As cities grow and redevelop, new buildings are built, and it seems as if we're always hearing about construction workers unearthing ancient remains or other remnants of previous civilizations. All work is halted as archaeologists swoop in to get a better look and to protect and preserve the findings, which invariably will end up on display somewhere, with circles and arrows and all sorts of descriptive comments.
I know the feeling.
During our recent move to consolidate several departments of NHRA Publications, we had our own unearthing of ancient artifacts. No, it wasn't fossilized remains of old race car skeletons or Don Garlits' silver collection, but a treasure trove of old drag racing stickers that had been applied over the decades (I'm assuming by our late, great photo editor, Leslie Lovett) to several filing cabinets in the Photo Department. The side of one of the cabinets had been against a wall for the last two decades and the other tucked away in the deep recesses of the old darkroom. Because these are fireproof cabinets – lined in concrete – they're not easily moved, so until we began the great Downstairs Migration of 2011, their secrets lay hidden.
Stickers are one of drag racing's original promotional items and have been eagerly sought by racers and fans to decorate their race cars, tow vehicles, garages, toolboxes, and bedrooms. Even today, you can see kids racing from booth to booth in the Manufacturers Midway at NHRA national events, tote bags in hand, collecting stickers by the dozen to adorn their folders and book covers or to trade for, say, a peanut butter and jelly sandwich at lunch.
Stickers (or decals, as they also are often called), of course, are a major component of NHRA's contingency awards program. Although many a racer would probably proudly fly a product decal on his or her car to boast of the component, he or she is also paid for wins and runners-up by those companies if using the product and flying the decal. It's a great form of advertising for those companies and a lucrative deal for the racer who shops according to the major-sponsor list.
Let's take a look at what I found; I'll do this in two parts, cabinet by cabinet, and photographed for me by our own Marc Gewertz. As you can see above, there are a lot of decals. I won’t be able to address them all, but I hope to hit the highlights.
NHRA's event decals have changed quite a bit over the years; this one's from the 1968 Winternats
Some of the most interesting (well, to me) decals are the various event-specific stickers that are included in the mini gallery at right. These typically are given to contestants at the events to display on their race cars, but Lovett always grabbed extras to use as labels for the proof books that contain reference pages for the photo negatives of the vast number of black and white photos that were shot at each event.
The 1968 Winternationals decal has a very simple design, with the event name, date, and venue surrounding the NHRA logo. It’s easy on the eyes, which can’t really be said for the 1970 World Finals logo, with its shocking black and orange scheme that seems better suited to viewing under a black light than dragstrip lights.
The 1970 schedule, as many will recall, was NHRA’s vaunted “Super Season,” in which the schedule nearly doubled, from four events to seven, with the addition of the Gatornationals, Summernationals (held that year in York, Pa.), and the Supernationals at Ontario Motor Speedway. The sticker from that 1970 York event was no less “eye-catching” (to put it politely) than the Finals decal, with a curious choice of pink and yellow. Maybe it was the influence of pastel colors from that era. Judge for yourselves.
As a longtime and ardent fan of wheelstander king “Wild Bill” Shrewsberry, I love this decal. Some of you may remember that I interviewed him a few years ago for this column, and I finally got to meet him face to face last summer at one of the get-togethers at Don Prudhomme’s shop.
I’m not certain what one received as a member of his official fan club, but I know that those of us who were in his unofficial fan club received a lifetime of thrills and memories from watching his famed candy-striped L.A. Dart wheelstander walk the track on its hind legs.
Speaking of “the Snake,” you gotta admit that cool logos have always been a hallmark of his operation. From the original coiled cobra through the star-spangled snake of the Army years all the way through (and beyond) his retirement, he has always had great taste in selecting the logo to represent him (note to self: Find out who created the original “Snake” and “Mongoose” caricatures), and this one, from his Final Strike season in 1994, is no exception.
Prudhomme went out in style that year not just on the track – where he scored three wins and two runner-ups and finished second (his best finish in Top Fuel) behind Scott Kalitta – but with this stylish design. I found it interesting that although he was years removed from his Army deal, this modernized snake is still red, white, and true. The nice trail of yellow streaks from the Christmas Tree to the tail is great, and incorporating a snake in the “S” of "Strike" is awesome. The only thing that would have made this better for me would have been the inclusion of the year in the design.
Of course, you can’t talk about “the Snake” without discussing his lifetime rival, Tom McEwen. The vaunted “Mongoose” was one of the sport’s sharpest promotionally minded drivers, and one probably not matched or exceeded until Kenny Bernstein brought his considerable business acumen to the track or John Force his good-old-boy charm and charisma. McEwen grasped it all, learning how to work with sponsors, how to get his name out there win, lose, or draw, even if that meant playing the villain.
McEwen was definitely from the school of thought that says, “I don’t care what you write about me as long as you spell my name right” (which many couldn’t!), but he also knew how to merchandise and take care of people. He was always especially good to the press – showering them with gifts (including nice team jackets) and hosting media get-togethers – in appreciation for their efforts to publicize his accomplishments, and even today, he calls me about once a month to make sure I’m up to speed on whatever breaking news and rumors are out there.
This is another great effort that salutes the efforts of Japanese racer Kenji Okazaki, who wheeled “Big Jim” Dunn’s Mooneyes Funny Car for several years on the NHRA tour. I’m sure it’s no accident that the “Kenji Attackin’ USA Tour” harkens back in tone to all of the old Tokyo disaster movies in which the great city was attacked by oversized lizards, pteranodons, moths, sea monsters, and other radioactively rendered creatures. The artwork, for which "Ken" is credited on the sticker, is lively and vibrant, and although Okazaki didn’t exactly lay waste to the competition like Godzilla in Tokyo, he did do some considerable damage, including a sixth-place finish in 1993 and other top 10 finishes in 1996 (eighth) and 1997 (ninth). His 1993 campaign was highlighted by a final-round appearance at the biggest race of ’em all, the U.S. Nationals (he was unable to contest the final vs. Force due to breakage), and he made big news in 1997 with his victory in Englishtown, where he became the first Japanese racer to win a major NHRA event. I think he started out as a great curiosity to many of us – most of whom predicted that the relationship between him and the sometimes brusque Dunn would never survive their first pass – and turned out to be a great driver who earned the respect of his peers as a “tough out.”
This is a combo photo only because I couldn’t find a way to separate the two without some Photoshop trickery, and Lovett took full advantage of the unique cutout design of the dragster decal to fit the event logo. The dragster decal salutes the victory by Herm Petersen at the 1973 Gatornationals, the only NHRA win by “the Northwest Terror,” with a fire-burnout image. Petersen’s career, of course, was significantly derailed by injuries suffered later that year in a nasty crash and resultant fire at Orange County Int’l Raceway. I remember buying a poster at the track later that year to help defray his medical costs that also featured the car doing a fire burnout (which I remember thinking was an unfortunate choice), which may have been the image used to create this decal. Petersen did rebound to heroically reach the final of the 1975 World Finals, but people seem to forget that, probably because of the histrionics of event winner Garlits in running his fabled 5.63, 250 pass. The other part of this dual-decal image is a logo trying way too hard to do too much. It’s from the 1965 Nationals in Indianapolis and also includes a logo and text for SEMA.
Here’s a pretty rare one, if for no other reason than it shows Garlits’ dragster in one of the few instances in which his vaunted Swamp Rat is not painted purely in black. Wynn’s had a long association with “Big Daddy,” dating back to 1966, and this decal, which I think is from 1967, celebrates their partnership. Even though Garlits states that this car (Swamp Rat X, which originally was painted all red) also was driven on several occasions by Emory Cook that year, the decal still bears “Big’s” signature. The Wynn’s logo then was a black and red W and not the well-remembered elongated rainbow oval surrounding the company name.
And speaking of memorable logos, there may be no more iconic hard-parts logo in the high-performance world than the bright red heart of Hooker Headers and the vaguely suggestive tagline “I love my Hooker Headers.” Although the company took full advantage of its provocative-sounding name, it came by it honestly through company founder Gary Hooker, who in 1962 designed a header for his new 409 Chevrolet. Word spread quickly among his fellow racers, and before long, a business was created. The company employed other slogans – “When Only The Best Will Do," “Do It Right The First Time" -- but few could have been as popular as the love slogan. I’m not sure which genius designed the logo, but you can spot that heart from a quarter-mile away. It seemed to be included on the decal sheet of every model car I ever built, and as my world expanded beyond plastic parts in a box to the real thing at the dragstrip, I found the logo no less ubiquitous.
The Hooker logo screams 1970s, as does this interesting design from the folks at Hurst, which takes full advantage of the popular flower-power motif of the late 1960s and early 1970s. With Day-Glo green petals surrounding what I assume is an anthropomorphized Hurst shifter with linkage for legs holding the familiar red and black H, it’s definitely a funky decal, and I’m not sure I ever recall seeing it on anyone’s car (it’s also fairly large, measuring 7 1/2 inches square). Hurst, founded in 1958 by George Hurst, was one of NHRA’s earliest supporters, and the on-site tech support (“the Shifty Doctor,” Jack “Doc” Watson) and its at-track “hospital” repair facility were groundbreakers for the sport that today are taken for granted.
And lastly, for today, is this decal for the Crane Cams 250-mph Club for Funny Cars. I’m not sure if this was the decal worn by drivers in the club or one made to publicize it, but the former group was limited to eight drivers. Cragar had already established the idea of corporate-sponsored performance clubs with its Five-Second Clubs for Top Fuelers and Funny Cars, and NHRA itself funded the 250-mph Club for Top Fuelers. Announced in the May 1, 1981, issue of National DRAGSTER, it took more than a year for the 250-mph Funny Car Club to get its first member. On May 29, 1982, Prudhomme made a run of 250.00 in qualifying at the Cajun Nationals, and it took more than another year to fill the club’s roster. In order, the club members are Billy Meyer (July 17, 1982, 250.69, Englishtown), Ken Veney (Sept. 4, 1982, 254.23, Indianapolis), Tripp Shumake (Oct. 3, 1982, 250.00, Fremont, Calif.), Mark Oswald (March 11, 1983, 254.23, Gainesville); Dale Pulde (July 10, 1983, 252.80, Milan, Mich.), Raymond Beadle (July 10, 1983, 251.39, Milan), and Force (Sept. 3, 1983, 250.69, Indianapolis).
OK, that’s it for the first half of the sticker showoff, and I’m assuming that I’ll quickly be besieged with your own photos of cool decals. In fact, I’m not assuming, I’m expecting. I know the way you guys are. If you’re going to send something, please take as clear and well-lit a photo as you can and provide whatever details you have of either the sticker or where/when you got it. “Stick” around ... there’s more to come Friday.
The countdown to Pomona continues -- now at an even 40 days before the kickoff of NHRA's 60th Anniversary season – while around here, the cleaning continues. We devoted a good portion of Wednesday to the final (and ugly) part of completing the move of the Editorial and Photo departments, which was cleaning up the flotsam and jetsam that accumulated in the 17 years that we were in those offices. We filled the better part of two Dumpsters with excess issues of National DRAGSTER and old press kits and discarded worn-out office items and furniture.
The cleanup continues as well at Insider Central, though the task is much more pleasant, as I sort through feedback to the feedback that you have sent in the past few years and that I have shared here the last two weeks.
The photo of the ex-Don Schumacher Funny Car body in England drew a lot of response, including from Graham Warley, who was part of the crew of Peter Crane's Stormbringer Top Fueler, which is credited with the first five-second elapsed time outside of the United States, and confirmed that the body in the photo is indeed the Stardust Barracuda that Schumacher raced in the United Kingdom in 1972 and 1973. At right is a photo of the car in action, which was supplied by Peter Walton from the UK Drag Racing Nostalgia website.
"Santa Pod Raceway bought both Schumacher's flopper and Paula Murphy's car, which I recall was a Plymouth Duster, when she raced as Miss STP," wrote Warley. "I can't recall how many times they raced, but when Don and Paula returned to the States, the cars were then run by Santa Pod. Roy Phelps ran the Stardust with the late Allan 'Bootsie' Herridge driving, and Nobby Hills ran the Murphy car with Owen Hayward driving.
"I have no clue as to whether the chassis in the pictured car still survives, but I very much doubt it. The body was used in the form you see it as an injected car (hence the odd scoop) for a Capital Radio DJ called Mike Allen. The name on the front spoiler of Gary's Shack was a custom car shop in South London."
Reader Steve Pointon of San Diego called the arrival of the cars in England "one of the most important events for British drag racing" because it was the first time since the 1960s that American racers competed there. Pointon backed up Warley's info about the drivers of the cars that were left behind and added that Tony Nancy's Revelliner Top Fueler also was there, and, with Nancy's help, Hills' team built an "almost exact copy" for themselves.
It wasn't all smooth sailing for the Brits, according to Pointon. "On one of Allan's first passes in the car, it had a huge blower explosion that took the roof off of the car and launched the blower about 50 feet into the air. This was one of the first big blower explosions in the UK and was an incident that Allan never forgot. Luckily, Santa Pod was run by the Phelps family, who were experts in fiberglass repairs, so they managed to perform an immaculate repair on the shell and decided to keep the original paint scheme. The car was driven by Allan for a number of seasons until it was sold to the Stone family team and driven by Dave Stone, They must have loved the paint scheme as they had all their cars painted the same way (the car was retired by the Stones around 1980 and was replaced by the ex-Raymond Beadle Blue Max car, yet again painted to look like the original yellow Stardust car [as shown here in these photos taken by Alan Currans]. The original Stardust car was then fitted with an injected alky motor and painted in the Capital Radio color scheme you see today. The Paula Murphy/Miss STP Duster was destroyed in a crash at Santa Pod.
"I also can remember Don Garlits leaving his Swamp Rat in the UK for a few months after he visited and it being driven by British racer Dennis Priddle, who had to use one of his own Ed Pink motors, which looked very odd with the non-Garlits-style three-butterfly Bugcatcher. Gene Snow's Snowman Plymouth Arrow Funny also was sold to Santa Pod (ironically renamed The Force), as was Leroy Chadderton's Vega Funny Car. One of Tom Hoover's Corvette Funny Cars was sold to a Swedish racer and another sold to a British racer. As you can see, Europe, and England in particular, really is the Funny Car graveyard."
You can find more of Currans' photos and info about some of these cars on this page of the 70sFunnyCars.com site.
Carl Casper's Top Fuel collection, including the mysterious Cosmic Charger, center
The photos of Carl Casper's Cosmic Charger and Bill Traylor's Bold Attempt streamlined Top Fuelers also elicited comments. Rick Howard sent a group of photos (featured in the gallery at right) that he took of the Cosmic Charger a few years ago at the Kruse Automotive & Carriage Museum that give us a much better look at the car. Howard said that museum personnel told him that although no record of drivers or times could be found for the Cosmic Charger, the car did attempt to qualify for several races.
Added Howard, "According to museum personnel, the Galloping Ghost I ran a best of 6.95 at 209 mph. The Galloping Ghost II was driven to victory at the 1969 AHRA Nationals at New York Int'l Speedway by Butch Bryant. The All-American won the 1971 AHRA Winternationals and had a list of drivers that included Leland Kolb, John Kraneberg, Danny Ongais, Gary Cochran, and Don Culp. Another interesting tidbit about the All-American is that it was once stolen while in Keith Black's shop. 'Big Willy' Robinson of the Brotherhood of Street Racers fame was asked to help put the word out to find the rig, and it was suddenly returned unharmed and sits in the Kruse museum today. Only the Cosmic Charger lacks information, but museum personnel have promised to stay on top of it for me after I told them I was interested in doing a story of their cars and museum."
The Kruse museum, in Auburn, Ind., sounds like an interesting place. According to Howard, one side of the museum is dedicated to military vehicles of all kinds from World War II, and the other side houses a wide range of special vehicles, including horse-drawn carriages, stagecoaches, fire engines, the latest Batmobile, NASCAR and Indy cars, a '35 Packard that once belonged to TV star Andy Griffith, and about a dozen or so Casper custom show cars, including the Popcorn Wagon, the Paddy Wagon, Peanut Machine, the Vanturian, and the Pinball Wizard.
Irv "Butch" Vetter was the only one to respond with info about the swoopy Bold Attempt, but it was pretty good stuff, and he supplied our best look yet at the car. Vetter reported that he bought the car from a racer in Palatine, Ill., "who did race the car with [a] needle-nose body to get it squared away, then he was planning on running the fiberglass body, but he never got the chance to because of cancer. When I bought the car, it was offered to me at a price I couldn't pass up! I was running a Top Fuel car built by Lee Austin of Chicago, and I needed new tubing, but this car came to my attention. I had the car about a year, but my roofing company took off, and I decided to sell the car. I sold it to a guy who told me he was going to make a sand dragster out of it. I thought, 'What a shame,' but I later heard he had no money and didn't race it, either."
Jeff Foulk's in-depth recounting of his GT40 Ford LeMans-bodied Funny Car flipped the ol' memory switch for Jim Gorman, who remembered having seen that car in the not-too-distant past. "I took this photo of the car at a Geezers at the Grove festival at Maple Grove in late summer of 2009," he wrote. "Sorry I can't tell you anything about the owner, powerplant, etc. as the owner was not around at the time. It's a very distinctive car from a time when the cars really were a product of their builders' skills and imagination." Just looking at his photo, I can read the name Tim Hansberry under the window, whom Foulk had indicated is the current owner, but it's nice to see a clear and modern photo of this most unusual entry.
Veteran track operator Glenn Menard enjoyed the great shot of Jim Annin and Mike Snively in Seattle and offered a humorous side note to the pair's historic 5.97 pass later that year in Ontario that occurred while Menard was managing famed Irwindale Raceway.
"The week before that famous run at Ontario, I thought Annin was going to throttle me," he remembered. "They were at Irwindale to test the week of the Supernationals, and after one run, a dip in the return road right next to the e.t. shack ripped the pan right off of that Keith Black Hemi. I thought 'Diamond Jim' was going to blow a gasket and take it out on me. They made a run to Black’s shop for a replacement, made another run, and the rest is history."
OK, that's it for this topic for now. I have a lot of other older e-mails that I'll be sorting through and perhaps sharing, and I'm sure that some of you may be surprised to see something that you sent two years ago that didn't fit at the time finding its way to publication.
Speaking of publications, yesterday we officially began work on Issue 1 of the 2011 volume for National DRAGSTER, which will cover all of the news for 2010's top 10 Pro finishers. We've been working the phones already for more than a week, but yesterday began the official production cycle for 2011. The issue will ship next Wednesday, so it's almost time to start checking your mailboxes.
Enjoy your weekend; I'll see you next week.
Part of the trick of this job is the research, but a more important part may well be knowing who to ask about things you won't find in the printed records or for additional details. Being able to reach out to a third party to get background information or to fill in the details is invaluable in some instances, and a case in point is today's subject.
Last week, I shared a photo that I had been sitting on of John Force with Gene Beaver, Louie Force, and Billy McCahill. I had mentioned that McCahill, himself a former Funny Car driver, was aligned somehow with the Force family, and reader Paul Katata smartly recalled the Chevy Citation Funny Cars of Force and McCahill on stage at a rock concert. I remembered the photo, too, which had run in National DRAGSTER, and that it had been a venue here in SoCal, the Santa Monica Civic Auditorium. As a denizen of SoCal beaches in my youth, I was well familiar with the auditorium, which had played host to concerts before and was the host to the T.A.M.I. Show (Teenage Awards Music International), a pretty famous gig in 1964 that featured The Beach Boys, The Rolling Stones, Jan & Dean, Chuck Berry, James Brown, Marvin Gaye, The Supremes, Smokey Robinson & The Miracles, Gerry & The Pacemakers, and other emerging stars, and was a former home of the Academy Awards (1961-67).
I didn't think to get Force – and wasn't sure he'd even remember it – because I remember several years ago trading e-mails with Steve Quercio, who had been a promoter and in Force's inner circle in the late 1970s/early 1980s. I tracked him down and asked about the concert, which, as it turns out, was a pretty big deal for an aspiring rock band some of you may have heard about since: Mötley Crüe.
"Oh yeah!" he enthusiastically responded. "That was my concert! John and I were very close, and I put him on stage at Mötley Crüe's first major concert."
All of this seems a little hard to believe, but Quercio provided a link to the Chronological Crüe website, run by Crüe expert and rock author Paul Miles, which includes this recap:
8/4/82 [April 8, 1982]
Mötley plays a sold-out show at the three-and-a-half-thousand-seat capacity Santa Monica Civic, which is produced by racing car promoter Steve Quercio, who has seen them play the Whisky and wanted to help get them to the next level … Mötley shares the stage with a couple of Funny Cars owned by John Force. As they play, they set fire to various instruments and debut their new song "Knock 'Em Dead Kid." The performance and number of ticket sales for a local Hollywood club band finally attracts the attention of record labels and the event becomes a turning point for the Crüe.
Well, heck, who knew? So I pressed Quercio for additional info about the hows and whys of this interesting converegence of two "acts" on their way to the top, and Quercio was happy to oblige.
"In the late '60s, I had been selling Drag News at racetracks since I was 12 years old for my mentor, Jack Williams. Between Jack, his friend Tom McEwen, Don Rackeman, and Steve Evans, all I wanted to do was grow up and be a motorsport promoter. Jack took me under his wing, and I learned from him at Fremont Raceway, Sears Point, and the PDA races how to promote an event.
"Jack encouraged me in the '70s to go give it a shot on my own. I started renting Carlsbad Raceway and doing my own events. My good friend Gene Beaver, who I met selling magazines (and was another idol of mine) told me he wanted to introduce me to his cousin, this young kid like myself who called himself 'Brute Force.' So I met John, and we both hit it off really good! In those days, John had a hard time even going down the racetrack, so I started booking John into my races, and he wanted me to be his PR guy. I just laughed. Hell, no one knew me, and they sure in the hell didn't know who John Force was. I decided to work with John as a PR guy as well as continue promoting my events, and I started lining up dates for John and landed him the AHRA circuit.
"One classic story I remember is that I tried to book John into an RG Canning Car Show. They flat said, 'John who? We have no budget for that.' So I said, 'OK, no money, just give us a 15x20 booth next to the race car to do what we want with. Craig Hoezel (with Canning at that time) said OK. John said we can't do it free. I said, 'Don't worry; I've got an idea!' Pac-Man the game was GIANT back then, so I contacted a games company and cut a deal for them to bring 25 Pac-Man games, and we set them in the booth next to John's car, and for the whole three-day car show, those games next to our booth just flat kicked butt. I think we walked out with $3,000 or $4,000 that weekend. That is how we had to scramble to survive in those early days.
"The concert: John was still an unknown, but we always worked hard to get promotions going. We were just trying to feed both our families and keep the race car on the track. [OCIR track owner] Charlie Allen was good to John, but we always needed more money, as he broke everything. Keep in mind, this is way before any sponsor money, maybe hamburgers from Wendy's with a little display money. John told me, 'Quercio, figure out how we can get more booking money.' I thought, 'What would old Jack Williams do?' So I thought, 'Charlie needs radio to market his events, so I went to KROQ radio in L.A. and put together a promotion where we would make Brute Force the KROQ Funny Car. I told them, 'We don't want one dime in money, we just want $25,000 in radio trade advertising time. John and I went to Charlie and told him that if he would increase John's booking money, we would match that with radio time to promote the event. It worked! Now John was getting as much as the Blue Max but still was just a local Funny Car!
"So now, I have all this radio time and John hooked up with OCIR, what else can we do to get John exposure? I went to see this local L.A. band at the Whisky [Whisky a Go Go in Hollywood] one night and said, 'Man, these guys are off the wall. Big hair, heavy metal, WOW. They had no record deal, just playing local L.A. gigs. I went up to them and said, 'Hey, you guys ROCK. How would you like to play a major concert with Funny Cars on stage?' They said, 'Hell yes.' The band was Mötley Crüe. So I went back to John and said, 'Are you ready to have your Funny Car and Billy's Funny Car on stage at the Santa Monica Civic for a major concert?' After all, he was the KROQ radio Funny Car. John is not exactly your heavy-metal guy. He saw pictures of Tommy, Vince, Nikki, and Mick and had a fit. 'Quercio,' he said, 'What are you doing to me?' Don't worry, Force, this will get us attention. So I used my KROQ radio spots, and all over L.A. we promoted Mötley Crüe in concert with Elvira and Funny Cars on stage with John Force."
Here you get a sense for the size of the dance-floor crowd and a nice look at the stage.
"On the day of show, we got to the Santa Monica Civic early and put John's car on stage. When Mötley Crüe arrived, they saw the Funny Car and freaked out! Light it up, man! John met the guys and was somewhat reserved, but as you know Force, in a matter of minutes, he had them in stitches. The show went on in front of a sold-out crowd that loved Mötley Crüe and John Force and Elvira as the emcee.
"As we all know, Mötley Crüe has gone on to be mega rock stars as well as our own legend, John Force, but those were the things we had to do in the early days to survive."
So, there it is … the day that John Force met Mötley Crüe as both were climbing the stairway to success. I hope to get to Force for his side of the story before too long.
Later this week, I'll have more follow-up to last week's dual "found in my Inbox" columns, featuring your comments and photos on some of the topics I covered.
Welcome back, and to Part 2 of my Inbox Blowout. On Tuesday, I began the daunting task of sweeping out the many Outlook folders I have created to handle the stream of e-mails from the faithful readers of this column and wanted some of the saved and unpublished ones to find light before I forget about them or before their subject is forgotten.
So here we go …
Nitro racing veteran Jim Murphy, who's still burning the cackle juice behind the wheel of a nostalgia Top Fueler nearly 40 years after his nitro Funny Car debut with the Holy Smokes 'Cuda, shared his introduction to the sport in an e-mail last year.
"It was late summer of 1971, and I was racing a blown fuel flat-bottom drag boat, which I had been doing for about six years," he wrote. "These boats were not the safest, and I had lost a number of friends during that period. Well, the final straw came in late summer of 1971 when a very close friend and former partner, Ted Holden, lost his life in a hydro. I made a decision at that moment to quit boat racing. Fast-forward to New Year's Day in 1972. I got a call from a friend, Ed Wills, who I had boat raced with, inviting me to Fremont to see what he was involved with. At that race, I saw and fell in love with Funny Cars. Ed was involved with Art Whipple, and he and his former partner Ed McCulloch were at the race that day. I was quite excited and had to get into this deal.
"As it turned out, Ed and Art had just built a new car, and the old car was for sale. I went to Fresno the day after the race and bought it. I knew a little bit about fuel motors as I had been running one for the last six years, but nothing like what I was about to embark upon. Art and Ed took me under their wing, and with their help, I ordered an engine from Keith Black.
"I spent the next three weeks getting all the other parts needed, having the car painted and lettered. I borrowed an open-wheel-stock-car trailer and planned to race at the Winternationals. I did not have a license yet, so Art and Ed suggested we contact a friend of theirs, Butch Maas, to drive because he had won the race the year before in Roland Leong’s car and, being the defending champion, was eligible for a guaranteed starting spot (that was the ruling at that time). I am thinking, 'We will at least get to race on race day and bring in a few dollars.' So we show up at Pomona with the open trailer (there were not any big rigs, but most trailers in this class were nice enclosed trailers). Lo and behold, we qualify No. 2 and have to race Roland in the first round. Long story short, we beat Roland’s car and lose to McCulloch in the second round. Ed goes on to win, and that was my start in drag racing, and here I am 30-plus years later still at it."
Another pretty famous racing figure, former Top Fuel racer Johnny Abbott, sent me the photo above, the site of which is instantly recognizable to longtime SoCal fans and racers as the head of the staging lanes of good ol' Orange County Int’l Raceway, where the end of the pits rolled right into the head of the lanes, which then wrapped around the trademark starting-line tower. The main subject of the photo, taken at the 1981 NHRA World Finals, is Abbott's Jolly Rancher dragster, which had won Indy earlier that year, but Abbott was quick to point out something else about the photo. "The cool thing about this picture is you have the 1981 NHRA U.S. Nationals champion [and in the background] the 1981 NHRA Top Fuel world champion, 1981 NHRA Funny Car world champion, and 1981 NHRA Pro Stock world champion." Right he is, as you can see behind his car Jeb Allen's dragster, Raymond Beadle's Blue Max, and Lee Shepherd's Reher-Morrison-Shepherd Camaro. Pretty cool.
The event was memorable for Abbott as he not only was the No. 1 qualifier at 5.641 and had top speed at 247.93, but few remember that it was those numbers that Gary Beck famously had to exceed in the final round if he was going to steal the championship from under Allen's nose. Beck's final-round victory and 5.57 e.t. got him two-thirds of the way there, but his 245.23 fell a few mph short.
Carl Casper's Top Fuelers, including the sleek Cosmic Charger
Kevin Allgire of the Northeastern Indiana Racing Museum (Auburn) shot the photo at right of custom-car builder Carl Casper's Top Fuel dragsters while he was at the Kruse Horsepower Museum last summer while we were in the midst of our thread on streamlined dragsters. The car that got my attention was the one in the middle, between his Galloping Ghost entries -- the Cosmic Charger. It's a front-engine dragster with an enclosed cockpit and front-wheel pants. A poster that accompanies the display seems to indicate that the car ran 6.67 at 220.45 mph, but I can't ever remember seeing or hearing of this car, and I can’t find any records or photos of it running.
It took a lot of Web searching to find anything about it before I stumbled across the dragster in model-box form as a 1972 release by model maker MPC ("... a colorful Hemi-powered brute of an enclosed cockpit dragster. Racing bucket, roll cage, mag wheels, full covered body, 426 cid Hemi engine, scoop and blower, chute, front spoiler, hollow slicks, front bike tire, plated spoked wheels."). Casper has displayed his dragsters at his 40-plus-year-old Carl Casper Custom Car Show alongside his other memorable works, such as the 1965 America’s Most Beautiful Roadster, the (new) Batmobile, the A-Team vehicles, KITT from Knight Rider, and the General Lee from Dukes of Hazzard, so I'm wondering if the real-life car pictured here was built as a show car or if it actually ran. Anyone know?
Also in the "huh?" category is the Bill Traylor Bold Attempt streamlined Top Fueler, also shown in the gallery at right in a photo submitted by Fred Gunton of Portland, Ore. That's nitro veteran Gary Ritter in the enclosed cockpit of the rear-engine machine that features an enclosed cockpit and engine compartment as well as enclosed front tires. It's a weird piece and, again, not one that I ever recall reaching the track. Anyone?
In the same vein, reader Chuck Hodgkinson wrote last year to share his brush with greatness with a swoopy car. "Back in the mid-'60s, this wild and crazy guy, George Schreiber, spent the summer in Tumwater, Wash., with our neighbor Earl Poague. Earl drove AA/Gas dragster, and his dad, Terrell, was running Division 6 of the NHRA at the time. George was a heck of a cool guy, as was Earl. They treated all of us kids like kings. George was bigger than life, and along with Yellow Fang, they were hard to miss. Heck, this was an Ed Roth car. I think Earl had met George while racing in Australia. I think Tony Nancy was part of this group also. When we were kids, having a dragster push-start down the street and roll into Terrell’s driveway was normal. I think the Yellow Fang should be included with the streamlined and wedge conversation. I believe the picture was taken in Australia."
Speaking of rare birds, I heard many times throughout the last year from Jeff Foulk, who ran the Finagler Cougar injected fuel Funny Car and wanted to show me his long-forgotten follow-up: a GT40 Ford Le Mans-bodied entry.
"I will wager just about any amount of money you have never seen this car before, at least not in its original ( '75 to '80) form unless you were a regular habitué of Englishtown or Maple Grove," he wrote.
"When my Finagler Cougar chassis was no longer legal, I wanted to stay in Funny Cars but do something different. I had long been intrigued by the idea of aerodynamic bodies, but being committed to small-block, injected nitro power, I was sort of adrift in the wilderness. Then came the original Pro Comp idea, which originally was supposed to be a 7.50 eliminator. Perfect! A/FC was included, and 7.50 e.t.s were definitely reachable with a light, small-block car. We were leafing through AutoWeek one day and spied an ad for Pepe's Fiberglas GT40 Ford bodies, which were being marketed to the sports-car crowd. The body came in pieces and did not have precut wheel housings, so it could be more readily adapted to different chassis. The original body was for a 90-inch wheelbase, but by moving the front and rear wheels, we stretched it to fit our 118-inch chassis. We glassed the doors in permanently, fitted the rocker panels, and with various other cobbling, came up with the body you see: a one-piece flip-top Funny Car.
"The body was extremely light. I could get under the roof and lift it by myself. The chassis was a Logghe wide cage but legal chrome moly that I bought from Charles Scott. Power was one of my homegrown Fords, a 351 Cleveland, which we increased to 366 inches, injected, on nitro. It was light (1,540 pounds), and the motor made loads of power. However, that is where the good times ended. That car was the biggest frustration of my life. No matter what we tried, I could not get the chassis to hook up. We put the biggest set of tires on it that would fit the chassis, but it could not be made to leave. The problem was that it had been converted to a solid mount rear, and I think it was just too light to plant the tires without any rear movement in the chassis. The end came when we finally got one good run out of it (7.82, 182 mph), but it ate the trans. We were still running the C-4 tranny, and now the only way forward seemed to be a clutch and a Lenco, and the motor was due for a new set of aluminum rods, none of which we had money for, so it got parked.
"After a couple of years, I got antsy and put my old 289/348 into the car just to screw around running alky. At the end of the '79 season, just one last time for old time's sake, I put it back on nitro. It weighed 1,470 pounds with the little motor in it, and all it would do was smoke the tires like a burnout! I sold the car to a kid with high ambitions and a lack of funds. Years later, it turned up on a used-car lot, where the present owner, Tim Hansberry, bought it. He is presently running it on the Nostalgia circuit. He had no idea of the car's origin until I ran an ad in ND trying to locate it. Because I always had viewed the car as unfinished business, I was interested in reacquiring it. The last thing Tim wanted to do was sell it. Probably just as well. It will always remain a thorn in my side. The potential was there. It was light, made power, handled great on the top end. The aerodynamics were perfect for as fast as I could ever have made it go. I know it would have easily been capable of mid-sevens. Of course, Pro Comp only remained a 7.50 eliminator for one race, so either way, I was up against it. The frustration is as fresh today as it was then."
Where do old Funny Cars go to die? Apparently to England. British reader Pete Walton sent this photo of what he says is a former Don Schumacher Stardust flopper body.
"It has been let out into the sunlight for the first time in many, many years," he reported. "It's owned by Santa Pod Raceway and is supposed to be in perfect condition apart from the very bad paint job and even badder scoop. Not sure if they still have the chassis. I think it came to England in 1976-ish when Don came and did some racing." It's certainly not the first famous Funny Car to end up in Europe, as many of that continent's earliest floppers were recognizable as former greats on the NHRA circuit, but I never would have picked this one out.
I also heard last summer from Roger Sinistri Jr., whose father was the engine builder for future Pro Stock great Larry Lombardo when he won the 1968 U.S. Nationals Stock title at the tender age of 19 in the F/Stock Buckshot '61 Corvette. Together, Lombardo and Sinistri Sr. won a lot of races and set the national record with this car, which Junior told me has recently been restored, as shown here.
Lombardo, of course, went on to great fame – under great scrutiny -- as Bill "Grumpy" Jenkins' Pro Stock pilot, replacing the legend in the seat of the Grumpy's Toy Chevys. Lombardo won six national events in Pro Stock – beginning at the 1974 Summernationals, an event he won three times. On a weird note, after he won the Summernats in 1977, he never won again despite appearing in seven more final rounds in the 1970s. What makes that factoid especially interesting is that in all seven of those unsuccessful final-round bids, he lost to the same guy: Bob Glidden. His last final round was, ironically, at the site of his first, Indianapolis, at the 1979 U.S. Nationals, where Glidden won his fourth of nine Indy titles.
The video I posted of the Mazi family Opel drew a lot of oohs and aaahs, as apparently although a lot of you knew of the car, not many of you had actually seen (and heard) it run, so you got a new appreciation for it. And that was when the car was going straight (I'll never forget Frank's great advice before I drove the car for the first time, something along the lines of "The car has two positions: out of shape and about to get out of shape.").
Anyway, I found another e-mail from daughter Dawn that coincided with our ramp-truck discussion, showing their famous Opel up on the back of their hauler. She wrote, "The whole family (including Burn Out [their dog]) made the cross-country trip to the 1978 Winternationals in that single-cab hauler (the luggage was in the Opel), but for local events, all three of us girls would ride in the Opel. My dad was sponsored by Hy-Gain (a CB radio company) during the 1977 season, and so he installed a CB radio in the Opel and the truck so we could communicate with him in the hauler. It especially came in handy when we'd spot a Dairy Queen in the distance and wanted to stop because we were hot. Riding in the Opel to events gave us plenty of time to play 'race car.'
"We got a little carried away during one trip to Thompson when we unknowingly emptied the CO2 bottle while playing with the Lenco four-speed air shifter, taking turns popping the buttons through all gears and relishing the 'phtsshhhhh' sound it made. Our dad was quite surprised to discover an empty bottle when he warmed the car up in the pits that day. Thankfully, he had a spare bottle on hand. Good times!"
The final photo shows the two crashed Opel bodies (see what Frank meant?) -- the God of Hell Fire entry that was famously captured by Richard Brady tangling with the concrete Christmas Tree support at the SPORTSnationals and a second Opel that crashed in Norwalk -- being hauled away on a friend's ramp truck to the scrap yard. Sad times!
Like many of us, reader Ed Eberlein doodled drag cars all over everything as a youngster, and some just never stopped, such as East Coast race car lettering ace Dan "the Sign Man" Delaney, who was inspired by the posting of Eberlein's art to send his early stuff. "I, too, was intrigued and inspired by the work of Youngblood and Nat Quick and the paint work at Kirby's. I just lived on the wrong coast, but we had our version of that Bellflower shop with Circus Custom Paint, Mr. "J," and Glen Weisgerber in New Jersey, still a very long bike ride from Buffalo, N.Y., where I grew up. I drew cartoons and pencil sketches of my local heroes and touring pros. I always wanted to letter race cars as a young kid. Playing with Hot Wheels like I'm sure most (all) of us did, building models, going to the drags. Well, attached are just some of my 'early' sketches. I sought out autographs, and I, too, was asked for copies of the drawings ... what a rush ! As you know, I turned my love of art into a lifetime career as a sign painter. Today, as I celebrate 35 years in the sign trade, I've lettered cars for some of my heroes from those early teen days and cherish the opportunities and friendships that have come from my business. I wouldn't trade it for the world!"
Some of John Bell's early work
John Bell, another artsy name familiar to many of you, also sent a few of his earliest works, including the Blue Max image at right. "I wanted to share some of what I was doing when I was 15," he wrote. "Back in '74, I had sold a painting to Don Schumacher at the PRO race for a whopping $30. Paid for some fine magazines and bubble gum. By the beginning of 1975, when I was 16, I had designed the paint scheme for Bill Leavitt's black and orange Quickie Too Mustang Funny Car. I saw Raymond Beadle at the CHRR this year, and I was astonished that he still remembered me (after almost 30 years) AND that he still had this painting! Throughout my teens, I was fortunate enough to design paint schemes and blue-sky ideas and sponsor renderings for drivers across the nation. Seeing Kenny Youngblood at the CHRR also reminded me how much he helped me develop my artistic skills. I'd write to ask how to make cars look shiny, how to get forms to read, etc. His letters would come back with detailed sketches! It blew me away. Anyhow, these are looking very crude today, but I was only 15 to 16 years old. It was better than going to work."
And finally, and still on the artwork front, there's this from Seattle's Al Kean, who shot the incredible photograph of Don Prudhomme's 'Cuda Funny Car on fire and flying through the lights at Seattle Int'l Raceway in the final round of the second annual Hot Wheels Northwest National Open in 1971.
Kean, who shared the details of that magical moment at the end of this late 2008 column, wrote last week, "I am sure you will be deluged by racers sharing their Christmas gifts (race cars, equipment, etc.), but mine was different, and fantastic! My wonderful wife and kids got an oil painting made of my well-known photo of Don Prudhomme's 1971 fire and flight in his 'Cuda Funny Car in Seattle. Pretty cool ! When I took this photo almost 40 years ago, I never thought that it would be a photo that would just keep giving for all these decades!"
OK, that's the majority of the stuff I've been holding on to, although there are still others (I have more than 20 subfolders, most of which I didn't delve into) that I may share in the future. I'm pretty happy with the stuff I unearthed just in the main Insider folder and feel that it was worth the time and effort to go back through scores of e-mails looking for the prime cuts. Thanks for reading.