(Originally printed in American Drag News)
I'm a collector. Unlike many who collect things, but do not touch, my
collections are not only touchable, but used and loved.
For the last 10-12 years, it's been teddy bears. You'd think they were
rabbits the way they've multiplied in that time.
I also have enough magnets to nearly cover the outside of my
refrigerator, mostly tiny, cheap mementos of places I've been. There are
some bears there too.
Unbuilt model cars dominate a huge portion of space, but I claim to be
a "builder" and don't seem to mind carving into fairly rare
plastic on occasion. I'll get to them someday.
As you've probably guessed by now, I have a great many drag race photos
as well -- five file cabinets crammed, and a few "overflow"
boxes. They cover several decades, at least sparsely, and yes, I'd like to
have lots more.
Magazines? Yes, and though like many of you, I cut them up when I was
young, I haven't thrown them away. They are a plethora of information when
researching historical times and events, and I consider them invaluable.
Beyond the ones that have big holes where favorite cars used to be,
most are dog-eared and obviously well read.
Historically, there are two publications that we old-timers (ugh)
remember with high praise. One was the weekly Drag News that
covered it all, from match racing to local heroes from the perspective of
seemingly two-dozen columnists. The few national events were covered, but
so were all the regional big shows from Ramona to York. There have been
innumerable publications (check the front page of this very publication
for just one example) that utilize a similar title, and the hope by
editors and publishers that some of that old flavor will find them. The
other was the all-too short-lived Drag Racing which evolved into Drag
Racing USA. I have lots of both publications
While perusing the other day, I slid an August 1973 issue of Drag
Racing USA from the shelf and stared at the two photos that editor
Mike Doherty chose some 25-years ago to grace the cover. There were Scott
Shafiroff's Vega and Butch Leal's Duster in all their brilliance, both
major event-winning vehicles from a time that Lenco was still a very
exotic term to the still-new Pro Stocks.
At the very top of the page, the headline (called a "sky" in
magazine vernacular because it is placed above the logo) screamed "'Supertrick'
8-second Pro Stocks!" There were other heads too, about a
"sensational photo section," for which DRUSA was well
known anyway, "how to get started in drag racing," and race
coverage from Seattle, Tulsa and Green Valley.
I laid it near my computer after I'd glanced at the index page to see
what else might be lurking inside. Names like Shirl Greer, Tony Nancy and
Moody Blue jumped off the page, so I went deeper.
Actually, I stole a glance at the Engle ad across from the index where
a generic E/MP '67 Camaro leaped from copy that claimed a whopping 475hp
from 300ci with their camshaft. The full-page ad was aimed directly at
Modified Production and other small block Chevrolet users in Modified
Eliminator. Obviously, it was a much simpler time.
The next few pages were mostly letters and ads, as well as a few new
parts. One Wisconsin writer pointed out how few true Chevrolet TF and FC
entries were left, and extolled the efforts of Jim Bucher's Chevy-powered
Top Fuel car, which had recently run a 6.25. The editor's reply updated
the performance to the record shattering 6.07 number Bucher had run more
recently at Gainesville.
John Hogan's "Behind the Scenes" column covered a few
accidents, including one where Mike Burkhart's brand new racecar, truck
and trailer, was written off when an employee lost control. The
already-damaged rig then caught fire. Hogan also mentioned that Chris
Karamesines had just retired his 1965 Chrysler wagon (pictured in my
column a couple issues back) after eight years and a reported 695,000
miles! A spy photo was also there, revealing that the rumored "Mr.
Norm" Pro Stocker would be a Hemi-powered Dodge Colt mounted on what
appeared to be a short version of a late-`60s FC chassis. It was to be a
match race-only car anyway, so rules be damned.
On the "Late Breakers" page was a photo of the first rocket
dragster, "Courage of Australia," with a badly bent beak
following an off-the-end-of-Irwindale adventure.
There was also a small mention that Shirley (still known as "Cha
Cha" then) had earned her TF license in Connie Kalitta's car, that
Don Garlits had witnessed her runs and signed for her license, and that
plans were underway for a series of summer matches with "TV
The first race coverage was from Texas, though had it been placed in
the magazine chronologically, the Tulsa coverage should have been earlier.
Both AHRA-sanctioned Grand Americans were hampered by rain, but were
completed; Tulsa on Wednesday night, Green Valley Tuesday night. John
Wiebe, Don Prudhomme and Larry Huff won at Green Valley, while Vic Brown,
Don Schumacher and Wayne Gapp took the Pro titles in Tulsa.
Some of those names are certainly familiar to all of you, while others
might draw blanks.
Wiebe, of course, is the same "Kansas John" that wowed folk
everywhere, remained competitive with a front-engine fueler, then with a
Donovan, long after both had been fossilized by most. He was predicted to
win the AHRA championship in '73, but it was nemesis Don Garlits that
earned the belt buckle that year. "Big" was runner-up at both
meets. Wiebe, after a 1970 AHRA championship, would play second fiddle to
Garlits four-years straight before taking two-in-a-row for himself, '75
Don "the Snake" was in his Hot Wheels era, driving a 'cuda.
He crashed hard in round one at Tulsa when the coupler broke and took out
the rear axle and tire simultaneously with the over-revved engine
exploding. The flapping tire tread took off the body, and the sliding
remains smacked the very end of the single strip of Armco and ended in the
ditch. Amazingly, Prudhomme was nearly unscathed and the back-up car won
in Texas, running a thrilling 6.29 in the semis when most of the TFs were
in the 6.30s and 6.40s. Garlits had run a career-best 6.03 for low, but
the track was treacherous for everyone else. That .29 came at the expense
of Don Schumacher's similar 'cuda, which had been dominating AHRA to that
point. He trailed with a 6.60, which was more respectable of FC
competition on that day. "The Shoe" had most recently won in
Tulsa over Tom Hoover's "Showtime" Satellite.
Larry Huff made his racing budget from selling Bestline products, or
more precisely, the franchises to sell them. Years later, the whole
industry of similar "pyramid schemes" would be deemed unlawful
but not before Huff made a big dent in FC and Pro Stock racing with his
"Soapy Sales" entries. After several 9.5 clockings, his Dodge
Challenger took the Green Valley final over Scott Shafiroff, 9.31/150 to
Vic Brown campaigned dragsters for a number of years before hooking up
with Tulsa standout Bob Creitz on a car purchased from Californian Don
Moody late the previous year. The Walton, Cerny & Moody car was
dominant in '72, and when they decided to upgrade to late Hemi power, it
was easier to build a new car. The castoff showed its mettle for Creitz,
Dill & Brown with 6.04 and 6.03 passes at Ontario Motor Speedway in
October of '72, at the same historic NHRA Supernationals where Mike
Snively recorded the sport's first five, Vic Brown reached the semis, and
Don Moody marched through with times of 6.02, 6.01, 6.00, and an
inconceivable 5.91. According to The Top Fuel Handbook, compiled
and written by Chris Martin, those four elapsed times make up four of the
six quickest of 1972, the "91" on top.
At Tulsa, the marathon ended with Garlits fouling against Brown, who
had a three-tenths advantage according to semi-final performance.
Don Schumacher, whose son Tony has followed the famous "Shoe"
and is currently driving a TF, was overshadowed by Tom Hoover at Tulsa. He
ran as quick as 6.47, but when the final was run in front of a minuscule,
damp crowd, Schumacher managed to win the slip and slide affair.
Wayne Gapp was Jack Roush's partner during the era when Pro Stock was a
mishmash of weight breaks for various brand, engine and wheelbase combos,
including their own infamous four-door Maverick. At Tulsa, the team ran a
more conventional Pinto with Cleveland power. Top qualifier Dick Landy
(9.25), who had run a 9.14 during time trials, then roared around the
scales, fouled in round one, as did Scott Shafiroff. This left Gapp the
platter with a series of 9.2s. His only real competition came from local
standout Don Grotheer's Duster, which was winning with 9.3s. The Gapp
& Roush Ford pulled out a great 9.20/145 in the final for bests of the
Among the well known AHRA sportsman finalists for the two meets were
Walt Neisen (who won Comp at both), Bobby Cross, Allan Patterson, Don
Shearer, Billy Graham and, of course, Bill Hielscher.
The August '73 DRUSA featured Scott Shafiroff's Vega and Butch
Leal's Duster, the cover subjects. It was sort of an east vs. west, Chevy
vs. Mopar attempt that reveled a great deal about both machines. Though
just in their mid-20s at the time both "The Kid from New York
City" and "The California Flash" were already seasoned
veterans of Pro racing.
The SRD-built , Truppi-Kling-prep'd Vega, a near duplicate of Bill
Jenkins' machine, still showed a BW T-10 behind its 327, but had already
cranked 9.4s at nearly 145mph.
Leal's new Butler-built Duster was among the trickest of the times, and
included a destroked 396ci Hemi in front of a 4-speed Lenco for predicted
8.70/155 times. Everything was acid-dipped, plastic, magnesium, drilled
and smoothed, except for the real glass -- still required by Pro Stock
rules. Imagine mounting a 15-pound piece of curved side glass into a
five-pound plastic door that had to open and close a zillion times.
Three funny cars were featured as well.
First, there was a Vega for "Flash Gordon" Mineo, replete
with trademark flaming rocket splashed down its flanks. Mineo was already
a funny car veteran, having stepped up from Junior Fuelers. He was best
known at the time for his body-pitching antics the previous season. While
awaiting new fiberglass, Mineo had Mike Kase slap on minimal aluminum
bodywork and qualified for a TF show the following weekend. It was the
stuff of the times. The new Vega, also Kase-built, allowed the SoCal
driver to reach new heights, higher even than his Firebird body had soared
Second was the Gordie Bonin-shoed Vega from Calgary that had already
won both of the early season biggies in the northwest; Portland and
Seattle. The Hodgson & Jenner machine was sponsored by Hodgson's
Pacemaker auto parts chain, with a big kicker from Automatic Radio. Bonin,
who also came from Jr.F, would make a name for himself with a runner-up
spot at Indy that year, and make a serious dent in national events a few
years later. He is arguably the most popular Canadian driver ever to stand
on a loud pedal.
Shirl Greer's Mustang was third, and the Tennessean had relocated to
Georgia and forsaken his favored Mopars for the new season. He did one
other thing, he set foot on the national event trail for the first time in
years, and came away with the NHRA World Championship in one of the
wildest finishes in history.
The low buck Greer entry, based around a Chuck Finders chassis and a
Billy Holt engine, both standouts from the great gas coupe era, earned
enough points at booked-in points race appearances that Shirl just had
to make a couple national events as well. By season's end, he was in a
virtual tie with three others and was coerced by friends and fans that he
had to give it a shot.
Though never having ventured west of the Mississippi before, he aimed
the ramp truck for the World Finals in Ontario, California. In his last
qualifying shot, he made the field but the engine let go. The ensuing
blaze ruined the back half, actually consuming the entire rear section of
the body. With borrowed engine components, and an all night thrash by a
crew of virtually unknown "friends," the Mustang appeared on the
starting line with makeshift aluminum hindquarters. Ugly but functional,
the car started, made its burnout, and staged. At the green, Shirl left
pretty well, but shut-off quickly. He had earned enough points that nobody
could surpass him. The Herculean effort earned him the title, some cash,
and an orange jacket that he still has. I tried it on once.
DRUSA also covered Tony Nancy's visit to Japan, one of the first
attacks by a Top Fueler on Asian soil. "The Loner" was anything
but on the trip, and at every stop, upon firing the engine, unsuspecting
spectators literally dropped "to their knees in fear of the
monster." It was as close to a real Godzilla that any had seen away
from a movie theater, and the soft spoken upholsterer came away with world
wide headlines, legions of fans and a Japan record for 400-meters. In the
shadow of Mt. Fuji, Nancy clocked a fine 6.50/237.
The Seattle coverage was from a National Open, an early '70s version of
a mini-national event. This event was a WCS points race for Sportsman, not
for the Pros, and no Pro Stockers were invited. According to the
accompanying story and photos, it was porn queen of the time, Linda
Lovelace, who stole the show.
Don Moody swept a Top Fuel field with a best of 6.13, quicker by nearly
two-tenths than the previous SIR record. Both Jerry Ruth and Jeb Allen
recorded 6.16s, with the latter reaching the final.
Also part of the large TF contingent was Jim Bucher's SSP Chevy, and
Herm Petersen and Hank Johnson, the latter debuting a new rear-engine car
after holding out as long as possible.
In FC, Ed McCulloch was low Q and went on to win, running 6.48s with
Jerry Ruth debuted a new mini-Mustang after a fabulous '72 season in a
more stock appearing model. It would be more than two decades before
anyone attempting a two-car effort would be as successful. As just one
example, Ruth won all five Division Six points races with the FC, and four
of five in TF during 1972. It wasn't the King's day, for after a 6.52 for
second, he failed to make the R1 call.
Gordie Bonin, who as stated earlier was the northwest pacemaker to that
point, was in the thick of things with bottom 6.5s in eliminations but
lost in a tire smoking semi-final duel with the "Ace."
As things often happened, there was a great many controversial calls in
those days. Earlier, Ruth had been highly suspect of the elapsed times in
TF, and as has always been his way, was quite boisterous about it. When
the FC final rolled up, Portland star Kenney Goodell, who had whipped Tom
McEwen in the semis, with his third low 6.5, was shown a handicap tree. It
placed him with a two-tenth disadvantage. Meanwhile McCulloch thundered to
a track record 6.43, and in comparison with the Action Man's early shutoff
6.66, the vote went to McCulloch.
One of the very first rear-engine (Ooops, "mid-engine." DRUSA
was the only voice of the era to constantly argue that "rear"
meant behind the rear axle, while the then-new REDs had their engines
between driver and axle, hence they insisted on the mid-engine or
"midi" term. Nobody cared. The argument was short lived.)
Sportsman dragsters built was featured in DRUSA, a very light B/FD
built by Roy Fjasted for Southern Californian Bill Diehl. The injected
Chevy held 369 cubes, drove through a Crower clutch and a Lenco two speed.
Bruce Walker, who still keeps his TF license current with occasional
rides, drove the little car.
Out of Whittier, Calif., came another feature, the "Moody
Blue" '34 Ford 3-window of Joe Shatswell, Tom Hutchinson (driver) and
Steve Hope. The car wasn't terribly competitive -- listed was a 10.34/131
for the B/G coupe which also ran lakes events -- and the rock group
probably had nothing to do with it, but it was pretty, and had lots of
cool injector stacks sticking through the hood.
The "how to get started in drag racing" cover reference was
to a two page group of photos with facetious captions. One example was of
John Wiebe in firesuit draped across the hood of his push truck, obviously
trying to catnap. The caption read, "Learn to endure long hours in
the staging lanes..." That sage advice still holds true today.
The "Phantastic Photos" section showed a few crashes and
fires, E.J. Potter's jet trike which crashed on its first pass, a couple
obscure cars, The "Magic Muffler" fuel altered standing up on
its push bar, and of course the obligatory photo of "Jungle Pam"
Drag Racing USA was always irreverent and sarcastic. It made you
smile, laugh and even get the warm fuzzies over its coverage of
everything. It was full of great things, but in respectful retrospect, it
was more like People than National Dragster because it not
only showed us the cars and performances, but it went into personalities.
It talked of the humanity behind the machinery. And amazingly, though
everyone I have ever spoken to loved the publication, DRUSA is now
just another little piece of drag racing's heritage.
I guess I should tie this all together with some awe-inspiring piece of
wisdom. I actually was going to mention that I didn't really enjoy history
classes in school, and yet now I actually claim to be a drag racing
historian, in a diminutive attempt to tell the younger readers of American
Drag News to pay more attention in classes or some such.
Instead, I'll just say that looking back at 25-year-old (or older)
magazines always conjures the sights, sites, sounds and smells of
something I have been in love with and inspired by for most of my life.
The year 1973 was still a time when a couple guys could throw their
beer-drinking money into a dragster or funny car, and with a little
knowledge, luck and know-how, could run once or twice a week and actually
earn a living, and gain experiences that will never be forgotten.
Many of those low buck folk are still right in there today. Some are
those highly paid crew chiefs that bring the present unbelievable
performances to reality. Others are still getting those unbelievable
rides. Some are still writing about it.