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Fifty years ago, Pro-class stars were also being made at divisional events

Fifty years ago, there were only seven national events on the schedule, but fans across the country saw great action on the divisional level where Top Fuel, Funny Car, and Pro Stock competed at 28 additional events. Here’s a look back at some of those 1974 heroes.
23 Feb 2024
Phil Burgess, NHRA National Dragster Editor

When you look back 50 years ago at the 1974 national event schedule, as we did here a few weeks ago, there were just seven events on the calendar, a far cry from the 20-plus events that have been a staple for decades.

But did you also know that Top Fuelers, Funny Cars, and Pro Stockers ran divisional events back then that kept them busy when they weren’t out paying the bills on the match race circuit? Yes sir, in fact, in 1974 there were nearly 30 divisional events across the nation where fans who couldn’t make it to the national events in Pomona, Gainesville, Columbus, Englishtown, Montreal, Indy, or Ontario, Calif., got to see some top-flight Pro racing, often in their backyards. Some of them were smaller fields (sometimes only one car might show up in one class), but other times they were eight-car fields drawing more than double that number.

Just as today’s Sportsman racers do, the Pros battled for divisional titles as well as world championships, with points tallied in both series counting towards their total world championship score. This was a system that got its first real tryout in 1974, the first season in which Pros won world championships on a points basis, as opposed to being crowned the world champion by winning the World Finals, as it was through 1973. (Points prior to 1974 were also used to set the invitation-only fields for the Finals, based on their divisional or regional finishes.)

Two of the three 1974 Pro world champs — Gary Beck in Top Fuel and Shirl Greer in Funny Car — were also division champions, while Pro Stock titlist Bob Glidden did not win in Division 3 as he did in 1973 and would do in four of the next seven years (I’ll give you a minute to ruminate about who you think won the 1974 Division 3 Pro Stock title), but Glidden won the world championship largely on his national event efforts, where he accumulated three wins and a runner-up in seven events.

While in and of themselves these results may not have always been earth-shattering news, I’m enjoying sharing them if for no other reason than to resurface the names of some long-forgotten drivers and show off some old-school photos.


Schedule: Raceway Park (Englishtown, N.J.), Dragway Park (Cayuga, Ont.), Maple Grove Raceway (Reading, Pa.), Atco Dragway (Atco, N.J.)

Top Fuel: The fact that Beck raced in the Northeast might seem puzzling considering that he ran exclusively in Division 5 (where he won the championship) the year before and especially considering that he was based on the west side of North America (Seattle and British Columbia). But Beck was a vagabond back then, racing in pretty much every division and collecting 22 divisional Top Fuel wins between 1973 and 1981 with victories in Colorado, California, Georgia, Kentucky, Louisiana, Michigan, Mississippi, Minnesota, Nebraska, Nevada, South Carolina, South Dakota, Texas, and the Canadian provinces of Manitoba and Ontario. 

In 1974, Beck won only in Cayuga (where he’d score four of his 22 wins), and it was probably an important win for his sponsor, Canadian cigarette maker Export A. He beat Sarge Arciero and the Jade Grenade for the title. Beck only won the one race but must have had some late-round finishes at the others (my database only includes final rounds) as he finished ahead of the other one-race winners: Charles Greer (Atco), Dale Thierer (Reading), and Grant Stoms (E-Town). Roger Toth, at the wheel of the Chevy-powered Hemi Hunter, scored runner-ups in Atco and E-Town.

Funny Car: Pee Wee Wallace, at the wheel of Billy Holt’s Alabamian, was the runaway Funny Car champ with wins in Englishtown, Atco, and Cayuga, besting Bobby Lagana Sr. in Ron Leaf’s Vega at the first two and Tom Prock and the Custom Body Dart at the latter. Al Segrini, in the Black Magic Vega that also won the Summernationals earlier that year, was the winner over Jimmy King at Maple Grove, where 18 cars tried to make the eight-car field.

Pro Stock: Richie Zul and his 427-powered Camaro likewise dominated Pro Stock, defeating Scott Shafiroff’s small-block Vega in both Cayuga and Reading and stopping Funny Car star Bruce Larson in his finest showing of a short Pro Stock career in Atco. Zul also made the final of the fourth race but fell there to Ken Dondero at the wheel of Bill Jenkins’ Grumpy’s Toy X Vega.


Schedule: Warner Robins Dragway (Warner Robins, Ga.), Suffolk Raceway (Suffolk, Va.), Blaney Drag Strip (Blaney, S.C.), and Gainesville Raceway (Gainesville, Fla.).

Top Fuel: Don Garlits, right? I know what you were thinking. But no, the 1974 Top Fuel star of Division 2 was unsung hero Don Powell in the Chevy-powered Powell & Burnett dragster who won the championship easily with three wins (Warner Robins, Suffolk, and Gainesville) and a runner-up behind Paul Longenecker in Blaney, a tough home-state loss for Powell who hailed from Charleston, S.C.  Jim Hundley in Alan Starr’s Starrliner was the runner-up behind Powell at Warner Robins and Gainesville, while Larry Bucher’s Shadow was runner-up to him in Suffolk.

Funny Car: Greer won the Division 2 championship (and, ultimately, the world championship) on the strength of wins in Gainesville (over Florida favorite Jerry Gwynn) and Blaney in a key final-round victory over the man he would edge for the world championship, Paul Smith. Greer, of course, also won Le Grandnational to help his cause that year. Greer  eked out the title over another nitro longshot, Harry Hudson, who won Warner Robins and Suffolk in Dennis Kirkland’s Dennis the Menace Mustang with respective final-round victories over Smith and Larry Fullerton’s Trojan Horse.

Pro Stock: Wally Booth routed the Pro Stock troops in Division 2, making the regular trip down from Michigan to toy with the southerners in his Gatornationals-winning AMC Hornet. Booth won all four races, besting Fred Shafer in Warner Robins, Kenny Hahn in Suffolk, and Reid Whisnant’s Hemi-powered Duster in the final of the other two races.


Schedule: Indianapolis Raceway Park (Indiana), National Trail Raceway (Columbus, Ohio), Tri-City Dragway (Saginaw, Mich.), and Beech Bend Raceway Park (Bowling Green, Ky.).

Top Fuel: Ohioan Paul Longenecker scored wins in Indy and Bowling Green, stopping Billy Campbell at the former and Pat Dakin at the latter, to win the Division 3 crown. Campbell, in Jack Hart’s Kentucky-based Golddiger, beat home hero Dick Rosberg in Tim Arnold’s Hallucination in Saginaw, while Chuck Kurzawa, in Bob Farmer’s Bob’s Drag Chutes entry, won in Columbus, defeating Jack Mitchell in the final on a huge holeshot, 6.63 to 6.50.

Funny Car: Schumacher was the star, but I don’t mean Don. It was actually Michigander John Schumacher, at the wheel of Stan Rosen’s Ego Trip Pontiac Grand Am, who took the division crown after wins in Columbus and Saginaw, where he stopped Stan Bowman and John White, respectively. Cliff Brown, “the Chicago Kid,” won in Indy over Al Bergler, while James Jokerst and the Chevy-powered Snidely Whiplash Vega scored in Bowling Green over some kid named Billy Meyer in the Mustang II that would set the national record at the U.S. Nationals.

Pro Stock: Although Bob Glidden did win one of the four Division 3 Pro Stock events (Bowling Green) in his vaunted Pinto, it was the guy he beat in that final, Bobby Yowell in Billy Stepp’s “Billy the Kid” Dart, who won the championship with wins at the other three events, stopping Jerry Miller in the JEGS-backed Pinto in the final in both Indy and Columbus and Mr. Glidden in the money round in Saginaw.


Schedule: LaPlace Dragway (LaPlace, La.), Greater Southwest Dragway (Fort Worth, Texas), State Capitol Raceway (Baton Rouge, La.), and Riverside Raceway (Jackson, Miss.).

Top Fuel: Dave Settles wheeled “big blue,” the vaunted Candies & Hughes dragster, to the Division 4 crown on the strength of wins in C&H’s Louisiana home state and in Jackson, where he bested Marshall Love and Clayton Harris, respectively. Settles was also the runner-up in his Dallas backyard to Love and the Carroll Bros.’ Texas Whips entry at Greater Southwest, while Ronnie Martin put Robert Anderson’s dragster in the winner’s circle in Baton Rouge over Mike Tarter.

Funny Car: The “Houston Hustler,” Johnny White, bagged the Division 4 Funny Car title that no one seemed to want as no driver reached more than one final. White beat Bob Carpenter’s Buccaneer Mustang in Jackson, while Greer stopped Frank Oglesby in LaPlace in a battle of Division 2 cars, and Buddy Warren’s The Streaker Vega bested Bruce Burkhardt’s U.S. Marines-backed Charger on the runways of Greater Southwest International Airport. No Funny Cars showed up for the Baton Rouge event.

Pro Stock: Raymond Martin, better known to today’s fans for his fast Competition eliminator dragsters, raced the family Vega in Pro Stock and won the Division 4 title in 1974. He defeated Robert Penner in Dallas and Scott Shafiroff in Riverside, while Shafiroff won in Baton Rouge over Phil Nichols and Illinois’ Fred Shafer dropped “the Professor,” Kelly Chadwick, in the final in LaPlace.


Schedule: Thunder Valley Dragways (Marion, S.D.),  Minnesota Dragway (Minneapolis), Wichita International Raceway (Kansas), and Denver International Raceway (Colorado).

Top Fuel: Chassis builder Mark Williams won the Division 5 Top Fuel crown without a win in the four races but did score runner-ups in his Larry Frazier-tuned dragster behind Mike Wagoner in South Dakota and “Kansas John” Wiebe in Minnesota. Wiebe also won in Wichita, besting Marvin Graham in the final. A few weeks later, Graham would go on to score a huge win at the U.S. Nationals. Coloradoan Bruce Jarrett won the Denver race in his Mountain Charger entry over Jack Harris.

Funny Car: Doc Halladay, in Bill Schifsky’s Cox-sponsored Pinto, battled fellow Minnesotan Tom Hoover tooth and nail for the title, with eventual champ Halladay beating Hoover in South Dakota and Hoover returning the favor in the final of their home-state battle. The aforementioned Jokerst also made his presence known, winning in Wichita over Elvis Humphrey’s Vega and runner-upping behind fast-rising Gordie Bonin in Denver.

Pro Stock: 1973 world champ Wayne Gapp also avoided facing off with Glidden in Division 3 by choosing to run in Division 5 and drove the Gapp & Roush four-door “Taxi” Ford Maverick to wins in Minnesota, Kansas, and Colorado over Joe Satmary, Phil Nichols, and Kelly Chadwick. The only race that Gapp did not win was the season opener in Marion, where Dave Kanners drove his AMC to victory over Chadwick.


Schedule: Bremerton Raceway (Washington), Mission Raceway (Vancouver, B.C.), Edmonton International Speedway (Alberta), and Seattle International Raceway (Washington).

Top Fuel: “The Northwest Terror,” Herm Petersen, was that and more in winning the season’s first three events, en route to dethroning “the King,” Jerry Ruth, in a home-state final in Bremerton, Gaines Markley in Mission, and "Gentleman Hank” Johnson in Seattle, then was runner-up t Ruth in the finale in Seattle

Funny Car: World champ Frank Hall was Petersen-like in Jim Green’s Green Elephant Vega in Funny Car, winning the first three events — all over Mike Miller, who would take over the controls of the car later on that year when Hall left to drive for Ruth — while Gordie Bonin made his Canadian fans happy with the win in Mission ahead of Richard Rogers.

Pro Stock: As it was in Top Fuel and Funny Car, so it was in Pro Stock as Pete Kost also ran the table early with wins over Jerry King (Bremerton), Monty Mantovan (Edmonton), and Jack Mezzomo (Seattle), while Dave Wren stopped Montovan in the Mission final.


Schedule: Pomona Raceway (California), Sacramento Raceway (California), Irwindale Raceway (California), and Bonneville Raceway (Salt Lake City, Utah).

Top Fuel: On the strength of a win in Irwindale over Leland Kolb and runner-ups behind March Meet winner Carl Olson (Sacramento) and Dwight Hughes (Pomona), perennial West Coast powerhouse James Warren and the “Ridge Route Terrors” were the terror of Division 7 Top Fuel in 1974. Utah’s own Jack Harris won the Bonneville meet in his Nitro Thunder machine, defeating hometown hero Dan Richins’ Donovan-powred Iron Horse in the final.

Funny Car: “The Orange Baron," Gary Burgin, eked out the Funny Car title after a close battle with Dave Condit and the Condit Bros. L.A. Hooker. Burgin, at the wheel of Jim Glenn’s Shady Glenn Charger, was runner-up to Condit in Pomona then turned the tables at the next event, in Sacramento. Burgin was runner-up in Irwindale to Pat Foster, who had moved on from the Barry Foster Vega and into the Vega of Lil John Lombardo, and Twig Zeigler pulled in the dough with the Pizza Haven Satellite in Bonneville after besting Gary Densham in the final.

Pro Stock: As it was in Funny Car, two of Californian’s best, Sonny Bryant and Bill Bagshaw, went at it hammer and tong in Pro Stock. Bryant and his big-block Camaro beat Don Lorentzen in Pomona but was defeated by Bagshaw’s popular Red Light Bandit Mopar in Sacramento. Bagshaw then rolled to the win in Irwindale, stopping Lee Hunter’s Pinto in the final, but Bryant pulled out the title with a runner-up finish behind Kevin Rotty in Bonneville.

So, there you have it, race fans. It’s so great to pull some of those great old names out of the history book and give them another splash of glory. I’m sure that many of those listed worked their way into your hearts as your local heroes, sometimes far from the national event stage.

Phil Burgess can be reached at pburgess@nhra.com

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