Where every day is Memorial DayTuesday, June 01, 2010

Welcome to Tuesday, or, as many of you will know it, the first workday of this week. Me, I spent Memorial Day in the office working on this column and National DRAGSTER assignments, trying to get caught up before we launch into a June that will feature national events on four consecutive weekends.

I'm still working on the AMT Piranha piece I promised last week, and there's a lot more to it than I expected, but I hope to have it for you later this week. It's some cool stuff. In the meantime, here are some tidbits to keep you going.

Got a note last Wednesday from Bill Holland on the passing of famed entertainer Art Linkletter, which is of interest to everyone here because the former ND editor's Top Fueler once was sponsored by Linkletter and his Art Linkletter's House Party show.

Holland shared the photo at right, which shows Linkletter, center, his late daughter Diane, and Holland (kneeling by the car). Holland's partner and driver, John Guedel, is in the cockpit. The photo was taken at the 1968 Santa Claus Lane Parade down Hollywood Boulevard.

Guedel's father was the producer of the Linkletter show as well as Groucho Marx's popular You Bet Your Life. George Fenneman, who was Marx's sidekick and announcer, even came out to San Fernando Raceway to watch the car run, according to Holland. Linkletter never saw the car race, although Holland and Guedel did take the car to the studio when it was first painted.

(In a weird twist, as a child, Holland was featured on Linkletter's show – which included the popular segment "Kids Say the Darndest Things" -- in the early 1950s. "I was one of those wise-ass kids on the show," he said. "The first time was around 1951, and I was invited back for a couple more of his shows. Don't you think I was pumped having a limousine show up at school (Grant School in Hollywood) to take us to the then-new CBS Television City?")

The photo below shows the car better. It was taken in Oahu, Hawaii, where Holland and Guedel were match racing Stan Shiroma, who was driving the Top Fueler of German Farias (featured here previously in the F edition of the Misc. Files), at Hawaii Raceway Park. Holland and Guedel won the race and set the track record, which, Holland noted, was a nice feat because such hitters as Beebe & Mulligan and Tom McEwen had raced there.

Reader Kellen Kennedy, reacting to my comments about the aerodynamic devices – more precisely, "augmentation devices" -- attached to Gene Snow's Top Fueler, actually found video  from the Diamond P show from the 1986 NHRA Southern Nationals in which Steve Evans explained the magic behind the "tomato cans." You have to fast-forward to 4:20 for that, but before you get there, you can also see footage of Gary Ormsby's Castrol GTX streamliner, also reported on here. You can watch Ormsby battle Don Garlits' Swamp Rat XXX in the first meeting between the two streamliners.

For those of you who don't want to watch the video -- which I believe constitutes probably 0 percent – the theory is that the area between the cans and the headers would create a vacuum and more downforce. They claimed that they worked, but, because they quickly disappeared, I'm guessing that they didn't work well enough for whatever upkeep was necessary. That has probably been the bane of many drag racing innovations: too much effort for too little reward.

In the course of working on articles for National DRAGSTER, I stumbled across a couple of items in old issues that relate to previous postings here about the Buttera/Setzer monocoque car and Sammy Miller's wedge dragster. Both appeared in the Bits From The Pits column. If you're new around here, I have NDADD (National DRAGSTER Attention Deficit Disorder), so the simple task of doing one piece of research for one specific item sends me thumbing through an entire issue looking for cool stuff. Anyway, the first, from July 1972, noted that Dwight Salisbury was chosen by car builder John Buttera to drive the monocoque car. If you remember, Buttera and Louie Teckenoff built the car and had hoped to campaign it themselves but sold it to Setzer when the financial realities of doing such finally hit home.

The item went on to note that "a whole flock of subframe cars" were under construction at Race Car Specialties, including one to be driven by Larry Dixon Sr. as part of the Real Don Steele team. Southern California-based RCS, of course, was the San Fernando Valley workshop of ace chassis builder Frank Huszar. Wonder whatever became of these "subframe" cars.

The Miller note I found talked about that car's construction and offered that the wheelbase was to be 195 inches and, of true interest, that the engine was going to be 58 inches out (from the rear end), which is more like Funny Car territory, which dovetails with what Scott Weney told us about how Miller, a flopper veteran, wanted a familiar setup.

Back to the monocoque car -- thanks to a reader, I was able to contact Teckenoff by e-mail. He said he has a "rather detailed series of photos taken when the car was being built," that the car's initial runs were made at Lions Drag Strip and not Orange County Int’l Raceway, and other interesting tidbits that he asked not be disclosed before he can flesh them out. Rest assured, I'll be back in touch with him.

OK, that's it for today. I'll see ya later this week.

All wedges, all the time ...Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Ho hum. Another week, and still more loose threads from the wedge discussion. Sorry for today's late-week posting and that this will be the week's only entry; the work overload on National DRAGSTER has been smothering with no letup in sight, but I wanted to keep the engine running, so to speak.

I have some follow-up on the Dunn & Kruse "Top Fueler" mentioned here last time after exchanging e-mails with Kruse, and I plan to give him a call.

Below is an interesting photo of the "two cars" on the track. There were not two chassis, but rather this is a clever double exposure by Barry Wiggins, taken at OCIR after the Grand Am event (and after the dragster body was painted).

Kruse had been sharing information on the car with the nostalgia-oriented Standard 1320 newsgroup, and I asked permission to reprint his comments here, which he granted. Some of what he said backs up Jim Dunn's comments but with more detail about the actual construction of the car and its rather rushed-into-service nature.

"This version was not meant to be the ideal streamliner; it made use of 'available material' in the form of the Dunn & Reath car with the Funny Car body removed. Initially, the unit was to be used as a plug to make a mold, then lightweight parts were to be built for a competition body. When it was announced that the Jocko/Garlits streamliner would be at OCIR, a decision was made to finish the mock-up unit and race it. It was a little heavier than preferred, but we were inspired by the drama of TWO streamliners at one event.

"The center body between the wheels is .060 aluminum," he wrote. "The fenders were first shaped from block urethane foam, then covered with three layers of fiberglass, riveted on the overlap. The front and rear active control wings are aluminum. The streamliner body was at the racetrack, on the chassis, and qualified for eliminations 17 days after construction started.

"The whole episode was very exciting," he remarked. "The best thing I learned is that the market for streamlined dragsters is very small."

Reader Robert Flitsch offered up "another fire starter for the dreaded wedge discussion" – his description, not mine – with this photo of a black Top Fueler. I recognized the name on the cockpit – Donnie – as probably being Southwest racer Donnie Souter, which I verified through checking the permanent number on the car (480) against other shots of Souter's car. When I first opened this pic, I thought, "Well, that's the Sammy Miller car," but upon closer examination, it's not the same car. Close, but not quite. Miller's car had an enclosed back end, and this one clearly does not. This car also appears to be longer than the Miller car and has a different nosepiece. The Houston-based Souter clan ran Top Fuelers for about 10 years, from the early 1970s to early 1980s, and I'm guessing this photo was a mid-1970s effort.

I've been inundated with suggestions of other "wedge" cars, some of which probably fit loosely in the category and others that don't. Mike Gayowski suggested Gary Ormsby's streamliner, Gene Snow's mid-1980s Top Fueler, and Joe Amato's wingless Top Fueler. With Ormsby's car – which the team billed as a streamliner – I'm almost more convinced to call it a wedge. Again, to me, a streamliner would have an enclosed front end (which his 1986 car did not, but the next version did to a degree) and an enclosed cockpit, which his did not, though it certainly was part of the bodywork. Amato's car was more precisely a ground-effects car; it was his conventional car minus the wind but with a tunnel under the chassis. I saw it make one run in Houston, and it seemed to run just fine, but to my knowledge, that was the only time that he ran it. Amato did also briefly have a streamliner, but I don't think that's what Mike is referencing. Robert Sutton, son of Hall of Fame starter Larry, asked about Cyril Leon's Top Alcohol Dragster from the 1980s. It's a car that I remember seeing, too, but cannot find in our files.

Snow's car, on the other hand, looked like a modern-day wedge. I found this photo from the 1987 Allstars event in Dallas. He didn't qualify there, but the caption said that this was his existing Gene Gaddy-built dragster with the bodywork added and not a from-scratch car. Looking through Snow's file, his dragster underwent a dizzying array of changes and accoutrements, including cockpit canopies, canard wings, and such. I even remember – but cannot find photos of -- crazy devices attached to the headers to increase downforce.

Combing through older e-mails, I found photos that our old pal Steve Reyes sent that show the restoration of the famed AMT Piranha "Funny Car" that was more a wedge Top Fueler than anything as you can see from the photo here, which Reyes took about a month ago.

I've been a little reluctant to head backward in time with the wedge discussion because a) this disucssion originally centered around early-1970s "true" wedge dragsters and b) I'm not sure what worms will crawl from that can, but after poking around a little and reading up on the history of this car, which ran in 1966 and whose roots came from an actual limited-edition production car made of plastic material and whose street-driven "brother" appeared in the 1960s TV spy show The Man from U.N.C.L.E., I think it's definitely worth sharing, which I will do next week.

Until then ...

Thanks to several stats junkies, including Stephen Justice, Chris Stilwell, and Steven Wolfe (who hand-typed reams of info!), Bob Frey is a little closer to closing the loop on his stats treasure hunt.

We now return you to your regularly scheduled Insider programming.

Previously on the DRAGSTER Insider, Steve Reyes had submitted a photo of an unpainted, unlettered, and, best of all for us, unknown wedge running at Orange County Int’l Raceway. He wondered if the Insider Nation might know who it was. It took all of but an hour or so for the first reply to come in, from Brett Nation, which was followed by similar answers from Jeff Courtie, Michael Baker, Don Hirsch, and Glenn Menard, that this was "Fearless Fred" Mooneyham in his father's California Cajun dragster. As soon as I got those e-mails, it sounded right, so I dug into the combined Mooneyham file in the DRAGSTER archives and found this photo of the car, taken at Lions.That's the late Gene Mooneyham at far right.

I was able to track down Mooneyham and share these photos with him and to get his remembrances.

According to Mooneyham, the car was built by Louisiana chassis ace Boogie Scott (the Mooneyhams were originally from the Pelican State, hence the California Cajun name). Fred drove the completed car out to California strapped to the roof of the family's Chrysler station wagon.

"We ran the car for quite awhile and I know it ran 237 mph at Lions; I think we ran 6.30s with it," recalled Mooneyham, who was one of a breed of SoCal teenagers like Jeb Allen and Randy Allison competing in Top Fuel at the time. "We ran the car until we had an incident at Orange County. We threw a rod out of it and, when I pulled the parachute, all of the oil from the engine came through some lightening holes we had in the panels and got into the cockpit and ignited. My dad just decided we weren’t going to run that body anymore. Boogie had already built us some regular body panels, so we just switched the car over."

The body, made of aluminum, was never painted, and eventually came to an inglorious end, cut up for random sheetmetal use as needed. 

Above right is another photo of the car, taken by veteran photog Dave Milcarek. who has a ton of great old pics form the 1970s here.


Mark Harmon, one of several people to forward me covers of the Barry Setzer wedge on Drag Racing USA, and Michael Hedworth both noted that we probably needed to mention yet another forgotten wedge Top Fueler, Jim Dunn's one-off hybrid from 1973, shown here in a photo courtesy of the Insider's new BFF, Steve Reyes.

This was back when "Big Jim" was still running his rear-engine Funny Car, which had won the Supernationals the season before – still (and probably forever) the only rear-engine Funny Car to win a Wally – and had his pal, Doug Kruse, fashion a mostly aluminum body to bolt on to the Funny Car chassis to allow the car to compete in Top Fuel as well.

The car only made about a half-dozen laps, at Orange County Int’l Raceway during the AHRA Grand American event in June 1973, then disappeared. I tracked down "Big Jim" as he was on his way to this weekend's event in Topeka to get the scoop on the car.

Dunn was honest and to the point about the reason behind the unusual project.

"[Don] Garlits had just come out with his streamliner [the ill-fated Jocko Johnson-built Wynn's Liner], and he was getting all of the ink," explained Dunn. "We were just trying to take some of the spotlight away from Garlits and wanted to prove we could run as good as him. We qualified, and he didn't."

Here's a photo from our files that shows how Dunn's rear-engined flopper looked with the skin off. Note the traditional Funny Car headers versus the through-the-body headers in the Top Fuel configuration.

(Actually, the Garlits car did qualify – dead last in a 32-car field – and Garlits wasn't even driving it. "Big Daddy" was pretty spooked by the car's ill handling in previous tests and hired journeyman Butch Maas to shoe it at OCIR. They qualified on a shutoff pass but did not run the first round according to Bob Post's book High Performance.)

"Both of my cars ran about the same," recalled Dunn. "The car was too short to be a good Top Fueler – it was only 125 inches [the Wynn's Liner was 175 inches] – and I was more into Funny Cars then. We went two rounds with the dragster and three rounds with the Funny Car, and pretty much all we had to do was change bodies and headers. The dragster body was one piece and fit on the chassis just like a Funny Car. I actually didn’t even expect to win the first round in Top Fuel, but I left on a guy and beat him.

"All that did was make more work for me," he laughed.

According to Dunn, the body, which Kruse built in about two weeks, is hanging in Don Ferguson's shop in Torrance, Calif.


Stephen Justice passed along an interesting note about the Lisa & Rossi doorstop wedge that we've also been discussing. He said that Fred Farndon, who's still out there among 'em, was the original owner of the car before an acrimonious divorce forced him to part with the car.

What follows in an excerpt from a bio that Justice did on Farndon, quoting him. "This car was going to make me famous, but a divorce put a damper on it. This was my second SPE car. Not a well-known fact, but I was the original owner and sold it to Vel’s Parnelli Ford, and Billy Tidwell gained considerable notoriety driving it. Too heavy to e.t., but ran 240 mph!"

Justice also included the photo above, showing Tidwell in the car at speed in Bakersfield, Calif. I dropped a line to Jim Rossi, son of original owner Vince Rossi, for comment but have not heard back from him. SPE, of course, was the Santa Ana, Calif., Speed Products Engineering chassis shop of Roy Fjastad, an alumnus of Scotty Fenn's famed Chassis Research dragster factory.

Newlywed "Flyin' Phil" Elliott (congrats!) sent this rather interesting photo as a follow-up to our discussions on the mid-1960s Re-Entry wedge Top Fueler. This photo of the car, looking familiar yet much different, was taken at a car show, and, although the car is quite recognizable, it obviously has a significantly shorter wheelbase.

"I hadn’t seen it this length in any action shot," said Elliott. "There might have been a minor incident after which the car was stretched. I can’t do much but theorize other than provide this earlier pic."

Given the reports that we've had about the car being involved in an accident, it makes me wonder if this is a before or after photo.

Wow … this just in: Insider reader John Gacioch found video of the Re-Entry car crashing at Indy in 1966 as part of footage put together by Hurst. Go here and forward to the 4:50 mark. It's fast, but you can definitely see the Re-Entry car getting into a world of hurt. Great find, John! Be sure to check out the whole five-part Hurst collection … some great stuff there.

On a totally unrelated and selfish note, I officially enter over-the-hilldom tomorrow, May 22, when I turn 50. I wrote about this topic in depth in last week's ND, counting my successes and blessings, so I won't bore you to tears with that. Plus, I'll be working (from home) covering the Topeka event. Why does NHRA schedule an event on my birthday? Not unexpectedly, my office today was festooned with black balloons, signs ("If you were a car you'd be an antique" and "Your motor is still running but the warranty has expired," etc.), and geriatic gag gifts. I love my fellow staffers. Thanks, guys.

I share a birthday with author Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, actor Laurence Olivier, game-show announcer Johnny Olson, entrepreneur T. Boone Pickens Jr., baseball pitcher Tommy John, and actress Naomi Campbell. Heck, I might be the seventh-most famous person born May 22.

Of course, that list omits Japanese animation and film director Hideaki Anno, who was born on the same day I was in 1960, and I see we share a lot of traits. According to Dr. Wikipedia, "His style has come to be defined by the touches of superflatism and postmodernism that he injects into his work, as well as the thorough portrayal of characters' thoughts and emotions, often through unconventional sequences incorporating psychoanalysis and emotional deconstruction of these characters." Yeah, kind of like what I do here. Cool!

The Earth certainly moved for Anno's mother and mine, as well as for the people of Chile, where the Great Chilean Earthquake shook them to the tune of 9.5, the most powerful earthquake ever recorded. So, what else happened on May 22? Well, not much apparently. In 1807, a grand jury indicted former Vice President of the United States Aaron Burr on a charge of treason, and, oh yeah, on May 22, 1992, Johnny Carson hosted The Tonight Show for the last time. Yeah, pretty slim highlights, I know. Again, that puts ol' P.B.'s birth pretty high on the charts, wouldn’t you say? I'm kinda surprised my name's not on either of those lists. Oversight, I guess.

Monday also is kind of a special day because May 24 will mark my 28th anniversary here at NHRA. It has been a swell ride, and I hope it's far from over, but I want to thank you all for making the last three years some of the most enjoyable with your support for and love of this column.

Bob Frey needs your help!Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Today's topic: not wedge Top Fuelers (surprise!).

Well, I'm back and (sorta) caught up from my trip to Atlanta for the Summit Racing Equipment NHRA Southern Nationals but still have a mountain of National DRAGSTER work ahead of me this week. I hate to break up the long-running wedge thread – I'll have more info to share on that Friday – but I wanted to pop in to a) let you know I made it back alive and b) help out our old pal Bob Frey.

Anyone who has ever listened to Frey announce knows that he's a living encyclopedia of trivia from our sport. A lot of that knowledge is firsthand from having announced races as early as 1966, but he also owns undoubtedly the most detailed and precise record of NHRA racing on the planet. He has accumulated an unassailable record of everything NHRA and has painstakingly researched every race in NHRA national event history trying to compile a list of all competitors and their accomplishments. In his search, Frey has gobbled up coverage from every magazine he could lay his hands on, searched newspaper archives, and so much more.

But still, some history eludes him, and, as a massive tip of his hat to the combined brainpower of the Insider Nation, he's asking for our help.

"In my efforts to catalogue all of the runs at the NHRA national events, I have run into a little bit of a glitch," he wrote. "In the early 1970s, not all of the qualifying and/or eliminations runs were reported. I have National DRAGSTER and every publication from those days, and, believe me, the complete results simply don’t exist. Since I have a great database that I have assembled (with a lot of help), I would like to fill in the blanks. I think it’s important that we have the names of all the qualifiers and everyone who ran in eliminations at the NHRA national events, and that’s the reason that I am writing to you.

"I am always amazed at the people who respond to your Insider columns on NHRA.com. I was wondering if you could ask your readers for some help. If anyone has a list, any list (qualifying or eliminations), from these races, I would like to know if they would be willing to share it with me. I can’t offer anything except my undying admiration for their help, and believe me, it will be greatly appreciated.

"Names, elapsed times, and speeds are all welcome (as are any DNQs), and while your readers check their files, I’ll continue to do my research. I’m only missing little bits and pieces here and there, but without them, my 'stuff' won’t be complete.

"For ease of operation, I have included the races that are missing the most numbers, either qualifying or eliminations. Rather than say that we need qualifying numbers from this race and elimination numbers from that race, let’s just say that I need numbers (whatever anyone may have) for these races."


World Finals


So there you have it, readers: another challenge. If you have anything – anything – from any of these races, and I don't care if it's numbers written down in mustard on a hot-dog wrapper, pass it along to me, and I'll get it to Bob. He has a lot of ways to verify info once he has it, but he needs it first.

As always, you can contact me here. Thanks in advance for anything you can do to further aid in the preservation and accuracy of the history of our sport.

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