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Feb 20, 2011

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A Few Photos from New England Dragway, 1978 - 1981  Part 2

by David Hapgood

Al Bergler's sleek 'Motown Shaker' Corvette, May 1980.

'Alcohol Nick' Boninfante's BB/FC Mustang. Pat Walsh drove, September 1980.

Here's where a stronger lens would have come in useful: Al Segrini, August 1980.

Another shot of what a great vantage point Epping's hill once was before they bulldozed the top off it and turned it into and RV parking lot. In this photo, jet cars on the starting line.

The ever-obscure showed for Epping's 32 car meets.

Frank Oglesby in his 'Mello Yello' prime, September 1980.

Pennsylvania's Joe Shubert.

Jerry and Marion Caminito's pet cockatoo, 'Kuna.' What was so messed up was that when they fired the car, just 10' away, the bird didn't flinch!

Caminito, the coolest man in town as his AA/FC warms up and the crowd looks on.

John Speelman, August 1980.

Jimmy King resurrected the team's old Duster in September 1980.

Things did not go well.

And quickly went from bad to worse.

View down track after the car rolled to a stop and the fuel tank exploded. King narrowly escaped with his life, received third degree burns.

Neil Mahr and Dick Allard square off in TF, May 1980.

Art Gallant and Galen Roggie during qualifying for the 'Funny Cars Under the Stars' event, June 1981.

Austin Coil and the 'Chi-Town', June 1981.
The sport was changing extremely quickly in those years, and Epping’s 'Funny Car Nationals’ was hit pretty hard. From twenty-three nitro funnies in 1978 down to an all alky format in 1983, it was a dramatic decline.  In those last years, I was an official NHRA Division 1 photographer, and I shot on the starting line at Epping and elsewhere (I was the track photographer at Lebanon Valley). After it was all said and done, I decided that my heart was really back in the 1970s racing scene, and I tossed almost all of my slides and negatives from the early 1980s, many of which were quite good.  It was a mistake I would later regret.

New England Dragway is still alive and kicking, of course, with ambitious plans for the future. But just like at every other track in America, the fuel funny car scene is long gone, and in the case of the former 'Funny Car Capital of the World,’ it was an enormous fall from grace.

I still fondly remember the all-night spectacle in the Epping parking lot back in the late '70s and early ‘80s, where race fans built huge bonfires, performed donuts in their cars (occasionally rolling them in the process), living it up, because they knew that the next day there would be thirty-two funny cars in the pit area, and that, if given the choice, any drag racing fan anywhere on earth would choose to be nowhere else but right here. I never participated in the all night partying, as it wasn’t my style, but I always camped at the margins, and definitely fed off the insanity.

I remember making the rounds of the parking lot in 1979, the night before the ‘32 Funny Cars’ event: drunks everywhere, bonfires blazing out of control. At one point, a truck and and open trailer drove past out on the highway, with a rocket dragster, rocket funny car, and rocket go-kart out on display. It was Fred Goeske and his crew. They saw the bonfires and sounded their horn, the type popular in the day which played a musical number. Hundreds of drunks across the parking lot looked up, raised their beer bottles, and cheered. Goeske and his rocket cars disappeared into the night, off to a motel in nearby Exeter to get a bit of sleep before the big race day.

--  David Hapgood

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