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Drag Racing Stories

Jul 24, 2006
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70s Funny Cars Round 41: More Obscure Machines

Text by Danny White


John Speelman’s "Blue Bayou" series of fuel funny cars is best remembered for pristine appearance and good performances. John had teamed with Les Cottrell to run the "Chicken Chokers" dragster. The team had great success in Pro Comp and decided to step up to Top Fuel in 1977. The Maryland team lasted a year in the more expensive class before splitting up with Cottrell going back to Pro Comp and Speelman building a nitro funny car. The first "Blue Bayou" AA/FC was built in 1978. The car was named after a quarter horse that John’s wife Zoelle raised on their farm. Speelman chose a Ken Cox Vega to run with Keith Black power. Speelman wisely hired famed tuner Bill Barrett to handle the tune up. The "Blue Bayou" Vega was regular mid-six runner second over the next couple of years. Two more "Blue Bayou" funny cars were built; one was a Challenger and the last was a Firebird. Speelman’s last fuel funny car was the beautiful, but seldom scene "Sunrise Sizzler" Corvette. Ironically, Speelman teamed up again with Les Cottrell to run an alcohol dragster to end his racing career. (Photo handout courtesy of J.W. Last’s archives; info from DRL files)

The "Purple Magic" Vega is thought by many to be the worst looking funny car of all time. The car did not start out this way when Bob Simmons built it. Simmons, a former Junior Fuel racer, built the "Purple Magic" in 1973, choosing a 417 Donovan to power the Vega. The car was damaged in a minor accident at Englishtown. Simmons rebuilt the car, adding a new 1974 slant nose Vega front end. The car needed to repainted after the front end was replaced. According to Bret Kepner, the paint job and lettering was done for free. Thankfully, the "Purple Magic" ran better than it looked. Simmons got the Vega to run 6.41 at 227 before he parked the car. Bob next drove the "Nor’ Easter" for Bill Dee and later began his long partnership with Rhea Goodrich to field the ‘New Englander" funny cars and dragsters. (Photo courtesy of Gary Hojacki; info from Bret Kepner and DRL files)

Here is a good photo of a rare funny car. West Virginian Al Baldwin raced the "Barbarian" Arrow. Baldwin was a car dealer from Pineville, West Virginia who raced a Hemi Cuda in Pro Stock when that class started. He retired from racing for a few years, then built the "Barbarian" funny car in the late seventies. The Hemi powered Arrow raced mostly in the South in IHRA, NHRA, and match races. The "Pineville Flash," as Baldwin was known, had moderate success with the car. He ran 6.41 at 225 in the Arrow before retiring from drag racing in the early eighties.(Photo courtesy of Tom West/Replicas West; info from DRL files)

Ken McLean was a partner in the "Beck, Lawrence, & McLean" Top Fueler that won the 1972 U.S. Nationals. McLean left the team to race on his own not long after the season was over. Ken built himself this black Cuda for the 1973 season. McLean raced mostly in the Great Northwest. The Hemi powered Cuda ran high sixes and held its own against tough Northwest competition like Jerry Ruth, Gordie Bonin, and others. McLean raced the car throughout the mid-seventies before retiring. (Photo courtesy of Herman Marchetti; info from DRL files)

This car was featured on 70s Funny Cars Round 10, but with the car’s second owner. Jim Narramore built the Camaro as a team car to his Top Fueler. Bill Pryor drove both cars for Narramore. The Camaro ran a known best time of 6.51 in Midwest funny car battles. Pryor finished number five in NHRA Division Three in 1977. Narramore also used a Mustang body on the chassis with Top Fuel racer Pat Dakin listed as driver at Byron Dragway. Narramore sold the car to Chris Eckert in 1978, who renamed it the "High Plains Drifter.” (Photo courtesy of J.W. Last archives; info from 70s Funny Cars and DRL files)


There were many funny car drivers named Miller in 1970s, like Sammy Miller, Mike Miller, and Clint Miller. But there was also little known Clay Miller. Clay raced this beautiful 1974 Vega out of California. The pure Chevy powered car was only around for a year or two. Miller soon retired from driving. By the mid-seventies real nitro Chevy powered were becoming rare. There were several problems with running a cast iron Chevy on nitro, including crank support, block strength, and inferior cylinder heads. Clay returned in 1982 as an owner of the the gold plated "Red Baron" Charger. (Photo from J.W. Last files; info from DRL files)

Charlie Scott of Highland, Maryland owned the "Highland Bandit" Mustang II, hence the name. Scott built the first "Highland Bandit" Mustang as an injected nitro funny car. Scott and driver Jim Wigglesworth raced the car on the East Coast Funny Car Circuit with moderate success. In 1975, Scott had a brand Mustang II built that he ran as a blown alcohol funny car with a new driver. Scott converted car to nitro in 1976 and hired Al Segrini to drive the "Bandit.” Segrini's tenure as the driver of the "Black Magic" had ended when Jim Beattie parked the operation. Al had some success in the "Bandit," running a good 6.28 at 215. The car was not without controversy, as the team had to prove the car was not too low and dragging the starting beams. The "Highland Bandit" was raced on nitro until the end of 1976. (Photo by Norm Newgord, courtesy of Gary Newgord; info from DRL files)

Here is one of the forgotten U.S. Marines funny cars. Two other teams ran the U.S. Marines banner besides the famous Mickey Thompson cars. One was the Burkhart & Harrison entry from Texas and this one from Washington owned by Nick Harmon. "Nitro Nick" Harmon began his funny car career in California and moved north in the mid-seventies. He went through a series of funny cars including a Camaro, a Mustang, a Vega, and a Monza. In 1978, Harmon built an Arrow with U.S. Marines backing the car. The car was a standard match race combo of the era with a KB aluminum block with cast iron heads topped with a small blower. Nick did not enjoy success on the NHRA tour with the car, but did have some good outings in local match races. Harmon ran a known best of 6.68 at 208 with the car before selling it and losing the sponsorship. Harmon finished his nitro career in one of the former Pacemaker funny cars of Gordie Bonin. He later ran a jet funny car before retiring from racing. (Photo courtesy of Mike Ditty; info from DRL files)

Don Kirby not only was one of the most famous funny car painters of all time, but he raced them, too. Kirby is best known for his series of "Beach City Corvette" funny cars. He used many well-known hired guns to handle that series of funny cars that could not escape the so-called Corvette Curse. Don’s last funny car was this Camaro. The Kirby Bros. and Kocela owned Camaro was built in 1970 to replace the final Corvette. Don Kirby's brother Bud drove the car instead of one of the well-known names he had hired in the past. Bud Kirby had no previous experience in a funny car, but learned to drive the car quickly. This is Bud in the photo smiling for the camera. Kirby Bros. and Kocela did not run very much before the car was sold and became one of the "Jungle Jim" team cars. (Photo & info courtesy of Bob Plumer)

When Jim Thomas and the original "Genuine Suspension" funny car team split up after running the "AMX-1," Thomas was left on his own. The next car Thomas built was this almost forgotten Mustang. The Mustang was quite unlike the "AMX-1" because it was long and low. Thomas hired Gary Read to be the car's usual driver, but it also appears that Dean LaPole of "King Camaro" fame might have driven the car, too. The Mustang was not raced for long before Thomas built the Top Fueler for which he is best remembered. (Leonard Maxwell photo courtesy of Bob Plumer and Drag Race Memories)


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