Flyin' Phil Elliott: Were match races ever fixed in the old
days? I don't think "fix" is a bad word and I don't believe
anybody took it as if someone was pointing fingers at a fight or the
World Series. Nobody wanted to lose or they didn't get paid as much or
asked to go to more races.
Tommy McNeely: For me, this is a very true statement. I never
learned to be comfortable with losing period. Again, for me, it was the
winning more than it was for the money, but, the more you won (or stole
the show), the more you were worth. However, I believe David Ray and
others would agree, PRIDE IN WINNING was the biggest motivator.
When I first started match racing in the mid-‘60s, some tracks
would offer an extra $100 to $300 bonus to whoever won. In that
situation, I have experienced the fact that if you picked the wrong
place with the wrong guy, you would lose. I also had a couple of track
owners at the time tell me that we could split the bonus! I guess I was
stupid, because I always refused the split.
Flyin' Phil: Tact and tactics get in there tho'. After all,
early FX/FC races were slightly more of a circus act than we were used
to. All the extraneous stuff was FUN for the fans -- pies fights,
putting on fire suits right out front, rosin, burnouts, EVEN radio and
PA shouting matches. It was exciting to watch and be a part of...
Tommy: And scary too sometimes, but we were too young to know
the difference. I was 19 when I got the Falcon.
Flyin' Phil: There were times when a car was outclassed by
its competition so the driver threw lead or cylinder heads in the trunk
and went into big wheelstands -- the spectacular action of the
wheelstand drew our attention away from a better performance. The
"loser" ended up being the winner 'cuz he gained more ink and
fans and we all still have those haunting questions in our head --
"What would it have run if it hadn't gone into two big wheelstands
and bumped into the Armco with the quarter panel?" Mystique is a
huge part of my memory of these cars.
Tommy: Again, you are exactly on track. I refer to Dickie
Harrell and Hubert a lot because they were probably my greatest mentors
at the time. One of the first things Dickie taught me was if you know
you're going to lose, load the trunk and put it on the back bumper. We
didn't use wheelie bars or even wheels on the rear bumpers at the time.
I have never been able to get the picture, but a guy once told me he had
one with the Falcon almost straight up on the rear bumper and the rear
wheels were approximately one and one-half feet off the ground. This was
like pushing in the clutch and hitting the brakes. It would come down
hard and bend the front axle. My brother straightened that axle nearly
You and Dickie were right. The spectators hated the winner. Hubert
taught me to steal the show (control/work the crowd) at any cost.
Sometimes that meant crawling over the fence into the spectators and
kissing some pretty girl or anything else you could do better than the
other driver. All it required was being crazier.
Flyin' Phil: While the AA/FD drivers/owners literally HATED
the whole act deal, the early FX/FC deal evolved. To those too young or
who just don't know, these guys like David Ray and Tommy McNeely started
out in literal death traps. Unsafe, ill-handling, ungainly -- you name
it. Some were none-too pretty either.
It is difficult to make a youngster understand how several thousand
fans would PAY to watch a dozen hacked-up stockers that today would NOT
pass tech or qualify for Pro Gas (9.90) -- and we all loved them. I
still feel that a pair of early FX cars are the best show ever BECAUSE
nobody -- including the drivers -- had a clue what the cars were going
to do. Get sideways, big wheelstands, hit the rail or each other, go
fast, blow up, etc. It was GREAT.
Tommy: I could usually run 10 teens regularly and 9.90s
when it was running well, but I usually didn't run as much nitro as
others because of the parts breakage. A picture was in a magazine taken
in ‘66 at Irwindale. It was from down the track and you could
literally read the lettering on the side of the car. I ran Jess Tyree's
Pontiac in the first round, got a big holeshot and the car was carrying
the front wheels a couple of feet in the air. It was drifting right
toward the guardrail so I short shifted it to second to get the front
end down, but never let off the throttle (I was ahead of Tyree). BIG
The wheels didn't come down or just touched and went back up. The car
made a hard left and I went across the centerline in front of Tyree. I
didn't hit the left guardrail, but the car continued its 360-degree turn
and I went back across the track behind him. I decided it was time to
shut it off. I wasn't that crazy and besides he was gone and I had lost.
No sense in tearing up the car after getting away with that. Things like
that occurred on a fairly regular basis, but you're right again. GOD, it
Flyin' Phil: Where are you originally from? I of course
remember when you had the ex-Hubert Platt Falcon. Some years later, I
know you got into Wheelstanders. What was between? Would you mind
listing the cars/years you ran?
Tommy: I raced out of the little town of Monahans, TX. I
started with a '63 E/S Chevy, then the old '62 Hayden Proffitt car I
bought from Therwhanger. The Falcon actually was not Hubert's ex-car. I
had a ‘65 Chevy II 2 door sedan built which Dickie needed to borrow
when he crashed his and he got me hooked up with Hubert. Hubert had
already sold his car, but he had this body in his back yard. It was
actually one of three Falcons Ford had built for the Lemans race. He put
it together for me and I had a Marina Blue Corvette at the time, so the
car was painted Blue. It was built in Hubert's basement. He nearly
crashed it in his neighbor's front yard when testing it before we went
to Dallas, GA, to run Beswick.
I drove for Dickie a few times when he couldn't make it starting with
his ‘63 Z-11, etc. I only live 140 miles from Carlsbad, NM -- Hobbs,
NM, was basically our home track back then. I grew up racing with
Dickie, Kelly Chadwick, Don Hardy (Don was in the Army for two years
during this period), Charles Therwhanger, Brian Teal, Grady Bryant, Ken
McClellan, and others. Fritz Callier and JE Kristek have always been
good friends, too. I drove some for a lot of people at times, everything
from fuel dragsters to stockers.
Other later notables we raced with were Raymond Beadle, Kenny
Bernstein, and others. I basically laid off for two years and then ended
up in the wheelstander. However, I occasionally drove funny cars and pro
stocks for various people at the same time and occasionally at the same
race on the same day, as I guess we all did. Get out of the car, run to
the staging lanes and strap into another one.
I guess the one thing I regret most is Dickie did everything he could
to talk me into moving to Kansas with him when he first went and had the
Nickey deal. I still miss him. Later, I tried bracket racing, hated it,
and built a Pro Stock Camaro. I always hated national meets, so I mostly
just match raced them.
One time, Dickie called me early one morning and asked if I would fly
to St Louis with him to pick up the ‘65 Chevy II (still had the Z-11
in it). He had burned all the wires off the week before and was going to
race Petty's Outlaw Barracuda in Burlington, NC, that weekend and Sox
and Martin the next weekend. We picked the car up and hauled --- to
Burlington and checked into a small family style motel. We rolled the
car off the truck and rewired it. Then our problems began.
We pushed the car all the way back across the parking lot, then
Dickie jumped in it, fired it and carried the front wheels all the way
back to the truck (test session). The motel owner beat us back to the
truck or at least it seemed that way and asked us to change motels. As I
remember, he was rather assertive and it could have been perceived as
even aggressive. We did change motels.
Also, we owned the flagman that weekend. That was back when false
starts didn't count and you just restaged and did it again until you got
it right. We knew before each round how many false starts Dickie would
make before the real race. Dickie was getting five to seven car length
leaves on Petty, but to no avail. He would blow by Dickie at the lights.
About the third round, he came over and told Dickie to do whatever he
wanted to, but he was going to blow the doors off the Chevy II in the
lights when he did. He was telling the truth!