Features

Posted by: Phil Burgess

After posting here last week about Roger “Riceman” Lee’s upcoming re-creation of the Masters & Richter Top Fueler, it didn’t take me long to get the expected reply about whether it was the ex-M&R car that “Big John” Milner drove in More American Graffiti, and the answer came from Lee himself, who also supplied the handful of photos in the gallery below.

“The Masters & Richter Fueler was never in More American Graffiti,” he emphatically wrote.


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Jim McLennan with the Champion Speed Shop car that became the first Masters & Richter dragster
 
He also provided a timeline of the car that he’s restoring, which is actually the second (and better-known) M&R car. Driver “Big Bob” Haines rolled the original M&R car (also known as “Cigar Nose”) into the creek at Half Moon Bay Drag Strip when the parachute didn't come out. The car was later sold to Tom Prufer and replaced with a car that Kent Fuller had built in 1961 for Ronnie Hampshire and George Boltoff. That car had been sold to Jim McLennan and raced as the Champion Speed Shop Top Fueler that was driven by Sammy Hale with small-block Chevy power.

Masters and Richter bought the car from McLennan when McLennan had his hands full running Fremont Raceway, Half Moon Bay, and Champion Raceway (an eighth-mile strip in Brisbane, Calif.), even though at least one prominent writer in the weekly drag racing newspapers had opined that M&R’s big 392 Chrysler would never work in the car. The duo commissioned Fuller to reinforce the 112-inch chassis with more uprights and diagonals for the new engine, and by the end of 1963, they’d tuned the car to bests of 7.89 at 196.92 at Fremont.

The chassis was lengthened  by crewmember Lefty Hay before it was sold to Tom Walsh and Hay, who raced it as the Wailer until 1968. In 1990, the car was resurrected and raced -- still painted as the Wailer -- with an alcohol-fed blown 392 by Mark Smith. The car was sold three more times and then reportedly was backhalved and raced with an injected big-block Chevy/Powerglide combination. The car owner passed away, and his son has it now, but the car is not for sale, although probably not much of the original car is still in it.

Thom Roy came to a similar conclusion just looking at photos of the movie car and the original, noting differences between, among other things, such items as length, tail extension, windshield, the channel of the bodywork, and the rear support of the roll bar.

I also heard from regular Insider commenter Dave LeRoy, who actually worked for the M&R team. “They had their shop in San Leandro, Calif., which housed the car in two bays. The other bays were for the 52 Kenworths they leased to Watson/Wilson trucking. We had a guy that worked for them in the shop that would go to all of the wrecking yards to find 392s a couple of days a week! I would mix fuel among other things; we would run some mixes that no one else ran. The car always sounded different than most fuel cars; ask Ivo. We held the top speed record for a long time and held the No. 2 Mr. Eliminator spot for a long time and took on several challengers, including Prudhomme and Ivo. Lots of great stories from those days!”

Indeed.

(Above) Bob Gibson then, accepting congratulations from Wally Parks after winning the 1970 Springnationals in Dallas, and (below) now.

Friday’s column about Top Fuel seasons brought a great email from one of the subjects mentioned, Bob Gibson, who won Top Fuel at the 1970 Springnationals in Dallas while driving for the famed Carroll Bros. team, thanking me for not forgetting him. This is an all-too-common response from some of the early heroes, and it pains me to think that they think they have been relegated to the dark corners of the NHRA history book, never to see the light again.

There's no driver photo file for Gibson as there is for many, many drivers, and the reason is simple: His driving career spanned only five years.

“I had a short but sweet career at the top level, driving for John Dodson (A/Fuel 1967-68), Robert Landrum in ’69, and the Carroll Bros. in ’70 (we also won the Bayou State Championships in Houma that year). I drove Ray Godman’s Tennessee Bo-Weevil in ’71 (went three rounds at the ‘71 Gatornationals, IHRA Rockingham, and match races galore), Buddy Cortines (’71 Springnationals, first round), and finished up the year for Peebles & Williams at the ’71 World Finals (No. 1 qualifier east and low e.t. of the first round).

“TRW came calling, and I started my automotive sales career for them under a no-more-driving requirement. I worked the NHRA national events for TRW from ’72 to ’82 as an employee. Still at it today, living on the road and peddling shocks for KYB. I missed my chance to drive a rear-engine car and would have really liked that but did get to run Garlits’ new RED trendsetter.”

When Gibson won the Springnationals, he was only 22 and had to be NHRA’s youngest Top Fuel winner at that point (Jeb Allen, 18 years, 1 month, would win the Summernationals the following year and remains the youngest Top Fuel winner in NHRA history), and I asked him how he was accepted by the era’s veterans.

Gibson, in Buddy Cortines' winged front-engine Top Fueler at the 1971 Springnationals

“I may have once been the youngest,” he agreed. “Never thought of it until you mentioned it. Speaking of the grizzled old vets, once you outran a couple of them, especially with a holeshot, you were accepted. Some of them I can remember running against were ‘the Greek,’ Tharp, Nix, Nicoll, Safford, Garlits, Moody, Wiebe, ’the Goose’, Bernstein … some of the best at the time; never went up against ‘the Snake,’ though. The best advice I ever got from one of them -- at least that I remember – two-time world champ, Bennie Osborn, who is a man of few words, came up to me one time after a left front spindle broke on a rough LaPlace track, and the left front wheel promptly departed about 800 feet. Bob here never noticed, just kept my foot in it to 1,320. Pulled the chute followed by a shower-of-sparks stop. On a good run in the Carrolls’ old T-Bar FED, the left front always hiked up due to engine torque reaction and just kind of skipped along anyway, not really steering -- the right did all the guiding. Anyway, ol' Bennie just says, ‘Boy don’t ya know you need four wheels to drive one of these things?’ and walks away. LOL. By the way, we won that round and made the final.

“It was a great time to drive; at that age, you didn’t even think about the possible consequences. I never went on my head in a car, did get burned around the back of the neck in a blower explosion and fire once or twice, bounced off a guardrail, etc. The worst time I ever had was when the chute failed to open. I just ended up in the sand once at Oklahoma City with a well-bent-up car and a pretty good headache. I sure  wouldn’t trade those experiences for anything. I certainly cherish my Wally.”

Gibson also told me that he’s restoring a Cackle car, the last front-engine AA/Fueler that T-Bar chassis built for Cortines in 1971 that Gibson ran at the 1971 Springnationals (pictured above).

“I hope to have it ready for next year’s Reunions,” he said. “I crewed on Brad Green’s Arkansas NTF in ’08 and ’09 with Texas friends Dave Pace in the seat and John Dearmore tuning, where I found the thrill and attraction to blown fuel racing just as strong as ever.”

It's good to have this history out in the light again, and it's always wonderful for me to see when something I have written has touched someone and made him or her remember that some of us will never forget.
 
With travel to Norwalk later this week for the Summit Racing Equipment NHRA Nationals, this is the only column this week, and next week's early column may, of course, be delayed, based on travel. I'll see you then.

Top Fuel seasons, then and nowFriday, June 17, 2011
Posted by: Phil Burgess

OK, Insider experts, what do Top Fuel racers Carl Olson, Don Garlits, Chip Woodall, Jeb Allen, Art Marshall, Gary Beck, Jim Walther, and Don Moody have in common? I’ll give you some time to think about it as the column progresses.

If you’ve been following my Pure Nostalgia column in National DRAGSTER this year, you’ve watched the history of NHRA unfold a year at a time, seen NHRA bloom into a major racing force, and watched how the schedule and the eliminators expanded and how the sport in general grew. I don’t like to mix the content here with what’s in print, but I can’t help myself this week because of the interesting period that we’ve reached.

This week, I covered the 1970 season -- NHRA’s self-titled “Super Season" in which the national event schedule went from four races to seven with the addition of the Gatornationals, Summernationals (York, Pa.), and Supernationals (Ontario, Calif., version) -- and what really struck me as I was recounting the event winners was the list of winners in Top Fuel: Larry Dixon Sr., Dave Chenevert, Bob Gibson, Pete Robinson, Don Prudhomme, Ronnie Martin, and Rick Ramsey.

Consider the following:

Five of those seven winners – Dixon, Chenevert, Gibson, Martin, and Ramsey – scored the first and only wins of their Top Fuel careers that year.

Rookie Top Fuel pilot Bob Gibson won the 1970 Springnationals in Dallas.

Four of the five – Dixon, Gibson, Martin, and Ramsey – did it while appearing in the only final round of their careers. Only Chenevert, runner-up the previous year at the World Finals to Steve Carbone, had been in a final, and he would not reach another.

Dixon defeated Tony Nancy in the Winternationals final, and Chenevert beat Jim Paoli for the Gatornationals win, and it also was the only Top Fuel final in the careers of those two.

Gibson, a 22-year-old rookie who was wheeling the Carroll Bros.’ home-state Texas Whips dragster, defeated Jim Nicoll, who reached three final rounds that season – the only three of his NHRA career – yet lost all of them, including his spectacular Indy loss to Prudhomme.

The 1970 season was one of only four campaigns from Top Fuel's first year in 1963 to present in which no one won more than one event. Two of those -- 1967 (Connie Kalitta, Prudhomme, Garlits, Bennie Osborn) and 1969 (John Mulligan, Hank Westmoreland, Prudhomme, Carbone) – occurred in four-race seasons, so not having a repeat winner isn’t all that surprising considering how many cars were competing then.

The last time that there was not a repeat winner was during 1972’s eight-race schedule, when the aforementioned Messrs. Olson, Garlits, Woodall, Allen, Marshall, Beck, Walther, and Moody split the season bragging rights eight ways, making that octet an interesting footnote in Top Fuel history that has not been duplicated in the 38 seasons that have followed..

From that point, at least one racer has collected more than one Top Fuel Wally a season. Now, you might think that’s a no-brainer because, exponentially, as the number of events increased – to 10 in 1979, 15 in 1986, and 22 in 1997 – there were more chances to win and less cars competing, but you’d be surprised at how it breaks down. Below is a quick box that I compiled that shows the number of events that each champ has won from 1974 on – 1974 being the first year that champs weren’t decided by who won the World Finals – as well as the percentage of the champ’s wins against the schedule and the number of other drivers to score more than one win that season.

Year Events Champion (number of wins) Champ Win pct. Other Repeaters
1974 7 Gary Beck (3) 43 0
1975 8 Don Garlits (4) 50 0
1976 9 Richard Tharp (2) 22 1
1977 9 Shirley Muldowney (3) 33 1
1978 9 Kelly Brown (4) 44 2
1979 10 Rob Bruins (0) 0 2
1980 10 Muldowney (4) 40 0
1981 11 Jeb Allen (4) 36 2
1982 12 Muldowney (4) 33 2
1983 12 Beck (4) 33 2
1984 11 Joe Amato (3) 27 2
1985 13 Garlits (6) 46 1
1986 14 Garlits (5) 36 2
1987 14 Dick LaHaie (5) 36 2
1988 16 Amato (4) 25 2
1989 19 Gary Ormsby (6) 32 3
1990 19 Amato (6) 32 3
1991 18 Amato (4) 22 3
1992 18 Amato (3) 17 4
1993 18 Eddie Hill (6) 33 2
1994 18 Scott Kalitta (5) 28 3
1995 19 Kalitta (6) 32 3
1996 19 Kenny Bernstein (4) 21 4
1997 22 Gary Scelzi (5) 23 3
1998 22 Scelzi (6) 27 3
1999 22 Tony Schumacher (1) .05 5
2000 24 Scelzi (9) 38 5
2001 24 Bernstein (8) 33 5
2002 23 Larry Dixon (9) 39 4
2003 23 Dixon (8) 35 4
2004 23 Schumacher (10) 43 3
2005 23 Schumacher (9) 39 4
2006 23 Schumacher (5) 22 5
2007 23 Schumacher (6) 26 5
2008 24 Schumacher (15) 63 2
2009 24 Schumacher (5) 21 4
2010 23 Dixon (12) 52 2

 
Interesting notes:

1976-77: The only drivers besides the champs to win more than one race in these seasons, Shirley Muldowney and Dennis Baca, respectively, didn’t finish in the top 10 those years.

Rob Bruins went 0-for-1979 but still won the championship.

1979: Rob Bruins became the first Pro driver to win a championship without winning a national event; Kelly Brown won four times that season and Don Garlits three but finished second and third, respectively. Only Eddie Krawiec (Pro Stock Motorcycle, 2008) has also won a Pro championship without winning an event).

1985: Only Connie Kalitta also won more than one event.

1988: Second-place Darrell Gwynn won six events to Amato’s four but still finished second.

1990: Gary Ormsby matched Joe Amato’s win total; the season’s other repeaters were surprises in Lori Johns (three, in a fourth-place finish behind Dick LaHaie, who only won once) and Frank Hawley, who scored two wins and finished ninth despite beginning his campaign at the eighth race as a replacement for injured Darrell Gwynn.

"Pat Awesome" won two of the final three events in 1991.

1991: Pat Austin was one of three repeat winners; he won two of the season’s three final events but didn’t finish in the top 10 after beginning his Top Fuel career in Indy after Gary Ormsby’s death; Kenny Bernstein had six wins to Joe Amato’s four and finished second.

1992-94 and 1996: Nine of the top 10 won at least one event; the respective exceptions were Dannielle DePorter (10th), Cory McClenathan (sixth), Mike Dunn (seventh), and Connie Kalitta (ninth). There has never been a season in  which all top 10 Top Fuel finishers have won an event.

1998: The top four – Gary Scelzi (six wins), Cory McClenathan (six), Joe Amato (four), and Kenny Bernstein (four) – gobbled up 20 of the year’s 22 wins. Only Doug Kalitta and Larry Dixon, with one apiece, broke up the stranglehold.

Prior to his "enlistment" with the Army, Tony Schumacher "charged" to his first championship in 1999 despite just one event win flying Exide Batteries colors.

1999: How did Tony Schumacher ever win this championship? He had just one win compared to (in finishing order) three for Gary Scelzi, five for Joe Amato, and four for Mike Dunn. Only Rob Bruins 21 years earlier had won fewer.

2003: Brandon Bernstein won three of the first six events before suffering a season-ending crash at race eight in Englishtown and finished outside the top 10, the last multi-event winner to do so. Dad Kenny jumped into the team’s backup car after E-town and won four times.

2008: Years later, Tony Schumacher’s amazing season continues to shine. Only Larry Dixon and Antron Brown scored more than one win (two each). Four others won once.

2009: Quite a drop-off for Tony Schumacher and a boost for Larry Dixon (who also won five), coinciding with Alan Johnson leaving Schumacher and teaming with Dixon.

2010: Only Tony Schumacher (six) and Cory McClenathan (three) scored multiple wins; Larry Dixon was a perfect 12-0 in final rounds.

Two generations of Dixons shared the winner's circle at the 1970 Winternationals.

I could look at this chart all day and draw correlations between dominance and parity and performance and technological breakthroughs that made these stats what they are, but that's for another day.

The incredible domination of Tony Schumacher (15 of 24 in 2008) and Larry Dixon (12 of 23 last year) brings me conveniently back to 1970, when their dads both scored their first wins – Dixon, as mentioned, in Pomona, and “the Don” in Indy.

Dixon Jr. was 3 years old and shared the Pomona winner’s circle with his dad (he would win the Winternationals 18 years later), and “the Sarge” was only about 9 months old when his dad won Indy, a race that the kid would win for the first time 30 years later (and seven more since!).

This week in ND, it’s on to 1971, the debut of Don Garlits’ rear-engine dragster (covered here many times), then on to the memorable 1972 season and beyond.

Happy Father's Day to all you dads, and to the forefathers of our great sport.
 

Filling out my to-do listTuesday, June 14, 2011
Posted by: Phil Burgess
Dale Pulde, far lane, took on Dave Condit and the L.A. Hooker Mustang at Lions.

My recent mention of upcoming topics brought forth a lot of responses and, as always, some great help.

I’ve been slowly piecing together the story of one of my favorite Funny Cars, Mickey Thompson’s Grand Am – "Thompson’s Torpedo” as some bemusedly labeled it – and have traced its roots from construction of the body in Ron Pellegrini’s Fiberglass Ltd. Shop in Chicago in 1972 to its final rides under the control of Bob Pickett in 1976.

I’ve interviewed its original handler, Dale Pulde, and gotten the story behind the car and interviewed Mike Broome, who was the crew chief for the late Butch Maas, who drove the car in its first official NHRA competition. I’ve interviewed both Larry Arnold – who took over the car from Pulde after his second stint with the car – and Pickett, who took over from Arnold.

I’ve put together a huge collection of images of the car in its different paint schemes (yellow, black, red, U.S. Marines), and I’m pretty much all set to go once I can find the time to piece it all together. Last week, I received great photos from the prolific Bob Snyder of the car when it made its debut – unpainted – at the Last Drag Race at Lions and a bunch of other great photos of the car from Tom Nagy.

I don’t know why this car has fascinated me so – probably because it was different – but I’m looking forward to piecing together all of my notes and completing the puzzle with the scores of photos to choose from.

The mention of a piece on “Capt. Jack” McClure of rocket go-kart fame thrilled Insider regular Gary Crumrine with giddiness.

“Oh boy, I can’t wait. Of all the nutcase daredevils that have lived and sometimes died during my lifetime, I place 'Capt. Jack' right up there with Evel Knievel at the top on my list,” he wrote. “I saw both perform live growing up, with Evel crashing at Kaukauna, Wis., and after tumbling ended up sitting up at the end of the track. Dazed, but alive.

“ 'Capt. Jack' was a trip with the kart. I can’t believe how much the tires grew to where they looked like 45s on wheels. You had to be quick to turn your head or you would miss him going by.”

I’ve actually had my McClure interview in the can since last winter and was stunned to see him give an almost identical interview to another writer (I don’t fault him; he was just telling his story to another eager listener), so I gave myself a six-month moratorium on publishing my version so that no one would think I’d cribbed from the other story.

McClure was full of great stories and had a colorful way of telling them, and I’m also looking forward to piecing that one together this summer. I have about 40 great photos to illustrate it.

After the Norwalk event in about 10 days, I’m done traveling for the summer – until Indy – so that will let me catch up on some of this stuff after attending five of the season’s first eight events.

I hope that being home I’ll also get a chance very soon to see the completed Tom McEwen hauler that Don Prudhomme and his team have lovingly restored. I first reported on it last July right after Prudhomme and company had tracked it down after months of searching, and to compare it to the images of the truck in its 1972 glory, you’d swear you entered a time machine.

As most of you know, Prudhomme’s truck was owned and used by Richard Petty before it became part of the Hot Wheels entourage, and McEwen’s truck is an ex-Sox & Martin machine. Drag racing’s other factoid-flinging Phil – "Flyin’ Phil” Elliott – sent me this great shot he came across while doing other research. “It was so similar to the angle of one you just posted of the nearly completed truck,” he marveled. It shows the famed Sox & Martin Duster on the back of the red truck in the pits, location unknown. It’s a great shot of the way it looked before it was Hot Wheels-ified.

The clamor over the McEwen truck caused reader Gary LeBoeuf to ask, “Is it open season on ramp-truck pictures again?” referring to the months-long ramp-truck thread that pretty much consumed this column last July and August. If you’re a fan of ramp trucks – and who isn’t – use the expandable navigation at right to go back to July 2010 and August 2010. Good stuff there. And, no, Gary, we’re not driving down that road again (I think).

Roger Lee's original model of the M&R Special fittingly posed in a Lions diorama

I heard this week from Roger Lee, whom many of you will recall from the column I did about his 1/16th-scale brass model of Ron "Big Yohns" Johnson's Shubert/Herbert front-engine dragster.

His latest project is of a significantly larger scale: He has been given permission by the families of Sid Masters and Rick Richter to build a re-creation of the famed Masters & Richter Top Fuel dragster, circa 1963. Richter passed away a few years ago at age 91 preceded by Masters and driver “Big Bob” Haines.

Lee, who received approval from Masters’ wife, Edna, and Richter’s daughter Betty Richter Grandt, previously modeled the car in small scale and is excited about making the full-size version.

“To bring back a Top Fueler like the M&R Special has brought back a lot of great stories already from Edna Masters and Betty Richter Grandt, family history,” he said.

Steve Gibbs reminisced, “The Masters & Richter guys were definitely hard-core when they were hitting it. They had a successful trucking business and were not afraid to spend money. When I visited their shop in ’61 or ’62, they had a stockpile of parts like I had never seen in that era. They were considered ‘old guys’ back then and probably were compared to everyone else. I’m guessing they were in their 50s at that time. I’ve been told they would take the car out to Fremont on weekdays and push it as hard as it would go just for the sheer enjoyment of making it go fast.”

Throughout the years, there has been a lot of debate as to whether the original M&R car was used in the film More American Graffiti, the drag racing portions of which were filmed at Fremont. I have not heard the definitive answer on this, although the car shown in the bottom photo certainly looks like the photo of the M&R car at Fremont in 1963.

Digging around for an answer, I came across this page, on the Internet Movie Cars Database, which shows all of the cars used in that film. It’s a pretty cool page. They label the car as “custom-built Fuller,” and, indeed, the original was crafted by Kent Fuller. This version, however, certainly looks like it has a longer wheelbase than the 1963 car. I’m certain that one of you has the answer.

OK, kids, that’s it for today. I’ll see you later this week.
 

It's ramped up and almost readyTuesday, June 07, 2011
Posted by: Phil Burgess

Any trip to Englishtown is steeped in history — the names of heroes such as “Jungle Jim” Liberman and Don Garlits and Shirley Muldowney are always invoked. The vast majority of the nitro racers who compete annually always tip their hats to the event’s rich tradition and talk about how a win at the event is considered a true feather in the cap. That goes all the way from veterans and students of the sport such as Larry Dixon and Jack Beckman to newcomers on the nitro scene such as Spencer Massey and even native New Jerseyite Paul Lee, the driver of Jim Dunn’s Funny Car, who attended his first E-town in the 7th grade, in 1974, just in time to see “Jungle’s” full-track wheelie. “That hooked me for life,” Lee told me Sunday morning. He won his hometown race in Top Alcohol Funny Car in 2004.

With 42 years of history, the event has been won by some of the sport’s biggest names, including Liberman, Garlits, Muldowney, Don Prudhomme, Tom McEwen, Bill Jenkins, Joe Amato, Kenny Bernstein, Darrell Gwynn, Gary Beck, Dick LaHaie, Gary Ormsby, Raymond Beadle, John Force, Richard Tharp, Dale Armstrong, Bob Glidden, Lee Shepherd, Warren Johnson, Jeg Coughlin Jr., Greg Anderson, Frank Iaconio, Wayne Gapp, Jeb Allen, Don Schumacher, Pete Robinson, Gene Snow, Leroy Goldstein, Dick Landy, Don Nicholson, and many, many more.

The moment that many had been waiting for ... the ramp bed goes on
The nearly completed package ... looks amazing!

McEwen won the only Top Fuel trophy of his NHRA career at this event in 1991 — he had been runner-up to Allen in 1972 and to Prudhomme in Funny Car in 1976 — and I single him out because of the photos here that Skip Allum sent during the weekend showing the progress of the red McEwen Hot Wheels ramp truck hauler that Prudhomme — a six-time E-town winner in Funny Car (plus wins as an owner with Dixon and Tommy Johnson Jr.) — Willie Wolter, and the team are restoring as a matching bookend to the yellow hauler that Prudhomme restored a couple of years ago.

After an end-to-end restoration, repair, and resurrection, the truck is quickly nearing completion. The ramp bed was finally mounted on the Dodge chassis, and it’s really beginning to look like something.

“It’s not totally done yet,” he cautioned. “We still have to put on all the hinges and handles for the storage bays, run the wiring, install the exterior running lights and turn signals, and some other small details.”

Where the yellow truck carries Prudhomme’s famed ’Cuda, the “new” truck will carry the McEwen Duster that Prudhomme already owns — a car that was re-created a few years ago to salute the 35th Hot Wheels anniversary celebration — which will lose its current blue paint in favor of red and will ride piggyback on the red truck.

Although an official debut has not been nailed down, Allum said that there’s an outside chance that it could be completed in time for the L.A. Roadster Show, where Prudhomme will be the grand marshal again this year.

(Above) With the Army Arrow behind him, "Snake" obliges his fans. (Below) Prudhomme and longtime pal Leong soak in the Mopar love.
 (Darren Jacobs photos)

I spoke this morning to Prudhomme, who had just gotten back from the Midwest Mopars in the Park national car show in Farmington, Minn., where he and the Army Plymouth Arrow made an appearance. “Snake’s” lifelong good pal and fellow Mopar icon Roland Leong joined him on the trip.

“It was a fun show,” he said. “Since I’ve been retired, there’s all kinds of stuff going on that I never had a chance to do. I find it interesting the amount of people who were Hot Wheels collectors back in the day who remember how I started with Mopar way back then.”

The restoration of the Dodge ramp trucks, obviously, has done nothing but further warm their hearts, and he’s confident that the McEwen truck will be as warmly received as his own.

“It’s been a real fun project that’s about completed, and it’s over the top,” he said enthusiastically. “It was a lot harder than my truck because it was in worse shape, so we had to do a frame-off kind of job and all of the wiring because it really needed it.

“Now that’s it’s almost done and I see the two trucks together, it’s like, ‘What the hell have I done?’ Before, the trucks were just tools to get us back and forth to the races. Now it’s something else; it’s almost too nice to drive.”

So, what’s next on “the Snake’s” list?

“Boy, nothing to this extent,” he said, laughing. “In fact, I don’t really want to grow the collection; I actually want to start weeding it out a little bit.”

And, to that end, later this year, the Skoal Top Fuel dragster that Massey piloted in his rookie of the year campaign will go on the auction block at the Barrett-Jackson auction in Las Vegas Sept. 22-24. Prior to the sale, the dragster will be displayed at the Barrett-Jackson Orange County (Calif.) auction June 24-26.

Being as it’s also the last race car owned or campaigned by Prudhomme during his Hall of Fame career, it certainly could catch the eye of a collector. On the other hand, it’s also a turnkey, ready-to-run race-winning dragster.

“I hope it goes to some collector; I’d hate to see someone race it again,” he said. “You just have to know that whatever collection someone has, this will be the first car everyone will walk up to. It’s so different from everything else, a great big brute of a car with lines and fuel pumps and gauges and flow controls and computers. You don’t realize how unique it is until you walk up to it and see what goes in to making 7,000 horsepower.

“It’s the real deal. I know the guys at Barrett real well, and we thought that because Las Vegas was the last place Spencer won with the car, it’s the perfect place to auction it, exactly the way it came off the track.”

Of course, the car he’d love to get back is the great Army Monza, but that’s definitely not going to happen. It’s still at the National Automobile Museum (The Harrah Collection) in Reno, Nev., with the original KB block in it, and they ain’t giving it back.

“Believe me, I’ve tried several times,” he said, “but they’re not going to let it go.”

Prudhomme, of course, famously traded the car to Harrah’s for a Ferrari 308 GTB that’s long gone. “At the time, I thought I got the best end of the deal. Boy, was I wrong.”

And don’t look for him to have any interest in a repop. “I’m not big on re-creations; I want the real deal,” he said firmly. “That’s what gets me going.”

Us, too. Can’t wait to see the red hauler in person.

Because of my E-town trip and management meetings Thursday and Friday, this will be this week’s lone column. I have some cool stuff in the works, including my long-promised story about the Mickey Thompson Grand Am — I finally was able to get in touch with its last driver, Bob Pickett, who also has an interesting career story that I will share in the future — as well as an in-depth look back at Capt. Jack McClure of rocket go-kart fame, more OCIR home movies, and a lot more, so stay tuned.
 

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