Features

Posted by: Phil Burgess

Seeing Team USA take the four-man bobsled gold has to be my favorite post-Miracle on Ice Olympics moment.

... Potbellied USA-1 driver Steve Holcomb, far right, may be the best everyman driver since John Force.

... They even kinda dance alike.

... OK, 'fess up. When you read that Holcomb's USA-1 sled was nicknamed Night Train, how many of you instantly thought about the Freight Train? Or Bruce Larson?

... After covering the Geoff Bodine Bobsled Challenge in Lake Placid in January, I somehow feel like I'm a tiny part of this gold medal. Hey, how many bobsled rides have you taken?

... Did you see Geoff Bodine getting giant and well-deserved hugs from the USA-1 team? Go motorsports!

... Great headline Sunday in the L.A. Times: "Giant Sleighers."

... That 62-year gold-medal drought makes Force's recent woes look like chopped liver.

... Does anyone really eat chopped liver?

... Jeg Coughlin Jr., fiancée Samantha Kenny, and a few friends were in Vancouver as guests of the USA bobsled team to cheer on the sledders and filed this story about the combined joy of all of the drag racers who have taken part in the Challenge during the years.

... Jeg and Samantha took in the ice-dancing event (she made him go; she's a lifelong ice skater) plus the men's giant slalom, the women's two-man bobsled, and the women's bronze-medal ice-hockey game.

... The bobsled win almost made up for the USA men's hockey team's tough gold-medal loss to Canada. My guess is that KBR's Canadian crew chief, Rob Flynn, is still doing cartwheels.

... Ditto for one of my all-time favorite racing people, transplanted Canuck Dale Armstrong. Congrats to "Double A" for his upcoming induction into the Motorsports Hall of Fame of America.

... The double elimination of the weekend's Phoenix activities sure threw a monkey wrench into the plans for this week's issue of National DRAGSTER.

... Does anyone still use monkey wrenches?

... Can you believe that planning is about to get under way for NHRA's 60th anniversary celebration?

... The fabled March Meet turns 52 this weekend.

... By show of hands, who's going? Wow, that's a lot.

... Blake Bowser, vice president and general manager of the Kern County Racing Association, operator of Auto Club Famoso Raceway and producer of the fabled March Meet: “Bakersfield is Buck Owens, Merle Haggard, and the March Meet.”

... Not necessarily in that order.

... How is it possible that I turn 50 in two and a half months? Cripes.

... Texas Motorplex is celebrating its 25th anniversary this year. Cool logo. Congrats to NHRA alum Gabrielle Stevenson for being named the new GM there.

... That first national event at Texas Motorplex (1986) was named to ND's Top 10 list of greatest national events ever.

... It was No. 3, behind the amazing 1975 World Finals and 1982 U.S. Nationals. That's some good company.

... I'm going to miss going to Gainesville this year, especially seeing Kalitta Racing's Darrell Gwynn tribute car.

... I remember that 1990 event as if it were yesterday. Remember that whole star-crossed year for that matter. It's the subject of my Pure Nostalgia column this week in ND.

... Connie Kalitta raced Gwynn six times; Gwynn won five times, including his first Top Fuel victory at the 1986 Winternationals.

... I had to choose between Gainesville and the Four-Wide Nationals in Charlotte, and no way was I gonna miss that spectacle. I'm still a little 50-50 on the whole concept, but at least I can say I was there.

... Not having Gainesville on my travel schedule this year caused me to miss out on the honor of inducting the late Dickie Harrell, Leroy Goldstein, Jack Engle, and John Buttera into Don Garlits' International Drag Racing Hall of Fame. By the time "Big" honored me by asking for my help, it was too late.

... Congrats to NHRA historian Greg Sharp for his induction this year with the special Founder's Award.

... Making his National DRAGSTER debut this week is new columnist Alan Reinhart. He starts out by picking a fight with the ND staff for not including Phoenix 1992 in our greatest races list. What a "homer."

... We also have the return of "the Brash One," former ND writer Todd Veney, right, with the first entry in a new column that will chronicle his season behind the wheel of Jay Blake's Follow A Dream Top Alcohol Funny Car.

... Who is Tim Wiley, and why does he want me to join the "Balding heads of Facebook" group? ("A place where we all can show those sliding hairlines, bald spots, or where it all used to be.")

... Mafia Wars has to be the most popular Facebook mini game. Among those trading Untraceable Cellphones, Tommy Guns, and Bangkok baht are current and past nitro drivers, crew chiefs, publicists, NHRA staffers, and tons of others,

... Don’t knock it 'til you've tried it.

... It's amazing the amount of people – including racers -- who use Facebook to contact me instead of regular ol' e-mail.

... ND's own Brad Littlefield very well may be the funniest guy on Facebook. Friend him and see for yourself.

... Did you see the news item this weekend about B.R.A.K.E.S. teen-driving classes in Pomona this year? I need to send both of my crashtacular daughters. The boy would go just to play on the skid pad.

...  Yeah, OK -- me, too.

OK, enough playing around here for the day. Time to finish this week's issue and get started on an exciting project for next week's issue, details of which I will reveal later this week.
 

Your heroes, Part 2Friday, February 26, 2010
Posted by: Phil Burgess

Great American humorist Will Rogers once wrote, "We can't all be heroes because somebody has to sit on the curb and clap as they go by." That would be me, clapping on the curb to a parade of drag racing stars, past and present, and, from all accounts, you guys, too. A few months ago, I began talking about my drag racing heroes and asked you guys who your heroes were, and the response was pretty overwhelming -- so big, in fact, that I had to cut it into two parts to publish here. You can read the first installment here, and the second begins below. As with the first, your selections were diverse. Some from our great galaxy I certainly expected, and many, whose orbits are lower in the drag racing universe than those of the superstars, were pleasant surprises. Thanks for your contributions and your acknowledgments of heroes.

Here goes ...

"At my first drag race, my grandpa and I were watching all these (what I thought were) street cars going down the track, and this little kid thought, 'OK, cool,' until this one car came out to make an exhibition run. Grandpa said, 'Watch this!' It was Ron Leslie in the 777 Comet. We watched that car fire up, and it was louder, and the smoky burnout was longer, and he launched that car, and I remember the sounds and smell to this day. I was hooked. The rest of that story is that my grandpa knew Ron's dad, Roy Leslie, and his partner Bill Kenz. Yep, my grandpa knew the team that had the first Funny Car in Colorado, the Kenz & Leslies 777. Here's a terrible picture taken with an Instamatic camera, but this picture is priceless to me.
 
"So time went by, and when I was in junior high, there was a story in the Rocky Mountain News that my grandpa had for me. It was of a drag racer and his chief mechanic, and Grandpa said, 'Do you know the chief mechanic on this car?' And indeed I did: It was my math teacher, and he was a mechanic on a Funny Car. 

"Art Ward was the driver of this car, and between my math teacher, George Willett, and another dear teacher of mine back then (Tawney), they took me under their wings and helped me in every way they could. Part of that was introducing me to Art Ward, and saying that we were all pals from that moment on is an understatement. They all knew that I grew up without a father, and by this time (due to health), Grandpa just couldn't get me to the races anymore, so my mom would even take me (thanks, Mom), as did some dear old friends of mine, Mickey G. and Pat J.

So that's kind of where Art and crew (which also included on his Top Fueler Bob Yetter, who went on to be a part owner of a successful Super Comp car before he was taken away from us due to cancer) would step in and just let me hang out with them. Art liked me for some reason (even when I was a kid), and I looked up to him and his crew (my former teachers) to no end.
 
"Art is no longer with us, but I'm thankful to say that he knew what he meant to me, and me to him. To say that is priceless to me is way understated. He was my pal.
 
"Through Art Ward and my friends on his crew, this kid had the privilege to meet countless drivers and owners who I admired and still do, people like Roger Guzman, John Dekker, my friend Robbie Williams, Junior Kaiser, Johnny Abbott, Doug Kerhulas, Dan Pastorini, Jody Smart, Gene Snow, Sush Matsubara, Tripp Shumake, and even back in the day, that's how I first met the guy I call 'Forceman.' I'll never forget what you did for me, Art Ward, George Willett, and Bobby Yetter." -- Keith Dochterman


 

"Don Garlits. Yes, 'the King,' just like Arnold Palmer in golf. There are now drivers with more wins, but, like Arnie, Don Garlits defined the sport early with personality, performance, and technical innovation. Garlits was the first successful and aggressive touring pro and thrilled fans at tracks across the country. No doubt his personal disaster and the creation of the rear-engined dragster has saved many other disasters. He should receive some type of major honor from NHRA and motorsports while we still have him.
 
"Don Prudhomme: Another icon of the sport from the formative days when the personalities were clearly developing and marketing was at a high point. 'The Snake' and 'Mongoose' rivalry stirred up people who were not even into drag racing. The Hot Wheels craze put toy Funny Cars into the hands of young kids. 'The Snake' was successful in both Pro nitro categories and continued as a prototype of the corporate team owner. We're really going to miss him on the circuit.

"Ronnie Sox: One of my personal heroes from Cecil County days, and if not the best four-speed shifter ever, then tell me who was better! The famous Sox & Martin Mopars were pushed by Chrysler and marketed from 'shaker hoods' to the paint jobs on Hemi 'Cudas and Road Runners. Also one hell of a guy who would sign autographs for young and old alike.

"Bill Jenkins: Ah, 'the Grump,' another character that I spent some time around at Cecil, especially in his secret test sessions. His name has been synonymous with Chevy horsepower, and many Stock and Super Stockers with national wins sported the famous Jenkins Performance logo. The trademark cigar and snappy personality only added to his persona. And the old bugger is still at it!

"Tony Schumacher: You kidding me?! He's a modern hero, and if there is anyone who defines success, ultracool, and positive thinking, it's Tony. Obviously well-financed, but 2009 proved that he was up to the real test of nurturing a new team to greatness. Not always the quickest off the line, but when it really counts, he's there. And may I add what a great ambassador of the sport and his sponsor, the U.S, Army.

"Kenny Bernstein: Like 'the Snake,' Kenny Bernstein is a veteran of the sport from the real formative days and was another rare success story from both Pro nitro classes. Naturally, he'll be remembered for breaking the 300-mph barrier, but he also was the model for nurturing a world-class sponsor, Budweiser, for 30 years. Kenny got it on how to make a relationship like that work, and no doubt he'd still have the king of beers on board if not for their unfortunate acquisition.

"John Force: Geez, where do I begin! All the stats show he's the king of Funny Car racing, but, like Bernstein, is the new corporate king of sponsorship in drag racing, maybe all of racing. And when God passed out personality, John got a triple dose plus. He is known outside of our sport, which is a rare feat, and probably gets more airtime on NHRA TV broadcasts than any five other drivers combined! But John Force is also nurturing the future of the sport with his daughters, relatives, and trusted friends. Obviously, it benefits John Force Racing, but it also helps the future of NHRA racing.

"Bob Glidden: Here's a guy I watched a lot, and if there is ever a driver who was more modest and flew under the radar more than Glidden, well, I don't know who it is. With his record wins and domination of Pro Stock for so many years, he is probably the first of the superstar Pro Stock teams. And he did it with a manufacturer that had not been a powerhouse until he adopted them. Ford owes him a lot for keeping their brand in the fan's eye in NHRA when everyone else was a GM or Mopar fan.
 
"Jim Liberman: Maybe a surprise to you or others, but I have a special place in my heart for 'Jungle.' He was a regular at Cecil for a long time but then went national in a big way. He was the first (and only?) to ever 'franchise' a name brand in NHRA. He had other Funny Cars and a dragster and a Pro Stocker with 'Jungle Jim' branding. The inventor of the 1,000-foot burnout, and what a showman. The first real Funny Car star and a prototype of the marketing that was needed to be successful." -- Ken Campbell

"In an era where you can literally build a car from the ground up by simply using your cell phone, credit card, and a catalog, it’s no wonder my heroes are the guys and gals from yesteryear. No matter what motorsports discipline you subscribe to, the guys and gals that did it mostly out of their own pocket, they didn’t have engineering backgrounds, computers, and wind tunnels, or even some old geezers to draw knowledge from -- they were the ones that had to figure it out for themselves. In my opinion, they are the true heroes because they paved the way for the rest of us.

"The challenge has always been the same for everybody: Go from point A to point B as fast as you can as well as faster than the rest of the guys or gals. What made motorsports so interesting back in the day was the different trains of thoughts that came about to complete the same challenge. Innovation was the key. If some guy sitting in his garage looking at his car thinking about how to make it go faster comes up with an idea, then tries it on his car and it works great, he has an advantage over the competition. If it didn’t work, well, they called that the school of hard knocks.

"Obviously, motorsports is not the same anymore. Multimillion-dollar sponsorship deals, the high-paid wheelmen in multicar teams, and the sanctioning bodies trying to control everybody and everything, and then you throw in the cookie-cutter cars -- what a shame. If there is one thing I am grateful for it would be the Sportsman classes in drag racing. What a variety of cars, ideas, and theories all to do the same thing: to go one-quarter-mile as fast as you can and beat the other guy! You just won’t see that anywhere else, eh?

"My heroes of today’s era are all the Sportsman racers who spend their own dime and time to do what they love to do. There’s no big ol' honk’n trophy! There’s no big ol' honk’n check! There’s no ESPN media time at the end of the day for these guys and gals, just the satisfaction that they got to do what they love to do one more time, and if they win, well that’s just icing on the cake. My hat goes off to you guys and gals! You are my biggest heroes!

"When I look back at the years gone by and think about the mainstream guys, there are only a few guys who stand out in my mind. Now granted, I was just a high school kid racing my Cortina at OCIR when these guys were making headlines, but these would be my heroes from yesteryear: Don 'Big Daddy' Garlits, Don 'the Snake' Prudhomme, 'Big Jim' Dunn, James Warren and Roger Coburn, and, of course, Anthony Joseph Foyt. Now I know there were a lot of others that may come to mind for you, but these were the guys that stood out the most in my mind.

"The reason is these guys built, modified, drove, and maintained their own cars. They didn’t have special cars built for different tracks, billion-dollar shops, huge transporters with hospitality centers, 10 or 20 crew guys to do all the work so the driver could mingle with the media and fans. Nope, they built one car and dragged it around the country on the back of a flatbed truck or an open trailer, usually behind the family’s station wagon, and ate bologna sandwiches for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. The fancy-pants guys might have had an enclosed trailer or truck. These guys did a lot of the driving, and, as far as crewmembers go, they sometimes had to recruit guys from the stands to help out just so they could do what they loved to do, and that was race. Most of the time, they only made enough money to get to the next racetrack. Again, I know there were a lot of guys doing that, but you have to admit, look what these guys have accomplished. Also, you got to love A.J. Foyt; when he gets out of his car in the middle of the Indy 500, gets a big screwdriver and a small sledgehammer and proceeds to beat on the gearbox linkage trying to free it up … now that’s my kind of guy!

"Guys like A.J. and 'Big Daddy' are household names; however, James Warren and Roger Coburn might not be household names, but I remember when 'the Ridge Route Terrors' came over the Grapevine to my home track at OCIR, they would kick everybody’s ass and take all the money home with them. If a picture is worth a thousand words, then there is a great black and white picture in the Wally Parks NHRA museum that shows James and Roger sitting in their one-car garage with the motor on a stand in the background that depicts just how it was back then. That picture says it all!

"Now every time I go to Fresno to visit my mom and sister and I’m traveling north on Highway 99 and I see that round, black and white sign that says, 'Rain for Rent' with the umbrella in the middle of it, I think for a moment how great racing was back then." -- Charlie Arford

"Don Prudhomme is my longtime drag racing hero since I was a kid with my own Hot Wheels Funny Cars. I built the model of the yellow Funny Car and dragster. I can recall watching the Snake Funny Car in the early '70s and then the backbreaking Army car of the later '70s. I have always idolized the man and studied his intensity. I can remember watching TV and seeing the horrible crash on Wide World of Sports the year at Indy when Jim Nicoll’s car split in half in front of a very young Don Prudhomme. I must admit I wanted to be him! In 2000, I had my kids at the drags in Atlanta, and we were standing in line for autographs from the popular drivers, and right next to the long line we were standing in was 'the Snake,' sitting in his T-shirt trailer with no lines and no waiting! I took a picture of my son and Don standing in the background. I was very upset after reading about his decision to leave the sport, but I feel fortunate to have enjoyed watching his success throughout the years. There are others I could include in my heroes list but none as special as Don 'the Snake' Prudhomme." -- Kris Miller

"Flash back to 1966, Great Lakes Dragaway, Union Grove, Wis. Three guys in their teens with their first race car (1955 Chevy, 327, four-speed) not knowing what they didn't know. Between rounds, we were watching Don Garlits service his Top Fuel car, which in those days consisted of changing the plugs and maybe changing the oil. But anyway, here we are watching and not speaking. The next thing we know, 'Big Daddy' turns around and asks us how things are going. And he carries on a conversation with us like he's known us forever. To have one of the greats in the sport treat us as equals was one of the high points of my life. 'Big Daddy' will always be a hero in my eyes." -- Charlie Brock

"My two biggest heroes are Tom 'the Mongoo$e' McEwen and Jim Fox (Frantic Four AA/FD, Frantic Ford AA/FC). McEwen for his sharp wit, great-looking cars, his promotion of the sport of drag racing, and his ability to attract sponsors and legions of fans from around the world for many, many years. The world of professional drag racing should consider itself very fortunate that McEwen showed up and stuck around our sport. A very colorful character that has no equal. 'Snake' may have beat him in overall on-track performance over the years during the Hot Wheels era, but 'the Mongoo$e' more than made up for it by just being himself. The sport needs more Tom McEwens. Long live 'the 'Goose!'
 
"Jim Fox is a Hall of Fame mechanic/tuning ace/car owner. Jim never received the credit due him for his long list of accomplishments in the sport of drag racing until 2007 when he was inducted into the Drag Racing Hall of Fame. Jim dedicated many, many years of his life to the sport he loved. His ability to tune a car by ear was astounding. His on-track performance record speaks for itself and will live on in the drag racing history books. A genuine down-to-earth, honest, hardworking guy who deserves mention." -- Bobby Frey

"Bob Glidden drove, was crew chief, engine builder, team marketer, truck driver, built his own engines, and was great to his fans. One time, he couldn’t sign an autograph for a little boy, and he said, 'Come by later, and he will sign him something.' It was my younger brother, and he let him sit in his car, gave him a spark plug from the motor, and signed a poster for him! He always respected his racing rivalries even when they didn’t respect him. I was in Milan, Mich., the day IHRA wanted him to tear down his motor in the pits. Bob said, 'OK, we will do it in the trailer,' and the tech guy said, 'No, out in the open.' Bob just said, 'Well, I guess I will see you later.' He was tough on and off the track and had a lot of class. No disrespect to the nitro racers, but Bob Glidden is and will be the greatest drag racer ever. If they had 23 races per year when he was in his heyday, who knows how many races he could have won! Truly a legend in any sport!" -- Michael Walker

"At the time of his accident, Darrell Gwynn was probably going to win the Top Fuel championship that year. His life was changed forever. He fought through his injuries and became a successful race team owner. But that was not his greatest accomplishment. He started a foundation to help other special-needs individuals. I'm chairman of the board of Project Stable, a nonprofit organization that uses horses and farm animals to help children overcome their disabilities, and Darrell presented a motorized wheelchair to one of our students at the Barrett-Jackson auction in Palm Beach in 2008. He also spent a lot of time with the child that day showing him how to use it and encouraging him to be mobile. I cannot explain the joy on his mother's face. That day also opened the door for someone in the crowd to assist the family for additional therapy to help this child. Darrell's help made a big difference in this child's life." -- Sheldon McCartney

"My admiration of Danny Ongais has several aspects. He is a fellow native Hawaiian, served his country in the Army as a paratrooper, and raced nearly everything with wheels. His picture should be in every dictionary that defines a racer. He raced the widest variety of vehicles and tracks that went straight, oval, road course, on asphalt, dirt, or salt. It is a very small universe of racers who have competed and with many successes in Formula One, Indianapolis 500, 24 Hours of Daytona and Le Mans, Bonneville, USAC, IMSA, SCCA, AHRA, NHRA, CRA, Grand-Am Series. He is associated with the greats of all motorsports: Parnelli Jones, Mickey Thompson, Roland Leong, Ickx, Daly, Piquet, Fittipaldi, Unser, and more. He is honored in NHRA's Top 50 drivers (No. 39), the Motorsports Hall of Fame, the International Drag Racing Hall of Fame, and the Hawaii Sports Hall of Fame.

"I grew up hearing about him racing motorcycles and watched him at the dragstrip in Hawaii. I followed the news as he raced on the mainland with Roland Leong (my other hero) and the Hawaiian dragster. For many years, his name would pop up in nearly every motorsports broadcast on TV. Although drag racing is top of my list, my interest expanded as Danny would be seen racing in the Indy 500, then IMSA, and Formula One. One of my favorites was in 1996 when, at the age of 54, he started the Indy 500 in 33rd as a substitute driver and finished 7th. For me, it was great to watch Danny Ongais from my home state of Hawaii, in the middle of the Pacific Ocean, make his mark all over the world as a real racer, an honorable human, and a champion with an honest to desire to win. He is my role model." -- Ken Alagan

"I grew up in SoCal and raced a lot at San Fernando, Irwindale, OCIR, Pomona, and, of course, Lions from about 1962 to 1974. I always enjoyed watching the Top Fuel cars when I was not racing my own car. Probably the one driver who stands out the most in my mind as someone who – to borrow a phrase from another profession – had the right stuff was Danny Ongais. He had a couple of nicknames – as did all of the drivers of that era – including 'the Silent Hawaiian' and 'On the Gas.' The latter of these nicknames earned because he NEVER lifted no matter how crossed up and sideways the car he was driving got. During the time he spent driving Mickey Thompson’s blue 1969 Mach 1 Funny Car, he was almost unbeatable! But the car I particularly liked the most was his Harbor Honda of Wilmington Top Fuel car. Not only was this a beautiful car, but it was equally FAST. Unfortunately at the 1966 Nationals, Danny red-lighted in the final round of Top Fuel to Mike Snively, who was driving Roland Leong’s Hawaiian.

"Around about 1968 or 1969, Danny expressed an interest in driving an Indianapolis car, which was probably one of the reasons he decided to drive Mickey Thompson’s Funny Car since Thompson was running Indy cars at that time. Danny Ongais was without a doubt the best drag race driver ever, be it a Top Fuel or Funny Car. And he was not too bad in the other types of racing he pursued." -- Bob Nielsen


 

More fantastic follow-upTuesday, February 23, 2010
Posted by: Phil Burgess

It has been a busy two weeks with Pomona and Phoenix back to back, especially with Phoenix's drawn-out semi-conclusion. Don’t cry for me, Argentina, but it's going to be another busy week as we wrap up our Full Throttle coverage, prepare for Friday's conclusion of Lucas Oil racing, and race a deadline to get the coverage into next week's issue, which also will be the Gatornationals preview issue, complete with preseason looks at the Pro Stock Motorcycles and Pro Mods and more.

For fans of the Misc. Files segment that ran here last year, the current issue of National DRAGSTER picks up where we left off, with the letter M, including Lloyd Mosher's Little Giant Killer, Murf McKinney's own Funny Car, the Mori brothers' ChevWagen, and more!

Before I get too involved in the coming issue, I wanted to clear out a few more items from the Inbox. Later this week, I want to bring you Part 2 of Your Heroes, so stay tuned. And away we go …

Bob Brown sent me this fine pic of Sonny Messner posing with the GMC Carryall at the 2005 California Hot Rod Reunion, where it made its debut.
Todd Miller, who drove the GMC to Pomona from Messner's home in Acton, Calif., sent along this pic of Garlits and Messner working on Swamp Rat V.

After the juicy piece here Friday about the GMC Carryall that was used to push-start Don Garlits' Swamp Rat V at the 50th Anniversary Kragen O'Reilly NHRA Winternationals presented by Valvoline, I was glad to hear from the guy who actually owns it – and has been a big part of Garlits' career for decades – Sonny Messner, who also owns Swamp Rat III.

"On the 1st of February, 1960, I went to Lions Drag Strip to see Don Garlits," he wrote. "We became acquainted, and he asked me to help him with Swamp Rat III; Connie Swingle was driving. We pushed Swingle to start, and when the engine cackled, the nitro fumes came floating back into the Carryall push truck, I was hooked. Gar and I became friends, and I worked on every Swamp Rat thereafter.

"For the next 40 years, I bugged Gar for that car, and he always said no, but one day he relented. We came to a financial agreement, and he put Swamp Rat III back together. In the meanwhile, I decided to re-create the push car he would have used then, the same one I rode in back in 1960. Gar sent me all the photos he had and all of the anecdotes concerning the Carryall, right up to its demise in a canal. I faithfully re-created the truck from his photos.

"I asked him early on why he ran a GMC when he raced Chrysler stuff, and he told me that he and Smokey Yunick were friends for many years and Smokey asked him one time what he used for a push car. Don said he used his mom's 1950 Cadillac. Smokey said he could probably help him; 'Let me call some of my friends at GM.' He called back and said they had a surplus cop car in Saginaw, Mich., and that's how the black and white GMC came out. The current push car has a late GM driveline, and we have taken it to the Vegas nationals [SummitRacing.com NHRA Nationals] several times, Bakersfield a dozen times, and other events. All of the stuff on the roof rack, Gar has contributed."

Thanks, Sonny, for filling in the details. What a great story, and another missing piece in the history puzzle of our little world.

After publishing Angel Nieves' photo of Bob Toyer's Vintage G.T.O. '40 Pontiac last week, I heard from Toyer's son Joe, who was thrilled to see his dad's car again and passed along this photo of the car from his collection. Bob died in 2002.

"I remember being at OCIR when I was a little guy and enjoying the races because my dad was a good father," he wrote. "I remember the stories of Lions Drag Strip that he talked about and how he was part of a club called The Qualifiers. My dad had lots of friends that loved him, and he always helped others at the track when he could, and I myself try to do this as he would. My dad had just two boys -- my older brother, Robert Jr., and me -- and even though my brother and I both love drag racing, I seem to have gotten the bug a lot harder than he. I still have access to his 1940 Pontiac and hope to with my brother's help rebuild it and bring it back out again soon. I wish my dad was still here with us so we could enjoy being at the track together. I miss him, and when I make that pass it will be in his honor."

Toyer also remembered that his dad's car ran a blown 327-cid small-block for a short period of time before the rear end broke, then went to the injected big-block. His dad later raced a roadster in Super Comp that he built himself, a cool '26 Pontiac roadster; "like his coupe, it was one of a kind," he noted proudly.

 

The 1970s SoCal doorslammer nostalgia just keeps on rolling. With all of the love we've been bestowing on Fords, Kevin Hardy thought that we ought to showcase a little Bowtie braggadocio as well, especially in the case of a car near and dear to him, the Hardy Boys '56 Chevy Super Stocker, shown at right launching with the wheels up at Orange County Int'l Raceway and the 1955 version, shown at good ol' Irwindale Raceway.

Fielded by a trio of brothers – Kevin, Pat, and Terry (the latter drove) – the car, shown in SS/N trim, was a multitime Division 7 champion and perennial national record holder in multiple classes.

"Probably the biggest feat was winning the division in 1976 and scoring more points than any other Sportsman-class car in the entire country," noted Kevin. "We earned 4,600 points, the result of setting a mess of national speed and elapsed time records and being in the final round of all five WCS events in Super Stock eliminator -- three wins, two runner-ups. I doubt if anyone ever did that before."

OK, that's today's quick update. I plan to be back Thursday or Friday with the second part of Your Heroes. The first was a huge hit, and I'm sure you'll enjoy Part 2 just as much.

Feedback, follow-up, and fallen friendsFriday, February 19, 2010
Posted by: Phil Burgess
Jan. 18, 1961, at Golden Triangle strip in Florida, according to the caption

Welcome back, my friends, to the nostalgia that never ends, at least when it comes to feedback and insights from the Insider Nation. I've said it before and I'll say it again, this column wouldn’t be half of what it is were it not for your generous and knowledgeable input, memories, and photos. To wit …

My old buddy Jim Hill, whose knowledge of early Florida drag racing may be second to none, dropped me an interesting note about the push truck that Don Garlits was using to fire Swamp Rat V in the Winternationals Cacklefest. He said he couldn't really tell based on the cropped photo I posted Tuesday, "but I'm betting it was another of Garlits' favorite mid-'60s GMC Carryall truck/vans."

I forwarded Jim the photo at top right, taken by National DRAGSTER Assistant Photo Editor Jerry Foss, and he confirmed that that was the truck he was envisioning. I dug up some other photos from the weekend and zoomed in and cropped in to some photographs that Garlits had taped inside the back windows of the car showing the truck in action in the 1960s.
 
"Before such amenities as crew cabs and enclosed trailers, racers like Garlits usually traveled with their race car strapped to an open trailer, a canvas covering the engine, which was usually the only bullet they had," he wrote. "The quality of these trailers was often suspect. Most were homemade on a flat garage floor, stick-welded, and rudimentary, at best.
 
"Tow/push-start vehicles were generally of the potluck variety, or whatever was available. Pickups were popular, as were big comfy station wagons. Because he often towed long distances to events and match race dates, Garlits traveled with as much as possible for a tour that might last several weeks away from his Tampa home. Thus was born the need for a sturdy, enclosed vehicle to carry himself, a helper, spare parts, tires, and fuel, and often wife/helper Pat and their daughters.
 
"For several years, that function was ably handled by a GMC Carryall truck, a pickup with lots of covered space and windows. These vehicles needed power and torque sufficient to haul a trailer and provide the 40-plus-mph speed needed to push-start 'Big Daddy's' nitro-fueled hot rods. Such chores were capably handled by the GMC V-6.
 
"While today's V-6 engines are diminutive little hummers usually of 4 liters or less, the standard GMC V-6 was a pushrod monster of 305 cubic inches. It boasted a 4.250-inch bore and 3.580-inch stroke and was designed to be a heavy-duty truck powerplant, with maximum torque and reliability ... sort of an 'anti-diesel.' This engine design was later enlarged to 351-, 379-, 401-, 432-, and 478-cubic-inch versions. There was also a unique 702-inch design that bolted together a pair of GMC V-6 engines with a common block and four cylinder heads. It powered Minuteman missile carriers during the deep-freeze days of the Cold War. Talk about bizarre!
 
"Garlits' Tampa Top Fuel colleagues Art Malone and Val LaPorte saw that 'Big' had stumbled on to something with the GMC. They bought their own Carryalls and likewise logged hundreds of thousands of miles towing from sea to shining sea."

Thanks for the insight, Jim!
 

Robert Nielsen's Fan Fotos of the early SoCal door cars and the buzz they created continues to have "legs," as we say in the entertainment business, and Nielsen and others are responding to those comments.

Mark Wallace said that seeing the Falcons of Nielsen and Tom Nicklin brought to mind another early Ford named Just Falcon Around, and Nielsen dug through his archives for this photo of the car, which he says was a '63 similar to his own ("except it was MUCH faster and also had a 289 in it") and was owned by the Gibbs family; a father and son took turns driving it and owned a Chevron gas station in Woodland Hills, Calif., where Nielsen lived. Nielsen couldn't remember either of their first names but thought that the elder Gibbs was Gene.

Of the Adam-12 episode mentioned that featured Ted Wells' Ford: Nielsen remembered that the episode was filmed on a Monday and that the producers of the show chose to use Wells’ '54 Ford because in a previous episode, Officer Jim Reed, the character played by Kent McCord, had an early Ford pickup, and this was the closest they could come. Albert Aird chipped in to report that the Camaro in the other lane belonged to Larry Ofria of Valley Head Service.

Nielsen also commented on Cliff Morgan's recollections of Wells' Excedrin Headache #1320 entry. "Ted used to break a lot of driveline parts because of the weight of his car and the power he would make. That is until he ‘bulletproofed’ everything in the driveline. He always said this car give him a lot of headaches early on – or was it that it was a pain in the ass? Ted built me a similar 9-inch Ford rear-end third member for my Falcon – although I used more standard nodular iron housing with a Ford Galaxy drag car pinion carrier. He said this was probably an overkill for the type of horsepower I was making, but he insisted there was only one way to do something, and that was the right way – no shortcuts!"

Angel Nieves, another OCIR regular, noted in Morgan's comments the mention of the yellow Glendale Speed Center Nova as well as the Vintage G.T.O. (which wasn't a Pontiac GTO) that frequented Lions, and he (who, by the way, is on the lookout for good photos of the Hedman Hedders Maverick Pro Stocker; contact me if you have something) found photos of both of those cars.

"The photo of the Vintage G.T.O [above] is from Orange County Int’l Raceway's second Pro Gas meet in 1980," he said. "Those early Pro Gas meets were a big thing. The other photo is of Jim Parrish's 1962 Nova [right] at a Brotherhood Raceway Park Pro Gas meet in 1980. Jim worked at Glendale Speed Center. If you were from the Los Angeles area, everybody knew him well, including me. What ever happened to Jim Parrish?" Readers?

Back on the Ford bandwagon, I received a nice note and photos from another Blue Oval diehard, Jeff Foulk, who fielded the Finagler A/FC. "I started racing with a '63 Falcon Sprint and eventually worked up to a '67 Cougar nitro Funny Car," he wrote. "I was a little disappointed last year when you did not include me in your Letter F files. I will admit I was not a big fish and ran very few NHRA events, being engaged primarily in match racing and circuit races. However, I am still proud of our accomplishments as they hold a unique, small niche in drag racing and Funny Car lore.

"With all due respect to Doug Nash, I had the quickest small-block Ford-powered Funny Car, at 8.35, 156.97, injected, on nitro. One of Doug's own early business ads claimed 8.55, 182 with nitro and a blower. We were featured twice in articles in Super Stock magazine, including the one where Editor Jim McCraw licensed in the car. The old cat is presently being restored in Canada." Foulk included a racing magazine clipping of the 8.35 run as evidence; the caption said he did it at Mason-Dixon Dragway en route to winning the track's Jr. Injected Fuel Funny Car Circuit event.

Ever since I posted the photo of the V-8-powered snowblower a few weeks ago, my Inbox has been filling up with snow-related stuff. Eileen Daniels sent the pic above left showing one poor Pennsylvania fan's version of the season opener. My heart weeps for you, my friend. Veteran Stock racer Tom Kasch sent the pic above right showing a really, really cool '57 Nash Metropolitan-bodied snowmobile (it's even for sale, for $10,000) that has a 700cc Yamaha triple beneath the hood. 
 

 
 

We've had more losses among our family in the last few weeks that I'm trying to catch up on. Most of you heard (and read in the NHRA.com Notebook) that we lost "Rocky" Childs on Monday. The cofounder with Jimmy Albert of Childs & Albert was 74 when he passed away and left a long legacy of performance and race cars, including the current Addict cackler.

Bill Holland, who knew Childs for decades, was kind enough to supply background info on Childs as well as a few photos, including the one at right of Childs, right, with wife Sharon and Tony Thacker of the NHRA Museum and the one below it, of Childs' first race car, a '37 Chevy. In addition to leaving his mark on the performance aftermarket, Childs worked in the motion-picture industry for many years doing sets and special-effects work.

Pat Foster, Walt Stevens, Tom Toler, Dwight Salisbury, and Bruce Walker are among those who chauffeured Childs & Albert race cars, which enjoyed good success locally, according to Holland, but the closest one of their cars came to the national event spotlight was Salisbury's runner-up to James Warren at the 1968 Winternationals. Sals couldn’t even contest the final as the car had clutch woes, which allowed Warren to single for the title. Walker was runner-up at the ill-fated PRO meet on Long Island in 1974.

Another couple of losses that went undeservedly under the radar last month were those of former nitro Funny Car owner/drivers Ray Strasser and Ron Sutherland.

Strasser, with wife Shirley, fielded a number of cars, but they're best known for their line of Insanity fuel floppers driven by the likes of Gary Ritter, Dave Uyehara, Ron Fassl, Lorry Azevedo, Richard Hartman, and Rick Williamson. Strasser started out driving his own cars in the 1960s, including a '23-T fuel altered and a AA/Dragster, before switching to Funny Cars in 1973.

According to 70sfunnycars.com, their chassis was homebuilt, and the body was an old Hawaiian body purchased from Roland Leong. The most notorious incident involving the car was the brutal two-car top-end get-together at the 1986 Winternationals between Uyehara and Ron Correnti in Bill "Capt. Crazy" Dunlap's Thunderbird.

After getting out of the Funny Car business in 1992, Strasser returned to racing from 1999 to 2001 with David Baca on an A/Fuel Dragster. Baca ran a 5.22 in the car, which at the time was the quickest ever for the class. Strasser retired again after Baca went on to Top Fuel.

"He was a great man, and our family is grateful for all the things he did for us because if it wasn't for him, we probably never would have gotten back in the saddle," Baca posted on a message board.

Like Strasser, Sutherland was tied to his car's memorable name: Desert Rat. And, like Strasser, the Arizonan first drove his and wife Val's cars, beginning with a cast-iron-powered homebuilt Camaro followed by an ex-Larry Christopherson Nova in which he shared the cockpit with the guy who would become his full-time shoe, Chris Lane.

The Sutherlands were on the sidelines from 1975 until 1984, during which time Ron became a professional hockey referee ("I've probably been in more fights than everyone in the pits put together," he told former ND staffer Todd Veney; wonder if he checked with McCulloch before making that claim.)

Lane drove the Steve Marley-tuned cars (a Regal, a Corvette, and a Cutlass) from 1985 until the 1990 season -- and their shining moment in national event competition was at the 1989 Winternationals, where Lane reached the semifinals after beating R.C. Sherman on a holeshot and Mark Oswald in a pedalfest -- then Sutherland took the controls back and drove through the end of the 1994 season.

Farewell, my fuelish friends.
 

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