I hope you all had a safe and sane Fourth of July and are ready to dive into the teeth of summer. I'll be in Chicago this weekend for the K&N Filters Route 66 NHRA Nationals at fabulous Route 66 Raceway. 

While I'm spectating and working on The Mother Road, here's the mother lode of Fan Fotos, part two of Insider reader Robert Nielsen’s Fan Fotos submission, a compilation of photos, facts, and opinions. Enjoy!
 
When you walk through the pits at the California Hot Rod Reunion, you will run across lots of early vintage race cars, like this Speed Sport roadster powered by a mid-1950s Chrysler Firepower hemi with eight two-barrel Stromberg carburetors. This car clearly demonstrates, as do many other cars from this period, that rear-engine (again I must say mid-engine) cars were not just a recent invention. (I must also confess I digitally altered the top photo. There were a number of greasy rags under the left rear wheel. I did not want to upset anyone by messing with this car in any way, so I left them there along with the one on the top of the right rear wheel.)
 
The Master & Richter Special Top Fuel dragster, circa 1963, powered by a 392-cubic-inch Chrysler hemi in the pits at the California Hot Rod Reunion. The Kent Fuller chassis has a wheelbase of only 112 inches. That is certainly small when compared with today’s 300-inch-wheelbase Top Fuel cars. In this configuration, it was capable of running high-seven-second e.t.s at close to 200 mph in 1963.
 
In the foreground is the BankAmeriCar car of Don Ewald. The story is that Don financed this car using his Bank of America credit card to build it. When Kenny Youngblood was doing the original lettering on the car, Don told him this. Youngblood thought BankAmeriCar would be a good name for it and painted that on the cowl in front of the driver.
 
The car next to it is Don Ewald’s MasterCar. I assume once Don maxed out the BankAmericard, he applied for a MasterCard and built this dragster. Both have been restored to perfection! Not sure about who the third car in this picture belongs to.
 
The pits at the California Hot Rod Reunion are always loaded with a huge number of Cacklefest cars. I think it is the BankAmeriCar car that was the emphasis for the advent of the Cacklefest car. Most of these Cacklefest cars are 1950s and 1960s front-engine nitro cars restored to their splendid former greatest. Each year, more and more restored Cackle cars show up in the CHRR pits.
 
OK, while I said the 1972 front-engine dragster of Danny Ongais is my all-time favorite dragster, your hero and mine, "TV Tommy" Ivo’s first supercharged Barnstormer dragster is an extremely close second. I remember very vividly seeing this car run on the SoCal dragstrips in the early 1960s and how beautiful it looked, in addition to running great numbers.
 
You have to love the “weed burner” headers. These headers came by their name honestly since the exhaust from them would occasionally set dry brush near the edge of the track on fire. This was a moderately frequent occurrence at San Fernando Raceway.
 
Part of the thing making this deal so great is Ivo himself. He was an extraordinary showman and self-promoter. He loved the spotlight and still does, every part of it. The story has been told a thousand times about when he match raced a jet-powered dragster and stuck a hot dog on top of his helmet to be roasted when the jet flew by. Showmanship at its best! But do not dare mention his match race against a Turbonique-powered go-kart driven by “Captain Jack” McClure.
 
I shot this photo early Sunday morning in the 2015 California Hot Rod Reunion pits before virtually anyone was up and about. The car has been immaculately re-created by Ron Johnson in great detail. I must have shot about 50 photos of this car, drooling all the time – but being careful not to drool on the car itself. I was tempted to climb in the driver’s seat but resisted doing so purely out of respect for this car. I suspect the reason for shooting as many pictures as I did was that subconsciously I was waiting for Ron Johnson or someone else to show up so I could ask them if I could try it on for size. No luck, though, as no one ever appeared while I was there.
 
The re-creation of the Beebe & Mulligan Top Fuel dragster. Yet another of the Cackle cars that is consistently at every one of the California Hot Rod Reunions. Once again, the re-creation of this car is immensely accurate.
 
The “Outer Limits” A/Factory Experimental altered-wheelbase Dodge owned and driven by Joel Miner. Here he is just starting to launch off the starting line at the 2015 California Hot Rod Reunion. I really needed to be a little farther downtrack as his normal starting-line wheelstands are 3 to 4 feet high, but I did not want to get in the way of the professional photographers!
 
Glenn Gibbons' altered-wheelbase A/Factory Experimental Pouncing Poncho Pontiac leaving the 2015 California Hot Rod Reunion starting line with a big wheelstand!
 
While walking around the California Hot Rod Reunion pits, you can encounter a large variety of different types of vehicles. Here is someone’s personal transportation to get around in the pits. Hot rod ingenuity at its finest. It is parked next to the Voodoo Child A/Fuel Altered. Although I might question its stability during cornering. But then drag racers generally are not concerned with turning right or left. As the saying goes, “If you can turn right or left, you are not going fast enough!”
 
The 1958 B/Gas Dragster of Warren, Coburn & Crowe. This car was on display in the California Hot Rod Reunion Nitro Alumni Hospitality area. The display plaque on the front of the car says it is powered by a 459-cubic-inch hemi. Again, yet another example of an early short-wheelbase rear-engine dragster. While I never saw this car actually run, I was a huge fan of the Warren, Coburn & Miller Ridge Route Terrors cars that followed this one.


OK, readers, that's a wrap on the Nielsen Files. Some great stuff and a real testament to the great and individual things that catch our eyes and make them water, even without nitro. If you have some images and stories to share, let's have them. You can have your own memories, but it doesn't mean you shouldn't share them with the rest of us diehards!
Fan Fotos: The Nielsen FilesFriday, July 01, 2016
 If you’ve been around this column for any length of time, you know there’s no measuring the depth of love and respect I have for followers of this weekly cornucopia of drag racing stream of consciousness. And you probably also know there are a dozen or more guys upon whom I can count for regular input and feedback on the week’s musings, guys like Cliff Morgan, “Nitro Jon” Hoffman, Mark “Hog Wild” Elms, Mark Watkins, and Gary Crumrine, who are my brothers from another mother when it comes to this stuff.
 
Then there’s Robert Nielsen, who from the early days of this column has been a frequent contributor, foil, friend, instigator, ally, and conscience. Equal parts passionate and obstinate, he’s just as likely to salute a column as he is ready and eager to take me to task for a statement or opinion. If I say Roland Leong is Hawaii’s greatest drag racing export, he counters with Danny Ongais. If I say the Corvette was America’s sports car, he sides with the Shelby Cobra. If I say a dragster is rear-engined, he insists it’s more properly a mid-engined car. Man, do I love this guy.
 
Way back in February 2010, Nielsen was one of the first to accept my challenge to readers to submit their personal photos, and he responded with a wonderful collection of doorslammers from NorCal, SoCal, and Arizona. Not only did he supply the photos, but he also provided great detailed information about the subjects. You can find that submission here, and, guess what race fans, he’s back for more, responding to my own collection of photographic flotsam with another batch of pics that’s split between old and new photos of vintage drag iron, with a history lesson or two thrown in for good measure. He sent more than two dozen, which I’ll break into two parts.
 
Linda “Miss Hurst Golden Shifter” riding on the back of an Oldsmobile at the 1970 NHRA Supernationals at Ontario Motor Speedway. I was moderately surprised when I saw this because one of the NHRA’s mottos is “Dedicated to Safety.” So I ask you, how safe is it to ride on a platform on the back of a car in high-heel shoes without any safety constraints?
 
The Candies & Hughes 'Cuda out ahead of the Pisano & Matsubara Camaro at the 1970 NHRA Supernationals at Ontario Motor Speedway. An instant later, Sush Matsubara’s Camaro made a hard right turn into the Armco barrier and crashed heavily. Parts of the Camaro broke off and headed downtrack, where Les Lovett was trying to escape this debris. Unfortunately, he was not quick enough as a shock absorber hit him in the ankle and broke it. One of the many perils of being a trackside photographer!
The 1972 front-engine dragster of Danny Ongais. The photo was taken from the stands at the 1972 NHRA Winternationals in Pomona. This is at a time when a lot of the Top Fuel dragsters were switching to the rear-engine cars (and it pains me to say rear-engine since they are really mid-engine cars as we have discussed), but Ongais is attempting to buck this trend. The car has to be one of my all-time favorite dragsters. Not only is the car a beautiful work of art, but it is also owned and driven by Ongais. Ongais is probably one of the best race car drivers of all time. He excelled at driving Top Fuel cars, Funny Cars, Indy cars, and Formula 1 cars. You have to love the wing mounted above the engine to try to overcome some of the advantages the rear-engine cars had.
 
The fuel-injected Boss 302 Ford Pinto of Steve Woods at Lions Drag Strip circa February 1972. Since the car has a C/Gas designation on the window, it has to be a Sunday race because Lions only ran E.T. Brackets on Saturday, but on Sunday you could run for a class trophy in the morning and then E.T. Brackets in the afternoon. Sometime after this, it changed so you could opt to run E.T. Brackets in both the morning and afternoon.
 
“Frantic Freddy” Badberg’s fuel-injected A/Street Roadster in the staging lanes at Lions Drag Strip, circa September 1972. Badberg was one of the regular racers who frequented Lions.
 
I am definitely an old-school drag racer. That also makes me a nostalgia drag racing fan to the nth degree. For a number of years, Larry Knapp, my longtime friend and fellow racer, had been trying to get me to come out to the California Hot Rod Reunions in Bakersfield. I had managed to resist this since I was afraid once I did, I would be bitten by the drag race bug once again. In October 2013, I did go to the CHRR since I could not stand Larry’s constant bugging to come out and see his car run again. So far, I have managed to resist the temptation to build another car, but that is only because of my wife. She says she wants me around for a long time and is afraid I would not be if I started racing again. It is extremely difficult to put up a defense against that sort of argument. As a result, I have had to be content (for the time being anyway) with getting my drag racing fix through my friends and their race cars. But this is proving to be a very difficult urge to resist any longer.
 
Larry Knapp’s 1966 Ford Mustang at the 2013 California Hot Rod Reunion. This was one of the first Mustangs built by Holman and Moody, Long Beach, Calif., after they were commissioned to do so by Ford Motor Company. It was built specifically to run in the A/Factory Experimental class. Larry now occasionally travels from his home in SoCal to run in various Nostalgia A/FX races across the country. His car is powered by an Earl Wade-built 472-cubic-inch Ford single overhead cam (SOHC) engine backed up by a four-speed Lenco transmission. Larry has been running this same car for almost 50 years now!
 
In the staging lanes at the 2013 California Hot Rod Reunion with the Roger Lindamood Color Me Gone tribute car. This car was built to run in the Nostalgia/Super Stock class, but since this class is not run at the CHRR, he is running in the A/Factory Experimental class.
 
This is a Sox & Martin 1964 Mercury Comet tribute car built and run by Ken Godsey at the 2013 California Hot Rod Reunion in Bakersfield. It is powered by a 427-cubic-inch Ford FE, with two four-barrel carburetors and a “you-shift-’em” four-speed Ford Top Loader manual transmission. Ken lives in the Denver area and makes the trek down to Bakersfield for the CHRR every year. In addition to this car, Ken recently acquired the original Kenz & Leslie 1966 Mercury Comet Funny Car. The K&L Comet was one of the flip-top Funny Cars along with those of “Dyno Don” Nicholson and Jack Chrisman. Ken is in the process of restoring the K&L Comet. Hopefully this restoration will be completed soon and be at the 2016 CHRR along with his 1964 S&M Comet.
 
A typical wheels-up launch for many of the A/Factory Experimental cars running at the California Hot Rod Reunion. This is Dennis King’s 1967 Ford Fairlane. It has a 472-cubic-inch 945-horsepower Ford FE engine with a Glide transmission. This car ran 8.83 and 150.60 at the 2014 CHRR. Dennis is another drag racer who has been around for a LONG time. In 1984, Dennis campaigned an A/Altered he called Asian Flew. That car won Competition eliminator at the NHRA Gatornationals with driver Danny Townsend. Lettered on the back of both of these cars are the initials TPTR – which means Too Pretty To Race. And both of these cars live up to that!
 
Another A/Factory Experimental car at the 2014 California Hot Rod Reunion was the 1961 Ford Starliner belonging to Dave Franklin. He runs a 600-plus-cubic-inch Ford 385 engine in Old Yeller. This is another car that has seen the dragstrip virtually from the day it left the showroom floor. Dave is also the president of American Nostalgia West Drag Racing and organizes most of the ANWDR races, including the CHRR A/FX race.
 
Just a little 1956 Nash Metropolitan with a huge 500-cubic-inch supercharged big-block Chevrolet engine owned by Bryan Thatcher. This car runs at the California Hot Rod Reunion in the A/Gas class. With this extremely short wheelbase and the power the engine makes, I think you need to have a screw loose to want to drive a short-wheelbase car like this one. It probably is going to go anywhere it wants to, which is most likely not in a straight line. (Do you happen to know anyone who is crazy enough to have driven a similar car?)
 
I also love altereds. All kinds of altereds! This gorgeous little roadster is another of the many cars frequenting the California Hot Rod Reunion. I do not know much about the car other than it is simply as gorgeous as they come!

Great stuff, Robert. Stay tuned for Part 2 next week, fans!
Deconstructing the vote: 14-17Friday, June 24, 2016
Another month in the books, and another four cars have been revealed in the Top 20 Funny Car fan vote, with another coming Saturday, which will bring us up to No. 12.
 
Here’s what has been revealed so far:
 
14. Ed McCulloch Revellution Demon
15. Danny Ongais/Mickey Thompson Mustang
16. Kenny Bernstein Bud King Tempo
17. Don Prudhomme Pepsi Challenger
18. Jim White/Hawaiian Punch Dodge
19. Gene Snow Rambunctious Challenger
20. Jack Chrisman Comet
 
We discussed Nos. 18 through 20 when they were unveiled, but I got some frowny faces about Prudhomme’s Pepsi Challenger – famed for its otherworldly 5.63 blast at Indy 1982 and the barrier-breaking 250-mph pass earlier that year at the Cajun Nationals – ending up No. 17. As you can see in the chart below, the Insider Nation actually had the car ranked much lower (No. 19).
 
Opined Eric Widmer, “Prudhomme's 5.63 was about two-tenths quicker than the quickest Funny Cars of the time. It was akin to John Mulligan's 6.43 when the quickest of the other fuelers was 6.73 at the time in, where else?, Indy. In my opinion, it would make ‘the Snake’ head and shoulders above everyone else at that moment in time.”
 
I wrote a pretty in-depth column about that incredible 1982 U.S. Nationals event -- including the “nitrous or not” controversy -- that you can find here. I interviewed many of the major players, including Prudhomme, Dale Armstrong, Billy Meyer, Austin Coil, and Ken Veney; it’s some interesting reading about an interesting point in the class’ history.
 
Insider readers conversely ranked Bernstein’s 1984 Bud King Tempo several places higher than its fan ranking, obviously understanding the car’s role in the growing aero wars that would follow. I remember the first time I ever saw this car, at preseason testing at then Firebird Int’l Raceway outside of Phoenix, where Bernstein and Armstrong had granted Leslie Lovett first crack at the wild piece. It ran as a cover story, complete with a multipage story inside from extensive interviews that I did there and, later, on the phone with Armstrong. From its rounded fenderwells to belly pans, lip splitters, enclosed side windows, and more, it was one sexy piece and set the standard going forward. (Remember when Funny Car aerodynamics were some small front fender bubbles to lower the front end a few inches?)
 
The Ongais/Thompson Mustang at No. 15 was pretty shocking to some of us – the Insider faithful had it ranked much, much higher – and as we have discussed here, the car was perhaps as important for its contributions – some might argue more important – as many cars on the list.
 
“I don’t think a single car made more far-reaching technical changes to the sport,” said Insider reader Mark Watkins. “The chassis, the headers (the original ‘new’ header design), the exotic powertrain. Mickey Thompson was a noted free thinker and had a keen eye for engineering talent. These converged into this game-changing car. If Thompson had Bernstein's or Prudhomme’s focus, this could have been the start of a decade-long domination.”
 
As a huge fan of “the Ace,” I was disappointed that the Revellution Demon wasn’t ranked higher, either by fans or by the Insider voters. The car was a killer in 1972 – maybe the only car that could rival the famed Pat Foster-driven Barry Setzer Vega? – and, in my opinion, is easily the most identifiable car on McCulloch’s résumé. Because I would include “the Ace” on any Funny Car top-10 drivers list (maybe even in my top five), it stands to reason that this signature car ranked higher on my personal list.
 
Rabid Funny Car fan Mark “Hog Wild” Elms’ email expressing his disappointment on “the Ace’s” place began with the subject line “I Can’t Believe It” and went from there. “I believe Phil y'all should have set age limits on the voting,” he wrote. “I feel that many, many fan voters just didn't have the experience that you and I and many of your contributors have. Ed McCulloch was a badass, great driver and I believe he won the U.S. Nationals a few times, too. I figured Bernstein, Nicholson, or Beckman was next. I watched Ed many times, and I have that 1/18th model of his car still in the box."
 
So here’s a quick recap of the fan vs. Insider vote.
Car Fan Vote Insider Vote
Ed McCulloch Revellution Demon 14 16
Danny Ongais/Mickey Thompson Mustang 15 Higher
Kenny Bernstein Bud King Tempo 16 14
Don Prudhomme Pepsi Challenger 17 19
Jim White/Hawaiian Punch Dodge 18 18
Gene Snow Rambunctious Challenger 19 15
Jack Chrisman Comet 20 17
 
As I’m sure you’re aware, Tony Pedregon, in his role as NHRA FOX analyst, also has been offering his personal top-20 list, though his criteria seems to be more personal than analytical, which makes for a cool juxtaposition with the other voting. Here are his picks so far:
 
14. Joe Pisano/Tom Ridings Arrow (1978)
15. Dale Pulde War Eagle Trans Am (1977)
16. Jim Green/Richard Rogers Green Elephant Vega (1977)
17. Gordie Bonin Bubble Up Trans Am (1977)
18. Al Segrini Black Magic Vega (1974-75)
19. Dale Armstrong/Mike Kase Speed Racer Omni (1980-81)
20. Tom Prock Detroit Tiger Monza (1975-76)
 
I broke down his 18 to 20 previously, and, on a pure fan basis, I love his 14 through 17 picks. I’ve been a big Pisano fan since I built my first Revell model, the 1973 Pisano & Matsubara Vega. “Papa Joe” always had the coolest paint schemes in the 1970s, and the Arrow certainly was one of them with its bold flames graphics.
 
The War Eagle Trans Am is the first of Pedregon’s picks that also is on the fan-vote list, but substantially higher. Like the Pisano cars, Pulde and partner Mike Hamby’s rides were always sharp, and combined with the ultra-sleek profile of those Trans Am bodies, it looked fast even standing still.
 
I’ve also always had an affection for the Green Elephant machines, hard-running cars (despite their mythologically “bad luck” green color) that reached a couple of final rounds, including in Indy in 1977. That is the Vega that Pedregon singled out, though they also had success with Frank Hall, Rob Bruins, and Mike Miller behind the wheel. I did a wonderful interview a few years ago with Jim and Betty Green to talk about their history that you might enjoy. Check it out here.
 
And finally, Bonin’s Bubble Up Trans Am, another car that I was sad did not make the Top 20 list. Bonin was a personal friend of mine, a kinship forged during his post-driving years working in NHRA’s Marketing Department. I couldn’t believe how lucky I was back then, being able to work side by side every day with Bonin and former Top Fuel ace Carl Olson, who also worked at NHRA then. How cool to work with guys you had watched and cheered for! Bonin’s car was also a ’77 Trans Am (Pedregon sure likes cars from 1977!), and the green and red, white, and blue graphics made the car look even more sleek. We lost Gordie a few years ago, but I’ll always be a fan of his.
 
We’ll unveil both the fan-vote and Pedregon's pick for No. 13 this weekend, so watch for it on the FOX show Saturday or on NHRA.com Sunday. Much discussion to follow, I’m sure.
A Kean memoryFriday, June 17, 2016

Response to last week’s column full o’ photos was deliciously marvelous, with lots of my pals here digging my amateurish attempts because, after all, even a bad photo of a great Funny Car is worth seeing, right?

As I’ve said numerous times, sometimes the quality doesn’t matter as much as the fact that A) sometimes we’re seeing an image that has never been shown in public, retrieved from some old shoebox in the attic, and B) we’re all seeing the past through one eyewitness’ exact view, how he or she saw it and is helped to remember it, which either stokes the memory, refreshes the memory, or even brings the memory to light from the dark corners of Forgottenville.

(Images are powerful. My kids are always telling me they remember somewhere we went or something they said we did from when they were 1 or 2, but it’s really just that they’ve seen the video I took and made the memory theirs because of it.)


Kean's photo in my office, below an OCIR poster

The story of my forged photo credential resonated with longtime Insider reader and contributor Al Kean, who, when just a teen like me, captured one of the most dramatic – and certainly one of the wildest – photos ever taken when he caught Don Prudhomme’s fiery Hot Wheels 'Cuda nearing takeoff at the top end at the 1971 Hot Wheels Northwest National Open in Seattle. Prudhomme was racing Dave Condit in the L.A. Hooker Maverick in the final race of the day.

"I was watching everything through my camera’s viewfinder," Kean told me a few years ago in a column about the photo. "The cars staged and launched. I was following the cars, and I thought I saw flames coming out of 'the Snake’s' windows as he neared the finish line. I remember thinking that it must just be glare off something – he couldn’t really be on fire, could he? I kept following the cars and clicked the shutter when they crossed the finish line. I then took the camera away from my face and looked downtrack to see Prudhomme’s car, with NO body on it, still in a wheelstand. It was at least 300 feet after the finish line before the car’s front wheels returned to earth.

"I had no idea what I had gotten in the photo. I had to wait several days for the color slides to get developed after we got home. It was pretty exciting to finally see the photo that I had taken.”

Kean, who last year at the Gatornationals presented me a copy of the photo with a personalized inscription plaque, wrote me again this week to recall how track manager Bill Doner used the photo in the centerfold of the 1972 program and offered Kean a season photo pass as payment. (Good ol’ “Dones” … the photo could have commanded some big bucks, but he got it from Kean for a photo pass that cost him nothing; the man is legend.) Doner also made a copy of the photo for his wall.

“His directions were to report to the will-call trailer to pick up my credentials when I arrived,” Kean remembered. “Upon arrival, there was no photo pass waiting for me, but the person there called Bill on a radio, and he said he would be right there. A couple of minutes later, he showed up, got my pass and tickets taken care of for me, and gave me a program that had my photo in the centerfold. He then drove me to the pits in his new Datsun 240Z and introduced me to Prudhomme and [Tom] McEwen. Wow! For a 15-year-old kid, this was awesome!

“I then used my (rather nondescript; would have been easy to forge!) photo pass to check out some spots along the guardrail. I made my way to the finish line just as Top Fuel was getting ready to start qualifying. I stood a couple feet outside the guardrail just past the finish line. The first car down was Hank Johnson in the front-motor Daily & Johnson car, now with a wing over the engine. I was not prepared for the noise and huge gust of air produced by a dragster at 230 mph, and it blew me onto my behind. I am sure anyone there would have found this scene very funny. I can imagine that one seeing this would have thought something like, ‘Stupid kid is going to get himself killed.’ And that photo didn't even turn out!

"Common sense prevailed, and I found some good spots closer to the starting line to get photos like the one above. Steve Evans was once again the announcer at this event and several times talked on the PA about my photo in the centerfold of the program, probably to increase program sales. All in all, a great weekend for that kid named Al Kean. 

“Doner will be back in Seattle for this year's Northwest Nationals (for the 50th Funny Car anniversary) and has suggested I look him up, which I will try to do. Thanks for letting me share my experiences.”

Quite a story, Al; all I ever got from my teenage photo pass was a 35-years-in-the-coming scolding from Pat “Ma” Green, who handled credentials at Irwindale back in the day. After reading my confession of that counterfeit job a few years ago, she wrote to tell me that she would have kicked my butt right off the starting line if she had caught me. Love you, "Ma."

Thanks to all of you for sharing and enjoying these great stories of the day.

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