The holidays are supposed to offer a little "slow down" time but I can’t help but feel I'm still going a million miles per hour. A lot of the NHRA staff has taken great advantage of NHRA's very generous holiday time off and some have been checked out since the annual Holiday Party two weeks ago. With a little careful applying of vacation days here and there, you can turn a three- or four-day credit into more than two weeks off, and many have taken advantage of that.
Me, I'm a bit of a workaholic, so unless there's an auto race or a hockey game on TV, I'd rather spend the quiet days in the office trying to catch up and getting prepared for 2010.
I'm actually quite proud of myself because, for the first time since I can remember, I took a trip without my laptop, driving up the California coast to see my parents and my sister and her family, meeting up with them in scenic Morro Bay in the shadow of the enormous rock that is its signature. (Well, it's not actually a rock; it's 581-foot tall volcanic plug and one of the "Nine Sisters of San Luis Obispo County," a series of ancient volcanic plugs that line the Los Osos Valley between oceanside Morro Bay and inland San Luis Obispo. Cruising down Highway 1, I sighted several of the other sisters, curious huge rock heaps jutting from the landscape, but didn’t connect them with their more-famous, most westerly, and waterbound sibling until later.)
Anyway, in the spirit of holiday giving, I vowed to devote this time solely to the family. The folks are getting up there in age and you just never know when you might lose them, so I went without a net, hopin' and a-wishin' that no major news broke in the span of those two days (not that I didn't stealthily scout out the nearest cyber café upon arrival, just in case). I returned home Sunday night, checked the email and saw that the drag racing world didn't miss me ... not even a Wilber blog waiting in my Inbox. (I was extremely glad that pre-Christmas rumors of Tom Hoover's passing proved untrue, though the veteran Funny Car driver did lose his brother and, just this morning, we lost Jim "Happy" Harrington, just three days shy of his 49th birthday. Bummer way to end the year.)
The week before Christmas was crazy busy with a number of projects. Job One for all of us has been whipping the new-look National DRAGSTER into shape for its 2010 rebirth, complete with new graphics, columns, and sky-high expectations. I've written so much about our plans and hopes that I'm thrilled to be seeing it all finally taking shape. In addition to that, we finished up production of the 50th Winternationals Web site, which will launch Jan. 4, and I did a fun interview with Joe Castello for his WFO Radio show (you can listen to it here; be patient while it loads) on Tuesday as part of his regular NHRA Tuesday programming. Joe was the longtime host of PowerShift on XM Radio and has a regular lineup of quality guests on his show. Although he covers all forms of motorsports, he's a big NHRA fan, and it's obvious when you listen to the interview that he knows his stuff.
The highlight of the week clearly was the unveiling of the Golden 50 lineup for next year's 50th anniversary Kragen O'Reilly NHRA Winternationals, a list of awesome historic hot rods that quickly has exceeded the target number of 50. Steve Gibbs deserves a huge hand for helping coordinate what's going to be the all-time greatest drag racing car show. "Big Hook" and myself are part of a six-man "steering committee" for the golden anniversary race – along with Vice President-National Event Marketing Glen "Hat Trick" Cromwell, Director of Advertising & Promotions John "Hook 'em Horns" Pesetski, Director of Broadcasting & Video Communications "Corvette Jim" Trace, and Director of Public Relations Michael "Facebook" Padian – who have worked diligently the past six months to shape the event, which will include the Legends Dinner, also announced recently on NHRA.com. And, hey, don't forget: Voting for the Most Memorable winternationals Moments ends when 2009 does, so, if you haven't already, VOTE NOW.
The "Golden Fifty – Plus" list includes some of the great machines from Winternationals history including Don Garlits' Swamp Rat 5, his innovative winged dragster that won the 1963 event (his first NHRA win), the fabulous twin-engined Freight Train gas dragster, and the Kohler Bros.' King Kong AA/Gas Supercharged Anglia sedan, which Gibbs, in his notes, calls "one of the most recognized supercharged cars of the late 1960s." Ed Kohler drove the car to a Super Eliminator win at the 1967 Winternationals and it's a true find. The car was lost for years, and when found had been converted to a street rod. Carlos and Mary Cedeno, of Lockport, N.Y., had the car fully restored and Kohler, who now lives in Newberry, S.C., will be reunited with the car in Pomona.
Of course that decade's other legendary gasser, the Stone, Woods & Cook BB/GS Willys that the Insider Nation crowned as “Favorite Race Car Ever” back in September 2008 will be there as well. The late Doug Cook drove the car to Middle Eliminator honors at the 1963 Winternationals, and Gibbs reports that, "like the King Kong gasser, the car was converted to a street machine for many years, before being discovered by owners Joe Troilo and Mike Wale. It has been faithfully and fully restored to its original race condition. All of the original team principals are now deceased, however Doug Cook’s son. Mike, and Tim Woods’ son. Lenny, will be in attendance. Owners Troilo and Wale are bringing the car to Pomona from their Chicago, Ill., base."
It wouldn't be the Winternationals without the famed Dragmaster Dart AA/D and Dragmaster Two Thing AA/D, a pair of revolutionary machines in their own right. The Dragmaster Dart, which for years gtreeted me in the lobby of NHRA headquarters in North Hollywood as I came to work each day, won the 1962 Winternationals and was the first car to be donated to the Wally Parks NHRA Motorsports museum. Driver Jim Nelson. who also served as one of NHRA’s original technical directors during the formative Safety Safari events of the late 1950s, and partner Dode Martin will be in attendance. The dynamic duo built hundreds of their “production line” Dragmaster chassis at the Carlsbad, Calif., shop, just about an hour south of Pomona.
Hugh Tucker's Ventura Motors AA/Street Roadster also holds a wonderful place in Winternationals lore as the supercharged roadster won Little Eliminator at the 1962 event, Junior Eliminator at the 1963 race, and Super Eliminator at the 1966 event; in fact, Tucker was never defeated in individual class competition, according to Gibbs. This car also was “lost” for many years, but has been fully restored to its original glory by Tucker and his son, Hugh, Jr., both of whom will travel from Hansville, Wash., to bring the car back to its famous stomping grounds.
Winternationals fans can also see some of Funny Car's earliest machines in Bruce Larson's USA–1 Chevelle, the 1969 "Jungle Jim" Liberman Nova, and the factory Dodge Charger formerly driven by the late Jimmy Nix. Larson's car, which is now owned by the Don Garlits Museum of Drag Racing, was the first all-fiberglass Funny Car to appear in NHRA national event competition, even before there was an official Funny Car class (the car ran in the B/XS class). Larson will be on hand with the car in Pomona. The Liberman car, now owned by Dave and Sally Bany, of Wilsonville, Wash., was driven to victory at the 1969 event by Clare Sanders, who also will be in Pomona. The Charger, which was built as a Chrysler “factory” project by the aforementioned Dragmaster Company, was one of the first supercharged, full-bodied, late -model drag racing vehicles. Although the car never used nitromethane as a fuel, it truly was forerunner to today’s Funny Cars, The car is currently owned by Frank Spittle.
Another great piece of restoration magic will be unveiled with the debut of the Howard Cams Twin Bear twin-engined AA/Gas Dragster. Again, according to Gibbs' notes, the car was one of the most dominant machines during the NHRA fuel ban years and was driven by the late Jack Chrisman (who won the inaugural Pomona Winternationals Top Eliminator title in another car), "The Twin Bear went through many changes before being destroyed in 1968. Many of the original components are still in use."
Fuel Altered fans will get their socks knocked off by a quartet of Awful-Awfuls as "the big four” -- Pure Hell, Pure Heaven, the Winged Express, and the Mondello and Matsubara Fiat -- which campaigned on several national tours and raced at NHRA national events -- will all be on display together at the event.
According to the countdown clock on the NHRA.com home page, it's only about 43 days – six weeks – until the Winternationals rocks us into the 2010 season but National DRAGSTER 2010 begins production in less than a week. I've been trying to get as far ahead as I can because a week from Thursday I'll be headed to Lake Placid, N.Y., as a guest of JEGS to attend the the fifth annual Lucas Oil Geoff Bodine Bobsled Challenge. Jeg Coughlin, Morgan Lucas, Shawn Langdon, Tommy Johnson Jr., and Melanie Troxel will be representing the NHRA against NASCAR in this great and worthwhile even that benefits the Team USA Olympic bobsledding efforts.
The plan calls for a flight to Columbus Thursday with an overnight stay with the Coughlin clan, then off to chilly Lake Placid early the next morning for a full weekend of action. Hopefully we'll be avoiding any great blizzards, but I'll be all geared up for the cold anyway. I'm sure these northerners will have a good laugh at the California boy freezing his butt off.
And, yes, I'll have my laptop.
Merry Christmas to the Insider Nation!
In the spirit of the season, I worked with National DRAGSTER staff to create the list below (which also appears in ND's year-end issue, in my Staging Light column), which represents our Christmas wish list for certain NHRA racers and for the community as a whole.
I'd like to hear your suggestion as well, and I'll print the best ones in a future column. Have at it, and Merry Christmas!
Hi, it’s Phil Burgess (again, still waiting on that Hot Wheels collection from my 1967 list — any hope?). How are you? I hope your off-season was great and you spent some quality time with Mrs. Claus hot rodding around in your supercharged sleigh. Our off-season is just beginning while your busy time ramps up, so I thought this would be a good time to send you our Christmas list of wishes for 2010.
You don’t have to worry about fulfilling all of our wishes at once — dropping them under our trees on Christmas Eve wouldn’t make much sense for most of them — so, hey, no pressure.
My brothers and sisters and me here at National DRAGSTER have been extra good this year. We wrote all kinds of really interesting stories and didn’t tell any lies. We treated every winner — and even those who didn’t win — as if they were the most special person in the whole world. We were respectful of our elders (and bosses), played nice with others, and filled every single page of every single issue and were never late. We didn’t even whine or complain (well, not much anyway) while sitting through hours of rain.
Anyways, I asked the staff for their lists and compiled them for you.
A double for Dan?
A double for Dan Fletcher: C’mon, Santa, give the guy a break. He’s one of the all-time NHRA Lucas Oil racers and won just about everything under the sun, yet in seven chances where he has made it to two finals at the same event, you’ve been a little Grinchlike in denying him a double. Pretty please.
A robust economy: I can’t tell you how many problems this would fix (including helping you out on a few of the items below), but we’re tired of hearing how good friends of ours have lost their jobs or took pay cuts or how worthy racers can’t get a sponsor, and, frankly, we’re a little tired of eating two-for-99-cents Jack In the Box tacos for lunch every day.
Good weather: I think you poured it on a little too much this last year, boss man. I mean, we’re all for the greenification of the world, but we’re getting tired of those Next Heavy Rain Area acronym jokes. Let’s start with the sun shining in Pomona, OK?
A championship decided by a single point: OK, we don’t mean to sound greedy after both Top Fuel and Pro Stock Motorcycle titles were won by two points, but after that double dose of dual-digit deciders, how the heck are we gonna top that? I think you get the point, and we hope we do, too.
While we’re at it: Three points each for Larry Dixon and Eddie Krawiec — hey, better late than never.
And furthermore: Greg Stanfield would like the thousandth of a second he needed to win the Indy Pro Stock final — with interest.
The return of some old pals: Man, we really miss Hillary Will, David Grubnic, “Hot Rod” Fuller, J.R. Todd, Melanie Troxel, Doug Herbert, Whit Bazemore, and a bunch of others. While you’re at it, coax Gary Scelzi out of retirement. Whaddaya say, Santa, a big reunion anytime soon?
Where there's a Will ...
More first-time winners: You were very generous in this category in 2009, helping place Wallys into the hands of Krawiec, Morgan Lucas, Spencer Massey, Bob Tasca III, and Mike Neff. Here are a few who seem overdue and/or deserving: Bob Vandergriff Jr. (c’mon, 12 runner-ups? Give “BeeVeeGee” a break!), Shawn Langdon, Joe Hartley, Matt Hagan, Doug Horne, Rickie Jones, Rodger Brogdon, and Junior Pippin.
A national event win — in his own car — for Gary Densham: Densham won eight races in four seasons driving for John Force Racing but has never won one in his own car in 330 races since making his Funny Car debut at the 1971 World Finals in Ontario, Calif. He has reached seven finals in his own iron but never the winner’s circle.
A new season champ in Top Fuel: OK, nothing against Tony Schumacher, but we think it’s time he shares the wealth a little. Last thing we want to see are “Schumacher Buster” T-shirts. He can win it again in 2011.
Ashley Force Hood, Funny Car champ: We love Robert Hight as much as wife Adria, but can you imagine the public-relations windfall for AFH and NHRA — and by that I mean, the entire NHRA nation — if she were our season champ? And, hey, it ain’t like she isn’t deserving, right?
A sponsor for “the Snake”: As we close the publishing season, Don Prudhomme’s handlers tell us he’s still beating the bushes for a 2010 backer. “The Snake” hasn’t sat out a season since 1986, and we don’t see any reason why he should again.
A get-well season for John Force: After being shut out of the winner’s circle for the first time in 22 seasons, drag racing’s Superman deserves better. He still has laps in life to make before he hangs ’em up. If you’re feeling real generous, another championship might be nice. (PS: If you can’t swing the championship, Force says he would like to ask for a new Top Alcohol Funny Car champion next year. Frank Manzo’s 13 titles are just one shy of his own record.)
A Stock class win for Don Garlits: I think we were almost as disappointed as “Big Daddy” was when his Mac Tools U.S. Nationals comeback in Stock ended with a DNQ.
For Pro Stock’s Allen Johnson, more races in Denver: He won two of the last three years on the mountain and was runner-up the other.
Some stability for Antron Brown: You gotta feel for “the brothaman.” He was shuffled around in 2009 like grandma’s nasty fruitcake. From David Powers to Mike Ashley and finally to Don Schumacher, A.B. had more owners than a shelter-rescue puppy.
Looking for a home
A Christmas Tree with no red lights for Karen Stoffer: The hard-charging GEICO rider was felled by six foul starts this season, the third straight season in which she has had a half-dozen or more red-lights. Here’s hoping for more gecko-colored bulbs in 2010.
Another great rookie of the year battle: Other than Pro Stock newcomer Shane Gray and perhaps Daniel Wilkerson, we’re not sure who’s going to make up next year’s freshman class, but if 2010’s race is even half as good as this year’s, we’ll be happy.
More four-lane racing: This year’s dual-fuel exhibition at zMax Dragway — four Top Fuelers and four Funny Cars, going off side by side — had to be seen to be believed, and here’s hoping for more of the same in 2010 so more fans can enjoy the rare treat.
Okay, kids, that's it. Hope you're enjoying your holidays and already working towards being on Santa's "nice" list for next year. Remember to send me your gift suggestions for those in our sport.
If you've read drag racing magazines for any amount of time, the name Cliff Morgan should be familiar to you as a regular contributor to various "letters to the editor" columns, including in National DRAGSTER. A drag racing fan since the early 1960s, he has a very deep and wide knowledge of the sport that he's quick to share, and he has been a regular correspondent to me since I began this column, so it was only natural that he'd want to participate in our Fan Fotos features.
Born in 1946, Morgan attended his first drag race in his teens, in 1961 at San Fernando Raceway, and went to Lions and once to the old San Gabriel drags before it closed.
After serving in the Air Force from 1964 to 1968, he became a regular at Lions, Fernando, and Orange County Int’l Raceway, which then was fairly new.
"So many memories, and I saw so much history," he said. "Don Garlits, my hero and favorite driver. I saw the accident that cut off part of his foot. I thought he'd been killed. A year later, he came out with the "back motor" car, and it ran straight. I saw Garlits at Ontario when he ran that 5.63/250. I moved to Arizona in 1981 and got to see the last AHRA Winternationals at the old Tucson Dragway; also the last AA/FA Nationals there. I started going to Firebird when it opened. I remember being so happy to see Firebird when it was new; it reminded me a lot of OCIR. I like Firebird a lot and also Speedworld [Dragstrip], the other track in Phoenix. It was built in 1963 and reminds me a lot of 'the old daze.' I have so many memories of the drags. Next to the Lord, it's my greatest passion. I've really been blessed to see so much history in the making."
Morgan sent me an envelope packed with his original photos with nice captions on the back of each to get me pointed in the right direction. "I didn't know what to send, so I tried to send something maybe a bit out of the ordinary," he cautioned. "I'm gonna send way too many photos, so you are gonna have to decide what you wanna show."
His caveat definitely rang true when I sorted through the images and made up my final 10. I've mostly gone away from the tried and true photos of cars on the track to show some of the neat stuff that Morgan found in the pits as well. For me, shooting interesting things in the pits can be as challenging as shooting cars at speed, and Morgan had a nice knack to capture some cool images. What's even cooler to me (and I think to Morgan when he sees them here) is that by scanning the images and cleaning them up a little, I was able to reproduce them here at sometimes double their printed size to show more detail. Here they come …
This is "the Pond" — San Fernando Raceway — in December 1968, and it shows Larry Dixon Sr. (father of the two-time Top Fuel champ) pitting his famed Fireside Inn AA/Modified Fuel Roadster, near lane, against George "Stone Age Man" Hutcheson in the similarly motivated 392-powered Rat Trap AA/Fuel Altered in what Morgan says was a race contested in Top Fuel. Morgan also recalled that earier in the day Hutcheson had set a new AA/FA track record of 7.99. This is the only on-track photo in the batch I selected, but the track holds special meaning to Morgan, hence its inclusion.
"This little car has its place in drag racing history," notes Morgan. The pit area here should be instantly recognizable to Lions veteranos, but maybe not the car, a flathead-powered little rail captured on a clear July 1970 day at "the Beach." Morgan couldn’t remember the name of the guy who owned the car, which ran as a bracket car, but remembers who did drive it once: Don Garlits. "The night before Garlits' accident [in January 1970], Garlits drove this car in a match race against George Hutcheson, who also was driving a flathead-powered car. Garlits won, and the announcer made a big deal about Garlits being back in a flathead after so many years." Wow, who knew?
Here's another couple of pics from Lions in July 1970. The photo above left shows what Morgan IDs as Walt Stevens' Gas gas dragster waiting under the tower at Lions to make its run. The photo above right shows the staging lanes for the "hot" (i.e., push-start) cars with the regular staging lanes to the left of the photo.
This, of course, is "the Snake," Don Prudhomme, with two adoring young fans hanging nearby, perhaps waiting for an autograph. Been there, done that.
This is Irwindale, in January 1973, and the car is Prudhomme's famed Kent Fuller-built "Yellow Feather" Top Fueler, so named because of its extreme light weight, which, as I recall from a magazine feature I once read, was partially achieved by drilling holes in just about every flat surface on the car. It reportedly weighed less than 1,200 pounds, and although it ran like stink, I read that Prudhomme eventually shelved it later due to safety concerns.
Morgan points out how cool the pits were back then: "Everything done in the open ... no 18-wheelers, etc." You could pretty much walk around three sides of a car being worked on (the trailer representing the fourth side); unlike today, when you mostly get to see the cars from behind.
"I wonder how old those two boys are now," mused Morgan of the pic he took more than 35 years ago. "Late 40s?"
Our tour of Southern California raceplants continues with this neat shot of an unidentified fueler on the roller starters at Orange County Int’l Raceway Aug. 15, 1971. "This is how you warmed up your car at OCIR," wrote Morgan. "The car was positioned on the rollers, and the rollers were hooked up to a small-block Chevy motor. The rollers spun the tires, and the driver let out the clutch and the motor started. The front wheels were held in place by a plate or some device (vague memories), sometimes also by crewmen. Once the motor was lit, the rollers were stopped and the car idled off to its assigned pit space."
I've seen plenty of pics of Ed Lenarth's Holy Toledo Jeep (known affectionately as "The Brick" for its less than aerodynamic profile) on the track but never in the pits with the front clip removed so that we could see the 392 powerplant. This car was the follow-up to the original Lenarth Jeep, the rather primitive Roger Wolford-driven Secret Weapon, and was built by Lenarth with Brain Chuchua, who owned a huge Jeep dealership in Southern California, with all the best parts. Still, aero woes held it to a best of just 7.37 at 197 mph and reportedly later ended up as a sand drag car.
Here's another Lenarth car of somewhat lesser renown (and much lesser success), the chain-driven Lenarth & Garvin sidewinder Top Fueler, pictured at Irwindale in September 1973. The way I understand the story is that Lenarth's original plan was to build a rear-engine, chain-driven Funny Car (using, of all things, a Gremlin) and opted to put the interesting setup in this dragster first for testing purposes, but according to Morgan, the dragster crashed. Lenarth retired not long after, and the project was never realized.
Don Garlits didn't make many mistakes conceiving, designing, and building winning race cars, but this one wasn't one of his finer moments, the ill-fared Wynn's Liner, also known as Swamp Rat 17, captured by Morgan in the pits at OCIR during its Sept. 15, 1973, debut at the AHRA Grand American event. These are the first photos I can recall seeing with the car sans body, and you get a real idea for how short it was.
Garlits henchman Connie Swingle built the frame, over which was cloaked a super-sexy fiberglass body by regarded aero wizard Robert "Jocko" Johnson, and "Big Daddy" had hopes of 250 and (gasp!) perhaps even 275-mph speeds — not bad considering that the best speed to that date was (dismissing some scoffed-at 246- and 247-mph time slips Garlits was given in Gary, Ind., in July) 243.90 by "Big" himself in Gainesville in 1972.
According to Garlits, "Butch Maas drove the beast to 180 mph, far off the highly touted 275 mph! We brought the car home and tested the next time at Lakeland [Dragstrip] outside of Tampa, and Don 'Mad Dog' Cook was at the controls. Still no real good runs. I then decided to drive the car myself, and to my surprise, at about 180 mph, the motor revved up and I lifted. We returned to the pits to find nothing was wrong! What had happened was that at about 180 mph, the whole car became airborne, and as the rear wheels cleared the pavement, the engine would rev up. I pulled the plug on the project."
Garlits later sold the car to rocket-car racers Russell Mendez and Ramon Alvarez, and Garlits bought it back from Alvarez after Mendez was killed during an exhibition run at the Gatornationals in a different car, their wheel-pants-equipped Free Spirit rocket dragster.
Okay, that's it for the Tuesday before Christmas. I'll have a column Friday (my gift to you!), even though it is Christmas Day, which is going to be a humorous look at National DRAGSTER's Xmas list for our racers, which I originally wrote for the Staging Light column of our final 2009 issue. OK, so I'm a regifter, but I thought I’d share with you guys and ask for your suggestions.
Til then …
Longevity in any field of work is a dual-edged sword. On the positive, the longer you’re around, the more people you meet, and the friendships you make can last a lifetime. The downside is that the more people you meet, your odds of losing one of them skyrockets. The friendship may last a lifetime, but, unfortunately, lifetimes don't last.
When the e-mail appeared in my Inbox late Tuesday, the sender and the subject line shared a common last name, which is never a good sign. Trust me on this. The sender was Jamie Woosley, and the subject was Don Woosley.
I didn't want to open it, but eventually I did and learned that we'd lost "the Wooz" the day before, in his sleep, at age 63. Sad doesn't begin to explain my feeling.
Why should you care? Some of you may not even know or remember the name, but Don Woosley was damned good behind the wheel of the Ale-8-One Top Alcohol Dragster that he campaigned with partners Bill Sharp and Bill Reynolds. They won the 1983 Top Alcohol Dragster world championship, 10 national event Wallys, and seven Division 3 championships. Woosley's battles with the late Al DaPozzo (whom he always called "Albert," much in the same way that Shirley Muldowney calls Don Garlits "Donald") were legendary, including their to-the-wire title battle in 1982.
Woosley was one of the first people I met on the job here in 1982, and he quickly became one of my favorite people. He was easy to talk to, respectful of my job and needs, and, of course, he was a riot, a bearded lunatic with John Force-like material, though proffered with a Southern drawl and even delivery. In fact, one of my most favorite interviews of all time was with Woosley, back in 1986, just before the SPORTSnationals. I called it "Just a TAD crazy" (TAD, of course, being shorthand for Top Alcohol Dragster), and it included comments that still make me laugh.
Although he had won earlier in his career, this is the car that made Don Woosley famous, the Woosley, Sharp, & Reynolds Ale-8-One Special.
Typical of their good-natured rivalry, Al DaPozzo put an exclamation point on his victory over Woosley in the final round of the 1982 Finals.
Partners Bill Sharp, center, and Bill Reynolds readied "the Wooz" for another pass.
This is July 3, 1974, at Beech Bend, where Woosley drove the Woosley & Sharp A/Fuel Dragster to Pro Comp honors over Don Gerardot.
At the 1975 Springnationals in a car called Magic Show. (There's probably a really great story behind that name!)
The first car I could find with Bill Reynolds' name on it, from the 1977 Cajun Nationals.
From 1986, ND Ad Sales czar John Mazzarella causing "the Wooz" some grief.
Because he grew up in horse country in Kentucky, I asked Woosley, who was probably short enough to be a jockey, if he had ever considered a different kind of horsepower than methanol-brewed. In Force-like fashion, the answer quickly dissolved into a story.
"I don’t even like horses," he told me. "I got bit by one once, but he paid. He was a real nice horse. I always used to walk through the field where he was. One day, I just walked by him, and he bit me on the shoulder. The next day, I walked through the same field, I had a croquet mallet in my hand and whacked him and brought him to his knees. Hit him right between the eyes."
The typed word doesn't do justice to the way he told the story, but I always remembered it (over the years, somehow in my mind, I had bent the story so that he had actually clobbered famed thoroughbred Secretariat, who, it turns out, was boarded nearby but was out of mallet range, apparently). I also never forgot something that he said later in our interview, which has stuck with me through all these years, especially when I climb into a car to race someone.
He was assessing his competition; after singling out DaPozzo, Bill Walsh, and "that kid on the West Coast; what's his name? Sleezy?" (he was serious; he meant Gary Scelzi, who had just won the Winternationals) as drivers with "the killer instinct," he said, "You can tell the guys who don’t have the instinct – like when someone comes up [before a race] and wishes you good luck. … Isn't that the stupidest thing I've heard in my life? I've never wished anybody [I race] good luck. I wish 'em a safe trip and all that, but I'm sure as hell not gonna wish 'em luck if they're racing me.
"I can sit around and joke with Walsh and DaPozzo in the staging lanes before the race, but when that helmet goes on, it's war. I wanna kill 'em. They're the enemy, and it's my job to beat the guy next to me."
Long before the Woosley, Sharp & Reynolds dragster was sponsored by regional ginger-ale-type soft drink Ale-8-One ("People around here drink it for breakfast," mused 'Wooz.' "Can you believe that? I could see drinking a good cold beer for breakfast and pouring it on your corn flakes ... but Ale-8?") and became a terror on the track, the trio was tearing up the track in Division 3 with a fuel-injected front-engine dragster.
Woosley first partnered with Sharp, who had been building an Anglia with his brother, who got hurt in a racing accident. Sharp took his engine and put it into an old dragster chassis that Woosley had acquired in trade for a '64 GTO (not a great trade, IMO, especially because "it didn't do much," according to Woosley).
They later got an ex-Top Gas Don Tuttle chassis and later a front-engine Stebbins chassis that became the Magic Show injected fuel dragster with which Woosley won his first Wally at the 1975 SPORTSnationals. I'm not exactly sure when Reynolds joined the duo, but with Sharp building the engines, Reynolds tuning and working the clutch, and Woosley behind the wheel, they were tough to beat, as their seven Division 3 championships attest.
Division 3 Director Jay Hullinger told me that he had been planning to invite Woosley to this year's division banquet so that he could be honored with the other seven-time Division 3 champions, who include Danny Townsend, Jerry Arnold, and, now, Bill Reichert. Hullinger also noted, with a grin, that Woosley's online obituary noted that he was "an avid cat fisherman." And I thought he was just mean to horses.
I texted ND Senior Editor Kevin McKenna after I'd gotten the news from Woosley's nephew, and K-Mac's response was perfect: "I'm sure he's already played a practical joke on DaPozzo." I bet.
On a closing note, I remember that my tape recorder malfunctioned during that 1986 interview, so I had to call Woosley back at his Winchester, Ky., service station and finish the interview again, for which I apologized profusely.
"Yeah, I know how that is with technical stuff," he sympathized and added self-deprecatingly, "I'm in the same position myself when I try to drive home. Y'know, you've got Park and Drive and keys and all that stuff."
I wasn't sure if he was joking, and then he launched into a rambling, Force-like monologue.
"You wasn't bothering me anyway; I wasn't doing a thing. I was sitting here looking at this Chevelle sitting out front. It's a 454. Guy brought it down here to the garage and thought it had a rod knock, but it was just a rocker arm. I don’t want to give it back to him. I'll take it out and get picked up by the police. It's been a long time since I've sat in something you could walk into the four-barrel and the sumbitch would just jump sideways. You can’t get that now. This one here'll do it. I like it. I think I'll drive around and terrorize the neighbors.
"Y'all have a good day. See ya at the Sports[nationals]. Now make that article good, or I'll have to run you out of Kentucky."
A funny ending for a funny guy, and one of my all-time favorite racers. Godspeed, "Wooz."