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Danny's Corner

1974: Pro Comp Makes a Welcome Debut

by Danny White (2/98)

When the National Hot Rod Association adds the Pro Stock Truck class to their permanent lineup this year, it will mark the first time they have added a new heads-up, non-breakout class in 25 years. The last time they added a heads-up class was Pro Comp in late 1973. Pro Comp's first year is the subject of the story this time around. The class was a great idea at the time. It was well-needed and well-received in the beginning.

Pro Comp was to be the liaison between the lower Sportsman classes and the Pro classes. The classes that made up the first year of Pro Comp were AA/D, A/FD, B/FD, BB/FC, A/FC, and AA/A. The premise of the class came from the defunct Top Gas Eliminator and from Competition eliminator. Top Gas had been run by the National Hot Rod Association and the American Hot Rod Association, but was dropped because of a lack of entries, a lack of fan interest, and the growing the cost of running a blown gas engine -- a highly detonable combination. The AA/D, A/FD, B/FD, BB/FC, and A/FC classes were running in Competition Eliminator before being added to Pro Comp Eliminator. These cars ran off national records before the index system and the Econo classes were conjured up. The AA/D, A/FD, B/FD, and A/FC classes remained pretty much unchanged when the transformation to Pro Comp came about. The classes that got the biggest change were BB/FC and AA/A. These categories were allowed to run alcohol instead of the gasoline they had been required to burn in Competition eliminator. This rule made the two classes equal to and in some cases more potent than the other classes in Pro Comp.

The NHRA and the AHRA added Pro Comp to their race lineups full time in 1974 -- but don't give them too much credit for something that had been successful on the local level for years. In California, racers had combined the various classes as Combination Eliminator and ran heads-up for years. The biggest difference between the California Combo class and Pro Comp was that the Combo class let the unpredictable AA/Fuel Altereds run against the blown gas dragsters, injected nitro dragsters, and injected nitro funny cars instead of their cousins, the blown alcohol altereds.

Veney was from California before he moved to Wadsworth, Ohio. He was a top runner in the alcohol ranks 'til 1985. Veney ran injected nitro funny cars such as the Smogtown Hustler, the Dirty Bird, and the first Veney's Vega on the California Injected Funny Car Circuit. He was runner up at the first NHRA Pro Comp race in 1973 with an injected nitro Chevrolet, but when 1974 rolled around he had a blown alcohol Donovan. The Veney's Vega ran a swift 7.03 at 194 miles per hour as an A/FC. With the Donovan, Veney became one of the first to run a six-second pass in BB/FC. Veney was a thinker and innovator equal to Dale Armstrong in Pro Comp. He made billet heads and intakes, and he tweaked fuel systems. Ken ran whatever combination provided the best chance of winning, including the funny cars, a small block Ford dragster, and a Keith Black powered dragster. It seemed Ken Veney also retired more than any other racer in history. Luckily for the sport, however, he's still out there, tuning Darrell Gwynn's Mopar Performance Top Fueler.

Wilfred Boutilier was a great free spirit, the likes of which the sport sadly misses in the sponsor-happy world of today. Wilfred, or "Wild Wilfred" as he called himself, started racing in Canada, then moved to California where he became famous. He ran a service station during the day and raced on weekends. The car that made him famous was an injected funny car that ran amazing 7.20s with a little touch of nitrous during 1972. The BB/FC he ran during 1974 became the first in the six-second range, using a Chevrolet no less. He won several races with the six second "Wilfred's Chevron" Vega. The most memorable win to me was the Summernationals. Wilfred met Jimmy Scott in the final round. Scott, hot off three straight national event wins, broke in the final, handing the win to Wilfred. With the Weiss & Scott car facing the starting line just past the christmas tree with Scott in the car and two crew members leaning on the wing, Boutilier took his single. Instead of babying it through for the win, however, he went all out. He got crossed up just off the line and almost ran over the Weiss & Scott car, whose crewmembers went running for their lives. This situation would not happen today because of better safety rules and insurance companies. Wilfred moved from California and the toughest Pro Comp racing in the country to Georgia. He ran NHRA, IHRA, and match races 'til around 1980 when he retired from the sport altogether. Wild Wilfred Boutilier was so tough in his day that he even was moderately successful running against fuel funny cars.

Jimmy Scott in 1974 was the stuff legends are made of. He was the hottest Pro Comp racer in the country, winning three straight races and garnering a runner up at the next. The car Scott drove was the Weiss & Scott blown gas dragster. Al Weiss & Jimmy Scott had been together for a couple of years, running BB/Gas dragsters in Competition eliminator and running local shows in California successfully. The team chose to run the tried and true 392 Chrysler with a four-port Hilborn injector, running a best of 6.92 at 195.75 miles per hour in 1974. The team was so successful that they had a second team car, driven by Don Irvin. The Weiss & Irvin car was not as successful as the Weiss & Scott machine, although it was complete twin. Jimmy Scott can be called a racer's racer -- he drove any car made available to him and was good at it, too. He ran AA/D, AA/BAD, BB/FC, AA/A and some more classes that don't come to mind. Jimmy worked at an Anhauser Busch beer distributor full time and managed to tour on the weekends. Jimmy Scott and his son now race on the 7.50 index, using a funny car or altered body depending on the organization they are racing with.

Dale Hall, in my book, is a personal hero. He ran nothing but small blocks, and on a tight budget no less. The car Hall is most famous for is an S&W-built front engine digger that kicked butt and took names for all the 1970s. Dale Hall is the only person to win an NHRA race in a B/FD -- the Grandnational Molson in 1974. The car ran a known best of 7.09 at 192 miles per hour as a B/FD and won the Division One Pro Comp Championship in 1974. The spartan looking dragster really flew when Dale put a blower on, running mid sixes with an iron block. Dale Hall makes waves to this day, always walking to beat of his own drummer. The best example of this is the Barnes sprint car heads he ran on the Nutmegger dragster with the freaky looking tunnel ram manifold. Dale got the combination to run an amazing 6.27 at the time. The weak link was the rare blower belt -- the longest ever run in alcohol dragster. The belts were costly and breakage prone. One time, Hall had no choice but to run a shredded belt in final of the Keystone Nationals -- an unsuccessful proposition.

Dave Mack made waves in the Pro Comp waters in 1974 and 1975, then disappeared from racing forever. Mack drove what seemed to be a high dollar operation for Pro Comp in 1974. The Mack & Dorr team had two dragsters -- one for Pro Comp with a blown hemi for power, and a Competition eliminator B/D that crashed at the U.S. Nationals. The engine Mack and Dorr ran was rare the Milodon aluminum hemi on gas. The team won several races in 1974, including some AHRA events. They ended up as the co-champions of Division 3 along with Marlis Williams. The Milodon ran good numbers of 6.98 at 194 miles per hour. Mack & Dorr ran under the Nationwise Speed Shop banner in 1975 due to the great year they had in 1974. We have no record of the team running in 1976 or beyond so I do not know what became of Mack & Dorr.

Don Enriquez, along with longtime sidekick Gene Adams, were an awesome duo in Jr. Fuel, Combo, and Pro Comp. "Lean Gene" Adams, a longtime employee of Hilborn, could be called "Mr. Injection." For the most part, Adams & Enriquez ran injected Chryslers on nitro. They had run a six-second time a few years before Pro Comp was even formed. They had several wins with a small DeSoto hemi in Junior Fuel. In 1973, they had a super sharp Satellite A/FC co-owned by Steve Wiencek that was moderately successful. The Satellite ran a super 7.031 at 191 miles per hour, though it was not what Adams and Enriquez were looking for. The team was successful for the most part except for experiments with a turbocharger setup, a stint in Top Fuel in 1974, and a flyweight A/FD funny car style chassis that shook more than it ran. The team did win the first NHRA Pro Comp race and could have dominated Pro Comp's first year if not for the stint in Top Fuel. The team's ability to get it together was proven in 1975 at the Winternationals, where the use of alcohol was permitted in blown dragsters for the first time. Using blowers left over from their Top Fuel excursion, they ran an amazing 6.71 -- way ahead of everyone else. The AA/Blown Alcohol Dragster class was re-indexed immediately.

Frank Cook was a party animal, to say the least. In the seventies, Frank lived the famous Jimmie Johnson saying, "talk the talk and walk the walk." He won in every car he drove and made himself a local legend along the way. Frank was driving in the AHRA Junior Fuel class and on the local injected nitro circuit in a small block B/FD to begin the seventies. He had several wins in that car, then built the car that made him a legend -- the Drag On Vega. The first Drag On Vega was a blown nitro funny car owned and driven by Mart Higginbotham. Frank Cook and his partner Chuck Landers bought the rights to the car and the name. The engine they chose was the late model Keith Black Hemi on nitro. They were tough in local match races and in Competition Eliminator. In 1974, Frank got an offer he couldn't refuse  --  a ride in a top flight A/FD. The car he drove was the Settles, Haley & Wood front-engined killer. The car's driver seat became open when Dave Settles got an offer to drive the Candies & Hughes Top Fueler. The car was a tough customer with an injected nitro Donovan that Cook drove to a known best of 7.10 at 200 miles per hour. Dave Settles drove the car on his off weekends and won with it also. Frank Cook won the 1974 Division 4 Pro Comp Championship as Settles took the Division 4 Top Fuel title. Cook later built another Drag On Vega and helped to form the All-American Funny Car Circuit. The Drag On team won several more championships and Chuck Landers mooned many a track announcer as a right of passage.

To me, what made Pro Comp in 1974 was the variety of cars and classes. There were the B/FDs of racers such as Dale Hall, Ray Athens, Dennis Avidesian, Ken Lowe, Kenny Cook, P.T. Dulmage, and countless others. It seemed the B/Fuelers were always a couple of tenths behind, but they were moderately successful in 1974. The 1975 season was different -- the B/FDs were outdated against the blown alcohol dragsters and the quickly dwindling field of big block injected nitro dragsters. Kenny Cook did have the quickest time ever for the B/FDs, clocking a high six-second pass. Hall, Lowe, and Dulmage's car ran seven-Os with relative ease, but couldn't seem to go beyond that. The cars eventually added blowers and instantly picked up three to four tenths overnight. Kenny Cook went on to win the NHRA World Championship in 1978 with a blower. The B/FD class was pretty much dead by 1976. I do not know the last car that ran as a real B/FD, but I would love to.

In Pro Comp's first year, the blown dragsters were required to run on gasoline. The best were Jimmy Scott, Dave Mack, Bob Blair, Don Gerardot, and Mike Clancy. The AA/Ds were few and far between in 1974 for several reasons I already mentioned. The gasoline engine was expensive to run and hard to tune. The other reason AA/Ds were rare is that when NHRA killed Top Gas, the racers who ran the blown gas engines either quit, stepped down, or added nitro. Scott won three national events with the AA/D. Mack had a couple of wins also. Bob Blair in the Blair, Dad & Genco AA/D won four straight Pro Comp races in California. This is a feat worthy of mention because the toughest Pro Comp fields were in California.

Don Gerardot was the first NHRA Pro Comp World Champion in the Homicidal AA/D dragster. The car flipped at the Gatornationals and could been called "Suicidal" instead. The largest category of cars in 1974 Pro Comp was A/FD. The injected big block nitro engine was an ill-tempered beast to say the least. That reason and the rising cost of nitro made A/FD a difficult class to run. Still, between that and the blown gas engine, more chose the nitro option. The best of the 1974 A/FDs were the following cars: Steve Leach and John Morey's Rat Poison, Walt Weney's S&W Race Cars machine, Don Woosley's Magic Show, Indiana's Wayne Ernest, the Settles, Haley & Wood team, Frank Cooper, and too many others to list. The cars were tough in 1974 but as the years went by, fewer and fewer A/FDs made the call. There are actually more A/FDs running now than when Pro Comp was split apart in 1980.

The class I am most partisan to is AA/A -- I just love blown altereds. The altereds were the least populous Pro Comp Class, but were the favorites to most. The blown alcohol altereds were evil just like their big brothers, the AA/FAs. The cars had great names like Easy Rider, Underdog, Nasty, Underdog, and so on. Hands down, the best AA/A in the country was the Foust & Menzies machine. Greg Bellemuer had some success with his AA/A, using a torqueflite transmission. He actually won the annual Tucson Fuel Altered race on 100% alcohol, no nitro. The best time for Bellemuer was a 7.16 at 192 miles per hour. Other blown alcohol altereds from California were the Sherm Gunn-driven Lawce & Gunn car, current alcohol crew chief Sam Shockley in the Shockley & Sons Bantam, and Joe Boone's Warpath 23T, who ran over the Pomona christmas tree for his claim to fame. The high country had Dave Benjamin and his New Mexico-based Nasty altered. The Dallas Schneider-owned and driven Chevrolet 23T was a great looking car but won little in Division Five. The Underdog ironically was more successful for Blairstown, Iowa, native Dick Rotter. Texas had Carl Stone's Rolling Stone Chrysler with his trademark purple paint to wow the fans. The Stones let hired drivers such as Tinker Faulkner, Tony Franklin, John Luna, Larry Reep, and others handle the purple beast or Carl himself drove. Double-A altereds came and went. Some added nitro, some added funny car bodies, and some just quit the sport altogether. Ron Boggs got the last AA/A Pro Comp victory in 1978 at the Sportsnationals in Beech Bend, Kentucky. The popular Poison AA/A Donovan 23T was a true team car -- the actual car belonged to John Carter and the engine belonged to the Boggs Brothers, Ron and Steve.

Pro Comp had its share of totally weird combinations, too. Florida's Bob Stratman raced a front-engined dragster using two Chevrolets on alcohol. The car had run in Comp Eliminator as an A/D, then enjoyed a couple of wins in Pro Comp. Bob raced the car from around 1972 to 1980 with moderate success. The West Coast team of Brunelli and Dunn had their own twin engine car, a rear-engined machine. The car was built in 1972 and raced until about 1980 with several drivers, including Joe Ortega, Larry Sutton, and others. The car was a good six second performer but was far outclassed by its swift California brothers. Chase Knight definitely was different than other racers. His Pro Comp dragster not only was blown but had twin turbochargers to boot. The car, dubbed the Golden Gator, was a tuner's nightmare to say the least. Still, the car won several races in the weak Division Two Pro Comp series. The 'Gator was good for high sixes and low sevens on average. James Brown became a local legend in Texas due to the Anglia he raced. The car ran on injected nitro on the Texas Anglia Circuit and actually went 7.30 at 188 with the Anglia body, which seemed taller than it was long. James added a blower and alcohol to run local Pro Comp shows as an AA/A. The car also had a Vega funny car body to run as a legal NHRA BB/FC sometimes. The big deal about Brown's machine is that the car had only a 100" wheelbase! Brown manhandled the wicked machine to low sevens on nitro and mid sevens on alcohol. There were many "freaks" that ran Pro Comp, but these were the first to come to mind.

Pro Comp made a real splash in 1974 with dozens of cars racing all over the country. This story does not cover all the racers from 1974 but I tried to give a good overview of these who ran and made an impression on the racing world. Please send any comments on the story to me at ddgw@valornet.com. Ideas for future stories are welcome.

Danny White

 

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