Poor Bret Kepner. No one remembers when you’re right -- which he often is -- but, oh baby, be wrong once, and they let ya have it.
Tom Nagy, Roger Lee, Eric Widmer, Jim Kampmann, "Chicago Jon" Hoffman, Mark Harmon, and others pointed out that Kepner's list of wedge Top Fuelers omitted "the Action Man," Kenney Goodell. Nagy even dug out this great Bob McClurg photo to prove the point. The car, dubbed the Wynn's Stormer, was painted similar to his popular Funny Cars. I'm not sure how long or how well it ran, but word is it was another Buttera creation.
Also, many people questioned Kepner's claim about a Tom McEwen wedge dragster, so I finally went straight to the source. Although Mattel made a Mongoose wedge dragster, it was only a Hot Wheels-sized toy; McEwen never had a wedge. "[Don] Prudhomme thought it was pretty zoomy, but I wanted to wait and see if it worked," said McEwen, who had, apparently, been awaiting my phone call. "They looked nice, but they were too heavy, and I still had my [Don] Garlits[-built] car."
McEwen also told me that by Christmas, Mattel will reissue those toy wedge dragsters under its Racing Demons line. Maybe I'll get one for Bret's stocking instead of that lump of coal I had planned.
Speaking of Wynn's -- whose building I pass on the 210 freeway every time I make a lunchtime journey for a chili dog at Tommy's in Monrovia: I smile every time I see that familiar elongated purple and magenta oval – Goodell's car was one of so many sponsored by and named after the friction-proofing treatment. Of course there are Garlits' many Wynn-ers -- the Wynn's Charger, Wynn's Jammer, Wynn's Liner (Garlits' ill-fated Jocko car), and Butch Maas-driven Wynn's Winder (a name formerly used on Prudhomme's late-1960s/early 1970s slingshot; "the Snake" had a 30-plus-year association with the company) -- plus Tony Nancy's Wynn's Sizzler, the Wynn's Spoiler and dozens more that I probably missed.
And speaking of 1970s Top Fuelers, in a recent Misc. Files feature in National DRAGSTER, I featured Richard Ogg's Capt. Hook Top Fueler and tracked him down via the Internet (time on my hands + unusual name = good results); I asked him for history on his career and the origin of his "Capt. Hook" nickname.
Ogg saw his first drag race – and it was a good one – as a high-schooler at Atco (N.J.), where he saw Garlits take on Connie Kallita in a match race. "At the time, I thought it was crazy to drive a car at 150 mph, spinning the tires all the way through the quarter-mile," he remembered.
Pre-racing, he had a pretty interesting career moving yachts up and down the East Coast and throughout the Caribbean for a yacht broker. One delivery took him to Antioch, Calif., in December 1972, and it was a trip that changed his life.
"The owner of the yacht had a friend who had a hydraulics business in San Jose," he said. " I went to work for him and learned the business of hydraulics. Soon after, I got a job with a guy in Hayward whose shop was next to that of Fred Spell and Gary Ritter. Ritter, at that time, had a Top Fuel dragster named Blood Sweat and Nitro. I got to be friends with him and the drag racing crowd. When Ritter wrecked the car while at Indy in 1974, I bought what was left of it and rebuilt it into a blown alcohol dragster, which I started racing in 1975. In the fall of 1975, I started licensing passes. It was the first car I ever drove down a dragstrip, and I was hooked (no pun intended).
"The name of the car was a natural progression from my being the captain of the boats I delivered coupled with the fact that I had blown most of my left hand off in an accident when I was 13; the result of multiple surgeries formed the shape of a hook. Hence, the name 'Captain Hook.' I raced the blown alcohol dragster around the country during 1976 and 1977, winning the AHRA championship in 1977 and setting the world record that year. Having won the world championship, I wanted more and converted the car to nitro and went Top Fuel racing. I got my Top Fuel license in January 1978, just in time for the Winternationals in Pomona.
"I raced in the Jim Davis car until September 1979, at which time Al Morton joined me with a Donovan-powered Don Long car. I raced that car at the Winternationals and Bakersfield in 1980. I went back to the Jim Davis car and raced that car until the World Finals of 1981. In the summer of 1982, I teamed up with Fred Schirmer, and we built our own car in which Clark Hazelwood and Dick Gable joined us to run at the Fallnationals and World Finals of that year. At that time, life kicked in, and I got pulled away from drag racing."
Ogg is still involved in racing: His company, Hydro Dynamics, sponsors the West Coast Super Comp Racing Association. He's also an accomplished pilot who competes at the Reno Air Races in the Sport Class with a Glasair kit plane.
"Although my time on the quarter-mile has come to an end, you can still see me racing away; now you just have to look to the sky," he said.
In my column of miscellaneous photos that I showed off here a few weeks ago, I had a photo of two of my all-time favorite racers, the bucks-down father-son Funny Car team of Eddie and Rodney Flournoy, who made friends and fans whenever they hauled their ride to Orange County Int’l Raceway ("I love the Flournoys … Super neat people!" raved Pat "Ma" Green, who worked with her late husband, Kenny, at OCIR for years). I also mentioned that Eddie has a long and proud history in the sport that predates Rodney, and our own Greg Sharp had this photo forwarded to me.
It shows “Jazzy Jim” Nelson, with his hand on his hip, left, and Eddie, leaning on the slick, tending to “Jazzy’s” twin-flathead Outlaw dragster, circa 1957. It's even autographed by Nelson! Too cool!
Flournoy has worked with countless racers on one level or another, from fellow 1970s flopper pilot Leon Cain all the way up to George Doty's Crazy Horse nostalgia Mustang Funny Car.
As a sidenote, and to answer a few questions I received, "Jazzy Jim" Nelson is NOT the same Jim Nelson who ran the Dragmaster chassis company with Dode Martin. I know … two guys with the same name in the same era. Who'da thunk it? Maybe Joe Amato in the 1980s or John Smith in the 1990s?
Showing off my pin collection brought, as expected, a slew of e-mails from folks, but the one that hit most near and dear to my heart came via Facebook from Doug Adams. Doug used to shoot for National DRAGSTER in the 1980s and was one of the many contributors to a feature we had called Drag City.
We urged DRAGSTER readers to submit photos of towns, streets, businesses, and what-not that had drag racers' names. Any reader who had their photo published – and there were hundreds of them -- got a neat "I've been to Drag City" button, like the one shown here that Doug received for submitting a photo of Ormsby Lane, outside of Vista, Calif. I'm pretty sure it was designed by the one and only Bill Crites.
Doug said that he also owns one of Leslie Lovett's rare "North Hollywood Racing Association" (NHRA … get it?) pins that Lovett gave him when our offices were on Riverside Drive in good ol' NoHo. "Les had these pins made by Mike Follmer and kept them pretty quiet," he remembered.
Apparently, it's a pretty small world for owners of the Bally Nitro Ground Shaker pinball machine. Mike Kristin, a proud NHRA member since 1981 and a race fan for a decade before that, sent a link to specs and detailed photos of the game, one of which he owns.
He also says that I correctly deduced that Dave "Mad Dog" Christensen was not only involved in the game but also was the artist who designed all of the graphics. Kristin said that Christensen worked for Bally out of the Chicago area and was an artist for many of the Bally pinball backglasses and playfields and that the Nitro Ground Shaker was inspired by his visit to Great Lakes Dragaway in Union Grove, Wis.
"The more you study the backglass, the more unusual things you will find," he said. "Beer bottles being thrown out of the tower, etc. Here is a link for more information on the machine: www.ipdb.org/machine.cgi?id=1682. I purchased one of these machines just over a year ago, and my 9-year-old son and I love playing it."
OK, that's it for today. Another busy week at ND HQ as we sew up the first of the Houston results issues and prepare to head this weekend to Las Vegas for the first of what will be many back-to-back events this season.
OK, well no one really has mailbags anymore, but you get the idea -- feedback, notes, and clarifications about columns past. Thanks again, as always, for contributing.
From my "When Pins Were In" column, 1986 U.S. Nationals-winning Top Alcohol Dragster pilot Eldon P. Slick (who still has one of the all-time great racing names, in my opinion) dropped me a line about the Brooks Rods pin in my collection.
"I designed the Brooks Rods logo for Robert Goodwin in trade for two sets of new Donovan rods for an Alcohol Dragster I ran with Bob Meyer and Gary Sumek back in the day," he reported. "Not an interesting story, but just another flyspeck factoid."
Slick is quite a talented artist. Check out his online gallery of illustrations, paintings, and sculptures here.
I mentioned in that column that National DRAGSTER and NHRA had done a number of pins over the years and showed a couple of the more recent ones, but Jr. Fuel racer Chuck Rearick definitely one-upped me with his contribution: a photo of an NHRA membership pin I didn’t even know existed.
"I am guessing it is circa 1960-1961," he wrote. I'm guessing that the numeral 2 indicates his years as a member. We occasionally are asked why we don't salute long-term members, and the sad response is that due to a couple of computer database issues about a decade ago, we have lost all of our historical data and have no accurate records of lengths of NHRA membership. That's a real pity as I know there are a lot of folks who have been members for more than 20 years and probably some even longer.
Rearick also enclosed a photo of his 1960 Rulebook. "It’s only 1/16-inch thick," he noted. "In the Dragster class, only A, B, C,and D are listed, with D being non-supercharged flathead or six-cylinder." How times have changed.
Former fuel racer Don Roberts, who has been a great source of info for this column, dropped me a note of thanks for mentioning him in my recap of the Jade Grenade and passed along this photo of that terrible 1975 day at New England Dragway, the 35th anniversary of which will be April 20.
He was running a match race, heads-up against Tommy Grove at the wheel of the second Barry Setzer Vega (Pat Foster, of course, drove the other), and crashed heavily and was hurt very badly. "That is one of the reasons Patty and I were very close," said Roberts. "The Setzer car was a very special hot rod to him, and he felt bad that I got so screwed up racing his old car."
I asked Roberts what had happened on the run because I'd heard conflicting accounts, which he addressed in his reply. "I made a lot of runs in many different cars through the years, and I never had any problems with any of them. There are some who will tell you to this very day I overdrove that car and caused my own problems. Not so.
"There was a vicious crosswind at 700-800 feet downtrack, blowing right to left, and I think that the crosswind hit the front wheel pants on the Grenade and moved the wheels to the left, which brought the rear of the car around, and it started rolling. It crashed and banged for another 500-600 feet and came to a stop against a light pole at the second cutoff.
"My right leg was pulverized just above the ankle. The doctors worked for two weeks to save it, but infection set in, and the medical people were forced to remove my leg below the knee before the infection went any higher. I've walked on a below-knee prosthesis for almost 35 years. It's only been a minor inconvenience. I'm not bitter or angry that my career ended on a sour note. I've replaced anger and sadness with humor though the years as evidenced by my now kind of famous 'after the third flip' quote.
"I had a lot of good days at tracks all over the country, and I was the luckiest kid in the world to get to drive all of the cars I did. I only had one bad day at New England Dragway. I wouldn't change anything."
Of the column "From My Own Misc. Files," NHRA historian and Wally Parks NHRA Motorsports Museum presented by the Automobile Club of Southern California curator Greg Sharp was one of many who acknowledged that the mislabeled Cecil County photo was indeed Lions Drag Strip.
"If you had the full frame, you’d see that the banner over the starting line was for the Drag Racer Magazine East/West 'Stocker' Meet at Lions in November 1966," he wrote. "In the other lane is Delmar Heinelt driving the Seaton’s Shaker Corvair, who beat Yother two straight."
I did some digging around and came up with the full photo and began to wonder about the file name. Somewhere along the way, someone had taken Cecil Yother's first name and extrapolated that to mean the venue and not his first name (perhaps they didn't know that was his first name). I, on the other hand, also wasn't smart enough to deduce that possibility (apparently, I'm no Inspector Clouseau).
Speaking of Lions and misnamed photos, I also received a few e-mails pointing out that though the older photo I had of Lions might have indeed been opening day, it wasn't from 1955. The first clue was that there's a '60 Chevy convertible in it. Yeah, I never was very good at that kind of thing.
The photo brought back memories for Don Nickles, who shot at Lions for Drag News beginning in the late 1950s, as did the one of the Cook Bros, Jahns & Hedges three-wheeled dragster at San Gabe. "When I was shooting pictures on the line one Saturday night, I noticed this dragster about to make a run, which was sitting still on the line with its rear wheels moving," he said of the car, which was equipped with air jacks. "The Moon wheel covers were reflecting the lights off and on. I didn't know what was going on. The Cook Bros. dragster was a good example of the ingenuity at work in those days."
The ever-informative Steve Justice told me that Jahns' opponent in that 1963 photo is "his hero and ours," Tommy Ivo, "before the full body and red paint." Ivo defeated Jahns, 8.12, 184.42 to Jeff’s 8.77, 176.47.
From that same column, Drew Hierwarter took note of my mention of the California odd-even license-plate gas-rationing plan and shared his own crafty way of thwarting the system. "Back in those days, I lived in San Diego and owned two ’57 Chevys, a two-door hardtop and a four-door wagon," he remembered. "Strictly by coincidence, one had an even-number plate and the other was odd. So whichever car needed gas, I would just slap on the appropriate license plates and head off to the nearest station. Then swap them back when I got home. Nobody ever questioned why I had my plates attached with wing nuts!"
I also received quite a few comments about the Nitro Shaker pinball game from several owners, including Jim Bradley, who has owned his game for about 20 years. It still looks and works great, and he's interested in selling it ($2,600) if anyone is interested. He sent me a couple of better images than the ones I have, which gave me a chance to really study the artwork and marvel at what went into it.
As I mentioned, the main image on the backboard is a Vega Funny Car. With Jim's larger photos, I can see that the driver is "Mad Dog" Christensen (perhaps one of the artists?) and that the car is named Search & Destroy Racing (it also has the word "Dracula" curiously labeled on the hood). There's some writing on the injector I can’t make out, but the hood cowling around the blower says "Elephant Hunter," so maybe this is a pure-Chevy Vega ("elephant," of course, being the slang for late-model Hemi engines). The car also has Thunder & Lightning on the front spoiler. This has to be the most-named car in drag history. Technically, the car looks pretty right on (other than the valve-cover breathers protruding through the hood); at least it has the right amount of zoomie header pipes. There's a smoking piston-and-rod assembly on the ground, and Christensen's car is either on fire or doing a fire burnout (despite all the pipes still being lit!).
The track is Dragster City, and the brave starter between the machines has a jacket that reads "Chicago Rocks" (Bally was based in Chicago). Lining the fences in the background are guys with '70s hair and some stereotypical big-breasted women in halter tops. The freakish-looking woman closest to the player (who is sporting a Foxy Lade belt buckle) is proclaiming "Good Lord!" Indeed.
Christensen's opponent appears to be an early-'70s 'Cuda with a skeleton popping out of where the blower should be, and I can read the word "Kill" on the side of the car (the rest of the car name is not visible; the same two cars are on the playfield, where I can see that his opponent has the rather cryptic saying "Ask the Lord" on the hood. Wow, these were some out-there designers!). The driver is shouting "E-E-E-E-E-A-A-A!" whatever that means. I guess it’s sorta like how Sgt. Rock's machine gun always went "rat-a-tat-tat" in the comics or how whenever Batman hit the Joker it was "Ka-pow" or "Ooof!"
According to Wes Tarkington and Brett Rose, the game also got some time on the silver screen. "The Bally Nitro Ground Shaker pinball machine made a cameo appearance in my favorite mob movie of all time, Goodfellas," said Tarkington. "The scene was near the end of the film where Karen Hill (played by Lorraine Bracco) visited Jimmy Conway (Robert DeNiro) at his place of 'business.' Jimmy directed Karen to go check out some new Dior dresses a few doors down the street. While walking nervously towards her certain demise, she walks right past a pristine version of the pinball machine sitting innocently on the sidewalk. I must have watched the movie at least a dozen times before realizing that our sport inadvertently elbowed its way into a true story of the New York Mafia."
My mention of my interview with female Funny Car pioneer Della Woods for this week's National DRAGSTER brought a lot of praise for someone somewhat overlooked in the scheme of things. Especially nice was a note from reader Tom, who wrote, "My buddies and I sort of loosely hung with Della and brother Bernie for a time when they ran their Tom Smith-built Funny Car during the late '60s and early '70s. We also did business with Tom Smith, Doug Nash, and the other Detroit movers and shakers of that era, and it was not unusual to cross paths with Bernie and Della on and off the track. By the by, Bernie Woods never got any of the attention he deserved as a mechanic/crew chief. They had zero equipment, but Bernie could patch holes in a block and make the next round with the very best of them. And I never saw Della flinch behind the wheel, and the boys never took her lightly."
And finally, historian supreme and my keep-me-honest old pal Bret Kepner had a lot to say about the wedge dragsters of a few weeks ago as well as the confusion of Connie Kalitta's two assigned permanent numbers (339 and 399).
"I believe there were five [wedges]; they were campaigned by Don Prudhomme, Tom McEwen, Leland Kolb, Chris Karamesines, and Connie Kalitta. Of all five, none ran beyond 'reasonable' with the exception of Prudhomme, whose wedge clocked the infamous 6.41 to 6.41 race at OCIR alongside Rick Ramsey. Heck, McEwen's version probably made less than a dozen laps before he took off the wedge section and ran it as a conventional car.
"Concerning Kalitta's two competition numbers, his suspension in the mid-1970s resulted in a complete loss of credentials, and he was forced to relicense when he was allowed to return to competition. During the suspension, however, Gary Bolger upgraded to Top Fuel and requested the 339 number, so it was unavailable when Kalitta returned, and he took 399."
And now we know ...
OK, gang, thanks again for playing. See you next week.
I used to have a really nicely organized garage. Really, I did. Stuff was where I put it and stayed there. My tools were all neatly organized, and I could always find the tool I needed. I could walk in and just smile at the neat racks of tools hung on the wall, sort through the old toolbox my dad gave me, or put something in the vise and cut it in half ... just because I could. I used to be pretty handy with tools back in my time.
Then came those pesky offspring. Soon, the garage was overwhelmed by bicycles and battery-powered ride-on cars and sports equipment and strollers and beach umbrellas, and old Easter baskets and ice chests began to take up residence on my once-proud workbench. The tools, like socks in the dryer, began to slowly disappear. It so depressed me that I put off a thorough cleaning for what seemed like decades, but last weekend, I decided that I would at least take a stab at straightening the workbench. Put all of those odds and ends and nuts and bolts and screws and wall anchors in their assigned little plastic drawers, restore some kind of order to the toolbox, and just generally clean up.
That was a really good plan. Then …
"Hey, what's in this beat-up brown Ace Hardware bag?"
And there went the rest of the day. For inside that tattered and torn bag that probably once left the store with electrical receptacles or toggle bolts was a handful of memories from the 1980s.
The 1980s brought the world a lot of new fads and trends, including New Wave music, Pac-Man, mullets, and legwarmers (hey, I didn't say they were good trends). For the drag racing world, it brought us go-fast goodies such as high-volume fuel pumps, lock-up clutches, tall Top Fuel wings, streamliners, and other high-tech gizmos that made drag racing that much cooler, but, for Joe Averages like me and you, those things were pretty much out of reach. The rest of us had cloisonné pins.
The little 50-cent-sized collectibles were huge in the early to mid-1980s. Pretty much any team or manufacturer of substance had its own and gave them to friends and associates. Mike Follmer parlayed his racing background and a huge circle of influence into a lucrative business, Mike Follmer Specialties (still in business today!), which did the lion's share of the production, but others also got in on the trend.
Every race, there was a newer, more trick design or idea, and the one-upmanship not just among the designers but the collectors, too, was stout. People would cover their hats with them or make up special display cases to show off their collections. Bidding and trading ran rampant in the pits. I never got into it too deeply, but I did stash away a few of them, which I'll show off below (which, I'm fairly certain, will unleash a tsunami of your own pics in my direction).
Of course, National DRAGSTER had to be part of the craze. During the years, we've made quite a few pins – we last made 50th anniversary pins – so the getting is still good for pin makers, but these were among the first. Although cloisonné refers generally to any decorated metalwork, these aren’t even really what I'd call cloisonné pins because they don’t have the single-pin/squeeze-open clasp but rather a simple hinged straight pin and locking mechanism.
They weren't as easy to put on your hat or shirt, but they seemed to stay better once you did – I don't know how many pins I lost because the back came off. The top one is the original we made, and it's interesting to me because of the stars. The traditional DRAGSTER logo has seven stars, which represent NHRA's seven divisions (betcha didn't know that!). This one only has six. Designer error? Nope. From 1980 through 1984, Divisions 6 and 7 were combined, so NHRA had six divisions (didja know that Graham Light, NHRA's senior vice president of racing operations, was the division director when Division 7 returned in 1985?), hence the six stars. That logo looks like no DRAGSTER logo that existed, so I'm not sure why we went with that design.
The second one is a more traditional National DRAGSTER logo (though not the current logo), and this design came with both a blue background like this one (very rare) as well as a yellow background. We eventually went away from this logo, which was around for years, because (so the story goes), it's not really made from any particular typeface but was created from scratch, making it harder for us to edit and use in other applications.
This next foursome comes from that familiar Eastlake, Ohio, family of mine, the Mazis. They were pretty pin crazy it seems. Their supercharged Opel was a fan favorite, so it comes as no surprise that their pins were pretty popular, too. I had an inside source or two, so I always was in on the ground floor.
I really like the pin at top left because it's silhouetted, right down to the burnout smoke. A lot of the car/team pins were the car on an oval or round pin, but before long, they all were like this. This, of course, is that famous early-Chrysler-powered Opel (driven not particularly well but nonetheless famously by yours truly). The look is just right, all the way down to the injector scoop and Frank's 3270 permanent number on the side window. The Opel also was the subject of other pins -- the one below it was a special edition created in honor of the 30th annual U.S. Nationals (1984), and the other, at top right, honors the Supercharged Outlaws racing group, of which the Mazis were founding members. A whole lot of good racers, including people like future Funny Car star Dean Skuza, competed in the Outlaws series, which ran primarily in the Midwest and Northeast and included altereds and, later, Funny Cars.
The final pin is the family's Trans Am, which replaced the aging but faithful Opel in 1985. The Opel was around long before I was, but I saw a lot of the Trans Am go together in my frequent trips to Ohio. I was there in Norwalk when it made its maiden voyage and ended up kissing the guardrail at the top end, for which I've always felt a little responsible. The car was not launching real well, and Frank was getting a little frustrated, and I remember advising him something stupid like, "Well, after you lift, just get back into it, and we'll see how she runs at the other end." Not that he would listen to me, but he did pedal 'er the next run, got loose, and spun 'er around at the top end. The car ended up parked driver's side into the opposite-lane guardwall, scuffed up but not badly damaged, but Frank couldn't get out. Linda was so mad at him that I remember she didn't even let him out of the car. She just hooked the tow strap on it and hauled him back to the pits. Yeah, that was a long, quiet ride home.
I'm not sure who came up with this idea – I think it was drag racing journo vet Jon Asher – but these became a little trend of their own: The "I was there" pin. This one is from the 1989 Chief Nationals at Texas Motorplex, and, yes, I was there. Even though it was just the event's fourth year there, we all knew what the Motorplex could do, yet Gary Ormsby and crew chief Lee Beard blew us all away by setting both ends of the national record in Top Fuel at 4.91, 294.99 en route to winning the event and boosting Ormsby's bid for what would be his only season championship. The 4.91 came in qualifying and led to a first of its own: four straight four-second runs in eliminations (remember, the four-second barrier had only been broken 18 months earlier at the Motorplex). The Top Fuel field tied the quickest show ever with a 5.141 bubble, equaling the mark established earlier in the year at the U.S. Nationals. Six of the 16 cars qualified in the fours, also a record.
A similar pin also was made for this event that celebrated Ed "the Ace" McCulloch's national-record-setting 5.13 in Funny Car. I have one somewhere. Probably sitting next to that long-lost 9/16th open-end wrench I can't find.
Asher definitely was in on this pin, saluting the Jade Grenade Top Fueler in which he was a partner in the 1970s. How, you might ask, does one go from being a writer/photographer covering our sport to part co-owner? Asher first became involved with the team – then owned by Bill Flurer, Pete Lenhoff, and driver Ted Thomas – doing public relations work. After Lenhoff and Thomas had to leave the team due to familial commitments, Sarge Arciero joined as the new driver/partner, and Asher was asked to be a partner (he already was a dollar donor to the car; see his funny Car Craft magazine story here). Dave Stewart and Cindi Summers later joined the team (hence Asher-Flurer-Stewart-Summers; Asher either got first billing alphabetically or because he designed the pin?).
There were lots of tough times and a few good ones – like being named Best Appearing Car at the 1975 Gatornationals and setting low e.t. of the whole damned 1974 U.S. Nationals, with a 6.01 in round one – and the whole thing came to a terrible end in 1975 when Don Roberts crashed the car. Roberts, a regular reader of this column, was horribly hurt in the accident that destroyed the Grenade, yet still is remembered for his wonderfully humorous quote about the accident: "It wasn't a bad run, but after the third flip, I lost control. ..." That quote is No. 37 on a list of the Top 50 auto racing quotes that can be found all over the Internet.
Even the manufacturers in the drag racing game got in on the pin craze, and this is one of my favorites. Brooks Rods (then owned by Bob Brooks, of AFT clutches fame) created this cool-looking connecting-rod pin, complete with the hole for the crankshaft and simulated rod bolts.
The only uncool thing about this pin is that it has two clasps, as you can see. Not really sure why that is because it's certainly smaller and lighter than any other pin. But because the claps are worn on the inside, other than gouging your skin twice, no one else could tell its construction.
This is one of my all-time favorites. Tom "the Mongoose" McEwen didn't put his car on his pin alongside his famously fearsome-looking rodent; he put an incredibly detailed nitro-burning Hemi engine. I mean, magneto, coil, spark-plug wires, all plumbing … it’s a beauty. I get a kick out of the "3,000 horsepower" tag, which must have seemed like a lot back then (I want to say this was 1985).
For years, no one was really sure just how much power a nitro engine made, so we used some pretty basic formulas to deduce it. I'm not sure if 3,000 was right for the time, but it seems a little low. People today still fuss and fight about whether 8,000 horsepower is high or low for today's nitro mills.
I got this pin at a special media-only dinner that McEwen threw just before the Winternationals. "The 'Goose" was always good to the media and threw us this little bash in the San Fernando Valley that got an all-star turnout of scribes and, I'm sure, earned him a lot of goodwill and future publicity. (See, it's still paying off 25 years later!)
And, finally, in what will be a superb segue into my next item, here's a swell pin from Della Woods, showing her Dodge Daytona Funny Car. Like the Mazi Opel pin, I like this one for how the car is silhouetted as well as her name. Looking at this pin through a magnifying glass, it's amazing the detail that could go onto one of these things. It's not much bigger than an inch long (it's about half the size shown here), yet you can clearly read N&S Automotive on the front spoiler and her 386 permanent number on the side along with Dodge in several places. Woods, whose father worked at Dodge for 35 years, drove almost exclusively Dodge-bodied cars from her start in the late 1960s, the exception being her 1981 comeback car, the former Fighting Irish Trans Am.
Woods is the subject of my Pure Nostalgia column this week in National DRAGSTER. I always liked Della when she was racing in the 1980s; she was always very nice to everyone, and we all rooted for her to do well (who could forget her scintillating run to the semifinals at the 1985 Reading event?). As one of the class' early pioneers who along with Paula Murphy and Shirley Muldowney in some small way helped make Ashley Force Hood and Melanie Troxel possible, I thought she deserved some love. She has been a Facebook friend for a while (and even plays Mafia Wars), so I used that to get in touch with her, and we have an interview scheduled for later today.
In the meantime, I was going through her photo file and found it not only crammed with great old pics like the one above but also several really well-produced press releases that taught me a lot about her.
Did you know that she used to run the dice table at the popular Chicago nightspot Fireplace but fortunately quit two months before the Chicago Police Department shuttered it? That she spent 300 hours with the John Robert Powers modeling agency "before deciding she enjoyed eating too much to achieve the cadaverous gauntness demanded in a high-fashion career"? That she was an actress at the Will-O-Way Theatre in Birmingham, Mich., where she acted in Shakespeare's Taming of the Shrew and Tennessee Williams' Glass Menagerie?
The press releases were kinda humorous in a Women's Lib way. Where today, drivers such as Force Hood, Troxel, and Erica Enders hardly play extensively on their gender, one of Woods' late-1960s press releases was headlined "Figure to watch when all-girl Della Woods races her Dodge Funny Car is her e.t. or mph." There also was a subheadline that read "Tip your hat and you may lose your shirt to this lass." (Classic.)
Or how about this: "Comely Della Woods of Pontiac, Michigan is a former model, actress, and clothes designer who turned many a man's head on the street. But it is luxury few males can afford when competing against her on the drag strip." Niiiiice.
On a more personal note, if I may, I'd like to say happy birthday to my son, Chris. Twenty-one years ago today, he came into this world, the son I always dreamed of having, and he's done nothing since then but live up to that expectation. He's a more decent human being than you'd expect to find in this graceless age, a good soul, honest and trustworthy with values that run deep and true. He's more than a son. He's a best friend and a confidant. We can talk sports or cars, or we can talk about girl problems. He made me proud by developing a deep love for my favorite non-racing sport – hockey – and we play together at least once a week in a competitive league. He's my all-star goalie – the best in the whole association – and I'm his bumbling defenseman, but none of that matters as much as doing it together. You all would be happy to have a son one tenth as kind and thoughtful as my Chris. Happy birthday, buddy. I love you.
OK, that's it for today. Gotta get set up for the interview. See ya later this week.
As I plot out story ideas for this column, I'm forever grabbing little bits of this and that when I stumble across them, sometimes never quite sure where (or if) they'll get used. Mostly it's photos that I save into a folder on my hard drive so I'll know where they are rather than having to look back to old and sometimes since-removed pages.
As I was doing a little housecleaning, I noticed that the folder had suddenly become quite bloated with images, some that I realized I may never use, so I thought they might make a humorous column, and, who knows, maybe some of you other bloggers can find use for them.
In no particular order …
I forget how I got these photos – they may have been part of one of our NHRA.com Drivers Blogs – and I meant to do more on it but somehow never got around to it. This is the Nitro Ground Shaker pinball machine, built by world-famous Bally in 1979-80. The back glass features a Vega Funny Car (perhaps modeled after one of "Jungle Jim's" Vegas?), and two cars race across the playfield. I've seen these sold online for between $1,250 and $2,000 because they’re apparently kinda rare. Of the more than 6,500 members of Classic Arcade Preservation Society/Video Arcade Preservation Society, only three owned one.
The file name of this photo is "Lions-opening day," which would make this Oct. 9, 1955, at the famous corner of 223rd and Alameda in beautiful Wilmington, Calif. Lions, of course, is fabled Lions Drag Strip. It's pretty clear that this is very early in the old gal's history based on the lack of buildings, stands, and such. The track died Dec. 2, 1972, at the way-too-young age of 17 years, 1 month, 23 days.
I wrote about this wild piece last year, the three-wheeled Cook Bros., Jahns & Hedges (Don and Terry Cook, Jeff Jahns, and Pete Hedges) dragster, which Jahns drove fearlessly. The car featured a sideways-mounted Hemi, and the rear axle was chain-driven. The car, which reportedly weighed less than 1,000 pounds, also was equipped with air jacks to lift the car off the ground prior to launch, a la "Sneaky Pete" Robinson. I've seen quite a few photos of this car, but this is the first one I've seen with him actually racing against a conventional dragster; this is at the old San Gabriel track in Southern California. Safety seemed minimal, at best. Interestingly, I came across a posting on the Champion Raceway (Medford, Ore.) Web site that reports that Jahns is still racing and won Pro E.T. at its National DRAGSTER Challenge event in September 2008. Way to go, Jeff!
When gas was up over $4 a gallon a couple of years ago, I began collecting some of these funny price signs, which is pretty much what it felt like we were paying. I was going to do a story on it, recounting the mid-1970s gas shortage -- which occurred right around the time I got my driver's license - but never did. In California, you could buy gas on odd or even days of the month, depending on the last digit of your license plate. Vanity plates were considered an odd number, which was kinda funny because my plate at the time was "Hipo 390" (high-performance 390), which had an even last number (0 being even) but as a vanity plate was categorized as an odd number; I remember having to explain that several times to people in line. Below are a couple of other gas photos I had for some reason. So when your grandpa tells you he used to buy a gallon of gas for less than 20 cents, now you can believe him.
Moving on ...
The file name on this downloaded photo indicated that this is Cecil County Dragway in Maryland in 1966 -- which is clearly isn't; best guess in Lions -- but that would be Cecil Yother at the wheel of the very cool-looking Melrose Missile Plymouth Belvedere, one of a number of early topless Funny Cars (Beach City Corvette, Flying Dutchman, Chrisman's GT-1 Comet, Dale Armstrong's Canuck, etc.).
Speaking of Armstrong, here he is in one of his earliest Funny Cars, a 396-powered '64 Chevy II that was the predecessor to the Canuck. The scene is Palmdale Raceway, later known as L.A. County Raceway. This is 1966, I believe. "Double A Dale" is still one of my favorite drag racing people. I've never interviewed another crew chief who was more upfront and honest about a tune-up, and even when he was omitting certain things, he never made you feel as if you weren't worthy of knowing it, just that he couldn't share. Some of today's crew chiefs could learn from that.
I've always loved in-car cameras, whether they were film, video, or still, and especially love them when they're mounted on drag cars. Most of us won't ever get a chance to ride in a real Top Fueler, but we can see what it looks like on ESPN2. And, I'm guessing, pretty much no one got to ride on the cowl of Don Garlits' Swamp Rat to get this view of "Big Daddy" boiling the hides, mid-1960s style. Pity. Volunteers?
Yeah, pretty much no one I pulled harder for in the early 1980s than Rodney Flournoy. Just a great all-around kid, racing with his dad, Eddie, tuning, scraping together money and parts and always being there at the County to represent. Eddie goes way back in the sport's history, working on "Jazzy Jim" Nelson’s fuel-burning coupes of the 1950s. I caught up with them at the 2008 California Hot Rod Reunion presented by the Automobile Club of Southern California.
Yeah, well, this one is kind of self-explanatory. I'm not sure I ever planned to run it with anything like "Force remains silent; in other news, hell freezes over," but I just like the photo. Although a lot of people think they live in hell or that their job is hell and they sometimes tell people to go there, I'm pretty sure that this one is Hell, Mich. It has its own Web site
, which offers souvenirs (of course) and a virtual tour of the town.
According to the site, "Hell was first settled in 1838 by George Reeves and his family. George had a wife and seven daughters – no reason to call it Hell yet… George built a mill and a general store on the banks of a river that is now known as Hell Creek... The mill would grind the local farmers' grain into flour; George also ran a whiskey still, so a lot of times the first 7-10 bushels of grain became moonshine. In turn, horses would come home without riders, wagons without driver …someone would say to the wife, 'Where is your husband?' She’d shrug her shoulders, throw up her arms, and exclaim, 'Ahh, he’s gone to Hell!' In 1841, when the state of Michigan came by and asked George what he wanted to name his town, he replied, 'Call it Hell for all I care, everyone else does.' So the official date of becoming Hell was October 13, 1841..."
While we're in the photo-looking mode, check out this Web site
. Top Fuel racer Pat Dakin sent me the link (he'd been sent the link by Paul Candies). It's a great series of photos (145!) taken by Mike Manson in the summer and fall of 1967 at Louisiana's LaPlace Dragway. Man, what wonderful machines. You'll see Jake's Speed Equipment, the Gay brothers' Infinity GTO, Henry Garcia's Car Shop Camaro, the Cougar Country Cougar, Gene Barnett's Texas Twister, Gene Snow's Rambunctious Dart, Al Vanderwoude's Flying Dutchman, Sid Foster's Super Ford Mustang, Joe Lunti's ill-fated Dixie Devil Camaro, the Tonti Metal Craft Mustang, "Mr. Chevrolet," Dickie Harrell, Tommy Ivo's "giraffe" Top Fueler, Marvin Schwartz, Don Garlits' Swamp Rat, Ron Rivero, the Hemi Under Glass, and more.
There are some great tight-cockpit photos of Top Fuel drivers suited up for front-engine battle as well as some nice engine photos. Cool stuff!
OK, that's it for the show-and-tell. See ya next week.