Whatever your definition of cool – and based on the avalanche of submissions I received in the last four days, it's a pretty wide definition – I can say that you guys are sure cool. I couldn’t believe the number of e-mails I received or the wide variety of names being submitted. Thanks for playing!
A number of you followed the guidelines with great descriptions of why certain people were worthy of the "cool" designation, and many of you – and you know who you are; you were probably some of those kids I always saw after school stuck in detention – just submitted your lists. So I'll go through this in three parts, with the detailed ones first, then some briefly quoted ones, and then a compilation of your lists at the end.
So, what's cool? Who's cool? One thing that many agreed on was that the great Leslie Lovett photo of "the Snake" in his front-engine dragster is the ultimate in cool, but far too many of you thought that he was flashing the peace sign when in fact it was the legendary V for victory sign. It was way cool to do back then, but not used much anymore. Larry Dixon still does it today on occasion, which is another reason that I think he's cool.
Joe Wiles said that the photo "oozes cool for a multitude of reasons: 1) The shot itself is not only cool, it's WAY cool. The mental vision of the photog being directly in front of a speeding fuel car (even though we know he isn't) sends chills; 2) Contents of the photo: full-blossom chute, "Snake" logo in full view on the helmet, fire mask/goggles with the driver's eyes distinctly visible, supercharger still wound up ... need I go on?; 3) The idea that anyone would actually have the presence of mind to remove his/her hand from the wheel of a speeding fuel car for a photo op is ballsy cool; 4) And, of course ... it's "the Snake." He is confident enough with himself that he would actually do that, cool as in ice in the veins."
Plenty of other folks took their own stab at defining cool. Dennis Davison opined, "Coolness is the physical manifestation of confidence, confidence that is born out of being highly competent. He cited Pat Galvin ("the original 'crew chief to the stars' ") as an example. "He wrenched for most of the heroes of his day. His mannerisms were not unlike 'the Snake." Galvin and Prudhomme were both very, very good at what they did. They knew it; so did everyone else."
To that point, I got a note on Facebook from Holly Smith Shanks, who worked for "the Snake" at his shop for several months. "I had the privilege of working for Don as a receptionist in 2003-04," she shared. "He's cool because he doesn't need people to reach out and 'worship' him, as some celebrities do. He only shares his opinion when he has something to say, and he's as real as a person can be. I only worked for him for seven months, but I never saw him be unkind to anyone or kiss up to anyone. He called a spade a spade and had a realistic view of what the business of drag racing was all about. Working for him was one of those rare opportunities that we get sometimes in life."
Scott Barratt wrote, "The late great drag racing innovator and low-dough icon Bill Phillips from Division 6, and I coined a phrase that I put on my team shirts and still use to this day: 'Cool is a Dying Art.' Besides 'Snake' (who's cooler than a Cobra's back in December), one of the coolest cats I remember was Kenney 'the Action Man' Goodell; he was always looking stylin' (his cars looked almost as good as he did)! I'll never forget sitting in his trailer with Kenney and 'Jungle Jim' at midnight as the 64 Funny Car human avalanche oozed its way out of S.I.R. ... I thought Kenney was cool, and he was digging 'Jungle's' action, proving one thing for sure: Cool is in the eye of the beholder."
Dennis Friend, who runs the twin-engine dragster specialty site Two To Go, sent the great montage above, showing Chris Karamesines and Don Garlits shaking hands then and now, with photos of them racing each other. "This is cool!" he said. I agree!
While "the Snake" has his legions who agreed with the pick of Prudhomme as the sport's coolest, Don Thomas likes his running mate: " 'Snake' is the coolest, but I've always thought Tom McEwen was cool. He did his thing, and nothing ever seemed to bother him. He went about his routine in a very Tom McEwen, systematic kind of way. And he always had this devious kind of grin on his face that I thought exuded a certain confidence but also gave me the notion that he was up to some kind of practical joke. He seemed to never let things rattle him. It was always a no-problem kind of attitude. He did what he did with tongue in cheek and a grain of salt, and that was that. Unrattled, unshaken ... Tom McEwen was (is) cool!"
Patrick Haeg agreed: "Starting back in the mid-'70s (wow, 36-37 years ago), my cousin and I would go to Minnesota Dragway on the north side of the Twin Cities to see the big names come to match race. For sure, the Cool Cat ('Snake') was there with a triple-axle trailer and duallie pickup truck (big-time stuff). He and Bob [Brandt] would be working hard, sweating like dogs, while 'the Mongoose' was cool, standing in the shade of his trailer doorway watching his guys do all the work. My cousin brings this up all the time; I guess we always thought 'the Mongoose' was pretty cool. P.S. Being from Minnesota, we also think Tom "Showtime" Hoover and his Ma and Pa were cool, too!"
"Chicago Jon" Hoffman also was solidly in the McEwen camp; "Tom McEwen. What's cooler than that? Tom McEwen in his Foster Grants. What's cooler than that? The picture of 'the Mongoose' that Hot Rod ran with their coverage of National Challenge '72, McEwen, wearing the Foster Grants, on a payphone, holding a SHOTGUN. ... Yeah, pretty cool."
Patrick Henry Perry nominated longtime former Garlits crew chief Tommy "T.C." Lemons. "I wrenched for Ray Godman and Preston Davis on the Tennessee Bo-Weevil in 1970-71," he wrote. "We match raced 'Big' and 'T.C.' between NHRA events; sometimes they won, and sometimes we did. 'T.C.' had every reason to swagger because of what he did and who he did it with, but he didn't. He was friendly and always dropped by our pit and would never hesitate to help us if we needed it. He made us laugh every time he said something. When we asked a technical question, he would answer it with a question: 'Well, how do you think it works?' If you answered correctly, he would respond with a big grin; if wrong, he'd ask, 'Are you sure?' or 'How do you know?' Before he left, you'd learned from him usually with an 'a-ha moment.' Skip ahead 38 years, and we ran into him at the Bowling Green Hot Rod Reunion, and he remembered us like it was yesterday. The following year, he was inducted into the Reunion honorees and received a Wally. When I congratulated him, he said, 'I may be the first tire wiper to win a Wally at this event.' Now that's cool! Of course, Ray Godman and Preston Davis are cool, but they are my best friends, and I'd never tell them that. They let me race with them back in the day and introduced me to many of the greatest legends of drag racing in Top Fuel. Raymond never let a Korean War sniper's bullet and a wheelchair slow him down. Preston could drive better than anyone back then and with his enthusiasm and swagger reminds me of John Force today. Yeah, these guys are way cool."
Steve Blashfield has multiple East Coast favorites from the 1970s: "Roger Toth of the Hemi Hunter Top Fueler. I met him in about 1972, and that dude just breathed cool in my book. Just his actions and swagger along with his personality, and he could defiantly attract the ladies. I always meant to sit with him and find out his secret. He was a good friend, taught me a lot. Second was Dodger Glenn of the Frantic Ford; he had the personality. I can remember him coming over to our trailer just to BS and you could just see people’s faces light up just at his presence. I never knew what was going to come out of him; sad he was taken from us so early in life. Third was the original Jade Grenade guys: Bill Flurer, Pete Lemhoff, and Ted Thomas. Just watching them work together, you could see they, too, had the swagger, knowing what they were doing. I can remember Ted always had the look of intensity, that 'I’m going to kick ass' expression. And lastly, Sammy Miller. I remember a fuel meet at E-town one night. He had that new wedge Top Fueler -- no paint -- and I can remember him laying across the top of the cowling taking a snooze in the staging lanes. … I remember thinking, 'Yeah. That’s cool.' "
Dave Dugas: " 'Snake' sure tops it, but Austin Coil has got to be a close second. He is not only probably the greatest tuner of all time but played it straight alongside John Force for so long; cool just oozes from this dude."
Tom “Fasthair” Scott: "The 'King of Speed' Kenny Bernstein is cool. That red Budweiser car was always cool to look at, and the Batmobile is one of the coolest Funny Cars of all time. And being the first to go over 300 mph for sure adds to the cool points total. I sure miss seeing that red car, don’t you? Think about this, too. Having the King of Beers as a sponsor for 30 years was pretty damn cool, too. Yup, KB is right up there with 'the Snake' in the cool department! I always thought Del Worsham was pretty cool, too. I mean, the first hot rod you ever drive is a nitro Funny Car. Just how cool is that? Not to mention just like 'the Snake,' he’s just a hell of a nice guy to boot. A cool hot rod, to me, has always been a '30s Willys with a straight axle up front and a blower sticking out of the hood. Growing up in small-town Iowa, I didn’t get to see a lot of cool people because, well, there just weren’t many. But Tom Kirkpatrick was cool because he had a '33 Willys with a blown Rat motor, straight axle, and this bitchin’ paint scheme of orange with black fenders. Not to mention Tom was pretty (handsome) hip looking to this snot-nosed kid and always dated the prettiest girls. But one thing is for sure, that car was cool!"
Gregory Safchuk: "Dale Pulde and Al Segrini. Despite successfully driving some of most awesome fuel coupes on the planet through the years, they, like Don Prudhomme, didn't have out-of-control egos but a certain modest swagger and confidence that says cool." He even submitted his own photo of the two. That's cool.
Greg Gorian has those two on his list as well. "Dale Pulde; do I remember correctly that he once got a ticket for doing a burnout in his Funny Car on a city street in Long Beach? Al Segrini; loved watching him win the Winternationals two years in a row on fire in the lights."
Bill King had another Funny Car racer in mind: "Having been a friend of Tripp Shumake, I always thought he was cool, Tripp was 10 to 15 years older than me, but I remember as a kid seeing him all the time out at Beeline Dragway. He didn’t know the meaning of lifting off the throttle, especially in an altered. Later on in life when I got to meet him while working on Paula Martin's Funny Car crew and became friends with him, we would talk about the old days. Reading your article about the 250-mph club really pulled at my heartstrings, since I know personally how proud he was of that accomplishment. He always wore that ring and was wearing it the last time I saw him a couple of days before his accident. He was cool because of how proud he was of his place in the sport yet was one of the most down-to-earth people I’ve ever known. To me, he was cool."
A lot of you thought that Pro Stock guys were cool, too. To wit …
Dave Sullivan: "I think Lee Shepherd (pictured at right) was one of the coolest racers that ever lived. 'No Brag, Just Fact.' He said very little and never needed to. I remember once racing at Baylands Raceway Park, and I wanted to get a close look at their car. I wandered over to their pit, and in those days, it wasn't much different from ours in a Sportsman class, Anyway, I stood there for a while and didn’t see Lee until I noticed that he was in fact standing right next to me. One guy had dropped a nut on the grass and was scrambling for it when 'Cool Man Lee' said in a kinda soft and quiet voice, 'Man I hate when that happens.' Funny. I sure do miss him and his cool attitude."
Gary Wilson: "No one defines cool to me like Jeg Coughlin. He defines cool with his look, his persona, his confidence, his ability, and how much he appreciates the grassroots heritage of the sport. Anyone that can win in Pro Stock, Super Stock, Competition, and Super Gas is cool in my book. At the [NHRA Finals], when he announced that he was stepping away from Pro Stock and would spend his time Sportsman racing, added another element to his cool demeanor. The man is at the top of his game, one of the best ever in Pro Stock, and to just walk away from it because he can … how cool is that!!! I almost forgot to mention the Bo-Dyn Bobsled Challenge … the man can race on ice, too!"
Tom Connolly: " 'Da Grump'! You can’t ignore Bill Jenkins. He built the baddest GM Pro Stock cars and took on the Chrysler teams. First the Camaros, and then the tube-frame Vega that was a game changer in the Pro Stock class (for better or worse, depending on your point of view). He was cool … and still is!"
Texas Super Gas racer Joe Scarlata picked two, one geographically and one in his class, naming current Blue Max driver and partner Ronnie Young and transmission guru and racer Jim Hughes (pictured at right). "[Hughes] is absolutely cool because he will stop everything and sell you a converter and help you install it, then put you in the trailer, then come over after the race and thank you for the opportunity to race you," wrote Scarlata. "These two guys were born cool!"
David (Mick) Michelsen: "Yes 'the Snake' is cool. Probably one of the coolest ever. I believe 'cool' is keeping the same laid-back attitude no matter what happens. I remember Steve Evans interviewing 'the Snake' right after he hit the wall in his Pepsi Challenger and 'the Snake' saying his wife had hit him harder than that. Raymond Beadle was/is cool. How about after barrel rolling his Blue Max in Gainesville and climbing out like it was nothing? Is John Force cool? Yes, but in his own way. He sure isn’t laid back. He’s more 'far out,' like 'Jungle Jim.' Kenny Bernstein? Yep. Remember when his car, driven by Roberto Guerrero, is on the pole for the Indy 500 and crashes on the pace lap? Did Kenny go crazy? Nope, just hung his head for a minute, then went on with business.
"I think NHRA Drag Racing has the most cool athletes than any other sport. Too many to list."
But list them you did …
Russell Biles categorized his cool factor:
James Bond cool: Greg Anderson
Rich Texan cool: Billy Meyer
Rumble or drive a fuel coupe cool: Al Hofmann
Young Guns cool: Spencer Massey
Jokester cool: Gary Scelzi
Crew chief cool: Mike Neff
Southern-style cool: Allen Johnson
Sometimes you get alerted to people off your radar screen, which was definitely the case in Gary Roda's selection. "I would definitely nominate Northern California Sportsman racer Don Hudson (pictured at right), a popular and successful Alcohol Dragster and Funny Car campaigner for years in Division 7. Don always exudes coolness in a John Milner-like/'50-Mooneyes-equipped way on or off the track; he has even owned '50s collectables/nostalgia retail shops in California as a day job. He never strays into the Sha Na Na schlock '50s excess, just has the right attitude and cool-guy vibe; very 'Snake'-like. Anyone who’s met Don Hudson would I’m sure agree -- he’s cool."
As a father, I'm also particularly struck when someone really likes their dad enough to write about him being cool. Certainly us dads always want our kids to think we're cool, and Rusty Ellis thinks his dad, Benny Ellis, was. "We lived in Long Beach [Calif.] in the early to mid-'60s," he wrote. "He would pile my brother (2 at the time), my mom, and me (6 at the time) into the family ride, a '55 two-door hardtop, and hightail it to Lions anytime there was an event. We lost 'Pops' in 2005. Thanks, Dad, for raising a couple of lifelong gearheads who have in turn raised gearheads of their own. Cool personified!"
Lou Kenkel: "I don't know if you know Jerry Dawson or not, but he is from the St. Louis area and is a great fabricator and used to race front-engine 'big boy' dragsters with Don Garlits and those guys back in the day. He reeks cool, plus he lets me hang around his shop, which I enjoy to the max. He still builds nostalgia cars and a lot of neat stuff for the street."
Ken Haselhorst: "Of those living, I have to agree with Don 'the Snake' being at the top of my list. I also think John Force is cool. His demeanor at the track, his speeches, etc. As for those past, No. 1 is Elvis. How can anyone not think that? I grew up with him being one of the coolest, musically. There are more cars I can remember being the coolest than people. The ’55-’57 Chevy, the ’64 ½ Mustang, and the Barracuda come to mind."
Michael Thomas: "The ultimate cool figure in NHRA today is Jim Head (pictured at right). He has the look of cool. He has the chiseled face and the great gray messed-up hair. He looks like a racer from the '60s. He just oozes cool." I'd have to agree. Check out the great interview I just did with Head in this week's National DRAGSTER.
Dean Beck went with Northwest legend Earl Poage: "I went to work for Earl at his gas station in 1969. He was already out of the cockpit by then (except for a brief return in Jack Merrill's Top Gas car), but he was almost a 'Snake' clone. Long and lean with that kinky, curly hair, and the way he carried himself. People listened in a way when he spoke that I'd never seen in my 18 years, or since for that matter. Everyone who was anyone in the drag racing world always made a point to stop at Earl's Mobil for fuel and a chat on their way to and from the next race. If you came to the Northwest to race, you stopped at Earl's. When he tried something, serious or just for fun, you knew it was going to work. One day we were changing the front shocks on the station van, a 1965 flat-nose Chevy. The new shocks didn't come in, so when Earl left for the day in the van, sitting at the stoplight, he honked to get our attention. When the light changed, he made like 'Wild' Bill' and pulled a wheelie through the intersection. He just made it work."
Paul Cuff: "I'd like to nominate Dick Oldfield, first driver of the Motown Missile, for cool recognition. I've come to know Dick fairly well, and he, like so many others, downplays his part in drag racing history. Dick ran a number of Super Stockers in the '60s before joining Ted Spehar and several others with the Missile team. I rarely hear Dick speak in terms of himself about the time he spent with that crew; it's always 'we' or 'us.' To me, the coolest guys are those who remember that they have fans who admire them but are never too big to spend a few minutes with them. Not just dashing off an autograph, but just taking a minute to let the fans know they truly are special and appreciated. Prudhomme did it; Dixon, Capps, Glidden, and many others do it, too. Why? Because they're cool!"
Moving on, the following lists, observations, and comments were attributable to a large number of readers, including David Allgeier, Joseph N. Atwell, Mark Brenner, Gary Crumrine, Pete Davis, Jim Deatsch, Robert Ehmann, Rob Emmett, Gary Goetz, Chris Good, Brian Goodloe, Greg Gorian, Don Hiett, Mike Hooks, Bob Kovacs, Frankie Locascio, Jeff Mittendorf, Steve Reyes, Tina Scolaro, Paul Schwan, Terry Spencer, and James F. Williams.
Kalitta and McCulloch: Drag racing bad asses. And only "the Ace" could rock a pink hat and make it look cool. Or at least not have anyone tell him otherwise.
A number of personalities' names were mentioned multiple times on people lists, including Connie Kalitta ("ultimate bad ass"), Ed McCulloch ("ultimate bad ass II"), Don Garlits, Willie Borsch ("Anyone who falls a sleep in the staging lanes getting ready to drive a fuel altered is the essence of cool" [Ed. note: Willie had no choice: He had narcolepsy.]); Dick Landy, Billy Meyer, Allen Johnson, Alan Johnson, Scott Kalitta ("He was cool; talk about your own drummer"); Raymond Beadle ("1982 Gatornationals … enough said"), Melanie Troxel, Mike Dunn, Gary Beck ("dominant with a cool moustache"), Bruce Larson, Eric Medlen, Keith Black, Chris Karamesines, and Ronnie Sox.
This group was lauded with the accompanying comments: Bob Glidden ("Dude drove Fords and kicked ass"); Mickey Thompson ("What a loss"); Dean Skuza ("miss the guy, and he always had a Social Distortion decal on his car"); John Force and Tony Pedregon ("for giving good TV at the 2009 U.S. Nationals"); Joe Amato ("as cool a customer as drag racing ever met; a killer in the lights, and a humble winning attitude off the track"); Mike Kuhl ("just because of the name); "Dandy Dick" Landy ("with that cigar hanging out of his mouth and never lit"); Luigi Novelli ("great nice guy, but with that ponytail, he became cool"); and Lee Beard ("never ruffled, never a hair out of place").
Austin and Anderson: It was a cool rivalry, too.
On the contemporary side, we also received votes for (in no particular order) Tony Schumacher, Del Worsham, Dale Armstrong, Pat Austin, Brad Anderson, Kyle Seipel, Vinny Barone, Frank Manzo, Warren Johnson, Elmer Trett, Larry McBride, Jack Beckman, Larry Dixon, Antron Brown, Jeff Arend, Blaine Johnson, Jason Line, Cruz Pedregon, Bernie Fedderly, Lori Johns Angel, Shelly Anderson Payne, all the Force girls, Peggy Llewellyn, Eddie Hill, Karen Stoffer, Angie McBride Smith, Erica Enders, Darrell Alderman, and Dave Schultz.
Single votes also were cast for these all-time greats (again, in no particular order): Art Chrisman, Bruce Larson, Larry Dixon Sr., Bob Muravez, Shirley Muldowney, Ron Scrima, Norm Weekly, Keith Black, Woody Gilmore, Leonard Stone, Shirley Shahan, Linda Vaughn, Larry Stellings, Jeep Hampshire, Mel Reck, Jon Lundberg, Twig Ziegler, Jerry Ruth, Rance McDaniel, Gary Ritter, Dennis and David Baca, Gary Cochran, Dale "the Snail" Emery, Lew Arrington, "Kansas John" Wiebe, Steve Carbone, John Mulligan, Jim Liberman, Red Lang and the Dead End Kids, Tony Nancy, Kenny Safford, and The Surfers.
The nostalgia racer's best friend, Steve Gibbs, also received a vote, as did announcer Bob Frey ("The word 'cool' was coined to describe Bob Frey.").
I found it interesting — and quite flattering -- that an embarrassing number of you thought that I was cool, and several of you also tapped my good pal and fellow blogging addict Bob Wilber as cool.
Dave Gibson called Wilber "Captain Blog," which I think is pretty funny, so I whipped together the little Photoshop image at right for my amusement. And the aforementioned Perry called Wilber "the most dedicated blogger on the NHRA site and very good at what he does; no, he's the best! He's one of the nicest guys in racing and always takes time to meet those who come by just to say hello. His blogs have had me laughing and tearful, especially when he talks about someone he met who has fallen on hard times and needs a lift. Bob's writing skills alone could make him swagger, but he doesn't. He's a regular guy, one of us. And that's cool!"
While I and "Captain Blog" certainly appreciate the kind thoughts, I know that both of us are just doing something that we really love (writing), something that comes naturally, and something that – thanks to the interaction with our readers – makes all of the hard work so worth it.
And that, my friends, is cool.
Quintessential Don Prudhomme cool. Toothpick in mouth, cool shades.
"Yeah, I just won the Winternationals for the fourth straight year; it's no big deal."
"Sure, I'll pose with your license plate; just make it quick, huh?"
"My fans love me, but my hat will still fit when I put it back on."
Inside the car or out, "Snake" remained a cool customer.
"Yeah, I can drive with one hand. Who can't? No big deal."
Cool cars. Cool threads. Cool tunes. Cool cats. We've all heard and used the "cool" buzzword, but what is cool? Is it a state of mind or a state of being? Is it attitude or aura? What defines it? Who defines it?
In school, all of us wanted to be cool, but few were, and even if we weren't, we wanted to hang with the cool kids. The star quarterback may have been cool, or he may have been an arrogant ass. As someone noted, "cool" is like "good" in that it's an intangible and exists only in comparison to things considered less cool or less good. It's a property that exists but can only be sought after. An article titled "The Coolhunt" that ran in the famed New Yorker magazine opined that "Cool cannot be manufactured, only observed."
According to Wikipedia, "Something regarded as cool is an admired aesthetic of attitude, behavior, comportment, appearance and style, … Because of the varied and changing connotations of cool, as well its subjective nature, the word has no single meaning. It has associations of composure and self-control ... and often is used as an expression of admiration or approval."
I may have had to turn to others for definition, but I know cool when I see it. It's like that old saying, "I don’t know anything about art, but I know what I like." I know cool, and his name is Don Prudhomme. I know I'm not alone among the Insider Nation in thinking this, which is why I was doing mental cartwheels Wednesday when Los Angeles Times sports reporter Chris Dufresne tabbed "the Snake" as one of the top 10 coolest athletes in Southern California history.
He was ranked ninth – I'd have had him first instead of Dufresne's pick of L.A. Dodgers pitcher Sandy Koufax – and it's a huge honor not just for him but for our sport to be recognized in the list. Everyone knows that cars are cool, and hot rods are the coolest of cars, and fast hot rods are cooler still. "Snake's" hot rods traditionally were winners, but that's not what makes him cool.
If you ever studied him, he just oozes cool. It's in the way he stands. The way he walks. The way he talks. The way he looks. The way he moves. Former ND staffer Todd Veney used to do a pretty good imitation of "the Snake," of him back when he smoked, replicating the way that Prudhomme would hold a cigarette between his thumb and forefinger and take a drag, then put it back down by his hip. Even his nickname is cool, probably the coolest ever. It's also cool that people usually only call him "Snake" and that he even calls himself that. That's cool.
How many people have their retirement dinner at the Playboy Mansion? Hell, just take a look at the collection of photos I assembled here. Every one of them screams "cool," even if you've never met the man.
I caught up with "Snake" yesterday as he was getting set to head off to Ed Pink's 80th birthday celebration, and, in typical cool-guy fashion, he was honored to have been named to the list but a bit taken aback by his inclusion. I asked him if he thought he was cool.
"Man, I don’t know anything about that; I was worried about getting asked that question," he admitted. "Geez, I don’t know. I didn’t know anything about it. It's like waking up in the morning and finding out you've been nominated for an award. I don’t know him [Dufresne], didn’t even know that he knew I was alive or anything about me. It was an honor.
"It's a great bunch of guys. Sandy Koufax – Jesus – that guy was the greatest, and I really dug him. To be among a group of people like that is, well, cool."
I asked "Snake" what cool meant to him and who he thought was cool, both in and out of our sport.
"I thought they buried the name 'cool' with Steve McQueen because he was the ultimate cool guy, but I certainly never looked like him," he said. "I knew him a little bit and had quite a few occasions to be around him, but everyone could tell you he was cool. 'The Greek' [Chris Karamesines], for sure. He's real cool, especially in the early days when I first met him. Black hair and a big black moustache and a bad-ass car. That's what I call cool. Maybe people think we were cool because we grew up in the early days and marched to our own drummer and we didn't have to worry about not mentioning our sponsor's name, but it's really up to what other people think. I never set out to act cool; people who try to act cool are not cool."
I can’t disagree with "Snake" designating Karamesines as cool. I tried to think about other people I think are cool, and there are some to varying degrees I think are cool. I think Larry Dixon is cool, but he's also way too modest about his great accomplishments. "Snake" was never a braggart, either, but he knew he was good, and although I imagine Dixon knows that he's talented, I wish I'd see from him, just every now and then, a little bit of swagger. But I know that's not Larry. I think Antron Brown is cool, in a hep-cat kind of way, but he's also more goofy and fun-loving than "Snake."
Going back further, I think a lot of people probably think that "Jungle Jim" Liberman was cool, but to me, he was more "farrrrrrrrr out" than cool (which is cool in its own way). I don't know James Warren very well, but he always struck me as being cool. I think Roland Leong is pretty cool, too. Fictionally speaking, James Garner's Jim Rockford was definitely cool. So was Paul LeMat's John Milner in American Graffiti. Jeffrey Donovan's Michael Westen in the TV show Burn Notice is cool. So are Charlie Hunnam's "Jax" Teller in Sons of Anarchy and Timothy Olyphant's Raylan Givens in Justified.
But back to drag racing … who do you think is cool or was cool? I'd love to get a list of who's on your list and especially why. So be cool and click on my name at the top of this column and share your thoughts. Is that cool? You bet it is.
Last month, I spent a little time cleaning out some of the many Insider folders that I created in my e-mail program, but I purposely skipped the one labeled Fan Fotos, containing groups of submissions from the faithful readers here. I have run these from time to time in the past, but not for maybe a year or more.
Feeling a little ashamed of the oversight and knowing that opening even one of the e-mails would lead to a Lay's potato-chip moment ("You can't open just one!"), I skipped that folder. On Monday, I bravely peeked inside and, yep, found plenty of Insider goodness, just as I expected. I chose one, randomly, and decided that it would be the focus of today's column.
The idea was not without ulterior motives; this has been one of those crazy-busy weeks at National DRAGSTER as we have been working on a pair of special issues that has really limited free research time.
The first of these specials, Most Intriguing People II, is a reprise of probably one of the best-received issues ever, in which we grilled the likes of Don Garlits, Shirley Muldowney, Don Schumacher, and others about what makes them tick. We heard about Garlits' UFO fascination, behind-the-scenes tales from Muldowney's career, and more. It was really quite special.
We found another great group to interview this year, and it's going to be interesting reading. We have Bruton Smith, Alan Johnson, Jim Head, Kenny Bernstein, and Kenny Koretsky. It’s good stuff.
In two weeks, it's back to our other eagerly awaited annual issue, Readers Choice, in which we respond to readers' requests and deliver an issue packed with stories based solely on their suggestions. I won’t give away any of the goodies, but let me just say that the reason you’re all here will be well-represented.
Anyway, with that mea culpa, here's a collection of images sent, oh, about 15 months ago by Canadian reader Doug McDonald of beautiful Charlottetown, P.E.I. The subject is an interesting one: These photos are from the inaugural Summernationals, which was held not in Englishtown but at York U.S. 30 Dragway near York, Pa., in July 1970.
It was Doug's first NHRA event, and he had to travel about 1,000 miles to get there from Prince Edward Island (on the east coast of Canada). What I really like about this group of photos (other than the interesting composition of some) is the varied subject matter. It's not all fuel cars, that’s for sure. Enjoy. And thanks for your patience, Doug.
Dick Shroyer's Shroyer's Shaker D/Gas '48 Anglia panel truck may well have been one of the most photographed gassers of the early 1970s. The sanitary "pie wagon" was one of a number of Rod Shop-sponsored cars at the event, McDonald remembered.
Here's a great close-up look at "Sneaky Pete" Robinson’s Ford cammer engine. Robinson made a solo run in the Top Fuel final when Jim Nicoll’s rail failed to fire. Nicoll had set low e.t. of the meet at 6.71 in the semifinals but wounded his 392 Chrysler in the process. It was Robinson's first win since the 1966 World Finals; less than a year later, we'd lose the popular Georgia engineer in an accident in Pomona.
A nice look at the York starting-line area as local racer (Munroeville, Pa.) Harry Luzader blasted off the line in his E/Gas '32 Ford coupe with an injected small-block Chevy and four-speed transmission.
This is John Schumacher's Ego Trip BB/Altered, which would have been one of the first cars on which he partnered with Stan Rosen. They would go on to field Top Fuelers and Funny Cars under the same name. Schumacher drove both, but Chuck Kurzawa and Jess Garman also piloted the dragster.
The team of English-Frakes-Funk is well-known to many fans, probably for its hard-running Kentucky Moonshiner Top Fuelers of the 1970s, but the trio – Bill English, Robert Frakes, and driver Dale Funk – also fielded this twin-engine Top Gas dragster earlier in the decade. McDonald noted that the car is sporting a flat right-rear tire and speculated that the flat may have led to the oil pan(s) dragging, kicking off this blaze. My money's on a blown engine and a puncture caused by debris. Love the background; interesting top end, eh?
Here's Jeg Coughlin Sr.'s '69 Cuda, driven by Senior himself. McDonald said that his notes indicate that it was Chevy-powered. "I had the pleasure of giving an 8x10 print of this to Jeg at Pomona at the 2004 Finals. My wife had made the mistake of suggesting that we visit California that year, and I said I knew just the right time to go. In our two-and-one-half weeks there, we took in the Goodguys Nostalgia Fuel & Gas Finals at Bakersfield and the NHRA Finals at Pomona (remember the rain?), and in between, we took in the Petersen Automotive Museum, the cruise night at the NHRA Museum, and visited the Museum itself." (Silly wife.)
Ray Motes and R.C. Williams had the baddest Top Gas dragster on the planet in the early 1970s. Although they didn't win this race, they had already won the Springnationals that year and would go on to win the World Finals in Dallas to earn the world championship. They won the Summernationals the next year as well as the U.S. Nationals. Top Gas was discontinued the following year, so they'll always be the reigning Indy Top Gas champs.
Here's the Super Stock final, with McDonald's countryman, Barrie Poole ("born and raised here in Prince Edward Island"), driving the Sandy Elliot SS/H Ford Mustang out of Chatham, Ont., taking on – and losing to – Ron Mancini’s Gratiot Auto 426 Hemi-powered SS/AA '68 Dodge Dart GTS. I think that's my old pal Leslie Lovett in the DRAGSTER
shirt on the ladder at far right and a very young Buster Couch in the middle.
And here's the Pro Stock final between "Dandy Dick" Landy and Herb McCandless in the '70 Duster Sox & Martin car. McCandless red-lighted, giving the win to Landy. It was Landy's third and final win and the only one not scored at the Winternationals, where he won Street in 1968 and Modified in 1969, making him three for three in finals in different classes in consecutive years. He reached only one more final, at the 1972 Summernationals in E-town, where he lost to Bill Jenkins.
OK, that was pretty cool. I'll continue to revisit your photos from time to time, so if you sent some way back when, I may well surprise. You also can submit new stuff to me, but please give me as much info as you can about the photos and the circumstances under which they were shot. Your story is almost as important as the tale the photos tell.
I asked for photos of your decals – or "stickers" as many would call them -- so naturally, you guys decided to bury me in submissions. What I present below is just a small but representative sampling of what I received, and I'll start by giving you more than what you expected: a short history of the decal that I unearthed in a quick online search.
The word "decal" is short for decalcomania, which is derived from the French word decalquer ("copy by tracing") and was coined by Simon François Ravenet about 1750. The "mania" suffix was added during the decal craze of the late 19th century, as you will read.
According to another article that I found on the ceramicdecals.org website, Ravenet perfected a way of engraving on copper plates so that underglaze colors could be rubbed onto the heated plates, then tissue paper pressed onto the color, which adhered to the tissue paper, which was then removed and transferred to the item to be decorated. Things went along swimmingly if slowly as better processes were invented, but, according to the article, around 1876, "Somehow, somewhere, someone started decorating with decals as a hobby. Maybe it was because decals had become much easier to use. Maybe it was because the lithograph process could turn out such high quality. Maybe it was because the emerging consumer class couldn't afford hand-decorated china, but they sure could afford to decorate their own. Nobody knows. But we do know this: In 1875, there were only about 300 designs available to decorate with; two years later, there were 10,000!"
The "mania" suffix was thus added, changing the meaning to "decal craze" or "love of decals," and even today, decalcomania is a common word for decals in many countries. Decals were largely a European phenomenon, and the first decals were not imported into the United States until 1860 and not printed in the U.S. until 1894. When silk-screen printing came into its own in the 1930s, it really opened up possibilities and lowered costs, and, well, it was decalcomania times 10, and hot rods haven’t been the same since.
OK, enough of the history lessons; let's see some decals. To accommodate as many as I can, I grouped them, and rather than identify who sent what (especially because they're slightly mixed), I'll thank the following individuals who sent the lion's share: Norman Blake, Tom Derry, Rick Auxier, Dave Wagner, Larry Peters, Dennis Friend, and Mark and Laura Bruederle.
So here we go …
Let's start off with the home team and great old stickers from NHRA events, including these from the 1969 Nationals and World Finals with a wonderful drawing of a Top Fueler with the front tires high and the rear meats blazing ... classic 1960s Top Fuel. NHRA used this same image, reversed, and with slightly different colors, throughout the year.
NHRA also used that same idea the following year with the dragster at left, flipping it back and forth and changing the colors. The middle decal, with the cartoony yet stylish dragster in mid-wheelstand, was one I well remember from early in Winston's sponsorship of the NHRA series. I remember that you could send for these free decals, which I did, one of which still clings to the front of one of my early photo scrapbooks. The event decals later became more square, as evidenced by this one from the 2nd annual Fallnationals in Seattle. I believe they used Ed McCulloch's Revellution Dodge Demon flopper as the model.
Back-to-back years for these Summernationals decals show 1970s influence in the colors and design, especially the 1972 dragster on the left. I also think it's cute how they included the little sun in both the logo and decal because, as anyone who ever went to E-town in the 1970s and 1980s will tell you, the sun played a pretty major factor in the race-going experience.
Yet another Summernationals decal on the left, from 1971, a Funny Car from the 1973 U.S. Nationals (the event name switched from the Nationals to the U.S. Nationals in 1972), and a very interesting and high-concept decal from the 1977 Cajun Nationals, with a driver at the controls of a crawfish, which, like the sun in E-town, if you ever attended the event in those days you know played a huge role in your enjoyment of the event. A fine gentleman who went by the name "Shake" hosted an annual crawfish boil and introduced many a SoCal NHRA official to a first taste of down-home cooking. The 1977 event (labeled here as being in New Orleans instead of Baton Rouge, La., even though The Big Easy is about 75 miles east of Red Stick) was not the first Cajuns; the 1976 event introduced NHRA national event racing to the Pelican State, but it was a non-points-earning exhibition event. The Cajuns also had the distinction (behind Englishtown) of sometimes offering the most inhuman heat/humidity conditions of any stop on the tour.
And speaking of good times at a national event, none may ever top the experience that racers and fans got at the SPORTSnationals when it was hosted at Beech Bend Raceway Park. The Kentucky facility had its own adjacent amusement park and swimming pools, allowing racers to have some fun between days (and even between runs). The event moved to Indianapolis for two years (1983-84) under the sponsorship of Popular Hot Rodding
before returning to Beech Bend in 1985.
Continuing along a PHR
thread, the popular SoCal magazine was the longtime sponsor of one of the preeminent match races of the 1970s, the Popular Hot Rodding
Championships in Martin, Mich. It was one they all wanted to win and annually drew all of the big names. It also at one time was part of the NHRA points structure as a bonus event that counted for half of a national event, back when there was a limit on the number of points-earning events that racers could attend. The other two decals here, for famous New York National Speedway in Center Moriches, Long Island, represent a less-than-successful venture for the well-appreciated track, the disastrous 1974 PRO race. PRO had just begun to gain traction with successful outings in Tulsa, Okla., in 1972 and 1973, but this one put an end to that. You can find all of the ugly details here
in an article titled "P.R.O. is D.O.A. at New York National"; the title alone should tell you a lot.
As mentioned in my previous decal article, Super Stock
magazine hosted a very popular event that, like the PHR
race, became a must-attend, especially for the doorslammer crowd. Here are a couple of decals from the 1970s.
You don't have to know much about cars to know that these decals go back a ways just by their design. I love them. Hastings Filters has been in business for more than 60 years selling auto and commercial filters under the slogan "When Performance Matters." I assume that they used to be more heavily involved in motorsports, but I'd never heard of them. Vertex, on the other hand, is a brand name well-known to those who have been around the sport since its earliest days; Vertex magnetos were the hot ticket for many of the sport's fastest cars in the 1950s and 1960s.
Speaking of old decals, here's a neat quartet. Stacked on the left are decals for two great SoCal companies, Headers by Doug and Engine Masters. Headers by Doug, launched by Doug Thorley in 1958 as a small muffler shop in East Los Angeles, later became Doug's Headers and was bannered on all of his Funny Cars. Engine Masters sponsored several Kenny Bernstein-driven, Ray Alley-owned Funny Cars in the early 1970s. The Mr. Norm's sticker with "Go Group" on it is well-remembered for the popular Chicago radio commercial – sung by the rock group The Buckinghams -- urging hot rodders to "get with the Go Group" at Norm Kraus' Grand Spaulding Dodge dealership. Also in Chicago, Northshore Speed & Auto was one of the go-to spots for high-performance goodies in the mid-1960s.
You also have to love these retro decals. The one on the left is instantly recognizable as a Hurst shifter decal, this one promoting its innovative Line Loc (though I really have to question whether the hairy knuckles were necessary), and the one on the right promoting the Air Lift company, whose name became famous in drag racing as a sponsor for "Fast Eddie" Schartman and his Air Lift Rattler entries.
Here’s a quartet of decals that should stoke memories. The recognizable Dick Landy Industries decal is a great logo and has a personal attachment because the first car that my parents bought my older sister in 1974 was a beat-up old '64 Dodge that, for some reason, had a DLI sticker on a window. It certainly didn't have any go-fast stuff under the hood. I'm kinda scratching my head over the Center Line Wheels sticker, which not only features a tank, but one emblazoned with the cross of the German army. The next one needs no introduction to veteran race fans because Drag News
was the drag racer's Bible before National DRAGSTER
even existed (and took away the claim made on this decal: "The only national weekly publication devoted to the sport of drag racing."). Now, sadly, it's just us. And, finally, a sticker for NHRA's Grace Cup, a popular Sportsman program from the middle 1970s until the early 1980s (when Quaker State sponsored it) that rewarded the highest points earner among all of the Sportsman world champs.
Anthropomorphism is a term coined in the mid-1700s to refer to any attribution of human characteristics to animals or nonliving things, and these decals are good examples. I love this early Mr. Gasket decal and the bee in the Dodge Scat Pack sticker. The Scat Pack was Dodge's version of Plymouth's better-publicized (yet subsequently developed) Rapid Transit System (which had a hand in the early Plymouth floppers of Don Prudhomme and Tom McEwen). Officially launched to the public in 1968, the Scat Pack focused on the Charger R/T, Coronet R/T, Dart GTS, Swinger 340, and Super Bee and was featured through print ads, brochures, a national club, decals, and wearables. And finally, there's this what appears to be a hybrid man/race car – looks like an Indy car – for Autolite.
Here are a couple of recognizable animals, the famed tiger from M&H Racemaster slicks – which have been around since the 1950s and still had a huge market share among drag racers until the late 1970s – and Plymouth's Road Runner. To answer your next obvious question, the famous Road Runner cartoon of the high-speed fowl consistently foiling the hunger-driven plans of Wile E. Coyote came first, and Plymouth paid a handsome sum of $50,000 in 1968 to use the name and likeness (and its signature "beep beep," which Plymouth paid $10,000 to develop). The last one is a curious one promoting Deist drag chutes. I'm not really sure what a baby in a carriage has to do with anything, but I sure like the decal.
Decals didn’t have to be square or rectangular, as this trio proves. The leftmost decal, featuring the famous "Mongoose" of McEwen, is a promotional item for the U.S. Navy, which sponsored McEwen's flopper in the middle 1970s. In the center is a groovy JR Headers logo on a peace-sign background, dating it to the late 1960s or early 1970s. JR was based in Detroit. I really love the clutch-pack-shaped Crowerglide decal. The 'glide was a huge revolution in centrifugal-clutch technology for drag racing that combined the best of several designs into a winning combination that was the industry's first true "slipper" clutch.
Sadly, we've lost the majority of colorful car names that fans rooted for and that promoters screamed over the radio, and here are decals for two memorable ones, Larry Fullerton's Trojan Horse and the Blue Max. Fullerton was a match race expert and only won one NHRA national event, but it was a good one, the 1972 NHRA World Finals in Amarillo, Texas, which made him an NHRA world champ. This decal is from a few years later (1977), of his Mustang II. The Max, first owned by Harry Schmidt and later by his driver, Raymond Beadle, carried this famous logo on its flanks. It's the pour le mérite
(“for merit”) emblem, a blue-enameled Maltese cross with eagles between the arms of the cross that was known informally during World War I as “the Blue Max” and was the Kingdom of Prussia’s highest military order until the end of the war.
I remember falling in love with this car – John Collins' Pioneer Audio Express Datsun 280ZX nitro Funny Car – when it debuted in 1980. After watching an endless parade of Arrows and Monzas and Mustang IIs, when NHRA green-lighted the use of foreign-car bodies in the class beginning in 1980, it was a breath of fresh air, and with its brilliant blue and yellow scheme, it was an eye-catcher, too. I remember him banging it up pretty hard in Bakersfield – I think he blew a tire and ended up in the guardrail – but I loved seeing this car. It just looked fast. Gary Densham had one, too, as did Tim Grose, but theirs both suffered major incidents; Grose's met the guardrail in Columbus, and Densham's burned to the ground at the World Finals at OCIR in 1981. Chuck Etchells, Vern Moats, Fred Mandoline, Bruce Iversen, Larry Dobbs, Larry Reep, John Speelman, Pat Walsh, Billy Williams, and many others famously ran the body – either on nitro or on alcohol – throughout the years.
Here's a colorful decal for my good pal Roland Leong, saluting his Hawaiian Punch Funny Cars that ran for about a decade with drivers Mike Dunn (1983-84), Rick Johnson (1985), Johnny West (1986-88), and Jim White (1989-91). I'd have to guess that this was either the '86 or '87 Daytona that West drove. White made huge history in Leong's ride as the first to exceed 290 mph at the 1991 Dallas event; I recently heard from White and will try to get something from him on this.
The second car shown above is a bit of an oddity. You can read the lettering that this was the Larry Minor-owned, Gary Beck-driven Top Fueler from 1981, and I felt a bit ashamed that I never remembered seeing this car run. I mean, everyone remembers the Minor/Beck car as that big, bad, blue bruiser … but seeing Beck in yellow was like seeing Don Garlits in red. So I did what I always do when I have Beck questions: I turned to his good friend and "personal historian" (and Insider regular) Henry Walther, who came through with the explanation.
"Don't beat yourself up too bad for not remembering that yellow car; you probably never saw it," he reassured me. "That is the car built by Pat Foster and Jim Hume around 1979 for Gary. It was designed to replicate some Funny Car features since the Funny Cars were running quite well in comparison to the dragsters at that time. It also had some F-1 influence in it. Unfortunately, the ideas didn't prove as successful as was hoped.
"As you will remember, Gary went to work for Minor in 1980. Before going to work for him, Gary had a winter tour Down Under at the end of 1979 into January of 1980. As part of the deal with Minor, Gary sold him the Foster-Hume car. When Gary returned from Australia, crew chief Jim Wright had that car and a new Sherm Gunn car ready to go. The Foster-Hume car was painted Pennzoil yellow because Minor was trying to sell Pennzoil on sponsoring the car (they turned him down, though he did get a better product deal). As it turns out, the yellow car was never run in NHRA events. Gary drove the blue Sherm Gunn car instead. The yellow car was used a few times in the sand and then sold before the first Swindahl car arrived at the shop. That car is probably still out there somewhere in the hands of someone who hasn't a clue as to its history."
And so, too, is this column "history." I want to thank everyone who sent decals (please, no more!) and for coming through, as you guys always do, to help share more history and color of this great sport we all love. See you next week.