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Fond Farewells and Keeping in Touch

By Phil R. Elliott

I just keep getting bad news.

Just a year ago, we ALL lost Dale Earnhardt, arguably the best known driver ever to strap on a helmet.

About the same time, we lost my good friend Steve Collison, editor of Super Stock & Drag Illustrated for most of the years I filled pages there.

I didn't write much about either one at the time, other than a few Emails discussing sadness with friends.

I also haven't written about losing NHRA chief starter Buster Couch because so much has been written about him elsewhere. His boots will certainly remain unfilled, forever.

I didn't get to spend as much time with him as I would have liked to, but there were moments. He was one of many who pushed me years ago to remain honest no matter which higher-up got his nose pushed out of joint.

Back in the days when national events were more relaxed, I often hopped out to the center during clean-ups to say hello. He was always pleasant, asked how everything was going, discussed my local racers (Division 6), and even recent columns I'd written in SS&DI. He always got a kick out of something I'd written and seemed genuinely interested in personal stuff.

Oh sure, you've probably heard the stories of him getting all riled up and throwing somebody out. But, the good stories far outweigh the bad with this man. When I saw something happen slightly out of the ordinary, I'd look at Buster to see what he was going to do. And, likely as not, he'd smile, walk over, and handle the situation. I saw him leap in front of racecars that were staged, revved, flexed and ready to launch, saving the driver from near certain disaster downtrack. I saw him dump and squirt water on drivers in shenanigan retribution. I saw him adjust the idle on Top Fuel cars and seat belts on Stockers, redirect cars staged in poor spots, push broken cars off the track, and stand without breaks for many long hours.

No matter, Buster was just. He was a rational referee, an impartial umpire, and the fairest, most honest judge that ever stared down a dragstrip. And when he felt it necessary, he took the law and upheld it to the letter. He was non-discriminatory.

He was also somebody with a kind heart and a memory that never failed. That meant both pro and con. If you remained on his good side, he was a friendly, jolly soul. But if you done him wrong, woe was you...

Like most who shared fun remembrances and testimonies about Eddie Hiram "Buster" Couch, my memory will remain fond. I would like to have attended his services January16 in Georgia. This is a little late, but to his son Mike and the rest of the family, please accept my condolences and sympathy.


Then last week, I heard that Gray Baskerville died of spinal cancer, only recently diagnosed. Now, he may not have stuck out in the middle of national events like Buster.

But if you read a story in Hot Rod, Rod & Custom, Car Craft, or many other rod, custom, or race publications over the past three decades or so, and it brought a grin to your lips because of a very special writing style full of strange words, phrases and witticism, it was probably written by Gray. If it had made-up words like "showmobile" and "whoa power," it was more than likely the work of the old "Hound from Baskerville." He loved everything with gears and wheels and performance. Beyond that, he loved everything noisy and cool, or odd. And, I'm pretty sure he didn't own a pair of sox.

The tales Gray shared were extraordinary and I'm certain they were just the tip of an incredible life surrounding cars and the trips he made in them or to see them. His friends called him "grandad" or "gramps," an honor never bestowed on me.

I have no idea who might be able to fill this man's sandals.


Now I've heard that one of my good friend's best friend, Dlorah Lee, has moved on too.

Several years ago, a guy named Carl Blanton called me when I was editor of IHRA's Drag Review. He had a fledgling drag paper (American Drag News) in Tulsa and actually wanted to know if he could attend a couple events. I not only said yes but also got him to write a few stories and shoot a few photos for DR. Later, we did some trade outs for stories, and later still, I wrote a nostalgia column for ADN. He even wanted me to move to Tulsa to edit his paper but that never worked out.

During that time, I met and talked to his "right-hand-(wo)man" quite often, a nice lady named Dlorah Lee. When I misspelled her name a couple times in correspondence, she told me "Its just 'Harold' spelled backwards." Her dad's first name. She was pleasant and laughed a lot, but I soon figured out that everything about AND or Blanton not only should be but would be OK'd through her. She meant business.

Dlorah Lee also learned dragracing. When Carl needed to expand his coverage to include motorcycles, his normal freelancers said "no thanks" so he handed a camera to Dlorah Lee who not only did a fair job of shooting but of reporting as well. When the paper was a wee bit shy of funds, Dlorah Lee jumped in and learned to electronically lay out pages. Then she was the accounts payable and receivable person. And, for most of her tenure, she accepted very little in the way of compensation.

And throughout all this, according to Blanton, she fought cancer. She didn't complain much and remained pleasant on the surface, a surface that hid certainly all manner of pains I hope never to experience.

I wish I'd known these folk a lot better. I've decided to make certain I make some new friendships and make some old friendships better.

My 2001 resolution was to refind old friends and check in with them from time to time. I did pretty well for a few months. I need to get back to that for 2002 as well because time rarely stands still.

A couple days ago, I received this Email from friend and northwest funny car owner/driver Leon Aines:

"After 9/11 and then the end of the year, I am making a real effort to stay in touch with the good people that I have met as I trudge down this road of life. Making calls to people that I haven't talked to for a few months or years and in one case over ten years. That was a great one, the guy raced drag boats with my older brother [rip] in SoCal 25-30 years ago and we had lost touch with each other until I saw him down in Lake Havasu."

He went on to say he was glad to find me here at Draglist.com and promises to stay in touch better. Me too.

Phil Elliott


Thanks for checking out the PhilZone portion of Draglist.com. If you have accolades, complaints, comments, questions, or if you want to share a story, please feel free to post it on the PhilZone Message Board. Phil

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