It's probably every writer's dream to come up with something so cool or so original that it is handed down from generation to generation or becomes so widely distributed to the masses that it takes on a life of its own. Whether it's an oft-quoted philosophy or truism ("A penny saved is a penny earned") or a few lines from an entire speech ("Four score and seven years ago" from Abe Lincoln's Gettysburg Address), to imagine that your sagely penned words would develop a life all of their own is heady stuff. Yeah, sometimes we writers dream small.
Sure, Ben and Abe had a 200-plus-year head start on me, though I doubt I could have come up with anything as sage as their words. Although I've been at this drag writing business for three decades, I can’t really say that I've created any new words or phrases to add to drag racing's already significant lexicon or single-handedly did something as cool as give a racer his or her famous nickname, but this column has definitely expanded my audience as I find some of the columns reprinted, verbatim, on other Web sites and message boards (that's a real no-no, for the record) or links to this site (much better).
Most recently, a mass e-mailing of one of my columns from last year, a column originally called Fun with Photos, has been making the rounds of nostalgia-themed message boards and mailing lists, many of which I am on. I find it rather amusing when I receive these e-mails with new introductions added to the column or replacing my original, and also a bit flattering. The photos aren't even from our files-- I harvested them from The H.A.M.B. bulletin board -- and added what I thought were interesting captions to them and of interest to the readers of this column and even those not as intimately familiar with our history.
It was interesting to see heroes like Jim Nicoll among those passing it on to his e-mail friends (me included), but the real kick came Sunday night when I received it again from a well-meaning reader who said, "Thought I would forward this e-mail to you. A friend sent it to me, and there is some pretty cool stuff. You may have a lot of this, but in case you don't, here goes."
That's pretty funny when you think about it.
You can find my original posting here, though the formatting there is a little goofy because it was done on the old NHRA.com template that allowed for wider photos, and the photos stick out into the ads now. Clearly, there is a great interest in these photos and the sentiments I attached to them, so I find it worth reprinting. Those who didn't see it the first time through should enjoy it, and those who have or are looking at the e-mails will now have the stories and details that accompany the pics.
In the interest of a better presentation and reclaiming the work, I redid the layout a little bit and added to it because, in the true nature of this column, I received a lot of follow-up information about many of the pics that I ran in subsequent columns. My original caption will be in bold and the additional info (if any) in italic.
There's a lot to take in, so I'll split this into two halves; look for the second part Friday.
Back in the day, anything was possible. How about an Offy with a side-mounted blower on Ed Donovan's dragster?
Paul Schwan of Cincinnati dropped me a line about Ed Donovan's side-mounted blower, noting, "The 6-71 blower that was originally used was indeed mounted on the side of a 6-71 Detroit Diesel, or before it was Detroit, it was a GM diesel, or affectionately known as a 'Jimmy Diesel.'
"In either a right- or left-hand 6-71, the side of the engine on which the blower was mounted determined either rotation or direction of the engine; therefore, that mount on the Offy was closer to 'stock' than most people realized."
One thing you can safely say about Ed Donovan is that the man was never boring or without a million thoughts racing through his mind.
Nothing says drag racing like way too big of an engine stuffed into too little car; reminds me of the models I used to imagineer as a kid.
Fred Fischbach had no problem ID-ing the owner of the blown Austin Healey as his old friend Norm Cowdrey. "This is from the mid- to late '60s," he wrote. "Norm had the chassis built in San Fernando by a sprint car chassis builder by the name of Rip Erickson. It was powered by a blown small-block, but I don't remember the cubes. The car was an instant NHRA record setter, and as you can see by the picture, a real crowd-pleaser. It was painted at a body shop in the southwest corner of Tony Nancy's complex where Tony lived and had his upholstery shop. The car was a beautiful lime green with large gold metal flake that had been shot up in the air and allowed to settle on it, then clear-coated. The whole package was totally awesome.
"Sometimes when there was no race for Norm to go to, he would unbolt the blower and put it on his Corvette – underdriven, of course -- and we'd go tooling around the Valley; no big deal today, but then -- big deal.Too much fun."
Bill Holland added, "Cowdrey normally did well in one of the eliminator categories at San Fernando Dragway, where the photo was taken. Norm went on to campaign the Blue Fox Camaro Funny Car. He later was involved in a few TAFC deals, one of which was driven to a Wally win at Las Vegas by Rod Alexander ("Wild Bill's" son). Today, Norm plays with vintage road race cars. I chatted with him a few months ago at the races on Coronado Island, where he ran well with an ex-Paul Newman McKee Can-Am car."
The great shot of the go-kart racing the dragster was from Tampa Int'l Dragway and featured "T.V. Tommy" Ivo in the digger against the Turbonique rocket-engine-equipped kart. Both were there making exhibition runs, and someone got the great idea to pair them.
Rear slicks churning, front tires grabbing air, and an acrobatic flagman.
Uhhh, dude? I don't think you asked for a big enough head start.
"I was all for it," recalled Ivo, "as I running much better than him and also because I used to do all kinds of things like that all the time. I would give stockers big head starts and run them down on the big end – or even bicycles, anything to take the ho-hum out of single runs -- but I would always make sure we put a good enough spread on the handicap to make sure I didn't get beat by mistake! How bad would that be, getting beat by a bicycle? Although this incident ended up to be even worse than that.
"The rocket engine had a heart attack before we could have the race, so the guy with the kart still really wanted to get a picture with me racing him. Soooooooo, he suggested to just set him on the starting line next to me and get the picture when I took off. It wasn't a movie, so who would know if he were running or not? 'OK, that will work,' I said! But then once again, old Cecil B. De Ivo had to not leave well enough alone. Attempting to make a good idea better (as I always do), I suggested that they put the kart out about 25 feet or so; therefore, I could get up a good plume of smoke behind me to make the picture more dramatic. Wrong!! Here's the shot they were 'supposed' to get!
"I was a victim of my own stupidity, it would seem (again), BUT -- and here comes that 'but' again -- I was right; it did make a great shot, didn't it?"
A wheelstander with everything but the kitchen sink.
Being able to ID a car is one thing, but being able to figure out at which track a photo was taken always requires some skill. Bill Carrell was "99.9 percent sure" that the Shower Power photo was taken at Thompson Drag Raceway in Thompson, Ohio, because of "the trees and their proximity to the track; the signage with roads identified in that area, specifically Ridge Road and Mayfield; I worked there and can tell a shot of that track from almost any angle; and where else but Ohio?"
Dawn Mazi-Hovsepian, Ohio's secondmost famous female Ohioan (behind The Pretenders' Chrissie Hynde and probably just ahead of Rona Veney) not only confirmed for me that it was taken at Thompson but also provided the year (1970) and the photographer (Charles Gilchrist). Said Dawn, "Gilchrist notes: 'The engine, a stout fuel-injected small-block Chevy, was turned around in the chassis and ran through a transfer case to the differential. The driver (Randy Davis) sat in the fiberglass tub (no water). This bathtub was quick, made full passes on the rear wheels at ease, and people loved it.' "
Who said snakes can't fly? Prudhomme gets air in the lights in Seattle.
Al Kean, who shared his Seattle memories here not long ago, gets credit for this memorable shot of Don Prudhomme's Hot Wheels 'Cuda on fire and flying through the lights in Seattle at the second annual Hot Wheels Northwest National Open in Seattle in 1971. Prudhomme was racing Dave Condit in the L.A. Hooker Maverick in the final race of the day.
"I was watching everything through my camera’s viewfinder," wrote Kean. "The cars staged and launched. I was following the cars, and I thought I saw flames coming out of 'the Snake’s' windows as he neared the finish line. I remember thinking that it must just be glare off something – he couldn’t really be on fire, could he? I kept following the cars and clicked the shutter when they crossed the finish line. I then took the camera away from my face and looked downtrack to see Prudhomme’s car, with NO body on it, still in a wheelstand. It was at least 300 feet after the finish line before the car’s front wheels returned to earth.
"I had no idea what I had gotten in the photo. I had to wait several days for the color slides to get developed after we got home. It was pretty exciting to finally see the photo that I had taken. It was also exciting getting all the attention afterwards. The photo was published in Hot Rod magazine, Funny Car Pictorial, SIR programs, etc. Then track manager Bill Donor gave me a photo pass the next year, etc. The photo has also been mentioned in TV shows, over SIR’s PA, etc."
Hard to believe that today's Top Fuelers evolved from this; from its whitewall tires to its Rat Fink-like shifter placement, I really dig this car.
Bob Post, author of High Performance, the unofficial bible of drag racing historians everywhere, said he believes this is Bill Martin of Palatka, Fla., shown running on the beach in Jacksonville, Fla., in 1953. "One of three slingshots I know of that pre-dated [Mickey Thompson's]," he noted. "Martin later became quite a well-known boat designer."
In looking at this picture, reader Cliff Morgan added that the body was probably one of the many that came from a fuel tank from an airplane. "Lots of guys used those tanks to create cars for the dry lakes after World War II, both front- and rear-engined versions, and some found their way to the drags. This car used the front section, and I can see the bottom of the car under the engine. Interesting design, and the car looked 'high tech' for its time, probably 1953-54."
So you still think that Don Garlits invented the rear-engine dragster, do ya?
Donnie and Gene Bowman's flathead-powered Vineland Villain wasn't pretty, but it sure looked crude. Back then, functionality trumped almost everything.
I love this shot, taken in the pits at Lions. No, not the neat old flip-top panel wagon -- the lady, dressed in skirt and heels. Priceless.
Steve Gibbs had the ID on this great old photo. "This is the gasser of Dale (he) and Al (her) Kersh, of Modjeska Canyon, Calif. Both are now gone. They were fixtures at SoCal tracks for many years, competing in various brackets, and were truly great people. The interesting thing is that Al was never -- EVER -- dressed any differently. She always looked like she just came from an upscale social event -- classy and in heels."
Byron Stack of Gasser Madness confirmed that this is the Kersh Family A/Gasser. "Memory tells me it was powered by a Mopar wedge motor with homebuilt injection," he wrote. "It was a very cool piece and fun to watch."
Again, it's the people who make this shot. The clown, second from left, doing his "Take the picture already" pose and the other guy still slipping on (or off?) his coat, who's clearly not ready for the shot. And that dragster? Not much traction in those rear meats.
Kinda funny, too, but for a different reason is Surfers pilot Mike Sorokin almost having his helmet sucked off at speed (center).
And speaking of in-car cameras, I just love this shot from Jess Sturgeon's car.
Steve Justice says that the great in-car camera shot was done at Riverside Raceway.
(Above) This is a great shot, too, taken from the cockpit of one of Scotty Fenn's legendary Chassis Research chassis that revolutionized the sport. I took some Photoshop liberties with the original to blur the background as the El Camino tow vehicle was a distraction. Love that steering wheel and big ol' brake handle. (Below) This is Fenn's workshop. That's Fenn at far left overseeing work on some of his K-88 and TE-448 chassis.
Another vintage chassis on this cool twin. Always amazing to me to see how primitive the early driver-protection devices were.
Neal Larson of Walla Walla, Wash., worked with early drag racing hero Jack Moss from Amarillo, Texas, so he knew all about this car, the famed Two Much entry.
"The picture was taken around 1961 or 1962," he wrote. "The car's last race was in Hobbs, N.M. We lost one of the engines, so we pulled one out and made a run with it, but the throttle stuck and rolled over; all was well with Jack, but the dragster was a total mess. The roll cage did its job.
"Jack was a member of the Barons Racing team from Amarillo. Find a Hot Rod magazine from September 1957 and look and see the first Two Much and the rest of the team."
OK, if you don't like this photo, you can hardly consider yourself a drag fan. Classic Lions stuff.
OK, friends, that's all for today. I'll have Part 2 Friday, which is convenient for me because by that time I'll be ankle-deep in the Finals. If you just can't wait for Part 2, you can always revisit the original posting here
and find the column where a lot of the follow-up comments I've added originated here
NHRA is often generous in providing a few extra days off for its employees throughout the year in short, fallow places in the schedule between races to give everyone a much-needed breather, but because of National DRAGSTER's inflexible publishing schedule, we're often not on the same schedule as the HQ building. Today is supposed to be one of those "floating holidays" at National DRAGSTER, and my peeps here have a three-day weekend to recharge their batteries for the upcoming season-ending Automobile Club of Southern California NHRA Finals.
So, today, I'm alone in the Publications building, not to be a martyr or anything but to take advantage of the peace and quiet of a dark and empty office to catch up on some stuff. Project No. 1 is to complete a bunch of writing for the special Web site we'll be launching in the next few weeks in anticipation of the 50th anniversary of the Winternationals. As I may have mentioned here, we're also producing a wonderful book to memorialize the special event, chock-full of great old photos, features, and a year-by-year recap of every Winternationals. It should be available before Christmas (stocking stuffer!).
To avoid duplicating the contents of the book on the Web, most notably the recaps and the scores of great photos, the Web site will have a different feel and original content. One of the key elements will be to take advantage of the multimedia potential of the Internet by showcasing a large number of historic Winternationals video clips. It's going to be pretty cool but a lot of work, so I'd better get cracking.
Although I have a full plate, I didn’t want to leave y'all with nothing today (another reason I came in), and I wanted to share what has become a pretty typical thing with this column, and one of the things of which I am most proud. In Tuesday's Fan Fotos edition from Mark Collins, we had a shot of Bennie "the Wizard" Osborn, and Mark wondered what had become of Osborn. Naturally, the Insider Nation was all over it.
One of the first e-mails I got was from Bennie's son, Tony, who assured me that his dad was still very much around and kicking and even enclosed these photos.
"I'm very proud to inform you that my father is doing just fine," he wrote. "He still lives in Sand Springs, Okla., and continues to do mechanic work at his own pace. We have been reliving the past a lot here lately. The championship car that you mentioned for sale was purchased by a gentleman from Tulsa and had it delivered to Dad's shop for a complete AUTHENTIC restoration. Plans are to have the car ready for Bakersfield March 2010 Cacklefest. The WIZARD was at the Hot Rod Reunion in Bakersfield a couple of weeks ago and actually cackled Raymond Godman's Tennessee Bo-Weevil car."
The top photo shows "the Wizard," in the blue and gray striped shirt, with the championship car at a car show on Halloween put on by The Hot Rod Shop in honor of The Tulsa Timing Association. I hope to have a more in-depth look at "the Wizard's" career in a future column.
Our good friend Glenn Menard, president of Texas Motorplex who also maintains the www.division4halloffame.com Web site – Osborn, naturally, is a member of that Hall of Fame -- sent me a link to some great Osborn photos that the man himself had submitted for that site. You can find them here.
Gary Osborn (no relation to Bennie), whose dad ran blown gas dragsters in the 1960s before he partnered with the Sewells and won the 1980 Cajun Nationals with A.J. Seruntine driving, dropped me a note and this photo, which shows Osborn at the Holley NHRA National Hot Rod Reunion in Bowling Green, Ky. Gary was there with Dick Venables, whose front-engine dragster had been restored and is now owned by Rip Wiley. In the photo, from left, are Wiley, Venables, Osborn, and Dick's son, current Al-Anabi Funny Car tuner Dickie.
Tulsan Brian Vermillion, who has an interesting history with Osborn, shared his "Wizard" tale in an e-mail: "Bennie Osborn is alive and well, still living in Sand Springs, in the same house he lived in 40 years ago. He gave up racing in the mid- '70s after his second rear-engine dragster crash and opened up a successful transmission-repair business in his old dragster shop in his backyard.
"I got to interview Bennie at his house over 40 years ago for an eighth-grade speech-class project. Since he was my hero back then, I chose him. He was finishing up his brand-new car for the 1969 season -- I believe it was a Woody Gilmore car -- and I got to sit in it and check things out. For a 14-year-old kid who was ate up with drag racing, it was definitely the thrill of a lifetime. A friend of mine, who is close friends with Bennie, told him this story of me interviewing him, and he remembered me. He even autographed the PR handout that he gave me over 40 years ago, and it still thrilled me today to get it.
National DRAGSTER has a great photo file on the two-time champ, but I especially like this 1970 photo of "the Wizard" enjoying some fine reading material.
"You spoke of the 1967 World Finals. I remember being there with my dad that weekend. I had just turned 12, and the drags were my birthday present. The final AA/FD round almost didn't get run. The skies were as black as I had ever seen them, and it just started to sprinkle as they were beginning to stage. Tree goes green, Bennie gets a slight holeshot and carried it through to the lights. But what I remember was that as soon as the chutes were out (they hadn't even got to the turnoff yet), the skies opened up, and the most godforsaken downpour hit, flooding the track, parking lot (which was a dirt field before the rain), and everything else. But hell, when you are 12, who cares!"
Added Barry Lester, "I live about 20 miles away and pass there almost every weekend and always look over and think I should go see him but never have. I picked up the phone and called him and told him that people were wanting to know where he was. We had a great visit, told him in 1967 he came to Amarillo to race 'Big Daddy.' My buddy and I were staying in the Cowboy motel on Saturday night and going to the races on Sunday. When they pulled that AA/FD in the motel on a flatbed trailer, I almost died! I was over there in a second and was lucky enough to be able to help the mechanic pull the panels off and drop the pan and change oil, which was milky; bored a little to close to the jacket water, he said.
"I asked Bennie if it was OK for me to e-mail you; he said, 'Tell them not to send flowers, I am still alive and in the same place.' "
One other quick note on the Texas Fan Fotos: I got a phone call from Gary Clark and an e-mail from Vince Long, who ID'd the car being push-started at Green Valley as belonging to the famed Oklahoma City-based Smith Bros., Frank and Charlie. Charlie drove the famed Plain Vanilla roadster that swept all national event honors in 1964 by winning both the Winternationals and U.S. Nationals, so this probably was Frank in the car, which had a T roadster rather than a Bantam.
Enjoy your weekend; I'll see you next week.
Mark Collins now (above) and then (below), shown at right with partner Ralph Lewis in 1975.
Welcome back to Fan Fotos, shots from the private collections of fans everywhere. We're not talking pretty photos taken from the guardrail, but rather those gritty, lightpole-in-the-way, some-guy's-head-in-the-shot images that somehow better reflect our regular treks to the digs.
Today, we reach deep into the heart o' Texas for 10 great shots from Mark Collins of Dallas. Mark started going to the drags in 1964 while in high school. His older brother, Eddie, had been going to the drags at Green Valley Raceway, north of Fort Worth, with his buddies.
"I had been reading all the hot rod magazines and wanted to go check out drag racing, but being the little brother, it was a while before I was allowed to tag along with big brother and his buddies," he said. "That first Saturday night at Green Valley, I was hooked. Thereafter, I must have been at Green Valley Raceway every time they opened the gates. I could not get enough drag racing. The smells, the sounds, the competition, all of it, captured my imagination. I began taking pictures at the races with a six-dollar camera I had had since elementary school. As soon as I could get the film developed, I shared the pictures with my amazed friends at school.
"When I witnessed my first Top Fuel dragster, I thought that nitromethane was the most insane thing I had ever witnessed. The visual and visceral experience was astounding. The fact that the fans could walk right up to the cars and drivers in the pits had great appeal to me. It was easy to rub shoulders with the heroes I watched on the track. It didn't matter if it was a guy from the local gas station or 'Big' himself. Of course, I never really did talk to Garlits because he was too famous. I felt certain he would not be enlightened by a geeky high school kid. Even so, I had a strong desire to get into the driver's seat someday."
In the 1970s, Mark began driving a '23-T Ford roadster with a flathead V-8 built by his friend Ralph Lewis. "Those 12-second e.t.s weren't Top Fueler-type runs, but I was finally burnin' up the strip. We subsequently built a C/D for Competition eliminator and a AA/DA competing in Pro Comp with moderate success. I will always remember the first time we drove into the participant's entrance under the 1974 Winternationals banner. It was hallowed drag racing ground. I felt like I was participating in something special. There we were, just some unknown guys from Texas with a desire to compete on the national level. I'm sure that was the case with many of the other racers, too. Win or lose, I always loved going to the races. I'm still hooked even though I'm only spectating these days."
Here are Mark's 10 favorite Fan Fotos.
According to Mark, this cool image of Shirley Muldowney's Funny Car on a ramp truck was taken at Dallas Int'l Motor Speedway (DIMS) during the Springnationals, which would make it late 1971.
Although Muldowney ran almost exclusively in Mustang-bodied floppers (due, no doubt, to crew chief Connie Kalitta's long-running association with Ford), she ran this Plymouth Barracuda at the end of the season after burning up her Bounty Huntress Mustang in a fire at Dragway 42 in Ohio. The car was a loaner from Don Schumacher, one of his former Stardust entries. I couldn't find out which car it was -- whether it was one "the Shoe" himself drove or one of his team cars -- but Muldowney proudly claims that she got it to run both quicker and faster than it did for the Schumacher team.
When I first opened the image at right from Mark's e-mail, I was thoroughly puzzled. This didn't look like any kind of drag racing shot I'd ever seen, fan or otherwise. Mark calls this somewhat humorous photo "Duck," and once he explained it to me, it made sense. "This image was taken in April 1973 at a Top Fuel meet at DIMS. The point of view is from the hot-car push-start lanes at about the 1,000-foot mark of the track. A Top Fuel car had just detonated uptrack, out of sight of the camera. We could see parts in the air, so everybody was ducking for cover. In the seconds following, little pieces rained down, luckily with no injuries. I think the guy pictured worked at the track." Been there, done that.
More than 25 years after Mark snapped this early-1970s photo, Chris "the Golden Greek" Karamesines is still racing. Mark captured the legendary Top Fuel driver checking the spark plugs between rounds, which, in the era before onboard data computers, was part of how these cars were tuned. And, of course, in the days when the teams weren't working in a narrow valley created by a pair of tractor trailers, you could walk right up and snap a great photo like this.
"That full head of hair was still dark in those days," noted Mark. "I remember taking a few photos and getting the evil eye from 'the Greek.' I suppose he didn't like his photo taken. Take note of height and size of the rear wing. No shade, no awnings, and no power tools. And no teardown between rounds. If the plugs look OK, just pour some more nitro in the tank and go again."
Here's a definite "how it was" moment. The photo border on this antique reads "May 1965" and shows a car in full push-start mode at Green Valley. "The car is a Bantam body on a dragster chassis," he noted. "This Oklahoma car (owner unknown) ran in A/Competition class in Competition eliminator or Little eliminator. The hot car 'loop' for push-start cars at Green Valley Raceway was typical of most dragstrips of the era. The loop was where the fuelers and altereds came roaring to life in front of pickups and station wagons. It was a few more years before I was push-started down this same road in a C/Dragster. What a thrill when that engine came to life!" Lamented Mark, "I wish I had a dollar for every time I was at Green Valley in the '60s."
Here's another photo from that same May 1965 meet at Green Valley. "This was a Top Fuel meet with a 32-car field," he recalled. "In those days, 32- and even 64-car Top Fuel fields were not unusual. This is the intimidating Vance Hunt fueler. Hunt was a great tuner who always had excellent drivers, Watus Simpson among them. It appears that tiny pressure tank in front wouldn't hold enough fuel for a warm-up in modern fuelers. I recently spoke to Vance at the O'Reilly Fall Nationals at Ennis. He amazed me with the wealth of information he possessed about the current Top Fuel scene. It's always great to see some of the legendary figures of drag racing."
In addition to the aforementioned Simpson, Hunt employed the likes of Ted Arnold, Gary Bailey, Jerry Ellis, J.L. Payne, and some guy you've probably heard of, a young Texan named Kenny Bernstein, who I understand went on to a fair degree of success after his 1966 stint with Hunt. If DragList is correct, this would have been Ellis' ride, which was a Don Garlits chassis.
Mark snapped this photo in April 1973 at DIMS as Bennie "the Wizard" Osborn was climbing into his new rear-engine Top Fueler in the staging lanes. In his slingshot, the Sand Springs, Okla., racer won back-to-back NHRA world championships in 1967 and 1968 at his hometrack in Tulsa, back when the Finals winner was crowned the season champ. Osborn, who never won an NHRA national event away from Tulsa, put it to the big boys in the final at both of those races, beating none other than Don Prudhomme in 1976 and John Mulligan in 1968, denying both what would have been their first world titles.
"Bennie was testing his first rear-engined Top Fueler he built over the winter," recalled Mark. "He simultaneously built the front-engined C/Dragster for my partner Ralph Lewis, which I drove. In fact, he delivered the chassis on this trip, strapping it on the top of his enclosed trailer for the trip from Oklahoma to Texas. I think it was early the following year that 'the Wizard' went on his head in this car in a blowover close to the finish line, and the roll cage kept him from injury. Note the absence of a rear wing. I don't remember why he only had a front-axle wing. Does anyone out there know his status? I do recall that Bennie never cursed that I know of. When someone made him angry, he would call them a 'stinker.' He was always a real gentleman."
I don't know what has become of Osborn, but I know that his championship-winning Top Fueler is still out there; Prudhomme called me a few weeks ago to verify the results of that 1967 Finals because he had somebody trying to sell him the car. Funny, he didn't remember losing that final round. I guess when you've been in as many finals as "the Snake," it's hard to remember any one of them, especially one 42 years ago. Anyone know what became of "the Wizard"?
"Obviously one of the most unique dragsters in history, the Herm Petersen streamliner," noted Mark. "This image is at the 1974 Winternationals. This was my first national event as a participant. Although I didn't qualify in Competition eliminator, I did get to see many of the stars of the sport I had never seen and checked out the California culture."
This great-looking Can Am-inspired Top Fueler of Petersen and partner Sam Fitz made its debut in Pomona that year; the Woody Gilmore-built piece featured a swing-open back deck for easy access to the engine, but, more important, it marked Petersen's return to the cockpit after a horrible crash and fire at Orange County Int’l Raceway the previous July. Petersen was terribly burned – he had second- and third-degree burns over more than 50 percent of his body -- after an axle broke and his dragster overturned. Petersen spent three months in the hospital and almost died twice, but he persevered through the pain and skin-graft operations to bravely return to the cockpit in Pomona. Close friend Denny Bale was quoted in the Kitsap Sun newspaper a few years ago: "We had to lift him in and out of the car. His fingers were all fused. He couldn't hang on to things it hurt him so bad. At the end of a run, he'd have tears in his eyes, the pain was so bad."
Petersen is still out there, a fixture at nostalgia events and the coordinator of a decibel-busting cacklefest contest.
Here's another image from the 1974 Winternationals. You don't have to be a very serious dragstrip scholar to know it's Pomona from the snow-capped mountains in the background of this staging-lanes pic. "My subject was the injected A/D in the foreground that belonged to Jerry and Penny Dorman," he noted. "I thought it was the most beautiful dragster I had ever seen. Everything about it was flawless. It just so happened that Veney's Vega was in the background. Both cars ran in the Pro Comp classification before it split into the Alcohol Dragster and Alcohol Funny Car categories."
The Kuhl & Olson Da Revell Fast Guys model was the first large-scale (1/16th) Revell model I ever built (it even came with a Carl Olson figure!), so this photo of Mark's, which he says is from Amarillo in 1974, was special to me, too.
"The K&O team were hard runners and had a state-of-the-art trailer," remembered Mark. "It looks downright spartan compared to the pit layouts of today's Pro teams. Just having an onboard water tank was high tech in those days. Mike Kuhl could make it run fast, and Carl Olson was quick and straight down the strip. Take note of the spare engine door above the trailer fender."
I had the pleasure of working with C.O. for many years here at NHRA, and we have stayed in touch. He's a fan of the column (even the ones that don't include him) and a true hero.
And finally, this rather … um … unusually composed (and self-congratulatory!) photo shows driver Joe Monden and the Lewis-owned Foolish Pleasure Alcohol Dragster on which Mark worked in the pit area at the onetime home of the NHRA Cajun Nationals. "I took this photo when we won the Winston Championship Series race in Baton Rouge [La.] in 1976," reported Mark. "Joe is currently a very successful chassis builder and Top Alcohol crew chief working out of Gainesville, Texas. There are quite a lot of Monden chassis running in the Lucas Oil Series."
This car is sometimes incorrectly listed as Fuelish Pleasure, which was actually an A/Fuel Dragster out of Dallas owned by Charles Tunnell; looking at the full-sized pic, it's obvious this is with two o's. The Fuelish Pleasure moniker also was used by Washington state Alcohol Funny Car racer John Hughes and, more famously, by Gary Clapshaw on his strong-running nitro Funny Cars in the 1990s.
"We used the name Foolish Pleasure, which was the name of a famous race horse in the news in those years," Mark explained.
OK, race fans, that's another healthy dose of fan-tastic fotos. Thanks to Mark for playing; he'll receive the home version of our game (well, not really) and our undying thanks (really). I've really been overwhelmed by the response from y'all (keeping in the Texas theme of today's column), and I have plenty more where these came from. I've mentioned it before, but these types of photos, locked away in attics and dusty old photo albums for decades, might well be the last treasure trove from those golden days of racing, and I can tell you that the faithful out here would love to see yours.
See ya later this week.
In anticipation of tomorrow's All Hallows' Eve, today's DRAGSTER Insider offers a mixed bag o' tricks … my treat to you. It's a mix of fond memories and a dash of this and that. And away we go ...
If there's one thing other than death and taxes that one can count on in this world, it's that everyone loves an underdog. For many of us who have been around this sport for a while, Tom Baum was loved. I've rooted passionately for other underdogs in my day – Rodney Flournoy, for example – but "the Bomber" was someone you couldn't not root for.
The Midwest dragster veteran passed away Tuesday, of congestive heart failure at the age of 67, and there'has been a touching outpouring of sentimentality about his loss that outstrips that of other, brighter lights who have preceded him to that Great Dragstrip in the sky.
I first found out about his passing from his nephew, Bill, who summed up his uncle this way: "Not a lot of success on the track but had more friends than anyone else I knew."
While it's debatable that he didn’t have a lot of success on the track – he was a regular in the UDRA top 10 and won the Olympics of Drag Racing in 1988 over a pretty good field -- there doesn’t seem to be any debating his second point.
Our ol' pal Bret Kepner, one of the Midwest's most notorious drag denizens, shared his thoughts, and probably the thoughts of many who knew "the Bomber," in this tribute.
It's a sad day for fans of the underdogs in the sport. As much as he was a determined drag racer, he was a true character. His personality always shown through even when things were worst. He was excited to wake up every morning as long as there was a race car in his garage. He could be hilarious, intense, or nearly nuts, but he was always a friend to anybody ... including those who'd never met him.
"The Bomber" was one of the only individuals who made a living racing on the UDRA circuit through the 1970s and 1980s. He pushed his homebuilt engines to the absolute limit on nearly every run and, by his own admission, he blew up a lot of stuff. Still, when he'd saved up enough money, he would hit the road for the nearest AHRA, IHRA, or NHRA national event and give it a shot. He was a fixture at NHRA WCS events in Divisions 3 and 5 and booked himself for match races against anything including jets, Funny Cars, and fuelers.
Routinely, he would finish in the top 10 point standings in UDRA competition. At one time, he was the quickest driver in history at the wheel of a cast-iron Chevy blown Alcohol Dragster. His greatest moment, however, came when he won the overall TAD title in the grueling Olympics of Drag Racing at Great Lakes Dragaway in Union Grove, Wis., in 1988. He considered "the Grove" his home track and had a truly massive following there. Track owner "Broadway Bob" Metzler had a special place in his heart for Baum, who once crashed his first front-engined dragster off Metzler's property in 1960.
The Olympics featured category-specific competition for the first two of its four days but always deteriorated into a free-for-all for its last two days. In those final 48 hours, any and all pairings occurred, but the racers still battled for points to determine the overall championship. On the final day of the '88 event, "the Bomber" beat UDRA and Olympics kingpin Tony Zizzo, multi-time UDRA world champ Hal Canode, NHRA national champion Al DaPozzo, and the short-wheelbased Top Fueler of "Diamond Dave" Miller to win his biggest title. It was one of the few times "the Bomber" was ever publicly overcome by emotion.
During the 1991 Olympics at "the Grove," Baum barrel-rolled his Fel-Pro Gaskets Xecutioner four times on the first day of the event. He was battered and bruised but loaded the remains of the car into his ancient homemade trailer and headed back to his garage. Twenty-four hours later, he returned to the track and unloaded the same car, rebuilt by Baum alone, and continued to compete in the event.
It seemed everybody in drag racing knew him. He was a phenomenal promoter of his own racing team and often displayed his car for charitable organizations free of charge, feeling the "good karma" would come back to him someday. He was the kind of guy you couldn't dislike, even if he had just oiled the left lane from starting line to turnoff with an engine even he knew shouldn't have even been able to fire. He raced hard, drove all night to make an event the next day in another state, unloaded, and raced hard again. He laughed when he lost in the first round and was still smiling when he headed out the gate for an all-night drive home. He was as hard core as they will ever come. Tom Baum was one of a kind.
Jody Schmeisser, a fellow Illini of Baum and a longtime Super-class racer and owner of Pit Pal Products, shared his thoughts with me as well.
Anybody who had an opportunity to ever cross Tom Baum’s path would forever remember Tom as a great-spirited, warmhearted individual. He was known nationwide in the motorsports industry for his support and his character. If you ever had the time to talk to Tom, you would acknowledge that Tom was very intelligent and on top of current affairs. Tom had a sense of humor that can never be replaced; he could one-line you and clearly stop you for a minute because you were in pain from laughing so hard.
Tom spent his entire life in the drag racing community and was known and respected throughout the United States. Tom raced several different types of cars through his racing career. One of Tom’s biggest accomplishments was the first Chevrolet steel-block Alcohol Dragster to break the 200-mph barrier at the inaugural Joliet national event in his hometown Chicago with his famous Xecutioner race car. From the late '70s to late '80s, Tom was in charge of the NHRA display booth that was part of the major showcase in the famous Chicago new-car automobile show that would bring close to a million people in attendance. Tom would carefully pick some of the nation's top drag race cars (including his own) to display for fans and attendees to appreciate. Tom would prepare for months to attend these events and spend 14- to 18-hour days just trying to answer any questions to the best of his knowledge at these shows. He was always a true gentlemen and fun guy to communicate with. He always could bring the best out of anybody. Tom had a special way to always find out how you were doing and really listen. Tom had been a very special person to many people in his life to always help with no obligations in return. Tom will be well-missed forever.
As sad as we are to mourn Baum's passing, his nephew did assure me that "a lot of my schtick is based on 'the Bomber,' so in a small way, he will live on." Good news!
Hey, if you're a fan of good ol' Orange County Int'l Raceway (and who isn't?), if you're on Facebook (and who isn't?), a cool new group has been created that allows racers and fans to share their precious memories (and, best of all, their photos) from "the County."
The Memories of O.C.I.R. group has nearly 200 fans already and about 100 photos of varying quality and content (including some sweet pics from Auto Imagery's Rick Shute). Naturally, there are some fine photos of nitro cars, but also a lot of the bracket and other door cars that made their home there, including many early Pro Gassers. It's great stuff.
You'll see some pretty familiar names among the group's fans, including Roland Leong ("Good, bad and wild times but what memories. Crashed some cars but also won some races."), Roger Gustin, "Jungle Pam" Hardy, Gordie Bonin, Don Moody, Dean Skuza, Della Woods, Vic Edelbrock, Jon Lundberg, and many others. Come join the fun!
Former Funny Car owner and driver Jim Wemett, whose cars have been featured in past columns here, passed along this great shot of a current-day him, behind the wheel of his latest ride (a boat), which he's dry-docking for the winter. "Took boat out of the water today," he wrote me. "40 degrees in N.Y."
And how do ex-racers stay warm in those cool climes? Wemett dug out the jacket from his 1980s firesuit, of course. "My kids got a kick out of it," he said. "I knew it was the warmest thing I had."
Fans mostly know of Wemett as a car owner, most memorably of the Wombat Mercury LN-7 driven by Tom Anderson in the early 1980s. That car was an early star of the performance-rich 1982 U.S. Nationals, where Anderson booted it to the first 5.7-second pass by a flopper, a 5.79.at 236.22 on Friday. Don Prudhomme, of course, made that – and every run for several years after – look like last year's news when he rocked Indy with a 5.63 a day later. Wemett, though, also was a driver, wheeling his own cars from 1970 through 1975 before turning the wheel over to George Johnson from1976 to 1979 and Anderson beginning in 1980.
Watching the World Series, I've been intrigued by the Fox Trax stats, which measure a pitch's velocity leaving the hurler's arm and when it arrives at the plate (typically a five-mph decrease), but the stat that got my attention was the time it takes to leave the pitcher's hand and travel the 60.5 feet to the plate. The number, on a 90-mph fastball, was down around .41-second.
Being the drag racing geek that I am, two things immediately came to mind. First, four-tenths of a second in the time between the amber light and the green on our Christmas Tree and a driver's reaction to that accounts for our reaction time stat (which used to express .400 as a perfect light but today is flagged as .000). I know the mechanics of a drag racing reaction tie but wondered what goes on in that four-tenths of a second from a batter's perspective, so I asked the only real ballplayer I know on a first-name basis, former future big-leaguer Bob Wilber, team manager for Tim Wilkerson, who came thisclose to making the bigs. Wilber, as usual, was not at a loss for words.
From everything I hear from Funny Car drivers, I think the act of hitting and act of driving the car are similar in one key way: You make a ton of decisions in a short amount of time, but nearly all of them are learned and instinctive, because you don't have time to think things out.
Basically, those four-tenths of a second it takes a pitch to leave the pitcher's hand and then cross the hitting zone can be broken into two halves. The first two-tenths are all about recognition. You're watching arm angle, arm speed, the way the ball comes out of the pitcher's hand (slightly upward for a breaking ball, and downward for a fastball), and finally spin. The ball might be halfway to the plate before your eyes pick up the spin and your brain processes that into useful information.
The next two-tenths are the execution phase. Your brain has already registered "fastball, outside, good velocity," so now your hips, arms, hands, and eyes all have to coordinate to bring the bat through that exact spot, at precisely the right moment in time, to make contact with the ball. Deception is the pitcher's best tool, so he's trying to make you miss at least one of the judgments you made during the first two-tenths. That's why a good change-up is a brilliant pitch. All the indicators I just mentioned tell your brain "fastball" but the grip is different, and that alone takes 8-10 mph off the pitch. You swing for that fastball, but the ball's not there yet.
Great velocity will also change the methodology. Once you get up into the 96-100-mph range, the pitch is coming so fast you don't have time to see it, register what it is, and then start your swing. You have to start your swing before you've finished the analysis, and then you have to try to adjust as you go. Rule of thumb at the plate: Think fastball, adjust to the curve. If only it was that easy.
All of that happens in four-tenths, and then you have to take that wooden cylinder and make perfect contact with a round ball. Hard enough, even in batting practice, but in the game, there are nine bad guys out there (including the catcher) who are trying to catch what you hit, no matter how perfectly you hit it. No wonder a 70 percent failure rate will earn you a ticket to Cooperstown! Just talking about it, I wonder how I ever got any hits...
For the record, "Bloggin' Bob" spent six years in professional baseball, first as a player in the Detroit Tigers and Oakland A's organizations, and then as both a minor-league coach and a scouting supervisor for the Toronto Blue Jays, so he knows of which he speaks.
On to part two: The 60-foot thing obviously caught my eye as it's a common place for us to measure acceleration. Seeing as how a good Top Fuel 60-foot time is in the .82 range, can someone please explain to me how it's possible for a baseball to cover 60 feet in .4-second, which is less than half the time it takes a 7,000-horsepower Top Fueler to do the same? I was very much offended. So I did some digging.
Simple math tells us a slightly different story:
An object traveling 90 mph will travel 7,920 feet (1.5 miles!) in 60 seconds. Therefore
7920/60 = 60.5/x
x = .458
So, mathematically at least, it would take an object traveling a constant 90 mph .458-second to travel 60 feet, 6 inches.
Of course, however, no pitcher releases the ball right above the rubber. With their follow-through, the ball probably leaves his hand about five feet closer to the plate. Advantage baseball. Also, although the ball is not constantly at 90 mph, it starts being clocked when it's at its highest velocity (the pitcher's arm is in full motion before the release), and a dragster is going from a dead stop. Advantage baseball. Also, drag racers have to accelerate a 2,250-pound hunk of metal. A baseball weighs about five ounces. Advantage baseball. Still, why does this fact bother me?
And, finally, also in the notable losses column, we join our good pal Billy Meyer in mourning the loss of his dad, the can-do Paul Meyer, who passed away from cancer Monday. He was 81.
Paul was a longtime Waco civic leader, international businessman, and philanthropist, but race fans will recognize the name of one of his endeavors, the Success Motivation Institute, which was branded on some of Billy Meyer's cars in the 1970s. It was the company that his father founded that instilled a basic mantra (if memory serves me) of "Whatever you vividly imagine, ardently desire, sincerely believe, and enthusiastically act upon must inevitably come to pass."
I'm sure that his son, a successful businessman in his own right, used those guiding philosophies to get to where he is in life, including giving drag racing fans, among other things, the lasting gift that is the Texas Motorplex, featuring a concrete surface that no one had ever built.
According to an online bio, Paul Meyer also adopted these words of theologian John Wesley for his own and lived them fully: "Do all the good you can, by all the means you can, in all the ways you can, in all the places you can, at all the times you can, to all the people you can, as long as ever you can." Man, I really like that.
He is survived by his wife, Jane, and five children -- Jim, Larry, Billy, Janna, and Leslie -- brother Carl Meyer, and 15 grandchildren. Paul Meyer's life will be celebrated at a memorial service this morning at the arena previously named in his honor at the Baylor University Ferrell Center.