Insider
Dragster Insider
Hello, Insider nation! Long time no see. Between running six national events in eight weeks, a bunch of travel, my “streamlined” staff, producing the biggest issue in NHRA National Dragster history (260 pages!), and the process of the big…
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From Calvin Rice to John Force, a look at the history of NHRA's all-time winners

One thing that likely will never change in our lifetimes is that John Force is the winningest driver in NHRA history (154 victories and counting), but he wasn't always the GOAT of winners. Here's a historical look back at NHRA's winningest drivers over the decades.
01 Oct 2021
Phil Burgess, NHRA National Dragster Editor
DRAGSTER Insider
NHRA's Alltime winners
  A lot has happened since the last Dragster Insider column, including four straight weekends of national event racing (hence the column’s absence), but one thing that hasn’t changed, and likely will never change in our lifetimes, is…
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Indy 1971: 'The Great Burndown'

Staging battles are all the talk right now, but the most epic burndown in NHRA history happened in the Top Fuel final 50 years ago at the 1971 U.S. Nationals between Steve Carbone and "Big Daddy" Don Garlits.
27 Aug 2021
Phil Burgess, NHRA National Dragster Editor
DRAGSTER Insider
The Great Burndown
Two weeks ago in Topeka, Pro Stock racers Bruno Massel and Mason McGaha set the internet ablaze with the controversy surrounding their three-and-a-half-minute starting-line staging duel, a battle that neither won after they were both disqualified…
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Can't beat the heat: Before Justin Ashley, there was the tale of Jim Harnsberger

A lot of people gasped when Justin Ashley had to withdraw from the Winternationals Top Fuel final due to heat exhaustion, but it wasn’t the first time that’s happened in NHRA Top Fuel history. Meet Jim Harnsberger, who had the same thing happen to him 50 years ago while preparing his car for the final.
06 Aug 2021
Phil Burgess, NHRA National Dragster Editor
DRAGSTER Insider
Jim Harnsberger
When Justin Ashley had to be pulled out of his car before the final round of Top Fuel at the summer Lucas Oil NHRA Winternationals…
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A History of the Western Swing

The NHRA Western Swing has been around since 1989, but this year, it has a new look and a shot at making some more history. Here's a detailed history of the Western Swing with a look back at those who have swept the Swing and those who have gotten close.
09 Jul 2021
Phil Burgess, NHRA National Dragster Editor
DRAGSTER Insider
Western Swing
When NHRA introduced the Western Swing in 1989 — a three-races-in-three-weekends test of technology and tenacity from the high-altitude climes of Denver to Northern California’s Sonoma Wine Country to Seattle in the Great Northwest — it was a real…
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Remembering Leslie Lovett

Twenty-five years ago, the NHRA world lost one of its finest people and greatest emissaries when National Dragster Photo Editor Leslie Lovett died of a heart attack, but his legacy and images continue to power and inspire the sport.
02 Jul 2021
Phil Burgess, NHRA National Dragster Editor
DRAGSTER Insider
Leslie Lovett 31
  Even 25 years later, I still want to cry.  On July 2, 1996 — a quarter-century ago today — the NHRA world lost one of its finest people and greatest emissaries when National Dragster Photo Editor Leslie Lovett died of…
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Shining the spotlight on Funny Car: 900 races, 92 winners, 23 champions

The Funny Car class hit its milestone 900th event last weekend in Epping. Here's a look back at the 92 winners, 23 champions, and interesting facts and trivia covering the class' history.
18 Jun 2021
Phil Burgess, NHRA National Dragster Editor
DRAGSTER Insider
Funny Car
It was less than two years ago — at the fall Las Vegas event in 2019 — that Top Fuel reached its 900-event milestone, and its nitro-burning little brother, Funny Car, reached the same…
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Book review: Drag Racing's Warren "the Professor" Johnson

A lot of people love Pro Stock. Kelly Wade LOVES Pro Stock. And she loves people, making her the perfect person to tackle the daunting task of chronicling the life and times of “the Professor,” Warren Johnson.
11 Jun 2021
Phil Burgess, NHRA National Dragster Editor
DRAGSTER Insider
Warren Johnson
  A lot of people love Pro Stock. Kelly Wade LOVES Pro Stock. The former NHRA National Dragster staffer turned drag racing public-relations pro began her passionate affair with the class early in her two-plus-year…
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More Tales From The Starting Line

When your dad loves both drag racing and photography, that's where you end up. Rick Bain shares his story of growing up shooting photos on the starting line of some iconic Southern California tracks. Plus: Autograph hunt!
04 Jun 2021
Phil Burgess, NHRA National Dragster Editor
DRAGSTER Insider
Dragster Insider
The tales about starting-line photography (mid)adventures from yours truly and others struck a nerve with many of you, some of who shared their stories. I really love these, because they resonate with a lot of us. Those heady early days at the…
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Winter is coming ... and so is another epic chapter of racing in Pomona

Winter is coming. That’s the watchword for Southern California fans as the fabled Winternationals is officially back on the schedule for the last weekend of July. Take a walk back through some other hot Pomona times from the past 60 years.
28 May 2021
Phil Burgess, NHRA National Dragster Editor
DRAGSTER Insider
Winter is coming
Winter is coming. That’s the watchword for Southern California fans as the fabled Winternationals is officially back on the schedule for the last weekend of July. I know … the Winternationals in the middle of summer? Weird, right? Then again,…
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Tales from the Finish Line

From flaming Funnies to flipping Pro Stockers, tumbling Top Fuelers, and acrobatic Alcohol Funny Cars, a fond look back at a career spent watching the drags from the finish line.
21 May 2021
Phil Burgess, NHRA National Dragster Editor
DRAGSTER Insider
Dragster Insider
As I mentioned in my last column, Tales From The Starting Line, I spent a lot of time shooting photos on the starting line at NHRA national events, backing up Leslie Lovett or Bill…
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Tales from the Starting Line

Access to the starting line at an NHRA national event for professional photographers is a coveted goal for many, offering a ringside seat to motorsports' most powerful experience. Here's the story of two ways to get there. (We recommend the first.)
07 May 2021
Phil Burgess, NHRA National Dragster Editor
DRAGSTER Insider
Starting line
The imminent closing of Atlanta Dragway after last weekend’s running of the final NHRA Southern Nationals brought back instant memories of the grief myself and my fellow Southern Californians went through with the closings of Lions Dragstrip,…
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They came from near and far to celebrate a legend and what he means to them

The friends of NHRA Drag Racing legend Don "the Snake" Prudhomme gathered recently to celebrate the nitro-racing icon on his 80th birthday.
23 Apr 2021
Phil Burgess, NHRA National Dragster Editor
DRAGSTER Insider
A birthday cigar for "the Snake" 10
Richard Tharp flew in from Texas. Al Segrini made the trip from Massachusetts, stopping in Indy to pick up Tom Prock. “Waterbed Fred” Miller made the long trek from Florida. Ron Capps came from right around the corner. Dozens of longtime friends…
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The story of Swamp Rat 17: Don Garlits' most misunderstood Top Fueler

Don Garlits’ Swamp Rat 17, the Wynn’s Liner, had a very short life in 1973 and is roundly considered to be among the few disappointments of the more than 40 Swamp Rats he campaigned. Here's the story behind this most misunderstood car.
09 Apr 2021
Phil Burgess, NHRA National Dragster Editor
DRAGSTER Insider
Don Garlits
Earlier this year, I wrote a column about racecar experiments that didn’t come to fruition and cited, chief among them, Don Garlits’ Swamp Rat 17, the Wynn’s Liner, which had a…
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Remembering Ron Colson

If your association with drag racing goes back four decades, it’s a pretty good bet that you know who Ron Colson was, and a fairly good bet that your paths had crossed at one point. If you're newer to the sport, it's time you learned something about Colson, who passed away March 19.
26 Mar 2021
Phil Burgess, NHRA National Dragster Editor
DRAGSTER Insider
Dragster Insider
If your association with drag racing goes back four decades, it’s a pretty good bet that you know who Ron Colson was, and a fairly good bet that your paths had crossed at one point. Colson, who drove Top Fuel dragsters and Funny Cars for decades…
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Remembering Doug Thorley

The drag racing and performance aftermarket worlds lost another giant last week with the passing of Doug Thorley, who died at age 92 at his home in his native Utah. Here's a fond look back at his career.
19 Mar 2021
Phil Burgess, NHRA National Dragster Editor
DRAGSTER Insider
Doug Thorley
The drag racing and performance aftermarket worlds lost another giant last week with the passing of Doug Thorley, who died at age 92 at his home in his native Utah. Thorley not only created an aftermarket titan in Doug’s Headers in 1958 but also…
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NHRA and Hot Wheels: Together Again

Earlier this week, NHRA announced a partnership with Mattel’s Hot Wheels brand to bring NHRA-branded drag racing diecast cars to the mass market, the continuation of a relationship that began in 1970. Here's a look back at how it all got started.
05 Mar 2021
Phil Burgess, NHRA National Dragster Editor
DRAGSTER Insider
Hot Wheels
In case you missed it earlier this week, NHRA announced a partnership with Mattel’s Hot Wheels brand to bring NHRA-branded drag racing diecast cars to the mass market, a release that certainly…
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Fire and despair in the desert

It's one thing to lose a race car to fire on the dragstrip and another to lose it in a trailer fire on the way to the track. John Lombardo Jr. recounts the "surreal and unpleasant night" in 1984 when legendary Funny Car owner Joe Pisano's rig burned to the ground in the California desert.
26 Feb 2021
Phil Burgess, NHRA National Dragster Editor
DRAGSTER Insider
Dragster Insider
  It's no secret that nitro Funny Car racing can be a perilous endeavor. Mechanical failures on nitromethane-burning engines have been around since the class' inception in the mid-1960s and are a foreseeable if not predictable result of…
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The life and times of Denny Savage, a Funny Car driver's Funny Car driver

Denny Savage was an old-school Funny Car driver, born in the class' earliest years in the mid-1960s, and enjoyed a career that lasted well into the 1980s while driving famed cars such as the Hawaiian, the Chi-Town Hustler, and more than a dozen others. This is his story.
19 Feb 2021
Phil Burgess, NHRA National Dragster Editor
DRAGSTER Insider
Denny Savage
The name Dennis Walter Petersavage may not roll off the lips of drag race fans and historians, but for the better part of two decades, he made his presence known in the Funny Car ranks as Denny Savage, a guy who could and would drive any Funny…
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Not every innovation works

Innovation has always been a hallmark of drag racing. New ideas – sometimes brilliant, sometimes harebrained – surfaced every weekend at tracks across the country. Some worked, some didn’t, but it even some that didn’t work still advanced the sport.
05 Feb 2021
Phil Burgess, NHRA National Dragster Editor
DRAGSTER Insider
Dragster Insider
Input from last week’s column about the Cars That Changed Drag Racing was, as expected, voluminous and wide-ranging. There were some really good recommendations for the list (…
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Cars that changed drag racing

In a sport like ours, where evolution carried us from stripped-down Model Ts to 330-mph Top Fuel dragsters, what are the most significant race cars that have marked the milestones along the way? We want to hear your thoughts!
29 Jan 2021
Phil Burgess, NHRA National Dragster Editor
DRAGSTER Insider
Dragster Insider
A big part of our story as human beings is carved in our past, begging the inevitable question of “How did we get here?” Whether that’s the story of human evolution, mass manufacturing and marketing, social media, or your own family tree, I think it…
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Charging into Funny Car history

Don Schumacher Racing’s Dodge Charger Funny Cars swept all 11 races last season, but the Charger is certainly not a new body style to the class, having been around since the class’ mid-1960s creation. Here's a look back at some of them.
22 Jan 2021
Phil Burgess, NHRA National Dragster Editor
DRAGSTER Insider
Dodge Charger
Don Schumacher Racing’s Dodge Charger Funny Cars swept all 11 races last season plus three to end the 2019 season, giving them a stretch of 14 wins on top of five world championships over the last 10 seasons, but the Charger is certainly not a new…
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Random Racer Roundup

Challenged to cite a random drag racer from their memory banks, dozens of NHRA fans responded to share their thoughts abut racers past and present whose accomplishments resonate with them.
08 Jan 2021
Phil Burgess, NHRA National Dragster Editor
DRAGSTER Insider
Dragster Insider
The tweets that became a viral thread that launched a Dragster Insider column that spawned a follow-up now has an offspring. Challenged by yours truly to cite a random drag racer from your memory banks, dozens of you responded to share your picks…
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Passings of original NHRA DD Darwin Doll, car owner Dale Creasy Sr. add to 2020 toll

Darwin Doll, one of NHRA’s original division directors who oversaw the Northeast Division from 1964-78, and longtime nitro Funny Car owner Dale Creasy Sr. both passed away recently, adding to a year of tremendous losses within the sport. We salute them all one final time.
30 Dec 2020
Phil Burgess, NHRA National Dragster Editor
DRAGSTER Insider
2020 losses
Darwin Doll, one of NHRA’s original division directors who oversaw the Northeast Division from 1964-78, and longtime nitro Funny Car owner Dale Creasy Sr. both passed away recently, adding to a year of tremendous losses within the sport. We salute…
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89 questions about Chris “the Greek” Karamesines (or should there be 92?)

Drag racing's legendary "Greek," Chris Karamesines, ended his driving career at the close of the 2020 season at age 89. Or is it 92? There are so many questions. After all, when your drag racing career spans 67 years (61 of them in Top Fuel), there’s a lot of room for questions we'll try to answer.
24 Dec 2020
Phil Burgess, NHRA National Dragster Editor
DRAGSTER Insider
Chris Karamesines
When it comes to the life and times of Chris Karamesines, there will always be some things you can debate. His age. Whether or not he made the first 200-mph quarter-mile pass. How much gold plating really was on his famed Top Fueler. After all,…
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50 years, 10 manufacturers, 84 body styles: A guide to Pro Stock diversity

Although it’s pretty clear that the Chevrolet Camaro has become the body style of choice in Pro Stock over the last decade, it certainly wasn’t always the case. Here's a look back at the variety that has made the class a fan favorite for 50 years.
18 Dec 2020
Phil Burgess, NHRA National Dragster Editor
DRAGSTER Insider
Pro Stock
The 2020 season was supposed to be a yearlong salute to the Pro Stock class, which was celebrating its 50th year of competition. All sorts of special promotions for fans were planned, as were television, web, and print features across NHRA…
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Yuichi Oyama. Who? Japanese Top Fuel racer made waves, scored upsets in 2002

Not many people (well, only one, actually) can say they caused Top Fuel legend Don Garlits to not qualify at the U.S. Nationals, upset Kenny Bernstein in the last race of his "Forever Red" retirement tour, and was the first Japanese national in an NHRA Top Fuel final. That guy was Yuichi Oyama.
11 Dec 2020
Phil Burgess, NHRA National Dragster Editor
DRAGSTER Insider
Yuichi Oyama
  Last week’s “Name a random racer” column drew an avalanche of emails that will be fodder for a feature column, but, as promised, this week I’m talking about my…
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Name a random NHRA racer ... go

Challenged on Twitter to pick a random NHRA driver, fans responded with a wide-ranging and impressive list of their favorites. Now you get your chance, too.
04 Dec 2020
Phil Burgess, NHRA National Dragster Editor
DRAGSTER Insider
NHRA
Fandom is such a unique thing. What attracts one person to a specific celebrity or athlete varies differently from what others may think. Some people become fans based on accomplishments, others on intangibles like work ethics, personality, and…
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1971: Garlits goes 'Big,' Funnies go 220, Sox goes wild, and NHRA goes to Canada

As NHRA prepares to celebrate its 70th anniversary in 2021, here's a look back 50 seasons ago, when Don Garlits introduced the first successful rear-engine Top Fueler, Funny Car performance zoomed out of sight, Ronnie Sox won six of eight Pro Stock events but not the world championship, and NHRA went to Canada.
27 Nov 2020
Phil Burgess, NHRA National Dragster Editor
DRAGSTER Insider
1971
As I mentioned in this space last week, NHRA is preparing for its 70th-anniversary celebration next year, a chance to reflect and remember all of the great racers and great moments that helped get us where we are today. As you can imagine, this…
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Welcome back, and welcome to my great drag racing debates

After a six-week hiatus, the Dragster Insider column returns with a couple of burning debates from NHRA history.
20 Nov 2020
Phil Burgess, NHRA National Dragster Editor
DRAGSTER Insider
Debate
Annnnnnd … we’re back. Back when I was doing this column two to three times a week, Jr. Fuel hero Jimmy Ige once kindly admonished me to not worry about apologizing if I missed a column here or there, but, criminy, it’s been…
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