Features

Posted by: Phil Burgess

Welcome to another installment of Fan Fotos, galleries of great memories hauled from shoeboxes and dusty photo albums to share with your pals here at the Insider. This is always a real treat for me as well, sorting through the various submissions for cool stuff that I've not seen or cars I haven’t seen in a while.

Tom Nagy is today's gallery guest, and he made it real tough on me by submitting 30 photos to choose from, almost all of them great memory stokers. I tried to whittle it down to the usual 10 but fell short by one, so I hope you'll accept my apology for presenting 11 <g>.

"All these photos were taken by me in the 1970s; all of the on-track shots were taken from the grandstands," he wrote. "I know I sent more than 10, but I thought you could decide which ones to use. I had a 35mm Canon that was purchased new in 1973 and was used for all my photos. I used a Vivitar 85-210mm zoom for the action shots and sometimes attached a 2x teleconverter when there was enough light. I shot 400 ASA print film almost exclusively, and the resulting negatives were stored in plastic sleeves. I bought a good Nikon negative/slide scanner a couple of years ago and have been scanning my 1970s images on and off since then; one of these days I'll finish.

"I'm from South Bend, Ind., and went to many Midwestern dragstrips throughout the '70s. Many times, I went to U.S. 131 Dragway on Saturday and U.S. 30 Drag Strip Sunday. It was sometimes possible to see nitro Funny Cars four times a week: Wednesday, Friday, and Sunday at U.S. 30 and Saturday night at U.S. 131. Boy, those were the days. I attended my first NHRA national event in 1970 when I talked my dad into taking me to Indy. I've been going to the Nationals (I have a hard time saying U.S. Nationals) ever since. I started going to the Popular Hot Rodding Championships at U.S. 131 in 1971 and attended my first NHRA Gatornationals and Springnationals in 1973, so, basically, I saw four national events a year throughout the decade. I'm so grateful to have seen so much drag racing history firsthand."

Because the Gatornationals kicks off in a few days, let's start with this shot of Nagy's showing Shirley Muldowney running against defending event champ Dave Settles and the vaunted Candies & Hughes dragster during qualifying at the 1975 event. This was Shirley's second year in the class, and a season in which she would reach her first final rounds, in Columbus (where she lost to Marvin Graham) and Indy (where she lost to Don Garlits). Shirley didn't qualify at this event, and Settles, surprisingly, only qualified on the bump (obviously not on this run!) and lost in round two to Graham.

 

Nagy sent me a lot of pit-area stuff, which I always think is really good. I was especially struck by this photo of then-world champ Dale Armstrong working on his world-championship AA/DA (that's a Top Alcohol Dragster for today's fans) in the pits at the 1976 Pop Hot Rod race. What I really like about it is seeing the transmission out on the ground, with "Double A Dale" hard at work and his longtime (and very young!) sidekick and protégé, Mike "Shadow" Guger assisting. Guger was with Armstrong pretty much everywhere he went, including the Bud King team. After a stint with the David Powers team, Guger is back with the Bernstein camp after following Rob Flynn there. Also note those Funny Car-style zoomies on the car. Interesting!

From that same event comes this interesting shot of Bill Jenkins' famed Grumpy's Toy Monza being unloaded from the trailer. What immediately grabbed my eye was "the Grump" chatting with "the Snake," Don Prudhomme (inset). Wonder what they were talking about?

Here's soon-to-be world champ Gary Beck and his scary-tough Export A Top Fueler at the 1974 Springnationals in Columbus, Ohio. I always get a kick out of seeing that big ol' Canadian flag on the cowl because many people still think he was from north of the border when he actually was born in Seattle. In fact, I'm looking at a copy of a 1974 Drag Racing USA on my desk with Beck on the cover and the blurb: "Canadian superhero Gary Beck: Invincible?" Invincible? Yes. Canadian? No. Export A was a Canadian cigarette and partner Ray Peets was Canadian, but Beck was not. Beck moved to Canada in 1969 when he married his first wife, Penny, who was Canadian.

Speaking of Columbus, here's a great old shot of one of Columbus' most famous drag racers, Jeg Coughlin Sr., at the wheel of his JEGS AA/DA at National Trail Raceway in 1975. "The Captain" not only sponsored cars for years – including Top Fuelers and Funny Cars before his son began racing Pro Stock – but also drove them. I don't think he ever drove a nitro flopper, but he did compete in Top Fuel as well as in Top Alcohol Funny Car. He's one of the sport's truly good guys and obviously did a great job raising his successful sons.

There was a time when green cars – like peanuts in the pits – were considered bad mojo, but someone forgot to tell Gordie Bonin that. I always loved this car – and it made me drink an awful lot of Bubble Up soda during my high school days – and "240," with whom I worked at NHRA for many years, remains a good friend. The scene is Indy 1976; note the lack of guardwall in front of the photographers in the famous triangle. Man, that unobstructed view made for some nice shots in the day.

Here's another shot from Indy, this time in the pits in 1973, showing a couple of the lesser-known lights of the day, Ronnie Martin, foreground, and Chuck Kurzawa. Martin drove Robert Anderson's Metarie, La.-based dragster for three seasons but also had driven great cars for guys like Leonard Abbott, Sid Waterman, Gene Mooneyham, Prentiss Cunningham, and Chuck Tanko. The win the world championship in 1970 by winning the World Finals. Detroit-based Kurzawa's career spanned three decades of on-again, off-again competition in Top Fuel, including a stint with the famed Ramchargers team in the late 1960s. According to Bill Holland, that's car owner Bob Farmer (of Bob's Drag Chutes fame) tending to the Kurzawa car in the background.

I never got a chance to meet him, but John Austin is one of the true legendary characters of the 1970s. Nicknamed "Tarzan" for reasons that would be obvious to anyone who spent an evening with him, the former Tommy Ivo crewmember also made good behind the wheel, especially in this car, the Greg Scheigert-owned Hot Tuna dragster, shown in the pits at U.S. 131 during the 1973 Pop Hot Rod meet. It was Austin, in this car, who was in other lane when "T.V. Tommy" went upside down in Pomona in 1974. Love not just those wheel pants but the psychedelic 1970s paint scheme.

Before he became a Top Fuel hero and even before he became a national-event-winning Top Alcohol Dragster racer, Joe Amato wheeled this car, the Gabriel Hijacker Monza. Gabriel Hijackers were popular shock absorbers back in the day that could be aired up to raise a car's rake for either performance or looks. This is Indy 1976. I'm sure glad that Amato got out of Top Alcohol Funny Car because, for a while, there was another Joe Amato in the same class, "Wiskey Joe" Amato out of Chicago, and it got to be kinda confusing during our race reporting. "Wiskey Joe" (not sure why he spelled it that way) died in the early 1980s, in a traffic accident as I recall.

We just lost Lou Sattelmaier earlier this year. A lot of modern-day fans knew him from his line of Sonic Thunder jet Funny Cars, but before that, folks knew him for this great car, a 1932 3-window Model B that he ran in the gas classes throughout the 1970s. The scene is the 1974 U.S. Nationals.

After he gave up driving in Top Fuel, White Bear Lake, Minn.'s Bill Schifsky gave a lot of drivers a chance to drive his Funny Cars throughout the years, including this entry, the Beartown Shaker, which was wheeled by future luminaries such as Mike Dunn and Rick Johnson, pictured, in 1979, as well as Topper Kramer and Glenn Mikres. Doc Halladay once also was Schifksy's partner (on the Cox Pinto, which was made into a great nitro-powered scale dragster toy); Schifksy's son, Chuck, also went on to great things. He was part of a power trio of young wrenches — along with future tuning star Mike Green – working under Lee Beard on Gary Orsmby's championship-winning Castrol GTX Top Fueler and later went into the journalism field (in which he rose to the lofty position of executive editor at highly regarded Motor Trend) and today is a regional director of public relations for American Honda.

OK, that's it for this edition of Fan Fotos. I'll be back later this week after we finish the current issue and its very special subject matter. I hinted at it last week but couldn’t reveal it until all of the pieces were in place, but it's another special themed issue, like our recent Top 10 Lists installment, called Most Intriguing People. The staff looked around the NHRA landscape, and we picked eight subjects whose interests both in and out of drag racing make them very intriguing candidates. I'll reveal them later this week and a little insight into each. How many can you guess?
 

A salute to the March MeetFriday, March 05, 2010
Posted by: Phil Burgess

This weekend, the eyes of the drag racing world once again fall on Bakersfield, Calif., for the continuation of the rebirth of the fabled March Meet. This year, the event celebrates its 52nd birthday, and while we all realize it will never be the March Meet of old – almost no event could be – still the legend lives on. And what a legend.

Conceived in 1959 by the Smokers Car Club of Bakersfield as sort of an East vs. West challenge, the March Meet became much more than that, and, to many, having a March Meet win (aka U.S. Fuel and Gas Championships) on the ol' driving résumé meant as much as winning any race shy of perhaps the U.S. Nationals. The race was that tough to win its heyday.

Here's a quick year-by-year recap of the event in its original incarnation, from 1959 until 1988. In 1994, it became a nostalgia racing event and continues to enjoy success to this day, but in the beginning, it was one of the ultimate tests of its day.

1959: Art Chrisman won the inaugural March Meet.

1959: Everyone remembers that inaugural event, if for no other reason than it prompted Don Garlits (who was not yet "Big Daddy") to make his first trip west, thanks to a generous payment by the Smokers. Garlits wouldn’t win that first time – heck, he wouldn’t win in his first six trips west – and the West Coast fans got to see two of their own battle it out. Art Chrisman drove around a holeshot by Bakersfield’s Tony Waters to claim the win in Top Eliminator. "T.V. Tommy" Ivo scored the gas dragster honors.

1960: Ted Cyr, just a year and a half removed from winning the Nationals, scored another big win when he defeated Neil Leffler. A couple of Florida heroes, Art Malone and Garlits, set the performance marks, with Malone grabbing low e.t. at 8.60 and Garlits top speed at 185.56. Ivo and his young protégé, Don Prudhomme, swept the gas dragster honors, winning the Open and B Open titles, respectively.

1961: Lefty Mudersbach drove Chet Herbert 's dragsterto a pretty big surprise win by driving his unblown twin Chevy dragster to Top Eliminator honors against the equally surprising B/Fuel Dragster of Jack Ewell.

1962: Prudhomme dominated the event, setting low e.t. and top speed (8.21, 185.36) en route to victory and claiming the win on Glen Leasher's final-round red-light.


Gordon Collett won Top Gas back to back ('63-64).

1963: Malone made good on the promise he'd shown at earlier March Meets by nabbing his first win there. Like Prudhomme the year before, this one was decided on the starting line, but this time on a holeshot as Malone capped Tom McEwen, 8.33 to 8.31. Gordon "Collecting" Collett won the Top Gas title.

1964: Garlits came close to grabbing his first Bakersfield win but was turned away by wily Connie Kalitta in the final, 7.95 to 8.23. Top Gas again was "collected" by Collett.

1965: "Big Daddy" finally struck California gold, beating good friend "Starvin' Marvin" Schwartz in the final with a blast of 8.10 at 205 mph.

1966: The surf was up as Mike Sorokin scored the biggest win of his career, beating hometown favorite James Warren in the final. Sorokin and the Surfers team set low e.t. at 7.34 en route to waxing an all-star field. Phil Hobbs won Top Gas, and the newly initiated Funny Car class was won by Gas Ronda.

1967: Mike Snively, hot off of 1966 wins at the Winternationals and U.S. Nationals, kept Roland Leong's Hawaiian in the spotlight by beating Dave Beebe for the March Meet crown. Jack Chrisman won Funny Car, and the popular Freight Train, with Goob Tuller driving, won Top Gas.

1968: The Frantic Four became the celebrated ones as Ron Rivero, hot off a semifinal win against Winternationals champ Warren, made a solo in the final after the late Leroy Goldstein couldn't get his mount to fire. Fred Goeske won Funny Car .

1969: A whopping 125 Top Fuelers were at the decade's final event, an upset-filled race that Jim Dunn won by defeating Dave Babler. Danny Ongais wheeled Mickey Thompson’s Funny Car to victory against “Big John” Mazmanian.

1970: "The Loner," Tony Nancy, went his Winternationals runner-up one better with his first major win, but the bigger news may have been former event Top Fuel winner Snively, who reached the Funny Car final and nearly became the first driver to win the event in both classes but smoked the tires against Hank Clark's AMC Rebel. Pro Stock was added to the event, and the inaugural title went to cigar-chomping "Dandy Dick" Landy, who beat the "Red-Light Bandit," Bill Bagshaw, in the final.

1971: Don Garlits, driving his new rear-engine car, won his second March Meet.

1971: As he did at the Winternationals, Garlits reached the winner's circle with his new rear-engine dragster, defeating the conventional California Charger slingshot of Rick Ramsey. Garlits got it done on a holeshot, 6.71 to 6.64. Dunn accomplished what Snively could not the year before, becoming the first to win in both fuel classes when he beat Dave Condit to win the Funny Car title.

1972: McEwen scored his first major victory when he beat Winternationals champ Carl Olson in the final with a track record 6.35. In what was a remarkable run, Dunn again reached a March Meet final (his third in four years) but conceded the Funny Car title to Ed McCulloch after his mount lost fire. "The California Flash," Butch Leal, beat Bob Lambeck for the Pro Stock title.

1973: Dwight Salisbury joined the list of long-deserving Top Fuel winners to finally strike paydirt. After beating Garlits on a holeshot earlier in eliminations, "Sals" beat Randy Allison for the win. Tom Hoover ended McCulloch's bid for a double in the Funny Car final, and Lambeck was relegated to runner-up in Pro Stock for the second straight year, this time at the hands of Larry Huff.

1974: Olson made good on his second trip to the final. After qualifying No. 1 with a 6.04, the driver of the Kuhl & Olson digger made the track's first five-second pass, a 5.94 in round two, then denied Nancy a second Bakersfield win in the final. McCulloch reached his third Funny Car final and again collected the win, this time on a solo when Twig Zeigler could not back up his Pizza Haven machine after his burnout.

1975: As hard as it is to believe, it took until 1975 for Warren and Roger Coburn to win their hometown's biggest event, but the Ridge Route Terrors did it in terrorizing fashion with a blitz of five-second passes, including a 5.92 to qualify No. 1 and low e.t. of 5.87 in the semi's. Warren capped the win with a 5.91 defeat of Jeb Allen. Dale Pulde defeated Prudhomme in the Funny Car final.

1976: More Top Fuel terror as Warren-Coburn and the Rain for Rent team again rained on the parade of the other Top Fuelers, and Warren became the first Top Fuel driver to win back-to-back Bakersfield titles. Hard-luck Nancy again was the runner-up, this time shut off on the line with a fuel leak. Funny Car also was decided on a bye run after Gordie Bonin lost fire, allowing popular “Jungle Jim” Liberman an easy pass to victory.

1977: After qualifying No. 1 with a track record 5.79 and bettering it with a 5.75 in round two, Warren won for the third straight year, beating Garlits in the final. Eddie Pauling won Funny Car.

1978: Dennis Baca, near lane, defeated Graham Light.

1978: Future NHRA Senior Vice President Graham Light reached the Top Fuel final (run in April after rain postponed the event) but lost to Dennis Baca. Baca lost the blower belt on his pass, but Light had already smoked the tires. Denny Savage won Funny Car.

1979: In what to many marked the beginning of the traditional great race's demise, the Top Fuel field was reduced to just 16 cars. Furthering the anxiety of the Bakersfield faithful, Warren couldn’t even qualify for that field. Garlits, coming off his own shocking DNQ at the Winternationals, qualified No. 1 and won only his second Bakersfield Top Fuel title and, ironically, did it by beating the same guy, Ramsey, as he did eight years earlier. Simon Menzies won Funny Car.

1980: Kalitta finally added his name to the list of double March Meet winners and did it by beating archrival Shirley Muldowney in the semifinals and tire-smoking (again) Light in the final. Dunn scored again in Funny Car when Prudhomme smoked the tires in the final.

1981: Muldowney added her name to the Who's Who to win the race when she defeated hometown favorite Doug Kerhulas in the final. Pulde scored his second Funny Car win, beating Dale Armstrong's Speed Racer in the final.

1982: Muldowney reached the final the following year as well only to be upset by upstart Lucille Lee in what was the first all-female Top Fuel final. Lee also won the Southern Nationals that month, but Muldowney got her revenge by defeating Lee in the final of the Springnationals. Tom Ridings beat the late Tripp Shumake in the Funny Car final.

1983: Another shocking winner was crowned in former sand drag racer Danny Dannell, who denied Muldowney in her third straight final-round appearance at the event. Mike Dunn joined father Jim as a March Meet Funny Car champ after taking out Henry Harrison in the final.

1984: Gary Beck and crew chief Bernie Fedderly won their first of two straight.

1984: Reigning world champ Gary Beck won Top Fuel, capping a dominating performance by beating team boss Larry Minor and his matching Miller Lite car in the final, 5.49 to 5.67. Three years before he'd win his first NHRA national event title, John Force upset McEwen in the Funny Car final.

1985: Beck returned to the winner's circle the following year, this time by besting long shot Shannon Stuart in the Stuart & Harmon dragster. Rick Johnson, who had powered Leong's Hawaiian Punch Dodge to a stunning 5.58 at the Winternationals, kept the magic alive by winning Funny Car against Gary Densham. Pro Stock returned to the event, and Ken Dondero beat Jerry Eckman in the final.

1986: With the Top fuel field pared to just eight cars, Garlits won again but did it in dramatic fashion with a 5.37 – then the quickest run in history – with his famous Swamp Rat XXX streamliner. Although his final-round opponent, former NFL quarterback Dan Pastorini, was a surprise, Pastrorini, like Lee, also would win the Southern Nationals that year. Force scored his second March meet win, defeating "Jam-Air John" Martin.

1987: With the world rapidly losing interest in the event, Garlits scored his fifth March Meet win on former starter Larry Sutton's red-light, and Force defeated McCulloch in the Funny Car final.

1988: The final March Meet of the original era went into the books with yet another former sand drag racer, Butch Blair, winning in his Blair's Fugowie dragster against journeyman Robert Reehl. Martin made good in his second straight Funny Car final and took a bye run to the winner's circle after Pulde was unable to return after hurting his car in the semifinals.

That's it, a capsule look back at what was, for decades, a great race. The race continues to this day under its nostalgia format, which for many is wonderful and a bit of a throwback to the old days, and with the NHRA Hot Rod Heritage Racing Series as its main booster, the event should continue to thrive.
 

Posted by: Phil Burgess

Seeing Team USA take the four-man bobsled gold has to be my favorite post-Miracle on Ice Olympics moment.

... Potbellied USA-1 driver Steve Holcomb, far right, may be the best everyman driver since John Force.

... They even kinda dance alike.

... OK, 'fess up. When you read that Holcomb's USA-1 sled was nicknamed Night Train, how many of you instantly thought about the Freight Train? Or Bruce Larson?

... After covering the Geoff Bodine Bobsled Challenge in Lake Placid in January, I somehow feel like I'm a tiny part of this gold medal. Hey, how many bobsled rides have you taken?

... Did you see Geoff Bodine getting giant and well-deserved hugs from the USA-1 team? Go motorsports!

... Great headline Sunday in the L.A. Times: "Giant Sleighers."

... That 62-year gold-medal drought makes Force's recent woes look like chopped liver.

... Does anyone really eat chopped liver?

... Jeg Coughlin Jr., fiancée Samantha Kenny, and a few friends were in Vancouver as guests of the USA bobsled team to cheer on the sledders and filed this story about the combined joy of all of the drag racers who have taken part in the Challenge during the years.

... Jeg and Samantha took in the ice-dancing event (she made him go; she's a lifelong ice skater) plus the men's giant slalom, the women's two-man bobsled, and the women's bronze-medal ice-hockey game.

... The bobsled win almost made up for the USA men's hockey team's tough gold-medal loss to Canada. My guess is that KBR's Canadian crew chief, Rob Flynn, is still doing cartwheels.

... Ditto for one of my all-time favorite racing people, transplanted Canuck Dale Armstrong. Congrats to "Double A" for his upcoming induction into the Motorsports Hall of Fame of America.

... The double elimination of the weekend's Phoenix activities sure threw a monkey wrench into the plans for this week's issue of National DRAGSTER.

... Does anyone still use monkey wrenches?

... Can you believe that planning is about to get under way for NHRA's 60th anniversary celebration?

... The fabled March Meet turns 52 this weekend.

... By show of hands, who's going? Wow, that's a lot.

... Blake Bowser, vice president and general manager of the Kern County Racing Association, operator of Auto Club Famoso Raceway and producer of the fabled March Meet: “Bakersfield is Buck Owens, Merle Haggard, and the March Meet.”

... Not necessarily in that order.

... How is it possible that I turn 50 in two and a half months? Cripes.

... Texas Motorplex is celebrating its 25th anniversary this year. Cool logo. Congrats to NHRA alum Gabrielle Stevenson for being named the new GM there.

... That first national event at Texas Motorplex (1986) was named to ND's Top 10 list of greatest national events ever.

... It was No. 3, behind the amazing 1975 World Finals and 1982 U.S. Nationals. That's some good company.

... I'm going to miss going to Gainesville this year, especially seeing Kalitta Racing's Darrell Gwynn tribute car.

... I remember that 1990 event as if it were yesterday. Remember that whole star-crossed year for that matter. It's the subject of my Pure Nostalgia column this week in ND.

... Connie Kalitta raced Gwynn six times; Gwynn won five times, including his first Top Fuel victory at the 1986 Winternationals.

... I had to choose between Gainesville and the Four-Wide Nationals in Charlotte, and no way was I gonna miss that spectacle. I'm still a little 50-50 on the whole concept, but at least I can say I was there.

... Not having Gainesville on my travel schedule this year caused me to miss out on the honor of inducting the late Dickie Harrell, Leroy Goldstein, Jack Engle, and John Buttera into Don Garlits' International Drag Racing Hall of Fame. By the time "Big" honored me by asking for my help, it was too late.

... Congrats to NHRA historian Greg Sharp for his induction this year with the special Founder's Award.

... Making his National DRAGSTER debut this week is new columnist Alan Reinhart. He starts out by picking a fight with the ND staff for not including Phoenix 1992 in our greatest races list. What a "homer."

... We also have the return of "the Brash One," former ND writer Todd Veney, right, with the first entry in a new column that will chronicle his season behind the wheel of Jay Blake's Follow A Dream Top Alcohol Funny Car.

... Who is Tim Wiley, and why does he want me to join the "Balding heads of Facebook" group? ("A place where we all can show those sliding hairlines, bald spots, or where it all used to be.")

... Mafia Wars has to be the most popular Facebook mini game. Among those trading Untraceable Cellphones, Tommy Guns, and Bangkok baht are current and past nitro drivers, crew chiefs, publicists, NHRA staffers, and tons of others,

... Don’t knock it 'til you've tried it.

... It's amazing the amount of people – including racers -- who use Facebook to contact me instead of regular ol' e-mail.

... ND's own Brad Littlefield very well may be the funniest guy on Facebook. Friend him and see for yourself.

... Did you see the news item this weekend about B.R.A.K.E.S. teen-driving classes in Pomona this year? I need to send both of my crashtacular daughters. The boy would go just to play on the skid pad.

...  Yeah, OK -- me, too.

OK, enough playing around here for the day. Time to finish this week's issue and get started on an exciting project for next week's issue, details of which I will reveal later this week.
 

Your heroes, Part 2Friday, February 26, 2010
Posted by: Phil Burgess

Great American humorist Will Rogers once wrote, "We can't all be heroes because somebody has to sit on the curb and clap as they go by." That would be me, clapping on the curb to a parade of drag racing stars, past and present, and, from all accounts, you guys, too. A few months ago, I began talking about my drag racing heroes and asked you guys who your heroes were, and the response was pretty overwhelming -- so big, in fact, that I had to cut it into two parts to publish here. You can read the first installment here, and the second begins below. As with the first, your selections were diverse. Some from our great galaxy I certainly expected, and many, whose orbits are lower in the drag racing universe than those of the superstars, were pleasant surprises. Thanks for your contributions and your acknowledgments of heroes.

Here goes ...

"At my first drag race, my grandpa and I were watching all these (what I thought were) street cars going down the track, and this little kid thought, 'OK, cool,' until this one car came out to make an exhibition run. Grandpa said, 'Watch this!' It was Ron Leslie in the 777 Comet. We watched that car fire up, and it was louder, and the smoky burnout was longer, and he launched that car, and I remember the sounds and smell to this day. I was hooked. The rest of that story is that my grandpa knew Ron's dad, Roy Leslie, and his partner Bill Kenz. Yep, my grandpa knew the team that had the first Funny Car in Colorado, the Kenz & Leslies 777. Here's a terrible picture taken with an Instamatic camera, but this picture is priceless to me.
 
"So time went by, and when I was in junior high, there was a story in the Rocky Mountain News that my grandpa had for me. It was of a drag racer and his chief mechanic, and Grandpa said, 'Do you know the chief mechanic on this car?' And indeed I did: It was my math teacher, and he was a mechanic on a Funny Car. 

"Art Ward was the driver of this car, and between my math teacher, George Willett, and another dear teacher of mine back then (Tawney), they took me under their wings and helped me in every way they could. Part of that was introducing me to Art Ward, and saying that we were all pals from that moment on is an understatement. They all knew that I grew up without a father, and by this time (due to health), Grandpa just couldn't get me to the races anymore, so my mom would even take me (thanks, Mom), as did some dear old friends of mine, Mickey G. and Pat J.

So that's kind of where Art and crew (which also included on his Top Fueler Bob Yetter, who went on to be a part owner of a successful Super Comp car before he was taken away from us due to cancer) would step in and just let me hang out with them. Art liked me for some reason (even when I was a kid), and I looked up to him and his crew (my former teachers) to no end.
 
"Art is no longer with us, but I'm thankful to say that he knew what he meant to me, and me to him. To say that is priceless to me is way understated. He was my pal.
 
"Through Art Ward and my friends on his crew, this kid had the privilege to meet countless drivers and owners who I admired and still do, people like Roger Guzman, John Dekker, my friend Robbie Williams, Junior Kaiser, Johnny Abbott, Doug Kerhulas, Dan Pastorini, Jody Smart, Gene Snow, Sush Matsubara, Tripp Shumake, and even back in the day, that's how I first met the guy I call 'Forceman.' I'll never forget what you did for me, Art Ward, George Willett, and Bobby Yetter." -- Keith Dochterman


 

"Don Garlits. Yes, 'the King,' just like Arnold Palmer in golf. There are now drivers with more wins, but, like Arnie, Don Garlits defined the sport early with personality, performance, and technical innovation. Garlits was the first successful and aggressive touring pro and thrilled fans at tracks across the country. No doubt his personal disaster and the creation of the rear-engined dragster has saved many other disasters. He should receive some type of major honor from NHRA and motorsports while we still have him.
 
"Don Prudhomme: Another icon of the sport from the formative days when the personalities were clearly developing and marketing was at a high point. 'The Snake' and 'Mongoose' rivalry stirred up people who were not even into drag racing. The Hot Wheels craze put toy Funny Cars into the hands of young kids. 'The Snake' was successful in both Pro nitro categories and continued as a prototype of the corporate team owner. We're really going to miss him on the circuit.

"Ronnie Sox: One of my personal heroes from Cecil County days, and if not the best four-speed shifter ever, then tell me who was better! The famous Sox & Martin Mopars were pushed by Chrysler and marketed from 'shaker hoods' to the paint jobs on Hemi 'Cudas and Road Runners. Also one hell of a guy who would sign autographs for young and old alike.

"Bill Jenkins: Ah, 'the Grump,' another character that I spent some time around at Cecil, especially in his secret test sessions. His name has been synonymous with Chevy horsepower, and many Stock and Super Stockers with national wins sported the famous Jenkins Performance logo. The trademark cigar and snappy personality only added to his persona. And the old bugger is still at it!

"Tony Schumacher: You kidding me?! He's a modern hero, and if there is anyone who defines success, ultracool, and positive thinking, it's Tony. Obviously well-financed, but 2009 proved that he was up to the real test of nurturing a new team to greatness. Not always the quickest off the line, but when it really counts, he's there. And may I add what a great ambassador of the sport and his sponsor, the U.S, Army.

"Kenny Bernstein: Like 'the Snake,' Kenny Bernstein is a veteran of the sport from the real formative days and was another rare success story from both Pro nitro classes. Naturally, he'll be remembered for breaking the 300-mph barrier, but he also was the model for nurturing a world-class sponsor, Budweiser, for 30 years. Kenny got it on how to make a relationship like that work, and no doubt he'd still have the king of beers on board if not for their unfortunate acquisition.

"John Force: Geez, where do I begin! All the stats show he's the king of Funny Car racing, but, like Bernstein, is the new corporate king of sponsorship in drag racing, maybe all of racing. And when God passed out personality, John got a triple dose plus. He is known outside of our sport, which is a rare feat, and probably gets more airtime on NHRA TV broadcasts than any five other drivers combined! But John Force is also nurturing the future of the sport with his daughters, relatives, and trusted friends. Obviously, it benefits John Force Racing, but it also helps the future of NHRA racing.

"Bob Glidden: Here's a guy I watched a lot, and if there is ever a driver who was more modest and flew under the radar more than Glidden, well, I don't know who it is. With his record wins and domination of Pro Stock for so many years, he is probably the first of the superstar Pro Stock teams. And he did it with a manufacturer that had not been a powerhouse until he adopted them. Ford owes him a lot for keeping their brand in the fan's eye in NHRA when everyone else was a GM or Mopar fan.
 
"Jim Liberman: Maybe a surprise to you or others, but I have a special place in my heart for 'Jungle.' He was a regular at Cecil for a long time but then went national in a big way. He was the first (and only?) to ever 'franchise' a name brand in NHRA. He had other Funny Cars and a dragster and a Pro Stocker with 'Jungle Jim' branding. The inventor of the 1,000-foot burnout, and what a showman. The first real Funny Car star and a prototype of the marketing that was needed to be successful." -- Ken Campbell

"In an era where you can literally build a car from the ground up by simply using your cell phone, credit card, and a catalog, it’s no wonder my heroes are the guys and gals from yesteryear. No matter what motorsports discipline you subscribe to, the guys and gals that did it mostly out of their own pocket, they didn’t have engineering backgrounds, computers, and wind tunnels, or even some old geezers to draw knowledge from -- they were the ones that had to figure it out for themselves. In my opinion, they are the true heroes because they paved the way for the rest of us.

"The challenge has always been the same for everybody: Go from point A to point B as fast as you can as well as faster than the rest of the guys or gals. What made motorsports so interesting back in the day was the different trains of thoughts that came about to complete the same challenge. Innovation was the key. If some guy sitting in his garage looking at his car thinking about how to make it go faster comes up with an idea, then tries it on his car and it works great, he has an advantage over the competition. If it didn’t work, well, they called that the school of hard knocks.

"Obviously, motorsports is not the same anymore. Multimillion-dollar sponsorship deals, the high-paid wheelmen in multicar teams, and the sanctioning bodies trying to control everybody and everything, and then you throw in the cookie-cutter cars -- what a shame. If there is one thing I am grateful for it would be the Sportsman classes in drag racing. What a variety of cars, ideas, and theories all to do the same thing: to go one-quarter-mile as fast as you can and beat the other guy! You just won’t see that anywhere else, eh?

"My heroes of today’s era are all the Sportsman racers who spend their own dime and time to do what they love to do. There’s no big ol' honk’n trophy! There’s no big ol' honk’n check! There’s no ESPN media time at the end of the day for these guys and gals, just the satisfaction that they got to do what they love to do one more time, and if they win, well that’s just icing on the cake. My hat goes off to you guys and gals! You are my biggest heroes!

"When I look back at the years gone by and think about the mainstream guys, there are only a few guys who stand out in my mind. Now granted, I was just a high school kid racing my Cortina at OCIR when these guys were making headlines, but these would be my heroes from yesteryear: Don 'Big Daddy' Garlits, Don 'the Snake' Prudhomme, 'Big Jim' Dunn, James Warren and Roger Coburn, and, of course, Anthony Joseph Foyt. Now I know there were a lot of others that may come to mind for you, but these were the guys that stood out the most in my mind.

"The reason is these guys built, modified, drove, and maintained their own cars. They didn’t have special cars built for different tracks, billion-dollar shops, huge transporters with hospitality centers, 10 or 20 crew guys to do all the work so the driver could mingle with the media and fans. Nope, they built one car and dragged it around the country on the back of a flatbed truck or an open trailer, usually behind the family’s station wagon, and ate bologna sandwiches for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. The fancy-pants guys might have had an enclosed trailer or truck. These guys did a lot of the driving, and, as far as crewmembers go, they sometimes had to recruit guys from the stands to help out just so they could do what they loved to do, and that was race. Most of the time, they only made enough money to get to the next racetrack. Again, I know there were a lot of guys doing that, but you have to admit, look what these guys have accomplished. Also, you got to love A.J. Foyt; when he gets out of his car in the middle of the Indy 500, gets a big screwdriver and a small sledgehammer and proceeds to beat on the gearbox linkage trying to free it up … now that’s my kind of guy!

"Guys like A.J. and 'Big Daddy' are household names; however, James Warren and Roger Coburn might not be household names, but I remember when 'the Ridge Route Terrors' came over the Grapevine to my home track at OCIR, they would kick everybody’s ass and take all the money home with them. If a picture is worth a thousand words, then there is a great black and white picture in the Wally Parks NHRA museum that shows James and Roger sitting in their one-car garage with the motor on a stand in the background that depicts just how it was back then. That picture says it all!

"Now every time I go to Fresno to visit my mom and sister and I’m traveling north on Highway 99 and I see that round, black and white sign that says, 'Rain for Rent' with the umbrella in the middle of it, I think for a moment how great racing was back then." -- Charlie Arford

"Don Prudhomme is my longtime drag racing hero since I was a kid with my own Hot Wheels Funny Cars. I built the model of the yellow Funny Car and dragster. I can recall watching the Snake Funny Car in the early '70s and then the backbreaking Army car of the later '70s. I have always idolized the man and studied his intensity. I can remember watching TV and seeing the horrible crash on Wide World of Sports the year at Indy when Jim Nicoll’s car split in half in front of a very young Don Prudhomme. I must admit I wanted to be him! In 2000, I had my kids at the drags in Atlanta, and we were standing in line for autographs from the popular drivers, and right next to the long line we were standing in was 'the Snake,' sitting in his T-shirt trailer with no lines and no waiting! I took a picture of my son and Don standing in the background. I was very upset after reading about his decision to leave the sport, but I feel fortunate to have enjoyed watching his success throughout the years. There are others I could include in my heroes list but none as special as Don 'the Snake' Prudhomme." -- Kris Miller

"Flash back to 1966, Great Lakes Dragaway, Union Grove, Wis. Three guys in their teens with their first race car (1955 Chevy, 327, four-speed) not knowing what they didn't know. Between rounds, we were watching Don Garlits service his Top Fuel car, which in those days consisted of changing the plugs and maybe changing the oil. But anyway, here we are watching and not speaking. The next thing we know, 'Big Daddy' turns around and asks us how things are going. And he carries on a conversation with us like he's known us forever. To have one of the greats in the sport treat us as equals was one of the high points of my life. 'Big Daddy' will always be a hero in my eyes." -- Charlie Brock

"My two biggest heroes are Tom 'the Mongoo$e' McEwen and Jim Fox (Frantic Four AA/FD, Frantic Ford AA/FC). McEwen for his sharp wit, great-looking cars, his promotion of the sport of drag racing, and his ability to attract sponsors and legions of fans from around the world for many, many years. The world of professional drag racing should consider itself very fortunate that McEwen showed up and stuck around our sport. A very colorful character that has no equal. 'Snake' may have beat him in overall on-track performance over the years during the Hot Wheels era, but 'the Mongoo$e' more than made up for it by just being himself. The sport needs more Tom McEwens. Long live 'the 'Goose!'
 
"Jim Fox is a Hall of Fame mechanic/tuning ace/car owner. Jim never received the credit due him for his long list of accomplishments in the sport of drag racing until 2007 when he was inducted into the Drag Racing Hall of Fame. Jim dedicated many, many years of his life to the sport he loved. His ability to tune a car by ear was astounding. His on-track performance record speaks for itself and will live on in the drag racing history books. A genuine down-to-earth, honest, hardworking guy who deserves mention." -- Bobby Frey

"Bob Glidden drove, was crew chief, engine builder, team marketer, truck driver, built his own engines, and was great to his fans. One time, he couldn’t sign an autograph for a little boy, and he said, 'Come by later, and he will sign him something.' It was my younger brother, and he let him sit in his car, gave him a spark plug from the motor, and signed a poster for him! He always respected his racing rivalries even when they didn’t respect him. I was in Milan, Mich., the day IHRA wanted him to tear down his motor in the pits. Bob said, 'OK, we will do it in the trailer,' and the tech guy said, 'No, out in the open.' Bob just said, 'Well, I guess I will see you later.' He was tough on and off the track and had a lot of class. No disrespect to the nitro racers, but Bob Glidden is and will be the greatest drag racer ever. If they had 23 races per year when he was in his heyday, who knows how many races he could have won! Truly a legend in any sport!" -- Michael Walker

"At the time of his accident, Darrell Gwynn was probably going to win the Top Fuel championship that year. His life was changed forever. He fought through his injuries and became a successful race team owner. But that was not his greatest accomplishment. He started a foundation to help other special-needs individuals. I'm chairman of the board of Project Stable, a nonprofit organization that uses horses and farm animals to help children overcome their disabilities, and Darrell presented a motorized wheelchair to one of our students at the Barrett-Jackson auction in Palm Beach in 2008. He also spent a lot of time with the child that day showing him how to use it and encouraging him to be mobile. I cannot explain the joy on his mother's face. That day also opened the door for someone in the crowd to assist the family for additional therapy to help this child. Darrell's help made a big difference in this child's life." -- Sheldon McCartney

"My admiration of Danny Ongais has several aspects. He is a fellow native Hawaiian, served his country in the Army as a paratrooper, and raced nearly everything with wheels. His picture should be in every dictionary that defines a racer. He raced the widest variety of vehicles and tracks that went straight, oval, road course, on asphalt, dirt, or salt. It is a very small universe of racers who have competed and with many successes in Formula One, Indianapolis 500, 24 Hours of Daytona and Le Mans, Bonneville, USAC, IMSA, SCCA, AHRA, NHRA, CRA, Grand-Am Series. He is associated with the greats of all motorsports: Parnelli Jones, Mickey Thompson, Roland Leong, Ickx, Daly, Piquet, Fittipaldi, Unser, and more. He is honored in NHRA's Top 50 drivers (No. 39), the Motorsports Hall of Fame, the International Drag Racing Hall of Fame, and the Hawaii Sports Hall of Fame.

"I grew up hearing about him racing motorcycles and watched him at the dragstrip in Hawaii. I followed the news as he raced on the mainland with Roland Leong (my other hero) and the Hawaiian dragster. For many years, his name would pop up in nearly every motorsports broadcast on TV. Although drag racing is top of my list, my interest expanded as Danny would be seen racing in the Indy 500, then IMSA, and Formula One. One of my favorites was in 1996 when, at the age of 54, he started the Indy 500 in 33rd as a substitute driver and finished 7th. For me, it was great to watch Danny Ongais from my home state of Hawaii, in the middle of the Pacific Ocean, make his mark all over the world as a real racer, an honorable human, and a champion with an honest to desire to win. He is my role model." -- Ken Alagan

"I grew up in SoCal and raced a lot at San Fernando, Irwindale, OCIR, Pomona, and, of course, Lions from about 1962 to 1974. I always enjoyed watching the Top Fuel cars when I was not racing my own car. Probably the one driver who stands out the most in my mind as someone who – to borrow a phrase from another profession – had the right stuff was Danny Ongais. He had a couple of nicknames – as did all of the drivers of that era – including 'the Silent Hawaiian' and 'On the Gas.' The latter of these nicknames earned because he NEVER lifted no matter how crossed up and sideways the car he was driving got. During the time he spent driving Mickey Thompson’s blue 1969 Mach 1 Funny Car, he was almost unbeatable! But the car I particularly liked the most was his Harbor Honda of Wilmington Top Fuel car. Not only was this a beautiful car, but it was equally FAST. Unfortunately at the 1966 Nationals, Danny red-lighted in the final round of Top Fuel to Mike Snively, who was driving Roland Leong’s Hawaiian.

"Around about 1968 or 1969, Danny expressed an interest in driving an Indianapolis car, which was probably one of the reasons he decided to drive Mickey Thompson’s Funny Car since Thompson was running Indy cars at that time. Danny Ongais was without a doubt the best drag race driver ever, be it a Top Fuel or Funny Car. And he was not too bad in the other types of racing he pursued." -- Bob Nielsen


 

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