Former Funny Car racer Russell Long with orphans in Haiti
"240 Gordie" Bonin and others tipped me off to a great story about former nitro Funny Car racer Russell Long, driver of, among other fine machines, the Chi-Town Hustler and several cars owned by "Jungle Jim" Liberman, who returned home to Southern California last night from Haiti, where he and nine fellow missionaries from Mission Viejo Christian Church had been helping children at an orphanage when last week's monster 7.0 earthquake struck the impoverished country.
"240" shot me Long's phone number, and earlier today I reached a happy-to-be-home Long.
"We arrived on Friday, the 8th, in Port-au-Prince and met the kids and worked with them for a few days, and the earthquake hit on Tuesday. It was late in the afternoon, and it seemed like the world was coming to an end. It shook forever. The house right next to the orphanage went right to the ground. Thank God the kids all made it out OK. I got my knee beat up a little bit and hurt one finger, but otherwise OK.
"We got them onto a soccer field, where we slept for three nights. There was a constant flow of people showing up badly injured, missing arms and legs … it was more than you could imagine. Some doctors finally arrived, and we helped as best we could to set up a makeshift hospital. It was complete and utter chaos. On Wednesday, some people were trying to incite a riot, and there were even rumors of a tsunami coming. By the end of that night, we were pretty worn out and out of food and water."
Long was interviewed by the Los Angeles CBS news crew.
Their friends were happy to have them home!
What was worse, the group had no way to tell their loved ones back home that they were OK until Thursday, when one was able to reach out through Facebook to spread the good news.
"By Friday, our church had hired a group called SOS International to evacuate us. Friday night, we went from the orphanage over to a safe house by the airport. At 5 in the morning, they snuck us to the airport, and up walks Geraldo Rivera to interview me!"
The group's anxiety continued as, two minutes before its twin-engine Beechcraft rescue plane was to arrive, the airport was shut down to accommodate the arrival of Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton. The group finally was able to board its plane and was flown to Santo Domingo in the Dominican Republic. After a quick meal and some medical care, the group was hustled onto a flight to San Juan, Puerto Rico. On Sunday, they flew first class on American Airlines nonstop from San Juan to Los Angeles, where they were greeted by news crews. You can see footage here.
The congregation met them at the church, where more news stations awaited, and a huge welcome-home party ensued.
Among those welcoming Long home was his former car owner, Don Schumacher. Long drove one of Shoe's Wonder Wagon Barracudas in 1973.
"The day before we left, I had called him to ask if it was OK to give his phone number to the church so that if we got into any trouble while we were down there he could send his jet to get us. He said he would, and he later told me that they had been looking into flying down there when we got hauled out. I told him later that while we were running that makeshift hospital, it was worse than running Indy every day for a month."
Long's racing career was short – just six years – but filled with highlights. When he earned his license in 1972 in the ex-Tom McEwen Arkansas Razorback Duster of Pat Brinegar, he was the youngest licensed nitro pilot at age 19. (Billy Meyer later licensed at age 17.)
"When that deal went away, I was out on the road with Leroy Goldstein, at the Holiday Inn in Racine [Wis.] because we were running at Union Grove [Great Lakes Dragaway], and Charlie Proite and his driver, Gary Bailey, got into a fight, and I asked if I could drive his car," said Long, now 57. "He said I could, even though I only had made five license runs, and I was able to borrow an old truck from Schumacher, and boom-boom-boom, I was a Funny Car racer. He got a sponsorship from Pabst Blue Ribbon and got rid of the 392 and put an elephant  in it."
After spitting the crank out of the Pabst car and crashing it, Long drove one of Schumacher's two Wonder Wagon 'Cudas, replacing Bobby Rowe, who had a falling-out. (A pre-Blue Max Raymond Beadle drove the other.) Long also drove McEwen's second English Leather Navy Duster, a couple of Liberman's Vegas, the Chi-Town Hustler, and Dennis Fowler's pretty Sundance. He also made odd laps every now and then in Top Fuelers, including the Frito Bandito of the late Pancho Rendon and the Pegasus.
Long had plans for a jet-car future with an ex-Tommy Ivo jet and even was in consideration for a sponsorship from Skoal that ended up going to Don Prudhomme. He retired from racing and ran his backhoe business.
"My career only lasted about an hour and a half, but it was a good one," he said.