In the Christmas spiritTuesday, December 15, 2009
Posted by: Phil Burgess

Sorry for the late posting, but today was NHRA's annual holiday celebration, an always enjoyable get-together for the headquarters staff that allows us to mingle, hang out, have a little bite, and have a little fun and games. Given the economy, this year's affair – a 1960s theme -- was a little more low-key, with the venue moved from a ballroom at a local hotel to the Wally Parks NHRA Motorsports Museum presented by Automobile Club of Southern California.

All of the NHRA executives, from President Tom Compton on down, got into the groove with funky outfits, which for Compton included a bushy wig. It was quite the riot to watch him speaking to the assembled staff and trying to keep a straight face, especially during photos for the annual presentation of service awards marking five-, 10-, 15-, 20-, and 25-year anniversaries with the company. National DRAGSTER Photo Editor Teresa Long was one of the 25-year employees, along with Competition czar Graham Light; my senior editors, Kevin McKenna and Steve Waldron, were saluted for 20 years, and our own Jeff and Robyn Morton won the costume contest. There were Name That Tune contests, some funny skits (with Dana Mariotti, Kieth Burley, and Evan Jonat of the Marketing Department dressed as and lip-synching to The Beatles, The Jacksons, The Supremes (!), and The Isley Brothers (for a raucous version of "Shout!"). It was a great holiday send-off for what has been a tough season. Sorry, no photos. I like my job.

Speaking of Christmas (nice segue, eh?), I told you I'd let you know when our new book, Wild Rides II, was out, and it is and available for holiday purchasing on Amazon.com. Here's the link. The Amazon setup allows you to look at the first few pages for a sample of what's inside. I didn't plan it this way (I swear!), but two of the three crash 'n' burn pics it shows are mine: John Force's top-end fire in Montreal in 1991 and Nick Nikolis' crazy top-end Pro Stock crash in Gainesville in 1986. I had a lot of fun researching and writing the captions for the book, and Jeff Mellem of our Production Department did a great job laying it out. It's a pretty cool little book, and with its horizontal format, a great stocking stuffer. While you’re shopping there, you can also check out the other books we've produced in the last year, which include the first Wild Rides, our popular History of NHRA Pro Stock, and a Wally Parks biography, and soon we'll have our History of the NHRA Winternationals book online.

Speaking of history, I heard from your friend and mine, Tom "the Mongoose" McEwen, who called to exchange holiday pleasantries and to ask me to mention his new book, Mongoose, The Life and Times of Tom McEwen. He dropped me a copy in the mail (autographed!), and it's an interesting piece. Basically, it's a compilation of all of the "Mongoose Journals" columns he has run in Drag Racer magazine in the last few years.

I haven’t had a chance to go through it yet, but I have enjoyed the columns, which are written in first person for McEwen by longtime cohort Pete Ward. Although presented in chronological order, the book isn’t a McEwen bio per se, as it's told in chapters that are vignettes of his life, and each originally was published as a column in the magazine, but the sum still is greater than its parts. You can order it from Amazon, too, or, if you’re local to SoCal, you can pick it up at McEwen's favorite non-racing haunt, Prestige Hobbies, in Anaheim.

"Snake" and "Mongoose" fans also probably will be interested in Tom Madigan's new hardcover, Snake vs. Mongoose: How a Rivalry Changed Drag Racing Forever, another book that I just received in the mail and have not yet had the breathing room to sit down and peruse, but I'm looking forward to it.

Perhaps the biggest ink that either has received lately, though, is the video at right, which was presented on Jay Leno's Garage Web site. It's a great nine-plus-minute segment with Leno and "the Snake" that focuses on the Hot Wheels Barracuda. Prudhomme reminisces about the car and takes viewers on a guided tour of its features. It's a cool bench-racing session between the two icons and shows that Leno knows his way around a race car (we’ll excuse him for saying they were going to open the car's "hood").

You can check out the embedded version here at right (which includes an ad  ... sorry) or visit the real site for a larger video. Pretty cool stuff.

The wildlife duo also are featured in a 20-questions feature in issue 20 of Garage magazine, which is published quarterly by car and cycle customizer to the stars Jesse James. It's a nice eight-page feature with some really quality questions ("Who sold more Hot Wheels?") and some nice photos.

"The Snake" and wife Lynn also get the Christmas Card Holeshot Award this year as being the first to hit my mail slot this season with their jolly, jingly, and cheery greeting. Also, here's the first Christmas tree (non-racetrack division) sighting of the year, courtesy of Toni Yates.

Feeling all Christmasy yet?

Around the motoring world ...Friday, December 11, 2009
Posted by: Phil Burgess

National DRAGSTER issue No. 48 for 2009 left the office last night, zipping through cyberspace to Conley Publishing in beautiful downtown Beaver Dam, Wis., where they'll print it up all pretty and get it in the mail to y'all. It's our annual year-end wrap-up, featuring Top 10 Stories, "Best of" awards, Quips & Quotes, The Year in Photos, and much, much more.

For those of you keeping score, it's issue No. 2,349 (an even 2,350 if you count the infamous and seldom-seen or-remembered "Issue 0" promo piece), and for yours truly, it's issue No. 1,324 with my name in the masthead. (Soooo bummed that I didn't get a chance to salute my 1,320th issue in some cool way. Opportunity squandered.) By my figurin', that makes me accountable for 56.36 percent of all NDs ever published. I hope that's a good thing.

The last issue is always a challenge because teams seem to have an impeccable knack of making announcements on the last day of production, forcing us to add, edit, or subtract items from Bits from the Pits to make room for all of the juicy last-minute stuff that otherwise would have to wait out the four-week publishing hiatus. Yeah, good times.

Anyway, we gave the final issue a rousing sendoff with a high-falutin' affair, noshing on caviar and slurping Dom Perignon from fine crystal. OK, so it was pie and apple cider in plastic cups, but it was still cool. The department heads gave their traditional speeches, thanking the team and pointing out how the publication couldn't possibly get out each week without the help of their specific department etc., etc., and we toasted those who sadly left us earlier this year.

It's eerily quiet in Silly Season this year, and I'm not sure if that's a good thing – a sign of stability – or a bad thing, so I've been entertaining myself with other news in the automotive world.

Have you caught a peek at the Bloodhound land-speed record car yet? Wow, that's a sexy piece.

The team behind the beast says it hopes to surpass 1,000 mph in the South African desert in June 2011 to set the land-speed record. The current land-speed record is held by the twin-engine ThrustSSC, which hit 763 mph in 1997 with RAF pilot Andy Green at the controls, becoming the first car to exceed the speed of sound. Richard Noble designed  both cars, and Green has again been tapped to be its pilot.

The $25 million project bypassed traditional wind-tunnel testing in favor of computer modeling that calculated everything down to the thickness of the paint. At 1,000 mph, an extra layer of paint on one side of the car would be enough to alter its direction and could send it into a tailspin.

Powered by three engines -- a Eurofighter Typhoon jet engine, a hybrid rocket engine, and a third engine whose sole responsibility is to pump fuel to the other two – the team expects it will produce more than 135,000 horsepower. Coming from a place where 8,000 horsepower from one engine requires some finesse, I'm kind of skeptical of lofty numbers such as that, but ThrustSSC was said to have made 110,000 horsepower. Somehow, I have a hard time imagining that anything that makes the power of 16 nitro-burning Hemis will stay on the ground.

However, according to experts, the "Jet over Rocket configuration [JoR, in geek speak] works extremely well with the thrust forces from the jet and the rocket balancing either side of the center of gravity [well, they said "centre"], creating less downward force on the front wheels when the rocket is fired."

Estimates are that the car will only accelerate at 1.5 Gs initially (that's all?), with peak acceleration and deceleration in excess of 3 Gs. At full speed, the car will cover a measured mile in less than 3.6 seconds.

There's a pretty cool simulation video of the Bloodhound "racing" a Eurofighter Typhoon that includes a pretty good simulated look at the car and simulated in-car footage. You can read more on the official site, http://www.bloodhoundssc.com/. There's even a cool "video game" that lets you design your own land-speed car. My first attempt didn't result in a record-breaking run even though I had enough thrust; there was some nonsense about my engine not being "safe enough." I think it was driver error. Try your hand. 


Here's the headline of the week: "101-Year-Old Man Buys a 426-Horsepower Camaro." This is a pretty cool story; I found it on the N.Y. Times' "Wheels" blog, and I only hope that a) I live that long and b) that I still am able to drive.

Virgil Coffman, who turns 102 in January, bought the new Camaro SS from the Miles Chevrolet dealership near his home in Decatur, Ill., in September and even chose the Transformers special-edition model with black stripes (made up to resemble the Bumblebee character from the movie).

According to the Times, after learning of the purchase, GM flew Coffman, who worked at GM from 1950 until 1973, to Detroit to tour the design studio and its Heritage Center museum.

No feather-footed geriatric, cautious Coffman said: “Once in a while I like to kick it up, but I’m afraid to drive too fast and get a ticket, and then they might take my license away.”

Speaking of someone who should have his license taken away, I'm sure by now that most of you aghast gearheads have at least heard of – if not seen the video of – the lead foot plunging a million-dollar Bugatti Veyron into a saltwater lagoon along Interstate 45 in Texas. It was reported to be one of only 200 made and one of only 15 in the United States.

The fact that someone just happened to be filming the car when it took the plunge is fishy enough – but not out of the realm of possibility; I'd probably whip out the ol' cell-phone camera if I saw one – but I guess it has been uncovered by the local media that the mindless motor man (who says he swerved to avoid a pelican) just happens to own a business that restores wrecked super cars for sale. Coincidence?

I would have embedded the video here, but the reactions of the videotapers includes some NSFW language that I'd hate to create problems for those of you reading at work. You can find it quickly enough on YouTube.

OK, this isn’t actually a news story, but if you’re like me and dig cars and love reading the sarcastic wit of The Onion, you'll get a kick out of the editorial "Any Idiot Could Have Come Up With The Car" in which the author pooh-poohs the complexity of car design and mocks those who take credit for its invention.

"When you get down to it, a car is really nothing more than a couple of chairs on wheels—wheels, mind you, being those round things that have been around forever! It was only a matter of time before someone thought to plop a seat down on four of them and roll around in it. Just toss in an internal-combustion motor utilizing a high-octane accelerant to produce kinetic energy to rotate the axle, and whammo! You've got yourself an automobile. It's so simple, it's almost impossible not to invent."

It's hilarious. Check it out here.

I'd also like to give a shout-out to the nice site launched by racing buddy Gary Gardella. The former NHRA Sport Compact racer, whose driver, Ryan Tuerck, finished a close second in the Formula Drift national championship this year, recently launched DeathMachines.net. Fortunately, the content is not as lurid as the title suggests, but it's chock-full of photos, video, interviews, and story links for all things motorsports, from drag racing to drifting to F-1, NASCAR, MotoX, rally, boats, and more.


It's becoming harder and harder not to keep getting sucked in to the time-eating vortex that is Facebook, the popular social-networking site. For me, it's rapidly replacing e-mail as the easiest way to track down racers and correspond with them, as most of today's top drivers have a page.

But it's not cyber stalking that has the potential to be a time waster second only to Mafia Wars; it's the many cool groups that keep popping up. I really try to limit myself to becoming a fan of a page or joining a group, just because I know I'll never have time to check them all out, but there's some pretty cool stuff out there.

For you nostalgia lovers, there are a ton of great groups, each filled with photos and comments from fans and others, to entertain you. For example, and just brushing the surface, there are Fans of Pat Foster, Memories of O.C.I.R., the Steve Evans Memorial, Roland Leong Friends and Fans, The Fans of Tom "The Mongoose" McEwen, Gordie Bonin "240 Gordie" Fans & Friends, Shirley Muldowney Fans!, Jungle Jim Liberman/Jungle Pam Hardy Fans, Dick Harrell "Mr. Chevrolet," and so many more.

The Foster page has more than 50 pages of "Mr. Everything" submitted by the likes of Auto Imagery's Dave Kommel, Dawn "DragStrip Girl" Mazi-Hovsepian, Darr Hawthorne, and many others showing him and his various rides and more than 300 members sharing their thoughts about "Patty Faster." Cool stuff.

The Evans Memorial already has attracted 550 members to honor one of motorsports' most unique and well-loved personalities. While there are only about a dozen photos on the page, Steve was better heard and witnessed in motion than in freeze-frame, and there's plenty of great old Evans footage from Diamond P videos like fabulous floppers and old national event TV shows to give any Evans fan a daily fix. Be there!

I've mentioned the Memories of O.C.I.R. group here before, which has grown to an impressive 570 members, each seemingly with his or her own great remembrances, and hosts a mind-boggling collection of old photos from the County, more than 600 in all. If you were one of the Sand Canyon Road denizens, you'll get a kick out of it. A lot of the old racers who competed there are part of the group. Ah, what memories.

The Bonin friends and fans page has nearly 250 members and about 40 pics of "240" – many submitted by the man himself, with comments – from all over the world as well as some cool video from old Wide World of Sports shows.

Bonin, a former Hawaiian shoe, is actually listed as one of the admins on the Leong page, which has more than 450 fans paying homage to "the Hawaiian." Though there aren't a ton of photos here (I'd guess there were more ex-Hawaiian drivers than there are photos), there are a couple of pretty cool video compilations with footage spanning four decades from places like Fremont, Pomona, and Sanair, and even one with Hawaii Five-O theme music.

The "Jungle" 'n' Pam page has nearly 400 members and four dozen photos, about half of which are of "Jungle Pam," which probably draws as many lookers as those seeking out JJ's amazing array of machinery. There's a nice "Jungle Pam" video tribute (complete with the Hollies' "Long Cool Woman" as the soundtrack), and following the link to her own profile, what I think is a pretty rare video of "Jungle" himself, for those of you who have never heard him outside of his famous "Drag racing is faaaaar out" quote, with him discussing strategy with team driver Jake Crimmins before a track record pass at Maple Grove Raceway in 1974. Well worth the watch!

The McEwen page has about three dozen photos of his various Top Fuelers and Funny Cars and, unfortunately, not a lot of activity on its pages yet. The Dickie Harrell page, with just under 200 fans, is a fine tribute to "Mr. Chevrolet" with more than 70 photos and newspaper clippings and links to other stories about him.

Of course, none of these racer groups is as big as the Muldowney group, which boasts 700 fans, but just a few historic photos of drag racing's first lady. I know that Muldowney has a Facebook account (still waiting for you to accept that Friend Request, Shirley), and I'm sure that when (if?) she gets up to speed there, she'd find it a great way to interact with her loyal fans.

The American Nitro group – saluting the 1970s cult classic drag racing film of the same name -- is one of the largest, boasting more than 2,300 fans and almost 450 fan photos and more than 350 wall photos from the producers. The film, originally released in 1979, has been digitally remastered and rereleased, so there's a lot of buzz about it. The page links to the official site, which features trailers from the movie, too.

Of course, my own personal favorite fan page is Frank Mazi Racing, saluting one of my life mentors and all-around great guys (and, to date, the only guy who has let me drive his race car). Assembled by his daughter, the aforementioned Dawn, the page includes not only photos of the "blower snob's" well-known supercharged Opel and Firebird, but also his early T-bucket roadster. (It also includes his wonderful warning to me as I prepared to drive his car for the first time: "The BB/A has two positions: out of shape and about to be out of shape.")

Speaking of which, your old pal here has two positions: Out of time and about to be about of time, and we're at the former. It's been a busy couple of days at NHRA outside of my DRAGSTER work with planning meetings for the 50th annual Kragen O'Reilly NHRA Winternationals -- look for some cool announcements in the next two weeks and the launching of the special Web site next week (hopefully) -- and all kinds of other groovy stuff. I'll see ya next week.


Here's Johnny ...Tuesday, December 08, 2009
Posted by: Phil Burgess

I didn't get a chance to get out to John Force's Holiday Car Show this year like I did last year, but it made the local news in a big way, showing the stacks of toys gathered from attendees.

If you've followed this column for any length of time, you know of my admiration for Force, as a racer and a human being -- who could forget the Hurry Back, Superman ode I penned to him the day of his accident in Dallas in 2007, a heartfelt, get-well-soon kind of message that later became a bit of an anti-rallying cry from him about how he wasn't Superman (he'll still have to disprove that one to me) --- and am proud to be a confidante and occasional sounding board, and we all, as drag racing fans, have a lot to thank him for.

Whether you approve or disapprove of multicar teams, Force fields four very solid cars, all winners, that help make the show better. He has given us our next-generation nitro superstars in Ashley Force Hood and Robert Hight, and, before them, Eric Medlen. He gave Gary Densham the chance to win the Mac Tools U.S. Nationals. He has given drag racing the Eric Medlen Project and safety his utmost attention. He has helped more fellow racers under the table than we'll ever know about, whether with guidance, parts and pieces, or financial assistance. He's helped take NHRA to new and great places on the back of his enthuiasm and popularity and guft of gab.

The Holiday Car Show, which celebrated its 12th version this year, is just another example of the good guy that he is. I'd say you'd be hard-pressed to find many people who don't like him and even fewer still who don't at least respect him. As I was cruising through our photo archives from the last year, thousands and thousands of photos taken by our amazingly talented photo staff, Force's folder was packed with images of him with other people, most of them smiling or laughing. If you've ever seen him at the track, he is stopped every few feet for a photo with a fan, which he almost always obliges. Everyobe wants their photo taken with him, or so it seemed to our cameras. It was pretty overwhelming, and fun, and I thought I’d share a gallery of them here today.

With longtime friend and mentor Gary Densham
A handshake for rival and good pal Ron Capps
With the Prezes, NHRA's Tom Compton ...
and Auto Club's Tom McKernan
With his favorite people, the fans
High-fives from the faithful
Holding court with Ford buddy Bob Tasca III
Force and BT3, sharing the love at the top end
The Wilkman laugheth ...
This pic was from last year, but Brandon's still probably laughing
Force loves the media: ESPN's Dave Rieff
No doubt making sure the camera guys get good shots of him
Flanked by photo greats Steve Reyes and Tim Marshall
And with NHRA Chief Starter Rick Stewart
Congratulating his hero, "the Snake," in Chicago
With another legend, Connie Kalitta
Flowers for Laurie in Dallas, for their 28th anniversary
What racing once put asunder, it now revives
Proud poppa, with a kiss for his little girl
Smiling in Seattle with his next superstars

And how can we overlook Force's other constant companion at the races -- his scooter. Hell, ESPN even did a feature on the darned thing. If you've ever been to a race, chances are you've seen Force make more passes on his scooter than in his Mustang, with a variety of castmembers hanging on for dear life behind him.

Easy there, boss, that's the world champ riding back there. Don't hurt him. Adria (and his fans) would be pissed.
 JFR marketing coordinator Chad Light has a lot of important duties; not sure if this is one of them, or if he gets hazard pay.
One-handing it while chucking a hat to the fans; Laurie approves
BT3 acknowledging the fans ... his or Force's?
Chauffeuring daughter Brittany, another aspiring champ
Riding off into the sunset, another championship won

Friday fan feedbackFriday, December 04, 2009
Posted by: Phil Burgess

Time for another trip through the Insider mailbag, wherein the readers of this column are invited to inspect, dissect, interject, object, reject, conject, redirect, correct, and/or perfect any previous posting, roasting, toasting, musing, finding, teaching, rating, listing, sighting, vetting, blustering, and/or filibustering.

Let's get right to the mailbag …

John "JW" Wilson, part of Don Garlits' Swamp Rat Pack of the early 1970s – which included Connie Swingle, T.C. Lemons, Don "Mad Dog" Cook, and the late "Starvin' Marvin" Schwartz -- dropped me a great note regarding the photo of one of Garlits' 1975 dragsters in Butch Barnhart's Fan Fotos entry. Williams had come to work for Garlits, assisting Cook's work on a pair of 1975 cars, and when Lemons decided he needed a breather from the road during a hectic match race schedule in late 1975, Williams was there to fill in.

In my comments and based on Barnhart's notes, I had surmised that this car was actually Swamp Rat 21, built in early 1975 for "Jungle Jim" Liberman, and not the famous 5.63, 250 Swamp Rat 22 that debuted midseason, but Wilson set the record straight. Wilson confirmed that Swamp Rat 21 was indeed built for "Jungle" in Garlits' chassis shop, but it was built by Slim Werner, who had taken over for Swingle, but that the car in question is definitely Swamp Rat 22.

"Though the roll-cage shape of the Cook-built car was different than Swingle's design, the distinct giveaway is the chrome roll cage on SR22," he reported. "The photo would be the Division 2 points race, in which 'Big' swept the event for all the points during a fierce ongoing battle for the Winston championship against Gary Beck. The following week, we ran the Springnationals at National Trail in Columbus, and the same car was photographed right off the starting line in a power wheelstand against Shirley in the first round."

Wilson went on to laud the car's construction, noting that "at a time when five-second runs only occurred on better racetracks and suitable conditions, Swamp Rat 22 clicked off 34 consecutive runs in the fives without removing the heads."

Because of the heavy highway travel to keep pace with "Big Daddy's" continuous match race dates, NHRA national and divisional events, AHRA and IHRA national events, and performances like setting the speed record to 249.72 during the Popular Hot Rodding Meet, SR 22 ended upping being backhalved at Glen Blakely's shop in Tampa, Fla., immediately before breaking the record at the World Finals in Ontario, Calif.

Steve Scott's Fan Fotos submission also prompted some follow-up, this from Nick Poloson. He referenced the shot at right, a self-portrait by Scott in a mirror that's mounted on the rear of a injector of a dragster, and indentifies the dragster as his own ride, a nostalgia Top Fueler.

"If you can read backwards, you'll see my name," he said. "This car belongs to Floyd Head from San Antonio, Texas, and is a great piece of history. It's Floyd's 15th Top Fuel car, and he had it built in '69. It's a Huszar chassis, Hanna body, and paint from Cerny's shop. It's an absolute survivor. Never been apart (other than normal maintenance), wrecked, or changed: same motor, paint, owner, etc. for the last 40 years. We still take it out and cackle it. We've been to Bakersfield, Bowling Green, and a lot of other places that our schedule lets us go. We went to Ardmore, Okla., a few months ago and made a burnout and launch: That's where Steve Scott took the picture."

Poloson also drives an Outlaw Fuel Altered, Tom Wood's car from San Antonio, and competes on
the Outlaw Fuel Altered circuit in the Texas area.

He attached the photo below of the car as well as this link to a neat YouTube video from a car show at Jack Chisenhall's Vintage Air car show in San Antonio that shows more of the car, images of Floyd, and the car being cackled.

From yet another Fan Fotos column, the Brainerd-based pics of Kent Ewer, came a note concerning the photo at right. I obviously was able to easily identify Roland Leong, center, and his then driver of the Hawaiian Punch Dodge, Johnny West, right, and Jeff Swanson wrote to confirm that the person to the left in the photo is indeed his father, Carl, driver of Al Tschida's Cheetah line of Funny Cars.

"For a brief time, he was the marketing manager for Vericom, an accelerometer-based performance computer," said Jeff. "Roland was one of the earlier users of the computer, and Vericom had a small (front fender) sponsorship of Roland's car. At the time, Dale Earnhardt was a user of the unit, and the consumer version was used by the major auto manufacturers and industry testers for accurate results metrics. The product had promise and was on its way when the company management felt they would be able to manage the chores of marketing. The company went out of business within two years following this decision. 

"During his racing career, he had always maintained self-employment as a manufacturers rep in the aftermarket industry and represented up to 30 given product lines at any given time, including Rocket wheels, Hurst shifters, and Ram clutches. He did this mostly throughout the remainder of his life. He did retire from the auto-parts world for a few years in the late '80s and early '90s. In the picture you see with Roland and Johnny, it could very well be that they were talking about performance computers. He returned to the aftermarket-parts industry shortly thereafter and moved from Minnesota to Jacksonville, Fla., until his passing in 2003. During those years after racing, he was never far from the track due to business and his yearly return to Brained for the national event and the maintaining of a track suite most every year."

According to his son, Swanson raced the Cheetah Funny Car into the early 1980s. His last shot was in 1982 when he landed sponsorship from Minnesota parts chain 10,000 Auto Parts, owned by Mike Stigge. The partnership lasted only one race, the 1982 NorthStar Nationals. The car did not qualify due to mechanical issues (a poorly wrenched mag was the culprit). The Stigge-Swanson partnership effectively ended there.

"As a side note, right after the ill-fated Brainerd experience, the small warehouse space at the office of Kelly, Swanson, and Drabzack was used by Gary Burgin in preparation for the then upcoming U.S. Nationals," recalled Jeff. "This was the year Gary was runner-up with Cory Lee as his sole crewmember. I had the pride of seeing Gary's car on TV knowing that I polished every inch of the Orange Baron for Gary and was his overall errand boy while he visited."

Swanson never raced again after 1982. He attempted to gain larger sponsorships to race full time and was very close to closing a few deals, but they were destined to not happen.

After my reprint of the Fun with Fotos columns, Tom Molyneaux of Vineland, N.J., offered more info on Don and Gene Bauman's Vineland Villains rear-engine flathead-powered dragster. His hometown obviously gives a clue as to the origin of the car's name, and he passed along this second image. "I am friends with Gene Bauman and happy to tell you that he is alive and well and still has a repair shop in Vineland, N.J.," he wrote. "Gene loaned me his photo collection, and attached is a sample for your pleasure. Another view of the Vineland Villians dragster and crew. Gene Bauman is second from the left, I never knew his brother Donnie and don't have the names of the other folks in this photo. Enjoy!"

In that same column, I showcased Noel Black's wild two-engine Top Fueler that actually was destined for Salt Flats (and in which he later was killed), but Don Francis also dropped me a note to report that Joe Garcia had Black build a Funny Car for him, the Garcia Bros. Out of Sight Camaro (pictured at right). "Noel was a Salt Flats builder as Dan Tuttle has pointed out," said Francis. "The Salt Flats concepts where quite evident in his chassis design of the Out of Sight. I believe that his design made it possible to break the 200-mph barrier in 1968. Noel Black was a talented budget builder whose life was unfortunately cut short, and, in my opinion, he never got the credit and recognition that I believe was due him."

Why does Francis know so much about the car, which was driven by the late Steve Garcia and was pictured in a four-wide Funny Car race in this previous column? Turns out that Francis has owned the Out of Sight twice for a total of some 14 years. "The Camaro has been a long and arduous restoration process that I hope to bring back to its home track, Sacramento, Calif., and take a pass or two," he said. "Steve Garcia clocked 202.00 backed up with a 198.00 run at Rockford Dragway in July 1968. One of the infamous Isky ads actually proclaims that it is the first ever to run over 200 mph using an Isky cam, of course on that day."   

I also heard from good pal Henry Walther, who reports that Black and partner Bert Peterson turned out a lot of drag racing machinery from their B&N Automotive in South Sacramento.

"He was very helpful to a lot of us Northern California drag racers early in our racing careers," said Walther. "Here is a photo of one of my early rides, a dragster disguised as a Modified Roadster. This car was built at B&N Automotive, the photo taken at the Grand Nationals at Kingdon Drag Strip in the mid-1960s."

And finally, the photo above, of Mike Kuhl's and Carl Olson's Top Fuel dragster in the pits at National Trail Raceway during the 1974 Springnationals, came to me from veteran Stock and Super Stock racer Tom Kasch, who for the last couple of months has been treating me and a few dozen others to a collection of photos from the 1960s and '70s. I thought that this photo, actually taken by his then-12-year-old son Mike, was pretty cool, and I forwarded it to Olson for his enjoyment. What I got back from C.O. was way more than just "thanks."

"There's an interesting story behind this photo," he wrote, and he was right.
"You'll note that most of the forward body panels have been removed from the car prior to this warm-up. The reason is that while unloading the car from the trailer and parking it in our pit area, I noticed that it wasn't steering as usual. It just didn't feel quite right. As a result, Mike and I removed the forward nosepiece to take a look at the steering assembly. Something looked funny, so we removed the Dzus fasteners from the front section of the belly pan. As soon as we did, the bottom framerails fell away from the top rails, and we realized that the only thing that had been holding things together where the top and bottom framerails came together at the front of the car was the belly pan. The rails had evidently broken during the tow from California to Columbus in spite of the various safeguards in place, including the air-filled rubber 'pillow' that Mike always placed and inflated under the engine.
"Mike quickly found a welding machine, jacked the bottom and top framerails together, and welded them up. (Mike used to claim that he could weld anything, including a broken heart.) As usual, he did a perfect job, and we never had a problem with that part of the chassis again. If I hadn't noticed the odd feel in the steering and we'd have just warmed the car up as usual and put it in line for the first qualifying session, I hate to think of what might have happened." Me, too!

You can find more of Tom's great photos here. By the way, like his pops, kid Kasch has done quite well for himself in racing. He has worked for Jack Roush for the last 12 years and was the NASCAR Engine Builder of the Year in 2000 and runner-up several times for that honor. He works at the Yates-Roush engine shop in Mooresville, N.C.

OK, that's it for the week. We're working on the final issue of National DRAGSTER for 2009, our year-end wrap-up, which should be in the mail to you late next week. Enjoy the weekend. Just 68 days until the Kragen O'Reilly NHRA Winternationals!

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