Key players from the Keystone StateFriday, September 30, 2016

Another week on the road, and another “retro” column from the Phil Burgess Archives to tide you over. When this column is published, I’ll be in Reading for the Dodge NHRA Nationals (Keystone Nationals for all you old-timers), and with Pennsylvania having such a wealth of drag racing history, it’s only appropriate to look back at some of the extreme talent that has come out of the Keystone State.

Of course, the state’s most famous racer remains Joe Amato. In addition to his five NHRA Top Fuel championships, the Old Forge, Pa.-based legend scored 52 victories in Top Fuel and five behind the wheel of an alcohol-fueled dragster before that. Amato competed in 99 final rounds in Top Fuel and won the Budweiser Shootout in Pomona a record six times. He finished in the top 10 an incredible 19 straight years, from 1982 through his sudden retirement at the end of the 2000 campaign due to ongoing vision problems after suffering a detached retina earlier in the year. Amato’s Top Fuelers, tuned by longtime crew chief Tim Richards, were the first to exceed 260 mph (1984) and 280 mph (1987). Amato's final victory as a driver came at the 2000 Keystone Nationals at his home track, Maple Grove Raceway, in front of a large number of friends and fans.

It goes without saying that the king of the jungle back then when it came to match race dates and popularity was the “Jungleman” himself, Jim Liberman. With his show-stopping performances and theatrics and gregariously open nature, he was John Force before John Force was John Force. Or maybe John Force is the latter-day “Jungle Jim.” Either way, there’s no disputing his popularity, or the transplanted Californian’s ties to Pennsylvania when he moved to West Chester, which lies about 25 miles west of Philadelphia.
“Jungle’s” digs in West Chester were actually made semi-famous by this seminal Steve Reyes photo showing his rig outside the two-story home, which was located on Route 202 between West Chester and Wilmington.
Earlier this year, Competition Plus’ Bobby Bennett drove by the residence that at one time was a gathering place for the quarter-mile elite and found it in extreme disrepair with ominous large X’s on the walls. The home has since been demolished.
If there was a rival to Liberman’s popularity and match race calendar on the East Coast, it was Bruce Larson, whose red, white, and blue USA-1 Chevys — such as this Camaro, shown at the 1972 Summernationals — were a staple from the mid-1960s through the mid-1980s and eventually led to the 1989 NHRA Funny Car world championship (sadly though, not in USA-1 colors).
Liberman’s pal and longtime rival and foil on the East Coast scene was Lew Arrington and his monstrous and mean-looking Brutus Mustang, shown boiling the hides in Englishtown in 1972. Like Liberman, Arrington was originally based out of California but later became a resident of Pennsylvania. Although Arrington, who died in February 2008 of heart disease at age 69, raced through 1979, he drove other Funny Cars and, famously, the first rocket-powered Funny Car. The Mustang pictured here, the last of the Brutus line, burned to the ground in a nasty 1972 fire at New England Dragway.
The Lewis family’s long relationship with Maple Grove Raceway extends beyond the running of the track; brothers Mike and Kent also raced Top Fuel dragsters out of their Narvon, Pa., base in the 1970s, first with a front-engine car with Ed Crafton driving until a wreck in 1971 and then a rear-engine car — the first of the Sparkling Burgundy line — with a number of pilots, including Sarge Arciero, Fred Forkner, "Satch" Nottle, Dale Thierer, and Kerry Sweigart. They did a lot of winning of big local events, including Capitol Raceway’s Mr. USA Fuel Eliminator, and came within a round of winning the division title in 1973.

The aforementioned Arciero, of Broomall, Pa., had a long and colorful career, beginning with Funny Cars behind the wheel of Jim Fox’s Frantic Ford Mustang in 1970 and 1971 before switching to Top Fuel. After driving for the Lewis brothers through 1972 –- actually splitting cockpit time with Forkner –- Arciero got the ride for which he is best remembered, the Thomas-Lenhoff-Flurer Jade Grenade (pictured), which also later had drag racing journalist Jon Asher as a partner. In 1974, they stunned the troops at the U.S. Nationals by setting low e.t. of the meet in round one with a 6.01 to earn the coveted John Mulligan Memorial Low E.T. trophy from M&H. It was Arciero’s last ride in the car; Ron Attebury replaced him the following season. Attebury later was replaced by Ted Wolf and then by Don Roberts.

Fans attending this year's Maple Grove event will get to relive a little of the magic when Arciero is welcomed into the Maple Grove Walk of Fame, Mike Lewis drives a Sparkling Burgundy tribute car (the A/Fuel Dragster of Anthony Dicero), and Rich McPhillips converts his green A/FD to a Jade Grenade tribute car. That should be big-time fun!

Drag racing fans might remember Neil Mahr for the exquisite line of Superstars of Drag Racing calendars that he printed out of his Pennsylvania-based Mahr Printing and Superpress, but he also had a surprisingly competitive Top Fueler for a short period in the late 1970s and early 1980s. After running nothing faster than a Street Roadster in Comp, the fiercely competitive (and sometimes short-tempered) Mahr jumped into Top Fuel with a Don Garlits-built car that carried him into the five-second zone. He later opened one of the largest campgrounds in Michigan, next to Michigan Speedway, and, after retirement, established Villa Mahr, a vacation getaway in the Virgin Islands.

As mentioned, Thierer, of Whitehall, Pa., had a pretty good run in the Lewis brothers’ machine; he also had a quality ride for a few years with Jim and Alison Lee and pretty much bookended his driving career with the Hemi Hunter Chevy-powered dragster (pictured) of Jim Johnson, Gary Peters, Dan Rauch, and Wayne McCullough. Beginning in the late 1960s, he drove the original, which won the Division 1 championship in 1971, and about a decade ago was part of the car’s resurrection as a Nostalgia Top Fueler. Also as noted above, Walter “Satch” Nottle was another of the drivers for the Lewis brothers’ Sparkling Burgundy car; he also drove for Forkner (Division 1 champs in 1973) and was supposed to replace Ted Wolf in the Jade Grenade car but suffered a heart attack a few weeks before their 1975 season opener in Gainesville. Don Roberts ultimately took the seat and crashed the car on his first run. Nottle recovered and went on to drive Joe Siti’s Philadelphia Flyer in 1977; he was killed in a plane crash on his way to the Gatornationals in 1978.

Pittsburgh's Wolf drove a number of Top Fuel cars, including for Jim and Alison Lee, plus (as mentioned above) the Asher-Arciero-Flurer Jade Grenade and Jim Bucher's Chevy-powered rail, but this was his own car, the Wolf & Niemeyer Katz & Jammer Kids dragster. Perhaps Wolf's finest day was at the 1974 U.S. Nationals, where he reached the third round (when it took five rounds to beat a 32-car field; today, that would be a semifinal finish) in the Lees' machine, falling to Dwight Hughes, who then lost to eventual surprise winner "Marvin Who?" Graham.
Fox’s line of Frantic Ford entries was among the region’s most popular throughout the years as the Broomall, Pa., owner fielded a number of Mustangs from the late 1960s through the late 1970s with sponsorship from K&G Speed Associates. Ron Rivero, Arciero, and Roy Harris all drove the car, and the old-school Mustang was later replaced by a Mustang II. Fox partnered with Freddy Frey mid-decade and with driver Dodger Glenn and experienced great success on the match race trail as well as some success on the national event tour. In 1976, the team won the prestigious Dutch Classic, the Division 1 race in Englishtown, and the Funny Car Nationals at York and made it to the semifinals of the Summernationals. After the 1977 season, Fox and Frey sold the operation to Glenn, who was killed in the car in July 1978 at Maple Grove Raceway. Bobby Frey resurrected the famous name as a Nostalgia Funny Car a few years ago.
A Pennsylvanian by way of California, Mike Dunn made a name for himself in Funny Cars, following in the footsteps of his famous father, Jim. He first came to fame at the wheel of Roland Leong’s Hawaiian Punch Dodge in the early 1980s when he won the Golden Gate Nationals in 1981. In 1986, he began driving for legendary Joe Pisano in an Olds-bodied car that perpetually set top speed and made the class’ first 280-mph pass in 1987. Together they won the U.S. Nationals in 1986 and four other races through 1989. Dunn moved from Southern California to Mount Joy, Pa., in July 1990 and quickly partnered with Pennsylvania businessman Ed Abel on a Funny Car that was sponsored by Snickers candy bars and tuned by his father. They won almost immediately in Dallas, were runners-up in Topeka in 1990, and won three times in 1991. In 1992, Dunn moved to Top Fuel, driving for former baseball slugger Jack Clark, and ran 297 mph in Houston; they were the favorites to break the 200-mph barrier until Kenny Bernstein did it in Gainesville. In 1993, Dunn began a long association with Darrell Gwynn and crew chief Ken Veney that lasted through the 2001 season and produced 12 event wins.
“Rapid Roy” Harris, of Drexel Hill, Pa., was in on the ground floor of Funny Car, beginning with a wild altered-wheelbase Plymouth in the late 1960s, then drove the Frantic Ford for a few years and drove for “Jungle Jim” Liberman before running his own operation again beginning in the mid-1970s. With partner Tom Ryan, he broke some new sponsorship ground in 1979 with a Budweiser sponsorship (Kenny Bernstein’s famous Budweiser King machines began in 1980) on a quick Trans Am. He used Arrington’s old Brutus name on a number of his cars, including Arrows of the early to mid-1980s and a later Thunderbird.
The late D.A. Santucci, of Glenwillard, Pa., first came to national attention not just because of his surprising Top Gas win at the 1969 U.S. Nationals but because earlier at that event he had blacked out after a piece of chewing gum became lodged in his windpipe during a qualifying pass. After Top Gas went away, Santucci moved to the Funny Car class in the late 1970s with a string of solid-performing Black Magic cars — Vega, Omni, Mustang, Thunderbird, and Cutlass — through the early 1990s.
Nick Boninfante, of Upper Darby, Pa., began his career with gas dragsters and went on to become one of the East Coast’s steadiest Funny Car owners for three decades. He progressed into factory experimentals with an ex-Malcolm Durham Corvair, injected on fuel, then a short-lived Firebird that was lost to fire. In 1973, he began a long association with Pat Walsh on a series of 427 Chevy-powered U.S. Male Top Alcohol Funny Cars, including a Vega, Mustang II, Dodge Challenger, and Datsun Z car. In the mid-1980s, they made the leap to the nitro ranks, first with Walsh behind the wheel, then veteran R.C. Sherman, Richard Hartman (with whom he won the 1989 IHRA Funny Car championship), and others driving for him. He campaigned with the cars bearing that moniker until 1991, when he decided to concentrate on his business, Boninfante Performance Clutch Parts. We lost Nick a little more than a year ago, but his spirit lives on in his son Nicky, part of the defending world championship DHL team of Del Worsham.
Frank Kramberger stepped up from the alcohol ranks to nitro with a series of Philadelphia Flyer entries, including this Ford Probe, which he bought from the Candies & Hughes team in 1990.


OK, that’s it from the road. The pace slows a little from here on out, so I’ll be back next week with some new original stuff to share as we churn forward toward the end of the season and the final reveals in the Top 20 Funny Car list.

Missouri's finest fuelersFriday, September 23, 2016

The NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series heads this weekend to Gateway Motorsports Park, almost in the shadow of the famed Gateway Arch that is the symbol of St Louis. Although the racetrack actually is in Madison, Ill., NHRA markets the event — and racers almost exclusively refer to it — as “St. Louis,” so I thought I’d bring back a column I wrote a few years ago for the NHRA National Dragster website, My Favorite Fuelers, which features a double handful of fuel racers from the Show-Me State, Missouri. (This is where you say “OK, show me.”) OK, here you go.

Certainly one of the state’s biggest and most beloved adopted stars was Dickie Harrell, better known as “Mr. Chevrolet” for his dedication to and proficiency with Chevy-powered cars in the 1960s and early 1970s. Born in Phoenix, he moved to New Mexico, where he raced sprint cars and, after a three-year stint in the Army, drag cars — most successful at first in 427 Z-11 Camaros in Super Stock competition — and moved to Kansas City, Mo., in the late 1960s when his career really took off. Even though Chevy had abandoned its factory sponsorships in the mid-1960s, Harrell was Bowtie to the bone and carried on regardless and began building high-performance cars for Chicago dealership Nickey Chevrolet and, later, Yenko Chevrolet in Canonsburg, Pa., and Fred Gibb Chevrolet in LaHarpe, Ill., and he was in on the ground floor of the early Funny Car movement with Chevy II and Camaro entries. He was named AHRA Driver of the Year in 1969 while tuning and driving his fuel Funny Car and was named Driver of the Decade in 1970. Harrell was killed in a racing accident Sept. 12, 1971, in Toronto.

Louis Cangelose was a pioneer Top Fuel racer from Kansas City, Mo., in the late 1950s — he was A/Dragster runner-up to Don Garlits at the 1958 AHRA Nationals — and was a popular runner with his 392-powered dragster, which was dubbed The Missouri Mule. According to one story, he didn’t begin racing until age 42 and was killed a decade later, at an AHRA divisional event at Springfield Ozark Dragway in Missouri on June 27, 1965, the same tragic weekend that fellow racer Tex Randall was killed at Aquasco Speedway in Maryland. Cangelose died as the result of injuries suffered when his dragster went off the end of the track after the parachute ripped away during a 197-mph run.

 

A resident of Kansas City, Mo., by way of Sioux Falls, S.D., and Bellflower, Calif., Al Vander Woude and his line of Flying Dutchman Funny Cars were a force on the match race scene in the late 1960s. In California, he raced in Pure Stock, then was in on the ground floor of the Funny Car revolution as a pioneer in Factory Experimental before moving to Missouri in 1969. All of his cars were of his own design, and for the most part, he personally constructed or supervised the construction of his cars from the wheels up after learning all things mechanical as a U.S. Navy Seabee. After sitting out more than a decade, the Vander Woude and Flying Dutchman names returned to the dragstrip in the late 1980s with a car owned by his son, Don, and drivers Terry Haddock and Jack Wyatt. The elder Vander Woude died in 2001 at age 67.

 

 

The Kansas City, Mo.-based team of engine builder John Pusch and driver Don Cain was a standout in NHRA’s Top Gas class — winning five Division 5 championships and scoring three national event wins, including at the 1967 U.S. Nationals — until the class was dissolved at the end of the 1971 season. They switched to nitro Funny Car for 1972 and immediately found success with a new 392-powered Mustang, winning the Division 5 championship and finishing second in the Western Conference points in their first year of Funny Car racing in 1972. They later switched to a Satellite body. Cain got his first ride in a nitro car driving Rod Stuckey’s Top Fueler (1963-64) and Bob Sullivan’s Pandemonium (1965) before joining Pusch in 1966. Cain retired from competition after the 1974 season, and after his retirement from General Motors in 1988, he and his wife, Nan, opened K.C. Street Rod Parts in Kansas City.

The St. Louis-based team of driver Paul Radici and crew chief Dave Wise was one of the region’s most popular Funny Car outfits and a regular runner on the national event, match race, and Coca-Cola Cavalcade of Stars tours. Radici, nicknamed “Wrong Way” for his wild burnouts (or, according to another source, for missing the freeway off-ramp to Northern California’s Fremont Raceway six times in one morning), and Wise, owner of Wise Speed Shop, at one time held the NHRA eighth-mile record. The duo first teamed on a Firebird-bodied machine in 1969, followed by a Camaro and a very successful Vega. In the late 1970s, they helped popular Al Hofmann get his start in nitro Funny Car when they sold him their entire operation, including the Vega, which became Hofmann’s China Syndrome machine. Radici drove the car for Hofmann to help show him the ropes before handing over the wheel to “Big Al.”

 

 

Bill Daily, of Springfield, Ill., is best-known for his line of Pegasus entries but got his nitro racing start in 1977 in an ex-Tom Hoover Monza dubbed The Lone Ranger. A Plymouth Arrow — the first Pegasus — followed a few years later (at one point, he ran two Arrows, with Larry Brown driving a second entry), but his car was destroyed in a fire and replaced by a Corvette (the ex-Powers Steel entry) and then a Firenza and, later, a Top Fueler, driven by both Daily and John Davisson.

 

 

By all accounts, Joplin, Mo., racer Omar "the Tentmaker" Carrothers was a “unique” individual, but he raced hard with his Mustang in the early 1970s and frequented the West Coast, though he probably wished he hadn’t. A crash at Orange County Int'l Raceway destroyed his first car, a Barracuda, and a nasty fire at Lions Drag Strip’s Grand Premiere in 1972 heavily damaged a second car. He later teamed with fellow Joplin-based racer/owner Terry Ivey on a Charger-bodied machine.

 

 

St. Louis’ own Ira Hollensbe made a name for himself on the match race circuit with a string of Funny Cars (Barracuda, Mustang, Vega) dubbed Super Star. One of Hollensbe’s first cars was driven by Curt Wasson, a well-known Chevy racer and popular draw with his own 427-powered Superstitious Camaro who was between rides at the time. Hollensbe continued to race throughout 1976 and had two of his more memorable moments in Florida. In March 1975, he beat Jerry Gwynn at Desoto Memorial Speedway to earn the official-sounding title of Florida State Funny Car Champion. A year later, he suffered a bad fire on a qualifying run at the NHRA Gatornationals and retired shortly after. Wasson also continued to compete but was killed in a highway accident shortly after completing construction of a new Monza, dubbed Million Dollar Baby, which then was sold to Billy Graham.

 

 

Jim and Jerry Jokerst called their wild-looking '70 Camaro Mr. Sinister, an apt name for the brothers' wicked-looking Chevy. The St. Louis-based car was pure Chevy, down to its 427 powerplant, and was the third in a line of cars for the brothers; Jim always did the driving. After this car came a Vega named Snidely Whiplash that the brothers campaigned for several seasons. Don Zoellner bought this car and later the Vega from the brothers, who quit racing in 1976. Zoellner renamed the Vega Spirit of St. Louis and raced into the late 1970s.

 

 

 
Scott Palmer is today’s Missouri banner-carrier with his hard-running independent Top Fueler. He competed in Super Gas and then in Top Alcohol Funny Car for four seasons before moving to Top Fuel in 2002. He competed at NHRA events every season and has proven himself an adept marketer with a series of outside-the-box sponsorships. He’s also the owner of Scott Rods Custom Trucks & Cars, a paint and body shop in Nixa, Mo.

 

Frank Oglesby and the Mello Yello MustangFriday, September 16, 2016

Fans at the recent Chevrolet Performance U.S. Nationals got to witness a special moment that hasn’t been seen on the dragstrip for almost 30 years: a Funny Car flying the colors of Mello Yello soft drink, the title sponsor of NHRA’s biggest and richest series. Reigning world champ Del Worsham flew the MY colors on his DHL Toyota and took the car all the way to the final before falling to Matt Hagan.

The last time fans saw a Mello Yello-branded flopper at a national event was 1979, when Frank Oglesby was sponsored by the brand on his Mustang entry. I did an interview with Oglesby on the subject several years ago, right after Mello Yello replaced Full Throttle as the series sponsor, but for some reason I never published the story, and in the wake of the Worsham Indy effort, this seems like a good time for it to resurface.

Oglesby, whose roots in the class go back to the very beginning and his association with pioneers like Don Nicholson, Don Gay, and Arnie Beswick, flew the Mello Yello colors on his Mustang Funny Car for two seasons — 1979 and 1980 — at national events and match races alike to help introduce the then-new soft drink to the world.

Oglesby, who was a part of Nicholson’s Mercury teams in the 1960s, earned enough friends in Dearborn, Mich., to end up with his own Ford deal to field a Mustang Funny Car dubbed Quarterhorse.

“I was able to put together several small/regional deals to match race my Quarterhorse car but never had the national sponsorship needed to run national events,” he told me.

Then a chance conversation with one of young crewmember forever changed his life.

“The father of a kid who worked for me came by one day and told me he had talked to guy while waiting on the dentist who told him Coke was about to introduce a new soft drink, and he handed me a business card,” he remembered. “Martin Murphy was an account executive at McDonald & Little, at the time the hottest ad agency in the Southeast, and all of the Coca-Cola advertising was handled out of New York, so this obviously was a brand-new and completely different deal.

“As this was 50 miles from my house, I decided that a walk-in cold call was the best plan, so that's what I did.”

Murphy was not thrilled with the unexpected call but gave Oglesby this requested three minutes to convince him otherwise.

“Thirty minutes later, we went to meet John (whose last name escapes me), the brand-new Mello Yello brand manager, who liked my message but had never heard of a nitro Funny Car or NHRA for that matter.

“I had been at several meetings at Coke with [Nicholson] about 10 years previously, and one of the guys I had met had climbed the corporate ladder and was about four rungs above John's boss, so I played on that fact for a second meeting to flesh out the marketing plan for a formal presentation. Martin and I went back to his office, where I told him he was putting both himself and McDonald & Little on the line, and if he wanted to be the hero, he had better help me.”


A Mello Yello-schemed version of Oglesby’s car was skillfully created (remember, this is pre-PhotoShop) from an original 8x10 while Murphy and Oglesby set about creating a two-page list of bullet points to present the next morning.

That meeting went well enough that Oglesby set up a meeting the following day at Atlanta Dragway for the brand manager, who was still unsure on exactly what a Funny Car was and not overly thrilled with the nomenclature.

“I put him in the seat in the front parking lot next to the track office,” recalled Oglesby. “I fired it up and whacked the throttle several times; he crawled out grinning from ear to ear with tears running. We went into the track owner’s office and made the deal.

 

Steve Reyes
“As this was a 'trial' project, I made it my mission in life to promote both Mello Yello and drag racing during the remainder of the year. There was no big money being paid directly to the race team, but I was involved in every marketing strategy meeting between the ad agency and the Mello Yello brand manager and was given direct access to Coke's promotional dept. They paid for film clips, press kits, giveaway pictures, and I was given contact info for all 2,300 Coke bottlers as well as their list of print-media contacts (pretty much every newspaper in the English-speaking world).”


Although the car, truck, trailer, firesuit, parachutes, press kits, and fan pictures featured Mello Yello, the Mello Yello money mainly went into updated parts, and Oglesby continued to match race to earn the operating capital.

“I laid out the entire NHRA and IHRA event schedule as well as various locations for match race appearances, and because the Mello Yello marketing rollout was only in the southeast, the brand manager made the choice to use some IHRA national events as well as match-race appearances close to important Coke bottlers,” said Oglesby.

(Other than the Gatornationals, NHRA did not have any other national events in the southeast until the first Southern Nationals in 1981.)
 

Pat Welsh
“The marketing program we put together included shooting our own video of the car doing a long, smoky burnout and then zoom in and hold on the Mello Yello lettering while backing up slowly to the starting line,” he recalled. “Next, I called every sports director of every TV station in the track’s market area and said, ‘This is (insert PR guy’s name who should have been making the calls instead of me), and I represent Coca-Cola's new Mello Yello nitro Funny Car team that is racing in your area this weekend’,  and then the magic phrase: ‘We have tape.' The tape sold the deal as all they needed was a minute interview with me, and their on-air talent shot in their parking lot and dubbed onto our tape.

 
“Usually we could appear on the 6 and 11 o’clock sport news of all three networks, and we did more than a hundred of them the first year as well as about 200 newspaper interviews. When you add the bottlers’ appearances and displays at the local Ford dealers to the mix, we barely had time to service the car. Did I mention this was with one race car and a crew of three, including myself?”

Oglesby’s sponsorship closed out at the end of the 1980 season after he declined a new bottler-heavy contract proposed by a new brand manager. Oglesby repainted the Mustang and continued to compete with it through 1983.

Today, Mello Yello is such an ingrained part of the fabric of the sport, and it’s fun to look back and think that it first started with a visit to the dentist’s office.
 

A 'fiberglass forest' in IndyFriday, September 09, 2016


It was only appropriate during this yearlong celebration of 50 Years of Funny Car that the world’s biggest and greatest drag race host the best display of vintage Funny Cars this season, and so it was that at the Chevrolet Performance U.S. Nationals, we assembled a “fiberglass forest” of eye candy for flopper fans.

Just take a look at some of the photographs I’ve gathered below from a monster display in the pits, a collection that spanned three decades of Funny Cars, from some of the earliest altered-wheelbase pieces to some iconic cars from the 1970s and 1980s. We’ve all seen photos of these in black and white, so it’s a treat to see them in living color. I’m not sure which are restorations and which are re-creations, but it’s sure cool to see them.

Here’s an early branch of the Funny Car family tree from 1965. Doug Thorley’s altered-wheelbase Chevy 2 Much machine, as the name suggests, was a Chevy II. Power came from an injected nitro Chevy engine tuned by Gary Slusser, who decades later would make a name for himself tuning the Joe Pisano/Mike Dunn Olds flopper. Thorley, of course, would win the first U.S. Nationals Funny Car title in his Corvair in 1967. Owner: Paul Brown 
The famed Jake’s Speed Equipment Belvedere was ground zero for the famed Candies & Hughes team as Leonard Hughes fielded this Woody Gilmore-built injected-nitro 426 Hemi-powered Plymouth with partner Jerry Dover in 1966. The car ran nines at 150 mph. Owner: Jet Townsend  
There weren’t many Ford Torino Funny Cars, but the Larry Coleman/Billy Taylor Super Ford was one of them. The ‘68 Torino, built by the Logghe brothers, was powered by a 427 SOHC powerplant and driven by Sidney Foster. The car ultimately ran low sevens at just more than 200 mph. Owner: Larry Coleman 
Bruce Larson’s famed USA-1 Camaro, the follow-up to his groundbreaking Chevelle, was pure Chevy at a time when the engine still had a foothold in the class in the late 1960s, and Larson’s was among the best of the breed.
Here’s Jeg Coughlin Sr.’s injected-nitro Barracuda from 1969, and the body, I’m told, is the original one under which “the Captain” once crawled before he moved on to Top Fuel. The chassis was a Stage II Logghe model.
Before Warren Johnson, Kelly Chadwick was “the Professor,” and he taught a lot of lessons to his Funny Car peers with a string of quick-running Chevys such as this Camaro, which was a staple of the Coca-Cola Cavalcade of Stars circuit. In the background is Gas Ronda’s long-nose, blown 427 SOHC Ford-powered Mustang, the follow-up to his similar injected Holman & Moody Mustang built in 1966. Without a flip-top body (but, as obvious here, a flip front end), it’s a bit hard for me to call this a Funny Car because by this time the tilt-up body was the norm, but Ronda quickly joined the flip-top brigade with another Mustang a short time later. Brent Hajek now owns both. 
In the foreground is the 1972-73 Ramchargers Dodge Demon, which was driven by Clare Sanders, who took over for Leroy Goldstein for the candy-striped killers. Owners: Jim & Julie Matuszak. Behind that car is “TV Tommy” Ivo’s ‘76 Dodge Dart, which Tony Pedregon put together a few years ago. Owner: Jason Ailstock 
The Tom Prock-driven Custom Body Enterprises Challenger, circa 1973. Gotta love those canard wings. Owner: Ross Howard 
After melting his Mustang to the ground to win the 1974 NHRA Funny Car world championship, Shirl Greer had this follow-up entry, a Mustang II emblazoned with “the Old Champ’” likeness on the hood, which is owned by his son, Brian. Behind that is the Mustang of “Nitro Nellie” Goins, a pioneering African-American Funny Car racer whose career I traced in this column. Owner: Rick Lucas 
The only car of the bunch that made a pass was the re-creation of Tom Prock's Detroit Tiger Monza Funny Car with Steve Timoszyk behind the wheel for exhibition runs. The mid-1970s car even posted a period-correct 5.9-second pass after a smoky burnout and dry hops. Sweet!
 
 Those of you who know me can imagine my excitement when I saw this car, one of the Mickey Thompson's Grand Ams, now owned by James Hardman.

The body style has always been one of my favorites (though this was my least favorite incarnation of it; this one was driven by Bob Pickett. I preferred the red version driven by Dale Pulde), and it was the first time I was able to actually caress its lines, from the unusual nose to the swoopy tail section.

Every other time I had seen the car was from the stands or in photos. I talked to one of the guys on the “crew” who said they had actually found this body in a field somewhere.

(Below) Pickett, whom I interviewed a few years ago for this column, was interviewed by Bob Frey in Indy.

 

 

Don Prudhomme’s Skoal Bandit Trans Am left its mark on Indy in 1989, when “the Snake” won the Big Bud Shootout and the U.S. Nationals and set the national record at 5.19. Owner: Dave Harrington

On Saturday afternoon, Bob Frey emceed a panel discussion of Funny Car legends. From left are Tom McEwen, Ed McCulloch, Bruce Larson, Tom Hoover, Roland Leong, Al Bergler, and Bob Pickett, with Larry Reyes out front.


Last weekend’s unveiling of "Dyno Don" Nicholson's revolutionary flip-top '66 Comet as the No. 7 car in the top 20 Funny Cars fan poll means we’re well into the top 10.
 
Here’s what has been revealed so far, with a quick recap of the fan vs. Insider vote.
 
Car Fan vote Insider vote
Don Nicholson Eliminator '66 Comet 7 4
Chi-Town Hustler '69 Dodge Charger 8 2
Kenny Bernstein "Batmobile" Budweiser King '87 Buick 9 11
Jack Beckman Infinite Hero '15 Dodge Charger 10 20
Jim Dunn/Dunn & Reath '72 Barracuda 11 13
Ramchargers '70 Dodge Challenger 12 12
Pat Foster/Barry Setzer '72 Vega 13 8
Ed McCulloch Revellution '72 Demon 14 16
Danny Ongais/Mickey Thompson '69 Mustang 15 9
Kenny Bernstein Bud King '84 Tempo 16 14
Don Prudhomme Pepsi Challenger '82 Trans Am 17 19
Jim White/Hawaiian Punch '91 Dodge 18 18
Gene Snow Rambunctious '70 Challenger 19 15
Jack Chrisman '67 Comet 20 17
 
As you can see, there are some HUGE disparities between the fan vote and the vote from the Insider Nation, perhaps none more polarizing than Beckman's car scoring 10 places higher in the fan vote (no doubt due to differences between a general audience and the hard-core, old-school folks who read this column). Beckman will probably hate seeing that No. 20 score from the faithful here, but I know he was thrilled to be on the list anywhere, and there's no denying that the Jimmy Prock-tuned car gave Funny Car its most significant performance lift in years. We'll have to see how history treats it in the future.

The other eye-opener for me was how high the Insider legion rated the Chi-Town Hustler, the undisputed early king of the burnouts and through which many of us first became aware of Austin Coil. It was in my top 10, but not my top five. That's why I love polls.
 
So, what that all means is here's a look at who’s still in the hunt (no spoilers; presented in chronological order):
 
Don Prudhomme Hot Wheels 'Cuda (1970)
“Jungle Jim” Liberman Vega (1973)
Don Prudhomme Army Monza (1975)
Raymond Beadle Blue Max Mustang II (1975)
Dale Pulde War Eagle Trans Am (1977)
John Force Castrol Firebird (1995) 
 
It's a good mix of cars, and I think that Dale Pulde ought to be as proud as any that the War Eagle is as well-regarded as it is among the general populace, if not the Insider voters, who had the car in the top 10 but not the top six.
 
Tony Pedregon, in his role as NHRA FOX analyst, also has been offering his personal top-20 list, though his criteria seem to be more personal than analytical, which makes for a cool juxtaposition with the other voting. Here are his picks so far, which, as for many of us, are very 1970s-centric:
 
 7. "Big John" Mazmanian Barracuda ('68)
 8. Tony Pedregon/Castrol/KISS Ford Mustang ('03)
 9. Cruz Pedregon McDonald's Olds Cutlass ('92)
10. "Lil' John" Lombardo Mustang II ('76)
11. "TV Tommy" Ivo Nationwise Dodge ('76)
12. Bruce Larson USA-1 Camaro ('69)
13. Roland Leong/Ron Colson Hawaiian Monza ('77)
14. Joe Pisano/Tom Ridings Arrow ('78)
15. Dale Pulde War Eagle Trans Am ('77)
16. Jim Green/Richard Rogers Green Elephant Vega ('77)
17. Gordie Bonin Bubble Up Trans Am ('77)
18. Al Segrini Black Magic Vega ('74-'75)
19. Dale Armstrong/Mike Kase Speed Racer Omni ('80-'81)
20. Tom Prock Detroit Tiger Monza ('75-'76)
 
So we plunge into the top six next weekend, during Saturday night’s FS1 program from Charlotte. If you miss it or don’t have FS1, I’ll post it on NHRA.com Sunday morning.
 
Thanks for reading and contributing. I’ll see you next Friday.
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