As I mentioned at the end of last week, I'll be heading to Indy Thursday for my annual renewal of vows with the sport's greatest race. I certainly don’t have to tell any of you just how amazing and special the event is to historians of the sport like us, but its arrival on my travel itinerary this week is truly appropriate timing for today's topic.
Though I haven’t closed the door on the ramp-truck thread, the cargo on that one seems all but loaded, and all that remains is for it to be strapped down to the bed with a few final thoughts, so it's a good time to foist upon you a heavy load of a different kind.
Everyone knows that some of the sport's greatest moments have taken place at the Nationals over its 56-year run – and, as Todd Veney pointed out to me yesterday, this year's race is the 50th to actually take place at Indy – and who knows exactly what bit of history this year's event might produce. I noted in last week's National DRAGSTER that Top Alcohol Funny Car wunderkind Frank Manzo has the chance to win his 10th U.S. Nationals crown and become the event's all-time winningest driver (breaking his tie with Bob Glidden) and that Tony Schumacher has the opportunity to win his ninth in Top Fuel, which would break his tie with Don Garlits as the race's winningest Top Fuel driver, but who knows what else might happen that someday will be high in the sport's great lore.
And thus comes the crux of today's column: What is the single greatest moment in NHRA history?
I ask not solely for discussion purposes here but as part of an assignment I have for NHRA's gala 60th Anniversary celebration next year. As part of the festivities, the National DRAGSTER staff has been given the unenviable (or enviable, depending on how you look at it) task of creating a top 60 list of the greatest moments in NHRA history. Having been a part of several similar lists (for both the U.S. Nationals and World Finals as well as this column's popular Favorite Race Car Ever poll of a few years ago), I well know that one's man's beer is another man's champagne and that tastes don’t always run down the same track.
In 2001, during NHRA's 50th Anniversary celebration, I created an expert panel of drag racing historians and journalists to determine the Top 50 Drivers of NHRA's first 50 years, and though some thought was given to expanding that list to 60, it became too problematic. For example, Schumacher was not on that list, and some could argue that today he belongs in the top 10 or 20. Ditto for Larry Dixon. Would we drop everyone below them down one or two spots? What if there were more than 10 additions? Would someone from the original list be bumped? It just didn’t feel right – maybe for the 75th anniversary we look at the list again -- so the project became greatest moments.
One thing I've learned from this whole top 10 business is that opinions are skewed by personal experience – you were there to see it or remember how it impacted your life – and by the context of the event that you place it in. A low e.t. pass may not be significant, for example, unless it wins you the championship, or a guy shaving his beard on the starting line may not mean squat unless you know why he was doing it.
Earlier this year, the DRAGSTER staff created several top 10 lists, among them one of most memorable moments, and though one might think that our work is partially complete because of that, I disagree. The top 10 we created (and the 10 honorable mentions) was the result of six staffers sitting for hours in a conference room debating the minutiae of these moments, and many of the votes were cast out of emotion as well as facts.
I'm not going to share that list here (oh, sure, you could go into your library and look it up) so as not to taint the atmosphere and to allow everyone to start with a clean mental sheet of paper. Additionally, our list was "most memorable" and this list is "greatest," so there's probably a dividing line there somewhere.
So, what makes a moment great? Is it because of the heroics of the principals? Is it the moment's longstanding impact on the sport? Is it a triumph of human spirit over impossible odds? Is it an iconic moment that even the most casual of racing fans will know?
Furthermore, this greatest-moments list is not limited to happenings on the racetrack. Where does the founding of NHRA come in? Or other occurrences in boardrooms or on the sponsorship front?
If I had those answers, I wouldn't be here asking the question of the greatest, most knowledgeable, and most plugged-in fans of our sport's history.
So here it is, Insider Nation: What is the greatest moment in the history of NHRA? E-mail me your thoughts – heck, create a top 60 list if you’re up to it – and have your opinion mean something.
What's the greatest moment in NHRA history?
I'll look forward to your input and may share some of it in future columns.
Another column, another collection of awesome ramp-truck shots sent by the Insider Nation. Anymore, I'm finding it cooler to ogle the cars on the backs of the trucks than I am the trucks themselves. As we are rediscovering/re-remembering, the use of ramp trucks was not confined just to the Funny Cars of our most prominent memories.
Like the wedge-dragster thread that we reference for its similar runaway nature – we went from talking specifically about the very few wedge Top Fuelers to a discussion and show-and-tell of all manner of streamlined vehicles – this thread long ago seems to have left the tracks (hence my Photoshopped sign) and devolved into something much broader.
I appreciate all of the mailings because the photos truly offer us a look back at that aspect of our sport. We're always so interested in what these cars looked like on the track – smoke billowing from the rear tires or the front wheels hiked on a ripping run – that we sometimes forget all the rest of what it took to get them there, and, again, it's not just the nitroburners. Some very creative thinking was going on back then about how to get the race car to the track not only in the most efficient way but sometimes in a battle of one-upsmanship.
Bill Baldwin sent me a half-dozen shots, some of which he took, from 1965 to 1969 at York Dragstrip and New York National Speedway. Here's Don and Roy Gay's amazing Infinity Firebird.
Anyway, as we head into the weekend and many of us are finishing off our to-do lists before heading to Indy next week, I'll leave you with another batch of reader-submitted ramp trucks that covers a variety of cars and classes. This may be the last batch because I'm beginning to see a bit of repetition in the ranks, and I'd hate to bore you to tears with that. Besides, I have a very interesting thread to begin next week that's sure to inspire debate among the masses.
In response to my query about Don Schumacher's Funny Car being loaded into an enclosed car carrier bearing Tommy Smith's name, James DeSalvo, who grew up next door to Schumacher, remembered The Don buying the hauler from Smith and going right out on tour with it before he got around to having the truck repainted. "It was an awesome sight at night to see the car loaded in the back of that truck all lit up by the spotlights," he remembered.
After running a shot Tuesday of the enclosed trailer carrying Dick Titsworth's Seaport Automotive flopper, I heard form his son, Jeff, who sent this link with a whole lot of photos of the truck in its many phases. "You can see that it went from short and standard to stretched with sleeper to enclosed as your picture shows," he wrote. Check it out.
I received an interesting note from Mike Hooks, who said that Mattel is going to make the Cha Cha Mustang Funny Car (featured in Tuesday's column) this year to add to its DragStrip Demons lineup as well as another go-round of "the Snake" and "Mongoose" wedge Top Fuelers. He said that there also have been a lot of rumors of ramp-truck sets coming later. How cool would that be???
Quite a few of you found significant humor in Leigh Buttera's tongue-in-cheek request for a wedge Top Fueler on a ramp truck. "Those two angles were meant to be together," agreed Trevor Caswell.
Well, try as I might – and as could probably be expected – I couldn’t find any reference to (and certainly no photos of) a wedge dragster strapped to a ramp truck, so I made my own. First off, do you know how hard it is to find a photo of a ramp truck that doesn’t have something on its back? Or a nice side shot of a wedge Top Fueler? So I ended up digitally removing the enclosed portion of a ramp truck and using the only side shot I could find – of Kenney Goodell's wedge – for this quick conceptual look of how one might have looked. To be fair, I didn't spend a lot of time in Photoshop to create this, and I certainly didn’t add whatever bracing would have been necessary for anyone to even think about this. But, nonetheless, here's what it might have looked like. Maybe someone actually did have one, but I doubt it.
Nostalgia-loving National DRAGSTER readers are in for a real treat with this week's upcoming issue, which focuses almost exclusively on the current nostalgia racing scene. It's packed with tons of photos of today's hottest "newstalgia" iron, with features on Adam Sorokin, Leah Pruett LeDuc, Mendy Fry, and the Paso Posse Top Fuel team; an interview with nostalgia tuning guru Roland Leong; a look at the fleet of tribute Funny Cars; a visit to Donnie Couch's West Coast Funny Car Factory; a look at the DRO Challenge Funny Car Series; a photo feature on the "Sportsman" stars of the NHRA Hot Rod Heritage Racing Series; and a great look at NHRA's role in the preservation of our sport's history, from the creation of the Historical Services department through the creation of the Wally Parks NHRA Motorsports Museum presented by Automobile Club of Southern California, the Hot Rod Reunions, and the Heritage Series, as told by the guy who was there for it all, Steve Gibbs. It's going to be a fun issue.
OK, I'll see you next week. I'll probably only have one column because I'll be traveling to Indy Thursday, and we have some really cool new ways to cover the event that will keep me busier than ever at the race. And with Indy being Indy and finishing Monday, we travel home Tuesday, so I'm not even sure when I’ll have a column that week, but I'll be working toward something, I promise.
Man, I love this photo by Al Kean. Here are Roland Leong and the Hawaiian gang heading out of Seattle, bound for who knows where and the next match race date.
You guys had a lot of spare time on your hands this weekend, right? I don't know how else to explain the avalanche of ramp-truck photos that appeared in my Inbox the last several days. Seems that a lot of you have either been scouring the Internet for old ramp-truck photos or digging out your personal shots, so I'd like to share some of the treasures.
I received so many that I can't begin to show them all efficiently in this space – Eric Widmer sent me about 100 alone -- so we'll use the photo gallery at right to help. Even though there are tons of shots in this gallery, they're really only a fraction of what I received and only those that didn’t have a copyright watermark or other credit. I've been given a fantastic amount of leeway by many of our sport's legendary lensmen to reprint their work here without prior permission, but I don’t want to turn that into a carte blanche rule.
Most of the photos in the gallery do not have obvious credit lines, and the ones that do, I have received permission to run.
These are in no particular order, and I've annotated them as best I can.
If you can't get enough of ramp trucks – even those not involved with drag racing – check out Vince Putt's Fotki page. He has about 100 other photos of all sorts of racing haulers.
And finally, I sometimes think that the Insider Nation is tuned into one another's wavelengths. Alan Collums wrote, remarking on Leigh Buttera’s joke about wedge dragsters on ramp trucks, saying that it reminded him of the late, great Comp racer John Lingenfelter, who used to haul his fast econo dragsters on a ramp truck.
"I don’t think I have any pictures of it but remember seeing it very well," he said. "John had built these long, skinny ramp extensions that bolted to the roof of the truck. The front tires of his dragster were right over his head when he was driving the truck. I live close to I-55 just north of Jackson, Miss., and remember seeing John coming down the interstate heading to Baton Rouge for the old Cajun Nationals. It was certainly an odd sight. So in response to Leigh’s joke, while John’s wasn’t a wedge car, it was truly hauled on a ramp truck."
And by pure coincidence, among the handful of images that Steve Reyes sent me this week to share is this great pic of Lingenfelter himself, lounging on the bed of said truck. You can’t see the ramp extensions that Collums mentioned, but you get the idea.
OK, that's all for the day. I'll see you later this week!
And the wheels on the ramp truck thread go 'round and 'round.
So here we are, columns later still talking about ramp trucks as this thing grows bigger and bigger tentacles, reminding many of the way that our wedge dragster thread spiraled out of control faster than you can say "Connie Kalitta at Indy."
Wiseacre Leigh Buttera, daughter of the late great "Lil John," cracked to me, "You know what I was just thinking? Wedge cars ON ramp trucks .... cool, eh? Just thinking." Now that's something I’d like to see.
Moving on …
"Brian checking it out."
Van Greer, son of late Funny Car champ Shirl Greer, picked up on a mention of his dad's truck here a few weeks ago and wanted to show off his and brother Brian's recent find, their dad's 1966 Dodge ramp truck.
"We found Dad's old truck that he had sold to a bracket racer friend of ours who quit racing 20 years ago," writes Van. "We found it only a mile away from home in the current state you see in the first two photos here. It was great to see it again and think of all the great times we had in it. We found a tag inside it that said over 650,000 miles and still going strong.
"I remember many times we had to pull over on a trip and change a valve or a piston, Dad always had spares to fix anything on the truck; we usually could change a piston and be back on the road in a couple of hours — we had match races to get to and didn't have [Tom] McEwen's budget to get towed in (LOL). It was sad seeing the shape it was in. We are thinking of trying to get it and restore it if he will let it go."
Dave Christie, who later worked with the Sox & Martin team, knows that the whole hauler was in at least one accident, and the floor damage mentioned last week may not have come in the fender bender that Tom McEwen's team had. "The Dodge Clinic truck got the floor damage in a highway accident that occurred going from the AHRA event in Phoenix in the last weekend in January 1969 to Pomona for the NHRA Winternationals. The truck left after the Phoenix race and in the early morning went off the road into the center median east of Indio, Calif. You could not see the top of the truck from the roadside, but it stayed on the wheels with heavy front-axle damage. The '69 Barracuda (AM/P) barely stayed on the truck, but the roll bar was denting the top. The '69 Road Runner (BM/P) came off the trailer and had heavy front-end damage. Wiley Cossey went out with his truck and trailer and helped them bring down the cars, which were both badly damaged. The truck was towed a few days later to a truck repair center in Los Angeles. That is where I first met [Sox & Martin crew chief] Jake King, and by December of that year I went to work there with him. The two race cars were somehow straightened, repaired, painted, decaled, and lettered before qualifying and inspection the next weekend. A new Road Runner was borrowed from Haeffner Chrysler-Plymouth as a donor, and I think the carcass was still parked out behind Hooker Headers the next time we came back to town."
And still more great ramp truck shots ...
Stan Zigmont found this picture of Paul Smith's glass-sided ramp truck, which artfully combines the two running threads here about ramp trucks and glass-sided trailers. "This was in my dad's box of old drag photos, and I think it was from 1975, probably Englishtown," he informs.
A few weeks ago, Todd Veney and some others had reminisced about his dad Ken's old black ramp truck, and Rona Veney sent me the only pic she had of the truck. Unfortunately, the pretty Veney's Vega is not on its back; fortunately, though, here's little Todd and sister Teri hunting for Easter Eggs around the truck April 2, 1972. Feel free to give Todd the business about this next time you see him. "The truck here is not completed," Rona notes. "Ken had red and yellow flames painted over the hood and coming back over the sides. Before we left for the 1974 Springnationals in Columbus, Ken had a 'convertible,' material with plastic (?) clear windows sewn in and zippers on the side."
Al Hanna's Eastern Raider Mustang II at Indy in 1976, by Allen Tracy.
Pro Stock racer Billy "the Kid" Stepp's Sox & Martin clone, contributed by Jamie Hyde.
Mr. Norm's Charger with the same "Boot Hill" motif as the Chi-Town Hustler, sent in by Al Booton.
Jim Millard sent in these two photos of two of Canada's major teams of the late 1960s and early 1970s. "Former Top Fuel pilot Scott Wilson (Time Machine SOHC Ford T/F) put the nitro away, and Ford of Canada gave him his own Performance Clinic in around 1969-70," he writes. "He had a Mustang Pro Stocker, plus I believe the other cars were all Stock and Super Stock classes. Lynda Pleva drove one of the cars for the team. Not a bad looking rig, eh? The other team was John Petrie's Chrysler Supercar Clinic, Canada's answer to Sox & Martin et al. John raced Mopars for years for Argyle Chrysler as the Canadian Highlander. His Pro Stock Duster made it to the late rounds at the Winternationals one year; broken porcelain on a spark plug cost him in the final. Who knows, he actually might have won! A couple of John's cars ended up with Beatty & Woods Racing and Mopar whiz Don Cloake."
Finally, a note from Mike Miller, who is Diane Sox's webmaster on the www.ronniesox.com
website and sent along this trio of photos of Sox & Martin haulers over the years.
Keep the good stuff rolling in, people!