Features

Fan Fotos: The MidwestFriday, October 09, 2009
Posted by: Phil Burgess

The response to my Fan Fotos offer has been overwhelmingly positive, and I already have a good stock of photos that, combined with other subjects I am working on and the culmination of the Misc. Files (thought I'd forgotten, did ya?), will easily see us through to the end of the year.

I'm really enjoying seeing everyone's submissions because, as I have mentioned, it's where I come from. I was a kid in the stands who fancied himself a future Leslie Lovett or Steve Reyes … if only I had a chance to shoot from the guardrail, dammit! Well, most of you never will (I was lucky!), but that doesn't mean that there aren’t some dynamite shots to be grabbed from the seats and the fences, as we've already seen. And, unlike looking at someone's home movies or vacation slides, they’re actually something we all love: race cars!

Steve Scott is today's guest photographer. A former resident of that current drag racing hotbed known as Brownsburg, Ind. – which would explain his many U.S. Nationals photos -- Steve and his wife have lived in Fort Worth since 2001.

"I saw my first Nationals in '69 and was absolutely hooked," he said. "Nothing like a nitro car to set its claws into you, and never let go. I traveled to races as much as finances would allow in those days, which wasn't nearly often enough. I always made the Nats, up to Byron once for the Funny Car championship deal, Springs in Columbus for many years, and Martin 131 for the Pop Rod Meets; even made it to Edgewater a couple of times, and US 30 once. Since moving down South, I've been to the Dallas race a few times, including this year. Went up to the Fuel Altered, Jr. Fuel race in Denton just the other night. Guess you could say I'm just a drag racing junkie, like so many others.
 
"In addition to drag racing, I always had fascination with photography, and it was a big day when I could finally afford that Minolta SRT101 and a 200mm lens. Man, I'm cookin' now! I can be just like Reyes, Blake, Lovett, Asher, Brady, et al. Those guys were my heroes in drag photography and still are to this day. So I shot the best I could from the stands for the on-track stuff. Even back then, the starting line was beginning to get real cluttered with all the 'real' photogs, vehicles, ladders, gear bags etc., and it was very difficult to get good clean burnout shots. After panning for the downtrack stuff, eventually it all started to look the same to me. I still tried to get some good pit shots, though. While still attending races, I just got tired of lugging around my camera equipment for results that were very similar to past efforts. And the drag racing photo stuff just stopped.
 
"I recently upgraded to the digital age with a Nikon D60 and a couple of lenses. Met Chris Graves of Max Cackle Photography, and he's been very helpful in learning this new camera and giving tips on racing shots. Maybe I can finally get as good at this deal as my old photo heroes are/were, even though I'm just an amateur."

I'd say he's well on his way. Here are Steve Scott's 10 favorite Fan Fotos, along with my background material and comments  ...

The Custom Body Enterprises name had a deep history in drag racing from the late 1960s, from original shoe/owner Phil Castronovo through drivers like Rick Johnson, Tom Anderson, Tim Grose, Bobby Hilton, Al Segrini, and Denny Savage, but other than Castronovo himself, no driver is more closely aligned with memories of the Custom Body cars than Tom Prock. Prock drove it for five seasons – from 1972 through 1976 (when Castronovo again briefly drove it before putting Segrini in the car). Steve captured Prock in mid-burnout at the 1976 U.S. Nationals in perhaps the team's most successful car, this Dodge Dart. It was in this car that Prock, who never was fortunate enough to win an NHRA national event, was runner-up to Don Prudhomme three times – at the 1975 and 1976 Grandnational in Canada (which preceded Indy on the schedule) and at the 1975 Gatornationals. Longtime fans may remember the wacky outcome of that Gainesville final round, where Prudhomme was shut off on the starting line with an oil leak, affording Prock what looked like an easy solo run to his first win ... until the Custom Body car shelled the rear end on its dry hop. Both teams were given time to repair, but Prock couldn't make it back in time. Prock also owns the distinction of being the guy in the other lane in the final at the 1975 Summernationals when "Jungle Jim" Liberman won his only NHRA title. A lot of people know Prock today because of his son, Jimmy, who tunes Robert Hight's Automobile Club of Southern California Mustang for John Force Racing, but the senior Prock – who first came to fame driving the Prock & Howell Willys and later was known for his own hard-running car, the Detroit Tiger Monza – made plenty of headlines on his own.

Joe Pisano and driver/partner Sush Matsubara had a lot of good-looking Funny Cars, and this was always one of my favorites, even though Matsubara was not driving. Behind the wheel, again in 1976 in Indy, is Texan Jake Johnston, who took over the butterfly when Matsubara retired from driving in 1975. Although Joe P later became known for his high-speed Oldsmobiles in the 1980s, his early cars were all Chevys, including this Monza, which Johnson drove under the P&M name through the late 1970s, by which time Matsubara's name had disappeared from its flanks, and it became a Trans Am, then an Arrow (a replica of which Cruz Pedregon will drive at the California Hot Rod Reunion next week), an Omni, and a Daytona before that first Olds Firenza, driven by Mike Dunn, in 1987.

This great shot is from 1975 in Columbus, Ohio, at the annual Springnationals. The one thing about shooting from the stands is it's much easier to get these great "pan blur" shots than it is up close. No, that's not "the Snowman," Gene Snow, behind the wheel, or even the aforementioned Jake Johnston, who used to drive for Snow. The driver is a Texan (despite the 306 permanent number on this Vega), and it's fearless fuel-altered hero Dale "the Snail" Emery. Emery, who wheeled  the notorious Pure Hell fuel altered in the late 1960s, drove a slew of early Funny Cars in the 1970s, including Jeg Coughlin's Ohio-based flopper (hence the Division 3 number), which was the subject of that famous body-tossing blower explosion photo from Ontario in 1974 where the fuel tank lid came uncapped (helping create the rule for locking fuel caps). Emery drove for a quite a few car owners around this time before landing in what would be his final ride, Mike Burkhart's Camaro, which spectacularly went on its head (after a giant nose grind) in Indy in 1977, leaving him with a broken arm. From there, Emery went on to fame as one of Raymond Beadle's key crew guys on the vaunted Blue Max.

Steve calls this photo "Fiberglass Forest" in a riff from one of Steve Evans' great radio commercials ("Man, I miss Steve Evans," he lamented; we all do), and this photo, too, was snapped at the 1975 Columbus event. Obviously (if you read the info above), that's Emery/Snow at front left, next to the Fireball Vega of Harland Thompson. Behind them are Tom "the Mongoose" McEwen's English Leather/Navy Duster, Shirl Greer's Mustang, Jim Nicoll's Good Times Vega, and barely visible, the Blue Max. Looks as if everyone is heading to the staging lanes; how much would you give to be in the stands getting ready for this?

Two great pit shots from the bicentennial-year 1976 Springnationals; at left is the legend himself, "Big Daddy" Don Garlits, checking the nitro percentage before another haul-ass run in his Swamp Rat. At right is a pretty historic photo as it shows Shirley Muldowney cradling her first NHRA Wally trophy after her initial Top Fuel victory. She shared the winner's circle with another legendary Don, "the Snake" hiss-self, as well as Pro Stock winner Wally Booth, who scored one of AMC's rare Pro Stock wins with his and Dick Arons' Hornet, and Miss Winston Mary Larson, who seems downright giddy about the outcome.

Looks as if Dale Funk is about to be wingin' it without the wing on the English, Frakes & Funk Kentucky Moonshiner digger in this fine shot from the 1976 Nationals. This actually was Funk's last race as he had announced his retirement beforehand, and it may have been a timely decision. Things got even scarier for Funk in round one when a massive engine explosion sent him through the lights sideways and on three wheels (as depicted in our recent Wild Rides photo greats book) while losing to Lee Weller. Talk about going out with a bang! By the way, that's former Insider profile subject Bill Pryor in the near lane in the Pryor & Narramore entry.

Steve says this Billy Meyer photo is from the Popular Hot Rodding Meet in Martin, Mich., in 1976 or 1977, but I'm thinking it's more like 1976 based on the Mustang II body. Meyer ran a Camaro in at least part of 1976 and 1977 as I recall – the 1977 one got melted down in a big way in Montreal – which was followed by an Arrow and then the first of those pretty ugly Chevy Citation bodies. Based on the primered portions of the body, it's obvious from this photo that Meyer's Mustang was coming off some sort of nasty incident at a previous race.

Also from U.S. 131 Dragway is longtime Top Alcohol Funny Car standout Bob Gottschalk. Gottschalk had been racing Funny Cars since the early 1970s – first an injected car then blown alcohol cars – before jumping into an ill-fated stint in the nitroburners in the early 1980s. He returned to his alky roots later that decade and raced throughout the 1990s before a career-ending crash in Ohio in 2000.

And, finally, there's this amazing shot. The subject is, of course, "Jungle Pam" Hardy, the comely sidekick of master Funny Car showman "Jungle Jim" Liberman, who became as much a part of his popular act as his long burnouts, fast backups, and never-lift mentality. I've seen a lot of great "Jungle Pam" photos over the years, but I have to say that this one really stopped me for its candid nature and the amazing way in which it's composed, either intentionally or unintentionally. There's JP, surrounded, as usual, by adoring fans, dressed in her trademark halter top (this one from Trick Titanium), and it appears as if she's looking right past and through the multitudes to smile at our photographer, one of those great one-on-one eye-contact moments that we've all had (or at least imagined we were having) with drag racing superstars we can meet freely in the pits.

Okay, that's Steve Scott's super 10. (You can see more of Steve's pics here or visit his Facebook page here, where there also are a lot of photos.) I'm glad he shared them with us even though he admitted, "Getting specific on the details of these photos is a difficult deal, as they were shot 30-some years ago, and I never thought of cataloging or indexing, in some fashion. Like many other fans who took photos of that era, after the initial viewing, the photos/slides were tossed into shoeboxes and languished in a closet for years."

Which is exactly why it's time for YOU to drag out your old Kodachrome slides and FotoMat prints, scan them up, and send them to me here. These homegrown memories are the last great treasures of those golden days that we'll probably see unearthed, and everyone is just dying to see them.

Start sending, guys. I'll see you next week.
 

Wins and lossesTuesday, October 06, 2009
Posted by: Phil Burgess

For as long as I can remember, "Low e.t. can cure cancer" has been a popular saying in the pits, but after yesterday's Miracle Monday in Memphis, I wonder if a win can cure a broken heart.

Jeff Arend's Funny Car win was truly inspiring stuff even if you don't know the guys behind the story like we do. Sixteen months after we lost our great champion Scott Kalitta, the guy who was tapped to follow him into the cockpit of his car – and let there be no mistake that it still is Scott's car, and notice that I did not use the world "replace" because Scott is irreplaceable – overcame a season and a half of heartache and bad luck to score an emotional victory that not only warmed the heart on a chilly day at Memphis Motorsports Park, but also went a long way toward healing all of those broken on that sad June day last year.

Although the DHL Toyota had turned the performance corner a few races ago, no one really expected the team to win a race this year; heck, while the other teams are embroiled in the Countdown to 1, they've been joking with Jerry Toliver about their "battle for 13th place."

From left, crew chief Nicky Boninfante, Arend, Connie Kalitta, team manager Rachel Brunner, and crew chief Jon Oberhofer celebrate in the winner's circle.
(Dani Cox photo)

The Kalitta team has won championships and the Mac Tools U.S. Nationals presented by Lucas Oil, so when crew chief Jon Oberhofer proclaimed this victory "the biggest race in the history of this team," that's really saying something. But, you know, I don't think he's wrong.

In Englishtown this season, the one-year anniversary of Scott's passing, the team held a private party in its pit area to remember their fallen brother. They hoped it would offer some closure and that they could at last put aside their grieving and get back to winning. It probably helped a lot for them to focus on the future, but I'd wager a fair sum that they didn't have full closure until Arend tripped the final-round win light in Memphis and the Kalitta name was back in the Funny Car winner's circle.

Todd Myers does the PR for Kalitta Motorsports, and he's a close and dear friend. We've collaborated on a lot of work throughout the years, including the design of the old NHRA,com and many specialty NHRA Web sites – he's also designing the upcoming 50th Kragen O'Reilly NHRA Winternationals Web site for us – and he's a great guy with a heart of gold. That's his photo at the top of this blog. Although he's not in there with wrenches flying, he's still a huge part of the team, and, by that, also one of those whose heart was broken. Among his contributions to aid our grieving was designing the memorial decal after the loss of Scott, allowing us to wear the T-shirts and display the decals proclaiming our love for Scott, and helping deal with the crush of people wanting to talk to Connie and the team.

(Dani Cox photo)

We talked at length last night – me in California and Todd in the Kalitta pit area, where, in Scott's honor, everyone was smoking Swisher Sweets and drinking Coors Light – about what this win meant to the team.

"In all my years in drag racing, I've never seen a team this excited about a win," he said. "After Scotty died, we didn’t know if it was a good idea to bring that car out, but that's what Conrad wanted, so that's what we did. I think we all had our hesitations, and this team has struggled so hard the last year. Most of the crew guys were there when Scott was killed, and just to see them happy again is amazing. Everyone is just so ecstatic that we won, and it was all for Scott."

The team won the race in style. Arend did his job behind the wheel, outpedaling Jack Beckman in round one, then Jon O and Nicky Boninfante tuned the car to two 4.10s and a 4.09 and, in the final, the fourth-fastest speed in the 1,000-foot era.

"Scott's biggest complaint was that the driver couldn't control the car with the way it was set up," said Jon O. "We worked on a lot of things from front to back and reached out to a lot of people in the class. Now, Jeff says the car is much easier to drive than when he got here. You know that Scott is looking down from heaven, telling Eric, Blaine, and Darrell, 'See? Those [expletives] finally listened to me!' Scott and Connie always wanted a competitive Funny Car more than anything. Winning is great, but it means so much more to do it the way we did it."

It was a day that Myers won't soon forget.

"Mondays are always surreal anyway because the pits are half empty," he said. "Then we had to sit through that mess this morning [the rain delay and the cleanup after Daniel Wilkerson's crash], and it's like, 'Are we ever gonna get through this? Come on!' When we finally get to racing, Jeff blows the tires off first round, and I'm like, 'Oh, crap.' He pedals, Beckman pedals, and we finally got some luck. Since Scott died, there's been this aura around the team that we had no luck. I asked Jon O and Nicky what they were going to do for second round, and they told me, 'We're fine; we feel really good about the car because it made some great early numbers, and we know what to do to back it down and make it not only go down the track, but down the track really, really quick.'

Celebration time. You think Todd Myers, far left, is happy? Recalls Jim Oberhofer, "Everyone on the starting line was emotional. I went up to Connie, who was looking at the scoreboard. In typical Connie fashion, he said, 'How the hell did that thing run so fast? Did it fall out of a tree?' "
(Auto Imagery photo)

"Second round, it runs a 4.10, the quickest e.t. of the round, and does it again the next round, and suddenly, it's like, 'Hey, we have a shot at winning this thing.' Normally I'll stay in the pressroom, but I had to be down on the line for this one. As we're getting ready to run, I turned around, and I don’t think I've ever seen that many different representatives of teams standing behind us watching. Not really close, but they were all up there, and they were standing behind our car because they wanted us to win.

"When I saw Tony [Pedregon] shut off in the final, I was just praying, 'Please go down the track. Stay in your lane. Stay in your lane. Stay in your lane.' Even knowing that Tony was dead in the water, it's all building, and it was amazing."

If you've ever seen Kalitta starting-line celebrations, you know they can be a bit rowdy, and this one certainly was, but that's more because it was a huge release of emotion and energy and heartache and hope and hurt and tears pent up in the last year and a half. What followed was just as magical.

"You have to tow through the pits to get back to the winner's circle," said Myers, "and as we passed all the pit areas, the teams were clapping and cheering and yelling; they were all so happy we won the race. Jeff handed the trophy to Connie and said, 'This is for Scott.' Connie took it smiled and said, 'Yeah, this is for Scott,' and then he handed it right back to Jeff and said, 'But you deserve this too.'


(Dani Cox photo)

"Conrad had told us before the final, 'Win or lose, I'm going home; I'm not gonna stick around for all this crap,' because that's just the way he is. Getting that e.t. slip that says 'I won' means the most to Conrad. Getting the trophy and getting his picture taken means nothing to him. But Doug [Kalitta] talked him into staying, and he did winner's circle and all the hat pictures, and you could tell he was happy, and I'm glad Doug talked him into staying. It was a great moment."

It had to be a special moment for Arend, too, who was honored to get the unenviable task of trying to keep the Kalitta legacy alive in Funny Car -- I mean, hey, no pressure, right? -- only to have the team struggle for the last year and a half. It's been a long time between wins for Arend – I was there in Reading in 1996 when he scored his only other win, ironically, in the same chassis with which Scott had won in Houston in 1989 -- and a lot of water has passed under his bridge since.

"Everyone is talking about how we did this as a team. Jeff stepped up, all the crew guys did their part, the crew chiefs did their job, and it was just awesome," said Myers. "Scotty would have loved it."

(Dani Cox photo)

“This is one of the best days of my life,” said Arend. “To get this win for Scott and Connie and everyone at Kalitta Motorsports is amazing. It’s surreal, and it definitely hasn’t all soaked in yet. I can’t explain what this win means to me and everyone on our team who has struggled so hard to get this Wally for Connie and for Scott. We turned a big corner today, and we're going to bring that trophy to Scott, that's for sure."

And Scott will get a chance to enjoy it, too. The team plans to take the Wally trophy – the actual trophy, not a duplicate – and epoxy it to Scott's grave in Florida.

Our own Brad Littlefield, who was closer to Scott than anyone on the staff, and who was there that fateful day in Englishtown, was there last night, hugging and crying with the team. He told me that Jon O called Scott's sons, Corey and Colin, right after the win and how Scott's widow called Jeff to tell him what a good job he did driving, which got him choked up. Like all of us.

A Kalitta Funny Car is back in the winner's circle, and so it seems like it's all come full circle. The world isn’t any more whole for the Kalitta team than it was before the win, but it's a little happier place for them, and for all of us.

Yesterday sure turned out better than it started, which was with the unconfirmed news that Shaun Carlson had died. Even though most people didn't know him but from his brief season a few years ago on the NHRA Pro tour, I'd known Shaun well before that from the five years that I covered NHRA's Sport Compact series for National DRAGSTER and the NHRAsportcompact.com Web site that I ran.

We all knew that Shaun had been sick the last couple of years. He'd been diagnosed with Brugada syndrome, which causes abnormal heartbeats and can lead to sudden cardiac death, which is why it's also known as Sudden Unexpected Death Syndrome (SUDS). He took a turn for the worse in February when he had a trio of heart episodes, but he remained firmly involved with professional drifting, in which he was the car owner for former champ Sam "the Crazy Swede" Hübinette and their bad-ass Dodge Viper. Darren Jacobs, my pal at Mopar, had gotten my son and I tickets for the Formula Drift opener in Long Beach, Calif., in April, and I went hoping to see Shaun, but he was back in the hospital again the first day and not that well when he came out for the final day, when Hübinette finished second. I never got a chance to see him and missed him when we also attended the drift event in Sonoma two months ago. I wish I had tried harder.

When I got the news yesterday, I guess I wasn't totally surprised. It took a while for me to confirm his passing – still hoping it wasn't true, I called his fabrication business, NuFormz, and my call went to voice mail, which was full, which did not fill me with hope – but Darren finally got me in touch with his right-hand man, Brad Manka, who gave me the sad confirmation that we'd lost him at the too-early age of 35. I won’t share the details of his passing, but it does sound as if he was stricken suddenly in the night, which points a finger at SUDS.

After leaving drag racing, Carlson was the owner of this Dodge Viper drift machine, driven by Sam Hubinette.

Even though Mopar dropped its support of drifting a few months ago, Darren sent me a great bio on Shaun so that I could write his obituary. Those of you who know me or have followed this column know that I pour a lot of heart into any final farewell story; it's my final tribute to people who have made my life better and more interesting, and even though Shaun wasn't as well-known to many of you, I felt a home-page tribute was definitely in order. It was the right move and meant a lot to a lot of people.

Shaun's brother, Trevor, whom I have never met, dropped me a nice note to thank me for the story, and Rachel Kaizoji, who used to work here at NHRA, passed along this great message, which she said I could share. Before she worked at NHRA, she worked with Toyo on its sport compact program and met and got to know Carlson, who shared garage space with Toyo-backed racer Stephan Papadakis. She couldn't have been happier when he came to our biggest stage.

"I met him at the SEMA Show I think in 2000, but I already knew who he was since he was such a huge star in the sport compact world," she wrote. "I was there to congratulate him and line him up the first time he qualified with the Pros and walked through the POWERade doors [during pre-race introductions]. I was really proud of him. What a loss, but he sure accomplished a lot. He was a pioneer in drag racing even though he was such a young guy, and I know he was really important to so many, especially all those sport compact racers and followers who were happy to see one of their own make it to the Pros."

Shaun first hit my radar screen with a wild winged Ford Focus that he was campaigning before that, a tube-framed wonder that he built as a follow-up to his groundbreaking work of Papadakis' all-conquering Honda Civic. What makes these cars so amazing is that they were front-wheel-drive machines that ran, at the time, in the eight-second zone but later reached deep into the sevens and beyond. If you've ever nailed the gas on a front-wheel-drive of any kind – be it even a rental car – you know that they accelerate very differently than a rear driver, and you're fighting torque steer every inch of the way. Take that and multiply it by 10, and you might get an idea of the kind of skills that drivers like Carlson, Papadakis, Lisa Kubo, Ed Bergenholtz, Gary Gardella, Marty Ladwig, Nelson Hoyos, and other front-wheel-drive stars of the series had under their right feet.

Carlson's Mopar-backed SRT4 Pro FWD car was a winner in NHRA Sport Compact competitiion and set the national record.
Carlson qualified just once in the 2006 Pro Stock season and later took on an engineering role with the Don Schumacher Racing team.

He later built a screaming Dodge SRT4 that set the national record in NHRA's Pro FWD class and carried him to a few wins and some top-five finishes. His partnership with Mopar is what ultimately led him to subbing for Mopar ace Darrell Alderman at the 2004 Winternationals, and he showed his natural skill by winning a round, and two years later, he was a full-time driver for Don Schumacher Racing when "the Don" incorporated Pro Stock into his burgeoning program. He won the job over more than 20 others who applied, sealing the deal with a one-on-one audition in Las Vegas against Mike Corvo during the preseason.

I remember it being an interesting combination, with mohawked and earring-wearing Carlson going to work with then crew chief Bob Glidden, who's about as old school as they get. There were definitely growing pains between the two, and the car never ran as it should have – not sure if it was the driver or the car or both – and Shaun was later given a role in engineering with the team instead.

The message boards lit up with comments and wonder and diatribes about why and how he had gotten the job, but Shaun took it all in stride.

“Yeah, I read a lot of that stuff, and I’m not afraid to admit that some of it hurt,” he told ND Senior Editor Kevin McKenna then. “The fact is that there are a lot of people out there who don’t have respect for sport compact racers. Maybe they don’t like the way we look or the music we listen to or they don’t appreciate the technology that goes into our cars. I’m not really sure where it comes from, but it’s out there. There is a flip side, though. There are also a lot of sport compact racers who have a very negative view of the [NHRA POWERade] series. It swings both ways.

“[I hope] I can help alleviate some of that narrow-minded thinking. I want to be successful because of the faith that Don and Bob have shown in me, but I also want to win over here so people will realize that [sport compact and POWERade Series racers] aren’t that different. We all have a passion for the same thing; we just work in different venues.

“Don has never said anything about my piercings or my hair, and the only thing Bob has said was, ‘As long as you can drive that race car, I don’t care how many holes you’ve got in your head.’ I’m sure Bob’s first impression of me probably wasn’t too favorable, but now that he’s gotten to know me a little, he told me, ‘You seem like a really good kid.’ That’s good because I don’t plan on changing.”

Shaun was an original, and he'll be missed.
 

On my radar screen ...Friday, October 02, 2009
Posted by: Phil Burgess

During a typical workweek, I am bombarded with interesting stuff, either by phone or e-mail. Whether it's feedback or additional info from a previous Insider column or just a helpful racer or fan directing me to an interesting Web site or passing on a cool photo, sometimes some of this stuff is just too cool to keep to myself.

As the calendar switches from September to October, it's time to clear out the backlog of intriguing stuff that I've accumulated in the last month. Enjoy!

I sent Shirley Muldowney a copy of Steve Heuer's photo of her in the cockpit of her ill-fated Satellite Funny Car (see column below), noting the early-model firesuit shown in the pic, and asked her how much racing had changed over the years. I found her reply both interesting and informative and, from someone with her vast experience and cred, spot on.

"They were so different that to draw a comparison between the two is kinda ridiculous, but I'll give it a shot," she said. "Now the cars don't seem to hike the front end up (both wheels; on a good run; the 1970 cars ran on three wheels to the 1,000-foot mark); drivers' hands don't have to leave the steering wheel to shift into another gear at half-track; drivers doesn't straddle a Lenco; we didn't have throttle stops to regulate the burnout rpm; smart drivers relied on an oil-pressure gauge only; and fire bottles have grown considerably larger in size."

And she was just getting warmed up …
 
Shirley also offered this then versus now list:

  • Real firesuits versus "Reynolds Wrap"  
  • Full-face helmets  
  • Coaches with radio headsets  
  • Superior track lighting  
  • Prepared track surfaces  
  • Super speedways (surface, length, width)  
  • Extended runouts versus cornfields  
  • Longer wheelbase  
  • State-of-the-art engine and running gear components  
  • Fuel pumps that live longer than two runs  
  • Front and rear wheel brakes  
  • Larger dual Kevlar parachutes  
  • Guardwall versus guardrail (or none at all)  
  • Testing  
  • 90 percent nitro versus 100 percent 
  • Bathrooms and showers  
  • Hotels instead of sleepers  
  • Airplanes reservations versus toll booths  
  • Kenworths versus Dodge duallies  
  • Alan Johnson versus Freddie DeName

"I rest my case," she concluded.

It's amazing sometimes how far we have come and how soon we forget the types of equipment that the pioneers of our sport used. We, the jury of the Insider Nation, find for Ms. Muldowney in the case of Then versus Now. 
 

Speaking of Shirleys, Wally Parks NHRA Motorsports Museum presented by Automobile Club of Southern California curator and historian Greg Sharp (who, with Bret Kepner, always keeps me honest here) passed along a copy of a nice article on Shirley Shahan in the Visalia (Calif.) Times Delta newspaper. Shahan (now Shirley Bridges) had been officially named to the Visalia Riverway Sports Park Pillars of Fame in a unanimous vote by the Visalia Parks and Recreation Commission. The Pillars of Fame is the Visalia version of a sports Hall of Fame. That's Bridges, center, with husband Ken and close friend Marian Cote.

The article noted that she often is confused with another Shirley. "Yes, for the umpteenth time, I am not Shirley Muldowney," said Bridges, whose career largely did not intersect with Muldowney's as she retired in 1972, just as Muldowney was beginning her rise to greatness. (You can read my past column on Shahan's exploits -- parts of which were noted in the newspaper article -- here).
 

My recent Four-wide mania column drew a lot of fond remembrances and thank-yous from those fortunate enough to have witnessed those spectacles firsthand. Dan Lemons dropped me a line to fess up to being the soul brave enough to be the starter at Fontana Drag City when they ran the four jet dragsters side by side.

"I was the foolhardy guy standing in front of the four flamethrowers with a flag in my hand," he admitted. "Even with the firesuit on, I got burned on the back of my neck and ankles, but I wouldn't have missed it for the world. All us old guys have left are the memories." Indeed!

Lemons now owns Lemons Headers in Paso Robles, Calif. I checked out his Web site and found it functional yet lacking a little pizzazz, so to thank him for his contribution to today's column, I propose he adopt one of the following slogans for his business: "Get Some Sour Power!" or "Lemons Headers: We'll squeeze more power from your engine" or "Lemon-aid for your horsepower woes" or, my favorite, "Be the top e-lemon-ator with Lemons Headers!" Dan: Contact me to discuss the terms of licensing these wonderful sayings <g>.
 

Insider reader Jack "J.R." Hodson wanted to know the identity of the four Funny Cars shown in the pic at right, which I had found cruising some bulletin boards, but the photo was so small I couldn’t really help him. "Looks like an Opel Kadett farthest from the camera, then a somewhat-looking Candies & Hughes 'Cuda, a somewhat-looking USA 1 Camaro, and then a Buick Skylark or possibly Nova closest to the camera," he offered. I told him not to fret, that I was sure that the Insider Nation soon would give us the answer, and, sure enough, they did.

Not only did I get the answer, but I got it from one of those involved, Ron Pellegrini. "It was 1968, and the four cars were Jack Ditmars with the Mini Brute, Pat Minick with the Chi-Town Hustler, the Out of Sight Camaro (cannot remember the driver), and myself with my Beware Buick. I remember the day well as I crashed on a later run … slow roll and 173 on the roof through the lights, but that's another story."

"Hey do I get a Dewey button or a brownie point for getting the four manufacturers correct?" inquired Hodson (obviously showing his age) after I passed along Pellegrini's response.

Old pal Chase Knight also responded with more details about four-wide racing in Florida that helped round out the picture down South. "The Miami-Hollywood track did have four actual racing lanes in its final incarnation," he wrote. "The original push-down road to the west (left) of the original dragstrip was widened to accommodate two proper lanes and had its own Tree and timers. The 'new' track had about 1,000 feet less shutoff than the primary track and was used for the slower cars. All the lanes were used at the same time, but not usually with any attempt to start all four vehicles together."

Mike Korpi sent this sad photo of the former Gary Clapshaw Spirit of Las Vegas Top Fueler in a heap Down Under. Korpi was one of the original crewmembers who helped Lonnie Strode build this car in 1999 for Clapshaw. This car holds a couple of places in history as it not only was the car that Clapshaw drove to a stunning U.S. Nationals runner-up in 2000 but also was the car that "Big Daddy" Don Garlits drove in Indy the following year when he ran his first four-second and 300-mph passes. This accident apparently took place a year ago at Western Sydney Dragway.

"I found these pics surfing the other day, and I am sick at what has happened to it," wrote Korpi. "I had more than 60 hours in just polishing the roll cage. What a waste. I am devastated. I am still crying."

Turns out that the car was owned by Aussie favorite Steve "Pommie" Read, who had the throttle hang open on his final qualifying pass. "I slid my foot out of the pedal to try and pull the throttle off, but no hope; by this time, I knew I wasn't going to stop," he posted on his Web site. "The car was on full throttle for 7.35 seconds, and on overlaying the data we recovered on our fastest run, we saw it was quicker than the at pass. At 300 mph, you travel at over 450 feet per second; after the finish line, you have about four seconds at that speed before the track ends and you are in the sand. Approaching the end of the track and still having to use two hands on the wheel, I thought, 'This is going to be BIG!' When suddenly the fuel ran out, the throttle unjammed, and I got the chutes out; by this time, I was almost in the kitty litter. I concentrated on keeping the car dead straight so as to go in head first, with approximately 15 feet of car in front of me to act as a crumple zone, I had to hope that was enough. At the last second, I pulled my hands off the wheel, and then a mighty WHOOMP, and the car stopped dead. My first thought was, 'That was not too bad,' and then the fuel tank exploded, and the fire came into the cockpit. I had no pain apart from my left hand, so with it getting a little hot in the car, I got out over the front of the car and trod straight into a tyre full of water. By this time, the rescuers had arrived, and they were all falling about in the tyres as well, which I thought was quite funny!"
 

Speaking of cars in pieces, good friend Dave Wallace Jr., responding to Steve and John Bell's impressive collection of drag racing flotsam and jetsam in an earlier column, passed along this funny photo of him and his pals at the 1988 U.S. Nationals, where Brad Tuttle had vaporized the body of his Nitro Brandt Thunderbird in the lights.

"The nose fit so nicely onto this rent-a-rocket that I was able to drive it back to my Indy hotel from the track," he noted.

From left are veteran lensman and Lions Dragstrip historian Don Gillespie, Dave Wallace Sr. and Jr., and Jeff Burk (pre-Drag Racing Online). Dave Jr.'s brother, Sky, shot the photo and also "subsequently chopped the nose into five suitcase-friendly souvenirs with his always-handy Dremel tool," noted his proud brother. Sweet!
 

Speaking of second generations, on a little more modern note, former National DRAGSTER Editor and frequent Insider contributor Bill Holland passed along this photo he took recently of current ND Associate Editor Brad Littlefield, left,, and former ND Associate Editor Todd Veney, with the subject line Sons of the Old Pioneers.

"Nope, not the old country western singing group," Holland noted. "I snapped this picture of Brad Littlefield and the Toddster chatting at Indy. Obviously, they are sons of two prominent Alcohol Funny Car pioneers."

Brad's father, of course, is Mert Littlefield, of Littlefield Superchargers fame and and a longtime alcohol and nitro Funny Car driver. Todd's dad is the talented Ken Veney, cylinder-head wizard and a former nitro and alcohol flopper ace. Both of their sons have followed them into the cockpits, Brad licensing impressively in Dad's car and Todd boldly starting his own operation from the ground up and driving for others in a promising career that netted a divisional win in Columbus, where he left on and beat Frank Manzo (not that he has the photo of that final round as his desktop wallpaper on his laptop or anything), as well as three national event runner-ups.

Much to their dismay, neither has a ride, which might explain Veney's reaction to the photo that I forwarded to him: "From the look on our faces, I'd say it was from when Brad and I were discussing whether either one of us will ever drive a race car again."

We all brag to our friends who favor other motorsports about how great drag racing is and how the drivers are so accessible, right? Well Jim Pedley, writing for Sporting News, really nailed it with this article. Check it out here.

Hey, who doesn't love a good road trip, right? I mean, you, the open road, some good tunes, and your favorite hot rod. For many of us, it's heaven. But I doubt that any of us would have dared embark on the road trip that Dave Schaub took recently. He set out in his his Roy Brizio-built '32 Ford Model A roadster to see if he could visit all 49 states in the continental United States in nine days to raise money for Ronald McDonald House to help terminally ill children. It was an ambitious plan that would have him cover 9,800 miles in 216 hours.

He launched from Needles, Calif., Sept. 8, headed for Tulsa, Okla., then to the deep South until the Florida panhandle, then up the Eastern seaboard to Buffalo, N.Y., then back west. His biggest day notched 12 states, and even when he reached the West Coast again and Washington, his journey wasn't over. He had to head up north through British Columbia to reach the small town of Hyder in southeast Alaska.

Schaub kept a time-stamped receipt for gasoline and other items in each state he visited and used a GPS satellite device to allow Internet users to track his progress in real time on Google Maps through his Web site, www.49in9.com. He even made it to Hyder ahead of schedule, completing the trip in 8 days, 16 hours, and 48 minutes. I am certifiably impressed.
 

And finally, there's this. I received an e-mail from Amy Caetta bragging about her big win at the Wiener Nationals. Yes, Wiener, not Winter.

Apparently, the fast-food chain Wienerschnitzel, with a sly nod of the hat to our own fabled Winternationals, hosts a little drag race for dachshunds, and her little guy, Presley, a 2-year-old brown dachshund, turned out to be the top dog, the Fastest Wiener in the West. The race was held last month at the Los Alamitos horse racing track here in Southern California to raise funds for the Seal Beach Animal Care Center. The 2009 Wiener Nationals featured 98 wiener dogs from across Southern California competing in a record 13 races, the most in the 14-year history of the event.

This month, Presley will be in the city of Placentia's parade, and in late December, she will be racing other wieners from around the nation in San Diego (Holiday Bowl Parade) to compete for the title Top Dog and the chance to ride on top of the Wienerschnitzel float. The win was featured in local newspapers.

Check out the video at right to see the hot dog run and then jump into Amy's happy arms.

Doggone, that was a fun column. I hope you enjoyed it. See ya next week!

 

Fan Fotos: New EnglandTuesday, September 29, 2009
Posted by: Phil Burgess

Welcome to Fan Fotos, the sequel! Steve Heuer – and quite a few others -- took advantage of my offer two weeks ago to display their 10 best fan photos, and here they are. Again, the purpose of this is to show off your fan-type photos – which means no pro-shot stuff from the guardrails (unless you snuck up there when the officials weren't looking; then you get bonus points), and I don't care if there's a telephone pole or fellow spectator's head in your way, and, of course, they must be photos shot by you. I'll be running more of the submissions throughout the weeks ahead, but Steve-o is up first.

Steve has been going to the drags for a long time. The photo at right is of him (and, obviously, not taken by him; although it's a clear violation of my rules, I'll let it slide) at age 12, at his first drag race at New England Dragway in 1972, standing next to Tim Kushi's car. Like so many of us, it was dear ol' dad who gave him his first in-person introduction to the sport (many of us had long been rabid magazine buyers before we ever got to the digs for the first time, saving up allowance for a copy of Drag Racing USA or Super Stock).

The rest of Steve's photos are also from the 1970s, a great period for Funny Cars, which make up the bulk of his submission.

This is Mart Higginbotham's Drag-on Vega, campaigned with partner Jim Robbs in the early 1970s before they sold the name rights to Top Alcohol Funny Car racer Frank Cook and his partner, Chuck Landers. Higginbotham began his nitro career driving for "Big Mike" Burkhart in the late 1960s before launching his own operation. I did an interview with Higginbotham for a column a while ago, and he told me, "Believe it or not, I still to this day get requests to sign picture and cards." Maybe he'll get even more now. That's Fred Goeske's Duster and (barely visible through the Vega's cockpit) the High Explosive Charger of the Jackson brothers (Ronnie and Tyrone) in the background.
A year later, armed with a new camera, Steve "hopped the fence at the finish line and snuck through the woods" to the turnoff at the end of the track for some parachute photos and this great shot of Shirley Muldowney still in the cockpit of her Satellite Funny Car. "The two firemen stationed there let me stay there for an entire round," he recalled proudly. From top are the Wayne Mahaffey-driven Alabamian Vega of Billy Holt, Wayne Oxner in the saddle of the Connecticut-based Nichols & Oxner Charger, and Muldowney. According to Steve, the photo of Muldowney was taken the week before that car burned up in Indy, which, of course, led to her switching to Top Fuel and an amazing career ahead.
"T.V. Tommy" might have been raised in Southern California and have strong roots there (he still owns the house in Burbank that he bought as a 12-year-old television star), but he never stayed too close to home as he toured extensively, including this trip to NED in 1973. The car sports that infamous 1970s fashion statement – front-wheel pants – plus canard wings on the side. The following season in Pomona, Ivo rolled a car very similar to this (albeit with a beautiful orange paint scheme) in the lights during Winternationals qualifying.
"Dad moved us to Chicago in '74, and I now had U.S. 30, Union Grove, and Byron," said Steve. "The Mr. Norm-Cliff Brown shot is the final of a '74 U.S. 30 race, the 'Mongoose'-'Snake' shot is from '75 at Byron, and the Jim Wemett versus Pulde shot is from Union Grove in '77." I dropped Wemett an e-mail to ask about the less-than-show-ready status of the body, which obviously had just been patched up from some sort of incident and to ask if that was George Johnson behind the wheel (Tom Anderson's predecessor) or if Wemett was actually driving, as he had in the past. "Yes, that was George," he replied. "I never drove this one. We had a fire the weekend before and had to do a quick repair job. George and I grew up together, and he is still here; Tom Anderson moved here in 1980 and is still in Rochester." Good to know that the gang is all still together.
And finally, there's this shot of a somewhat battered Chelsea King. For those who don't go back that far, the Chelsea King was Kenny Bernstein's car in the late 1970s before he landed the Budweiser deal. KB owned a series of pubs called Chelsea Street, and the Chelsea King was their best-selling sandwich. Reports Steve, "In '78, after one semester of college, a two-week vacation to California lasted six months and included a visit to OCIR in April. The Kenny B shot is the aftermath of a run that went from tire smoke right off the line to a hard turn into the other lane to the car almost flipping over but ended up nosing into the guardrail.


"Maybe these are not the 10 best, but a representative synopsis of some great memories!" he added.

I couldn’t agree more. If you have 10 Fan Fotos you'd like to submit, pass them along to me at pburgess@nhra.com. These must be photos taken by you and not pro-shot kinds of images; I want those down-and-dirty fan photos. Please include as much info as you have for dates and locations and what's going on in the photos.

That's it for today; I'll see you later this week.
 

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