Features

'Home movies' from OCIRTuesday, June 29, 2010
Posted by: Phil Burgess

With the exception maybe of Lions Drag Strip, no drag racing facility seems to be more canonized than one of my faves, good ol' Orange County Int’l Raceway. It seems that the love, admiration, and good memories of the SoCal raceplant just never fade. It has its own Facebook group and websites devoted to its history and the remembrances of those who raced and watched there.

Now comes an interesting find, forwarded to me by good pal Dale Smith of Coyote Composites (himself big in the nostalgia business as a builder of retro Funny Car bodies, most notably the iconic 1972 Plymouth Satellite), of a trove of videos from OCIR posted on YouTube by Dwight Guild that captures action there in the early 1980s, with everything from Funny Cars to Top Fuelers to wheelstanders to jet cars. Most of the newest batch of videos are from early 1981 and include a lot of my old favorites like Rodney Flournoy, Bob Pickett, Chuck Beal, Dale Van Gundy, and many, many more.

"I shot many, many hours of 'home movie'-style drag race video, primarily from OCIR, 1979 thru 1983," Guild wrote on his profile. "I decided to break down the videos into individual runs and load them up for racers, their families, fans, and friends to enjoy. Aside from shooting tons of video over the years, I also served as a crewmember or crew chief on various cars, including several of Hayden Proffitt's."

You get to see races or runs involving Jim Dunn, Billy Meyer, Craig Epperly, Bruce Iversen, Gary Burgin, Lou Gasparrelli, Gary Densham, Kenny Bernstein, John Force, Raymond Beadle, Don Prudhomme, Steve McCracken, Mike Andreotti, Jack Holsey, Jim Adolph, Fuzz Miller, Wayne Stoeckel, Bill Carter, Nick Harmon, Les Shockley, Tommy Ivo, Proffitt, Tom Ridings, and other denizens of the County.

Guild did a pretty good job of moving around the vaunted facility; most of the footage is shot from the stands showing the famous Champion tower (and some from the top of said tower), and some is of scenes from the top end. The sound is awesome. Who doesn’t love a cackling nitro car? There are several videos from a Funny Cars vs. jets match race as well as the late Jim "Bullet" Bailey being pulled along behind Junior Thompson's Alcohol Funny Car. Some of the footage is a tad dark, having been shot at the night races, but there's a lot of daylight footage, too, including the clip at right, which shows Denny Savage at the wheel of the Powers Steel Corvette.

One thing that is really obvious from looking at these nitro-car clips is the famed dry-hop pre-run procedure. Some of these guys do four to six dry hops, and it's a great bit of nostalgia for those of us who remember seeing the cars snort at each other before the run, the drivers "talking" to one another with their blasts, like we used to do revving our engines alongside the guy in the next car at the stoplights of our youth.

Sadly, we don't see dry hops anymore because of the heat they put into the delicate clutch, but I e-mailed Savage to ask him about the dry hops -- how and why they were done, and to what extent. His reply was way more than I expected. I had assumed that the dry hop was used to gauge traction and maybe give the driver an idea of what to expect on the launch, but it went far beyond that and became a primitive driver-applied clutch-tuning tool.

"Because we could only readjust (reset the pack clearance, and add or subtract counterweight, and add or reduce stall), the clutches back then were kind of hit and miss," he noted. "When you went up for the next run, after the burnout, we drivers would do a dry hop to try and judge the 'aggressiveness' of the clutch. If it was about right (judgment of the driver or crew chief), stage it up. If it was too aggressive, another dry hop to put more heat in the clutch, and soften it up, so to speak. Without the data acquisition that they have nowadays, it was strictly hit and miss. Today's clutches kinda work the opposite: The more heat they get, the more aggressive they are. More discs, more floaters, and tighter pack clearance cause that.

"Some guys also just got carried away with it all and just liked to 'bark' at the other car."

Thanks, Denny! Anyway, you can check out all of Guild's videos here. If you’re an OCIR junkie like me, be prepared to invest an hour or so and make sure the boss isn't around.
 

Frequent flyersFriday, June 25, 2010
Posted by: Phil Burgess

I have to "hand" it to you guys. Wednesday's column about promotional handbills and flyers prompted a mini flood of submissions of some of your favorites, which no doubt will revive a lot of memories.

Gary Crumrine sadly (and correctly) noted, "The match racing scene was where it was at before drag racing got so professional, and we will never see this again. That is where the drivers made their money and reputations. As a kid from the Midwest, match racing was the only game in town. Gassers ruled, and maybe once a year, you might get a Funny show … but the remainder of the year, it was blood and guts gassers laying it on the line week in and week out. These posters bring back a lot of good memories."

Jim Mullis, a self-described avid reader of this column, attended races at Charlotte Motor Speedway long before Bruton Smith came up with zMax Dragway. Mullis reported that they used to run on the eighth-mile down pit road for years and passed along these handouts for races at the Charlotte track. I did a little Photoshop magic to include the front cover of the form on the left and the inside on the right.

The first one is for the inaugural NHRA Southern National Drag Championship in 1971, featuring eight Top Fuelers, eight Funny Cars, 32 Pro Stockers (plus a four-way match between Bill Jenkins, Don Nicholson, Sox & Martin, and Don Carlton), and a full slate of Sportsman action. Tickets were $6 for Saturday and $8 for Sunday, or you could buy a two-day advance combo pack for just $10, $15 if you wanted reserved seats. Such a deal!

The summer 1972 BigWays Radio 61 International Drag Championship had a similar lineup and ticket prices. It featured a pretty stout field of floppers: "Jungle Jim" Liberman, Don Schumacher, Roger Lindamood, the Hawaiian, the Fighting Irish, the L.A. Hooker, and more. Mullis pointed out that the photos of Schumacher and Jim Murphy's Holy Smokes entry are inadvertently reversed.

David Graves of Dallas passed along a pair of postcards that replicated the race posters for the 1969 and 1970 NHRA World Finals, both held at Dallas Int'l Motor Speedway. "They were issued by DIMS, [but] not exact as I have a number of the old posters, and the postcards and posters don’t match exactly, but these postcards were kind of a summary of the poster. Bill Neale (website, www.billneale.com) did the artwork I believe on every major event at DIMS from '69 to '71, which included the drags and road racing events. I attended the '70 World Finals (my first NHRA national) and '71 Springs, then IHRA took over the strip, and I attended all of the national events they held until it shut down in the spring of 1973."

Bill Moser also shared more of his wonderful stuff from Muncie, including flyers from the 1965 Blast of the Season match race between "Ohio George" Montgomery and his A/GS Willys and Mr. Norm's 1965 Dodge early Funny Car; the 1966 Gold Cup Championships (including "fantastic wheelie exhibitions by 'Space-man Scottie' Scott's World's Wildest Corvair"); and a cool 1966 battle between the topless flops of Ed Rachanski and Kelly Chadwick (a somewhat risque one, edited by me for your comfort).

I also came across an older e-mail from Rick Rzepka with a few more from Motor City, including for the 1967 opener (featuring E.J. Potter's wild two-wheeler) and a three-race promo for 1967 that includes the famed Green Monster jet car (April 2), a match race between "Big Daddy" Don Garlits and "T.V. Tommy" Ivo (April 9), and one of the all-time greatest rivalries in our sport's history, Stone-Woods-Cook vs. "Big John" Mazmanian (April 16). That was some month!

Geoff Bradley e-mailed a copy of the flyer that started this whole thing, the Piranha vs. Darrell Droke match, because he's still friends with Droke. Bradley reported that Droke beat the Piranha in two straight that night, even though the track manager had asked him to lose the second one so that the fans could see them run three times. He declined. "Darrell said, 'What if I break or crash?' He said that [the Piranha] could mph but not e.t. Darrell also stated to me that his Mustang would start to 'fly' nearing the finish line and that's why he stopped racing it."
 

A lot of readers out there have sharp memories, but the award for sharpest eye has to go to my self-appointed grammar policeman, Rob Doss. Doss campaigned the High Horse wheelstander from 1967 to 1969 in the eastern and central states, and he's also obviously well-trained in the English language. Of late (just kidding, Rob … I mean "lately" or "recently"), I've been receiving an e-mail from him every week or so pointing out errors in grammar or word usage and helpful suggestions.

This week, before taking me to task (more on that in a moment), he spotted conflicts in the day/date on the first poster in Wednesday's column. Obviously, there cannot be a Saturday, July 22, and a Sunday, July 29, in the same year. I did some research, and it turns out that in 1967, July 22 and July 29 were Saturdays, but because of 1968's leap year, there was no Sunday, July 29, even the next year; it was on a Monday. Ditto for the "coming" race for Sunday, Aug. 5 … no such thing in that time frame. The previous Sunday, Aug. 5, was in 1962 and the next one not until 1973. Thus, I'm guessing that this was a 1967 poster.

Which brings me back to Doss' second point and this week's butt-chewing. "I have to talk to you like a dad, which I'm old enough to be," he wrote. "When writing about the artwork, you chose to demean them with the statement: 'They reek of amateurism.' They were for the most part amateurs, doing things in the way they were done 40-plus years ago. They didn't have your million-dollar publishing software running on a Cray under UNIX. You owe them an apology, in my old-fashioned opinion. You made you look little."

I apologize. I know what I meant to say but obviously didn't do a good job. I'm sure that the hands that put them together were skilled and artistic and patient (I can’t imagine the amount of time that went into some of them), but, as Doss noted, compared to today's slick brochures that Photoshop and Quark and similar programs have made accessible and easy for anyone, it's easy to dismiss old efforts as being rather crude. That was not my intention at all. I actually very much dig them.

Sorry, teach. Oh, and hey, if anyone has a photo of the High Horse, Doss is looking for some. Send 'em to me, and I'll pass them along.

OK, that's it for the day. I'll see you guys next week.
 

A day late and a column shortWednesday, June 23, 2010
Posted by: Phil Burgess

Don’t cry for me, Argentina, but it has been a super-busy week at National DRAGSTER, and I apologize for missing our usual Tuesday appointment and for a pretty brief (but I hope nonetheless entertaining) column.

Two weeks ago, I showed off the handbill sent by Bill Moser promoting an Aug. 6, 1966, match race between the recently featured Piranha and Darrell Droke's Mustang at Muncie Dragway, where he was responsible for promotions in the 1960s.

It was pretty cool to see the low-buck yet effective form of advertising and inspired reader Rick Rzepka to send a few similar items from his collection, also from 1966, which you can see below and view full size by clicking on the link below each.

Just reading the names of some of the players is enough to give you chills and make me wish fervently for a time machine. The Turbine Dart, Doug Thorley's Chevy 2 Much, Mr. Norm, Jack Chrisman, "Fast Eddie" Schartman, Connie Kalitta, "T.V. Tommy" Ivo, K.S. Pittman, Stone-Woods-Cook, Paula Murphy vs. Della Woods, Green Monster, Terrifying Tornado, the Wagon Master ... man, oh, man. Are your juices flowing yet?

And you gotta love the artwork and the lettering, apparently done in artist's pen. Check out the extra emphasis on some words, either by making them really big or bold, and the numerous font changes and the way that some letters are colored in. They reek of amateurism but also of beautiful nostalgia. Those were surely simpler times. Thanks to Rick for sending these, which will no doubt invoke memories for many of you.

Got old handbills or posters? Scan 'em up, send them to me, and tell me the story behind them. Did you go to those races? Man, I can't wait. This could be fun.

 

All of this nostalgia and match racing got me to reflecting on the story I did a year ago today when ND Photo Editor Teresa Long and I visited "the Snake," Don Prudhomme, at his Vista, Calif., shop to shoot a feature on his collection of restored Funny Cars. You can read it here; it's one of my favorite pieces.

Anyway, the highlight of that day (other than getting to sit in the white Hot Wheels 'Cuda) was the lunch trip with "Snake" in his restored Dodge ramp truck with the yellow 'Cuda strapped to its back. The truck was one of a pair -- the other, of course, being used by Wildlife Racing partner Tom "the Mongoose" McEwen. I wonder what happened to McEwen's truck.

Prudhomme finally tracked down his, which had remained in Southern California (or at least ended up back there, ironically in the same San Fernando Valley of his youth). Does anyone know what became of McEwen's hauler? If you do, drop me a line. People were so taken by the restoration job that Prudhomme and Willie Wolter did on their truck, wouldn’t it be cool to see both of them together?
 

Feedback FridayFriday, June 18, 2010
Posted by: Phil Burgess

It's Friday, the end of the working week for a lot of you, but with Bristol thundering along this weekend, plus the Holley NHRA National Hot Rod Reunion and more going on around the country, it's going to be a busy weekend in the old NHRA.com household.

I didn't want the week to get away without a little recent feedback. I was really surprised by the number of responses to Richard Brady's photo of Lou Patane's Top Fueler. It's definitely a well-remembered piece of pipe. I found the photo at right in our files that may help give you a better look at the car and illustrate some of the comments below.

Paul Katata wrote, "If I recall correctly, Lou's car was originally built as a team car to Johnny Loper's Arrow Funny Car of the time by Jaime Sarte at his Van Nuys [Calif.] shop. Loper's Arrow was also a Sarte 'Pro Car.' The Funny Car influence is obvious, with the lower-to-the-ground headers and the front tires. I also seem to remember it having a shorter wheelbase than the dragsters of that time period. It also had an early version of a modular rear end, with a solid tube axle and possibly knockoffs. At least that's what I think I remember!"

Phoenix native Frankie LoCascio added, "I remember seeing Lou's car at Firebird in the mid- to late '80s with both Lou Patane and '240 Shorty' Tripp Shumake driving the car at different times. I think the old Top Fuel car is still here in the Phoenix area. Back when I was working at Johnny Loper's speed shop, one of my coworkers had purchased the chassis. Not sure what he ever did with it, but I'm fairly certain it's still here in the valley."
 
Eric Gates commented, "Your info on Patane's fueler got me to thinking about a car I saw way back when. It was at Indy, maybe '78 or '79. Gary Beck showed up with a Thrush Top Fuel car that had a radically different (for the time) wing and low-slung look. I would love to see a write-up on this car, and I know you have the resources to find it."

Eric is exactly right, but it took a quick e-mail to GB's good buddy Henry Walther (who not that long ago completed a beautiful and meticulous restoration of the Larry Minor/Beck 5.39 car). Henry knew what Eric was talking about and, conveniently, happened to be housesitting this week for Beck while GB is in Washington.

"The car he is referring to is the rear-engine car that Hume and Foster built for Gary," he wrote. "It wasn't all that unusual, but what gave it a different look was that the rear wing was mounted low and behind the rear tires. It made the overall car look very low and swoopy. That was sort of a 'Can-Am look' of the day. As it turned out, and as we have seen with the ultimate placement of wings, the car wasn't all that successful. I believe it ultimately ended up in Larry Minor's hands and used as a sand rail."

Walther found a photo of the car in an old handout, which is pictured above right. Thanks, Henry!

Cliff Morgan, another resident of the Valley of the Sun, added, "Lou Patane was a Mopar dealer here in Phoenix for many years and later became director of Mopar Racing. The car in the photo was part of a video produced by Main Event, called Nitro Warriors Vol. 1, 1988, and showcased the 1988 Super Bowl of Drag Racing at Firebird Int'l Raceway. Don Garlits and Jon Lundberg do the commentary on the video. Patane later ran a twin-engine car in TAD, and it had two Hemis on gasoline and nitrous. Never got real competitive until Patane took out one of the motors and switched the car to A/FD. I think it ran more Division 7 than anything else. This was 1990s. I seem to remember that Patane then got the Mopar Racing job and stopped racing cars."

Morgan also chimed in on the photo of Gordon Mineo's Funny Car-turned-Top Fueler, and, again, our vast photo files had an alternate shot of the car at Lions. I love the big question mark on the side of the car. Said Morgan, "I was at Lions when Mineo ran that car. What makes me remember this event is that it was during this time period that a lot of the Funny Car racers (in Southern California, anyway) wanted Funny Car to be the premier class and wanted Top Fuel to go away. This ticked me off greatly, and I kinda turned on Funny Car. I didn't go to any Funny Car-only races during that time and only saw them race when there was a show that included them. I was a die-hard Top Fuel fan, and that is still my favorite class. Anyhoo, I wasn't impressed with Mineo's effort, and I wrote one of my (infamous) letters to the editor of one of the drag racing mags of the time and called Mineo's car 'the Phony Fueler.' Heh. Needless to say, that stirred the pot with the Funny Ca fans. The photo brings back memories of that night and of that time."

William Duke provided additional info about the night, reporting that Mineo did indeed qualify for the field and went one round before losing to Lions regulars Butters and Gerard.

My comments that I was trying to wind up the wedge thread met with a chorus of discontent from a number of you, who just can’t let it go (me either!).

Jeff Robinson wrote, "As far as I am concerned, keep it coming. I just love the things you write; since I stopped racing, it really does help fill the void. I am almost afraid to go back and watch; I just don't think I would make a good spectator, knowing I can't afford to do it again."

Ivan Siler added, "I have thoroughly enjoyed your series on wedge dragsters. I was fortunate to see several of them in person during the early 1970s because that was a time when our sport was its healthiest! After Garlits' rear-engine revolution, EVERYONE was out to build a better mousetrap — and innovation was the order of the day. Drag racers have always been the most creative motorsports guys on the planet, and that era is so intriguing because our sport was at its best. It is tragic that NHRA Top Fuel has deteriorated to Murf McKinney cookie-cutter cars (no offense intended — great cars for sure — just boring when the whole field is full of them). Surely there must be some 'Lil’ John' Butteras, Pat Fosters, Doug Kruses, Ed Donovans, and E.J. Potters simmering around out there. This series has been a great reminder of the creative legacy we enjoy — keep fanning the flames!"

Joe Faraci pleaded, "Before you put the streamliner to bed, did you mention Jim Head’s ‘experiment’ from the early 1990s? It had a rounded wedge body, and I believe he tested it a few times in Gainesville."

Here it is, Joe. I know I have info on the car around here somewhere that I'll try to dig up, but, to Ivan's point earlier, I think Jim Head is one of those brilliant minds. Left to his imagination, I can’t begin to think about what kind of car he'd dream up. We've already seen the fruits of his within-the-rules thinking (the multistage clutch, the "noodle" car, etc.), so the mind reels at what the guy his crew used to call "the mad scientist" would cook up left to his own devices.

OK, gang, see you next week, probably on Wednesday, but maybe earlier. Have a good weekend, especially you dads. Happy early birthday tomorrow to Shirley Muldowney and Bob Wilber, two of my favorite people in our sport.
 

Previous Entries
Next Entries
 
..
  • 2014
  • 2013
  • 2012
  • 2011
  • 2010
  • 2009
  • 2008
  • 2007