Last week’s column on the many looks of Don Prudhomme’s first Barracuda included the statement that the car was the one “That launched Prudhomme’s name into the national conscience.”
I quickly heard from Insider regulars Dennis Friend and Robert Nielsen, both identically taking me to task for not crediting that phenomenon to his earlier Top Fuel rides in which he had great success.
“I must take exception to this statement,” wrote Nielsen. “I would counter there are two other cars where Prudhomme made a national name for himself. The first being the Greer-Black-Prudhomme dragster. I think virtually every drag racing fan nationwide knew of this car and its remarkable performance record. Since this car was campaigned primarily in SoCal I might have to give you a pass on this one regarding Prudhomme’s national fame, but the next car Prudhomme drove certainly was seen nationwide. That car being Roland Leong’s Hawaiian dragster. In 1965 Prudhomme won the two of the four NHRA events that year. Those were the two biggest – the Winternationals and [Indy] Nationals. I am willing to bet if you ask any Dragster Insider or drag racing fan about the source of Prudhomme’s fame they will probably point to one of these two cars! This most certainly is where Prudhomme made a name for himself and gained national recognition! Success in these two cars allowed Prudhomme to take the next step in his career. That being solely as a driver to car owner, tuner and driver the following year thus launching his long and victorious career.
“What I will concede, and I think you may have been trying to elude to, is the Mattel deal brought Prudhomme and McEwen to a fan base outside of those that followed drag racing and more into mainstream America.”
That is exactly what I was trying (and, apparently, failing) to say. To me, even though Prudhomme won Pomona and Indy and was included in the ABC Wide World of Sports coverage, and every serious drag racing fan knew about it through the pages of National Dragster or Drag News or other drag mags, Joe and Jane Lunchbucket probably hadn’t heard of “the Snake” and “the Mongoose” until their kids handed them their Christmas lists asking for the Hot Wheels toys. Believe me, when you have two 10-foot long lane of orange plastic track spanning the living-room floor, mom and dad get it. I know mine did.
So, certainly, so slight intended to the amazing G-B-P car or Leong’s similarly almost unbeatable Hawaiian, just a terrible job of explaining what I meant. I exacerbated the problem by using some different (and more precise) wording on the home page teaser story saying it was the car that launched Prudhomme’s Funny Car career, but to me it was more than just that.
Friend added an interesting coda to his umbrage with the wording. “Maybe too knit picky,” he admitted, “but it struck me wrong the first, second, third, and fourth times I read it, but he [already] had the name, and he had a career. When you consider his career as an owner, he actually had three careers. It would be interesting to see which career he is most remembered for if all the data was presented to be viewed, maybe a good idea for a Dragster Insider.
That’s an interesting concept. As a driver, he wheeled the nearly untouchable G-B-P car (236-7, or whatever number you believe) in the early 1960s and he added the Winternationals and Nationals wins in Leong’s car. Then there’s a long, long period through 1994 as driver-owner, and finally as the owner/owner who brought the resources that helped give guys like Larry Dixon, Ron Capps, Tommy Johnson Jr., and Spencer Massey great boost in their careers. I think most of us would say it was that middle period that defined him, but I could be wrong.
My old buddy Nielsen, never one to give me a break (and I love him for that) also took me to task for saying that “The Hot Wheels deal McEwen brokered with toy giant Mattel really opened the Pandora’s Box of possibilities.”
“Why the use of Pandora’s Box? This term usually has a negative connotation. While the Hot Wheels deal may have not been truly the first corporate deal, it certainly was one of the biggest and brought with it a huge influx of financial backing for McEwen and Prudhomme. Was that such a bad thing?
“One might argue these corporate sponsorship deals, like the Mattel deal, caused operating costs for a competitive Top Fuel dragster to skyrocket. In the 1960s, the costs to field a competitive Top Fuel car was measured in the thousands of dollars. Today it is measured in the millions of dollars. This it has made it virtually impossible for anyone without the backing of a huge corporation to not be a competitive drag racer. The result maybe one of the reason there are so few Top Fuel cars showing up at NHRA events today. In the 1960s there were 60 or more Top Fuel cars competing at NHRA on a regular basis. Today this number has decreased to something on the order of roughly 20.
Again, exactly the point I was making, which could have used more explanation, but I thought that everyone got that. I believe that until the day he died, even though he understood that prize money drove entry numbers, Wally Parks wished racers still raced for the trophy and the accomplishment of beating the other guy, which was certainly true in the sport’s infancy. We all understand why that can’t be true, which dovetails into Nielsen’s additional rebuttal.
“The cost of fielding a Top Fuel car probably would also have occurred had there not been any corporate involvement,” he suggested. “Drag racers are by their basic nature innovators. They are ALWAYS seeking ways to improve the performance of their cars to gain a competitive edge. That is the basic nature of the sport of drag racing and will continue to be. With that quest for additional performance comes an increase in cost to obtain it. That is the law of diminishing returns. The only thing that corporate involvement has done was to accelerate the rate of performance change. I think we may have discussed similar issues when you wrote a column about the influence data loggers had on performance improvements. They too, like corporate sponsorship, only increased the velocity of change. The changes resulting from data loggers only allowed drag racers to identify areas where improvements could be made at a faster rate than previous trial and error methods.”
I agree across the board with what he says. Would I love to see the days of 100-car Top Fuel fields return? Heck, yes. Do I think it will ever happen? Heck, no. Although NHRA has done an admirable job of trying to keep costs under control by limiting uber-costly, one-off innovations that only prompted a keep-up-with-the-Jones mentality, the racers are in many ways – and I think most would agree – their own worst enemies when it comes to controlling costs.
Although those big-ticket items have slowed and the work is largely in refinement, there are still trick-of-the-week innovations that fall within the guidelines and become near-must-haves (the new “all-in-one” fuel valve being a recent reminder; the laid-back Funny Car headers another) along with new cylinder heads and blowers, and more.
(By the way, did you see the video on NHRA.com this morning showcasing Don Schumacher Racing’s machine shop? Simply stunning. They can and do produce everything from cylinder heads to blower pulleys and connecting rods --and lots more! -- to feed their army of cars. It’s no doubt a smart (albeit very large) investment that will be recouped in fairly short order, and other teams don’t have to invest similarly to keep up, though many have or will, or they can simply buy the parts from the race teams.
I think a little bit of us old-timers wish we could go back to the days when Funny Cars were known by their name and not their sponsor, but it was those very dollars that helped drive the sports, not just in performance and innovation, but through coordinated marketing with the sponsor, helped further drive drag racing into the mainstream. Pandora’s Box? Yes, for sure, but one I’m glad got opened.
Insider readers got such a charge late last year out of James Ibusuki’s detailed recounting of the many faces of the fabled Jungle Jim” Liberman Vega that I’m revisiting the idea again, this time using Don Prudhomme’s first Hot Wheels Barracuda as the subject, but the idea actually originated with Insider regular “Chicago Jon” Hoffman, who sent me his timeline of changes to the fabled Cuda. I shared them with Ibusuki who, as it turns out, also had a deep and well-researched interest in the car. I’ve shared both of their comments below the grouping of photos that Hoffman had gathered from various sources across the internet.
While it’s certainly far from being the first Funny Car, it is the car that launched Prudhomme’s name – and that of teammate Tom McEwen – into the national conscience as the Hot Wheels toys modeled after them were soon tearing across plastic orange “dragstrips” in homes across the nation. The Hot Wheels deal that McEwen brokered with toy giant Mattel really opened the Pandora’s Box of possibilities for corporate sponsorships of racecars, so it’s a cool car at which to take an in-depth look, and Ibusuki and Hoffman clearly have done that.
Before we get into the many changes that helped the car evolve, Ibusuki shared some thoughts about the body itself, which will serve as a bit of a spotters guide for your own research.
“As you know, 1970 ushered in a new-style Cuda,” he noted. “The Fiberglass Trends (which I’ll refer to now as ftrends) version was more stock and bulky looking than the Fiberglass Ltd. (LTD) bodies. The ftrends had a 3D grille while the LTDs were flat. Additionally, the ftrends bodies looked heavier because their sides were taller and curled under at the rocker panels like an OEM Cuda. The LTD sides were flatter by comparison. Further, the ftrends had more OEM looking wheelwells while the LTDs cut higher upward towards the hood. They were also closer to the front bumpers. The overall effect made the LTDs look slimmer than their ftrends counterparts. I share this background so you can see the major differences between the first and second Hot Wheels Cudas. Look at this photo of Candies & Hughes vs. the Snake-Jay Howell at '70 Indy. You can see how the C&H car looks slimmer and ‘the Snake’ a bit more bulkier. I want to say how fun it is to play detective and analyze these old photos. If you scrutinize them enough they begin to reveal things you missed the first time. With that in mind let's get started!”
HOFFMAN: With Photos A and B, we see the Mattel ball change colors (from red to black), while the “flip me at halftrack” roof dam stays put. Also, A has a windshield I've yet to see (small port and a recessed-effect as well) while B has the conventional opening.
IBUSUKI: Photo A shows the original Mattel logo. Here's a larger view of the old and new logos for context. As you can see it's a little boy, wearing a crown, and sitting on the letter M. (By the way, I just learned that the Mattel name was derived from the original owners: Harold "Matt" Matson and Elliot Handler! Mattel's ad department wisely changed the logo to the more simple design right about the time the Hot Wheels Funny Cars debuted. Hence, we see the old logo at Beeline, the new one at Pomona as show in Photo B. But for whatever reason the "gear teeth" were left off the Funny Cars —they were simple black circles.
As we all know, the roof-mounted spoilers were ineffective (in fact, downright dangerous as they made the rear ends want to lift!) so after Pomona both Hot Wheels Funny Cars moved the rear spoilers to the standard rear deck location.
I don't know the science behind the wide-open windshield holes and small slots. During this period, teams tried a variety of doghouse openings. I've also seen three holes elsewhere while Roger Lindamood mounted the scoop backwards with no opening at all! But apparently Prudhomme went back and forth between the slot and "no slot" configurations. I say this because the slot is small at Beeline, then gone at Pomona, but back with a larger slot later that year (see Photo H below). I assumed “the Snake” had dropped the "Lexan slot" after the Springnationals until I found a few Indy pix. The "slot" was still being used in September! Then I found a tiny pic in National Dragster of “the Snake” at Irwindale's October East vs. West bash and I do believe the slot is still there!
HOFFMAN: Photo C shows that the roof dam is gone, which probably did not please Hot Wheels at all (remember the scene in American Nitro when “the ‘Goose” says that kids will write letters going "That’s not how the car is!"), as the toy still looked like Photo D below. Another thing shows up: a Plymouth logo in the grille that will comes and goes over time.
HOFFMAN: With E, we see a black 712 is on the roof. Prudhomme’s NHRA competition number will float all over the place, but with three circuits back then, the non-NHRA races would have other numbers "soaped-on.”
HOFFMAN: Photos F and G: more blower-hole stuff, large versus small, but Photo H has the Plymouth in the grille, and no “mystery logo” on the hood’s lower right (as visible in Photo C).
HOFFMAN: When I saw Photo I, shot at Ontario Motor Speedway, I thought "photo-shoot for the box art" for the Hot Wheels playset but the roof dams are gone, both have different blower holes, neither match the Funny Car Set at all (and what the flop is going on under “Snake’s” car?), and the notion of it being press-work for the inaugural ’70 Supernationals at OMS is complicated by the debut of the ’71 car, as noted below.
HOFFMAN: This is the '71 Buttera car, cloaked in '70 livery, which was rolled out at the OCIR Manufacturers Meet in advance of the Supernationals with the awesome Kenny Youngblood grille (how great were those?)
IBUSUKI: As Jon said, the second “Snake” Hot Wheels debuted at the '70 Manufacturers Meet. Although the first Hot Wheels Cuda had a dragster roll cage its Exhibition Engineering chassis was still wide like the old Logghes. The new “Snake Cuda” was a narrow Buttera design—essentially a copy of Don Schumacher’s 1970 Indy winner, including its independent front end. I just read Drag Racing USA's feature on the second Snake Cuda, which said it was a Mr. Ed body. I'm not totally convinced but my key point remains that the second “Snake” Cuda had a more "slim LTD style" body as we see in Photo J.
The Manufacturers Meet was held on the first weekend of November (6-7). The AHRA Grand American Finals was probably held the next week since SS&DI said the Beeline event took place in November. We know the inaugural Supernationals was held on Nov. 21-22 and I don't believe AHRA waited until Nov. 29 for their final race.
IBUSUKI: Jon mistakenly called the grille the airbrush work of Kenny Youngblood. It was actually the work of Tom Kelly, who was most often associated with George Cerny's paint jobs. Tom created the iconic Candies & Hughes script logo, first seen on their '69 Cuda. While Kelly was a fantastic letterer, his airbrush grilles were not up to Kenny's superb standards. For some odd reason Kelly decided to angle outward the six grille segments of the '71 Cuda (three pointed to the right, three to the left. Take a peek at Youngblood’s same-season Cuda grille in Photo K above.
This is the replacement body after Prudhomme’s infamous Seattle "in the lights" explosion-wheelie. Notice how more realistic Youngblood's version looked. Additionally, Kelly tried to make his headlights appear as if they were turned on. Note the extra whiteness of the lenses along with the surrounding white rays of light in Photo J!
Kelly's '71 style grilles were also seen on Jim Dunn's first Funny Car and Joe Winter's yellow Swinger I Cuda while Youngblood's versions were featured on Schumacher’s red-white-blue '71 Winternationals Stardust and the Midnight Skulker.
I did a bit of a "flash forward" by showing you the '71 flamed Hot Wheels Cuda. So let's back up a bit. After the yellow version raced at the major fall '70 events it was repainted for the new season. The red-white-blue Hot Wheels debuted at Irwindale's New Year’s Day event. This was mentioned in Drag Racing’s USA’s event coverage. Because Tom Kelly's grillework was carried over to the new paint job it's easy to separate the first '71 Hot Wheels Snake from its post-SIR replacement due to Youngblood's grille.
Also, notice the prototype Cragar Super Trick front wheels on the Cuda. They were new for '71. McEwen and Snow ran them too. Their polished center hubs made them stand out from the finished product that would debut in '72, most notably on the first Revellution Demon. Speaking of front wheels I always wondered why the "fashion-forward" “Snake” and “Mongoose” both ran outdated Cragar S/S wheels in 1970. They were very popular from '65 to '67 but Halibrands and Americans became the Funny Car standards at the end of the '60s. However, now in hindsight I think the wheels were part of a Cragar support package. If you read under the Cragar logo they also supplied headers and ignition, but the new Super Tricks that would dominate Funny Car for decades weren't ready in early 1970!
And finally, there’s this, from “Chicago Jon”: “Just to please the National Enquirer
-fans out there, recently on Facebook a rumor of the original “Snake” 1970 car surfacing has broken loose, as seen above (photo is believed to have been taken by Bigfoot, who was on his way to the Wendy’s on the grassy knoll, where he was to dine with Elvis).”
It sure looks like it could be the right body, and it would be super cool if it were, but it also could just as easily been any old Cuda with the spoiler added. Maybe someone out there who knows can tell us more about. We know that “Snake” had the yellow Buttera car and the white ’71 car (yep, that’s me having a dream-come-true seat in the car) in his possession but not the roof-spoilered body.
Anyway, thanks to much to Jon and James for this run-through of one of the sport’s memorable and important cars and all of the changes it went through in its first 10 months of life. I’ll see you guys next week.
Twas the Friday before Christmas, and all ‘cross the Nation
Insider fans were fretting, thinking Phil’s on vacation.
The browsers were loaded to the designated page
In hopes of a column with which to engage.
With letters all nestled correctly in place
And verbs well conjugated, between each word a space.
And Phil at his keyboard, and you at your screen
Were all buckling into our nostalgia machine.
Then out on the web, there arose quite some chatter
There’s no column here, what the hell’s the matter?
Reloading your screen, your fingers they flash
Hoping it’s just something, in your browser’s old cache.
The glow of the monitor on your frowny face
Reflected your dismay at the usual screen space.
When what to your wondering eyes should appear
But a stupid old poem; that's nothing to cheer.
What a tired old idea, to rewrite a poem
You knew in an instant, it’s time to groan
More rapid than nitro, your anger did wake
Why not a column instead on ol’ “Snake”?
Now Garlits! Now McEwen! Now Shirley and Ivo!
On Jungle! On Beadle! On Chrisman and Nicoll!
To the ramp trucks of yore, or streamliners of past
Get us a real column, and please do it quite fast.
As dry heaves that come from utter distaste
When you look at a column written in such haste
Your anger boiled over, to the top it arose
Hopeful still I’ll write more about Jungle's nose.
And then, like nitro fumes, your mind it had cleared
This wasn’t as bad as originally feared
Even as you read, and settled in place
You still hoped I’d write something ‘bout “Ace.”
You’re still in your jammies, your hair’s all a mess
‘Cause you read the Insider before you get dressed.
It’s your Friday routine, I know how you roll
But just keep going, continue to scroll.
My brow how its wrinkles, imagining your distress
I wrote this on Wednesday, this much I confess.
My cool ideas for a topic so bold and solemn
Vanished midweek into this here column.
The end of my pen clenched too tight in my teeth,
Gushed ink on my shirt and the skin beneath.
It bled through the fabric in less than a blink
Though McEwen once said there’s no such thing as bad ink.
I was fumbling and fuming, and raging aloud
So much for a column of which to be proud.
A website of words that provided the rhyme
Soon gave me hope I’d finish in time.
I typed all the words, and went straight through the poem
And filled all the lines; there, that’ll hold ‘em.
And hitting the Save button with one last stroke
Wished I’d written instead about quarter-mile smoke.
I posted the column, and made a little vow
To start the new year, with a column of wow.
So order a round of jolly hot ciders
Until next year, happy holidays you Insiders.
Sure, I know. With all the brainpower I invested in that waste of digital ink I could have cranked out something else, but you only have one of your own to blame, fellow reader Mark Whitmer, who shared with me his version of the classic poem. He wrote it 37 years ago, in December 1977, when he and brother Don and partner Ben Roby held the K/Stick national record at 12.64 with their Chevy II.
“Don was the genius when it came to building and tuning the 220-horse 283, but on this day, Nov.12, 1977 at Suffolk Raceway. I was fortunate to be in the driver’s seat,” he wrote. “I warmed the slicks with a 4th gear burnout and it bit pretty good at the starting line. The shift into 4th cracked the side cover of the T-10, which necessitated holding the Mr. Gasket shifter pretty firmly to keep it gear for the duration of the run. Knocked five-hundredths of the old record. Great, great memories.”
’Twas the night before Christmas, and all through the house,
Not a creature was stirring, not even a mouse.
The reason that things were so quiet that night
Is we were all in the garage, discussing our plight.
We knew that St Nicholas had too much to do,
‘Cause of all his deliveries, he’d never get through.
Our children knew better, to them we can’t lie.
In order to save Santa our Chevy must fly!
People were promised bigger camshafts and gears,
And JEGS would be closed ’til after New Years.
Under the hood, in a search for more power,
We changed the orange small block in less than an hour
Defying all reasons for racing a Ford or a Dodge,
A K/Stocker was finished that night in the garage
The moment it started you could tell from the sound
That the Moroso front tires would be leaving the ground
As it went through the burnout and moved into the lights
We knew that 12.40s weren’t out of sight.
Then like the violence of war, and with traction to spare
The concrete was smoking as it tore into the air.
We don’t know for sure who was driving that night
But his fire-suit was bright red and trimmed out in white.
At 800 feet he hammered fourth gear
And we heard Santa shout, "Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year!"
Thanks, Mark. That was fun.
Insider readers might be interested (or not) to know that I met Don on what assuredly was one of the happiest days of his life. (Yeah, well, sure … meeting me one any day can easily be the highlight of your life.)
It was on Sunday of the 2013 national event in Norwalk, where Mark was lucky winner of a new Mustang GT thanks to a Mustang 5.0 Fever drawing held by Ford Motorsports and Quick Lane. He had entered the drawing at the 2012 U.S. Nationals and got his car prior to Sunday’s final eliminations. I walked up to congratulate him and snap this photo for posterity. That’s Mark in the passenger seat and Ford Funny Car ace Bob Tasca III, who took him for a tour down the return road to show off the winner, in the business seat.
I can’t promise you a Mustang or anything else special beneath your tree this year, but I plan to continue deliver the fun times here beginning in January. Have a safe and joyful holiday with your friends, families, and loved ones. And thanks again for another great year.
Many longtime NHRA fans may remember artist James Ibusuki, who burst onto the scene in the 1990s with a series of stunningly accurate, photo-realistic lithographs depicting great scenes from drag racing history.
Although his business was a casualty of the recession of the early 2000s, many of his works still hang on the walls at NHRA headquarters, including these three in the holiday-attired main lobby, and he still actively follows the sport and this column, which brings us to today’s subject.
Ibusuki’s eye for detail, which was evident in his artwork, extends across his enjoyment of the sport, and after reading the recent columns about “Jungle Jim” Liberman’s Vega and its missing nose, he shared some interesting insights about the Vega or, more precisely, the multiple versions of the car that existed and create confusion in the timeline and raise questions about which car (or pieces of cars) are in various collections.
After studying multiple photographs and consulting the records he began keeping in the 1970s, Ibusuki believes there were, in fact, three “Jungle” Vegas in the 1973-74 time frame on which we have focused. I’ll turn the column over to him to let him share his findings:
The first Vega was the Romeo Palamides creation that won NHRA's Top 20 all-time Funny Car countdown. It debuted in August 1972 and came to California that fall. This was SoCal's first chance to see "Jungle Pam" with the same J.J. Vega that was on the memorable Hot Rod magazine cover.
Several things made this Vega unique from the subsequent Liberman Vegas. First, this was Ron Pelligrini's (Fiberglass LTD) original version of a Vega Funny Car body. They were noticeably different from the West Coast bodies of Fiberglass Trends, J&E, and Kirby-Buttera. The LTDs drooped downward from the windshield toward the nose. Second, the early LTD Vegas had a larger grille shell rectangle than the West Coast bodies. And finally, the West Coast Vegas had a full-width front spoiler while the LTDs were only the width of the grille.
Here's the second J.J. Vega: This is a Steve Reyes shot taken at York in 1973. Although J.J. drove this Vega on occasion, Roy Harris was the main driver. Notice the differences between these two Vegas. This one doesn't have the nose droop and has a smaller grille opening and a full-width front spoiler. The first version had a darker candy blue while this one was much brighter like the earlier J.J. Novas and Camaros. The No. 2 J.J. Vega is easy to spot by noting the diagonally stacked lettering of "Jungle Jim" on the doors. The Nos. 1 and 3 were stacked normally like the Novas/Camaros. While the No. 2 Vega is closer to Stine's souvenir, I don't think it's a match. Most notable is the full height of the front spoiler. On the No. 3, it was shaved down, which resembles Stine's Vega nose.
So now on to the No. 3. This is a pretty well-known Jeff Tinsley shot, taken at Aquasco and most often seen in Quaker State Oil ads. Although No. 3 debuted in early 1974, it wasn't a slant-nosed Vega.
Here's a Norman Blake shot of No. 3: Notice how the Stine matches this Vega grille much more so than the No. 1. No. 3 has the full-width, shaved-down spoiler, and the grille shell sizes match.
Now let's zero in on the smaller details. Notice how Stine's "JJ" grille badge is in gold. Even at its small scale, you can see this in the Aquasco photo.
However, if you look at the No.1's grille badge, it is noticeably larger and in silver. You can also see how No. 3's horizontal bars of the grille match, in particular, the exaggerated perspective angles as they move toward the top. Stine's souvenir also lacks the "Revell's Jungle Jim" lettering above the grille we see in the No. 1 photo.
The Blake photo also shows duct tape over the central area of the spoiler lip, the same area where Stine's souvenir has a chunk missing!
However, here's the final kicker that convinced me this is the No. 3 Vega. Look at the side-view photo that shows a gold-leaf "E." You can see the word "oil" just beneath it. The full fender read "Quaker State Racing Oil" on the No. 3, which you can see in the Aquasco photo. If you refer to the No. 1 photo, you'll notice that the front fender tips were bare and that J.J. was using Castrol oil.
So, why was Stine's Vega grille sawed off? I used to think it was because J.J. had an on-track mishap, but since the nose is preserved, we now know this isn't true. I've concluded it was done to update the '73 Vega to a '74 model. This No. 3 became much more well known as the gold-flamed '74 slant-nosed Vega that pulled the giant wheelie at the 1974 Summernationals! I know this because all of the lettering matches. Also, note the distinctive yellow/red top center stripe on the No. 3. That remained on the gold-flamed Vega!
This is a great image because it shows the No. 2, near lane, racing No. 3 at Maple Grove. Roy Harris is in No. 2 with Liberman in No. 3. From 1970 to 1974, I created what I call my "FC Notebooks." Because we had a large family, I couldn't afford to save every issue of ND, so I used to type up the key facts from every fuel match race and clip the best photo captions into a notebook. (Yes, I was a Funny Car nerd! LOL)
I found the caption to this "dueling Jungle Jims" photo: An all-"Jungle Jim" final round for Funny Car Eliminator was a side-by-side affair until Roy Harris, driver of Liberman's
No. 2 car, could not shift into high gear and had to shut off. Liberman's winning time was a 6.55, good for Low ET. (Photo by J.R. Cutler)
So I cross-referenced this race to my lists of races in the same notebook. It was May 11, 1974, 4th annual Pennsylvania Dutch Classic, the biggest race at the Reading track back in the 1970s. The 6.55 low e.t. time was mentioned, too.
The No. 3 still has the '73 Vega grille in that photo, but by the July Summernationals, it would be lopped off and replaced by a '74 slant-nosed grille. They hid the "surgery" with the yellow flame design. This updated version was my favorite J.J. Vega because "Jungle Jim" was in gold leaf for the first time, and the candy blue was closer to the Novas and Camaros, which were my all-time-favorite "Jungle Jim" Funny Cars!
In this case, I believe you have misidentified Stine's Vega nose. It is not the first Revell J.J. Vega but the third. The car Garlits has in his museum is No. 1. I visited the museum in 1996 and wondered why J.J.'s first Vega had a '74 slant nose. Then, years later, I heard the story of it going to Nick along with the facelift. So the No. 1 nose is the one we've never seen.
OK, did you guys follow all of that? Wow, thanks to James for what amounts to a "Jungle Jim" Vega spotter's guide. I had hoped to talk to Stine before this column went live this morning (and actually exchanged an email with him), but that didn't happen. I hope to speak to him this morning, and, if I do, I'll share his thoughts.